Single Post Riesling

"I don't like Rielsing." Wait for it. "It's too sweet." If I had a dollar for every time I heard those words when I was in wholesale and retail trade I'd have a very nice cellar of Rieslings. I'm not trying to convince anyone anymore about the merits of German Riesling, for now long living in the shadows of Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I'll leave that chore to Jancis Robinson and the sommeliers of fine dining establishments. Having championed German Riesling for decades now, if Jancis' breadth of knowledge and proselytizing about the virtues of Riesling doesn't make you more curious about the wine, you can't be helped. Notice how I mentioned the red wines before the Chardonnay. Well, that's because anybody that knows anything about wine, knows there is only one real type of wine and it has to be red. Cheers to the "Big Reds Only Guy", downing glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon at mid-summer outdoor barbecues. 

Alright enough with the sarcasm, lest you think I don't like German Riesling. I love Riesling. I suppose one of the reasons I love German Riesling is the tradition behind it. Some of the best Riesling wines hail from the  incredibly steep valley slopes of  the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer rivers in the southwestern region of Germany not too far from the borders of France and Luxembourg. Farming and harvesting on these steep slopes can be done by machines but it's still mostly done traditionally by hand, using seasonal workers from eastern Europe. A machine harvester can replace fifty grape pickers, start work at a moments' notice and doesn't need to take breaks during its shifts. As time marches on the machines will do more and more of the work, although I'm not convinced for now, that the machines do a better job than humans. Holding to tradition Nik's vineyard holdings are still hand harvested. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks and aging in seasoned Fuder  ( thousand liter oak barrels) make German Rielsings truly unique wines. One of the reasons German Riesling is touted as having the greatest ability to express the differences in terroir is the fact that the German winemakers eschew new small oak barrels in the cellar for fermentation or aging. This allows for a truer expression of what the grapes have to offer in the finished wines. Think of new oak barrels as condiments in your kitchen and without the use of your condiments you have only the true flavors of your base ingredient.

The object of my desires this week is the 2015 Single Post Riesling Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett from the Saar River Valley. Nik Weis is in charge of this operation and his grandfather Nicolaus Weis built the St. Urbans-Hof estate after the war, by the village of Leiwen in 1947. The family owns an extensive amount of vines (33 hectares) in the Mosel and Saar area. The grapes for the Single Post come from a leased portion of  the Ockfener Bockstein vineyard so the Single Post bottling is a secondary label for St. Urbans-Hof. Even though you don't get their distinctive black and gold label that adorns their top wines,  you do get  a wine that has been raised under the watchful eye of Nik Weis, from a Grand Cru vineyard. That in itself is a great value because Nik makes great wines at fair prices.

Riesling single post.jpg


The Single Post Riesling is crafted from grapes grown on the steep south facing slopes of the Bockstein Vineyard above the village of Ockfen. Bock is a buck in German and a stein is a rock.


 German wine labels in the past have been notoriously famous for their Gothic fonts and tongue twisting names which could be difficult to read and understand. Nik is a smart marketer, electing to use easy to understand labeling, but still giving a nod to the old schoolers. For this wine the label clearly states Single Post Riesling in bold red and gold fonts. Typically used on steep slopes where trellising is not possible 'Single Post' vines have their own stake with two canes bent in the shape of a heart. A drawing of this vine training style is featured on the  front label. For the traditional old schoolers the name of the village, vineyard and wine style is in smaller font towards the bottom of the label. Ockfener meaning from the village of Ockfen. Bockstein is the name of the vineyard site, set in a side valley of the Saar River with a 50% slope and a southwest exposure. Kabinett denotes a high quality wine made in a light style. Turn the bottle around and you essentially get the same information on the back side along with the International Riesling Foundation Taste Profile. For the consumer this easy to read scale makes buying German Rielsing much easier. The bottle features a red colored stelvin closure with the words con natura non invicem. A nod to Nik's recent affiliation with the Fair and Green Association which espouses a holistic sustainability concept. Consequently traditional and natural winemaking methods are used in Nik's cellars instead of some of the modern technology and hocus pocus you may witness in other cellars.

The Single Post Riesling has a light amber color and displays lemon-lime, white peach and intriguing leesy aromas. On the palate it's Golden Delicious apples and apricots all wrapped in honey. At 8% alcohol its off dry, delicately light with vibrant acidity and a long lengthy finish that leave you wanting more. In our household once a bottle of Single Post is opened there's never any left over for tomorrow. Both the 2015 and the 2016 vintage are currently available on the market. $18 to $20



     The village of Ockfen     

                              photo courtesy of

Is Wine Shopping Online Worth the Effort?

I seldom buy a case of wine without first tasting a bottle. A case of wine is a big commitment, monetarily and space wise. Besides it would suck to be stuck with eleven bottles of wine I didn't appreciate. However we do purchase a lot of wine on line, some of it from flash wine sites as well as traditional online wine retailers. There are so many wines I have acquired a taste for that are just not available at retail stores where we live. Consequently I am a subscriber to several flash wine sites. It takes a bit of getting used to the daily emails urging you to "Act Now!", on this incredible deal or lose out. The sales psychology of scarcity and hyperbolic wine descriptions are the norm in this arena. Oh and if your boss frowns on wine deliveries to your office you'll have to figure out other ways around the an adult signature is required BS.  If you're unsure about a wine you're considering purchasing, remember the internet is your friend. Searching for reviews and checking or to verify pricing will go a long way toward helping you make sound decisions.  As much as I like going to the wine shops in person, browsing the store and having chats with the wine guys, I must admit shopping online is a huge time saver. I do most of my online buying from October to May. To avoid the chance of the wine being cooked to death by heat, don't have your wines shipped during the summer. Buying wine online can be a hit and miss proposition. Your best chances  for success are dealing with a trustworthy retailer and knowing the producers or importers.

Here's how flash wine sites work. Wineries are juice factories and sometimes the juice is not selling fast enough. Storage is costly and if the wineries' banker is calling wondering where their money is, flash wine sites can be a quicker way to raise cash. Perhaps the harvest is around the corner and the vintner needs the space for the incoming crop. Wine that's held in tank or in unlabelled bottles offers the producer more flexibility. If the wine is still in tank, once a price is agreed upon the winery can bulk it out to another bottler, or bottle it for a flash seller at a discount. This is the business model that of Costco fame discounter Cameron Hughes used for years. Once the U.S. economy improved and the excess juice dried up, the company struggled with solvency. Cameron Hughes was recently purchased out of bankruptcy by Santa Rosa based Vintage Wine Estates. If the wine are in unlabeled bottles the winery can put a different label on it, as opposed to using their primary brand label. Same wine different label is a fairly common practice in the wine business. For example, in the U. S. the term 'private reserve' on a wine label may signify a wine of distinction, from a special vineyard or barrel lot, but in reality, and legally, two wines from the same vat can have different labels.  When there's lots of extra juice around there are bargains galore. Everybody loves a bargain and flash sites move wine quickly. Depending on how aggressive the discounts are, sometimes in just hours. If the wines are already bottled and labeled it becomes a little more problematic for the winery. Putting a wine in the market place at a discount in places where it is already being marketed at full retail could violate an agreement you have with a distributor and also erode your products perceived value to the consumer.

Several months ago I received an offer from Last Bottle, a Napa Valley based flash wine vendor offering a 2015 Côtes du Rhone for about a ten spot, with free shipping if you purchased eight or more bottles. Last Bottle usually sources predominately California wines. It's fascinating to me how many unheard of $100 California Cabernets are available at a 50% discount.  Being a sucker for CDR and having tasted so many wonderful Rhone wines from the 2015 vintage already, I decided to pull the trigger and order a case. Last Bottle's fulfillment operations are an hour to the east of us so we usually get our order in two to three business days. I typically let any wine that's shipped to us rest undisturbed for several weeks before I try it. Maybe it's the fact that the shipping distance is so short, but I like that  Last Bottle doesn't  use styrofoam shippers when sending us our wine. Where does all that styrofoam go anyway?

When I received the wine and checked the label I didn't recognize the producer, but when I turned the bottle around I was pleasantly surprised to see the shipper Jeff Welburn's name, prominently displayed on the back label. As I was already familiar with Jeff's  high quality selections from other areas of the Rhone Valley, Saint-Joseph and Gigondas, I stashed the wines in the wine cooler confident that I had made a good purchase.

Before trying the wine I did a little research and discovered that the wine was made by Frédéric et Benoit Lavau Vinificateurs. It's a family operation that has three winemaking cellars in the southern Rhone Valley. They work with over 350 grape growers and make wine from nearly all of the appellations in the southern Rhone Valley.


              Our all purpose BBQ red for the month of May

What's the wine like? The 2015 Réserve Des Galets Côtes-du-Rhône is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah with 13.5 % alcohol. The wine is medium ruby in color and the nose exhibits black and red fruits, lavender and a  hint of iodine. On the palate, bright red fruit flavors, light acidity and soft tannins. It has a simple clean finish. It's everything a $10 CDR should be. Easy drinking and you don't need to think about it.  Just enjoy. It's barbecue season and this wine is the perfect accompaniment for just about anything that comes off the grill. Last time out we had it with grilled spicy Santa Fe chicken thighs and a lightly dressed Caesar Salad.

Is online wine buying worth the effort? Based upon my experiences over the last several years I'd say yes. What are you waiting for? Get in the pool the waters fine. And remember there really is no need to act hastily. Do your  research and know what you want before the offers even appear. Because after all wine is like buses. There's always another good one coming down the line.



Grand Cru Classes of Saint-Emilion  


Monday November 13th marked the showing of the 2015 vintage of Grand Cru Classé wines of Saint-Emilion at San Francisco's Terra Gallery. The 2015 vintage was a banner year in Saint-Emilion as it was for many of the wine growing regions in Europe. 


The town of Saint-Emilion is about 25 miles northeast of the city of Bordeaux, the epicenter of the Bordeaux wine region in southwest France, its climate moderated by its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Just about any wine book you pick up to learn about wine will start with the vaunted history of French wines and then launch into explaining the Bordeaux region with all its ranking and classifications. Don't let that discourage you. All it really takes to learn about Bordeaux wines is a little reading and a lot of tasting. Within the Bordeaux region there are some fifty-seven wine regions and one could easily argue that Saint-Emilion is one of the most noteworthy red wine regions in all of France.

                                                                                       Guy Meslin of Chateau Laroze 

                                                                                       Guy Meslin of Chateau Laroze 

 The wine estates north of Bordeaux are considerably larger than the wine estates in the Saint-Emilion region, so the first thing you should know about the latter is that the wines have less availability and  are pricy. The second thing you should know and this is the scary part for those that have the herd mentality, is that Saint-Emilion wines are predominantly Merlot, with Cabernet Franc taking a minor role and Cabernet Sauvignon an even lesser role. So if you are still running with the crowd that thinks Merlot is so out, you're missing out on some wonderful wines. The French have had hundreds of years to figure out what grapes grows best on what soils and Merlot is king on the right bank terrain. The Bordeaux region is split in half  by the Gironde River and its tributaries and as the river flows north-west to the Atlantic the regions on the southwest side are called left bank wines and those on the northeast side are called right bank wines. 

The wines of Saint-Emilion are classed in four tiers and the classification is reviewed and updated every ten years. The last classification was in September 2012. The Association de Grands Cru Classés de Saint-Emilion was formed in 1982 to promote the wines of Cru Classé growers and improve quality among their Chateaux. The top three tiers Premiers Grands Crus Classés A, Premiers Grand Crus Classés B and Grand Crus Classés are where most of the quality wines are to be found. There are a total of 81 chateaux in these three tiers. The important sounding and misleading fourth tier St-Émilion Grand Cru includes hundreds of chateaux located on the lesser terroir of the Saint-Emilion area. A caveat here; a properties ranking is not a guarantee of quality and there are some that should have a higher ranking and others that are clearly underperforming  at their current ranking.


The Terra Gallery located in the SOMA district on Rincon Hill in San Francisco was a wonderful spot for the tasting. A spacious venue offering plenty of natural lighting, lots of fresh water, with spittoons on designated tables in the center of the room and the purveyors, 23 in all arranged in a large u-shape. Having the spittoons in a different area from where the wines are being poured is an idea that more wine exhibitors should consider using. It serves two purposes, no unsightly expectorating at the presenters table, and once you've received a pour and taken a sip you have to move away from the table to go to the spitting area, freeing up the table for another taster. There were a lot of different types of artisan breads available for cleansing the palate and a good variety of mildly flavored cheeses if one started feeling a bit peckish. 

                                                             Cyrille Grégoire of Chateau Ripeau

                                                             Cyrille Grégoire of Chateau Ripeau

Each chateau poured a wine from a previous vintage with the exception of Chateau Ripeau, which showed their inaugural 2015 vintage. Showing a deep purple color, a gorgeous black fruit and licorice nose, medium to full bodied on the palate, with a lush juicy texture and good length on the finish, I was very impressed with the owner Cyrille Grégoire's premier effort and deemed it one of the top wines at the tasting. Of recent the Grégoire family story has been one of tragedy and optimistic rebirth. The new blacksmith logo on their label serves as a symbol of the families enduring character. Unfortunately for us estimated production is only around 1,500 cases.

 Comparing and contrasting the different vintages side by side was very enlightening. A rising tide lifts all boats and the majority of the  2015 wines I tasted displayed beautiful deep purple color, lush fruit, silky textures, great freshness, with good power and concentration. Close to half of the producers elected to show their 2014 wines alongside the 2015's. In my opinion this strategy backfired with most of the 2014's coming off as tight on the nose and thin on the palate with light persistence. The 2015 vintage is miles ahead of 2014 when it comes to quality and I suggest that you taste the 2014's before you plunk down your hard earned cash. Mind you Bordeaux can be tricky. Recently I've had several 2007 Bordeaux, a poor vintage by most accounts, that have showed surprisingly well.  

At the tasting I found the 2012's to be well developed and drinking well. Regarding the 2010's, I wish I had bought more when they were initially released. Sometimes the hype is right. If remembering vintages isn't your thing here's a quick trick for buying Bordeaux. Any year divisible by five since 1985 strengthens your chances of picking a good bottle.

The tasting gave me an opportunity to taste wines that have less distribution on the west coast because of their low production numbers.  Although it could have easily been done,  I did not try all the wines that were available. It was too easy to get side tracked talking with the property owners. If a property's wine that was shown is not on this list, it most likely infers that I didn't get an opportunity to try it. 

Some of the 2015 wines are already available and more will be making their way to the marketplace this winter as we're already starting to see pre-arrival offers being sent out. In general the prices range from $30 to $50 a bottle. The 2015 vintage will be hyped and the buying window will be narrow, so start making your purchases early to ensure you get your favorite wines. Here's a quick list of my favorites listed below in two categories and in alphabetical order.



Chateau Bellefont-Belcier 2015  68%Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon  $40 - $50

Chateau Couvent Des Jacobins 2015  85%Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot   $40 - $55

Chateau Dassault 2015  75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon   $40 - $45

 Chateau Fonplegade 2015  95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc   $38 - $48

Chateau Grand Pontet 2015  88% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon   $30

Chateau Grand Pontet 2010  70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon   $45

Chateau La Marzelle 2015  80% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon   $40

Chateau LaTour Figeac 2015  70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc   $40 - $45

Chateau Laroze 2012  62% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon   $32

Chateau Ripeau 2015  90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc not available


Very good

Chateau Bellefont-Belcier 201  76% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon   $55 - $60

Chateau Couvent Des Jacobins 2010  85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc   $50

Chateau De Pressac 2015  72% Merlot, 16%Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauv, 2% Carmenère,    $30

Chateau Fombrauge 2015  91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec $25 -$35

Chateau Fonplegade 2014  95%Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc   $40

Chateau Fonroque 2015  85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc   $30

Chateau Franc Mayne 2015  90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc   $30- $33

Chateau Franc Mayne 2012  90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc not available

Chateau Grand Corbin 2015  77%Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon   $32 - $40

Chateau Jean Faure 2014   50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec   not available

Chateau Laroze 2015   62% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon   $33

Chateau Le Prieure 2015   80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc   $40

Chateau Yon Figeac 2015   82% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot   $30

Chateau Couvent Des Jacobins 2010   85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc   $50

Chateau De Pressac 2015   72% Merlot, 16%Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauv, 2% Carmenère,    $30

Chateau Fombrauge 2015   91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec $25 -$35

Chateau Fonplegade 2014   95%Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc   $40

Chateau Fonroque 2015  85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc   $30

Chateau Franc Mayne 2015   90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc   $30- $33

Chateau Franc Mayne 2012   90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc not available

Chateau Grand Corbin 2015   77%Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon   $32 - $40

Chateau Jean Faure 2014   50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec   not available

Chateau Laroze 2015   62% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon   $33

Chateau Le Prieure 2015   80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc   $40

Chateau Yon Figeac 2015   82% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot   $30   


As always, enjoy!    


Vino101 Episode 36 - A conversation with Alex Guarachi

Bill and I recently had the opportunity to chat with Alex Guarachi, founder of Guarachi Wine Partners.  Guarachi Wine Partners represents sixteen brands from six countries. During our interview Alex shares how and why he entered the wine business and how he sees the industry changing. Even though he's been in the business over three decades now, his enthusiasm and passion came forth as if he's just started business last week.  We came away energized by his warmth and spirit. We know you'll enjoy his story and a brief look inside the world of wine.


Highlights from Taste of Mendocino 2017

Picture perfect weather and the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon weekend build up for Sunday's race, made parking anywhere near the Marina and the Fort Mason Center for the Arts and Culture challenging. Fortunately we arrived forty-five minutes early so we had plenty of time to do numerous circles around the parking areas before we landed a spot. It was worth it; the tasting was well presented, with an excellent crowd in attendance.  Here's a pictorial of some of the people and wines we discovered at the event. 

Beverly and Proprietress Moira Conzelman of Harmonique Wines poured some beautiful 2010 Pinots.  

Beverly and Proprietress Moira Conzelman of Harmonique Wines poured some beautiful 2010 Pinots.  

Properly aged Pinot Noir of this quality at these price points is a rare commodity.    Click here to buy!

Properly aged Pinot Noir of this quality at these price points is a rare commodity.   Click here to buy!

                    Next time you're in Ukiah don't miss Schat's Bakery and Cafe.  

                    Next time you're in Ukiah don't miss Schat's Bakery and Cafe.  

A nice cider lineup from Gowan Family Orchards.

A nice cider lineup from Gowan Family Orchards.

Johnny Frei and Ann Wright with thebiodynamic wines of Frey Vineyards. The wines are made with no sulfur additions, are gluten free and vegan.

Johnny Frei and Ann Wright with thebiodynamic wines of Frey Vineyards. The wines are made with no sulfur additions, are gluten free and vegan.

The Primitivo and Zinfandel sourced from vineyards due east of Hopland are true to type and hit all the right notes.

The Primitivo and Zinfandel sourced from vineyards due east of Hopland are true to type and hit all the right notes.

A very popular table with good eats for seafood lovers.

A very popular table with good eats for seafood lovers.

  There's a good reason why Joel Clark, Brand Ambassador for Fetzer Vineyards is smiling. He's holding the best Merlot at the event. Look around and you'll find this 2014 organic Merlot fairly priced because the parent company, Concho y Toro, has a commanding marketing presencw

  There's a good reason why Joel Clark, Brand Ambassador for Fetzer Vineyards is smiling. He's holding the best Merlot at the event. Look around and you'll find this 2014 organic Merlot fairly priced because the parent company, Concho y Toro, has a commanding marketing presencw

Those of you that don't live within a few hours of Kimberly Mayfield's retail location in Willits can order her mind blowing pies  on line . We purchased a couple of Blackberry Crumb Pies to go and had to give one away later to keep from hurting ourselves.

Those of you that don't live within a few hours of Kimberly Mayfield's retail location in Willits can order her mind blowing pies on line. We purchased a couple of Blackberry Crumb Pies to go and had to give one away later to keep from hurting ourselves.

This son and father team Chase and Tom Thornhill, head up the operations at Mendocino Wine Co. They're smiling because...

This son and father team Chase and Tom Thornhill, head up the operations at Mendocino Wine Co. They're smiling because...

... they are standing behind an impressive display anchored by the 2014 True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah. This Petite Sirah shows a beautiful core of black and blue fruit fruit ,cocoa and spice, silky and balanced. My vote for best full bodied red of the day. 

... they are standing behind an impressive display anchored by the 2014 True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah. This Petite Sirah shows a beautiful core of black and blue fruit fruit ,cocoa and spice, silky and balanced. My vote for best full bodied red of the day. 

Tireless promoter and owner of Theopolis Vineyards in Yorkville, Ms. Theodora Lee and her assistant for the day. Her Symphony,  a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris is well worth the search.  

Tireless promoter and owner of Theopolis Vineyards in Yorkville, Ms. Theodora Lee and her assistant for the day. Her Symphony,  a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris is well worth the search.  

And we closed out the event with a slice of pizza from pizzaiola, Cynthia (The Big Cheese) Ariosta of Saucy Ukiah. As yummy as it looks,  and yes this mobile wood burning pizza oven is for hire. Contact Cynthia at  for details.

And we closed out the event with a slice of pizza from pizzaiola, Cynthia (The Big Cheese) Ariosta of Saucy Ukiah. As yummy as it looks,  and yes this mobile wood burning pizza oven is for hire. Contact Cynthia at for details.


Thanks to Bernadette Byrne and the Mendocino Wine Growers for inviting us to the event.


Taste of Mendocino 2017

The Taste of Mendocino brought to you by Mendocino Winegrowers is returning on Saturday, June 10, to the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Mendocino County, famous for its redwood forests, boasts some of the most beautiful areas to visit in Northern California, but because of its remoteness it requires more effort to access than Napa or Sonoma County. A tasting in San Francisco is the perfect opportunity for bay area residents to sample the food, wine and attractions from Mendocino County sans the two hour drive.

Taste of Mendocino is a personal favorite of mine because of its intimacy. There are only about thirty to forty wine and food purveyors and the room is always cozy but not cramped. The majority of the vendors, I've discovered in the past, are usually the principal owners or winemakers. There's ample parking on the marina waterfront and the four hour tasting window from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. allows plenty of time to meet everyone and go back for a second visit if you like. If you want to experience a good vibe and the wonderful flavors that Mendocino County has to offer don't miss the Taste of Mendocino.


As always drink like a pro:

  • Get a good rest the night before. You'll want to be at your sharpest.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water before during and after the tasting.
  • Wear dark clothes. You might not spill red wine but others may.
  • Once you've received you sample pour:
    • Be mindful of others that may be waiting behind you to be served.
    • Questions are good, but if you have an inordinate amount of them to ask, simply make room for others as you converse.
  • Taste and spit... very few people look cool spitting, but you'll remember more.
  • Have a good healthy meal before the tasting. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach is not a good idea.
  • Respect others and don't wear perfumes or colognes.

Hope to see you there. Cheers!


Interview with Maura Balbo

This spring, mother nature has not been kind to farmers in Europe. A mild spring prompted early bud break, pushing some vineyards as much as two weeks ahead of their normal vegetative cycle.  An unusually late season cold snap in late April and early May hit many grape growing regions throughout the continent. Late-spring frosts are the cause of many sleepless nights for vineyard owners; growers with ample resources attempted to ameliorate the frost damage by lighting candles and oil drums and burning them between the vines. Others used water sprinklers in the vineyards.  Wealthier operations were using wind machines and even helicopters to keep the air circulating in the vineyards to lessen the damage.  Reports of widespread frost damage hit the news, first from Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy and there has already been speculation of billion dollar losses for growers in France alone. Grape prices are expected to rise and consumers will likely experience higher prices for European wines in the future. With frost events high profile areas often get all the press and the lesser known regions that were also affected, often go unnoticed.

I first met Maura Balbo on twitter when I saw pictures she had posted showing what three nights of frost can do to the new bud growth in a vineyard. Her post ended with " My vineyard is KO!". For other farmers the pictures had to be gut wrenching.

Where are you from?

I'm from Fontanile, a little town in the Asti district of Piedmont, in northwest Italy. My husband was born in Bergamo (Lombardia) on July 7th, 1961. I'm forty-three years old. The winery name is Roberto Urscheler Winery. His father was Swiss and his mother is from Bazzana di Mombaruzzo.


Where are your vineyards located?

In the Mombaruzzo , Asti district, Piedmont, northwestern Italy.


What's the size of your estate?

Ten hectares.


How long have you farmed this land?  

We have farmed this land since 1987. Before that the land was farmed by my husband's grandfather on his mother's side.


Did you ever imagine you would own a vineyard?

Yes, of course.


How involved do you get in the vineyard?

All my time is spent in the vineyards and the winery.


How are your vineyards trained?

We start with pruning them, then we tie and clean the vines by hand (It's the work I'm doing during these days). That means we let all the shoots with the bunches and we cut off the other ones. Then we set the shoots upright. In July we make a double selection in the vineyards: this means that only the best bunches are destined for harvest. The others are cut off. Finally we harvest in the month of September the Moscato and the Barbera grapes. In October, usually the first week, we harvest the Albarossa.


How many different grape varieties do you work with and do you have a  favorite?

We produce three kinds of Barbera wines: Barbera d'Asti d.o.c.g., Barbera del Monferrato d.o.c. 85/15 and Barbera del Monferrato d.o.c. La Rosina; then we produce the Moscato Carpe Diem, two white wines: Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato d.o.c. and a Greek Malvasia which is called Aphrodite; then Il Cantore: an aromatic red sweet wine produced with a blend of twelve ancient aromatic grapes; then the Piemonte d.o.c. Grignolino and the Grappa (Spirit) which is dedicated to my husband's grandfather (mother's side): Grappa di Nonno Rinaldo.


Where are you positioned organic wine or not?

We don't produce organic wines, but traditional wines.

We initially met via twitter and have briefly spoken about the devastating frosts this spring in your area. How have your vineyards been affected?

Because of three frozen nights in the month of April, we lost 35 to 40% of our whole production. Yesterday night it hailed in Monferrato. Fortunately we didn't have any damage due to hail.


What's the biggest challenge for a grape grower in Nizza?

To produce quality respecting the tradition.


Are you allowed to irrigate your vines?

No, in Italy it's absolutely forbidden.


Your husband makes the wines and you are the marketer. How were you introduced to winemaking?

By marrying him I was introduced to the winemaking world. My father worked in a grape nursery. I did not meet him. He died when I was 16 months old, in a tractor accident.


What are your export markets?

Switzerland, Germany, Austria and some private French customers.


How do you know you have a good vintage?

We don't know until we harvest; too many unknown variables. First of all the weather. In 2013 we lost 90% of our production because of a twister. Yes, we had a twister in Piedmonte. These days it's hot, too hot for the month of May.  


What is your favorite wine and what makes it your favorite?

Barbera is my favorite wine because it's the typical Piedmontese grape, not as well known as Nebbiolo unfortunately. Barbera has so much potential leading to deep ageing. Acidity is her power, and the deep ruby red color.


What changes do you see in the coming years regarding climate change?

Weather and climate change are dangerous enemies for the agricultural world.


Battle of the Côtes-du-Rhônes

                                                                 Battle of the Côtes-du-Rhônes

Côtes du Rhônes have always been a go to wine for me. The problem for the average consumer is the wines can vary greatly in style. On one hand they can be easy drinking, fruity and relatively straightforward. While on the other hand more structured, brooding and complex and anywhere in between. Knowing what's in a bottle requires some trial and error. A good retailer that knows your palate can help steer you in the right direction. 

Côtes du Rhônes (CDR) come from Southeastern France, in the southern part of the Rhône Valley. The wines are not labeled by varietal, so you won't see Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay on the labels. So how do you know what type of grapes are in the bottle?  A lot of the larger cooperatives and brands will show the grape percentages on their back labels, but most of the smaller more quality minded vignerons (winemakers) may not provide that information. The dominant grape in the area is Grenache, Syrah a distant second, followed by Mouvèdre , Carignane and Cinsault. There are a host of other grapes that are also allowed in the blend for red wines, twenty-seven in all. Generally the red wines are predominatelyGrenache with Syrah and Mouvèdre completing the blend. There is also a small amount of Rose made and an even smaller amount of white CDR made. 

What makes Côtes du Rhône wines so likeable? They can at the entry level offer good insight into the character of the wines from the area. If you want to get a preview of what the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas or Vacqueyras might offer, check out the Côtes du Rhônes of the vintage first. There are more than a few Côtes du Rhône vineyards that are right next door to these more prestigious crus. Here's where CDR excels in value, because many of the vineyards are in the right neighborhoods. Most good quality CDR can be had in the $12 to $20 range. 

If you aren't familiar with CDR wines now's the time to jump on board. Recently in the wine world, especially for the more pricey brands,  there'sa lot of hype regarding the new vintage coming on offer. Though I've only tasted 8 or 9 of the 2015 Côtes du Rhônes that are now hitting the retailer's shelves, I'm ready to concede, the hype is legit! These are the best wines I've tasted from the CDR appellation since 2010. And there's more good news. Word is that the 2016's are on par and perhaps even better. In fact generally speaking after several years of anxiety producing growing seasons for wine growers throughout Europe, the wines from 2015 are showing remarkable quality and consistency. 

Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages (a step up in classification from grapes grown at better sites with lower yields) are not wines for laying down and cellaring for years. Instead they are vinified for early consumption, usually within the two to five year window of their vintage. These are wines that you can pair with a wide variety of foods and because of their price point you can afford to have them grace your table nightly. 

For this tasting flight we choose four wines from the 2015 vintage. The wines are from the areas of Cairanne, Séguret , Vinsobres, and Estézargues. 

2015 Comte Louis De Clermont-Tonnerre Cairanne Côtes-Du-Rhône Villlages Vieilles Vignes  

 I know, what a long name. Alain Corcia started in 1983 as a negociant in Burgundy and has extended his gift for locating good wines to the Rhône region. This wine is a direct import that's only available at KL Wines. Wines made in Cairanne were just awarded "Cru" status, so 2016 will be the first vintage to bear the name Cairanne without having to have Côtes du Rhône Village appended to it. The classic label and embossed bottle are fitting because this bottling is all show and go. Harvested from old vines (Vieilles Vignes) it has a medium ruby color, a very floral nose, violets, lavender, red fruit and garrigue. On the palate it's medium bodied with a juicy strawberry and red fruit profile. It finishes with good length. The wine shows well upon opening and evolves wonderfully as it gets exposed to more air. $12.99 - 14% abv -highly recommended

2015 Saint Cosme Côtes- du-Rhône - (pronounced Saint Comb)   

 Saint Cosme,  based in Gigondasis run by the Barruol family and has operations throughout the Rhone region. My first introduction to Saint Cosme's wines was their Little James Basket PressRed, a solera system CDR that could be purchased for about $7 in past years. Back then it offered everything a basic CDR should be, at a great price point. Fast forward to present and the Barruol's are still offering a real true to type, basic CDR, at a fantastic price point. The fruit is harvested around Vinsobres and the wine is 100% Syrah a bit unusual for CDR but not for the Gigondas area. Dark purple colored in the glass the nose shows black and blue fruit, iodine, licorice and sea salt. On the palate black fruits and pepperwith medium tannins and a firm mid palate. The finish is medium length with furry tannins and spice. This wine was number 43 on Wine Spectators annual Top 100 wines of 2016. $13 - $15 14% abv - highly recommended

2015 Malmont Côtes du Rhône 

 The Malmont (bad mountain) property located in the hills above Séguret, due north of Gigondas, is owned by the Haeni family. The four hectare project was started in 2002 and the vines were planted four years later. Click here to check out the incredible terracing work that was done to establish the vineyard. The winemaker Nicolas Haeni farms the vineyards himself with minimal outside help. The first vintage for Malmont was 2013. Who said winemaking was quick and easy? A labor of love Nicolas's boutique winery is attached to his home. The blend is 55% Grenache and 45% Syrah. Deep purple colored, the first sniff took me back to my childhood as it smelled like a newly opened packet of Kool-Aid. On the second sniff the Kool-Aid is gone. Was it ever really there? And the nose is showing red raspberries, strawberry jam and violets. In the mouth the red fruits continue, backed by a tart, firm acidity. While the nose sings the mid palate is a bit hollow. The tannins are soft and elegant, but thefinish is disappointingly short. The wine is nicely structured but the fruit is hiding. Perhaps it will emerge with some more bottle ageing. $19 - $20 13.5% abv - recommended

2015 Domaine De Pierredon Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages

Signargues (pronounced see-nargues) is an elevated plain on the right bank of the Rhone River due east of the town of Avignon. The Pierredon family organically farms70 hectares near the town of Estézargues. The wine is born from a strength in numbers philosophy having been made at the Les Vignerons D'Estézargues cooperative. What makes this cooperative unique? They have ten principal growers and for each one they make a separate special cuvee from each growers best grapes, designating the name of their estate on the labels. Moreoverthe wines are made with no yeast additions, no enzymes, no sulfur additions at harvest time and no filtering or fining. That's a considerable difference from the large batch methods of most cooperatives. This CDR is 50% Grenache and 50% Mourvedre. Medium ruby in color the nose displays black cherries and white pepper. It's fresh with juicy black fruit on palate, medium bodied, with minerality andgood depth. Very enjoyable, moderate tannins and a savory finish.  $15 - $17 14.5 abv - highly recommended

These four wines were excellent examples of the variety of wine styles one can find from the southern Rhone region. Buy them and enjoy them now. Côtes du Rhônes are good matches for charcuterie,  grilled or roasted meats, pastas and stews.  With their wallet friendly price points and back to back high quality vintages headed to retailers shelves, you should consider putting some CDR's on your buy list for your next wine buying trip.

Who was the winner? The winner of the battle for me was the Domaine De Pierredon. Even though I enjoyed all the other wine as well (not a dud in this bunch), the Pierredon was to my liking, the most complete and enjoyable of the group. 

A visit to Speri Viticoltori

My latest trip with my wife to Italy was not for work,  but for relaxation, so we only visited two wineries during our stay, one of which was Speri Viticoltori. For part of the trip we stayed at B&B Locus Amoenus in Pompegnino, a small village near the southwestern shores of Lake Gardain northern Italy, the largest lake in Italy. Gabriella Festi and her family were wonderful hosts during our stay. The location of their B& B served as a perfect base for touring northern Italy.   

Speri, located in the village of Pedemonte is a fifteen minute drive northwest of Verona. Ironically we passed the historic cellars of Bolla just before we turned down Fontana Street towards Speri. Even if a taste of wine has never crossed your lips you've heard of Soave Bolla. Our request to visit Speri was made and accepted on short notice and upon arrival we were greeted by Luca Speri. Luca represents seven generations of Speri grape growers. His business card doesn't sport a title, aside from his name, the only information on the front of it is Speri Viticoltori.  Viticoltori is Italian for wine growers and after spending just fifteen minutes with him, it's obvious he's the brand's ambassador and knows the operations from top to bottom. During our time together we discovered that he was getting married in a few days. Harvest was just a week away and his Dad was asking his assurance that everything was in order, just before he prepared to lead us through a tasting of his wines. While we discussed his operation and his wines, his phone buzzing every now and then, I was struck by his ability to compartmentalize. His focus for the time that he was in our presence was on us and I truly appreciate him taking the time to show us around.   

Their tasting room and business office occupy the same building, separated by a modern glass wall. The set up gave me the same feeling I get from a well executed exhibition kitchen. It's contemporary, well appointed and comfortable.

One could say that the Speri's make only one wine, but several different styles. Luca explains, "We focus only in the native varieties, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone, no Cabernet , Merlot, Sangiovese or Syrah and we focus only on our things and the things we know deeply". 

The Valpolicella area spans 8,000 hectares and the Speri's farm fifty hectares, all in the classico zone, the very best vineyard sites. Although the vineyards are in northern Italy, they still benefit from a Mediterranean influence because of their close proximity to Lake Garda. They make five wines and the labels denote the different vineyards or "crus" where the grapes are grown. All of their vineyards are family owned and farmed naturally. The Speri's do not purchase any grapes, juice or wine to go into their bottlings.  

If you look closely at the capsules of Speri wines you will see the logo for the Vignaioli Indipendenti, an association of growers that helps to protect the interest of smaller growers and wineries. Insiders know that if you are looking for a artisanal, good quality, small grower wines from Italy, to watch for the Vignaioli Indipendenti logo. 

After a challenging harvest in 2014, for the 2015 year the Speri's produced just over 31,500 cases of wine.  Not a small operation, but as Luca says, "We are the biggest of the smallest". The Speri's farm organically, so the wet and cold summer of 2014 muted grape quality, lowered yields and brought plenty of extra work in the vineyards. Luca elected not to make a Amarone for the 2014 vintage in an effort to improve the quality of his other offerings. A costly concession when you consider the price differential between Amarone and the other bottlings. 

Their newest cellar built in 1958, sits directly underneath the tasting room and holds about 80% percent of the wines that are ageing in oak. The remainder ages in the nearby original cellar. The cellar is seven meters underground and maintains the same temperature and humidity year around. The room is filled with 40 and 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks and a small amount of barriques. Luca says that they use french oak barriques for the Recioto only, when the wine needs more oxygen , not for the taste. 

2015 Speri Valpolicella Classico - A traditional Valpolicella in the truest sense, 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Molinara. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and raised in concrete tanks then bottled the following February.  In the glass a light ruby color, the nose showing red cherries and a beautiful perfume. It's light bodied, lightly spiced, very tasty, with good acidity, displaying a wonderful freshness and typicity. At 12.5 abv it would pair well with salumi,  cheeses, soups and other light fare.

2014 Speri Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore - 70% Corvina, 20% Molinara and 10% other native varieties. Fermented in the same manner as the Valpolicella Classico, but the wine is passed over the skins of the Amarone and held in tank for nine days. The process called "Ripasso" gives the finished wine a bit more alcohol, body and richness. It's aged for twelve months in 20 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks. Slightly deeper in color than the Valpolicella Classico, the aromas are of red cherries and violets, medium bodied, soft and round texture with good acidic backbone.  

2013 Speri Sant'Urbano Valpolicella Superiore - 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% other native varieties. Although this wine holds the same title as the former and is finished at the same alcohol level, 13.5, it's conceptionally made in a different manner. The grapes come from their best single vineyard Sant'Urbano, located in Fumane at 280 to 350 meters above sea level. After hand harvesting the grapes are dried for three weeks, fermented and then aged for eighteen months in 500 liter Allier oak. The nose shows a mix of red and black fruit, hints of baking spice and cocoa. Medium bodied with more concentration than one would find in a typical Valpolicella Superiore, black cherry and spice notes are in perfect balance with the acidity. The wine is fresh, energetic and easy to drink. Try it with Lasagna or one of your favorite meat dishes.

2011 Speri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano - 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Hand harvested from their best single vineyard the grapes are dried for 100 days, then crushed and fermented in January, remaining on the skins for about a month. The wine is aged in oak casks for three years. In the glass deep ruby red giving aromas of black raspberries,  plums, figs and chocolate. On the palate if you're looking for a big bombastic wine like some Amarones can be you'll be disappointed. In the mouth this Amarone displays a wonderful depth of fruit, with the oak showing a supporting role, but clearly buried in the background. With the illusion of sweetness on the nose, the mid palate and finish are full and persistent.  A wonderful example of an elegant and traditional Amarone. I t would be a great companion on your dinner table and yet it's so approachable now that you could enjoy it all by itself. 

2012 Speri Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico "La Roggia" - 70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella. The grapes are grown in Cariano and once they are harvested they are dried for 130 days. The secret to this sweet dessert wine is the fermentation is stopped with cold temperatures leaving some residual sugar. Deep ruby red almost opaque in the glass, jammy concentrated black fruit and spiced cocoa envelope the palate, followed by a firm mid palate with waves of black cherries, licorice and baking spices. It finishes long and one you've swallowed, the freshness and acidity encourage you to take another sip. Serve this one for friends after the dinner with pieces of fine dark chocolate.  Careful though, your guests may never leave.

During our visit Luca also gave us the opportunity to taste their 1997 Amarone.  He explained, "We keep of every good vintage a minimum of 3 to 4 thousand bottles". The 97' was drinking extremely well and Luca assured us it had ten to fifteen more years of life ahead of it. Each year they release older library wines (at the tasting room only), so if you're visiting the area and you want to experience a properly aged Amarone at its birthplace stop by Speri Viticoltori. Cheers!

VinoWeek Episode 35 - Mergers and Acquisitions

Jackson Family Wines makes another investmentin Oregon. What's driving the move north? Are there more mergers and acquisitions on the horizon? 

Alison Spiegel gets some of the nations coolest sommeliers to drop some insider secrets.

Winemakers are preparing to mount a battle against the regional government in Chablis. A proposed tar plant is the source of the conflict.

Peter Gago, head winemaker at Penfolds has lost his faith in screwcap closures for wine bottles and is now researching the efficacy of glass as a cork alternative.

The Drunken Cyclist shares his experience of two very different nights at Antica Bottega Del Vino in Verona.

Thank you for listening and tell a friend. Cheers!