Archive | February, 2014

A Whole New World…Down Under!

28 Feb

New Zealand.

I confess I have never spent much time thinking about New Zealand.

Sure I’ve been fascinated by Māori culture with movies like Whale Rider and The Lost Warrior. And I’ve wanted to visit what is obviously a lush, beautiful country with rich history in the same way that I want to visit many places in the world I have yet to see first hand.

But wine? No. To be succinct, I never really thought about New Zealand wine. I’ve tasted a few in the $9-12 range which were good wines – nice, every day wines that are totally fine, just not mind-blowing. 

That has all changed. I attended a tasting that enlightened me, and now I’m finding myself daydreaming about the wines of New Zealand.

Do I have your attention yet? Well, I should. You already know that I’m a classic French wine snob with great appreciation for all European wines: Italian, German, Spanish, Austrian and even a few Greek wines. And then after a decade I started to appreciate what could be found at home in the USA, with great work being done not only in California but also quality wines found in Oregon and a few small producers around the country whose work can actually compare to the Europeans.

Many times it took a visit to a location to taste something to spark my interest. Sometimes by accident I tried a wine from an unusual region and had to investigate (Argentina, Chile) or was handed something I had no interest in and fell in love with (eiswein, white rioja).

Don’t do what I did and wait for someone to push you on the fine wines of New Zealand. Take the plunge. I’ve now spent a considerable amount of time investigating and can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt: if you appreciate fine wines, you want, nay, you NEED to know about the quality production being done in New Zealand’s Central Otago region.

Here’s the inside scoop: Do you like the quality of the wines that are created on the 45th Parallel? (The wines of Oregon, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Lombardy, and Piedmont, for example.) Central Otago is on the SOUTHERN 45th Parallel, along with great wine country in Chile and Argentina. Great winemaking isn’t just about location- they are made, not born. But to make a great wine, the location is the first major point. Location, location, location.  Bill Daly from the Chicago Tribune did a great story on the 45th Parallel. It’s worth a read. But I’m here to tell you that, after tasting these wines, there is no denying that Central Otago has something serious going on.

Here’s the one that really impressed me:

Mount Difficulty Pipeclay Terrace 2010; a single vineyard pinot noir and a screwtop closure. My tasting notes: nose of blackberry and hints violet and lavender. Gentle red and black fruit, sumptuous, lithe, delicious. Secondary notes of spice, oak, and clay. Huge on the mid-palate, strong finish with great tannin-feels like powerful reserve while being kept in check, like a Porsche 928 at only 50mph. Reminds me of Grand Cru / Cote de Nuit.

Did you re-read that last part? It’s no joke. This wine floored me. It was “oh, that’s good. Wait…that’s really impressive. Let me taste that again!”  


And it’s not just the Pinot. Another wine that left a great impression was a chardonnay from Felton Road. 

Felton Road “Block 2” Chardonnay 2011

Pale straw color, subtle nose- gentle citrus, white flowers. In the mouth, a focused effort of white stone fruit and citrus with good minerality, soft wood in the background. Complexity without any cover-up. Tough to discern specific fruit flavors might be one of the features that is so compelling. Very direct acidity and great balance. I’d never guess this to be NZ, as it feels like a concentrated California wine in the style of great Burgundy. While that sounds like a knock, I love this wine. Amazing with appetizers and fish course. A great, mineral-driven, home run of a wine.


I tried nine wines this tasting from the Central Otago. None of them would have landed in the under-$20 range, but every one had solid backbone and quality, without the requirement of a decade of age to have refinement.

For example, check out these tasting notes from this unassuming Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2010:

-Decanted for two hours. A complex nose of red fruit entices, while a blend of elegant cherry, blackberry and red plum bathe the soft palate with gentle acidity as velvety tannins rise slowly. I enjoyed this wine three nights in a row, with the same responses each time. The wine is well made: developed, mature, and refined. My tongue lolled as my brain raced. If I didn’t know better, I’d be placing this totally wrong. It feels distinctly European to me. Never has being so wrong felt so right. Not long ago, I was have sworn this wine was Burgundy. I’m so happy I know better, and hats off to the winemaker!

Quartz Reef

Following the tasting, I tried several other Central Otago wines and in the process I discovered that one of my biggest wine suppliers carries many of the wines I had tasted. This is a supplier I trust with providing great European wines and choosing ideal vintages. Imagine my surprise to see a list of  names, similar or matching  to the ones I’d tasted? It’s not coincidence. They knew. Now I know. And now YOU know.

New Zealand. It’s a whole new world of wine for you.

mud house

à votre santé!


A Dry White Season

23 Feb

Two dry white wines, one new and Austrian, one vintage and Spanish; both deserving of your attention.

Fritsch “Windspiel” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Wagram, Austria. Purchased from 67 Wine, $12.99. ABV12.%.

Pale straw in color with a tinge of green, the nose is barely detectable of distant wildflowers and herbs. In the mouth, crisp acidity with lemon-lime citrus and under-ripe white pear are dominant.  As it warms on the palate, the tartness expands and secondary notes of white orchid, minerals, and white pepper are exposed. A gentle, dry, and pleasing finish begs for the for the next bite or sip. An ideal match for light dishes and seafood, this wine has enough acidity to complement spicy or savory flavors. Impressive value with flexibility in pairing. Website:


Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanca 1996. Rioja, Spain. Purchased from Astor Wine and Spirits, $45. ABV 12.5%.

This white Rioja is blended from 90% viura and 10% malvasia. Aged for at least five years in barrels before bottling, this is a precious older wine that is both widely appreciated and able to be sourced and purchased at a reasonable price.

Golden color with a nose that needs a moment to allow the funk to burn off. Afterwards, the nose resolves with notes of dried floral arrangement and tangerine peel. In the mouth, dried apple and dried apricot flavors are accented by touches of vanilla and orange zest,  giving way to a very direct acidity. A perfect match for savory fish, poultry, egg, and truffle dishes. Focused but not singular, this is an unusual, special wine that is perfect to keep a few bottles and have on hand for that dish that needs a certain “je ne sais quoi”. Commonly rated in the low to mid 90’s, you might be amazed how an older white wine can pair so well with savory dishes. The answer in in the aged fruit, focused acidity, and short, dry, clean finish.  Website:


à votre santé!

Popping the Zork on Pepperwood Grove

16 Feb

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2010.Chilean grapes, vinted & bottled by Pepperwood Grove Winery, Napa. 13% ABV. List $10/bottle, $9 direct from winery, seen locally as low as $7/bottle.

Always on the lookout for a good value, I saw a shelf talker that mentioned this wine was a Wine Enthusiast Best Buy and Wine Spectator Best Value. OK, at this price, that’s enough to give it a try. I got home and realized they used a zork for bottle closure, and I wanted to taste Pepperwood Grove’s wine, even if only for the use of the Zork and their trademark “Groovy Green Bottle”. On the back of the bottle, they have two sliding scale markings, placing this closer to “Dry” than “Sweet”, and medium bodied, to help customers decide if this wine might be to their liking. That was a third thing I liked, and I haven’t even tasted the stuff in the bottle. Someone is a savvy winemaker. But here we go, unwrap and pull the zork:

Color: violet body with light edging. Nose: ripe plum, cut flowers and toasted almond. In the mouth, cherry and plum, a touch of spice. Modest fruit meets modest acidity and  tannins, medium finish. I’d serve this for an afternoon party in a second, it’s easy going down, gentle enough for everyone but enough body to please the cab lovers, carefully built and sleekly packaged. At this price, what’s not to love? No wonder it has the accolades. Smart winemaking that will garner a big chunk of marketplace.

Don’t take my word for it. Crack the zork and try it yourself.  Whoa, I just saw that they sell this by the BOX! While I haven’t tried boxed wine before, I guess I will now. Keep an eye out for my box wine review…



à votre santé!

The Wine Cellar, Las Vegas NV

8 Feb

When I had to go to Las Vegas for a conference, I hoped I’d find a place to find a decent glass of wine. Fortunately for me, hidden away below the gaming floor at the Rio Casino is The Wine Cellar Tasting Room.



The wine stewards here are pleasant and helpful; there is a daily menu with wines by the glass as well as a large by the bottle selection. In a larger menu they have multi-wine flights that range from $20-$80, with notes by the person who created each flight.

The stewards told me they have wine significant turnover each month, so I expect they are buying a few cases only for each wine. Emphasis is largely on California wines, to match the large percentage of their clientele. While I’d personally like to see more world wines and flights, with a little help I easily found some wonderful California wines that I’m so glad I tasted. One that really stood out to me was the Dumol Chardonnay 2008. This Russian River Valley wine was an amazing cap to my day of business conferences. My notes from the tasting: “Slight greenish-gold hue, perfumed nose with tangerine and white peach. Expansive palate of pear,  baked apple, & touch of citrus, with bold acidity. Great depth and detail, almost sad to leave the tongue. Reminds me of great Burgundies.Very gentle wood finish with secondary notes of spice and stone; can’t wait for the next sip. As delightful a California white as I’ve seen in years. ” At this point, I put down my ipad to stop taking notes and focused on enjoying the wine. Can you blame me?


I found The Wine Cellar to be an excellent resource for the wine lover who would enjoy a flight, glass, or a nice bottle to enjoy locally or take back to your room. They also have a rack full of $10 wines that are passable, so don’t fret about breaking the bank.  Single glasses of wine vary in price, on par with major cities, for a generous pour. Over the course of several visits,  I had the opportunity to enjoy several glasses of wine, trying new things, and chatting with the stewards.  On my final evening in Las Vegas, I tried a three-cheese pairing with a Twenty Rows 2009 Napa Cabernet (retail $20/bottle). It is a delightful cab, and I will look for in the future to give it an accurate review.

20 Rows

With a touch of blue cheese still on my palate, I chose to cleanse with an Italian winemaker whose barbera and nebbiolo I have enjoyed, Michele Chiarlo’s Moscato d’Asti Nivole. A touch sweeter than the Sauternes and Eiswines I’ve been drinking,  it was the perfect foil and palate cleanser.


After my tasting, I walked around the cellar and enjoyed the large format, first growth, high profile, and historical bottles they have on display.

Thomas Jefferson

I found The Wine Cellar a fun oasis for oenophiles and a welcome departure from your business conference or the gaming floor. It’s also the safest bet you’ll find in Las Vegas.

à votre santé!

The Future of First Growths

1 Feb

If you follow me on twitter @jvbuncorked, you might have noticed the myriad discussions about the value of first growth wines recently. (Wine newbie? Nancy Parode has a nice post on ‘Into Wine’ that explains the first growth classification.)

So, Guy Collins & Scott Reyburn penned a great article on that examines the decline of first growth wine sales over the last few years by major sales houses. Shockingly or not, sales have dropped by a staggering amount.

The article features this impressive quote: ““Bordeaux headlines all our sales in terms of volume and we calculate its top wines have dropped 25 to 30 percent in price at auction since 2011,” David Elswood, international director of wine at Christie’s, said in a phone interview. “The Bordelais were trying to sell wines en primeur in 2011 at prices that seem ludicrous now. As a result, there’s been a revaluation of Bordeaux across the board. I’ve never seen such a ripple effect.”


Revaluation. That word sparks a glimmer of hope in the heart of the oenophile. The mere hope for first growth prices returning to the reach of the middle-class has sparked the discussions on social media: Will Bordeaux maintain the current pricing, or lower the cost of wine futures that most can afford ? According to economic theory, first growth pricing should drop due to the lower quality of recent (2011 & after) crops and bottle tastings  after the meteoric rise in cost thanks to the high demand for the quality 2005, ’09, and ’10 vintages. But will they?

For wealthy collectors, first growths are a commodity to be bought, held, and sold.  For oenophiles on the other hand, acquisitions can be incredibly satisfying- with the end focus of said acquisition to be the hope of incredible enjoyment of a rare and priceless beauty after proper aging. Sadly, over the last few decades the industry has seen massive increases in pricing that, while great for both the winemaker and the wine collector, makes the ability to even to taste a first growth nearly impossible for the average wine lover. In the 1980s, one could pick up a first growth for around $40. By 2001, the cost for 1998 First Growths were $170-235 per bottle.  By todays standards, it’s more than ten times that price, while the dollar is valued at about one third of what it was in 1980.  For example, the 2011 Chateau Latour currently sells for $688 per bottle versus the ’09 vintage at $2000 at Sotheby’s Wine Merchants. Among my favorites, the formerly affordable Chateau Margaux is available from Sotheby’s in various vintages from $400 to the ’94 vintage to $1400 for the 2009 vintage, and only $1500 per bottle for the rare 1982 vintage.


1982 Bordeaux graph from Wine-Searcher.Com


Not sure where you stand on this issue? Well, the UnCorked position on First Growths is this, in a word:


Global wine consumption has increased in recent years, and prices have risen in conjunction with demand and supply, skyrocketing due to high ratings of the ’09 and ’10 vintages. As both demand and ratings have fallen since the 2010 vintage, the market expects a correction in the pricing of first growth futures. In “average” vintages for these top wines, the wine lover may find an opportunity to buy, sometimes only to taste, these precious commodities, while in the 99 and 100-point vintages it is winemakers, collectors, and only the wealthiest of oenophiles who can enjoy the benefits. It is our fervent hope that case and bottle futures of first growths  correct back in the reach of the “average” consumer, and not remain in the reach of only the 1%.


à votre santé!


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