Archive | January, 2015

Drinking Your Birth Year? (Rant)

29 Jan

Clue me in, please. Dig deep for a second, and help out a fellow oenophile.

My question for the group: What is with the fascination of drinking one’s birth year?

Drinking your birth year. I don’t understand it, but I have it. I have this primal urge, evidently like many others. When Brad Dixon, Sommelier at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa offered me my birth year in wine I stopped cold for a moment, and considered it seriously, against the other wines I was salivating to taste. (I declined and chose something else.) When I receive an email that offers fine wines from my birth year (evidently a lousy year for wine in Bordeaux but decent in Piedmont) I get excited, just by seeing the vintage, without caring who the winemaker is, without knowing the grape, or the region. I consider spending high (nearly silly) dollar amounts for wines I have zero interest in except that they are from a time in my life when my concerns were quite few.

So far, I have yet to succumb to this urge. 

What is it about drinking your birth year? Perhaps knowing that the winemaker was creating, parenting the grapes and crafting something precious, in the very same way we imagine our parents spoke to us in utero, prepared cribs and onesies, and tried to lay groundwork for a good aging process?

Some of the older wines I’ve tasted have been stunning. A few have been total disasters. My birth year would be older than most wines I have enjoyed, and as a questionable vintage, it could be a real disaster. Yet this mystery remains…why is it so compelling?

Share your thoughts- I’d love to know what you think about drinking one’s birth year.


If you’ve ever had the pleasure, can you share your experience? 



à votre santé!


To Hell With Tradition!

27 Jan

Wine drinkers don’t really care about tradition. To hell with the traditions we’ve followed. Uncorking. Sabering champagne. “Clinking” your glasses in a toast. Red with meat and white with fish. Bah! Humbug!  To hell with tradition! And that irritatingly catchy tune from Fiddler on the Roof  gets in your head and won’t leave for months, like a heroin junkie squatting in your garden shed.

Freak Out



Except for one, simple, singular thing.

The entire process of making wine is based in tradition


(Taking a deep breath)

Nearly five thousand years ago the Phoenicians kept records of their travel for trade, their products including wines, grapes, and vines themselves. The Greeks improved demand in their economic trade by developing a superior finished product (i.e., better wine), while the Roman Empire’s mass expansion increased worldwide plantings, development, and local interest. “Hey, Jacobus, this stuff’s pretty good!”

La Tour Haut-Brion

The creation of good wine is a tradition of passion. It takes a plan, a huge amount of passion, immense dedication, and a ton of hard work to even TRY to make wine, let alone GOOD wine.


A winemaker preps soil and trellises, then plants vines in that specific soil, growing a specific grape. Protecting the fruit from bugs, birds and other predators, he or she grows the grapes to maturity. Then the winemaker picks the ripe fruit, clipping clusters from the vines, sorting, inspecting and de-stemming, choosing the best fruit. Then comes pressing and straining the juice, then fermenting, measuring acidity, sugars (in Brix), while mixing, punching down and tweaking the mixtures alcohol and sulfite levels among other key features, and racking the wines again and again to leave the sediment behind. Finally bottling, then allowing the mixture to sit, then recover from the shock of the bottling process, before finally opening a bottle of this elixer to drink and enjoy, not just to taste and judge.


This process is no easy thing. Imagine going through this entire process to taste your product and find it wanting. Worse, imagine suffering the process to find your product useless and undrinkable. Imagine that the final product -many barrels of it- simply stinks! It takes a huge amount of time to grow, cultivate, harvest, press, tweak, and bottle. The commitment to make wine is no small task.

It is a tradition and an art thousands of years old. It is a tradition that takes copious attention, time, dedication, serious knowledge, along with the willingness to fail miserably and the experience gained by trial and error, before someone with no knowledge can judge it (or simply imbibe it).


This tradition is noble and serving, for it allows us to to stand back, simply choose a bottle amongst hundreds and thousands, then pop the cork, and taste it with no involvement in the risk beyond a few dollars and a moment of our time. Or we can take the time to taste the moment, appreciate all the steps and parts in the development and growth of this living, evolving liquid, and begin the final step in wine’s evolutionary process.


To the winemakers, the farmers, the hands in the fields, the harvesters, all who stress and strain and suffer to make a luscious wine- I bow my head, bend my knee and tip my hat in honest thanks and gratitude to your passion, which serves my passion!

So after all this, how do I come full circle, having the stones to stand up and say “to hell with tradition”?


Just get that song out of my head. “Let it go, let it gooooooo….” yes, that might do the trick, and let’s open another bottle of wine. CHEERS! (clink!)

à votre santé!



Crazy Like a Blair Fox

25 Jan

Blair Fox Cellar 2011 Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, CA. $42/bottle, purchased from Vineyard. 14.3%ABV.

Color is opaque violet with purple edging. The nose shows cassis and blackberry, with hints of forest floor and truffle. In the mouth, delightful black fruit parries moderate acidity and strong tannins, giving way to a moderate finish that shows black and green peppercorn, leather, and notes of toasted oak.

I paired this with a handmade, artisan cows milk cheese and would love to drink it with grilled beef or a rustic european meal.

blair fox

Last summer I visited Santa Barbara County as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference. This is where I first tasted Blair Fox’s wines, and I was duly impressed with both the recent and their older (historic?) vintages. It was incredibly popular at a winery dinner where vendors showed their finest wares, and all were stunning. Yet, people would quietly say, “try the Blair Fox before it’s gone!” and that stayed with me.

Pricey? Sure. For a California, hand pressed, small batch wine (3 barrels)? Not really. Worth it? Well, my only concern is that I bought wine to lay down…but it hasn’t made it to my cellar, and won’t at this rate. Yes, worth it in my book.

à votre santé!

Baby It’s Cold Outside! Tasting Light White Wines

9 Jan

Sometimes when I browse a wine store I make mental notes of wines I want to try. Even though we have sub-zero temperatures outside, I’m jonesing for chilled white wines at the moment and know how my readers love wines in the $12 and under range! My cellar is full of reds and pricier whites, so it was time to hit the stores!

J. Lohr has been on my list to taste since a reader pointed it out to me here. I found two from Monterey and thought it was about time to try them! I spied a nearby Columbia Valley riesling for under $10 and thought I’d give it a taste as well. Here are my findings. What do YOU like in $12 and under? Enjoy!


J. Lohr “Riverstone” Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay 2013. San Jose, CA. $12/bottle from Empire Liquor, 13.5% ABV.

Light straw color; the nose shows tropical fruit, vanilla, and toasted oak. Very soft fruit on the palate: bosc pear, golden delicious apple, lychee. Creamy finish with a touch of flint and stone. A savory, oaky wine that shows best with food, wood dominates the fruit in this instance. Paired well with both a turkey cutlet and poached sea bass over two evenings.


Lohr Chardonnay



Columbia Winery, 2011 Cellarmaster’s Riesling, Columbia Valley WA. Empire Liquor, $8/bottle. 10% ABV.

Pale yellow in color with an aromatic nose of apricot and honeysuckle. Gentle sweetness blends with acidity; paired together with ripe white stone fruit makes for a smooth, straightforward and easygoing wine. Possibly best served as an aperitif or après-meal, perfect on a sunny afternoon/evening. With the forward sweetness, I enjoyed this most as a dessert wine but it also paired beautifully with light and medium strength cheeses.

Cellarmasters Riesling



J. Lohr “Bay Mist” Monterey County White Riesling 2012. San Jose, CA. Empire Liquor, $10/bottle. 12% ABV.

The color is pale straw with a green tinge, the nose shows clementine, lemon, lavender and steel. On the palate, effervescent stone fruit and young apple match medium acidity, medium dryness and a touch sweetness. A hint of metal and some limestone show on the finish, this wine would pair best with spicy dishes, middle-eastern dishes or seafood.

Lohr Riesling


Any of these is a solid buy in $12 and under range, and useful for your meal pairing.

à votre santé!


Roustan’s Big Bang from the Rhône Valley

4 Jan

Adrien Roustan Domain D’Ouréa Vacqueyras, 2011, Rhône, France. 14.5%ABV, priced on the internet from $27-32 per bottle.


From France’s second Rhône appellation to receive AOC (after Gigondas) comes a delightful, rustic, powerful and tasty red blend.

Color is deep crimson (nearly maroon) with ruby edging. The nose offers dark red and purple fruit with herbs and a powerful waft of alcohol. The palate is huge -a big bang of its own, a cannon shot across the bow- showing ripe red fruit, nicely demonstrating the traditional blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre expected from rhone reds. After the initial impact, the palate shifts into a darker series of  gentle woodsy flavors with saddle leather, potting soil, and a medium-long, bold and savory finish with elements of clay and calcium but missing the obvious notes of wood, steel, or concrete. A hint of effervescence dissipated after the initial taste.

This wine came to me as part of a grab bag case from Garagiste and is simply a delightful wine. Were I able to find more of it at under $20/bottle I’d be quick to pick it up; at the internet prices I saw the wine offers medium-pricey but massive flavor for a tasty and well-made biodynamic wine. Compares easily to mid-level Gigondas and other bold Rhône blends price-wise, but not a killer value.

à votre santé!


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