Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville - Napa Valley 2006

Just about everybody who knows even a little bit about wine is familiar with the Mondavi name. Robert Mondavi played a huge part in putting California on the world's wine map and built quite an empire before selling the business. What many people don't know, though, is that Robert got his start in his family's winery business before leaving rather suddenly, and his brother Peter and his family still own that winery.

Robert's father Cesare got his start in the winemaking business in Lodi, before eventually buying the Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley. Eventually, Cesare's two sons, Robert and Peter, took over the business with Peter heading up winemaking operations and Robert in charge of sales and marketing. Business boomed and everyone got along on the surface until Cesare passed away. After this, the infighting built and built until the now infamous fist fight between Peter and Robert, which resulted in Robert's ouster from the family business and a lengthy lawsuit between the Robert and Peter Mondavi families.

Today, the Robert Mondavi Winery is owned by Constellation Brands and Robert's sons Tim and Michael are involved in their own winery projects. Peter's family still owns the Charles Krug Winery, and in recent years they have been making some really nice wines. This 2006 Yountville Cab is no exception.

Deep purple in color and almost opaque in your glass, it brings aromas of blackberry and cassis with a little cedar and subtle notes of vanilla. In your mouth the wine has a wonderful feel. It is full bodied without being too weighty. The blackberry and cassis fruit shine along with hints of cherry. Very smooth tannins provide some nice balance. The finish is not particularly long, but it is truly mouthwatering and quite enjoyable.

Overall this wine provides a very nice value in the mid to high $20's. In fact it provides a lot more bang for your buck than the better known Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet. With 50,000 cases made, it should be pretty easy to find.

From a pairing standpoint it would go very nicely with a nice steak or grilled game, or it would go quite well with aged or blue cheeses.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

To Find Great Wine You Need to Find A Great Wine Retailer

So what’s the best way to find wines that you like to buy? Well, I’d love to sit here and tell you that it’s as simple as reading A Couple of Wines on a regular basis. Certainly magazines, websites and blogs like this one can be great sources of reviews and helpful information, but we all have our limitations. One key is finding sources who understand your tastes and likes or a source that you somehow connect with or just “get.” Speaking for myself, I know that there are some very well known reviewers who I understand perfectly and will give me a good insight into whether I will like a wine or not, and there are others who are completely useless to me. The other big challenge once you find some sources for suggestions is actually finding the wine. A wine that is readily available in New York City may be impossible to find in Cleveland or Chicago. The very nature of the wine business dictates that it will be very regional and even local in many cases. So what is a wine consumer to do?

Well the answer to the question is pretty simple and just takes a little bit of shopping and exploring. The number one thing that any wine consumer can do to find wines that they love, great values, and reliable sources of information is to become friendly with a great retailer. The trick is finding the great ones, and I’m here to talk about how to form one of the most important relationships in your quest for what you want in wine, whether its bargains, hidden gems, or collectibles.

The first and most important thing you want to find in a retailer is a knowledgeable, consultative salesperson who will take the time to ask you questions and learn your likes and dislikes. This is much more important than the size of the retailer. In my own experience, there is a very large retailer, who I will leave unnamed, in my market who doesn’t even know I exist. I can walk their floor for an hour without finding a knowledgeable salesperson who is willing to help. Little do they know that I have thousands of dollars of wine in my cellar and am looking to double or even triple my collection in size.

The key in finding a great as opposed to good salesperson is to find someone who is more interested in learning about your tastes as opposed to telling you about what they like. Telling you what they like is fine, but if they’re doing that and not learning about your tastes, they won’t ever be a great source for you.

I have been dealing with an outstanding local retailer, Georgetown Square Wine & Liquor in the Buffalo, NY suburbs, for years, and the reason I like them so much is that Ryan Seward, their wine manager, took the time to get to know me and my taste. Even though he is much more a French Burgundy and Pinot Noir guy, and I’m more of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache/Garnacha fan, that doesn’t really matter. He took the time to get to know me and whenever I would come in, he would let me know what new wines they had that I might be interested in trying. Now, he not only knows my tastes, but he’s surrounded himself with some very knowledgeable employees who are also very good.

Another local retailer, City Wine Merchant, in downtown Buffalo is a very different retailer than Georgetown. They are wine only and much smaller; however, their owner, Eric Genau, takes the same approach in forming relationships with his customers. He doesn’t push his tastes on the customer. Instead he focuses on learning about you and forming a more personal relationship with his customers.

What other factors should you look for? I would argue that for an everyday retailer you want to find someone who focuses on value. This is not to say that they have cheap or low priced wines. A focus on value means that they look for wines to sell that taste more expensive than they are. This could be something in the $15 and under category that tastes like a $20 wine or it could be something like the 2006 Gagliole Rosso I just picked up for about $50 but drinks like it’s at least $80. This isn’t about crazy sales or clearance items. It’s about a retailer that sources values that provide good bang for your wine buck on a regular basis.

The final factor that really sets apart the great retailers from the pack is tastings and education. These can be provided to the consumer in a number of different formats, and the great retailers usually utilize many of these. Tastings can be small informal tastings of just a couple of wines at a table on the sales floor, or it can be in depth tastings in a more formal setting. These can also come with or without education. Many retailers offer introductory type classes with tastings as well as more advanced and focused sessions on a specific region or varietal. This is a great way to learn what you like today and to discover new varietals and regions. Especially if you’re dealing with slightly more expensive wines, this is a great way to try a lot of different wines without breaking the bank.

If you already found your own great retailer, then that’s great for you. If not, ask around and try to find that retailer who will take the time to get to know you, offer good values, and provide tastings and education. Although I’d like you to keep reading my blog, you will discover more great wine that you can actually buy by forming a relationship with a great retailer than through any other source of information.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chateau Phelan Segur Saint-Estephe 2004

Can it really be? Have I been writing this blog for seven months now without reviewing a single wine from Bordeaux? Bordeaux is not my favorite region, but I have no awful grudge against the region. I’m not pretending it doesn’t exist or intentionally ignoring what is arguably the most famous wine region in the world. The truth is that as a lover of Cabernet Sauvignon , I resolved a few months ago to try to find some Bordeaux wines that I love. I’ve been mixing a few into the rotation, but up until tonight, I’ve been drinking these on social occasions when I didn’t have the opportunity to take good notes. So tonight, here it is. My first official Bordeaux review. I’m not entirely sure that I’m head over heels in love with the Chateau Phelan Segur Saint-Estephe 2004, but I’m certain that I’d like to take her out on a couple more dates.

Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint-Estephe has been around for a long time, but in the 1970’s and 1980’s it saw some rough times with poor quality wines. Ownership changed hands in 1985 and the Gardinier family who took it over immediately worked to improve quality. They took the drastic step of recalling and/or refusing to sell the 1983, 1984, and 1985 vintages, and since then they have continuously improved the quality of the wine, which brings us to the 2004 vintage.

The Chateau Phelan Segur Saint-Estephe 2004 is a deep garnet red in your glass. The nose brings cassis, cherry, & plum with notes of herbs and leather. On the palate you get cassis, blackberry, plum, and just a hint of cherry. The wine has very nice acidity and mild, stony tannins that are in a really good place now in 2010. There is no one element of this wine that will knock your socks off, but it also doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. In fact it has some very impressive structure, and it is a very well balanced, food friendly wine.

Overall, this wine is a nice value at a price point that ranges from the high $20’s to the mid $30’s. It paired really well with the porterhouse steak I grilled tonight, and it would also go very nicely with a beef or lamb stew.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla 2008

With all due respect to Argentina, for my money, the best values in the wine world these days are coming out of Spain. Although I love great Priorat, Ribera del Duero, and Rioja, the true values in Spain are coming out of what I refer to as "the up and comers." This includes regions like Montsant, Calatayud, Bierzo, Yecla and even Toro, but probably the value leader in my eyes is Jumilla. This region, which is primarily making red wine from the Monastrell (Mourvedre in the rest of the world) varietal, is making a number of outstanding wines that retail in my $15 and under price category. Today's subject is an outstanding single vineyard wine from Bodegas Olivares that can be had for as little as $9. You've got to love a wine that only has one digit before the decimal point and still tastes great!

The Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla 2008 is grown in the Hoya de Santa Ana vineyard at an altitude of 2700', which is one of the highest in Jumilla. The high altitude keeps things a little cooler and gives the wine more time on the vine to develop without getting overripe, which is always a concern in Jumilla. In your glass, the wine is deep purple in color. The bouquet shows sweet cherry, black raspberry, and blueberry fruit with notes of licorice and spice. On the palate you get a mix of red and black berry fruit and nice acidity. There is also a wonderful minerality to this medium-full bodied wine that lingers on the finish. Although there is plenty of fruit, there are also many other dimensions that give this quite a bit of structure.

Overall, this Jumilla presents a fantastic value with much more complexity than you would expect from a wine that can be found for under $10 a bottle. At this price, it can just be sipped casually on its own, but this can also be enjoyed with grilled meats and would be a great accompaniment to authentic, smoky barbecue.

To see info on some other great values from Spain, see this link