Sunday, October 17, 2010

President Obama serves L.A. Cetto can't you give it a try?

L.A.Cetto wines of Mexico were poured at the visit of Mexican President Calderon to Washington. President Obama’s  state dinner menu was created in part by guest chef Rick Bayless, founder of Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. The four-course meal featured Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan black mole as the entree. Mr Bayless has been a long time fan of the L.A.Cetto winery serving their wines in his restaurants for many years. At a recent conversation at the Fancy Food show in NY, Bayless spoke about his recent trip to the winery and the tasting of the newest vintages. Twenty cases of L.A.Cetto wine were sent to Washington for the guests of Obama and Calderon to enjoy with the Ambassador . The Double Gold Award winning L.A. Cetto 2004 Nebbiolo was poured in crystal stemware.

Most of us have never heard of L.A. Cetto.  Nor Guadalupe Valley or any of the more than 30 wineries located just an hour outside of Ensenada, Mexico.  But you should get to know La Cetto wines. I know you are thinking what kind of wine will I get coming out of Baja, well if you try La Cetto, great wines, fantastic values!
L.A. Cetto (pronounced Chet-toe) is one of Mexico's largest wine producers. Founded by an Italian, Angelo Cetto and located at the top of the Guadalupe Valley, Cetto has been producing wines (and good ones at that) for almost a century.  Wines that are easy to drink, relatively inexpensive to purchase, and have earned many gold medals over the years.
The vineyards surround the producing facility and are nestled in a beautiful location at the top (northeastern end) of the Valley. The Baja peninsula has a semi-desert climate, but also a cold marine current producing a Mediterranean style climate ideal for growing.  Warm summers and mild winters are complimented by sunny days and cool nights.

Reserva Nebbiolo

The grapes fermented on the skins approximately 15-20 days, followed by aging for 12 to 16 months in 225-liter French oak barrels. This was followed by 2 years additional aging in glass bottles prior to release. Description: Garnet red in color with characteristically orange highlights. There is an intense bouquet and flavor of blackberry, jam, mint, dried plums, raspberries, roses, spices, tobacco, vanilla and violets. It is dry and medium-bodied with a surprising gentleness. 

Petite Sirah

I've also had the opportunity to taste the Petite Sirah.  It is 100% Petite Sirah, barrel aged for six months and then bottle aged for 6 months prior to release.  It has an dark ruby red color guaranteed to stain your teeth after just one glass. The aroma is intense, with dark red fruits and a spicy character to highlight the hints of lavender. This wine has nice mature tannins that balance its fruit and a finish characteristic of this varietal.   
The dark violet color serves as a perfect reminder that Petite Sirah, should never be confused with Shiraz or Syrah.  Shiraz and Syrah are the same varital. Shiraz, is what you will find Australians call their Syrah.  Possibly named after the city of Shiraz in ancient Persia where the varietal originated.  Shiraz and Syrah are synonymous.  Syrah is the name of the varietal you will find in Rhone and California. 
When you get to Rhone you find the one commonality, that Syrah and Petite Sirah are both Rhone varietals but that is where the similarity ends. They are not related. French viticulturists who examined Petite Sirah plantings in the 1970s told the growers that what they had was definitely not Syrah, but rather a grape called Durif (sometimes spelled "Duriff"), a variety grown in tiny quantities in southeastern France and which was named after a Dr. Durif, who first propagated the grape around 1880 in the Rhone Valley.  In France Petite Sirah, known for a shorter finish is mainly used as a blending grape. 
So to recap: Syrah and Petite Sirah (or Petite Syrah) are not made from the same grape; and Shiraz is the same wine as Syrah, but with an Australian attitude.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Snobs VS Geeks: A breakdown of some wine terminology

I wanted to talk about a number of terms people hear in the wine world but thought it very important to make a quick distinction. The distinction between a “Wine Snob” VS a “Wine Geek”. The two can sometimes seem like same thing but they are very different and both are influential in the wine world.

The world of wine can be many things. Unfortunately it is mostly known for the “wine snobs” that we all seem to love so much. They are the ones you see at the store dropping names of Cult Wines like Screaming Eagle, Silver Oak or Cakebread and are more than willing to pay for it as long as people around them know what they are drinking. They are as concerned about he trophy names as the wine. This is the person that looks down on others and judges what they drink based solely on price and while I like to poke fun at them they intimidate people, keeping them from exploring the world of wine. None of us should be the “Wine Snob”. Our mind should be open each time we taste a wine, and we should remember that there is a reason for every style of wine.

Geeks can seem like snobs, but have a very different attitude. A real wine geek will be as excited over finding a new value priced wine for the next party as they would be about finding a first growth to lay down for a number of years. Geeks have a lot of wine knowledge, but still understand that in the wine world one can never understand everything, know every region, chateau, or new style of wine. The wine geek may still talk of old world wines VS new world wines but will understand that the lines between them are fading. We watch the battle and embrace it because it results in better wines for all of us. A wine geek will never judge what others around are drinking, and is usually too involved in their own glass to care. They share knowledge, ask questions and listen to others opinions.

Having said all that here is a list of wine terminology to help navigate the world of wine. Please don't use it to be a snob.


An approachable wine offers an overall pleasant sensation at first sip. A synonym for approachable is accessible. Approachable’s antonyms are closed or dumb. A closed or dumb wine has little aroma or flavor to encourage the taster to explore further. A wine can be closed or dumb because the wine is over the hill or, conversely, has yet to reach maturity.


Body is the weight of the wine on your palate. The best way to figure out a wine's body is to compare it to different types of milk. A light-bodied wine will feel about as weighty as skim milk in your mouth, a medium-bodied wine will feel more like whole milk, and a full-bodied wine will feel similar to half-and-half.


A blend or special lot of wine.


While most of us pay attention to that first burst of a wine's flavor, wine pros spend as much time savoring the last sensation. The reason: The longer a wine's flavor lasts in your mouth (called its finish), the better the wine. The way to discern a wine's finish is by retronasal breathing (it sounds more complicated than it is). To do this, take a sip, hold the wine in your mouth, swirl it around, and swallow, keeping your mouth closed. With your mouth still closed, breathe out forcefully through your nose. Notice the sensation. If the wine has a long finish, you'll still be able to taste and smell it. If the finish is short, you'll notice very little, if any, flavor.


Mouthwatering, Refreshing, Zingy. These are just a few ways to describe a wine that's crisp. Wine's crispness comes from acidity, since acids are natural components of grapes. However, some grape varieties (such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris) are inherently high in acidity, while others (like Chardonnay and Zinfandel) are low. Climate, too, is critical―the cooler the climate, the more acidity in the wine and the crisper it will be. Try a Sauvignon Blanc next to a Chardonnay and notice the difference in the way your mouth reacts under the back of your tongue.


High alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn with "heat" on the finish are called hot. Acceptable in Port-style wines and desirable to some extent in the finish of a wine but never from front to back.


When you swirl wine in a glass, legs are the rivulets of wine that coat the inner surface of the glass above the wine, then run slowly back down. Myth has it that the wider the legs, the better the wine. This is not true. The width of legs is determined by a number of factors, including alcohol content, the amount of glycerol, and the evaporation rate of the alcohol. The most important point to remember is this: Legs have nothing to do with the quality of a wine. A synonym for legs is tears. Wine snobs are fond of saying a wine has good legs, but legs or tears are more indicative of viscosity and not necessarily of quality.

MERITAGE: (rhymes with heritage)

A term, used by California wineries, for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines "merit" with "heritage." The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn't meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Joseph Phelps Insignia and is an  example of a wine whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating. For more information along with proof of correct pronunciation you may go to:


While the word nose can be used as a synonym for aroma or bouquet, those two terms are technically speaking, different. Aroma is the correct term for the scents that are associated with a young wine. A young red wine, for example, might have the aroma of cherries. Bouquet describes the more complex aromatic compounds that evolve after a wine has been aged for a considerable period of time. In an older red wine, that simple cherry aroma will disappear, and a multitude of smells will take its place. Rieslings possess some of the most gorgeous noses in the world.


Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side.


Tannin is extracted from grape skins during fermentation. A natural preservative, tannin can feel astringent if the grapes were harvested too early. But when grapes are allowed to hang on the vine until they have fully matured, tannin gives wine a sense of structure. Some grape varieties naturally have more tannin than others. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, for example, have a lot, while Pinot Noir has little. And here's a good tip: If wine seems to have a lot of tannin, serve it with a filet or a creamy, soft cheese. The fat in meat and dairy products coats the palate, which makes a tannic wine seem velvety.

Never hesitate to explore wines. The terms above are just tools to help you let someone know exactly what you are looking for in a wine. They are a means towards more effective communication that will allow a sommelier or steward in a wine store help you find the bottle you are looking for with less confusion.

If you have a favorite story about a "wine snob" please share it.  Snobs can be as funny as they seem to be intimidating.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marchesi Biscardo Valpolicella Classico Superior Ripasso DOC.

Marchesi Biscardo Valpolicella Classico Superior Ripasso DOC. (I know that's a mouthful but oh what a mouthful) Lets look at that name Closely: But first a note.

This is by far the best Valpolicella I've had in a long time. If you have tried some off of the local super market shelf, buy a large producer I can guarantee it didn't do justice to this style of wine.
This was a beautiful ruby color with hints of orange. The nose was elegant and complex with spicy notes that compliment the ripe berry and floral aromas. This is a full-bodied valpolicella with velvety tannins and a finish that is unforgettable.

Marchesi Biscardo is the winery

CLASSICO: An area within a lager geographic region defined by the Italian classification system (DOC); also the wines coming from this area. Such territory is usually the oldest in terms of grape growing and wine making and often has the best wines within the largest region.

SUPERIORE: for a Valpolicella Classico it means minimum 12% alcoholic content and 14 months of aging.

RIPASSO: is a very old and traditional process used to give to the Valpolicella wine richness and body. After the Valpolicella is fermented in the usual way, it is placed in casks containing the skins of the AMARONE, a concentrated wine coming from semi-dried grapes. This process, which last from 2 to 3 weeks, adds color, tannins, and complex flavors. A perfect complement to highly seasoned first courses as well as roasted meats or steak.
Best served at 60°-64° F.

Valpolicella is the name of the type of wine: It is a blend of Corvina (50% to 60%), Rondinella (30% to40%) and Molinara. Often called a “Baby Amorone” Valpolicella is a wine from the Veneto region of Italy, made from corvina, molinara and rondinella grapes.

Corvina is sometimes called Corvina Veronese or Cruina. It normally is used in making a light to medium body wine. This grape has a naturally high acidity lending a tart quality to the wine. Corvina sometimes has a slight almond note but is usually recognized as sour cherry.

Molinara is also grown primarily in Veneto and is used mainly to add acidity. This wine has very little color extract.

Rondinella grapes are neutral in flavors but have generous yields due to it's resistance to disease. It is primarily a blending grape with sweet flavors given it's low level of sugar and acidity.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Juno Cape Maidens Chardonnay

I recently sat down and set all my wine snobbery aside for a night to enjoy one of these last summer nights with a crisp white wine. All the usual suspects were lined up and ready for judgment when a friend threw me a curve and directed my efforts towards South Africa. The wine of my friends choosing was Cape Maidens Chardonnay by Juno . I was tired of chardonnays and needed some persuasion. The last thing I wanted was another example of a wine maker doing everything they can to hide the true characteristics of a varietal. So many chardonnays are overdone but I'm glad my friends talked me into trying this wine. 

Juno's Cape Maidens Chardonnay was full bodied, well rounded with beautiful mineral characteristics that integrated well with hints of lime and honey in addition to the traditional chardonnay aromas of apples and tropical fruits. The finish was long and the acidity was just right. Each sip left you eager for another.

This wine is just what I was looking for. Crisp and clean, nimble on its feet. Juno Cape Maidens Chardonnay manages to avoid the pitfalls of another chardonnays by being just another bland cookie-cutter wine marketed towards anyone just looking for the word chardonnay on the label and the restraint shown by the subtle use of oak allows the varietal personality to show through.

It may have been the company or the food but this wine was one of my best this summer and it can be found at a reasonable price. 

My heartfelt thanks to Paul and Pam for redirecting me towards Chardonnays just as I was ready to write them off for a time.   This is what wine is about.  Sharing with friends and family.   

Saturday, May 1, 2010


And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
'I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine'.
G.K. Chesterton(1874–1936)
Wine and Water

My brother is celebrating a 44th birthday this week. It's important to me to help him celebrate this year as his last year before he's officially one half way to ninety. To mix things up I thought I would toast him with some Cava.

Cava is the name of a type of Spanish white or pink sparkling wine, produced in different areas of Catalonia, Navarra, Rioja, Andalucia, Valencia and Extremadura but mainly in the Penedes region in Catalonia, 40 km to the south west of Barcelona. Cava is a Greek term that was used to refer to a "high end" table wine or wine cellar, and comes from the Latin word "cava" which means cave in English. Caves were used in the early days of Cava production for the preservation or aging of wine. The sparkling wine of Cava was created in 1872 by Josep Raventós. The vineyards of Penedès were devastated by the phylloxera plague, and the predominantly red vines were being replaced by large numbers of vines producing white grapes. After seeing the success of the Champagne region, Raventós decided to create the dry sparkling wine that has become the reason for the region's continued success. In the past the wine was referred to as Spanish Champagne (no longer permitted under EU law), or colloquially as champaña or xampany. You can purchase Cava in varying levels of dryness.

  • Extra Brut – 0-6 grams of sugar per liter, the driest of the cava

  • Brut – 0-15 grams of sugar per liter

  • Extra Seco – 12-20 grams of sugar per liter

  • Seco – 17-35 grams of sugar per liter

  • Semi-Seco – 33-50 grams of sugar per liter

  • Dulce – More than 50 grams of sugar per liter, the sweetest of the cava
I'm celebrating this weekend with Dibon Demi-Sec (Semi Seco)
Blend of three typical varieties of the Penedes, 45% Macabeo, 25% Xarel-lo and 30% Parellada. This wine is usually available for $9.99. It's a nice way to celebrate any occasion without breaking the bank.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Indian Wells Cabernet

I just had the pleasure of tasting Indian Wells Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine maker describes the wine as: “... our warm climate ripe, jammy “New World” style of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine really typifies the Wahluke Slope region with up front, dark fruit aromas and flavors with hints of vanilla. Vineyards in the area are more than a decade old now and showing character and complexity.”
I describe this wine as a perfect chance to indulge. Layers of black cherry and black current with a long finish. This wine is a party in your mouth with plenty of structure that is not overcome by the firm but forgiving tannins. I couldn't help but pair it up with a Chocolate Espresso Cake.

Chocolate-Espresso Cake
1 ½ cup unsalted butter, cut up small
7 oz unsweetened chocolate squares, chopped
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp instant espresso dissolved in 2 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
½ cup + 2 Tbsp Whidbey’s liquor
1 Tbsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ cups cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 290F. Line a 10” spring-form pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with pan spray. Wrap the pans with foil as the batter is very thin and may leak out.
Put butter, chocolates, and espresso/water mixture in a mixing bowl and place over a pot of simmering water. Stir often until the ingredients are melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved. Cool slightly. Add the Whidbey’s liquor and vanilla mix well and then whisk in the eggs.
Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the chocolate mixture, beat just until incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and place on a baking sheet and then into the oven. Bake about 1 ¾ to 2 hours or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove and cool. Serve with white Chocolate Crème Anglaise and fresh raspberries.