Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Travel Tuesday: A Slice of SLOVEnia

"Wine has a voice for those who wish to hear it and for those who take the time to understand it" ~ Maria at Vinakoper

It's a beautiful day here in Bordeaux, a hot warm day, the place I'm writing one of my follow-up stories about a few of my adventures Slovenia. Tours buses waiting to take eager tourist on a city tour just below my corner window. Slovenia, wow it's a beautiful country, so clean and crisp, beautiful Mountain ranges greet you as depart from the airport and green, green everywhere you look. 

So the evergreen forest scene is not your thing, huh? Well not to worry, because they many beautiful beaches and seaside resorts waiting to welcome you. If you feel a chill, while inland then I'd just cruise to the coast and catch some sun and take the plunge in the Adriatic Sea, that's what the locals do. 

For a country of only two million people, I'd have to say they really know how to keep their country litter free, I was hard pressed to find a scrap of paper anywhere just laying about. Some other countries in the world, [including my own] may just want to fly a representative there to see how and what true respect for the land looks like, clean as the proverbial whistle. 

I say a slice of Slovenia because unlike my other fellow journalist who accompanied me on this trip to what I will describe for me personally as the virtual unknown, my part of the journey was cut a bit short. Like the slice you see above, cut from the whole, so too was my trip to Slovenia. Oh yes, as if par for the course, I had few obstacles set in my way before and after arriving. It was as if the universe was saying no-no Bill, don't go, to Slovenia

There were unexplained cancellations of my original flight, with shoulder shrugs of indifference via Air France [once I arrived at JFK] and then there was the sudden and painful food poisoning via my dance with the Octopus the night before, which cramped my style so much, I had to beg for mercy.

So to say I even saw a slice of this amazing country or its wonderful people is a generous statement at best. But I do hope to revisit again one day in the future, with fortune smiling on my journey the next time. 

But now for one of the most ideal dessert and wine pairings I've ever encountered, please don't take my words lightly here. When I say ever, I truly mean ever. This was my first experience with either one of these great items you see pictured above, but I hope it will not be my last. The dessert you see plated above is called Prleska [Presna] Gibanica; a blend of cottage cheese, raisins, with a subtle sweetness and other yummy stuff. Sorry I didn't get the ingredient list and the sparkling wine you see pictured with above is a Muscat produced semi-dry and it sells for 12 euros. 

If you're looking for thee most amazing wine to pair with your wedding cake and have a toast with your guests, yes Champagne is customary, elegant, and sophisticated. But it lacks the one essential component necessary to pull off the pairing perfection; it has little RS like the bubbly pictured above. In pairing wines with desserts it's important to remember to pair sweet with sweet for pairing success. I've eaten plenty of wedding cake in my day, and feel qualified to tell you a matter of factly that the above wine, is a wedding cakes best friend [don't doubt me].  

As you can see from the picture above Slovenia is a very green place, no shortage of rainfall here. The brand Ormož Jeruzalem was named after the two towns, both of which are closely related to wine and vineyards Jerusalem is the highest point and the center of our vineyards. As legend has it that this area was named at the time of the Crusades. 

Many of crusaders coming through this area at the time believed this must be the idealized Jeruzalem and opted to stay instead of returning home. Ormož is a picturesque ancient town on the steep terraces above the river Drava and has always been associated with wine. If you'd like to take an in-depth look into the Slovenian Wine Scene, then click here for all the details, on tour, travel and more. 

Slovenia is a gorgeous unspoiled country, one I hope to visit again someday and I'd encourage you to do the same. It has great art, culture, castles, skiing, basketball, fantastic food, fun and interesting people and above all quite the selection of new and different styles of wine to sample and savor. Until next time folks remember life is so short, so take a chance, do something different, don't settle and for gods sake get out there salud!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wine of the Moment: 2009 Michele Chiarlo 'Reyna' Barbaresco

"It's not the size of the price on the bottle, it's the size of the wine in the bottle that counts!" ~ A wise vino-sapien

Today's wine of the moment is not a sample, it's not a Trader Joe's under twenty selection either, nor is it available at Costco. This wine doesn't play in a band, it doesn't run marathons and you won't catch it doing Yoga or Pilates. 

But what this wine does have is real soul and substance that you can taste in each sip and maybe even the occasional long slurp. The color in the picture is not quite accurate, it has bit burnt orange in the core and a bit lighter than the picture suggest. 

In a word, this wine is textured. It has layers of complexity which just beg to be decanted, for maximum  enjoyment. Sweet floral notes escape easily from the glass, while the initial splash down reveals edgy Nebbiolo size tannins, not fully integrated. You'll find loads of rich, sweet tobacco, baked cherry and licorice flavors, abound, but they do seem to fade away a bit too quickly on the brisk finish. All the action is mid-palate but I'm quite happy with that nonetheless. 

This wine sells for $32 most places, but those of you in San Diego can grab it at Bird Rock Fine Wine in La Jolla. I scored this wine 91 points for suave sophistication and its organic originality, a beautifully well done wine that will have you wanting to have a second bottle nearby. 

Again a wine with real soul and substance a wine that is so worth the price of admission. While it's not a wine that has the depth of other Barbaresco's I've encountered, it was a great blast in the glass today, one I'd recommend you give a swirl soon. Until next time folks, continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Tasting Room Experience

"You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometimes, well you might just find, you get what you need!” ~Rolling Stones

The Labor Day weekend, was a long weekend for many, some of you may have used that extra day to do some wine tasting. Perhaps you took a tour, grabbed a groups of friends, or it was just you and the Mrs. off on wine-tasting adventure for the day. You most likely were not the only one with that idea, which means some of the more popular destinations were quite busy. 

I've experienced this more than once myself and I either wait and politely wade through a sea of thirsty vino-sapiens or I attempt to find a winery far off the beaten path. Somewhere the crowds may have glossed over when they planned their wine tasting route for the day, one that does not service Limo Buses and the like [if you know what I mean]. 

My strategy for a successful wine tasting trip is pretty simple really. I typically try to avoid weekends, I like to go mid-week or when it's not the high-season. If I know the place I'd like to taste will be crazy busy later in the day, I'll go there first right when they open. For a better experience [if offered or required] I book tasting appointments in advance. Some wineries offer enhanced experiences which I've found are very much worth the price of admission. 

With the advent of Social Media in today's world "everyone's a critic" and they'd like to have their opinion heard by the entire world. Often it's a good thing, but other times because of improper planning or unrealistic expectations some folks take to "rant" sites like Yelp to voice their displeasure. Still other folks will use other platforms such as Twitter and or Facebook to let these businesses know they're not pleased with their perception about the quality of service. 

Still you can't just pin it on the customers, sometimes the folks in the tasting room [who are human] make decisions when interacting with customers, which can put the winery in a bad light. There are always two sides to the argument, but I believe both customers and tasting room attendants bear equal responsibility upon their own shoulders in the tasting room experience.

So before you spout [blow your cork] off on social media, slow-your-roll just a moment, take a breath, step away from the situation. Enjoy that glass of wine, while sitting on their patio overlooking the vineyards, it will help you to gain some perspective on the things that really matter. 

Which is why I put this list together in such a way as to speak to both sides of the tasting bar. I've never worked in a tasting room, but I've poured at many other events and at a wine tasting bar in La Jolla. So I think I understand both sides of the coin, pretty well. By all means, if you have something you'd like to add please do so below in the comments. 

1. Customers [tasters] need to manage their expectations. Walking up to a tasting room door five minutes before they close up for the day is a recipe for sour grapes, this is a practice I'd avoid. 

2. Customers should call ahead, this is common courtesy. You do this to assure yourself that the winery is indeed open, that way you don't drive all that way for nothing [Not all wineries operate on the same schedule either, so plan ahead].
3. Customers do well to remember, like I said above tasting rooms can be very busy places. It's easy to overwhelmed by even 2-3 groups of folks visiting at the same time, with only a handful of tasting room attendants on hand. So please be patient.

4. Customers [tasters] should remember you're there to taste and not to drink [important distinction]. These are samples, to help you form an opinion about the wines being tasted and to hopefully help you make more than a few purchasing decisions.

5. Tasters, please have a designated driver who is either committed to spitting or to not sampling wines at all.

6. As a wine 'tasting' customer, please remember to stay hydrated, this point can not be stressed enough.

7. If it's needed/required to make appointments ahead of time, please do so. This is a great way for you and the winery to be on the same schedule. And while winemakers need to be good stewards of their time, because they have a lot going on in the winery and vineyards [behind the curtain] - and it's possible for an "oops" to occasionally happen. So always call to confirm the day of the appointment, is welcomed and appreciated.

8. Tasting Room attendants should never bad-mouth their neighbors [other wineries] that's poor form and a very tacky move. 

9. Tasting Room attendants should do their best to acknowledge each new customer who walks through the door with a "Smile, hello, I'll be right with you!" This honestly works everytime and if you'll be delayed further just excuse yourself a moment to let new arrivals know you'll do your very best to accommodate them soon. 

10. Tasters [customers] please remember when you belly-up-to-the-bar other folks may have come in behind you, who would be really happy that you've made some space for them. 

11. Lastly, please remember this should be a fun experience, follow some basic guidelines of common courtesy, plan ahead and everyone will have a better experience in the long run. 

Bonus: Wineries I know you've probably have heard this before; but don't you think the Tasting Room should be "cool" [as in not roasting] environment where you can fairly evaluate each of the wines sampled?

Until next time folks, I hope you all remember that life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Gris or not to Grigio that is the Question

Is it Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio? Good question, so today I will attempt to answer the age old question, is it better to Gris or not to Grigio?

Shakespeare may have wondered aloud, “to be or not to be” and while many folks believe the old barge is merely contemplating life; whether to live or not to live would be better. I say that because he later contemplated, whether it would be better to suffer under the burden of riches or take up arms against his troubles. 
"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” 
Personally I’d opt for the outrageous fortune [I do like the sound of that]. But no matter which side of the argument you're on, one thing is clear, one does not have to make any life-altering decisions in choosing Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, to that point there’s no question.

Today’s post will also revolve around the wonderful grape variety that can be confusing to some and still to others it's all the same. But if you're curious as I was to find why the same grape has two different names and why does the same grape with different names bring with it two very different styles. Then stick around a bit as I attempt to give you the readers-digest version what is going on with this wildly popular grape.

Identity Crisis: I say Pinot Gris and you say Pinot Grigio but hold on a minute, it’s not that simple. Some folk thinks it’s just "You say tomato, I say tomahto" conversation.  Technically they’re the same grape, but with different clones, climates and wine making styles it would seem we have two completely different grapes. The truth is while they are the same grape; it’s also true they’re two different styles. So on the next trip to the wine-shop; it's a good idea to keep in mind these differences, so you can make smart shopping and food pairing decisions.

Gris vs Grigio: So what you will typically find is that in Italy and some producers here in California will label the bottle Pinot Grigio. While in Oregon and France's Alsace region it's known as Pinot Gris. Many other wine producing regions will use the terms interchangeably depending on the style. As you may have guessed the Pinot Grigio grape is in essence a white mutation of the very popular Pinot Noir grape, similar to what you find with the Sauvignon Blanc, which is partially responsible for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc on the other side of coin.

Pinot Scoop: I want to help you keep your Pinot's straight, so please take note of this important distinction; Pinot Blanc is not the same as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. Pinot Blanc is a further mutation of the Pinot Boir grape and another story by itself, for another time.

Stylistic Differences: What you are going to find across the board is that most if not all the Pinot Grigio wines created in Italy tend to be typically dry [not sweet with low RS] and light, white flowers, almonds a mineral taste to it. On the flip side of the coin, [speaking in general terms] Californian variants of Pinot Grigio tend to be richer and lemony or citrusy in flavor, but still have good acid and refreshing minerality.

Now for our French friends and their New World counterparts in Oregon who label their bottles Pinot Gris [off-dry, higher RS] whose wines tend to come from the Alsace region, along the German/French border. 

[Of course with exceptions to every rule, allowing for variation. Some producers in Oregon make their PG in a dry style with very little RS] 

While in Oregon PG can be found mostly from wineries of the Willamette Valley. Stylistically speaking of both regions, these wines are more fruity and flowery than their Italian counterparts; aromas can range from peach to grapefruit to melon, even though they are layered with rich mineral characteristics [often known as minerality].

What to Pair: These wines are such a great alternative to a California Chardonnay and many are very inexpensive. You’ll often find Pinot Grigio pairs well with a large variety of light or mild-flavored dishes that are still on the "thick" side of the equation. For example; chicken in a rich white-wine sauce, holds its own nicely against richer flavors. But for many [myself included], light dishes like Clams, Mussels and Oysters are the perfect pairing partners with Pinot Grigio.  

Conversely, if you find yourself in a spicy situation food wise, just adjust your choice a little and grab yourself some Alsatian Pinot Gris, that RS [residual sugar levels vary] will put the fire out and the acidity will refresh you palate clearing the way like a cleansing rinse, allowing all those brilliant spicy flavors to come through again and again.

Which ever style you choose, remember they’re best served chilled and kept in a cool sleeve to maximize your enjoyment and in my opinion even more so with Pinot Grigio.

If you want to explore these two [2] styles further, I'd recommend you do so via purchasing the four bottles I've listed below. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites [four great wines] I would like to recommend to you, which I know will help you see the differences quickly; the contrast will be night and day.

1. Schoffit Pinot Gris Rangen Clos Saint Theobald
   [This one will cost you a pretty penny but it’s well worth the price of admission]

2. Willakenzie Estate Oregon Pinot Gris

3. Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio

4. Attems Pinot Grigio
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