The BSFW blog offers a periodic airing of our staff's observations and musings about things we find in our market and, frankly, can't live without. This is not a dispensing of erudite information from high on the mount; this is us sharing with you the aspects of the fine wine, craft brew and gourmet worlds that pique our interest.
This congenial approach is something we take seriously - so please feel free to comment! Afterall,it's our customers that inspire us to do what we love to do - and do it even better than before at every opportunity.
As reported in my last post, over the past four months I've undertaken the painstaking chore of drinking my way through our Champagne selection. I know, just another tedious day at the office. Now that I've completed my fizzy exploration I've broken the wines into stylistic categories: Crisp and Focused; Toasty/Creamy; Terroir Driven; and Rose. These categories are of my own making and do not have direct relation to the wine's grape make-up, the winemaker's intent or how the Champagne house in question describes their product.
Today we'll get into the specifics with the first category - Crisp and Focused! These wines have a vibrancy and "lift" to them with penetrating bubbles. Here are more specifics:
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs - 100% Chardonnay.
This wine is verily the definition of "crisp and focused". Green apple and lime fruits sting the taste buds. Squeaky clean stones echo on the edges of taste perception. Wave after lovely wave of pinpoint bubbles caress the tongue and resonate in the ears. The strange effect is of a wine that is barely there but that has your complete attention. Finishes with lingering apple fruit in classic Chardonnay fashion. A lovely wine and priced accordingly.
Billecart Salmon Brut - 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay.
Red apple skin on the nose and initial palate. The bubbles are effusive and intense. They almost "hurt" at first but soon the palate adjusts to the assault and the mouse becomes a welcomed (so good, must have more!) cleanser. Maraschino cherry and pear fruits emerge along with almond slivers, orange rind and unbaked bread dough. This is an ultra-focused and serious bubbly for those whose palate doesn't mind a polite and well-intentioned slap! Among my fav's.
Laurent Perrier "Grand Siecle" Brut - 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir.
By far the most expensive wine of the entire survey and a real splurge on my part. Straddles the line between the "Crisp and Focused" and "Toasty/Creamy" categories. Heavenly aroma's of freshly baked bread and toasted nuts greet the olfactory senses. The golden hue hints at the softer, more mature overall character. Somewhat honeyed on the palate with baked apple fruits. The mouse is very fine but a little too mild and polite for my taste. I could have used more zip and vigor. This bottle was a slight disappointment for the outlay but somehow I made it through to the end!
Give Crisp and Focused a gander!
It's funny how things can turn around. Four months ago if you'd asked me about drinking Champagne I would have sighed and replied "I love the taste but I'm afraid it gives me a headache". You see, earlier attempts at home consumption (usually on special occasion brunch-type Sundays) would start pleasantly enough but end up with a creeping pain between my temples and a general feeling of malaise before the bottle was half empty. Subsequently, fine bubbles were relegated to academic purposes only.
Evaluation at industry tastings or in the shop were my only contact. Turning point: I also have a mild allergic reaction to red wine (I know, mine is a tough life...) in that when I consume it on a regular basis I develop a slight rash and my Irish face gets redder than usual. This happened, as it is wont to do, during the busy holiday season when a good red and a hearty meal is the perfect antidote to a long day's retail. I had to get off the red juice for a bit but white wine was only part of the solution. In early January, when I saw that one of my favorite Champagnes I had tasted was down to its last bottle I saw it as a sign: I had to give it a try. I snatched up that lone surviving Gaston Chiquet Brut, threw it in the work cooler and took it home that night. Upon arriving home I popped the cork, poured a glass and settled in. I fully expected that after a few glasses (or even a few sips!) that the headache would arrive and the gig would be up. No such circumstance arose. I was really digging the creamy, toasty precision of my beverage and the wonderful feel of the bubbles purifying my palate. I took my sweet time and some three and half hours and a movie later I realized when I tipped the bottle that it was that last glass. I was polishing off the whole bottle all by my lonesome! I was not drunk, I was not bloated, I was not fatigued and I didn't have any adverse effects at that moment or in the A.M.. What a thrill!
The next week I retried the experiment with Domaine Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. Same deal, I'm cured! Thus began my happy exploration of every boutique Champagne in the Ball Square inventory....
Stay tuned for the next installment of "Adventures on the Champagne Route"! I'll be detailing my tried-and-true results of this most 'arduous' investigation.
Along with the screw-cap closure, boxed wine is attempting to overcome the stigma of being associated with lower quality, mass produced wines that only previous generations could embrace. In the past decade wines of real quality have begun to appear in the "bag in a box" format forcing wine curious consumers to ask - "Could boxed wine really be for me?".
In my opinion the answer should be: "Sometimes".
Having tasted a number of more than satisfactory bag in a box wines I can attest that the quality/dollar ratio can be very attractive. Most boxed wines are 3 litres, which is the equivalent of four bottles of wine. Ball Square's highest price tier for these wines is $19.99 making the per bottle price a measly $5. Add to that the fact that, once opened, a box wine stays fresh for up to three weeks and you've got yourself a handy-dandy, at home "by the glass" program.
Other upsides include:
-The eco-friendly nature of the packaging (some estimates show the 3L box using significantly less carbon to produce and ship than a single 750ml bottle).
-Ease of transport and lack of glass making them perfect for boats, beaches and camping.
On the other hand....
-If you like to try different wines you'll have less flexibility. Remember you're buying 4 bottles not just one. Also, if you don't like it you're stuck with it.
-Overall selection. Obviously there are tens for thousands more individual wines produced in bottle compared to box. BSFW usually has about 15-25 bag in box selections on hand.
-The clock is ticking. Unopened bag in box wines are only good for about six months to a year so don't "stock up". Some boxes have "freshest by" dates on them.
The bottom line is that boxed wines have a time and a place for appropriate usage. They can be a practical and affordable weapon in your arsenal of wine buying options that can stretch your buying dollar and add a new level of convenient consumption.
Here are some recent additions to our 3 litre bag in a box selection that are worth considering. (All are priced at $19.99):
Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc ~ New Zealand
Big House "Cardinal Zin" Zinfandel ~ California
Uncle Charles Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon ~ France
Vina Borgia Garnacha ~ Spain
I was recently asked to do a "what are you drinking at home?" piece for a BostonChef's spread. While there are many correct answers (including Patron blanco on Saturday night, yeah!) here's what I chose:
The Brits are fond of saying that "a wine's first duty is to be red" - and we certainly consume a healthy heaping of red wine at my house. But lately it's been white Burgundy that's been floating my proverbial boat! The tension between the Chardonnay grapes textured layers and the region's inherent palate-cleansing acidity keeps the glass coming back to the lips with pleasant frequency. Whether it be a simple Bourgogne blanc from Vignerons de Buxy Co-Op (my current "house white") or a Premier Cru Saint-Aubin from Marc Colin, these wines fulfill their duty quite well, thank you!
How do we, the wine buying team at Ball Square Fine Wines, decide which wines (amongst the tens of thousands available in Massachusetts) to stock in our store? The folks at French Oak T.V. were curious enough about that question they decided to come by on one of our "Tasting Tuesdays" and capture the process on video. Take a look behind the scenes in this professionally produced "reality T.V." program featuring Rebecca and I doing the "dirty job that someone has to do" - tasting wine. See how we interact with our vendors! Learn why some wines make the cut while others don't! Wonder at Dan's spitting prowess! Well maybe not the last one, but we hope you enjoy the first installment of "They Taste Wine All Day, For You..."
(Click on the picture above to see us in action.)
So, is it what you thought it was all about?
Are you plugged in, turned on, linked in, grouped on, kindled, twittered, scvng-d and is your face on a book? If so you are probably enjoying the many benefits of new media, social media and all of those other medias. News when and how you want it, social connections always connected, etc. When it comes to information on the topic of wine these sources can entertain and educate to a certain degree. Information (and misinformation) from blogs, websites and tweets can be downloaded from that touchscreen in your pocket or your purse in a nanosecond.
There are times, however, when the voice of experience can trump the quick and easy. Assesing a Bordeaux vintage is one of those instances. The 2009 vintage in that most heralded of French appellations is in full hype mode, with praise and hyperbole being tossed around like frisbees in Malibu. Is it the vintage of the decade? Our lifetime? Of all Time!!!? And what exactly does that mean to you?
I have been in the wine trade for twenty years and have seen many "great vintages" come and go. I take pride in my first hand experience but do not consider myself the final word on the subject.
British wine writer Steven Spurrier has been in the wine trade for two more years than I have been alive (since 1964, if you must know). He was the organizer of the famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 which put California on the quality wine map when the west coast entries trumped their French counterparts in a blind tasting. He also founded the Christies wine course, has written several wine books and has contributed countless articles to various wine publications. The guy knows his stuff.
His article in the Bordeaux Issue 2010 supplement to Decanter Magazine's August issue is an outstanding overview of "modern" Bordeaux vintages and a perfect perspective placement of the 2009 vintage. The writng is succinct and easy to understand, the understanding of the subject matter impeccable and the educational take-away invaluable. The article is not yet available online yet so do yourself a favor: put down the I-Pad, pick up a copy of Decanter August 2010 Issue (yes, we do sell it), pour yourself a nice glass of claret and learn from the Master. When you are finished reading the first page, simply put your finger in the top right corner of the page and turn to the next. Repeat.
Then tell us your thoughts!
Are you a fan of the 2005 vintage? Are you looking forward to trying 2009?
Do you pay attention to wine writers? If so do you follow them in new media, traditional media or both?
You've heard me harping on the unique pleasures of sipping a charming dry rosé in these summeriest of summer months. What I haven't discussed much is the actual process of making rosé. There are three generally accepted methods of making pink wine pink:
The first and most common among the types of rosé we like is the saignée method. Literally meaning a "bleeding", this process is a by-product of red wine production. A red wine gains its color through extended contact with the grape skins, which also impart flavor compounds, healthy anti-oxidants and tannins. To maximize concentration of a red wine, a winemaker can "bleed off" some of the juice early in the process to increase the ratio of must (the fermenting juice) to grape skin, thus increasing the concentration of the red wine. The liquid, which is drained into a separate tank to continue fermenting, is a very light red or pink color. It retains some of the flavor complexities of its parent red wine but is a much lighter and fruitier version. A dry rosé is born!
Method two is less common, and perhaps displays even more dedication to the world of pink wine. This also entails the removing of juice from the skins of fermenting red grapes. But, that's where the process ends! No red wine is created and the skins are discarded. I've only encountered a few of these - and they're usually made by a producer who has to realize their bread and butter is making pink wine. The moment of truth comes when they have to judge the exact time to drain the juice from the skins. They literally stand on a latter at the top of an open tank and observe the color saturation until it is just the perfect hue, a matter of hours. When you've got 10 tanks going this can get tricky!
Lastly and leastly is the blending method. Simply take some white wine and add tiny amounts of red wine to it until the color and flavor profile you seek is reached. I shouldn't disparage; many fine rosés are produced this way, particularly in Champagne. But...
This brings us to our actual topic for today: The "Anti-Rosé". Denis Jamain, a producer in the Loire valley, makes a wine made from the "white" grape Pinot Gris that has the appearance of, and is commonly reffered to as, a rosé (Reuilly Pinot Gris 2009, $18.99). The trick is that the Pinot Gris (grey) grape is actually a blue-ish/grey-ish hue. In its common white wine form, the must does not see extended contact with the grape skins such that the appearance of the wine is clear to pale yellow. However, Jamain gives his Pinot Gris an extended maceration (soak on the skins). This imparts a yellowish, orangey pink color to the wine. So what you have is a delicious "rosé" that is not a rosé at all! It comes from the completely opposite direction. This unusual process gives the wine a richly textured, full-flavored character that is like no other. Ripe pears are accented by a touch of cran/cherry zip with beautiful minerality and refreshing acids.
This is a wine that never fails to elicit a "wow" from those who you pour it for. You can further impress them by telling the gripping, sordid tale of the "Anti-Rose"!
Do the details of wine production methods interest you or are you happy just to consume the final product?
It was the last official Tuesday at the Tasting Station of the summer this week. We're shuttin' 'er down to focus on our list of pet projects and the day to day operations of a wine shop in the hazy, lazy days of July and August. We'll pick it back up in September when we jump in head first to the fall "tasting season". With temps in the triple digits its not surprising that some of our vendors chose not to cart around wines to taste so the load was light. Check out the score card below.
Still, one topic that arose while tasting with Kathryn from Ruby was that of wine labeling and the difficulties consumers can have communicatiing the specific wine they are seeking. She was tasting us on the Huber "Obere Steigen" Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Now, imagine that you and yours just had that beauty at a restaurant over the weekend and have decided that you liked it so much you'd like to order a case.
You stroll into BSFW to get a price quote. If you told me that I want to order this wine called "Gruner" I'd have to explain that there are hundreds of examples of that grape type in our marketplace. If you could pull up the name Huber that would be a step in the right direction but Huber makes five different Gruner Veltliner (!), which one? The chances of you remembering the Obere Steigen bit are dubious at best.
The solution? The smart folks at Huber, realizing the tongue-twisting nature of their wines, created a peel away portion of the back label that allows you to take all of the essential information pertaining to that wine home with you. In the wallet or purse it goes and the only thing left to remember was how good the Creme Brulee was.
Hopefully other wineries will follow suit and make life easier for consumers and wine buyers alike.
Did you know about these peel away labels? Have you ever taken advantage of the tool before?
When we last left the topic of the great Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from that swath of land in France known as Burgundy I was lamenting.... Well you can read what I was lamenting in my Burgundy, Burgundy, Burgundy post from a few weeks back if you'd like.
I'll pick up the story here: Upon returning from the shop after tasting 80+ Burgs at the Martine's Wine's tasting I was greeted by a friendly and familiar face: Laurent Drouhin from (where else?) Burgundy! Laurent was in town on a promotional tour for his family's winery Maison Joseph Drouhin and stopped by BSFW to offer samples of some of their recent offerings. Laurent is an energetic and passionate spokesperson for his family's wines and the region in general.
After I explained how I had just come from a trade event that featured Burgundy, and how I had encountered many very young and very expensive and hard to judge wines from critically acclaimed, artisan producers, Laurent's face lit up. "Ah," he said. "That is why you should sell my family's wine, for we make 'populist' Burgundy!" He was referring to the fact that Drouhin is not a small company but a rather large one (by Burgundian standards) that sources grapes from throughout the Cote d'Or, Macon and Chablis and also owns significant vineyard acreage. This production power allows them to bottle many of the most prestigious wines such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits St. Georges and Pommard all under one label and at a relatively affordable price. The next obvious question is, "Well, what about the quality?"
Fast forward a month and Rebecca and I are attending a portfolio tasting of importer Dreyfuss, Ashby & Co. at the Top of the Hub. Drouhin is part owner of Dreyfuss so there were plenty of Laurent's wines available to sample. In general the wines were indeed of very good quality, showing pure fruit, lifting acids and regional identity.
The 2008 whites showed exceptional vitality and elegance. This appears to be a vintage to celebrate. The Puligny-Montrachet Folatieres 1er Cru was beguiling showing both power and restraint, with an exotic floral element offset by classic minerality and a finish that just wouldn't quit. It was the rare wine that as a seasoned professional taster, I just couldn't spit. Is it worth $89? As much as any white wine can be, I suppose.
Aside from the preview of the 2008 vintage, there were two full tables of "in stock" items. Some of these were wines that are starting to show maturity. This helps clear one of the major hurdles of spreading the Burgundy word, finding wines that are ready to drink. One standout of this group was the 2005 Cotes de Beaune rouge. This wine is made exclusively from vineyards owned by Drouhin - and it was really starting to show its stuff. Wet loam and well kept barn complexities melded seamlessly with still vibrant red and black fruits. The texture was mouth-filling and rounded until the maturing tannins stepped in to keep the whole affair in order. This was coming close to the "magic" that is a great red Burgundy experience. For just under $40 you can't really call it a bargain but you can say its a well justified treat!
In the end, Maison Joseph Drouhin's wines may never hit the highest heights of some of the region's legendary producers like Comte Georges de Vogue or Domaine de la Romanee Conti, but as Laurent claimed, they consistently deliver good examples of white and red Burgs. And if you hit one just right, a little bit of vinous magic may come your way.
Though it was rainy and windy Tuesday at the Tasting Station with few wines to taste and fewer to get excited about, a ray of vinous sunshine came our way midday-ish when we were visited by Jason Tosch, the Director of Viticulture for Anne Amie Vineyards in Oregon. While it is fairly common to have regional "reps" from wineries visit us and a rare treat to have the actual winemaker make the trip, it is extremely unusual to have the viticulturalist presenting wines.
A viticulturalist is the guy or gal in the vineyards, the "farmer", the steward of the land - in other words, the "soul" of a winery. Jason was a wonderful ambassador for his trade and a wealth of well-articulated information.
One thing he made very clear was that the viticulturalist doesn't simply hand off grapes to the winemaker for vinifying; at least in the case of Anne Amie, they are partners in the entire process. Which grapes are for the single varietal wines? Which will go in the Cuvee A blends? How long should the riesling hang? What should we plant next and where? These are all decision that the viticulturalist is instrumental in making.
A couple of interesting tidbits from our conversation:
1. Jason mentioned that the Riesling vines were over thirty years old. I asked how much their production had fallen off due to their age. He described a process where they actually send an auger deep into the soil between the vines and cut the spreading roots of the Riesling vines. This process puts the plant into "production" mode and insures regular yields.
2. Anne Amie is certified sustainable though LIVE (low input viticulture and enology). Jason noted that a sustainable certification is much less expensive than an organic one and leaves him more room to use modest amounts of mild chemicals in the event of extreme circumstances (such as spraying SO2 to fight mildew in wet years).
3. He also explained that when vinifying their white wines they would ferment them until they were "bone dry" (leaving zero residual sugar) and then add back unfermented grape juice called muté to balance the wine.
Incidentally, the entire line-up of Anne Amie wines was stellar. (Of course this should come as no surprise since we carry almost all of them!)
Is a sustainable certification like LIVE "good enough" for you or do you prefer to see a full organic certification?