Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Warm up with a glass of 2006 St. Francis Red

It's dark and cold outside and I have a bottle of wine that should warm me up: a 2006 St. Francis RED that was recently sent to me by Kobrand Corporation.

The wine, made by St. Francis Winery, is a proprietary blend of 48% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 3% Zinfandel and 6 % Mixed Blacks (Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Alicante, Malbec), from Sonoma County.

“RED is for all red wine lovers who simply want a tasty bottle of wine with a fun package at a great value. It's my job to worry about clones, soil conditions, vintage and Vinification” says St. Francis Winemaker Tom Mackey on the winery's website, “so that the consumer doesn't have to. We've created a dependable, versatile wine — No lessons needed &mdash uncork and enjoy.”

The St. Francis RED is made to be fun: if you buy the wine by the case, each bottle comes with a different red patterned label. If you buy only one bottle, you can pick and choose the label you like the best.

The wine has a deep color and a nose of spiced cherries and sweet berries. On the palate, it is full-bodied, fruity, juicy, slightly tannic with a peppery aftertaste. For a retail price around $10, it's a steal.

The RED website has also some hearty recipes that should go well with the wine. I noticed their Braised Short Ribs recipe that looks delicious and perfect for the season. Just make sure you have enough braising sauce to pour over your mashed potatoes!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Harvest Festival in Montmartre

Last month, I was lucky to be in Paris just in time for the harvest festival in Montmartre. The Montmartre hill used to be a small village completely covered with vineyards. A temple dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine, was built there by the Romans. But in the early 20th century, the vines were completely devastated by the phylloxera epidemic, as well as urban development. Fortunately, in the early 30s, a group of artists petitioned the government in order to resurrect and replant a 1,556 square meter parcel of land called Clos Montmartre.

Clos Montmartre

The Clos Montmartre vineyard is planted with 27 different varietals (primarily Gamay and Pinot Noir), and produces around 1500 half-liter bottles each year. It's the only remaining vineyard within the city limits of Paris. After harvest, the wines are sold at auctions, the proceeds going to local charities. Those who have tasted the wines say they are decent enough, although the bottles, with labels designed by local artists, have now become collectors' items.

Sadly, the Clos de Montmartre vineyard is not open to the public. There were a couple of special visits organized by the City Hall during the harvest festival but they were all sold out by the time I inquired about them. Moreover, there was no tasting of Montmartre wine during the Festival.

Nonetheless, the small streets around the white dome tower of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur were lively, with stalls selling regional food and wine everywhere, and street performers attracting crowds in front of the Basilique.

A stall selling produce from Chablis

Have a plate of oysters with a small tasting of Muscadet

We had a nice time talking to Marie-France and Philippe Bec, owner of Domaine de Bayelle, a small wine estate located in the medieval village of Caux in Languedoc. We tasted their 2006 Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas Cuvée Luména, a blend of Grenache and Syrah from Pézenas, a sub-appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc. The wine had a dark garnet color and an appealing nose of forest berries and dried herbs. The palate was round, medium-bodied, not overly complex but tasty. The Becs recommend to drink the wine with a Ragoût d'Escoubille, a hearty Languedoc dish made primarily of pork, sausages, wild mushroom, and olives.

Marie-France and Philippe Bec from Domaine de Bayelle

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Has wine become like fastfood?

Has wine become a grape-based processed food product? Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia and contributor to The Daily Beast thinks so and explain why in his latest article.

“The bottle you'll enjoy with dinner tonight likely wasn't produced at a winery, or by a winemaker”, says Wallace. “One imagines a winemaker in his vineyards, inspecting bunches of grapes. Maybe his dogs are chasing rabbits between the rows of vines. At night, he pops open a bottle of his own creation to share with friends and family. It is a romantic ideal.”

In 2008, Americans consumed 658 million gallons of table wine, 80% of which, according to The Beverage Information Group, has been sold for less than $10. Most of these wines are made today by wine processing companies, such as Golden State Vintners, one of the largest suppliers of premium bulk wines, wine processing and storage services in the country. The company, which began as a small vineyard and winery in the 1930s, receives today the majority of its revenue from supplying well known labels with premium bulk wine. Gallo is one of the company's most important customers. Other customers include Sutter Home, Sebastiani, and Vincor.

What Wallace calls winery-less wines are not just found at the lower tier of the market. Today, many luxury wines come from wineries with no vineyard, no winemaking facilities and no tasting room. They are made in custom crush facilities. For example, the Oakville based Napa Wine Company has around 60 clients including Pahlmeyer, Crocker & Starr, and Volker Eisele, and works with 12 to 20 different winemakers. It produces one million cases of wine each year. The company facilities includes fermentation and barrel rooms, a bottling line, a wine testing laboratory, and a tasting room.

And things get weirder, says Wallace, when wines are made by actual wineries, from their own vineyards, by their own winemakers. but they hide behind a virtual label. When wineries has excess wine that they don't want to sell under their flagship brand, they bottle it under a second label that they sell for a fraction of the flagship brand's price.

If that whole wine business bothers you and you still want your wine made at a real winery, from a real vineyard and by a real winemaker, the trick is to read the fine print advises Wallace: look for the term “produced and bottled by” on the label, at least for the wines made in the US.

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