Happy Year of the Horse

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! This is the Year of the Horse in the Chinese zodiac, which has to be better than the Year of the Rat, just ended. (But enough about politics.) Having married into a Chinese family, we usually celebrate with a hot pot meal with way too much food and wine (not an unusual thing at our house). That will be Friday night this year for personal scheduling reasons. Tonight, to mark New Year’s Eve, I decided to open the Canoe Ridge Vineyards “The Expedition” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from the Horse Heaven Hills in Washington state’s Columbia Valley. It’s an excellent wine, with ripe dark fruit flavors and a hint of mocha from the oak.

Of course, we could have opened any number of horse-themed wines. Iron Horse sparkling wines would be a perfect celebration. Wild Horse. Cheval des Andes. Firesteed. I’ll probably think of several more after posting this – Which are your favorite horse wines?


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Bordeaux recommendations

Exorbitant prices for the top chateaux give a false impression that Bordeaux is out of reach for most wine consumers. But most Bordeaux is actually priced more down to earth and can be a terrific value, especially in strong vintages such as 2009 and 2010. So there’s a good reason to listen to vintage hype: Great vintages mean good wines can be found at all price ranges.

Chateau Larose-Trintaudon Cru Bourgeois 2009


Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France $23

This blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and the rest merlot is textbook, and should be anyone’s introduction to Bordeaux. It features flavors of blackberry and plum, spiced with what Bordeaux lovers call “pencil shavings.” Yes, that sounds weird, but if you’ve ever felt a writer’s satisfaction honing a No. 2 to a fine point, you’ll know what I mean. Alcohol by volume: 13.7 percent. 

Chateau la Cardonne Cru Bourgeois 2009

2-1/2 Stars GREAT VALUE

Medoc, Bordeaux, $20

Give this beauty some time to open up – by decanting two hours or so before dinner or even by “letting it breathe” on the counter for a few hours. This wine is rich and supple, ripe with soft tannins that grip your palate and lift the wine up, like a gymnast on a balance beam.

Chateau Cantelaudette 2010

1-1/2 Stars GREAT VALUE

Graves-de-Vayres, Bordeaux, France, $16

Bright red berry flavors and a nice balance of fruit and oak give this Bordeaux structure and balance. It’s nice enough to drink by itself but prefers to play with comfort foods such as burgers or even roast chicken. ABV: 13.5 percent.

(Wines are rated on a 3-star scale, with 1 star = Very Good, 2=Excellent, and 3=Exceptional. This is a subjective rating meant to convey my enthusiasm for the wine. If I recommend it, I believe it is a good wine for the price, whatever the rating. GREAT VALUE means the wine especially over-performs for its price.)

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Bordeaux: Too little, too late? It Depends(c).

My Washington Post column last week, which I posted here yesterday, generated considerable comment on the web and in emails back to me.

Steve Heimoff, Wine Enthusiast’s California reviewer, took issue on his blog with the thought that Bordeaux could ever appeal to U.S. wine consumers. He took particular umbrage at this:

A top guy at Sherry-Lehmann, one of New York’s leading wine shops, told the Post writer,“We’ve locked up the 70- and 80-year-olds. We need to convince the younger generation to drink Bordeaux.”

Wow. Why not try to interest “the younger generation” in Depends© ?

Okay, two things: Steve, I have a name, so from now on I will refer to you as “the Enthusiast blogger.” Second, do you really have to post a photo of an adult diaper to attract traffic to your blog?

The Enthusiast blogger continued:

I suppose Bordeaux’s chief selling point these days is that it’s not California Cabernet! Oh, the irony. The Post article cites a New York somm who showed some Bordeaux to her staff members, “all in their 20s.” The experience was “eye-opening,” the somm said, explaining that the staff was “shocked” to find the wines so much more “interwoven and integrated”than “powerful California Cabernets.”

To think that Bordeaux has come to this: “We’re not California.” !!! Twenty years ago Bordeaux barely deigned to acknowledge Napa Valley’s existence. Now Napa has become the focal point against which conversations about Cabernet are conducted–the way Bordeaux used to be. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Oh the humanity! This misses the point. Bordeaux is not selling itself as “We’re not California.” New York sommeliers who taste it are realizing that it offers a counterpoint to California’s monolithic, over-extracted, over-oaked, over-alcoholic style. Besides, to a great many people, “not California cabernet” is a pretty darn compelling argument.

Finally, the Enthusiast blogger concludes:

The best Bordeaux is necessarily expensive and will remain so. Ordinary Bordeaux is more affordable, but it’s also less good, and there’s no compelling reason for an American to buy a $30 Bordeaux over an Argentine Malbec, Carmenere from Chile, Cabernet from Chateau Ste. Michelle, a sound Vacqueyras or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Stellenbosch Syrah/Shiraz or any one of dozens of other world wines that frankly have more interesting stories to tell–and do not demand of their drinkers that they remove their caps before imbibing.

I have two responses to this: First, “no compelling reason” other than a desire to drink Bordeaux. Second, substitute “California” for “Bordeaux” in that paragraph and it would be just as valid.

Eric Asimov of the New York Times (did I need to qualify that?) took to Twitter to chime in with his commentary, in a very parsimonious three words:


Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 7.43.08 PM

Maybe. Maybe not. (There – three words!)

Bordeaux is not the monolith we tend to think of. For much of the wine media, “Bordeaux” means the classified growths. These start at about $30 or $40 a bottle and go well into the three- or four-digit range for the first growths. These are what Asimov and the Enthusiast blogger are thinking of when they say U.S. wine drinkers have moved on. But Bordeaux has about 7,000 producers, the vast majority of which are Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superieur. Many of these make delicious wines at very reasonable prices. Is quality uneven, as the Enthusiast blogger argues? Yes, but it is in California as well.

What do you think? Is Bordeaux irrelevant? Has the horse escaped the barn forever? Let’s get this discussion going in the Comments.

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Bordeaux tries to recapture the imagination of U.S. wine lovers

My Washington Post column last week on an effort by a young Bordeaux negociant to promote the region’s wines to New York sommeliers generated considerable comment, much of it anti-Bordeaux. For those of you who didn’t see it, here’s the column. Feel free to discuss in the comments. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the commentary from the web.


The SoHo flat is filled with Bordeaux royalty. Chateau names like Talbot, Palmer, Mouton Rothschild, Cos d’Estournel, Pontet-Canet and others are represented in pin stripes and cuff links, as servers freely offer generous glasses of wines that cost in the triple digits. It takes a small army to decant a six liter imperial of Chateau d’Issan 2005, a grand cru classé from Margaux on Bordeaux’ left bank.

Only the host looks out of place. Dressed simply in a sweater and jeans, with shoulder-length brown hair flashing blond highlights in the artificial light, Jean Moueix strikes a much younger, more relaxed pose than his counterparts. Bordeaux isn’t just buttoned-down luxury, his manner seems to say. It’s also fun.

The chateau owners and directors are in Manhattan this chilly autumn evening for Wine Spectator magazine’s New York Wine Experience, a three-day bacchanal that offers wine lovers “a unique opportunity to taste the world’s greatest wines.” Mouiex is celebrating the New York debut of his company, La Vinicole, and an effort to boost Bordeaux’ image and representation on the Big Apple’s restaurant wine lists.

Mouiex (pronounced mwEX) is firmly entrenched in Bordeaux’ elite. At age 27, he is the CEO of the family firm Duclot, a negociant house that buys wine from more than 500  chateaux in Bordeaux and sells them through various channels in more than 70 countries. The family also owns the famed Pomerol producer Petrus. La Vinicole, a wholesale division of Duclot, was founded a half-century ago to sell wine wholesale to restaurants. Published photos of Mouiex from just a few years ago show him with the clean-cut tailored look typical of Bordeaux. His new devil-may-care image – along with his efforts to make Bordeaux accessible at reasonable prices in Paris restaurants – earned him a recent “coup de couer” from the French wine magazine La Revue du Vin de France.

Jean Moueix, the “coup de couer” of La Revue du Vin de France – from the larvf.com website

Continue reading

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Choosing a “house wine” – what are your criteria?

What do you look for in a “house wine”? I usually find one or two inexpensive wines that over-perform for their price and then stock up on them for those casual meals at home, or a relaxing moment that calls for a glass of vino. But they should also be good enough to offer to friends who stop by.

A leading candidate for my house red this season is this delightful Paulo Laureano Tinto 2011, a $10 gem from Alentejo in Portugal. Despite being cheap, it offers a lot of fruit and fun, in a very attractive label. The Tierra Divina “Reds: A Wine for the People” from Lodi would be another candidate, though at $13 I might not stock up as much unless I found it on sale.

If you have any suggestions for how you go about looking for a “house wine” – if you do – please provide them in the Comments. Wine suggestions welcome, too!

These recommendations were published in The Washington Post on December 25, 2013.

Andrea Oberto Barolo 2009. 3 Stars Piemonte, Italy, $60. Supple and rich, like a comfy couch you can sink into. Blackberry fruit shines through the middle of this wine, yielding to an appealing earthiness characteristic of the nebbiolo grape. Give this one an hour or two in a decanter before dinner. Alcohol by volume: 14.5 percent. From Michael Downey Selections, one of my favorite local DC importers.

Paulo Laureano Tinto 2011 2-1/2 Stars GREAT VALUE Alentejo, Portugal, $10 What a classy little wine! Nothing complex, just juicy fun with great balance of acidity and no pretensions of oaky grandeur. This is an outstanding candidate for your “house red” for 2014 – stock up and drink often! ABV: 14 percent.

Gilles Louvet, Mon Pre Carre 2012 2 Stars GREAT VALUE Languedoc, France, $14 This is a fruity wine made in a carbonic maceration style similar to Beaujolais, but from the marselan grape, a cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache. Underneath that flirtatious fruit is a hint of earth and a saline minerality that gives the wine structure. ABV: 13 percent.

Tierra Divina, Reds: A Wine for the People 2011 1-1/2 Stars Lodi, Calif., $13 This juicy red blend from old-vine lots of zinfandel, carignane and petite sirah comes to us from Patrick Campbell of Laurel Glen fame. The oak treatment is a bit heavy for a wine of modest ambitions, but the fruit is excellent – a good foil for burgers, pizza or steaks. ABV: 13.5 percent.

Orange River Cellars, Star Tree Brut 1-1/2 Stars GREAT VALUE South Africa, $10 This outstanding bargain sparkling wine is made from chenin blanc – a white wine specialty of South Africa. Don’t look for profundity, just fun. If you’re on a tight budget this holiday season, this is an excellent choice for brightening your celebration. ABV: 12 percent.

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How long will sherry remain wine’s best kept secret?

I actually took this photo at Saltram winery in Barossa, in Australia.

I actually took this photo at Saltram winery in Barossa, in Australia.

Why don’t we drink more sherry? Every time I explore this category of fortified wines I marvel at their quality, value and suitability with a wide variety of foods. I marveled again Friday as I tasted and talked sherry with Lucas Paya, beverage director for José Andres’ Think Food Group of restaurants, and with Derek Brown and Chantal Tseng, the husband-and-wife team behind a number of Washington’s finest watering holes, including the sherry-themed Mockingbird Hill.

Is there a lingering stereotype against sherry? Do we still picture Grandma sipping a glass of cream sherry before dinner? And have we collectively decided that sherry is a medium-sweet wine with no special distinction to merit our attention?

“That medium-sweet style of sherry is perfect for the afternoon by the fire, and who does that? Your Grandma, so maybe she was right,” Paya quips. “But today most producers are leaving that middle ground and concentrating either on the very dry sherries, or the sweets.”

Paya, who was a sommelier at El Bulli restaurant in Spain before coming Stateside six years ago and joining Andres, sells sherries at the company’s four Jaleo restaurants (three in the DC area, the fourth in Las Vegas) as well as Bazaar by José Andres in L.A. and Miami. How do they sell?

“Not as much as I would like to, but there has definitely been an increase in sales over the past few years,” he says. He cites statistics from the Sherry Council that show exports to the U.S. increased by about 10 percent last year, even while global sales declined slightly.

If sherry does catch on in the U.S., it will be people like Brown and Tseng who make it happen.

An easy command to obey, from Mockingbird Hill’s Facebook page

“The first time we had sherry was about 10 years ago, and it was a love affair from the start, like that song that gets stuck in your head,” Brown says, mixing metaphors as easily as cocktails. “We’ve been plotting how to revitalize sherry ever since.”

To do that, they needed to “correct the errors,” Brown says. “No, your grandmother didn’t drink this one. No, this one isn’t sweet. Part of the fun of drinking sherry is saying, What the heck is this? Sherry is unusual. It’s like a relationship – you have to work at it, but there’s a higher reward.”

When the couple opened Mockingbird Hill last summer, Tseng had about 50 sherries on her list. Today she offers more than 90. That’s a dizzying array, considering that most retail shops stock a desultory one or two labels. Some retailers have even called asking Tseng where they can find sherries after her customers try to purchase them.

Since then, they’ve opened two new bars right next door – Eat the Rich is an oyster bar, while Southern Efficiency specializes in whisky. That may have siphoned off some of the buzz from Mockingbird Hill, which was only half full at 6 pm on Friday while the others were packed. But then, maybe sherry makes a nice nightcap.

(More to come on sherry … )

Posted in Food and Drink, Sherry, Spain, Wine | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

A stellar Austrian red to start the year off right

Here are a few recommendations from my January 1 Washington Post column, including one of the best red wines I’ve tasted from Austria. I had the pleasure of visiting Franz Netzl and his family in December 2012 in Göttlesbrunn, in Carnuntum, just southeast of Vienna. It was one of those surprising Austrian houses, narrow with a gate leading into a courtyard that just keeps going, as the traditional home gradually morphs into a very modern winery and spiffy new tasting room overlooking a vineyard. I’m a big fan of their Carnuntum Cuvée and their sleek Zweigelts.

One of Austria’s highest-rated reds in Falstaff magazine

Netzl Anna-Christina 2011

3 Stars

Carnuntum, Austria, $55

A splurge to be sure, but this is a lovely wine from one of my favorite producers of Zweigelt, Austria’s most popular red grape. This stylish example is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and achieves a velvety texture and deep flavors of blackberry and wild berries leading to a finish that doesn’t want to quit. It is not widely available, but consider this a winery endorsement and look for Netzl’s other fine reds. Alcohol by volume: 14 percent.

Tomero Malbec 2012


Mendoza, Argentina, $17

Argentina’s Malbec continues to impress with quality and value at nearly all price points. This wine starts out compact and tight, but with an hour or two to stretch it unveils an enticing floral note and a silky gracefulness. ABV: 14 percent.

Mayu Sauvignon Blanc 2012


Elqui Valley, Chile, $15

This Sauvignon Blanc from Elqui Valley in northern Chile has a slightly aggressive, grassy attack that will be familiar to fans of New Zealand savvie. On the finish it tastes more earthy than fruity.

Wilhelm Walch Prendo Pinot Grigio 2012


Dolomiti, Italy, $13

This wine conjured such a strong image of pure mountain snow runoff that I wondered if I were in a Coors commercial. But no, this is fine grigio, with the characteristic copper tinge of the grape and a refreshing limpidity over flavors of tree fruit and minerals. ABV: 12.5 percent.


Posted in Argentina, Austria, Bargain Wines, Chile, Italy, Wine | Tagged | 1 Comment