Posts belonging to Category Northern Italy



The Storied Tasting

Picture this…a cooler than normal day in late May.

Wine, cheese and ready tasters.

Bacchus and Mr. Story smiled.

Image result for Bacchus blows clouds

Eight tasters around the table outside the kitchen: Lou, Shag Man, David Mac, Large, tBoW hisself, Mr Story, Dotore and Broki. Five cognoscenti – Cognos and three Ignorami – Ignos. At least ten corks were pulled. The day’s goal was to edjicate Mr. Story about wine. And to chew on cheese.

When one is trying to “get it” about wine, the first lesson is to comprehend the many traps that must be avoided. Such as the 100 point rating scale. Total bullshit. Marketing to sell wines and magazines. When the lowest rating EVER is 87 then the scale is actually 13 points; not 100. Ignore the score.

That was an easy sell. The U20, U15 and U10 ratings defined by Le Large is far more useful [ed. wines that cost “Under” the dollar amount]. Wine is all about the price/quality ratio [ed. see tBoW discussion from waaaay baaaack].

The mission was to provide the Ignos with enough experience to get along on their own in the silly pompous scores-driven world of wine. Where to buy wine? What to buy? How to tell if a wine is good or bad? tBoW’s goal was to keep the table breeze from blowing too hard if ya gets me drift. Here is how it went.

tBoW dug some older wines from his cellar that were beyond their shelf life by about a decade each. These wines were tired and out of synch. The only hints and notes they had were wrong (hints) and flat (notes). Great starters. Dispensed with 15 years of “flawed wine” disgruntlement in 45 minutes.

After the parade of flat , unbalanced and otherwise FLOD wines, the first “best wine” was opened. It was classic, seven year old burgundy from a highly reputed producer and a decent vintage.

2012 Regis Bouvier Clos du Roy, $35 at buy. Lou almost spit it out [ed. she likes wine with fruit]. The rest of the Cognos cooed. The Ignos did not know what to think. This wine opened for at least an hour. Burgs come in two flavors: beets or cherries. This was beety. A discussion about noble grapes erupted and the conceit of the New World to compete with the Old World noble varietals; Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauv, Nebbiolo and Riesling. Why are these grapes “noble?” Because they are! Now stop asking stupid questions. Lou came round in 40 minutes.

Other “star wines” included an Alto Piemonte (north Piedmont) and a Barolo (south Piedmont). Nebbiolo is the noble grape. Conversation focused on how Neb is a single grape wine near Alba (south of Torino) yet is still blended with local grapes in the Alto Piemonte. (north of Milano). The Cognos are fans of the Alto style: lean, low alcohol, lightweight, and simply delicious bending fruit with a distinctive local flavor, i.e., Gattinara, Bramaterra, Choochoo Wassy, etc.

As the second hour arrived it was time to open the guaranteed winner bottle; a single vineyard vintge Oporto. Port is a sweet wine that cannot be tasted until at least a decade passes. This had 25 years on it. It is a desert wine with a charming back story rooted in one of the extended wars between England and Spain. The producer is Martinez. Alcohol is 20% which is typical of port. Transcendent as aged ports can become.

1994 Quinta da Eira Velba by Martinez $35 on futures. The color was rusty brown. The nose showed toffee, coffee and rum. The flavors were true. We should all age so wonderfully. One bottle left in tBoW’s cellar!

But wait! said David Mac. I brought that Alysian Vermouth (17%). Pop goes the cork. The chilled wine was so exotic it challenged description. Oily. Bittersweet. Sorgum and spice. Camphor?  flavors are balanced. Orange peel. Must be therapeutic because I am reminded of my last rubdown. One of the Ignos – Shag Man – said “reminds me of an Old Fashioned.” The real amazing fact was the vermouth is made in Healdsburg! That’s right. Sonoma County. New World.

To summarize, here are some Quick and Dirty lessons for enjoying wine.

#1 Avoid grocery store wines. Unless the store is Gelsons in LA, Draegers in Palo Alto, Flatiron in San Francisco, or AJs in Scottsdale AZ. Forget Trader Joes and Whole Foods although if it came down to those 2? Better shot is Whole Foods.

#2 Identify and shop at a local Wine Store. Here in our neighborhood that is Woodland Hills Wine. The only others are Wine House in West LA, Hi Time in Costa Mesa and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. Hi Time is best in So Cal. Honorable mention goes to Desert Wine Shop on 111 in Palm Desert [Katie of DWS below].

Katie Desert Wine Shop

#3 Shop online for best prices. This can be tricky. To do this well one must be armed with label, producer and vintage knowledge. The best deals are online. The Cognos cited Wines Til Sold Out (WTSO), Fass Selections and Garagiste. Most of these operations ship 2x/year so when the stash arrives after the summer it is in cases! Easy to lose track of how much you bought! KrisB is an exclusive online shopper. Many Cognos shop online.

#4 Buy the importer. Labels can be confusing. It takes years to read them. Wineries especially in the USA invent terms to impress the Ignos, such as Reserve, Special Select, Single Vineyard and Special Reserve. These mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Wait. I take that back. These phrases mean you pay a couple more bucks for n-o-t-h-i-n-g. You can always buy with confidence any wine imported by Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, Charles Neal or Louis/Dressner.

#5 Old World over New World. Europe and the Continent before Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Canada and Napa.

There were at lest two Dependable Quaffers. Cognos always have a handful of DQs nearby. Pull those U20 corks today. The Chave Mon Couer from the Rhone is always a U20, always balanced and easy to suck down on its own or with cashews. The 2015 Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona from Thessaly is a recent find with teasing exotica. At $17 it is a real deal. We found it at Desert Wine Shop and Hi Time.

Things get wild at Desert Wine Shop! Jump to the 1 minute mark and watch thru the 4 minute mark.

Wine Geeks Speak

Weird Wines Stir Strong Interests

This post is for everyone who drinks wine without looking first at the “score;” for those who buy wine to consume yesterday, today and tomorrow; for those who do not collect trophy wines; and for those of us who would only pick up a “leading wine magazine” if stuck in the waiting room of a healthcare provider.

This convo erupted spontaneously when tBoW shared a May 26 2018 article from the NYT “Why You Should Be Drinking Weird Wines”. Jason Wilson (Lettie Teague traveling?) describes several key reasons for buying and drinking obscure wines including 80% of all wines are made from 20 0f 1368 varietals. I have done the heavy lifting: about 1.5% of all vinifera account for eighty percent of all wines. We can all thank 100 point scores and glossy wine mags for the widely limited access to what should be a wildly invigorating hobby.

This he argues creates a monoculture of wine featuring chardonnay and pinot noir. tBoW has posted how I am less and less fond of both varietals, esp chardonnay.

Wilson dips into “oddities type” wines pointing out one varietal in the Swiss alps from which 800 bottles are produced annually. Why bother even referencing the grape? We will NEVER taste it. He describes the flavors as “forest floor that’s been spritzed with lemon and Nutella.” Now I am certain I will never taste it. Oddities TV programming  seems to have had its heyday. Here is one we liked about a NYC shop Obscura where the customers often obscured the shop contents.

The good news is a wonderful email conversation – detailed here without permission – followed between two of the more intriguing tBoW readers – KrisB and The Fieldmouse, aka Maus. The conversation follows more or less in sequence.

tBoW – did you see this NYT piece on obscure wines?

Maus – What does tBoW think of Zidarich Carso Vitovska Belo? Funny this article made you think of us because it’s pretty much Riesling, Pinot, or Piemonte at our house most days. Nothing else usually sounds appealing.

tBoW – whadafaaa and perhaps this could soon be a blog topic.

Maus – well, I’ve already ordered two vitovskas, so come what may. Chris, don’t know if we’ve met, but do acquaint yourself with roussanne! but i must say, for us it’s mostly riesling and pinot (and sango blends) as well! Cheers!

KrisB (like Maus a fan of the Friuli region) – the vitovskas that I’ve had tend to be somewhat oxidative in style which is something that I just don’t like for the most part (except in some sherries, go figure).  YMMV (undecipherable notation) Roussanne can be nice, but it’s no Riesling! :)

You drinking domestic, Rhone, or more exotic like savoie?

Maus – ah, Bergeron. a bit hard to find around here, to say the least. tends to be a bit lean. Well, i’ll take roussanne where I can get it. sometimes i settle for the majority in a blend. white rhones are typically better, but Paso and, believe it or not, Washington, do nice jobs as well. My favorite budget choice is Chateau de Trignon in Southern Rhone.

For Rieslings, where do you go? Anywhere but California, I assume. I hope you had some Australians and Finger Lakes along the way… tBoW and I used to slurp Germans way back in the ’80s and I’m pretty sure we honeymooned in Mosel! [ed. He means with his spouse] Not that we don’t anymore!

Kris B – “Our Pinot has been mostly burgs lately too. As you know, I like to find a direct to consumer importer who finds unknown values. Fass Selections has been working pretty well for me on the burg and other front. Ugh vitovska. We visited the Carso a few years back. Some very good wines. But didn’t have a vitovska that I liked. They probably exist but maybe are hard to find.

And there it is. Cannot wait until we pull the corks on Vitovska and Himbertscha this summer in tBoW’s Summer Weingarten!

CHEERS INDEED! Here is a non-English video about the most rare wine grape, and the wine made from it, in the world! I think I understand what is being said!

“Tour of Italy Tasting”…meanwhile somewhere in Puglia…

Wine Tasters Steel Themselves for 21 POURS

The Wine House in West LA sponsored an Alto Piemonte Tasting May 16 2018 presented as “A Tour of Italy” hosted by Vinity Imports. Somehow tBoW got it in his head this was going to feature Alto Piemonte wines. Not. The clever title avoided any representation of an exclusive Alto Piemonte offering while at the same time over-representing the narrow selections [ed: what a whiner].

Five wineries each poured four wines.

Simon di Brazzan poured whites from Friuli including Pinot Grigio, Friulano, Sauv Blanc and a traditional blend. Not impressed. Not our varietals. We came for the Neb blends. The Friuli geography IS interesting. In the Northeast corner of Italy, Friuli spans terrain from the Adriatic to the Austrian Alps. This winery is in the alpine foothills. Friuli in the southeast is very close to Slovenia. Looking at a map I never realized that the city of Trieste is the very end of Italy at the “back tip of the top boot.” [ed. check out the Old Vine Primitivo in Puglia…bella!]

Poderi San Lazzaro is located in the Marche on the Adriatic, maybe even farther from Alto Piemonte than Friuli. Their premium bottle is Grifola made from 100% Montepulciano grape. Not a fan of rich red wines with lots of body and alcohol. Alcohol above 14%. tBoW has in-laws named Lazzaro [ed. fonzy that].

Le Piane Winery holds all the possibilities and promises of Alto Piemonte wines made from 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina. Le Piane has a good story, a  a great location, and the right grapes…however Lu2 and tBoW were not fond of what was in the glass. Over extracted, thick, high alcohol. Collector wines. Be charmed by the STORY and LOCATION links above and vine picker over there.

Ar.Pe.Pe. is the headliner tonight. The wines are widely heralded as a star small producer of Nebbiolo blended with indigenous varietals. Just look at their premium Sassela vineyard. Izzat Dracula Castle? NEWS FLASH! This winery is located in Lombardy and not AltoPiemonte. Whatever. The wines show everything Lu2 likes in wines from the northwestern regions of Italy: balance, acid enuff to “hold that thought” and bright flavors. And Lu2 loves food and cooking. Just one problem: pricey at $40 (Valtellina Rosso), $60 (Grumello) and $75 (Inferno). tBoW has reviewed many other wines he prefers that are a third to half as much as Ar.Pe.Pe.

The final winery tasted was Giovi from Sicily. We love Sicily. Thank goodness these guys were showing. Located on Mt Etna at [undetermined number of feet – somebody please look this up and comment, grazi!!] on the 11,000 foot volcano. The sots poured a white – 2016 Etna Bianco $30, a Rosato $30, and 2 reds at $40 and $60. We both bought the white wine. Lu2 also bought the Etna Rosato. Both wines are delightful for summer sipping [ed. ha! more like chugging]. Both have the requisite balance of acid and fruit.

You should read more about the charm of Sicily here is a New York Times Travel piece published in January. Sicily and Puglia at the top of tBoW’s travel list. Right behind perennial Egypt which Mrs. tBoW is finally warming up to.

Meanwhile somewhere in Puglia…tBoW tasters the Krisses enjoy old vine vineyards and a view of where the Atlantic meets the Adriatic from the deck of their Air BnB $70 a day rental.

In case that view did not give you a thrill…check this video of Mt Etna erupting with giant smoke rings. Timely considering what is taking place this week on the Big Island.

the Trouble with White Burgundy

Happy New Year from Mauna Loa Volcano

2017 was good for tBoW. We started posting again. Having fun with it. Found a new webmaster who likes wine. Look for change in utility but not in tone. Sticking to the same POV when it comes to wine. We see no separation from life when it comes to wine. Life brings plenty of  interests and conondra. Like the plural of conondrum. Dictionary says go “s” for plural but this does not seem correct. Which brings us to white Burgundy.

tBoW is loving red burgs but they are getting pricey. Good thing snappy observers such as Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal offer guidance to V-A-L-U-E wines “in the space.” Unfortunately, not even Ms. Teague can persuade tBoW to buy another bottle white Burgundy, value or not. Our (royal “we”) problem with the genre is we have lost our flavor for chardonnay. There are dozens – docenes – of white wines we would rather taste and swallow. Here are just a few worth your searching out.

Etna Bianco from Tenuta delle Terre Nere is made from “white grapes… a mumbo-jumbo of local varieties: Carricante, Catarratto, Grecanico, Inzolia and Minnella. So that’s what my Etna Bianco was: a field blend of all the above, with Carricante dominating the blend with roughly 65%.” We paid $21 for the 2016. Simply espectaculo. Sicilia wines are hot in the marketplace; deservedly so. Good news for small vintners not from California or Bordeaux. Look for it and buy some.

Arneis is the white wine from the Barolo region (southern) of Piemonte. Keep in mind the northern region (Milano) known as Altopiemonte produces our favorite red wines. Bottles of Arneis can vary in quality. Price point is around $20 and up. A tBoW favorite is Bruno Giacosa.

Spain makes excellent white wines. We are most familiar with Verdejo and Albarino. There are other white wines from Spain however these two can seem most reliable. Check out the big tasting profile!! Ochechonya!!Verdejo is dry, charming like Robert Morely might have been. Albarino is acidic, zesty and full of picque. Like Terry Thomas; sneaks up on you. It is the nature of Spanish culture that there always be an abundance of choices and ways to enjoy life. Here is a brief and engaging overview of Spain’s white wine varietals to be challenging, distinctive, even if to a fault. If you get the culture you will get the point. Here is a brief description of Spanish varietals. Of course it is not simple!

Gruner Veltliner is the go-to Austrian wine. Notice we do not say Austrian white wine becuz that would be like introducing a German red wine. German and Austrian wines are known for white varietals especially Riesling. Supposedly climate change has resulted in the production of decent red wines from the Boch regions. Where Riesling runs racy and sweet (simplified, I know) Veltliner is racy and sleek. When it’s on it is really on.

Why chardonnay no longer? As a varietal I find it kind of monotone with a narrow flavor profile. Make it fat and it becomes tropical (think Rombauer). Make it lean and without oak and it gets better but stays foxy. I did have an aged Leflaive Chevalle that was so aged it tasted like butterscotch in the glass. That was exotic and certainly delicious.

That reference to Robert Morley made tBoW think of Terry Thomas. I was able to find this lovely brief of the wit of Englishmen like Morley and Thomas. If oyu find yourself with a couple minutes to spare you really should give it a look.

Happy New Year all.

2014 Gone. Keep Up with the Year in Front of You.

so nice

mi holiday getaway


The year in review is a journalistic tradition; even a must-do. What was memorable about 2014? Who do we remember? What made the strongest impression? Who is writing this slop?

stupaulWEBOur most memorable bricks and mortar wine merchant is Paul Smith at Woodland Hills Wine Co. Smith was definitely the underdog on the LA wine scene when we first encountered him about 30 years ago in his liquor store turned “wine find” off the 118. Who’d-a-thunk a former pro ballplayer (brushback pitcher) and USMC Nam vet would eventually become the go-to guy in LA then the nation for top shelf Burgs and other collectibles. I am still holding out Paul will let tBoW write his memoirs. He hangs a Marine Corp flag out front. Truly one of a kind.

Most memorable virtual wine merchant is Steve Goldun of Eno Fine Wine. He has delivered the best wines we have tasted throughout the year including the 2011 Sylvan Pataille Marsannay Clos du Roy featured below [ed. click two words back if you must learn more right now]. Consistently bringing in the wine we love to own at prices at or below the best market prices… Eno Fine Wine.

Most memorable wine travelers hands down are the bashful Krisses. They are a tag team from one of those generations that nobody from tBoW’s boomer clique can differentiate. Kris A is a budding winemaker, accomplished brewmaster and extreme triathlete. Kris B is the intrepid travel planner who can turn an introductory credit card deal into two round trip tickets to Germany or Spain or Austria. They hear music at decibels only accessed by corks and vines. Kris B frequents Garagiste and other obscure online merchants enabling the more placid tBoW to go in on a few unusual, exceptional deals. See Mont Blanc sparkler below.

soft flabby underbelly

soft flabby underbelly disappoints

What do we have to look forward to in 2015? The HausMaus visits town in June. A robust tasting of Rousanne and Marsanne seems likely. The dollar will continue to drive down prices on our favorite wines from Italy, France and Germany. The organic sustainable biodynamic movement will continue to expand and influence what you are drinking [ed. unless you are a mega collector of trophy wines in which case you are most likely oak addicted].

By the end of 2015 there will still be domestic wine touts claiming their favorite Pinot Noir is “Burgundian.” This is neither possible nor necessary. Domestic Pinot Noir will never share the qualities of Burgundy Pinot. If anything the difference will become more striking. We have staked out our position on domestic Pinot. We prefer Burgundy and of course we mean only the right Burgs [ed. is there a wine more haughty than Burgundy? Get your snob on!]. More Burgundy producers will lose our interest (Camille Giroud) as we simultaneously learn more about who makes the styles we prefer (Roty, Pataille, Clos du Moulin aux Moines). We have moved on from Barolo and Barbaresco and quite possibly any wine with 100% of any grape in the bottle. This leaves us in and around the Valtellina when it comes to Nebbiolo in Italy where the vignerons blend everything. Expect more wines form Sicily. And more champagnes. Should be a grand year, we hope.

extremeWEBOne more 2015 target. There is rumor of a new blog, the Wine Whisperer, where topics will concern the wine trade, interviews with wine folk such as aspiring somms, wine phenomena of any and every sort, and quite likely Bigfoot.

2011 Extreme Spumante Metodo Classico Brut DOC di Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle ~$23: Sparkling wine for extreme mountain climbers? This IS the Krisses in a bottle. That IS Mont Blanc on the label. Note pick axe and rope at label top. These must be highest vineyards in Europe! But probably not. Reminded tBoW of the sparkling Gewurtz made by Navarro (producer of lightweight domestic Pinot we also prefer!). We liked it. 12%

lassagneWEBNV Lassaigne les Vignes de Montgueux Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne $35: Purchased from Eno. Step aside Mont Blanc. Like the Warriors vs rest of the league [ed. talking NBA now], Champagne is King. And this bottle is special, Champions league, think Villareal futbol squad, La Liga Primera Division; not Real Madrid not Barcelona, but very competitive. Of course, please keep in mind a sparkling wine from Spain is not Champagne. Neither is a sparkling wine from Napa or anywhere other than Champagne. Does this mean there are sparkling wines as good as the best from Champagne? No. That would be unlikely. This remains useful info despite the end of the holiday.

pataille-marsannay-2011WEB2011 Sylvan Pataille Marsannay Clos du Roy $38 [TAFI]: the most memorable wine even though we opened it two weeks before the end of the year. Bought this at the Burgundy Hoe Down more than a year ago! Took a year to open just enough to get a glimpse of what was inside. So salacious! Unfortunately, finding more of this wine from this vintage will be a bitch. Wine of the year, as those things go.

halter-11WEB2013 Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso Blanc $20: Purchased by LeLg [ed. Le Large in short which the man is NOT] at Hi Time in Costa Mesa, the premium wine store in the OC. A lovely Paso white Rhone blend of mostly Grenache Blanc backed with Picpoul Blanc, Rousanne and Viognier; all estate grown. Read more about Paso the wine region including Halter the 900 acre ranch. This is a label to watch for. Don’t say we are too snobby for domestic wines. Especially not too snobby for Rhone style whites. Buy it. 13.5%