Colorado “Fine Wines”

There was a time when I posed the question “Why are Colorado wines so expensive?”
If your favorite entry level Napa Cab cost $18 in a wine shop, a Colorado Cab grown with very similar production guidelines, could cost as much as $25 per bottle. In my opinion, the cost of the bottle should reflect the quality of the juice. If an $18 bottle of Napa Cab taste better than a $25 bottle of Colorado Cab, which would you choose?
​ This was the answer I received:
​Wine starts with a bunch of grapes. Those grapes grow over a season, and when they have reached the desired ripeness they are picked. After being picked they are transported from the vineyard to a winery where they are crushed. The next step varies depending on what style of wine is being made, but what’s important is that trip to the winery. In California, a huge number of vineyards have their own winery, so the trip from vineyard to winery is very short. After what needs to be done in the winery (the mystery that I can uncover on a different day) the wine needs to be bottled. Many California wineries have bottling facilities within the winery. Those that don’t either have a portable bottling service bottle for them, or they transport their juice to another nearby winery. Since the wine regions of California are vast and saturated, the closest bottling facility may just be a few miles away. From the bottling facility, the wine is sealed in cases and then travels back to the winery. At this point, the wine is ready to be sold.
​The shorter the distance that the grapes, and the juice have to travel, the lower the cost to produce the wine. As gas prices continue to rise, you could understand how every mile counts. Colorado, as well as the other lesser wine producing states, do not have the luxury of proximity when it comes to necessary facilities. *If there are fifty vineyards in the Grand Junction area, ten of them may have a winery, and one may have the ability to bottle at the winery. If it costs $.50/ bottle to bottle at your own facility, it costs $1.00 to bottle at someone else’s. It may cost $2.00 to have a bottling service bottle for you. Who pays this additional cost? I do, and then, unfortunately, you do.
​I love the idea of supporting Colorado wine, and I have tried in the past, but when the added expense is passed off to the guests, the wine just doesn’t sell like any of the main growing regions of the world.
Two Kias are sitting in a lot, one is the price of a Kia, and one is the price of a Lexus. Which do you buy?

*I don’t know these numbers. I used approximate guesses to further explain my point. If I am wrong, please tell me, I’m very interested to learn.

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

Also coming soon:

Wine Event at Nosh – March 17, 6PM – 8PM – Wince Cru Spanish and Portuguese Wine Tasting

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Wine List? Wine Book? Wine Novel?

Your Cliffnotes.

For many, dinner at a fine dining restaurant is a treat that has to be worked for and doesn’t happen very often. One could put money away for an entire year to save for their Napa vacation and still not have enough money saved to eat at The French Laundry while they’re in the area. When you do have that money saved, and you do find a last minute baby sitter, and you do get all dressed up, you do valet the car, you do pull out your wife’s chair as she set down, you don’t want to feel silly when you’re handed an encyclopedia sized novel from which to choose your wine. I want to put your mind at ease and help you through this daunting task.

This is your night! You’ve saved for a month, you both have the time off, you have the sitter, it’s your anniversary, it’s your birthday, you got the promotion, you got fired? No… you quit. That’s it. Whatever the occasion is, it’s your night! There is NO reason for you to have any uncomfortable feelings about that list at all! Looking at the vastness of that list, may have you feeling like you don’t know much about wine at all. Trust me, you know much more than you think you do! (Unless you think you know it all, in which case, you probably don’t have much reason for reading this!) There is one thing that you need to know that no one else in the restaurant knows. How much are you going to spend? That’s all you need. At any restaurant, at any given time, there is someone that will turn your cash in to some fine juice.

Sometimes, I find that the best place to start is in the beginning. Take a look at the wines that are available by the glass. You may want to spend a little more than this, but this will get your mind thinking about wine. Wines that are served by the glass typically run from $6 to $15, and they are a good display of what the general public will drink at anytime of day, any day of the week. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Grigio are all must haves by the glass. Sometimes just seeing those names in print gets you thinking about the last bottle of wine that you thoroughly enjoyed. If you see a Chianti by the glass, it may remind you that your last Italian wine was the best wine you’ve ever had.

“Honey, what was that Italian red wine that we had at Donna’s house a few months ago?” You ask your wife.

“Oh, on Ken’s Birthday? I don’t remember, but I do remember that it was in a tear drop shaped bottle.” She says jokingly.

Perhaps your server was listening in at this point, “Well, Sir, if it was in a tear drop shaped bottle, it was more than likely from Piedmont or Veneto. Does the name Barolo ring a bell?”

“No,” you reply “but, I do feel like there was an ‘o’ in the name!”

“Ahh, perhaps an Amar ‘o’ ne?” he asks with little hopeful stars in his eyes (Amarone typically doesn’t sell for less than$100/ bottle in a restaurant). “Or maybe a Nebbilol ‘o’?”

By this time, your server has already flipped to the Italian section of the list, and is pointing at what he is dictating. You respond “That’s it! Nebbiolo! It was fantastic! It was so big and so powerful! I can still taste it!!”

If he knows his wine, he will then begin telling you the difference between a Nebbiolo, a Barolo, and a Baberesco, and your spending limit will determine just how amazing your wine can be.

As a wine guy, I CRAVE that interaction. If you feel intimidated at all, ask questions. There is someone that is dying to answer them. Like I said, you know more than you think you do. If you can tell your waiter one wine that you love, he can point out five more just like it ranging in price from $30-$150. If you tell me that you like “7 Deadly Zins,” I’m going to tell you that you’ll love “The Prisoner.” I’m going to tell you that I love “Tofanelli.” I’ll also say that if you want something inbetween, “T-Vine” is a good way to go. If you want a more serious Zin “Chateau Montelena” or “Grgich Hills” may be your best bet.

If you don’t want that interaction, and don’t want the conversation, find something that you know you love, and go with something similar. If you know and trust La Crema Chardonnay, you’ll probably enjoy many California Chardonnays. I would suggest tasting as many as possible. I would also suggest trying varying price points and different regions.

The secret to confidence with an intimidating list, is not expecting to know everything. Even your server will admit to not knowing the list cover to cover. Ask questions; ask for help. With a list that size, you and your server can find your perfect bottle without even cracking the cover.

 

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

Also coming soon:

Wine Event at Nosh – March 17, 6PM – 8PM – Wince Cru Spanish and Portuguese Wine Tasting

 

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My First Time

I don’t remember the first time I drank wine or the first wine I drank. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a pleasant memory even if I did remember. I do remember buying a case of Mogen David for myself because it was only $1.50 per bottle. I had huge plans for that case, I was going to cellar it and sell it in twenty years for thousands of dollars!  The case lasted about a week, and it’s not a purchase I would repeat, even if it was only $18.00.

I do remember the first wine I enjoyed.

When I was 19 years old, my best friend Caleb worked at a little French Bistro called Rococco. He was a waiter, and he was really good friends with the owner. The owner was known for being extremely generous with her nice selections. One year for Christmas, she gave Caleb a bottle of wine. The wine was called L’Espil. It was a Grenache blend from Priorat. Until about three years ago, I would have said that Priorat was the varietal, and in previous wine buying positions, I had been desperately seeking the illusive Priorat grape. As it turns out, Priorat is a region in Spain that is known for some pretty spectacular juice.

As Caleb and I were slightly under the legal age to purchase our own alcohol, that night that we were desperate to drink. And with no means of getting our booze, we remembered his Christmas present. In the basement of my mother’s house, out of the cheapest stemware imaginable, we drank that bottle and didn’t think twice about the situation. Looking back at it, it was AMAZING!! Before that night, I had no appreciation for wine whatsoever. It was all grape juice with a weird aftertaste. This was clearly the exception. I can still taste it. It was full flavored and rich up front. The wine had an intense tannic and acidic mid-palate but finished with a long-lasting smooth amazing black peppery finish. I never forgot the name Priorat. It wasn’t until seven or so years later that I came to really appreciate it. It was a wine that I would now sell for probably $200 to $250. The region has a really cool history that I love to talk about.

Coming soon: “Priorat… Danger and Celibacy”

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

Also coming soon:

Wine Event at Nosh – March 17, 6PM – 8PM – Wince Cru Spanish and Portuguese Wine Tasting

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Sommelier vs. Guru

The definition of a Sommelier (SÓ- maul-ē-ay) is a rather tricky topic for me. I’m frequently asked while I’m at tables if I am “The Sommelier”, mainly because I never introduce myself as such. The question makes me think back to when I worked at a steakhouse in Maryland. The menu of this steakhouse had about fourteen items on it. Twelve of these items were a variation of the same item: steak. I started as a server, and out of pity for the owner, I took a position as the lead grill cook. In a kitchen hierarchy, the owner would have been the “Chef” and I would have been the “Sous-Chef.” At the age of 19, I could flip a steak with the best steak flippers around, and you had better believe I called myself a “Chef.”

I flipped steaks for about two years before one day I was sitting at a bar with the “Sous-Chef” of another restaurant in town. He used words like “Braising”, “Hollandaise”, “Tartare”, and “Roux.” I was completely lost. He might as well have been speaking German. Humility set in at that very instant. I was so far from a chef; I didn’t even comprehend the meaning of the word.

Two weeks ago, I sat in a class room tasting wine with 105 aspiring “sommeliers.” The class was led by five “Master Sommeliers.” I would hope that after meeting those five “Master’s”, that no one in that class would call themselves a “Sommelier.” I certainly won’t… not for a very long time.

On the menu at the Blue Star, I introduce myself as the “Wine Guru.” But I don’t really like the word Guru. I draw a mental picture of a skinny, long bearded man in Birkenstocks gingerly strolling through a vast field of tall green grass.  What I do like is taking something that can be so pretentious and adding a word that to me is the “Anti-Pretense.” When I tell people I’m the Wine Guru, I want them to feel the trust. Feel the bond. I’m here for them and their pleasure, not to take advantage of what they don’t know.

*I feel like I need a disclaimer here. My next post is going to be Sommelier vs. Server where I will basically compensate for any feelings I may have hurt. Sommeliers, and potential sommeliers, I love you and have tremendous respect for you as you will soon see.

 

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

 

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Sommelier vs. Server

I think it’s safe to say that on the topic of wine, most restaurant servers are strictly “Order Takers.” They want you to order wine, and they want you to order the most expensive bottle on the menu. They always want you to order a bottle that is more expensive then the one you chose, but they’re seldom willing to do any leg work to suggest something better. From time-to-time, they’ll say “If you like that $30 Pinot Noir, you’ll LOVE this $50 Pinot Noir.” That’s a simple attempt to up their sales, the restaurant’s sales, and add a few bucks to their pocket. There’s nothing wrong with that. if you go with the up-sell, in theory, you got a better bottle of wine out of the deal.

A sommelier, or guru, is different. My ultimate goal is the same: bigger sales and better bottles, but I have a different way of going about it. And hopefully a different result.

When it comes time to order wine at dinner, there is a HUGE uncomfortable grey area that servers don’t want to confront. You as the guest are typically not comfortable talking about it either. I’m not talking about who you will vote for in the next election; I’m talking about how much you want to spend on a bottle of wine. Servers will never ask. Perhaps I shouldn’t ask. But, if we get that elephant out of the room at the very beginning, you will enjoy your wine so much more.

I frequently ask tables “What is it that you’re looking for in your wine tonight?” The answer that I get 100% of the time is perfectly acceptable, but doesn’t really help. “I’m looking for a nice bottle of Burgundy.” Here is what that means to me: “Please choose for me- one of the 70 Red Burgundian wines on your list. I know they range from $50 to $2200 a bottle. Just pick something good.” My very next question is, “How much do you want to spend?” It’s not comfortable to ask and not comfortable to answer, but how else will I know if tonight is a Joseph Drouhin night or a Domaine de la Romanee Conti night?

Here is the best way to handle this, as the guest. “I was looking over the Napa Cab section, and I was thinking about a bottle of Silver Oak.” Here’s what I heard:

  1. I want to spend between $150-$200
  2. I want a Cabernet
  3. I want to impress the people I’m with because everyone knows the name Silver Oak
  4. I’m going to go with a name I trust because many of these selections sound unfamiliar to me
  5. I will probably not order more than one bottle of wine tonight (not because of cost, but because I’m starting my meal with a huge bottle of Napa Cab, which eliminates the possibility of a white or a Pinot Noir to go with salads and appetizers)

Here is what your server heard:

  1. You will get $30 in your pocket because I ordered a $150 bottle and I’m going to tip 20% on it. You had better not break the cork!

Your servers reaction:

  1. Silver Oak, coming up!!

My reaction:

  1. I’m going to bring you a $225 bottle of Dalla Valle 2001 Napa Cab. I’m going to explain the difference between the two wines, and I’ll probably say something like “After tasting this wine, the words ‘Silver Oak’ will never leave you lips again!”

The difference is, for potentially $25 more, you got a wine that in my opinion is easily twice as good. The server would have been happy with the Silver Oak sale and been done with it. You may have turned me down on the added $25. Should that have been the case, the restaurant would have covered that $25 so that you could taste exactly what I was talking about. I want you to taste wine that I KNOW you will love, and I’m willing to make up the difference. My commitment to your wine enjoyment goes as far as taking house calls from your server for my suggestions.

The moral of the story is: your server wants you to spend money on wine that you enjoy. Your Guru wants you to taste the ABSOLUTE best wine that you’re willing to pay for.Trust your Guru. He has your best interest and taste in mind.

 

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

 

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Why Age?

Drink Now? Drink later? Best between 10 and 15 years from when?

Often I am asked about the benefits of aging in the bottle. I’m asked what the difference is between a 2001 and a 2007 Napa Cab. I have a strange way of thinking about what happens to wine that’s been sitting in a bottle for years and years.

Do you remember when you were a child, and your mom would run into the store and leave you in the car. At this age, you’re in the front seat, and ever-so curious about all of the gadgets in front of you. As soon as she gets out of the car, you push in the “TREB” button; you start playing with it, and notice that things sound a lot different depending on its position. Soon after you realize the impact of the “BASS” button.

Mom gets back in the car and notices a change. She can’t identify it exactly, but she knows that something is off. She starts playing with the treble and the bass until she gets it back to that prefect balance.

When a new quality wine is released, they’re made to age. They’re designed to get better over the years. A just released Napa Cab may be over the top acidic, with intensly unbearable tannins and so much fruit you may confuse it for a Lodi Zin. Aging in the bottles works like the treble and bass settings in your car.

At first, you taste the wine, you recognize it. You’ve had it before. You’ve had an Oakville Cab before, but something is off about this one. You just can’t put your finger on it. It’s much stronger than you’re used to, you know it’s the same wine, but what is going on?

You get in your car, and your favorite song is on. You’ve heard it 1000 times, and it’s never sounded like this! It’s so much louder. It’s more abrasive. It’s the same song, but just not as you remember liking it.

Aging in the bottle slowly adjusts the knobs until you hit that perfect equilibrium of bass and treble. When Wine Spectator says best between 2018 and 2025, that’s when you have your favorite song back, just the way you remember it. Over the years the tannins slowly calm down as does the fruit and acidity, and when they say it’s best, it should in theory be… perfect.

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

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Ambiguity

Just as in life, very few things in the wine world are black and white. It’s easy to generalize and pass judgment on wines, wineries, wine styles, regions, countries and so on.  With such ambiguity and so many exceptions, it’s hard to be wrong. That’s what makes the wine world so much fun. I love the metaphors, the analogies, and the comparisons. Everyone sees something different. When I drink a glass from a bottle of $300 Napa Cab, I don’t have fun creative things to compare it to. I say “Damn!” But some people drink the same wine and say “Do you get the mint? The currants? I taste my grandmother’s spaghetti, the time that she made it before church, and she scorched the pan a little bit.”

I taste in adjectives. I taste dark. I taste rich. I taste soft. I even taste red. What’s great is that it doesn’t necessarily matter. I can fill your head with all of the nonsense I want, but it doesn’t change the way the wine taste to you, so why bother? It won’t be long until I have to be able to taste a wine and tell the world what it is without looking at the label. I thought it would be impossible without the ability to pick up “currants” and “mint” and “vanilla”, and “black cherries covered in a soft vanilla, slightly scorched confectioners sugar caramel.” As it turns out, if you know you like Syrah, then you can detect  a Syrah.  After you’ve tasted Italian Syrah, French Syrah, Australian Shiraz, California Shiraz/ Syrah, 500 times, you notice patterns. The tough part for me is putting those patterns into words, but I know what they are. The best way I would know to describe the difference between a California Chardonnay, and an Australian Chardonnay would be with some crazy metaphor that anyone could relate to. It would have nothing to do with wine or food. It becomes a feeling.

If you think about it, the wine world is nothing but comparison. It’s comparison to things that you have tasted and things you have experienced; no one can argue that with you. “You don’t’ taste your grandmothers spaghetti!” That would just be silly.

 

View my restaurants’ wine lists:

Nosh: http://nosh121.com/grapesgrains/default.asp
The Blue Star: http://www.thebluestar.net/WineSpirits.asp

4 Comments