Summertime, Sauvignon, and a Sandwich…

Its late summer, the weather is still hot (and muggy depending on where you are). There is definitely a good way to escape the heat, take a break from work, and just enjoy. A very Zen experience – a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a sandwich. If you set yourself up with a nice Turkey on Rye, a glass of very cool Sauvignon Blanc, and go sit in an outdoor spot (maybe in the shade) you’ll catch a bit of the reason why people get hooked on wines. Many wine folks will tell you that wine too cool hides “flaws” and doesn’t allow the wine to have it full character. When it comes to summer, Sauvignon, and a sandwich forget all that – you need it nice and cool to give you that refreshing taste on top of the standard wine and food experience.

Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes called FumÈ Blanc) is pretty well known for being very “food friendly”, meaning you can almost envision the food you want to eat it with rather than wasting time trying to pick out the subtle tastes hidden in the layers. The sauvignon blanc grape is found in France, in the Loire Valley (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume) and Bordeaux (see “Can Anything Save French Wine” for my view on the French not just calling it Sauvignon Blanc). However, my favorites are from New Zealand and California. Other new world producers include Australia, South Africa, and Chile. In Bordeaux, it is blended with the semillon grape to produce both fine dry wines (Graves) and the great sweet wines of Sauterne and Barsac.

One of the most interesting facts about this wine is that to foster the summertime, refreshing taste most producers age the wine in stainless steel barrels for relatively short amounts of time, generally only a few months as opposed to 18 to 24 months in the case of some red wines.

The best part of all this – and one of the main reasons Vivi’s really loves this combo – is the friendly price of Sauvignon Blanc. Once ridiculed as a “poor man’s Chardonnay”, many good Sauvignon Blancs can be bought for under $20.

So before Fall rolls in, while its still hot, grab your sandwich, get outside, and Enjoy the Wine Life!

Vivi’s Picks:

Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2002 – $11.99

Brander Winery Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc 2002 – $13.99

Paul Hobbs 2002 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley)

This Chardonnay is pretty hard to find but here is a site where you can buy it. It’s a bit more expensive then the value wines I normally try to hunt down, but this is worth the extra $20. At around $40 it tips the Vivi’s scale for value wines but this is a value even at that price.

We tasted this wine recently and it is definitely on our highly recommend list (even at $40). Wine Spectator rates this wine 95 and its clear why. If you are hesitant to change over try whites or are fairly new to them then this is the white you need to try at least once and use as a baseline for future tastings. Pour it into the glass and almost immediately you smell the vanilla and melon aromas. The wine is really very bright and delicious upfront with a toasted vanilla taste and yet maintains fruit flavors mixed in. When wine “pros” refer to “well structured” wines this is a standard for Chardonnays. Buy one (or many if your up for it) if for no other reason other than to have a clear understanding what a Chardonnay is supposed to taste like.

Like I said, pricey for the Vivi’s value recommendation standard but it is surprisingly good. Easily as good as a wine twice the price (hard to say that about a California wine these days).

Splurge a little, give it a try, and remember to Enjoy the Wine Life!

Can anything save French wine? (Part Duex)

As it turns out, the French government ever-so-quietly last month passed guidelines that radically change the wine labelling system in France – they are allowing wine growers to label bottles with the GRAPE so that people can actually understand what their buying. Currently some French supermarkets can have up to 600 different bottles of French wines on the shelves!

This comes amid growing concern over competition and over-production. This system, however, won’t be present until 2006! So we’ll all have to wait and continue to shy away from French wines because its much easier to just go to New World wines, as I wrote previously.

It seems as if the French might actually help themselves out here. With French wine less intimidating on the label it may be more approachable to normal folks. With an over-supply you would expect the price to come down a bit from the astronomical levels they are at. Those two factors could help them stabalize their marketshare. But waiting unti 2006? Inevitably the French wine producers won’t cut-over right away to the new system because of egos…excuse me, because of history, so 2006 probably means we won’t see any real change until 2009 or 2010. That could be too late. With the rate of growth of the wine industry worldwide and the increase in premium wine available, French producers could be in serious trouble by then.

The stalwarts of wine culture, Burgundy and Bordeaux, will certainly take the longest to cut over believing there is no need to – my prediction is they’ll get squeezed into it though. What would you order, bottle of nice French Chardonnay or Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru…

Justin Obtuse 2002 (Port)

Interesting thing about Ports, many people who drink Cabernets and Zinfandels often say “Oh, no thanks. I’m not into Ports”. If you fit in that category (normal person who drinks red wine but isn’t really into Ports), then the Justin Obtuse 2001 or 2002 should be the first Port you experience. I haven’t run into someone yet that has tried this wine and hasn’t been roped in. Its as if the Justin Winery created this wine to help people transition from regular wines to dessert wines.

Here is how the Justin Winery describes the wine:

Obtuse is JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery’s American-style Port made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. We adhere to traditional vinification and maturation methods to make this wine. In cooler growing seasons, color extraction is often more difficult and may require the addition of pectic enzymes that help free color from the grape skins before fermentation. Once fermentation begins, the juice is pumped over the cap several times per day to extract color and flavor from the skins. The sugar concentration of the fermenting must is closely monitored. When it reaches the desired level of residual sugar, typically in 3 to 4 days, the fermenting must is pressed off and fermentation is stopped with the addition of 170° proof unaged grape brandy. At this point, the wine is adjusted to an alcohol content of approximately 20%. After the fortification process, the Port style wine is placed in large neutral French oak barrels called puncheons, which are twice the size of traditional 225-liter barrique barrels. The wine is then racked once every three to four months during the one to two-year aging period for a natural clarification and to allow for maturation and integration of the brandy and the wine. This wine is unfined and unfiltered.

Whoa…Thats a mouthful. What that breaks down to for you and me is simply a full-bodied dessert wine that has plum and cherry aromas and tastes like a deep plum jam. Its always surprising how good it is no matter how many times I’ve tried it. Justin Winery makes this port out of 100% Cabernet grapes so the foundation is already there if you’re into Cabernets. Could be part of the reason the transition to this Port is so easy.

My wife, Kelly, was one of the people who I talked about before. So I tripped her out by giving her a taste of this with her dark chocolate (she’s a dark chocolate fanatic). She fell in love with and now I have to chase it around the Internet to keep a healthy stock in our wine fridge. (I’ll make it easy on you though; you can pick up a bottle here or at the winery’s website here).

One of the coolest things about this wine is that with proper storing you can keep it for a while, figure a couple of months. Over time, it develops a sort of nutty flavor on top of the already delicious plum-jam flavor. If you have two bottles you can try storing one after you open it and one day open another and compare. Storing an open bottle is not too different from storing a sealed bottle. Temperature should be around 60 F degrees and you shouldn’t store it too close to anything with a real strong aroma. If you’re into it, its worth a try. If not, just grab a couple half bottles and bring them with you to parties to impress your friends, especially those who aren’t “into Ports”.

Have fun and remember to Enjoy the Wine Life!

Can anything save French wine?

Does anyone care? Basically the new world wines have improved in quality over the last 10+ years to the point where does it really matter?

I’m not a big fan of French wines but thats a personal taste thing. Everyone tastes differently so there isn’t any reason for me to be critical of someone who does like French wines. But after 10+ (arguably 20) years of great wines coming out of other regions (like the US) there is a generation of wine drinkers that have “grown up” on non-French wines and, in cases like mine, don’t even like the taste, texture, and everything else of French wines.

There was an article on this on the CNN/Money website that points to consumption dropping in France and international competition from other wine regions. There are some valid points here and it makes plenty of sense. But the French are at a loss to understand why some sell and some don’t and why price cuts don’t help.

Let me break this down for you. The surge in worldwide consumption is driven by people understanding wine. When you and I can pick up a bottle of wine and have a general idea of what it should taste like without knowing the appellation, the wine maker’s history, the winery’s style, etc. etc. etc. then you will buy the wine. Thats all it takes. You want to sell more, make it easier to buy. THAT is why new world wine growth is out pacing old world. Its better marketing. US, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa, and just about anywhere except the old world producers (Italy, France, et. al.) produce wine and name it by the GRAPE.

Its easy to understand what a Cab should taste like. But its not easy to know what a red from Bordeaux should taste like. So when does one order a red Bordeaux? Who outside of wine tools (no offense to the wine tools out there) and French people take the time to learn about French regions? The whole concept is a disaster (and, of course, somewhat arrogant).

Now, you can have a basic wine understanding of the different grapes and confidently pick wines at restuarants, bars, etc. and know what you’re getting. If you want to get more complex and learn the appellations, climate affects, barrel affects, etc. you can. But you don’t have to!! This makes it accessible and approachable by normal people. Which happens to be a bigger market than French people and wine tools.

Bottom line – its easier and less intimidating these days to stick to non-French wines so why bother with them. Only the French can save French wine industry.

(Read the follow on article “Can Anyone Save French Wine? (Part Duex)”)

Product Highlight Aug ‘04

I added a new feature to the site. Its our Product Highlight (to the right). This will be kind of fun because we want people to enjoy every aspect of the wine life. The Gizmo this month is the Rabbit Corkscrew. Kelly and I love this thing. It cranks out even the most stubborn corks and its so easy. The one highlighted this month is all metal which is important. We had one that had some plastic in it but that didn’t last very long. The Rabbit makes it easy for you by exerting most of the force for you. Apparently, the plastic parts couldn’t handle that and we broke ours pretty quickly.

So the features of the Product Highlight are basically a button to buy the product (which I think is obvious) but I’ve also included a link in the picture which pops up a window with the review of which ever Vivi’s staff writer reviewed the product.

Have fun and keep enjoying the wine life…

Yangarra Park 2001 Cab

I recently had a couple bottles of Yangarra Park Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra Appellation Series 2001. This is a great wine at $17 a bottle. Wine Spectator gave it a 90 rating so at sub-$20 a bottle I decided to check it out. Needless to say, good call by me. This is a wine from Australia that you wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t a California Cab if I didn’t tell you. Very fruity tasting – plum and black cherry tasting. One of my favorite features? 14% alcohol so you can get your buzz on tasting this beauty 😀

Pick some up and try it for yourself!

Continue reading “Yangarra Park 2001 Cab”

New Study Finds Moderate Drinkers May Have Superior Cognitive Skills

Yet another benefit to enjoying the wine life. It seems as if everyday there are more and more benefits discovered. This article in Wine Spectator makes note of the recent association with higher cognitive ability, especially in women!

Now, its meant for “low amounts”. High amounts rarely leads to higher cognitive ability. That is actually associated with relative invincibility and reduced ability to discern visual fact and fiction ;).

Continue reading “New Study Finds Moderate Drinkers May Have Superior Cognitive Skills”