Top Ten Tips for Wine Buyers

We’ve all done it, that glassy eyed stare at a store shelf like a deer in headlights, analyzing and contemplating which wine to buy. With experience this exercise gets easier, but I still come back to these moments on occasion, especially when I’m ‘just looking’. If you are the same, fear not, for the Duluth News Tribune has assembled a nice list of the ten things you should think about when buying wine. The tenth tip is worth quoting here, as the words ring so true for those who have felt it’s bitter effect:

10. Above all else, always remember that the wine isn’t a bargain if you don’t like it.


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Costco Brand Wine – 2002 Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it. Costco, under it’s Kirkland brand, is producing and selling it’s own wine, (which I guess they have been doing for a while now, I’m just not much of a regular). If it wasn’t for a tip from Chris K., I wouldn’t have purchased a bottle of the $18 USD Cabernet Sauvignon, holding out instead for a Falesco Umbria or Cameron Hughes Cab. But seeing the Alexander Valley Appellation plastered across the label helped convince me it was worth a try. Surprisingly, the cheaper image that is associated with the Kirkland brand was able to impress, a very nice effort indeed. Lots of black fruit and spice with good acidity, this was actually a very nice bottle of wine. It just goes to show, you can’t judge a wine by it’s label. The Costco folks are putting some money into their wines, with the obvious goal of appealing to the palate to move as much as possible. The best part is, if you try it and don’t like it, the return policy is fantastic.

Wine: 2002 Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, CA
Price: $18 USD
Notes: A lively purple hue with a relaxed nose of Blackberry’s, Pepper, and a touch of vanilla, soft and supple on the palate with firm tannins and a spicy finish, a nice overall wine.
Score: 86 pts JAT

2005 Sales of California Wines Up, US to be No. 1 Wine Market

Sales of Californian wines were up by 6.5 Million Cases in 2005 over the 181.5 Million cases sold in 2004. Overall consumption of wine is up for Americans and slated to surpass France by the end of the decade to become the number one wine consuming nation in the world. Wine imported from Italy, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa was also up. Exports from the U.S. fell however, showing that the rest of the world isn’t as enamored with American wines as we are. But the overall picture for the wine industry remains bright.

“From the perspective of 3 1/2 decades in the wine industry, I can assure you right now that things have never been better in this market and the future looks outstanding,” Woodside wine analyst Jon Fredrikson said in a speech at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, the largest wine conference in the United States.


Tasting Brunello di Montalcino in San Francisco, CA

San Francisco view from the Bay BridgeThe cloudless sky was a beautiful blue, accented by a crisp ocean breeze that freshened and cooled the air; an inviting backdrop for a few Italian guests visiting San Francisco yesterday. The winemakers from Montalcino, Italy, located about 25 miles south of Siena, brought their smiles, history, and fantastic wines to the Old Federal Reserve Banking Hall in San Francisco on January 23, 2006 for the Benvenuto Brunello event. The event allowed food and wine trade professionals (don’t ask how I made it in) to sample the release of their latest vintage Brunello, a wine comprised of 100% Sangiovese. The tasting also included the red table wine, Rosso, a lively more fruit driven take on Sangiovese meant to be consumed young. Some offered tastes of reserve Brunello’s from previous vintages as well as desert wines called Moscadello, and table wines under the Sant’Antimo denomination. Sant’Antimo Wines can be comprised from a variety of grapes, and be red or white. Being my first experience with wines from Montalcino, I decided to focus on the Rosso’s and Brunello’s, seemingly the stars of the show. Nearly 50 producers where pouring an average of 3 wines each, so I had to limit myself, my palate could only handle so much.

The Rosso is an amazing value, food friendly, and retails for around $30 USD or so. They spend about 1 year in Oak barrels and gain a wonderful complexity from their time aging. All of the Rosso’s I tasted where very consistent, a fruity nose of cherry’s and spice, a well rounded mouthfeel with no watered down taste as you might find on second label wines from other areas, and a great finish that is complex, but not overwhelming. I wanted a nice sausage penne pasta next to me as I did the tasting, these wines made my mouth water.

The Brunello’s where excellent as well. About twice the cost and up, these are the flagship wines from the area. They are aged in the traditional way of 3 years in barrel, and 1 year in bottle, so this release was for the 2001 Vintage. All of these wines are still very young, with chewy mouth filling tannins that have lots of bite. The bouquet is very complex, earth, pepper, rock, and berry’s are tightly woven and explosive on the palate. Some wineries where experiencing with a more modern method of aging for the wines, 2 years in barrel and 2 in bottle, but I found I was drawn more to those traditionally aged.

The amazing part about all of these wines is the consistency between wineries. There is definitely a feeling of terrior with these bottles, a real sense of place that carries between them all. Part of this can be attributed to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino created in 1967, in order to regulate the way the wines are made. About 98% of the producers in the area are part of it, and the group along with a local US promotions company put on the event to promote the latest release.

I learned that in many cases those pouring the wine where the families that made it. This was really neat, but in some cases gave me a small roadblock in learning more about the winery, since I don’t speak Italian. Everyone was so friendly, unpretentious, and devoted to their craft. It was obvious that winemaking is their life. They are proud of the product and take pride in their rich family history.

All of the wines I tasted where good, but there were a few that really stood out. Instead of writing about every wine I had, I’ll take a tip from Robert Parker and write about the ones that stood out. Thanks to Emily Nordee at M Young Communications for the invite, and promoting the event. I was told by many of the exhibitors that they weren’t expecting to see so many people show up, and that they considered the event a huge success. Also, I wanted to thank Alder Yarrow of Vinography for helping me find the venue and for taking me under his wing, I really appreciated it. I’d also like to thank my managers and producers, (queue Oscar music) and my lovely wife Katie, and my Mother and Father…..

Below are the wines that stood out. I didn’t have enough time to write all extensive notes on each wine, but the flavor profiles are pretty close to those I described above. I put a star next to some of my favorites. It looks like 2001 was a great year in Montalcino for Brunello. For more information visit the Consorzio’s Website.

76 Wines tasted from 33 producers, 55 recommended from 28 producers. These wines will be released in the spring.

Banfi 2003 Rosso Castello Banfi 90 pts.
Banfi 2001 Brunello di Montalcino, Castello Banfi, 92 pts
Banfi 2001 Summus, Castello Banfi, 92 pts

Camigliano 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
Camigliano 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Capanna 2003 Rosso 90 pts
Capanna 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
Capanna 1999 Reserva Brunello Di Montalcino 94pts

Casanuova delle Cerbaie 2004 Rosso 89 pts
Casanuova delle Cerbaie 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Col D’Orcia 2002 Reserva Rosso 92 pts *
Col D’Orcia 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Col D’Orcia 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
Col D’Orcia 1998 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts

Costanti 2004 Rosso 90 pts
Costanti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 93 pts

Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2001 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts *

Fattoi 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 96 pts *

Fuligni 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 91 pts

IL Poggione 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 95 pts *
IL Poggione 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts
IL Poggione 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Innocenti 2003 Rosso 90 pts
Innocenti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts

La Colombina 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 96 pts *

La Fortuna 2004 Rosso 91 pts
La Fortuna 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 93 pts
La Fortuna 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

La Lecciaia 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts

La Mannella 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 89 pts

La Pescaia 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts

La Togata 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
La Togata 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 89 pts

La Velona 2003 Rosso 92 pts

Le Chiuse 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts
Le Chiuse 2001 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Lisini 2004 Rosso 93 pts
Lisini 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Lisini 2000 Ugelia Brunello di Montalcino 96 pts

Marchesato degli Aleramici 2003 Rosso 90 pts
Marchesato degli Aleramici 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Palazzo 2003 Rosso 90 pts *
Palazzo 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Palazzo 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Poggio Antico 2004 Rosso 90 pts
Poggio Antico 2001 Brunello di Montalcino (modern ageing) 90 pts
Poggio Antico 2001 Brunello di Montalcino (traditional ageing) 92 pts
Poggio Antico 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 88 pts

Siro Pacenti 2003 Rosso 91 pts*
Siro Pacenti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 93 pts

Solaria 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Tenuta Montluc 2004 Rosso St. Luc 92 pts
(Less than 850 cases produced, inaugural release)

Uccelliera 2004 Rosso 88 pts

Valdicava 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Valdicava 1999 Madonna del Piodo 95 pts *

Bronco Wine Co. Appeal Shot Down

It looks like the fundraising by Napa winemakers to protect their name has paid off, as today the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the appeal by Bronco Wine Co. to continue to use terms related to the region on wines that didn’t contain at least 75% of it’s fruit from the area. This is a win for wineries from Napa that have fought hard to make sure that their valuable name is protected.

This wasn’t the first appeal by Bronco in this case, as it has deliberated in California courts over this issue for some time. This is the first Supreme Court Ruling on the subject, and it would appear the ‘buck’ stop’s here. Company spokesman Harvey Posert commented on the ruling:

“Bronco Wine Co. is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s denial of its request to review the state court’s erroneous ruling on our claims. Bronco wine, however, intends to maintain all of its brands and will do so in full compliance with the law.”


2003 HENSCHKE Henry’s Seven, Shiraz Grenache Viognier, Barossa, South Australia

What in the world is Viognier doing in a red wine? That’s exactly what I asked myself when I saw this label, but don’t be fooled, it works out quite nicely. The blend is Shiraz dominate at 67%, with 28% Grenache, and 5% Viognier. But that seemingly small amount of Viognier is enough to add a wonderful bright layer to this wine, especially noticeable on the nose and finish. This wine is a very good value at around $30 USD.

The Henschke Winery traces it’s routes back to 1868 and is one of the oldest wineries from Borossa. Past on from one generation to the next, this winery continues to receive high accolades around the world for it’s red wines, particularly it’s flagship bottle “Hill of Grace”.

About the wine (From the website):

The shiraz grenache viognier is a tribute to Henry Evans who planted the first vineyard of seven acres at Keyneton in 1853. He quickly developed a reputation for producing the best wines in the southern colony. Following Henry’Â’s death in 1868 his widow Sarah exercised her temperance convictions by closing the winery and uprooting all the winegrapes. This blend highlights the historical introduction of southern French and Spanish varieties to South Australia in those early pioneering days and reflects the history, religion and culture of the Barossa.

Tasting Notes:

Vintage: 2003
Wine: HENSCHKE Henry’s Seven, Barossa, SouthAustraliaa
Vatietals: 67% Shiraz, 28% Grenache, 5% Viognier
Price: $30 USD
Notes: A beautiful bouquet of anise, raspberry, a touch of cedar, well structured with a complex mouth feel that is bright and round, a relaxing finish of mellow tannins complemented by a light cherry flavor. Very good.

Score: 90pts JAT


2003 Whispering Dove Stags Leap District, Napa, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Before I tell you about this bottle of wine, allow me to give you a little background info. I’ve tasted an earlier vintage of this wine at a wine store in Dublin, Ca and I wasn’t impressed. It smelled sweet, like gummy bears, was flabby and thin, and didn’t impress me at all. Then I got the sales pitch, “this wine is limited production and is going to sell out, and we’re almost sold out in fact! Buy now for $45 USD and save 30% by the time of its official release, how many bottles would you like, you’re limited to three.”

None please, although that is brilliant marketing. You appealed to my greed and sense of urgency instead of my taste buds!

So I commented on it on one of Alder’s posts at Vinography, which garnered some serious feedback. ‘Try it again’ was the cry from the masses, so I did last night. This was one of the hardest purchases I’ve ever had to make. The notes I read on forums were lackluster and sometimes negative on the 2003 Whispering Dove, even the store manager looked at me a little different at the counter. I really didn’t feel like wasting $29 (the price for the 03 has fallen sharply and the source for fruit changed from 2002) on a wine I didn’t want to taste again. But I did it for the sake of being fair, and to make sure any bias was gone, I made sure I tasted it blind against another 03 Cab. I made sure I didn’t know which wine was which, I wanted this to be legitimate. I also didn’t want to know what the second bottle was, I just stipulated to my friend that it be an 2003 Cabernet. He could have grabbed a 2003 Hartwell, or a 2003 Beringer Cab, I just didn’t want to know.

The tasting:

Wine #1
Exhibits a Ruby – Garnet color, sweet blueberries on the nose with almost a syrup like smell, acidic with the blueberry theme carrying over on the palate, a simple, medium bodied finish. 81pts JAT

Wine #2
A darker wine than number one with a deeper purple, a hint of pepper and dust on the nose, but somewhat cloying. A medium bodied wine lacking any complexity; astringent and over oaked. The tannic finish lasts about 30 seconds. 77pts JAT

I had the first wine pegged as the Whispering dove, thanks to that sweet nose I remember from my first experience with it. 81 points is still a good score, and better than 77. Imagine my surprise when it was revealed that the second wine was actually the dove, Wine #1 was a 2003 Ravenswood Vintners Blend California Cabernet retail ($12 USD?), not a bad wine, although it was a little acidic and overly fruity, possibly from chaptalization?

How disappointing. The grapes for the Dove are from Stags leap, shouldn’t I have been able to taste that? The wine was unfortunately one dimensional, devoid of character, and over oaked. I honestly would have jumped all over this wine if it was good, at $30 a bottle for juice from an acclaimed Napa AVA that would have been a great deal. Sadly, it’s to good to be true.

This wine is made by someone associated, (was associated?) with the Wine Warehouse, a wholesale distributor out of California, and in hopes of jumping on the bandwagon with a hyped wine / label / AVA, their efforts appear to be to make a quick buck, not deliver a quality, consistent product that consumers can return to year after year. If you buy into it, by all means, pick up a bottle or two, although I’m not one to recommend a bottle that doesn’t taste that good.

For me it’s simple, if it’s a good wine it’s worth the money, purchase it and enjoy. If I’m looking to purchase wine as an investment, I make sure that it isn’t just hyped by retail sales people, I double check with professional critics, taste it myself (if I can afford it), or even look to other blogs or forums for information on it from other wine lovers.

I wanted to like the 2003 Whispering Dove and be proven wrong. I took the tasting seriously, did it blind and focused on the wine itself, not the label. Those that tasted it with me weren’t influenced by my notes, which I kept to myself, and weren’t aware of my background with it. We all tasted the wines blind and had the same consensus, this wine was just O.K. This is what I learned, and I personally feel there are much better wines to be had for $30 from around the world.

Wine: 2003 Whispering Dove Stags Leap District Reserve
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Price: $29 USD
Notes: A dark purple color with a hint of pepper and dust on the nose, but somewhat cloying. A medium bodied wine lacking any complexity; astringent and over oaked. The tannic finish lasts about 30 seconds. To be avoided.
Score: 77pts JAT

Upcoming Events in Napa Valley Wine Country

If your within striking distance of the Napa Valley Wine Country, their are some cool events coming up that are sure to please.

The Napa Valley Mustard Festival is slated to begin on January 28, with the renowned masked ball at the CIA. From the website:

The Festival’s Grand Opening Event, held at Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena, features food, wine, music, gallery of entries in the Napa Valley Mustard Festival Visual Art Competition, tableau scenes, silent & live auctions & more!
This event magnifique is considered by many to be Napa Valley’s most creative, extravagant gathering of the year.

The festival runs through April, so check out the event calendar for other cool venues.

Also, if you haven’t dined at the Culinary Institute of America’s St.Helena campus, the seasonal events might be the push you need to taste some amazing cuisine. Starting January 25th, the first installment takes it’s inspiration from the Chinese New Year. From the site:

Let’s do (dim) sum-thing fun for Chinese New Year! China has one of the world’s oldest, most sophisticated, and influential cuisines, and Chef James will thrill us with some new and classic Chinese dishes. Of course, he’ll always keep in mind the concept of yin and yang, which is about balance in everything, including food. You’ve seen it before: mild with spicy, crunchy with soft, and, perhaps the most famous, sweet with sour. Get ready to wok and roll!

With a continued program through March, you really should go to at least one event.

If you’re free on Sunday of this week, you might want to grace the grounds at Copia as you indulge in wines from Sonoma. With more than 75 Wineries pouring juice, you’re sure to stumble upon a label or two that exceeds your expectations. The fee is $35USD for non-members and includes ‘fine cheeses and artisan breads’. Visit the site.

Bottle of Wine

My wife forwarded me this email after my last post:

Sally was driving home from one of her business trips in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road. As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride. With a silent nod of thanks, the woman got into the car. Resuming the journey, Sally tried in vain to make a bit of small talk with the Navajo woman. The old woman just sat silently, looking intently at everything she saw, studying every little detail, until she noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Sally.

“What’s in the bag?” asked the old woman. Sally looked down at the brown bag and said, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman was silent for another moment or two.
Then, speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder, she said: “Good trade.”