Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rosé Summer Rolls On With Two French Mediterranean Winners

Cinsault RoséWe’ve declared this the Rosé Summer. Pink is everywhere you look. For us in the Triangle area of North Carolina, there has been some sweltering humidity. What’s a person to do? Try uncorking one of these rosé blends.

Mimi Provence RoséPower Of The Chiller

Rosé is a pink wine made from red wine grapes. Red wine wouldn’t be red if not for extended contact with the grape skins, which provide anthocyanins – the compound which gives grapes color. When it comes to drinking wine, that may be TMI (too much information)!

The art of rosé is controlling the process to result in the delightful salmon, coral or rose colors. The visual treat is a boost to the spirits on a hot day as much as the crisp refreshing wine.

We encourage you to chill it down and then get down, so to speak, with a glass of rosé. It’s a perfect pairing wine for a variety of foods.

Say Cinsault – Say What?

We recently tried a pair of rosé wines from France, the Mimi en Provence Grand Reserve, Côtes de Provence and the Gérard Bertrand Cote des Roses, Languedoc Sud de France. Both are 2016 vintages and both can be found in the $12-$15 price range.

This pair also shares the same trio of grapes in their blend: Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah – popular grapes in the south of France. The Mimi lists the grapes in the order above, while the Cotes des Roses leads with the Grenache in the greater quantity followed by Cinsault. Cinsault, is pronounced SAHN-soh, and can also be spelled Cinsaut. Cinsault can withstand very high heat, and so it is widely grown in the hotter areas of France, like Languedoc. It is typically blended to tone down its naturally high acidity. We consider this a playful blend of grapes, that well represents the Mediterranean region from which they originate.

Cote des Roses RoséA Rosé By Any Other Name

Two great entrée choices for rosé are pork and salmon. We tried them both with excellent results. We paired the Mimi with cedar plank rosemary salmon served with broccoli and baked potatoes.

The Mimi, which we picked up at Cellar 55, is a light salmon in color – how fitting! The bouquet is bright and floral. On the palate, there is a taste of Granny Smith apples and citrus. It is fresh and crisp. It was a seamless match with our salmon and we continued to enjoy it on into the evening.

The Gérard Bertrand is pale pink in the glass. On the nose there are whiffs of red fruit. The Cote des Roses was poured with panko-coated pork chops grilled with apples and served with broiled vegetables and couscous. The grapes for this vino are grown in a warm, windy climate and the altitude and cooling sea breezes allow the grapes to retain their freshness. We tasted honeysuckle and flavor threads of candied citrus.

I grabbed the Gérard Bertrand for dinner when I saw the Green Dragon arranging some pink roses on the dining table. The Cote des Roses bottle is embellished with a pink rose on the neck. The bottle was created by a young designer from the Ecole Boulle. It features a rose molded into the bottom of the bottle. You can turn the bottle upside down and present it like a rose, I guess.

Both the bottles are closed with glass stoppers, adding to the artistic appeal. These are crisp, refreshing food-friendly choices for your warm weather refreshment. Let the Rosé Summer roll on!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wine, Travel & Food News from Vino-Sphere: August 14, 2017

A weekly round-up of news, notes and happenings

5th Annual Craft Spirits Celebration September 14

Santa Barbara Vintners Harvest CelebrationFor spirit aficionados, fans, lovers or really thirsty people who enjoy a well-made drink, here's some good news: Craft Spirits Celebration is back! Taking place September 14th in New York City, the 5th annual Craft Spirits Celebration is bringing together distillers and the people who love their spirits, for a day of sampling some mighty fine, quality-crafted hooch.

Flaviar and Caskers are hosting the Craft Spirits Celebration this year, a spirits and food tasting event in NYC on the 14th of September. We’re bringing in over 30 spirits brands, a food and a cigar partner among multiple media partners and influencers. 

The tickets are very limited and on a first come first served basis while they last. Contact Flaviar for ticket information.

Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest

The Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest will be held September 29 – October 2. This is your chance to see the harvest in action! Your Harvest Experience Passport lets you taste wine at up to 12 different participating wineries and tasting rooms for $50 per person.  In the evening there are collaborative winemaker dinners. There are 45 participating wineries, some of them are: ampelos cellars, Au Bon Climat, Babcock Winery, Lumen, Martian Ranch and Vineyard, Melville Winery, Sweetzer Cellars, The Vincent Vineyards and Winery, and Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyard.

In Case You Missed It, 2017 Is The Year of Furmint

Tokaji wine has long enjoyed a high-class reputation (King Louis XIV called it “the wine of kings and the king of wines”). Now dry versions, moderately priced, aromatic, and complex, have positively captured the imagination and palates of American wine drinkers.

“Our goal is to constantly spellbind U.S. wine consumers with specialties from Hungary, the home of the world’s first closed wine appellation on record: Tokaj, 1737. We strongly believe that Hungarian wine – and Furmint in particular – is on track to becoming a key participant in the U.S. wine market,” says László Bálint dip. WSET, director of operations at FurmintUSA.

Over the past two years Hungarian winemakers, under the FurmintUSA marketing initiative, have hosted more than 70 tastings in over nine states. FurmintUSA wines have also consistently achieved high recognition in wine competitions and scoring publications. A new shipment arrived on the West Coast in July 2017, and dry Furmint wines are now widely available in nine U.S. states.

SD Wine + Food Festival Coming

“America's Finest City” welcomes back one of Southern California's most acclaimed epicurean events of the year, November 12-19, 2017. The 14th Annual San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival showcases the world's premier wines and spirits, and the nation's most trendsetting culinary masters for a mouthwatering week! For more information on the festival, one of the largest food and wine events in the nation, check out their site.

August 20 Is National Lemonade Day

With all the fuss about the eclipse, you may have missed this iclip_image002mportant date on your calendar. The producer of Sparkling Ice suggests you try a Sparkling Lemon Mojito with Sparkling Ice Classic Lemonade, white rum, a splash of lime and muddled mint leaves. Make enough to enjoy with the eclipse the next day.

Holman Ranch Celebrates Birthday with Fiesta

Holman Ranch, a destination winery and ranch in Carmel Valley, California, will host the Fiesta de los Amigos September 7. The popular Fiesta de los Amigos, which began in 1928, was an annual highlight, often attracting more than 2,000 guests. In the 1960’s – 1980’s the Ranch was known for its rodeos and horse shows, daily trail rides, barbecues, and fiestas filled the calendar. This year, the celebration will be filled with flavorful food, Holman Ranch estate wines to sip, lively entertainment to enjoy and more. Cost is $60 per person

Photo Credit “grapes”: mikepmiller Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fuquay-Varina’s Cellar 55 A Home Away From Home For Wine Lovers

Owner Bill Wigington in Cellar 55

We developed a powerful thirst relocating to North Carolina from 600 miles away. Luckily we discovered Cellar 55 in our new hometown.

Wine Oasis Ahead

Relocating from another state can really put a crimp on things – especially our enjoyment of wine. We are newcomers to North Carolina, specifically to the hyphenated town of Fuquay-Varina in Wake County. As a result, we were disconnected from our wine compadres and the usual shops, tastings and events we used to frequent. On top of it all, more than half of my vino is in my mother-in-law’s spare bedroom.

We were scouting out a fitness club in our new town when I happened to spy the sign for Cellar 55 across the street. I was hoping this wasn’t a misleading sign for a new fashion store for ‘tweens. All thoughts of that were dispelled when we walked in the door. Displays of wine and craft beer stretched wall to wall. That was just the first of what I expect will be many visits.

The shop, located at 1351 E. Broad St. in Fuquay-Varina, NC, in Fuquay Crossing shopping center, is owned by Bill and Karyl Wigington. The mission is to provide advice and education so that all can understand and enjoy what they are drinking at all price points. We’ll put it more simply, this is “home sweet home” for area wine lovers who want an eclectic selection of bottles, free tastings, wine pairing events and education.

A taste of Cellar 55 in Fuquay-VarinaA Social Hub For Vino

I don’t want to short-sell the amazing array of craft beers and the activities for those focused on brew. It’s very impressive. Our focus, however, is on wine. And there’s a lot of it!

The wines on display are very diverse, with good selections from some of our favorite areas including Washington State, South Africa, Spain, Oregon and Paso Robles. No one should ever walk out of the store without a bottle – too many good choices.

On Fridays and Saturdays, there are free tastings of both beer and wine. Wine Specialist Jim Breece has handled the wine tastings each time I’ve been there. He’s friendly and knowledgeable. The back half of the store is the tasting room, with individual tables and seating areas and a large communal table. One of my favorite features is the “wall of wine,” a Wine Station dispenser that allows you to use a swipe card to dispense any of 16 different wines in three different portion sizes (and prices).

The Wine Station is a stellar feature. In addition to being a dispenser, it is a wine preservation system, ensuring you won’t have a spoiled glass of wine. You have the chance to take small samples of wine – or dispense a whole glass. It’s an excellent way to sample a variety of wines. A nearby corkboard displays tasting notes and pricing on each featured bottle. I sampled the 2012 “The Ball Buster” Shiraz blend from Australia and it did indeed pack a flavorful punch.

The large communal table can be used for socializing or for one of the many events/programs put on by Cellar 55. They also offer a “small bites” menu ranging from olives to charcuterie or even dessert chocolate (nice for those Cabernets).

The Educated Grape

Cellar 55 hosts regular wine and food pairings, in conjunction with local chefs. Beware! These events sell out well in advance, so get your tickets early. Educational programs on various wine regions or aspects of wine tasting are also on the docket. One upcoming program (August 16) focuses on the Bordeaux and Loire regions of France – two of the greatest in the world.

Specials abound at Cellar 55. Wednesday is 10% off beer and wine by the glass. Every day they offer 20% off growler fills. They also offer discounts on purchases of three bottles of special selection wines and a discount on case wine purchases.

Cellar 55 opened its doors in July 2016. Just a year later it is making an indelible impression on the wine landscape in Wake County. There’s only one way you can be sure – walk in their door and grab a glass!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard 2014 Merlot, Dry Creek Valley

DCV Merlot 2014After tasting this 2014 vintage Merlot, “Merlot Me” might become your new catchphrase. Sonoma shows Merlot can have style.

The Verdict Is Overturned

Every so often you will read about a man or woman who has served time in prison being released because the verdict has been overturned. They’ve been freed because DNA testing or some other evidence has proven they really weren’t guilty of the crime.

Enter Merlot. Merlot also had an unfair rap. The hero of “Sideways” proclaimed that he’d rather drink hemlock than Merlot. And, there was a lot of bad Merlot out there – fruity, wimpy and a mere shadow of the grape’s real majesty.These days Merlot is coming on strong and only the uninformed will turn up their nose.

Supremely Drinkable

Merlot is grown in almost every wine-producing country in the world. It can produce wines as powerful as Cabernet Sauvignon, but in general it has a softer, less tannic style. Many of the great wines of Bordeaux are primarily blends of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet and Merlot ripen at different times, making them ideal partners for winegrowers.

The 2014 Dry Creek Vineyard release is 78% Merlot with 15% of its good buddy Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend is rounded out by 4% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Dry Creek Vineyards has been producing Merlot in limited quantities since 1973 and the craftsmanship shows in the bottle.

Grapes are grown in the red, iron-rich soils of Dry Creek Valley. The 2014 harvest was in the third year of the California drought, but rain in March and April recharged the ground water in time for the early growing season.

In the glass the wine leads with aromas of red fruit and herbs. The mouthfeel is smooth as satin with no harsh tannins to be found. On the palate, this wine is satisfying in every way. It’s what we’d call a crowd pleaser – with enough sophistication to enchant knowledgeable wine lovers, but enough appeal to satisfy someone with little experience quaffing wine.

The wine offers black cherry and raspberry with flavor notes of cocoa. DCV Merlot is aged for 16 months in American, French and Hungarian oak. That adds a dash of toastiness to the bottle. The finish is coating and triggers an urge to pour another glass.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2014 Merlot retails for $26. It’s a good buy for dinner at home or entertaining.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Wine, Travel & Food News from Vino-Sphere: August 4, 2017

Pork & Mindy'sA weekly round-up of news, notes and happenings.

Valley of the Moon Releases New White Blend

Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate has released its 2015 Pinot Blanc-Viognier, a blend of 85% Pinot Blanc and 15% Viognier. The newly-released white blend captures all of the tropical fruit characteristics of Pinot Blanc combined with the lush mouthfeel of Viognier.

Located in the heart of Sonoma County’s premier wine-growing region, Valley of the Moon wines are produced on the historic Madrone Estate property, one of California’s oldest wineries with vines originally planted in 1863. “We are proud to have achieved something truly unique with this wine,” said Kat Doescher, the winemaker who personally crafted this small-batch wine.

Food Network Star’s Pork & Mindy’s Restaurant Gets Refresh

Pork & Mindy’s is ready to rock… your taste buds! The flagship Wicker Park eatery is redefining the local BBQ scene with a new and improved restaurant design, and exciting menu additions, developed by Food Network Star and Executive Chef Jeff Mauro. Handcrafted new menu items include cheesy and gooey “sangwiches,” crunchy “tots,” and an enticing spinach salad as a lighter option.

BC Pinot Noir Celebration

Thirty-four of British Columbia’s best Pinot Noir producers will gather for the annual BC Pinot Noir Celebration which is scheduled Saturday, August 19th at Linden Gardens in Kaleden. Along with a sparkling reception and Pinot Noir salon-tasting, the event offers informative breakout sessions, special key note speaker (Richard Hemming, MW), culinary bites by top chefs and live music with local artists Jack and Jill.

Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival Scheduled October 19-22

The Tenth Annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival will take place October 19-22.  This four-day grand anniversary celebration set against the breathtaking backdrops of the island features a weekend of exclusive and savory events, dinners, tastings and seminars that will draw over 2,000 wine lovers and foodies. Events include a Somm Throw Down, a face-off of three wine personalities - Joseph Carr, Sam Decker of Atria, and Heather Lynch of Bar Mezzana - to battle for the ultimate pairing of wine and food, prepared by Colin Lynch of Bar Mezzana. Also scheduled is a grand tasting and a Champy Champagne brunch.

Wine and Culinary Vacations

Vitkin White Israeli JourneyWe’ve recently received promotions from two companies promoting wine travel. offers a wide range of wine retreats from all over the globe. New Zealand travel experts New Zealand In Depth announce a wine-centric 13-day New Zealand Food and Wine Tour visits New Zealand’s three main wine regions, Hawkes Bay on the North Island with its award-winning Chardonnay and full-bodied Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot; Marlborough on the top of the South Island, acclaimed for Sauvignon Blanc and aromatic whites; and the Central Otago, the world’s most southerly wine-growing region and home to some of the world’s best Pinot Noir. 

New Boutique Wine From Israel Makes Debut

 Royal Wine will be distributing two unique imports from Vitkin, a small winery located outside Tel Aviv. The family-run boutique built its reputation on producing outstanding wines from unusual grape varieties. Their motto: “ABCM – Anything But Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot.” The two wines are Vitkin Pink Israeli Journey, Garignan-Grenache blend and Vitkin White Israeli Journey, a white blend. Both retail for $22.99.

Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Gaining As Culinary Destination

Fall is the perfect time for foodies to discover a hidden gem on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. Boasting more than 50 independently owned culinary offerings unique to the Deor Gold Collection Sparkling Winedestination, Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach is allows travelers to taste enjoy a top culinary destination at a fraction of the cost. September includes fantastic – and affordable – culinary delicacies at the second annual “Let’s Eat, Englewood” Restaurant Week.

Italian Gold Collection Comes To US

Guarachi Wine Partners has acquired the import rights to Cuvée Deor: The Gold Collection, Italian sparkling wines. Currently available in Georgia, Tennessee and Colorado, Guarachi Wine Partners plans to expand Deor into 25 new markets in Fall 2017, and rollout nationwide in 2018. Two wines are offered, the Deor Gold Extra Dry Sparkling and Deor Pink Extra Dry Sparkling. SRP for both is $12.99.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Luc Belaire Rare Luxe Sparkling, France

Belaire LuxeWhen celebrating, nothing comes close to sparkling wine. And the best – some would say – come from France. Here’s the first sparkler we opened in our new house.

A Luxurious Bottle

In Ohio, before we pulled up stakes and moved, one of the last bottles of wine I bought was this non-vintage French sparkling wine, Luc Belaire Rare Luxe. I purchased it at The Andersons, a wonderful local chain of stores that featured not only groceries, but also power tools, hardware and lumber. The stores also featured perhaps the best wine departments in the Toledo area.

I skated in pretty close to the edge of the store’s demise. Shelves that formerly were bursting with gourmet cheese, ethnic foods, and completely unnecessary products that I’d like to buy, were now sadly empty. The wine department, which seemed to encompass about half an acre, dwindled down to a few shelves and most of the primo bottles had already been plucked.

The Belaire Luxe was saved from oblivion as I happily purchased it for much less than the $30 to $40 for which it usually sells.

Way Down South In The Land Of Sparkling Wine

My wine cellar took a curious journey to our new home – and it still isn’t complete. Most of our household goods were packed into a giant moving van for our migration. I’m sure the temperature was a constant 90 to 110 degrees inside the truck – not ideal conditions for preserving the quality of wine.

We made a couple of trips to North Carolina before the big move. Each time we transported wine cooled with chiller packs and dropped a case or three at my mother-in-law’s place. She might have a hard time explaining to her church friends what she was doing with 100+ bottles of wine in her spare bedroom! Nevertheless, it was a vital step in getting the wine to its new home.

Unlike our old home, which actually had a basement that was perfect for a wine cellar, our new digs is all on one-level. So, my next task is to get a quality wine fridge with a 150 or so bottle capacity.

The Belaire was in the small stash of wine I transported down when we left Ohio for points south. If you’ve done it recently, you know what a hassle moving can be. Ours was made even more challenging because we had been in the same house for 22 years – things tend to accumulate!

Popping The Cork

Amidst bubble wrap, a mountain of cardboard boxes and clutter as far as the eye could see – we had finally done it. We were in our new home with all our stuff.

This called for a celebratory glass. Nothing boosts the spirit like the resonant popping sound of the cork coming out of a nice bottle of bubbly.

Belaire Luxe is 100% Chardonnay, which was a surprise. This is a non-vintage wine, a common practice with Champagne and other French sparkling wines. A special blend is created by mixing wine from different years to achieve the trademark flavor for which the winery is known.

The grapes are from Burgundy with the addition of oak-aged dosage from Chablis. Dosage is the wine and sugar added after the second fermentation in the bottle that achieves the desired sweetness level.

This is a brut wine – but in the world of sparkling wine, brut (which means dry) is only the third driest type of wine. The Luxe has a refreshing sweetness – a tad more than we expected. The effervescence was steady, but the stream of bubbles quickly petered out. It has notes of lime flavors and minerality to give it the “luxe” flavor.

I’d rank this as a “middling” sparkling wine that’s packaged in a very appealing ceramic bottle with gold foil. Since we were sipping it on a very special occasion, however, nothing could taste better!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Two Hands 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz, Barossa Valley


Two Hands is a winery that is making a splash internationally. They have captured our attention with artfully crafted wines that express the terroir of superb Australian regions including McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley.

Gnarly, Dude!

20170708_203251This wine’s name is not an attempt to appeal to California surfers! Gnarly Dudes by Two Hands was inspired by the Cohen Brothers movie The Big Lebowski and is also named for the gnarly old Shiraz vines used. The grapes are from Barossa Valley, Australia’s most famous wine region.

We’re big fans of Two Hands and are pleased to see they are generating significant buzz in the US with the wine media and consumers. Two Hands Gnarly Dudes can be found in Costco and in other stores I’ve overhead customers quizzing the wine manager about the availability of Two Hands.

Two Hands Winery was founded in 1999 by Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz. Today, Two Hands is owned by Michael, together with Colorado native Tim Hower. The goal then and now is to make the best possible Shiraz-based wines from prized growing regions throughout Australia. Determined to be different than the formulaic style of Shiraz sold internationally, Two Hands turned the focus on spotlighting the regional and vineyard characteristics. In short, they are focused on the fruit.

We recently tasted the 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz and it is a joyful wine. At our farewell party in Ohio (prior to our move to North Carolina) we uncorked “the Dude” and it impressed with rich Shiraz flavors. This is a wine that can be appreciated by a connoisseur or a novice. In the glass it is a dark purple. It is rich and plush with deep blackberry flavors. This is a refined and integrated wine.

Shiraz, Syrah: Two Sides Of The Same Coin

For those unfamiliar with Shiraz, it is the same grape as Syrah. The styles of the wines produced by the grape can vary. Shiraz is a signature red grape of Australia. Some Shiraz from down under can have a degree of sweetness but it is also capable of producing some of the world’s greatest wines.

The 2016 Dude gets 12 months in 15% in new French oak and the remainder in one to six-year-old French oak barrels. The alcohol is 13.8%. This is a wine that can age for six to 10 years, but drinks beautifully now. We recently tried the 2014 vintage, and the two extra years of bottle age added to the beauty of the wine. Gnarly Dudes retails for about $32 and is a delectable value at that price.

Put your Two Hands in the air for this outstanding wine!

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Faust 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

20170708_214954Want to dip your toe into the pool of high-end Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon? Faust Cabernet delivers a deluxe experience without the sticker shock of the ultra-premium Cabs.

Just A Glass Before I Go

We’ve just completed a major migration and life milestone. After more than two decades in northwest Ohio, we pulled up stakes and moved to Fuquay-Varina in North Carolina. (Oh that it were that easy!).

Our farewell party was orchestrated by the Green Dragon. My wife selected the theme of a “mismatch” party. This was because almost all of our clothes, glasses and belongings were packed up and ready to load on the moving van. We were left with random remnants. Guests were encouraged to wear wildly mismatched outfits. They certainly did – my eyes are still hurting.

I’ll relate more of the details – and the wine – in the near future. One thing that wasn’t mismatched, however, was our choice of Cabernet, the 2014 Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Affordable Luxury

Faust is the brainchild of long time Chilean born Vintner, Agustin Huneeus. He is well known for opening ultra-premium winery Quintessa in Napa. With Faust, the focus is on Napa Valley Cabernet. If you are looking for a Faust Chardonnay, forget it. Fruit for Faust is from Huneeus family vineyards in Rutherford and Coombsville plus small lots from areas such as Atlas Peak, Mount Veeder, Oakville and St. Helena. These are some of the prime Cabernet sites in all the world.

The 2014 vintage of Faust costs $55, but I’ve seen it online for five bucks less. It compares very favorably to Napa or Sonoma Cabs that cost $75 to $100. The quality in winemaking is evident from the moment the cork is popped.

In the glass this is a dark ruby and a dense wine. On the palate the wine coats, with lush flavors of black cherry, cocoa and herbal notes. There is a rich, rewarding finish.

We served bratwurst and a variety of side dishes were brought by party-goers. The main pairing for this bottle, however, was friendship. Dancing, eating, drinking and socializing went on well into the evening. The Faust was a superb wine to savor while we reflected on past experiences and times shared with good friends.

We’re now about 600 miles from tasting team members Cabernetor and Glorious T, which whom we’ve shared many bottles and adventures. We’ve already talked about doing some virtual tastings together – to tide us over until the fall when we will be together again in Sonoma.

Faust is highly recommended as a Napa Cab that won’t batter your budget, and whose quality will make memories with your best friends.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Before You Visit Your Next Winery, Check Our Online Reports

A winery visit can be spectacular – or a complete bust. What makes the difference? After visiting more than 100 different wineries, here’s our inside scoop.

Finger Lakes 2013 B 072We Have Reports On More Than 130 Wineries

I just recently glanced at our winery reports page and counted 133 entries. We’ve visited many more than that, probably closer to the 150 mark.

Some of those visits have been memorable – sipping outstanding wine in the dappled sunshine while being caressed by gentle breezes. But some have been memorable for the wrong reasons.

The bad winery visits can remind you of an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey going ballistic after discovering an oozing mess in the walk-in cooler.

Well, what is it that makes a winery visit an experience to savor?

Based on our experience, we consider three factors. If a winery scores big in all three dimensions, you can ink in a big star on the wine trail map – marking it for repeated visits.

In our experience, you need the “three goods:” 1. Good winery grounds and tasting room, 2. Good tasting room staff, and 3. Good wine.

Never Miss A Toledo Wines and Vines Post – Click To Subscribe

Number One: Good Winery Grounds And Tasting Room

Upon arrival, nothing sets the stage like seeing an impressive, quirky or scenic winery building. It gives you good vibrations right from the start. There’s nothing worse than rumbling up to the next stop on the wine trail, looking at your companion asking, “Should we go in, or just turn around?”

Having an awesome tasting room doesn’t mean you will have world class wine, but it shows the caliber of the operation. Chances are that even average wine will taste a lot better in a tasting room with a floor to ceiling window overlooking a lake than in what appears to be a farmer’s converted garage.

One of the nicest tasting rooms we’ve visited is Heron Hill in the Finger Lakes. You are impressed from a half mile away and even more blown away once you are inside. Lamoreaux Landing and Glenora are two other stand-out Finger Lakes establishments. The winery buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Stellenbosch (South Africa), and Lake Okanogan (British Columbia) are also spectacular.

There is also a lot to be said for grounds with picnic tables and scenic views of mountains, vineyards or lakes.

Number Two: Good Tasting Room Staff

La Bri, South Africa

Someone save us from uninformed, unhelpful and unpleasant tasting room staff. You’ve made the decision to stop for a tasting and enter the building. The next moment of truth is the tasting room attendant.

In some wineries, like Bully Hill in the Finger Lakes, the staff ARE the attractions – entertaining guests with humorous stories and gags while dispensing detailed knowledge of the winery’s goods. A good staff can also help guide you to the wines you will most enjoy.

On a good day, your tasting room attendant will generate warmth, be a helpful advisor and sell a lot of wine.

The other end of the spectrum includes those who are too busy to tell you about the wine, those who don’t know what is in a particular wine and those who are doing it without a true love of wine.

This factor is probably even more important than an impressive building. At this point you're already invested in making a stop and if you get a bummer of a host, you’ll feel it’s been a waste of time.

Check Out Our Winery Reports Page To Plan Your Next Visit!

Taste of Washington

Number Three: Good Wine

Excellent wine can supersede almost any other flaw in your winery visit. This is the final piece of the puzzle. If you’re sipping an especially robust Cabernet Franc in a groovy tasting room while the tasting room attendant is telling you an intriguing story about how the owner started the winery, you have hit the trifecta!

If Numbers 1 and 2 are locked in, you have a better than even chance you’ll be tasting some good wine. But there is no guarantee.

While we were up in the Niagara Peninsula, we made a stop at a winery that looked very impressive from the road. The building was of a modern design built from local stone. Inside the tasting room glittered as track lighting glinted off racks of bottles in impressive displays.

Unfortunately, the wine was just “mehh”…

Once you have achieved the “three goods,” that is the time to turn to your companions, smile and raise a toast. You are living the good life!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wines of Germany Offer Decades Of Satisfaction

WinesofGermanyDecades ago Green Dragon and I took the first steps in our wine odyssey. It started with German wine. Years later, a pair of wines from Deutschland deliver that “lovin’ feeling” once again.

That First Sweet Sip

Many calendar pages ago, I was a crusading newspaper editor and reporter in West Virginia. I wanted to impress my beautiful date by taking her to a classy event – a wine tasting.

That young lady was the Green Dragon, my future wife. To say that we were wine newbies would be an overstatement. This one evening would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair – that includes my wife too.

We attended a wine tasting hosted by Les Amis du Vin – the friends of wine – held at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Kentucky. A wine distributor was there and with a wide array of German wines. He also handed out a booklet, “A Short Guide to German Wines.” As I was going through some old boxes last week, I found the booklet after many years – like a miner finding a large gold nugget.Those wines and that booklet made us lovers of German wines to this day.

Our palate wasn’t well developed, but we knew what we liked – sweet white German wine! We started there and the little booklet, featuring a cartoonish character in lederhosen, gave us excellent information on how to enjoy the wine and the different quality levels.

Evolution Of German Wines

Germany is consistently among the top 10 wine exporters in the world. Globally, tastes change – just like our palate gravitated to drier wine. Winemaking in Germany has evolved too – today about two-thirds of the country’s wine production is dry.

Although Germany produces many wines, it’s reputation is built upon world-class Riesling. These wines are complex with the ability to age – a rarity among white wines.

I’ve gained an even greater enthusiasm for German wine (if that’s possible) with my recent discovery of VDP wines. This is the designation for the Association of German Pradikat Wine Estates (for which the German acronym is VDP). The group, founded in 1910, is an organization of Germany’s leading wine estates. In 2002 they announced the first classification system for vineyards, modeled after Burgundy. We recently tasted two VDP Rieslings: 2015 von Winning Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Riesling Trocken, Pfalz, and 2014 St. Urbans-Hof Nik Weis Riesling Kabinett, Ockfener Bockstein, Mosel.

A Satisfying Pair

Mosel is the most famous German wine region, known for its high acid Riesling. The St. Urbans-Hof winery uses traditional methods that have been customary in the Mosel and Saar valleys since Roman times. This includes the “heart-binding” trellis system whereby the canes of the vine are tied into heart shapes.

This Kabinett is golden in the glass. On the palate the wine has a rich texture, thicker than most still wines. The flavor notes are all citrus with lemon at the forefront. This is a sweet wine. A good way to get an indication of the sweetness of Riesling is to look at the percentage of alcohol. The lower the alcohol, the sweeter it is because the winemaking process basically converts sugar to alcohol. This is a satisfying bottle that retails for $22.

The Von Winning Trocken (dry) Riesling is from Ruppertsberg, which is known for producing some of the finest Riesling in Pfalz. We were fans of this winery based on their “Winnings” Riesling, an exceptional value we tried last year.

While the Bockstein is all citrus, the Ruppertsberg Trocken is all about tropical fruit. The lower residual sugar and precisely balanced acidity makes this a standout wine. It is a rich and opulent wine with flavor threads of honeysuckle and pineapple. We enjoyed this with some bratwurst during a cookout. The Von Winning paired outrageously well with the sunny afternoon, brats, music and dancing on our patio! It retails for $35.

German Riesling is one of the world’s best wines. Grab a glass. Like us, you may find a new passion that will last decades.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.