Saturday, April 26, 2014

WEIRD and fun White Wines

This time of year is SO busy for family households. The beginning of outdoor sports activities after school, school plays, proms, holiday breaks and packing to visit out of town relatives, the list goes on and on. It’s simply exhausting. Picking your ‘Hump Day’ wine shouldn’t be. In keeping with our April theme, “Let’s get Weird”, I've found some off the beaten path white wines that are not only sensational, they are sensational values for everyday drinking (Like when you just HAVE to have that glass (or two) of wine after wrangling the kids into bed). These wines are guaranteed to put a smile back on your face after a tough day of juggling kids, work, and holiday schedules. Come on! It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Time to get weird with me! Enjoy!

Amy Dixon CSW


Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Auxerrois-
In keeping with our ‘let’s get weird’ theme in the month of April, I decided to focus on one of my favorite regions for cool climate white wines, Alsace. This unique clone of normally ‘pedestrian’ Pinot Blanc, called Auxerrois, is quite special indeed. It has naturally low yields, and therefore starts with a much higher quality and concentration than other Pinot Blanc, AND the berries have thin skins, allowing a greater juice to skin ration, further intensifying the fruit. Domaine Ehrhart dates back to the 1700s, with their tiny 21 acres of vines, located at the top of the valley with the perfect eastern exposition on their steeply sloped site. 100% organically farmed, with beautiful tropical notes, a silky medium body that hints at oak (although this wine is 100% stainless steel fermented) with gorgeous balance, and peach blossoms delicately wafting from the glass. I fell in LOVE all over again. An insane value.

Finca Antigua Viura-
Tasting this wine blind was the perfect choice. I do enjoy Viura, but oftentimes find it devoid of character and interest- sort of an innocuous dry white from Spain’s Valdeorras region. Looking back at my notes from that fun evening, I was delighted to see, “leesy, rich, juicy, layered and persistent.” It’s hard to believe that came from this lovely modest little white wine. Tickled? You bet I am! This wine is harvested at over 2500 feet of elevation, preserving that wonderful natural freshness and acidity one comes to expect from high altitude serious white wines. A no brainer for a case!

Wine Advocate
The 2011 Finca Antigua Viura offers a fragrant, floral bouquet with honeysuckle and jasmine scents mixed with a touch of vanilla pod. The palate is well-balanced with a touch of dry honey on the entry, leading to a lovely apricot, peach and marmalade-tinged finish that is a real treat. Excellent. Drink now.
Score: 91. —Neal Martin, April 2013

Tilia Torrontes-

What’s weirder than Viognier? Torrontes! It’s like the Southern hemisphere’s answer to this awesomely aromatic grape variety. Torrontes is a tropical, floral cornucopia of flavors and aroma from Argentina. When I’m looking to step up my game from ‘plain Jane Sauvignon Blanc’ this is where I go. Yes, it’s weird, but tres chic! This wine is wonderfully rich, with a freshness of the finish and simply cannot be beat under $15. Be hip. Be Cool. Try Torrontes and you’ll never turn back!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guess which wine had me on the floor?

Wow- There are few tastings as focused and full of quality from top to bottom than the Skurnik Wines portfolio tasting. I was so excited to dive in and check out the new releases, from recently disgorged Grower Champagnes, to vibrant, fresh Rose' wines, zippy German and Austrian white wines, and a plethora of American, Italian and Bordeaux reds. I'm ready for a nap!

To kick off spring, I began with the beautiful wines at the 'Pink' table, celebrating all the wonderful Rose wines of the world. While I'm a traditionalist at heart, and truly adore the racy, brisk style of Provence, it was two wines from Portugal and Greece that stole my attention. The KIR-YIANNI Akakies 2013 had a hot pink color with lots of zippy, fresh grapefruit notes, and had a juicy mouthfeel. LOVED it. Then, the VERA VINHO VERDE 2013 equally impressed at an incredibly attractive price. It had super strawberry that made me super happy!

Then I moved to the Finger Lakes, one of my happy places (I have a lot of them in the wine world, as you'll see) and had the Charles Fournier Riesling Gold Seal Vineyard 2012, which stole the show for a bit with its bright apple freshness and beautiful rich texture. And I forgot how GOOD Upstate NY Cabernet Franc can be! This was the perfect balance of lightness and up front acidity, and intense flavor that persisted without being cloying. Really nice. Like a perfect Chinon without the weighty price tag. Under Twenty bucks too! Kind of HAS to come home with me....

Then I landed in Bordeaux, with some pedestrian wines, and one really awesome value that blew my doors off for under $15 called La Courdraie 2012. It is my perfect blend of 60% Merlot, and 20% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This drinks like a $40 California Meritage with CLASS. Yup- I said it!

My 'go-to' grape variety these days is Chenin and I FORGOT how AWESOME this wine can be when done well. If I were to find the PERFECTLY balanced white for drinking with absolutely everything in my cupboard, THIS would be it. Domaine de L'enchantoir Saumur Blanc 2011 has the complexity of good White Burgundy, the acidity of top notch German wines, and the elegance of a fine Champagne. AND the truly best part? It's $15!!!!

Then I scooted over to Italy to taste one of my favorite white wines in the world year in and year out. This insanely cool white wine from the Italian Alps is known as Kerner. It's a wild cross between the local Schiava and dry Riesling, with loads of peaches, apricot and white flowers on the nose and palate. And yet, it is DRY! Impressive length, and the subtlety hits you like a heart attack, as wave after wave of complex flavors waft over your lucky lucky palate. I could easily see paying $40 for this, and yet it's $25. This is COOL.

Oh how I DO love bubbles! If there is a greatest area of strength in a portfolio, I'd have to say it's in Michael Skurnik's unparalleled Grower Champagne selection from Importer Thierry Thiesse. Ok, I have a bread problem. I'll explain. When I smell brioche, there is a sort of visceral response that immediately makes me hungry and crave it intensely. The Pierre Gimonnet Brut Selection Belles Annees makes me do just that. It smells like glistening with butter, fresh from the oven, perfectly toasted, like baked brioche. I literally sat down in the middle of this busy wine tasting and got cozy with this gorgeous glass.

And finally, the grape variety that I 'cut my teeth on' as an excited teenager traveling throughout Europe that got me INTO this whole wine mess to begin with; RIESLING! It is not a coincidence that this noble grape is considered the king of all white wine. It is by far the most versatile thing you can put in your glass. Good German Riesling can be laser-like and super high in acid, causing your mouth to literally pucker in recoil at its lime-laden sour tartness. And then the very same wine from further up the slope or in a different valley can be honeyed, unctuous, rich, full, silky, and super duper long and sweet. No two are remotely the same!

So I was TICKLED when one of my favorite Mosel Riesling producers (next to Dr Thanisch), Johannes Selbach Oster came out with a KILLER value Riesling that really takes your palate to the stratosphere. With a name like INCLINE, that is an ENTIRELY appropriate description! From the Mosel's steep slopes, this is juicy with green and red apple, lime and spritzy, fresh acidity, and a lip-smacking medium body that has beautiful length. Yup, for $14, he NAILED it!

So, I'd bill the Skurnik CT Spring tasting as time well spent. There is something for everyone here.

Amy Dixon CSW and
Guiding Eyes for the Blind Elvis

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wine Shopping- the benefit of supporting small shops

One of my favorite pastimes as a wine educator and buyer is to find the cool local shop when I'm traveling to a new city or country. You won't find me hitting the likes of Costco, (America's LARGEST wine seller by far), Trader Joes, or Whole Foods to get what I'm looking for. And honestly, even I don't know exactly what I'm in the mood to buy until I get there!

It's the same reason I can get lost for days in a fabulous tiny book store. I'll sit on the floor in a corner with my guide dog, and stack interesting titles beside me, perusing the inside jacket of each carefully bound piece of literary treasure, hoping to find the book that really 'speaks' to me. Wine does that for me when I venture into a small wine shop where the proprietor has personally tasted and selected each and every bottle on the shelf.

I feel like I'm being hosted at someone's HOME when I hit these stores. The retailer reflects his or her personality and style through their thoughtful selection of some of their favorites from across the globe. It's like looking at a Shutterfly Album of someone's travels. Proudly atop each shelf or section is a photo of the proprietor with the vintners, farmers and vineyard owners that share their wines, and their lives with us through the power of the bottle.

So when I walk in, to be greeted by the owner himself, or his or her fellow oenophile and right-hand gal, I get a flutter of excitement to see where they're going to take me. It's like a guided tour of their palates, and the lovely thing about this experience- NO TWO ARE THE SAME. I love that I can get to know this person almost immediately on a very intimate and personal level- their style and their passion.

I try to go in with no preconceived notions, with the exception if I have a specific meal I'm shopping for. While I've tasted tens of thousands of wines over my 18 year career, there are still hundreds of thousands of new wines for me to discover and get excited about that may or may not come across my desk. Venturing into a boutique retailer is truly the best way to 'discover' and learn about new wines, or regions that I'd perhaps long forgotten about in my focus on my personal 'go-tos' as we can sometimes do.

While shopping in a big discount store may be impressive in stature and sheer volume of their selections due to a big buying budget, a lot of the more interesting and smaller wineries simply don't land on those shelves. A) they can't supply enough wine to fulfill a giant store needs to properly stock their shelves on a national or state-wide level and B) there is a lack of educated staff to properly explain the wines and what makes them exciting. Big box stores want to keep you drinking the same thing, year in and year out. New is not how they build a successful business model. Safe staples is what they do, and certainly they sell them at rock-bottom prices.

While I love saving a buck or two just as much as the next person, sometimes spending an extra dollar is worth the price of admission. One, I don't have to fight for a parking spot in some giant, scary parking lot, where I need to dodge crazy drivers and wayward shopping carts. Two, I want to meet the owner or the buyer and make sure they know ME and what I like to drink. I want to be welcomed into the store by a friendly, "Hello Amy! How was that Sancerre you took home last week?"

I want the salesperson to go "OOOH! I'm so glad you came in today! I snagged three bottles of Bergstrom Pinot Noir and stashed them in the back for you, because I know it's your fave." I want to walk in and taste some wines they have open or are featuring. I want to be invited to upcoming winemaker dinners at my favorite local restaurants, tasting alongside friends and other loyal customers. I want to feel special.

One of the other benefits of stumbling upon a great local merchant is the level of personalized service. Will Whole Foods donate a basket of wine for your local Lion's Club Fundraiser? Would Total Wine deliver that special client gift that just HAS to go out today before they leave the office? I don't think so. Will the salesperson spend 30 minutes with you explaining the different styles of Riesling throughout the various regions of Germany? I think not. Will they spend time carefully gift wrapping 120 individual bottles of wine at Thanksgiving to give out to all of your clients? Definitely no. And when your daughter gets married, who is going to be sure that you have all the ice, vodka, Champagne and soda for the occasion, even throwing a last minute addition into their station wagon as guests arrive? I can assure you it's not the 'BIG guys'!

So you can spend $12.99 on your Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at Total wine, and be a faceless, nameless statistic, or with your $13.99, be greeted by name, learn a little each time you shop, be assured the wines have been perfectly vetted and stored, and be treated like family, with a real connection to your personal tastes. PLUS you can receive free delivery each week of the wines that you are 'in-the-know' about that NONE of your jet-set friends has even heard of. All of this from a family business and a guy or gal who knows you, appreciates you and wants to make you happy. Shop Small. It pays!