Mendoza Regions

I am trying to get a firm definition of the regions and sub-regions of Mendoza, hopefully these can be defined by one of the wine authorities of Mendoza & Argentina. Laura Catena perhaps? But really any informed help will be much appreciated and duly noted.

I’ve broken the larger areas into North, Region Central, Region Est, Region Sud and Valle  de Uco and then… the subs from there which are sometimes official communes and other times the area surrounding a city.


Here I’ve put Agrelo, Las Compuertas, Perdriel and Vistalba under Luján de Cuyo and Coquimbito, Cruz de Piedra and Lunlunta under Maipú.

I believe that La Consulta is in San Carlos, Vista Flores in Tunyán and El Peral in Tupungato. But confirmation is needed.

I’d like this to be confirmed along with the rest of the regions so I can have them listed in this platform with fun quiz questions and a little gaming experience to understand wine regions and travel to wine regions:

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Terroir = scary, very scary

Terroir has been a controversial subject for wino’s as long as I can remember and likely for more than a century, possibly several. I don’t think the subject should be controversial, but like all complex theories and concepts, terroir needs to be explained in a simple manner. I find the best way to do this is comparing the concepts of terroir in terms of items that the newest of wine drinkers can understand.

A couple of weeks ago Steve Heimoff reposted a controversial comment by a reader about the subject and it’s purity in Europe versus it being a marketing ploy in the “new world”. That was after an original post by Steve that also featured that nasty word terroir. Tom Wark also published a post about the controversy of Terroir which doesn’t seem to have gotten as much intense debate as Steve’s. I wonder if that is a function of the difference in the size and type of their blog audiences or the difference in the tone of the posts.

The term terroir is just awkward, it doesn’t have a clean and exact translation and therefore is interpreted in many different ways. Yet it is important, the concept keeps wine from becoming a commodity like milk or coca-cola. Coke or Pepsi, Cab or Merlot. My guess is that 80% of the wine drinkers in the US who order a wine by the glass, order by grape without much regard as to where that Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio comes from.

I’d rather leave the term Terroir to wine geeks and think about wine like we do people. When I look at a glass or bottle of wine, I try to remember to ask it: who are you and where are you from. If I can’t get straight answers then I question the wines value. I give more value the more answers a wine gives me. Does it taste good, does it taste like the grape or style it claims to be, does it taste like it comes from somewhere in particular (not some wine factory), does tell me I won’t be  disappointed when I find forgotten bottles lurking in my cellar years after I first taste and buy the wine and will it go with the types of cuisine that I enjoy (and eat regularly). I am not taking a shot at ‘wine factories’, they are important for introducing people to wine and varietal wines and when all the other stuff just doesn’t matter (like when I’ve had too many glasses and my palate is impaired or when finances are tight). But I don’t want to pay more than a certain amount for a wine that is (only) tasty and does indeed taste like a Cabernet or Chardonnay or whatever it says on the label. If I pay more I want more answers.

Wine ought to say something of importance to me, not just get me drunk. But I think Randall Grahm really says it succinctly with this quote I found on Vinography:

“The only wines that matter are the wines of place. Everything else is dispensable and not necessary,”…

“But wines of place enrich the world. They make our world more interesting….”

Obviously from what I’ve written, I don’t agree that everything else is not necessary. There is a place for simple Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. I just don’t want to pay too much for such. I gladly poured a Fred Franzia Pinot Noir by the glass at The Maidstone in East Hampton this summer because it tasted like a decent Sonoma Pinot Noir (and was priced right). Granted I would have pinned it as a cheap Carneros Pinot even though it was labelled as Russian River. But as both Tom and Steve have mentioned most wine consumer’s palates aren’t refined enough to tell the difference between Pinot Noir from those two neighbors.

From VineClub.org

As for the comment that started the debate on Steve Heimoff’s site that terroir only is relevent in ‘Old World’ wines and that Californian wines don’t offer expressions of terroir, I disagree entirely. If terroir isn’t relevent in California then why were the Chardonnay vines of Château Woltner on Howell Mountain grafted over to Cabernet Sauvignon? Isn’t that a pure example of terroir (& mother nature) telling a very famous wine family that they made a mistake? And that is only one example of terroir telling humans to plant something else.

Your Best Merlot?

Once again a current wine story has brought back memories of the heady days of the late ’90s. My fellow Sommelier @the21club is still at it plugging away flogging wines and sometimes petulant customers who need the occasionally flog. Phil Pratt was just mentioned in an article about 1982 Château Petrus, that great Merlot from Pomerol.

This reminded me of a few of wine stories I experienced while at the ’21’ Club. Hopefully I can remember them all and post them here for entertainment. But this particular story involves Merlot and Petrus. Keep in mind that the price of Petrus and others were closer to just expensive wines at the time and had not reached insane as they have since.

Back then, I was the Sommelier for the private dining rooms at the place and that included the Cellar along with ten rooms above the main a la carte dining room. During those days there were events that required a Sommelier almost every day of the week (except Sundays, when the place is closed). During the grueling holiday season, it was almost 24/7 for the staff. From the week of Thanksgiving till New Years Eve every dining room was booked for dinner and almost all for lunch and even sometimes in-between. The premium room is the Wine Cellar, which seats between 12 and 22 people. The cost of booking that room is $450 (might have been $400 when I was there) per person with a minimum of 12 guests. This came with five courses paired with five wines chosen by the Sommelier (me). During those heady days of stock market boom, there were many occasions when the host asked to confer with me on the wine selection. When that request happened, I would always assume that meant going beyond the defined wine budget that fit in to the $400 cost structure. Lunch was closer to $200 for fewer dishes and wines as I remember it.

About a week in advance of one such Wine Cellar lunch I got a message to call the host and discuss the wine choices. His main concern was that I served the best Merlot that was available, naturally he meant Californian as I am not sure he was even aware that certain Bordeaux were also Merlot. Anyhow, I believe we settled on the most expensive on the list, a Pahlmeyer. It was most likely the 1997 vintage and it was on the list for less than $150 a bottle at the time. My dusty recollection is $125 or so.

As I was preparing all the dining rooms for that days lunch service, I got a summons to the cellar to talk with the host about the selections. I walked him through the wine selections again and showed him the wines set up for service, he was thrilled. Yet he wanted to confirm that the Pahlmeyer was indeed the finest Merlot currently available at The ’21’ Club.

“Well” I replied, “yes, if you want something from California…” and I nonchalantly waved at a stack of cases in the corner of the cellar. This small gesture started a conversation about other places in which Merlot was produced at a top level. He was intrigued with the cases of 1978 Petrus and the story behind the wine, but stuck with his Pahlmeyer for the lunch. He did show enough interest that I asked my Cellar Assistant to “beep me” if you think I need to talk wine with him again. (yes the old era of beepers…well isn’t wine just another drug anyhow)

Alas when I saw the beeper number was from the cellar I called Jason and confirmed that the host wanted a bit more information about the 1978 Petrus. I sprinted down the three flights of stairs and arrived to see Jason grinning at the entrance to the cellar dining room. When I approached the host, his first question was, “would it be alright if I bought a bottle of the Petrus for the table.”

“um well, we actually have a policy that we sell the 1978 Petrus and 1978 Cheval Blanc as a pair.” was my reply.

After his surprised and disappointing sounding “really”, I relented and told him I was just kidding. For the rest of the lunch I stayed close to the cellar dining area and pretty much ignored the rest of my dining rooms. This was fun, and wasn’t hurting the restaurants or staffs revenues. After the Petrus was poured and drunk, he had to taste that Cheval Blanc, which then turned into another Petrus. So a bit of education and fun turned a six or so bottles of Pahlmeyer Merlot plus four extra bottles of very expensive Bordeaux. Cheap by todays standards but in 1999, $1800 for Chateau Cheval Blanc and $2200 for Petrus was quite a serious amount to add to an already fairly large wine bill.

But that event pales in comparison to some of the dinners that happened during my time there.

Gaming the system

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Am I ever going to catch-up with the system? Do I want to? I started this wine adventure when the winedom was fairly small. There were the big brands like Mondavi Woodbridge, Cavit, Kendall-Jackson and Gallo and the like and “serious” wine and wine buyers & wine professionals were hardly in the same field or industry. This was in the late 1980’s and it remained that way for at least another 5-8 years. Then something happened. I am not sure why or how, but the giant volume wine producers started getting into the boutique part of the wine industry. A part that had generally been left alone.

My research in the last several years (in preparation for a start-up) all point to how small that boutique part of the industry still is. And yet big commercial wine companies have fought hard to put that passionate part of the industry in their stranglehold. As I look at the wine industry today, I still don’t understand why, but the fallout has been severe on the tiny slice of the wine industry that I and many of my colleagues came to love. That slice is equivalent of 10-15% of the total industry. Where do I get these numbers from? There are about 77 million wine buyers in the US of that only about 9 million spend more than $20 a bottle…ever. That plus the recent published research that found 150 wine brands represent 85% of all wine sales in the US. That’s wine brands folks. Gallo probably owns between 10-15 of those themselves, then add in The Wine Group’s, Diageo’s and Constellations of the wine world and you probably can get those 150 brands under a dozen or two of actual wine companies. Find a list of the wine labels owned by the Goliaths here.

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon was a speaker at the recent wine bloggers conference and his speech (I read it, wasn’t there) hit on if not all the problems in the wine industry then at least most. In the speech he mentions that gaming the system contributed heavily to the changes and downward spiral of “my little slice” of the wine industry. My opinion is that he is referring to the ability of wine companies to use technology and data diving to figure out what the most important wine critics look for in a very highly rated wine. Rumor has it that Caymus analyzed the wines that The Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate rated 90 points and above and determined what  attributes were common and began working to farm, ferment and age their wine in a manner that would result in wines the critics were rating the highest. There is another culprit out there as well, a math genius who figured out how to charge wineries for the results of algorithms done on the two most influential wine critics The Wine Spectaor & The Wine Advocate. Thank you to Leo McCloskey and Enologix for helping game the wine industry and letting all those megabrands take over the charming part of the wine industry. My apologies to Leo, he is a smart wine person with some fine ideas it’s just like anything great. In the right hands it is good, in the wrong ones well…

It is the same as my view of Robert Parker 100 points and Wine Spectators. They did not create the problem of points, the wine marketing and sales teams did. The wine sales part of the industry began flogging the numbers to make numbers (cases). The retailers fell in line and then so did the wine consumers. I even did it for a short-time, I started selling wines on the street in 1994 and for a (short) bit sold on Parker ratings. But when a new vintage of a highly rated wine got a lower rating, I lost my faith. It was confirmed when a friends wine kept getting 88’s, 89’s and 90’s on first Parker rating, then getting higher ratings in Parkers 10 years later issues. After I had “retired” from the street, Ric (Forman) started making wine for his friend (& vineyard manager) David Abreu. David’s wine became a darling of The Advocate (a string of 100’s) while Ric’s own wine continued to wallow in the high 80’s and low 90’s. And I continue to prefer an aged bottle of Forman Cabernet to anything from Abreu with the same age.

Randall Grahm Do’on it right

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Great, but very long blog post on Randall’s site. I found it through two wine news outlets I follow: Wine-searcher and Lewis Perdue. Wine-searcher is new to this but seems to being a good job of it. Maybe doing this will help redeem them in in the eyes of all the luxury wine producers who see their price-points getting crushed and exposed on the search bot. Lewis Perdue is certainly someone to follow, he puts out a list of top wine business stories several times a week.

Please visit his site and blog and call the winery to buy some of his wine. Anyone this passionate about his craft deserves our attention. Also watch the speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hEZs9pCUK8

So here are a couple favorite bits from Randalls Rant:

anyone who entered the business – as a retailer, wine writer or wine maker – did not harbor the illusion that the wine business was going to make him or her rich. We did it because it was something that we loved. But some “visionary” individuals and companies perceived the possibility of unlimited sustained growth and began to build wine brands and wine empires.5 This, coupled with the consolidation and tumescent growth of a few wine wholesale companies and mega-retailers, has led to a sort of seamless virtual vertical integration of the wine business, with relatively few players controlling essentially the lion’s share of the game – a pretty good mirror of what has happened in the rest of the world economy.

We need to speak up on behalf – this is maybe a little self-serving here, forgive me – of those who are innovating new styles, or preserving something precious: an old style, an old variety, respecting the authority of a great terroir. The reality is that with the consolidation of wholesale and gradual disappearance of fine wine retailers every day, great and maybe just very good producers are losing access to markets. We have to speak up for those wines that don’t have goofy, eye-catching labels, flavor profiles that are not squarely down the Middle of the Road, and will never be floor-stacked in Safeways.8

Wine List Whining & More

Wine List Whining & More.

via noblewines.

Let’s revisit the wine list again. I’ve done a bit of wine buying and selling in my day and even I feel the pressure of choosing a wine for a group of friends at a restaurant. If it is a short list it doesn’t take much time to find a wine, the question is often which is the wine that will fit everyones financial constraints and work with the most palates and foods. A smaller list may allow for a quicker decision but on most small lists I only find a small group of wines I am willing to entrust to my guests. The setting that I find most grueling is a dark, loud dining room with a list on some esoteric paper with too many fonts and font sizes.

Look it’s pretty simple, for a restaurant the wine program is a revenue center. Don’t make it difficult for the buyers. If you do they’ll skimp or skip. Maybe even the wine experience will sink the whole dining experience and send a group of dollars going to some other place.

The whole concept of selecting wine for a table is wrought with little pitfalls and if a restaurant allows those pitfalls can become large ones that can turn-off customers. As a former Sommelier and current consultant to restaurant wine programs, I have experienced many of these pitfalls. The goal for any wine program should be happy customers through the whole spectrum…newby to wine geek. This is a very difficult task but important.

Domaine Bertagne Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Murgers 1er Cru

If anyone is interested …1st come 1st served on this limited production wine from Domaine Bertagna in Vougeot. The estate has been owned by the Reh family of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt in Mosel since 1982. The estate has hit its stride starting with the 1988 vintage according to Clive Coates. This is a serious Burgundy Estate with significant changes and investments over the past decade.

Location is key in Burgundy and you could throw a rock into the Grand Cru Clos du Vougeot from the back of the Bertagna facility. Their vines in Nuits St. Georges are in some prime real estate as well.

The wines are all hand harvested in small boxes and brought into the
winery for sorting. After about a one week cold soak, wines are fermented in stainless steel for about three weeks at up to 28 degrees. The wine then goes in small barrels for about 18 months before assemblage for bottling. The Murgers sees about 30% new wood. The price is $400 for 6/750ml. See attached Decanter Review.

Also attached a picture of the cellars…yup even the Bourgogne Hautes
Cotes de Nuits sees the same care – half barrel aged and half stainless. Sourced
from vines sitting on limestone slopes just above the Nuits St.
Georges, the HCDN Called” Les Dames de Huguettes” is darn good Pinot
Noir priced at $200 /12 750ml.

Please let me know if you are interested in the wines of Domaine Bertagna.

What Wine Starts a Recession?

The catalyst for starting this blog about my experiences in the wine & restaurant world was this NY Times article in which Sanford Weill calls for the break-up of those “too big to fail” banks. Reading this article brought back the memory of the original deal in which Sandy Weill and John Reed agreed to create the first “too big to fail” Bank, a little company named CitiGroup. I was in the room during that deal, serving fairly expensive wines to them and their bankers, executives and others at a little wine dinner in the Wine Cellar of The ’21’ Club.

That was 1998, I was the Sommelier there until February 2000 and had some amazing experiences with both celebrity people and celebrity wines. With the Merger Dinner of Travelers Group and CitiCorp, the wines were nothing unusual which was typical for such dinners. The wines ranged in list price from $90 to $200 a bottle. These where the price point of the wines I would choose for guests booking the Cellar Room for dinner. The cost was $450 a person and that included five courses paired with wine chosen by the Sommelier. Typically such corporate merger events used wines that were priced in a fashion that is neither cheap nor ostentatious. This was not the case for other dinners and events. Often the celebration of a holiday for a successful company or an IPO would create far more interesting discussions about wine selections.

Culinary Adventures

My Culinary Adventures started by accident many years ago. I stumbled into the Culinary world via a Colorado Ski Bum experience in which I had planned on using my newly acquired Ski Instructors Certificate. Being a Ski Instructor (especially as the newbie) is more about Bunny Slopes than Steep & Deep as I had hoped when I landed in Denver and headed for Summit County and Vail. A cooking shift from 3pm to 11pm offered more money and more time to enjoy the real skiing of Colorado. And that is where my Adventure began.