Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stuff Wine Lover's Stocking With Glassware

Wine is a great holiday gift but for the wine lover there is another option that is sure to make them smile.

How about a great crystal wine glass to enjoy their high end wines?
Picking up a gift bottle isn’t tough if you know what your wine lover’s vino preferences. Of course, gift certificates are great way to hook up your friend or family member with a great bottle of their own choosing.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be wine to put a smile on those purple lips!
Wine glasses, particularly nice ones, are a great idea for any wine lover! There are plenty of choices from discount to department stores, to crystal from stemware manufacturers.

But for a real wine lover there is nothing more intriguing than fine stemware made by the Riedel family from Austria. Riedel is the dominant name in wine glasses worldwide. The company is widely credited with demonstrating how wine is best enjoyed in a glass shaped for a particular wine.

As goofy as that may sound, particularly if you have not heard it before, it’s been proven true repeatedly by skeptics in blind tastings.

There are many fine glass and crystal manufacturers but Riedel is the standard for wine glasses. The company dates back 250 years. The Riedel family has continued the glass-making tradition through 11 generations.

Riedel products are easy to find online and in most fine wine stores. The Austrian company has glasses around $10 apiece up through their finest crystal at more than $100 a glass. They have a glass for almost every common wine.

If your wine lover is new, buy the affordable “O” series that doesn’t have a stem. It will introduce them to the concept of matching the glass shape to types of wine. If they are a bit more sophisticated in their drinking and don’t own fine wine glasses, I’d recommend the Vinum line which runs about $20-$30 a glass. I’d suggest the Bordeaux-Cabernet Merlot glass or the Pinot Noir glass. You get two for $59.00 online.

These are special occasion glasses for the person really into wine. They must be handled and cleaned with great care. Unfortunately, I have broken a couple. But as silly as it may sound, there is something special about drinking nice wine from fine crystal. It just tastes better!

There is no way to convince anyone on the concept of the value of a particular shaped glass for a particular wine until they try it. But any wine lover will grin when they remove the wrapping and see “Riedel” on the box inside.

Riedel also makes the most beautiful decanters in the world at prices out of this world. The prices range $49-$495.

My second gift recommendation is a decanter but you don’t have to buy Riedel at all. A decanter oxidizes the wine and allows some of the bitter tannins to soften before drinking. Decant young wines an hour or two before you plan on enjoying it and you’ll be surprised how much the wine changes.

You can find decanters in any home store, wine shop, or specialty store. I have two which I paid $10 and $20 for a few years ago. Both of mine do the same job as Riedel’s $495 decanter, just not as stylish!

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast. He updates his wine blog throughout the week at: Or, write him at:

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's All the Fuss Over Beaujolais Nouveau?

Increasing wine knowledge requires stretching personal limits and tastes. The best advice received and repeated is to try different wines. Don’t hesitate to pop a cork on something new and embrace it!

And so that was my approach to France’s great gift to the holiday season, Beaujolais Nouveau. Any conversation about French wine starts with geography and ends with regulations – the French are really big on both!

The Beaujolais designation is north of Lyon, France, but very small. The region is just over 30 miles long and up to nine miles wide. But this tiny area packs in nearly 4,000 growers who nurture and harvest the Gamay grape.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a very light-bodied, fruity wine made to drink very young. The bottles on the shelves of your local wine retailer are made from the 2009 vintage and picked just a few weeks ago. By French wine laws, the wine is shipped and available for sale on the third Thursday of each November.

The wine’s selling point is its flexibility and drinkability.

“I tell people it’s a young vibrant, juicy fruity wine,” said Philip VanDuesen, proprietor of Pairings near Castleton Mall at Indianapolis. “If they approach it that way and not expect world-class wine they’ll enjoy it. It’s fun to drink with vibrant fruit and a deep dark purple color.

“It’s fresh and zingy and it has bright acidity. It’s beautiful with all types of food. It works well with all the holiday dishes. It has enough fruit to stand up to the cranberries and acid for the gravies but enjoy it with anything. It’s a fun beverage wine.”

Some suggest, not all agree, that Beaujolais Nouveau is a preview of each growing season’s grape crop. The word from many French vintners through various trade publications is 2009 is shaping up as a great vintage. Some Beaujolais reviews have called the 2009 less fruity but still a must buy for the holiday season.

The wine is low in alcohol, easy to drink, and affordable. It’s unusual to find one that isn’t in the $10-$12 price range.

Not only does the wine pair well with holiday meals of fowl and side dishes, it’s also a pretty good introduction to more serious wine for the wine novice.

The wine gets its easy-to-like characteristics from a different style of wine making. Do you wish to talk about carbonic maceration or whole berry fermentation? What that means is the process does not draw the tannins from the grape skins so you get a very refreshing wine.

Beaujolais producers also use the Gamay grape to make more traditional wines with a little aging and a little oak. I’ve recommended one of each below. Georges Duboeuf is the biggest producer in the region. His family has been involved in the wine business for more than 300 years. He works with more than 400 growers and produces about 30 million bottles of Nouveau annually.

Howard’s Picks:
George Duboeuf 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau
– This is the most popular and easiest to find of all Nouveau. It generally sells for $10-$12. The wine has a nose and taste of grape, not quite the Concord grape flavor of your youth but definitely grape. If you’re not sure your guests enjoy wine, Nouveau is a safe bet.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2008 – This is not a Nouveau but it is the Gamay grape. This is a better pairing with food if your guests are wine drinkers. It has the freshness of the Nouveau but has very mild tannins and a little more acid than the younger wine. This is a nice bottle of $13 wine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wine and Food Pairings for the Holiday!

Even non-wine drinkers find themselves with a glass of wine around the holidays. Many people will pick up a bottle for those bountiful holiday meals and social gatherings.

There is ample advice on which wine one should serve with turkey - remember Grape Sense Rule No. 1 – If you like it, drink it!

There are lots of great options. But, your wine selection for Thanksgiving dinner should not be limited to a discussion of just pairing wine with turkey.

“Usually I quiz people on what side dishes are being served and how is the turkey being prepared,” said Tena McClanahan, Wine Styles, Carmel. “If you have a turkey someone is deep frying and they’re injecting it with Cajun seasoning that’s a whole lot different than roasting it with carrots, onions and celery in the center.

“It’s generally all about the side dishes, personally I love Pinot Noirs. If somebody likes red wine I think Pinot Noir is the perfect Thanksgiving wine (for roasted turkey). If it’s Cajun injected turkey then maybe a Zinfandel. I’d avoid the really bold wines.”

McClanahan also has a great suggestion for white wine lovers. She recommends a dry Gewurtztraminer as a perfect pairing. Gewurtz is a spicy and often floral wine that is dynamite with food. There are dry and sweeter versions, but pick up a dry or semi-dry if you’re going to have it with dinner. You can find great Gewurtz from Germany and France! Don’t forget Indiana’s wineries because most make nice Traminette which is very similar to Gewurtz.

A dry Riesling is a great choice for Thanksgiving as well. If you go semi-dry to dry you’ll be happy with your choice. Washington State offers a lot of great Riesling choices. New York state Riesling is another good buy and good choice. Again, some of the Indiana Riesling is also tasty.

If you like white wine and want to make it a really special occasion, spring for a bottle of J.J. Prum Spatlese Reisling from Germany. You’ll only find it at better wine stores and it will be over $30 a bottle.

But you don’t have to spend much more than a third of the cost of Prum Riesling to find a great Riesling choice. Check out Dr. Loosen Riesling, Mirassou Riesling, and those great Washington state picks.

Some people can’t get away from Chardonnay with Thanksgiving and holiday turkey. But try something different that will make a better food pairing. Get to your favorite wine shop and ask for a Chardonnay which was aged in stainless steel and not in oak. The wine will be a bit drier normally and not nearly as rich. Instead you’ll get a clean crisp flavor that pairs great with roasted bird.

Tena was right on suggesting Pinot Noir as a great red wine selection. Pinot has more structure than most white wines but will not be over powering. And Pinot will probably pair better with most side dishes than the lighter white wines.

There are some good Pinot Noir wines under $15 easily accessible. Many supermarkets carry Mirrasou Pinot for about $10. In your wine store look for $10-$15 Pinot from Mark West, Dashwood, and Castle Rock.

And for those who want to make their red selection something special, try an Oregon Pinot Noir. Lange Willammette Valley 2007 Pinot Noir is available across Indiana at about $24.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, In., is a wine enthusiast who writes and blogs about wine. Check out his frequently updated wine blog at: Contact him with questions or comment at:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Recent Great Value Wine Finds

For many people who get into wine, a big part of the fun is the search! It’s about finding great wines at reasonable price points.

At the request of several readers, I’m going to offer up 3-5 great finds on a more consistent basis. The recommendations will always be wines I’ve purchased in Indiana. You can always send an email if you want to know where I bought a specific wine.

I’ve mixed up my buying lately trying to be a bit more broad-based in the wines I’m drinking. I have had a couple of really great bottles.

One of the best is a 2006 Creta Roble – a Spanish Tempranillo from the Rioja region. Many Rioja wines are blends with the dominant grape the noble Tempranillo. The Creta is 100 percent Tempranillo and a great representation of the iconic Spanish wine. This is a smooth and easy to drink red wine that is a bit juicy, a bit spicy, and an earthiness real wine lovers will enjoy.

The wine comes from vineyards more than 70 years old. It has a little heat at 14.5 percent alcohol but is a bargain at $12.99. This is a wine that will hold up to a steak or any beef dish.

I love the new world wines from South American but Spanish wines and traditional old world wines still have much to offer. I don’t recommend a lot of French wines or Italian wines but I’m working to improve my knowledge base.

French and Italian wines are tougher to get your hands around because of labeling and the great number of wines available. Wines from both countries are known by their region and not the grape. The wines of France’s Cotes du Rhone region are often Syrah and Grenache wines and varied blends that are rich, earth and spicy.

Domaine Lafage Grenache Noir is a great way to try a Cotes du Rhone. It’s made without oak, as French winemakers take a hint from the New World vintners, so the tannins are very soft on the finish. It’s a rich full-flavored wine with a smooth finish you have to try to believe. You can find it in many Indiana wine shops around $12.

Try the Grenache Noir with pork and mild to medium flavored dishes.

One of my earliest columns was about the Malbec grape. There are lots of great Malbec wines available but none better than Susana Balbo’s Crios Malbec. Her 2008 Malbec is dark purple with a freshness you’ll really enjoy. You’re going to taste cherries and a hint of spice.

Balbo isn’t just Argentina’s best known female winemaker but one of the country’s best known international wine stars. She prides herself on making young wines that are ready to drink.

My last recommendation for is for those with a sense of adventure and those who like Italian wine. The grape is Uva di Troia from Italy’s central costal region. At the recommendation of one of my favorite wine retailers I picked up a bottle of Santa Lucia Vigna del Melogram Uva di Troia.

The wine is certainly a typically dry Italian wine but it has a fresh taste that lets the fruit shine. The tannins are soft with a long and enjoyable finish. This is a food wine that would pair well with hearty pasta or red meat. I paid $14.99 for this wonderful experiment in something new. Try this wine with yr spicy pasta dishes. It would also work well with other spicy and rich foods.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tempranillo Super Value Red Wine Buy

There are so many great value alternatives to the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but it’s hard to cover them all.

Malbec and Tempranillo are the first wines many people will recommend as a full-flavored red wine that is easy to drink and affordable.

Both are favorites with similar easy-to-drink characteristics with price points at $9-$14. Tempranillo (Temp-rah-NEE-yoh) is Spain’s noble grape. It’s a small black grape that makes a full-bodied wine planted also in South America, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Spanish wines are making a huge impact in the domestic market. “I guess what I really like about the Spanish wines is the great "bang for the buck," said Donna Lattanzio, manager of The Bottle Shop in West Lafayette. “The whites are clean and crisp and go nicely with light food or are great by themselves. I especially like Garnacha (Grenache) by itself or blended with Tempranillo, which makes it more complex and full-bodied.”

Tempranillo is often suggested as an alternative to Cabernet and other big wines. I’d suggest it as an alternative to Merlot or other milder red wines. Of course, if you buy one above the $20 price point that has significant oak aging then you’re going to get a bigger wine.
Tempranillo often combines the taste of dark berries, plum, vanilla, and herbs. It is a great match for beef, pork, even a steak off the grill. It is also a great wine to open with some mild to even stronger-flavored cheeses. Tempranillo usually won’t be as big as a Cabernet but much easier to guzzle down and enjoy!

Spain’s famous Rioja region is the primary growing area for the grape. The Rioja wines usually feature Tempranillo, often blended with Garnacha and occasionally other grapes.

One of the signature producers is Miguel Torres. You can find Torres’ wines in many Indiana wine shops. Lattanzio has visited Spain and had the chance to visit Miguel Torres Sr.

“He was quite a gentleman and shared that most of their employees had followed in their ancestor’s footsteps and worked for Torres,” she recounted. “We had master sommeliers with us every night for dinner and had fabulous meals, but I guess I was pleasantly surprised how nicely all the wines went with the various meat and vegetables tapas and paellas. The wines have a hearty yet spicy flavor to them.”

Spain is the world’s third-largest wine producer with more than 4 million acres of vineyards. More California wineries are taking on Tempranillo each year.

Howard’s Picks:
Creta Roble 2006 – This is a 100 percent Tempranillo bottling that is smooth on the palate with a delightful hint of earthiness. The alcohol is 14.5 percent. Look for it at a number of wine shops in the $12.99 range.

Vina Salceda Rioja Crianza – This is a blend of 90 percent Tempranillo with two other Spanish grapes. This wine is aged for 15 months making it a little bigger with better structure than some young Spanish wines. You can find it at $12-$15.

Twisted Oak – This is a California winery with a sense of humor and great wine-making skills. Its Tempranillo is one of the best I’ve tasted. It’s slightly above the usual price point (just over $20) but well worth it!

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast writer and blogger. Read his wine blog at

Friday, October 9, 2009

1 Year of Wine Writing - What I've Learned

One year of writing wine columns, blogging, and other wine experiences has been enlightening. It’s never been boring. It’s never felt like a burden.

It’s easy then to suggest following an interest often pays big dividends even if there is no financial reward.

I’ve probably learned as much about wine in the past 12 months as I had in several of the preceding years. I forced myself to drink a lot more white wine than I ever have before. I took on an additional wine challenge and spent the better part of a month tasting Portuguese wines which I probably would not have done without the added incentive.

Most of the white wines were more enjoyable than expected. Portugal’s wines are a different taste characteristic that’s really interesting.

So, put that Merlot and Chardonnay down and try something different!

This column runs in eight Indiana newspapers or their websites. The combined circulation of those papers is just over 90,000 households by the latest circulation numbers I could find. My wine blog - Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full - generates interesting feedback. I update it 2-3-4 times a week. I might get anywhere from 10-50 hits a day. From the blog, I’ve been asked to do wine tastings, promote sales of chocolate (which I declined), received wine samples, asked where to find certain wines, and a host of other interesting responses.

I mentioned an “additional wine challenge” which is Palate Press. That is a new national online wine magazine that has rounded up bloggers from across the nation and world. I am a contributor, meaning I’ll write something exclusive for them about once a month.
But this column is for the readers, not me. Some of the things I’ve learned or become more convinced of that might help you include:

- Talk about what you’re drinking. Whether it’s with your spouse, a friend, or in a group, talk about the flavors, the acidity, how it feels in the front or back of your mouth. Then think about what you really liked about that wine.

- It really helps to make a few notes about the wines you like. I blog about almost every wine I drink and that’s an extreme, of course. But I’ve also found it really helps me in future purchases.

- Try new wines. Don’t be afraid to pick up something new off the supermarket or wine shop shelf. I’ve found that many wine drinkers will try something new only to learn they like it much better than what they had been drinking the past 2-3 years.

- This column remains about value wine from $15-$20 and under. But I’d also recommend you buy a bottle for a special occasion that costs $5-$10 above your normal limit. Get a recommendation and try a little bit better wine. It helps you establish some parameters to guide your palate. If you like Merlot, buy one that is $10 higher from a name you’ve heard of before but never tried.

Future columns will explore more wine regions, a few planned wine experiences, and I want to do more frequent columns on good value buys – specific wines you can look for in your wine shop.

I’m always thinking about new ideas. Please visit the blog and leave a comment or write me with suggestions, your question, or a comment at

Monday, September 28, 2009

Portugal's Table Wines Becoming Widely Available

There are many different journeys to the world of wine. Some people grow up with it, some become enamored with the lifestyle, and yet others make it a career.

Jill Ditmire, a Logansport native, is an Indianapolis wine shop owner who has an interesting career in wine and media. Some people would recognize the name or face from years working the Indianapolis television markets. She also has worked extensively in public television hosting and producing shows about wine and food for WFYI, Indianapolis.

But her varied career doesn’t end there. She is a nationally recognized judge for wine competitions. She also had participated and led wine tours to various parts of the world. It’s that experience I drew on recently for added knowledge about Portuguese wines.

Portugal has long been known for Port – a fortified wine or sweet dessert wine. But many winemakers in the coastal country are now using the same grapes to make interesting table wines at very affordable prices.

I knew Jill had traveled Europe extensively but had no idea she had visited Portugal. I wrote asking for some comment on Portuguese wines, which she carried in her Massachusetts Avenue shop, and learned she visited the country in 2007.

“I went to Portugal on a whim,” she replied. “I was asked last minute by a journalists group and, though I don’t know much about or truly appreciate Port. I decided to go. Wow - probably the last best thought I've had this century.”

Portugal’s wine country encompasses 13 growing regions from the northern areas of the country bordering Spain to the southern most areas. The Douro River valley is the country’s most prominent wine producing area in the north near Spain.

The wines featuring native red grapes are made mostly from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz. Douro’s Touriga Nacional is the primary grape used to make the sweet Ports.

Ditmire talked about visiting the vineyards and cork forests and how the younger winemakers are enriching the area’s history by using Port grapes to make great table wine.

“This handful of winemakers come from generations of wine, farming, and port making families,” she said. “But now, this generation is using money and knowledge to produce outstanding wine. “They blend bold, rich, lush red wines that are bursting with opulent red raspberry, black cherry, black pepper, and chewy tannins.”

Indeed, they are big flavored wines. They can be generally described as very ripe in flavor with spicy characteristics. They are also going to have a tannic finish.

The other outstanding region is the Vinho Verde where the Alvarinho – or albarino – grape is grown which I wrote about in my last column. The Vinho Verde wines can feature other grapes but are usually made from Albarino. The grape is a beautiful contrast to traditional Sauvignon Blancs and again, widely available.

You might have to look awhile to find Portuguese red wines but I have found some available in several Central Indiana wine shops. The flavor profile is different with an earthier and overly ripe feel on the palate. But if you want to try something new, try some Portuguese red wine.

You can find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, and she is currently re-building her homepage for Mass Ave Wine.

Howard’s Picks:

Quinta Do Alqueve 2006 Tradicional – This red is a classic blend featuring primarily Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. It’s a good introduction to the wines. This wine will have you thinking is it more like a Cab, Merlot, or maybe even a Pinot? ($11)

Grillo 2007 Vinho Tinto – This earthy wine is 75 percent Touriga Nacional with a huge nose and mouthful of flavor. It was very smooth drinking with moderate alcohol. ($13)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Turtle Run's 'Picasso' Making Interesting Wines

Situated along the Ohio River and Interstate 64 are seven new or relatively young Indiana wineries. The seven push the ever-growing number of Hoosier winemakers past the 40 mark this year.

I took a two-day vacation in late July to drive the Ohio River and make some winery stops. One easy conclusion is Indiana wines are improving. It was just a few years ago the Concord, Niagara, and Chambourcin based wines were too sweet or too bitter or just not balanced. It’s great to be able to report I tasted far fewer bad wines than anticipated.

I visited Winzerwald Winery, Bristol, Blue Heron Vineyards, Cannelton, Scout Mountain Winery and Turtle Run Winery, both near Corydon, Best Vineyards, south of Turtle Run, and Indian Creek Winery, just north of 64 in Georgetown. You can find them all with a simple internet search.

The boom of Indiana wineries, with more to come, is good news for most Hoosier vintners.

“Would you know of Napa Valley if there was only one winery,” Turtle Run’s Jim Pfeiffer asked. “If you go to a large city and you’re looking for a restaurant, have you ever noticed how restaurants align together? There is a synergy when you have them together, it builds a market. Right now it’s building and helping the market, not hurting it.”

Pfeiffer is a young breed of winemaker who laughs loud, shares his wine passion, and thinks of himself as a wine Picasso.

“Wine allows you to be creative,” he said with a really contagious enthusiasm. “Do you want to create the Merlots and Chardonnays of the world? No, that’s what everybody is doing. Or do you want to do the ‘one offs’ with some unique varieties that have some character? We do a lot of ‘one offs.’ We’re blendaholics.”

Indeed, during an afternoon visit he had several winery visitors watching him do a white wine blend. It was part Picasso and part mad scientist.

Turtle Run is like any Hoosier farm but instead of tobacco Pfeiffer grows grapes. He has a wine he calls “Red My Mind” which is part Merlot and Chambourcin that will remind you of a Pinot Noir. If you like white wine, try his dry Tortuga. It’s a blend of Chardonel and Vignoles that tastes more sophisticated and unlike anything you’ve had from other Hoosier wine makers. There’s his Summer Solstice white or Catherine’s Blend which are also a bit different.

Indiana winemaking legend Bill Oliver, Oliver Wrinery, mentored Pfeiffer through his early efforts in 2001. Pfeiffer is now up to about 4,000 cases of wine each year and hoping to hit 10,000 in the next few seasons. He and Ted Huber of Huber Winery are now often the mentors for the newcomers in their region.

“When you see an explosion of wineries the question becomes the due diligence side of knowing what the heck you’re doing in the winery,” Pfeiffer said. “We want to coach the wineries which need some additional assistance. But we get someone in every other week who wants to start a vineyard and winery. We give them a little bit of encouragement and discouragement.

“We see people walk in who just don’t think they are going to do the work and studies. They’re going to open a winery and be in way over their head. Great wine just doesn’t pour from containers.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Albarino Will Rock Your White Wine World

Summer is the time for white wine and lighter flavors.

If you have spent your summer sipping Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and perhaps Riesling, then it’s time to try something different. Spanish and Portuguese Albarino is a varietal you aren’t going to find in any supermarket but should find at any good wine shop. Most Indiana shops will have one or two, many will have several.

Albarino has become a new personal favorite. It is a ripe-fruit flavored wine with a clean taste, very crisp and refreshing. It is a dry white wine with moderate to high alcohol levels. Some Albarino will have more acidity or citrus flavors than others, but I’ve yet to have a bad one.

Spain grows a significant amount of the world’s Albarino in the Rias Baixas region, the northwest coastal corner of the country just north of Portugal. It is also found across the border in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. For many years the grape was used to create blends with other lesser known white grapes but has emerged more recently as a white wine that pairs nicely with seafood and is great served cold on a hot day.

The wine has a big beautiful nose for a white. If you pick up a bottle you’ll read that it will have hints of peach, apricot, or floral characteristics. There are a few Albarinos aged in oak but the vast majority is aged in stainless steel producing the clean and crisp characteristics.

The wine, like most grapes, is grown in other places around the world. But I’ve found if you start your experimentation with a new grape at its origin, you’re going to appreciate the variations of it even more when you drink one from Australia or California.

The climates in Spain and Portugal where Albarino is grown are cooler areas of those countries allowing these finicky, thick-skinned grapes to mature. Albarino put Spain’s white wines on the world map.

Try Albarino with seafood off the grill, particularly white fish and shrimp. Asian foods would be another perfect pairing. Or, chill the wine a bit more than normal and take it outside to enjoy on a warm evening.

Albarino is a very affordable experiment. You can find value bottles in the $9-$12 range in wine shops.

Howard’s Picks:
Salneval Albarino – 2007 Albarino from Spain has a seductive nose that makes it hard to put down. You’ll pick up some minerality and floral notes. This wine consistently scores well with national wine critics. ($9-$13)

Burgan Albarino – Also a 2007 selection, the Burgan Spanish Albarino is a bit more fruit forward than the Salneval. I thought it had a lemon flavor with perhaps an unusual hint of orange. It also had a bit of a creamy texture to it. Wine critics tend to really like this one. It’s going to be less acidic than the Salneval. ($12)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mirassou Carrying on a Family Tradition

There are iconic names in the U.S. wine industry: Gallo, Mondavi, and Sebastiani. Those California family dynasties are joined by the oldest of the group – Mirassou family wines.

Pierre Pellier came to the United States in 1854 looking for gold, but fortunately brought along cuttings from vines in his native France. Pierre’s daughter married Pierre Mirassou and later created an iconic name and brand in California wines.
After decades of winemaking, the Mirassou brand was purchased in 2002 by wine giant Gallo. But David Mirassou, the sixth generation of the family, remains in the business today.

“I’m carrying on a great tradition,” he said during a recent visit to Indianapolis. “I’m the link to previous generations and the next generation.”
The Mirassou label is carried in Kroger supermarkets and represents an effort by Gallo to market premium wines. The average price point for a bottle of Mirassou is about $12.

David Mirassou is a Gallo employee with the title of National Sales Manager for the Mirassou brand, though he bristles at any suggestion that he’s just a spokesperson.
“I kind of do everything,” he said. “We do have winemakers, but I go back and taste the grapes and work with our team on blending. I’ve learned for me it’s better to get out and tell the story than dragging the hose (around the winery) all of the time. I help and give guidance to our full-time winemakers.

“I have direct input on every one of these wines, as much as I’d like to have. I sometimes have to set aside extra time because everybody wants me out doing different promotions.”

Mirassou talks of the Gallo purchase not as a buy-out of a smaller guy, which has happened often in California. He describes it as a partnership.
“I do everything that I used to do,” he said. “We don’t make the wines at our winery. It just wasn’t efficient to make wine there. Partnering with the Gallos made things easier.”

The Mirassou Winery was in the Silicon Valley. The vineyard property was more valuable for commercial development than vineyards. Gallo bought the name as developers bought up the property.

Mirassou likes to talk about the long relationship his family has had with the California icons, including Ernest Gallo.

“For 70-plus years we’ve been working together, my family was selling them grapes and helping them move the California wine industry forward,” he explained. “After my grandfather passed away, Ernest would tell me stories about my grandfather. Can you imagine having lunch with Ernest Gallo and he is telling stories about your grandfather!

“I’d drive home teary-eyed after hearing those great stories. It was always about how Ernest admired my grandfather. I sometimes wonder how I’m going to fill those shoes.”

He fills those shoes today with considerable time on the road promoting Mirassou Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet. He does tasting events and lots of media work.

But for David Mirassou it’s about family. “The most exciting time for me is when I take my son out to the vineyards,” he said smiling. “We go out and taste the grapes and we’ll talk about the vineyards. So I’ll ask, ‘Tristan, what did you think about tasting the grapes?’ And he’ll go, ‘Well the grapes were good but my favorite part was the reindeer with the big horns running up the hill.’”

He smiles and laughs. Even though young Tristan is not yet 10, David Mirassou knows the future of the family name lies in his young son’s hands.

Howard’s Picks:
Mirassou is best known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I thought the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were very nice value white wines. Having spent time tasting Oregon’s higher end Pinot this spring, I thought Mirassou’s Pinot was surprisingly good for the price point. The Mirassou wines are not heavily oaked. They are fruit forward with mild tannins. They are available at wine stores and supermarkets at very reasonable prices.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everyone Asks for A List - How About 10 Great Wines?

People are always asking for a list of great wines, even a few editors. I’ve been reluctant because you’ll obviously find a few of these, but not others.

The wines listed were purchased in Central Indiana wine shops. I have decided to offer up a list of 10 great wines under $15. You really can’t go wrong with any of these.
These are some of the best wines I’ve enjoyed over the past 6-8 months.

Red Wine
Castano 2006 or ’07 Monastrell – I’ve called it the best bottle of wine I've ever had for under $10. I’ve seen this wine in many shops. It sells for an incredible $6.99 and had a 90-point rating from Wine Advocate. I would compare it favorably to Spanish Garnacha. It is fruity, yet dry, big-bodied wine with some spice.

Duck Pond 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - It comes from Eastern Washington. It is a complex and intense wine which seldom happens for $11. It has a big nose and a spicy, woodsy flavor. Alternative: 337 Cabernet, $12-$15; Santa Emma 2006 Maipo Valley of Chile Cabernet, $12-$15.

Spellbound 2006 Petite Syrah - While not quite the fruit bomb Syrah can be, it was big on the front of the palate with smooth tannins. It's an easy-to-drink but big and full-bodied Syrah, $12.99 to $15.99. Alternative: Shoo Fly Aussie Salute, $9-$11 (Grenache/Syrah blend)

Caligiore Malbec – This is an intense wine, very fruity - even spicy perhaps. It's 14.5 percent alcohol so it's a pretty serious red. It is a rich, mouthful for those who've tried Malbec and want to sample a bigger one. I paid $16 for this one but have seen it as low as $12. Alternatives: Maipe Malbec, $10-$14; Tilia Malbec-Syrah, $8-$11; Dante Robino Bonarda, $11-$13.

Santa Cristina Sangiovese - The great Italian producer Antinori first produced this wine in the 1940s. It has hints of cherry and herb. It's medium bodied with a smooth finish. It is fabulous with Italian food. The wine experts tend to praise this consistent Italian gem. You’ll find it in the $9-$12 range.

White Wine
Nobilo 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
– This crisp Sauv Blanc became the biggest seller of its varietal in the U.S. earlier this year. It has lemon, lime, and a grassy/citrus flavor and feel in the mouth. It’s a bargain at $9-$12. Alternative: New Zealand’s Fire Road, $13-$15.

Basa 2006 Blanco – Another great value you can find from $9-$12. The wine has a lime/citrus tartness but mild acidity. Many white wines can have overpowering acidity and this is really just right. The acidity on this Spanish beauty will be less than your typical Sauv Blanc.

La Broia 2003 Soave Superiore - The $10 wine has subtle flavor of apple and lemon, very dry and very balanced. I think it would hold up great to lighter flavored seafood and is dynamite by itself on the porch or poolside! Soave wine is easy to find, but go for the Superiore designation which has a little more structure and flavor. Alternative: Salneval Albarino, $9-$11.

Rose Wine
Mas Carlot 2008 Rose'
– This French wine is 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Syrah. It has a big beautiful nose. It has a bright and light fruity flavor with some mineral, and lots of sweet spicy goodness for $10. Sip this on the porch and all your troubles slip away!

Calderona 2007 Rose' - I picked up this Spanish Rose for $11. It definitely has a stronger flavor than many Rose’ wines but it's an interesting blend of Tempranillo, Grenache, and Verdejo.

Friday, July 17, 2009

If You Haven't, Do Try Dry Rose'

It is summer and time to think pink!

No, I’m definitely not talking about white zinfandel – that of the high sugar content and guaranteed headache. The hottest wine of the past few summers has been dry Rose’ made from a wide variety of grapes from every major wine producing region in the world.

A chilled dry Rose’ is a delightful summer beverage. They are refreshing and a super wine to serve at a summer gathering. Many Rose’ wines will hold up nicely with about any food. It’s like drinking a white wine with a bit bigger flavor.

The great thing about Rose’ is you can buy great bottles for under $15 – and sometimes a lot less. I opened a Cabernet Sauvignon Rose’ recently, which I’ll recommend below, that was just $6.99. You can buy the very best Rose’ wines and not spend more than $30.

The pink wine gets it color the same way red wine does. Winemakers leave the skins in contact with the juice to get just the color they want. Most Rose’ wines will have a hint of strawberry flavor. Most are soft and easy drinking wines.

For years no serious wine drinker would be caught dead sipping pink wines, but that has changed. Sales have jumped by double digits annually for several years. The Nielson Company reported U.S. Rose’ wine sales jumped 25 percent in 2008 alone.

Traditionally it has been France producing Rose’ and primarily from Provence. The Tavel region has long been known for its fine pink wines.

But now you’ll find Rose being made from every imaginable grape. Most of these wines have a light taste but you’ll find sophistication and enjoyable satisfaction in how easy they are to drink and share with friends. I’ve sampled Rose’ wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese, Grenache, Malbec and others.

These wines are not hard to find in any wine store. They are not only very affordable but generally low in alcohol. I’m constantly surprised how well they pair with food or appetizers.

I’m going to devote a little more space in this column to specific wines that I have purchased in Central Indiana wine shops. This is a bit of an expanded Howard’s Picks. Also, I have several in the wine rack I’ll be drinking over the rest of the summer. You can read about those on my wine blog:

Calderona 2007 Rose – This Spanish Rose is 70 percent Tempranillo with Garnacha and Verdejo making up the mix. It’s a bigger and bolder Rose that that pairs well with food. I bought it for $12.

Pavie Macquin 2007 Rose – This French dry Rose’ has a juicy quality that any wine love can appreciate. It’s definitely on the lighter side but a beautiful wine. I paid $10.95 for this remarkable bottle.

Crus de Piedra Garnacha Rosada – The Spanish make some great Rose from the Garnacha (or Grenache) grape. This wine is easy to find. I’ve spotted it in several Indiana shops. This one has a big strawberry nose and is a medium-flavored wine. You can often find this one under $10.

Miguel Torres 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Rose – This is a Rose’ with big flavor that wine critics have loved. It’s a beautiful transparent cherry color with incredible balance. This Rose’ pairs really well with food. You’ll find it for up to $12 but I got a deal in Indianapolis for just $6.99.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Have A Sparkler for Fourth of July

Tired of the same old Merlot and Chardonnay? Tired of that light beer with a burger?

If you’re going to try something different this summer, then really try something new.

How about a sparkling wine? Sparkling wines aren’t just for New Year’s Eve or weddings. They can be a refreshingly different beverage that is more flexible than you might think. And summer is a great time to try something light, refreshing, with some effervescence.

Sparkling wines can be delightful with fresh fruit. A nice light sparkling wine will surprise you with white chocolate. Sparkling wine with cheese or most appetizers will also work. And after you develop a taste for a sparkler, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it with some grilled shrimp as an appetizer. Don’t rule out sparkling wine with grilled seafood or lightly seasoned grilled chicken for dinner either.

The tough part of any sparkling wine/food combination is finding a really good wine. Who hasn’t had a taste of the bubbles at a wedding only to find yourself looking for a place to set that glass down and go back to whatever else you were drinking?

I usually don’t spend an entire column on a specific wine but I’m going to write today about two that are widely available and very drinkable.

It starts with Cristalino Rose Brut from Spain. You can find this pinkish sparkler in many wine shops across Indiana. It’s 60 percent Pinot Noir, with just 11.5 percent alcohol, and usually is sold in the $9-$11 range.

The second is California sparkling wine icon Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut. This traditionally colored sparkling wine is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with just the right amount of bubbles. You can find it from $16-$20 everywhere.

I opened both bottles with a friend of mine and her daughter and wanted to share our impressions. The ladies thought the Rose Brut was too mild in its effervescence. They didn’t think “it had enough bubbles.” They agreed with me that it had a light taste and grew on them as they sipped more from our champagne flutes.

Both suggested this sparkling wine had enough body to hold up to appetizers and light food.

They just loved the Gloria Ferrer Brut. “It’s crisp without being too sharp,” one said. “It’s quite effervescent. It has a soft flavor profile … it doesn’t taste cheap.”

The ladies thought it would be nice with a fruit tray or a mild cheese. They thought it was a visually appealing and tasting glass of wine.

The three of us tasted the sparkling wines while nibbling on fresh strawberries in early June. We felt very continental!

We finished off the Gloria Ferrer but not all of the Cristalino. What else do you need to know? Wine Spectator consistently rates this wine in the upper 80s to 90 points!

Ferrer makes sparkling wines at higher price points. This entry level would be a huge improvement for most I’ve tasted at weddings.

There are other great options in most wine shops as well. Ask your wine shop helper for Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco.

Howard Pick:
Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut
. This was by far our pick of the two, though I liked the Rose’ as well. The ladies appreciated the lighter and balanced flavor of the Sonoma wine. You will be surprised how much you’ll enjoy the bubbles with a creamy mid-palate and lighter-than-expected finish.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Does a Blue Ribbon Mean?

What does it mean when a winery advertises it’s “Blue Ribbon” Cabernet? Or another winery invites you to taste their “award-winning” wines?

I’ve always been something of a skeptic but got a brand new appreciation May 16 at the Indianapolis International Wine Competition. Indy’s wine competition is the largest in the U.S. outside of California. They had 3,064 wines entered this year from 42 states and 10 countries.

They invite members of the press and wine press to join the judging tables as “judges in training.” I jumped at the opportunity. I tasted 52 wines in about an hour and a half. I judged the wines, participated in the judges’ discussion, but my vote didn’t count. The personally rewarding part of the experience was that I was very close to what the other judges thought about the wines most of the time.

See photos from the Wine Judging Competition here.

But what does it mean for the consumer when you see “award winning wines?”

“To me it’s a signal you’re doing things right,” said Jeanne Burgess, VP of Winemaking Operations for two Florida wineries and someone who has judged wines for 20 years. “No matter what the medal is, if you’re consistently winning medals you’re doing something right in the winery. The competitions can vary but as long as your wines are winning medals that means your quality is at a certain standard.”

I was impressed with the diversity and qualifications of my judging panel. We had a wine distributor, a college professor teaching in the field of viticulture, an Indiana winery owner, and Jeanne – a winemaker.

“It’s eye opening the way the panels are designed,” said Michael Palmer, a wine distributor. Palmer grew up in the wine business in Madison, Indiana, where his father owns Madison Vineyards. “When you work on just the wholesale or retail or even production side you get a narrow focus. This gives you a different perspective to see what the consumer sees.”

The competition is amazing up close. There are five judges to each panel, More than 80 volunteers, largely Purdue University employees, prepare the wines and serve the judges who blind taste all sorts of wine. The judges never know the winery, just the varietal and the vintage. They blind taste the wines and rate each wine individually and not against each other.

Our table tasted Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chambourcin, berry wines, and naturally flavored wines during my hour and a half of tasting.

The competition, sponsored and held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, began in 1973. It has grown to an international competition since the early 1990s.

The Indiana Wine Grape Council, based at Purdue, helps market and organizes the event. Jeannette Merritt, Marketing Specialist, said the competition is particularly important to Indiana’s 43 wineries.

“We use the term gold equals sold,” Merritt said. “If they get a medal here it helps sell their wine. For some of the wineries they can take that back and maybe mark it up a dollar because it now has a little more value. The wines have been judged by 80 professional winemakers, wine writers, and wine educators. For 80 other people to say your wine has won a medal, it’s probably going to move off the shelves very quickly.”

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, In., is a wine enthusiast who writes about wine for Indiana newspapers. Read his blog for more on the wine industry and the wines he’s regularly drinking at:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Great 'One Tank Trip' to Southern Indiana

Of the nearly 40 Indiana wineries, there isn’t another like Huber’s Orchard, Winery, and Vineyards in Starlight, Indiana, atop a hill just northwest of Louisville and across the Ohio River.

Huber’s family found its southern Indiana roots in 1843 and now is in its seventh generation of tending the land. Huber grows 18 different varietals leading to about 400,000 pounds of grapes each year.

I’ve visited Huber’s for several years now and their wines are getting better and better. “Most of the vineyards at Huber’s Orchard, Winery, and Vineyards are starting to show their maturity as the roots expand deeper into the limestone rich soils we find on the Knobstone escarpment,” Ted Huber said. “These vines typically start showing complex flavors developing in the wines after their seventh year in our soils giving the wines much richer texture and complexity. This allows us to better manage our barrel and blending program giving our Heritage and Generations a more interesting flavor profile.”

The Heritage and Generations wines are their two flagship dry red wines. Those two labels are easily the best dry red wine I’ve tasted from any Hoosier winery. Huber’s grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Blaufrankisch, Chambourcin, as well as many of the other grapes you’d expect from an Indiana winery. But in 2000 they planted Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Pinot Gris. It will be fascinating to see how Ted uses those grapes in coming vintages.

But Huber’s is much more than a winery. They have nearly 900 acres of Christmas trees, apples, strawberries, peaches, berries of all sort, pumpkins, and vegetables. They make their own cheeses and ice cream, jams, jelly, and they have a bakery.
They also have a Children’s Farm Park, café, gift shop, and a distillery producing Brandy and Grappa.

“In the mid 1970s as my father and uncle started to plan for the winery, they understood there was a much diversified need among our customer base,” Huber said. “They understood that having a variety and diversified product list would keep things interesting for our customers and for all levels of the wine-drinking public.

“We see approximately 400,000 people each year to our farm and the diversified wine list helps us retain repeat customers. We are not just focusing on Dry wines or Sweet wines – we have a range of wines to taste and select from.”

The Huber name is an iconic label in this hilly corner of Indiana overlooking the river and Louisville. But Huber will admit there are plenty of people north of Columbus, Indiana, still unfamiliar with their operation. “They are often customers that we refer to as the “one tank trip” customers. There is a complete different look and feel to our area than the central part of Indiana. Our growing conditions and topography are conducive to growing grapes much different than other wineries in Central Indiana.”

This is one of my favorite “one tank trips” for any Saturday and I try to make it 3-4 times a year.

Howard’s Picks:
2006 Generations – Huber’s basic dry red wine is full flavored and nicely balanced. It’s Indiana’s best dry red wine at the $14.99 price point.
2004 Heritage – I mention this particular older vintage of their best blend simply because it is the best glass of red wine I’ve ever had from an Indiana producer. The 2004 is $24.99 but the current 2006 release is available for $18.99.
2008 Traminette – Indiana’s answer to Gewurtztraminer is produced by most Indiana wineries. This semi-dry, floral and spicy white wine is awesome for $14.99.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can Willamette Become the Next Napa?

Can Oregon’s Willamette Valley become the next Napa? Will the rolling hills and red soil be dotted with limousines and tour buses much like California’s famed wine region?

I made my second visit in a year to the Willamette in April and remain much taken by its simplicity and charm. I had the chance to talk to winemakers/owners in three different wineries.

Napa Valley has lost some of its charm because of tourism, many have argued. Indeed, during a 2006 summer visit to Napa, I was a surprised by the size of the tasting rooms, the number of tourists visiting.

The Willamette has big weekends similar to Napa around Memorial Day and the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. It certainly is more spread out than Napa and has a certain feel of agriculture and small business. The Valley features fabulous Pinot Noir, beautiful tasting rooms but in a 2008 summer visit and brief April visit I didn’t see near the crowds.

But do the wine people think further growth is a good or bad thing?

“If you’re trying to sell wine it’s a good thing,” said Craig Baker, who owns Ancient Cellars wine with brother Chris. “I think it will continue to grow. People have said the Willamette Valley is the next Napa-type thing. I guess we can always get too much of a good thing but now it’s more specific times.”

Baker just released a Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. He works for a large wine production facility but started his own label with brother Chris, who lives in Fishers, Indiana. Chris helps market the wine which is available in Indiana.
But not everyone is welcoming the tourist crunch.

“Fear,” is how Donna Morris and Bill Sweat, owners of Winderlea Winery in the Dundee Hills, answered in unison. “I think most people who are here are here for the love of the vineyards and the love of the grapes that these vineyards produce,” Morris said. “For a lot of the people it’s the attention to and the love of artisan winemaking. If you look around here everybody is making 1,000-5,000 cases. I think people are passionate about quality. It’s very hands on. It’s a very communal group of people and very collegial. People are willing to work with you but expect you to make a good product.”

Jesse Lange, general manager and winemaker for Lange Estate Vineyards, differs from both of the previous opinions. He just doesn’t think it’s going to happen. “I don’t know if those fears have any basis. Most of Oregon’s wineries are still very small productions. I think Kendall Jackson makes more wine that what we do as a state. Even our biggest wineries in Oregon are pretty small by California standards. We don’t make enough to ever be a drop in the bucket compared to our neighbors in California.”

Still, and particularly if you enjoy Pinot Noir, Oregon is a delightful place to visit. There is a less-rushed pace and I love that when you enter the tasting room it just might be the owner or winemaker pouring the wine.

I have more about Ancient Cellars and Winderlea in my blog (linked at above right) and reviews of wines I’m drinking each week.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a former newspaper editor and writer who considers himself a wine enthusiast.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wine Shops Reacting to Tough Economic Times

Tough economic times require creative thinking, flexibility, and a business person’s best instincts. That list probably gets longer for small, retail wine shops.

Finding a wine shop or two you’re comfortable with is one of the best steps to improving your wine knowledge and broadening your palate. The economic downturn is tough for small business. You need to get into your wine stores and support them. On the other hand, many of those stores are re-thinking their product strategy that plays right to your pocketbook.

Ashley Lockwood and husband Rob Ventura own two retail stores in Indianapolis. Ashley worked in wholesale and retail wine sales in Los Angeles and Chicago from 1998-2005. When she moved to Indianapolis in 2005, she opened her Broad Ripple store and recently added a second location in Carmel.

The tough times have been reflected in her customer’s buying habits.

“Many of our "wall wine" (over $15) regulars are now shopping mostly off the floor (under $15.) Our under $10 wines are flying off the shelves,” Lockwood said. “When we first opened, I had a couple of $6.99 wines that just didn't move because people thought they were too cheap. Now we can't keep our $6.99 wines in stock.”

I’ve heard the same themes from other retailers –wine shop owners and buyers are working harder to find wines you can’t buy in the grocery store, but at grocery store prices.

“I quadrupled the number of under $10 selections, and discontinued many of the $14.99 and even $13.99 wines,” Lockwood said. “We dedicated an entire corner of the store to $6.99 wines. I am buying larger quantities of wines in order to get the prices down. When we find great deals on closeout (from wholesalers), we buy everything they have.”

Just like any other business, the wine industry feels the pinch from winery, to wholesaler, to retail. Most wholesalers have product to move so smart retailers can get good buys to pass to their customers.

“Often (close-out lists) are wines I already know so I grab them,” Lockwood said. “Sometimes I am looking for a particular bargain (under $15 Pinot Noir or under $15 Chianti). If there is a wine that fits that profile, I will do some research on scores and reviews and then request a sample. For a lot of the smaller distributors, they approach us with specific wines they aren't moving and offer a deal. Many of the wines we have that are under $8 weren't originally that inexpensive.”

I have recently found some great under-$10 wines. I got this column idea in Ashley’s store during a recent visit. Husband Rob talked up an Italian Chardonnay. It was light and tasty. I bought a full case of a Spanish Monastrell. That grape (similar to Grenache or Syrah) will be new to most of you, but it illustrates why finding a retailer or knowledgeable wine person is so valuable. Both of these wines were $6.99. I have tasted a lot of $13-$17 wines not nearly as balanced and full-flavored as these two examples.

“Finding under $8 wine isn't hard,” Lockwood mused, “but finding under $8 wine I would take home and drink can be!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Visit to Oregon's Lange Winery

DUNDEE HILLS, Oregon – During a recent business trip to Oregon I had the opportunity to travel the Willamette Valley. The valley is home to some of the world’s best Pinot Noir.

I usually keep the columns and blogging to the under $25 price point, but I had a really special visit to the Lange Winery and thought I’d use that experience to explain price points and also to share a winemaker’s insights into great Pinot.

Many of the great Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc white wines made in Oregon are under the $20 price point. Most of the Pinot Noir is priced over $30, but many wineries have at least one bottling that will be $30 or under.

In virtually every public talk or conversation I’ve done on wine, I get asked about the difference between a $10 bottle and a $40 bottle of wine. It’s about the quality and craftsmanship that goes into the winemaking and it shows in the taste.

Industry publications Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have praised Lange Winery as one of the best. I spent time with Jesse Lange, whose parents Don and Wendy started the winery in 1987. Jesse farms the vineyards and makes the wine with his father. He also serves as the winery’s general manager.

See a few extra photos from my visit by clicking here.

“It’s really critical in making Pinot Noir to make it in very small increments,” Lange said. “We do the farming in very small increments. You’re able to pay attention to things at a level I don’t think a lot of winemakers get to do. Pinot Noir is so expressive, there’s a range of flavors and elements of complexity. It’s the ultimate winemakers challenge to both grow and make.”

While large production wineries will blend wines in vats the size of a farm silo, Lange blends their Pinot Noir no more than three barrels at a time.

“I describe what we do as sustainable farming, small artisanal winemaking, focusing on quality not quantity,” Lange said. “We’re looking to make classical wines that have a lot of the fruit elements of Pinot Noir and the spicy elements of Pinot Noir. There is a hedonistic side to wine drinking that I think every wine drinker can appreciate from the total beginner to the expert.

“I want to make sure when people have a glass of our wine they say ‘Wow, I want another glass.’ I think our style really plays well because our wines are well balanced with a lot of fruit, great palate texture, and richness without being over the top.”

Lange produced 14,000 cases of wine last year. In comparison many of the big California winemakers, names you’d recognize, make more wine in one facility than all of Oregon’s wineries combined.

The secret of Oregon wines, and especially Lange’s Dundee Hills’ wine, is the environment. To wine geeks, that’s terrior. “That means place,” Lange said of the French term. “It’s a very broad all-encompassing term that includes soil, climate, heat units, elevation, but also encompasses the wine grower’s philosophy about farming. Certain wines from a certain place and a certain varietal really showcase that.

“The secret is the place, without question. You can only grow world class Pinot Noir in about five places. You just can’t grow world class Pinot anywhere.”

Fortunately for Hoosiers, you can buy Lange wines in our state. They have a beautiful Pinot Gris around $16 and an award-winning Pinot Gris Reserve at $22. The reserve was the best Gris I tasted during my two-day visit.

They also have a reasonably priced Pinot Noir. The 2007 Lange Willamette Valley Pinot can be found in Indiana for about $24. They have other bottlings of reserve and estate wines that range from $30-$60 which is consistent with most Oregon premium wine producers.

To progress in your wine drinking and to understand boutique wineries and real handcrafted wines, try a Lange Pinot Noir. Or try an Oregon Pinot Noir recommended at your wine shop.

For Jesse Lange the most important thing is creating wines that are correct to that terroir. “I don’t want anybody to taste our wines to say I really like it because it tastes like Cabernet or it’s like Syrah. I want it to be its own and be an Oregon Pinot Noir.”

His explanation on the attention to detail was probably best in an off-handed remark he’s obviously used before as we walked the grounds near the beautiful overlook of the valley. “We want to be more like Audrey Hepburn than Marilyn Monroe.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Taste, Taste, Taste

Any wine shop owner, winery hospitality worker, and even a newspaper columnist/blogger will tell you the best way to learn more about wine is pretty simple.

Taste. Taste. Taste.

There are lots of ways to do that but don’t overlook the simplest approach. During the warmer weather months many of us have friends over for a cookout or gathering. How about adding a couple different bottles of wine and spend some time before or after just talking about what you’re drinking? That is a wine tasting in its easiest form.

But if you are serious about your wine or just would like to be more serious you need one person who has a little more knowledge. You might have a friend who fits that category but the easiest way is check with any retail wine shop. There is no better way to sell wine than let people taste wine.

The base of my wine knowledge started with wine tastings. One of the very best is Dean Wilson in Indianapolis. Deano has been doing tastings since 1997. And he has some definite opinions about what people should look for at a wine tasting.

“We take the guess work out of it for the consumer,” Wilson said. “We keep it seasonal. Right now we’re doing heavier style whites and lighter style reds. Come summer time we’re still doing lighter style reds and lighter style whites like Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigio. In the summer we do bigger bolder whites like chardonnay. In the fall, we’re getting into ports, tawny ports. At Christmas time, we’re doing ports, and bigger style reds and obviously the bubbly or champagne right before the New Year.”

Wilson said it’s sort of like wine for dummies – taking the guess work out of what wines work best with the season.

Jill Ditmire, owner of the Mass Ave. Wine Shop in Indianapolis, has a similar approach to the taste, taste, and taste philosophy. “You can read reviews, watch videos, listen to others but your palate is your best buy indicator. Go to tastings.”

Both wine shop owners said encouraging people to try new things is the real key. “Too many people think all there is in the wine world is Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay,” Ditmire said. “I love it when someone samples a Tempranillo or Malbec and says ‘wow, that tastes so different.’ “

Deano takes the wine drinkers moving away from entry level wines and tries to ease the transition. “We like to let them know that some of the top entry level wines are over sugared,” he said. “So when people say they get hangovers or headaches from drinking wine, I say life is too short to drink cheap wine.”

But Ditmire and Wilson agree there are so many easily affordable options.

“I try to steer the consumer to new world wines like Australian Shiraz because the fruit is sweeter up front and you still have the dry residual finish on the back,” Wilson said.

In the end, the best wine is the wine you like.

“Anyone who tries to tell you what you should drink doesn’t know much at all,” Ditmire added. “We each experience wine differently. A good wine is one you like. A bad wine is one you don’t like.”

So check with your nearby wine shop and get to their tastings. It will open up an entirely new world of wine for you and really pique your interest in discovering new wines.

Howard’s Pick:
Deano’s Vino : Dean Wilson offers the most education-based wine tasting I’ve attended in Central Indiana. He does tasting every Wednesday night at 6 p.m. There is a $5 charge but you get to taste anywhere from 5-7 wines and he usually has some crackers, cheese or meat as part of the tasting. His shop and restaurant is located in Indianpolis’ Fountain Square District.

Others: Mass Avenue has tastings on Tuesdays at 5:30. Cork and Cracker on the north side does weekly tastings. Vine and Table in Carmel has wine open for tasting many days, but especially on Saturday mornings.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Advice From Someone Who Is Selling Plenty

After nearly six months of writing a wine column and related blog, the response has come mostly from wine novices or people who want to take a step up into better $10-$20 wines.

That’s why offering advice from many different sources continues to be a goal.
I’ve written a couple of columns of general advice and will continue to seek the opinions of others with varied backgrounds. My background is from buy, drinking, and tasting a lot of different wines. I think someone who is selling wine every week certainly has an even more credible and broad-based experience to offer.

You can almost always find such people in area wine shops and increasingly they’re turning up in grocery stores. But it’s not just grocery stores in high-income metropolitan suburbs. Reggie McConnell is helping Baesler’s Grocery in Terre Haute move wine you don’t normally find in the supermarket.

Target and a few other stores have a wider selection of wine than most of the big chains, it’s still rare to find a wine steward, advisor, or host in most vino aisles. McConnell ended his business career in 2008 with early retirement. He had always been a wine buff and loves talking wine.

When Bob Baesler approached him about helping stock the shelves of his family-owned grocery, answer questions, and help sell more wine, Reg enthusiastically agreed. Now you can find him on hand Thursday, Friday and Saturdays helping customers select wine and try new wines. He has boosted case sales to nearly 15 percent of the store’s total and more than doubled the wine selection.

The grocery still carries plenty of Yellowtail and other brands you’d expect to see, but McConnell has also brought in an eclectic mix of other wines up to about $25-$30. Operations like Baeslers remain rare and you may not find one near you, but the trend is for more stores to hire wine stewards with the ever-increasing wine sales across the country.

A few metropolitan Indianapolis markets have wine help on hand during busy times of the week.

“While I think it’s a good strategy to find a wine consultant one is comfortable with (whether it be at the retail level, or even a nationally known critic) don’t make the mistake of placing too much emphasis on your advisor's opinions,” McConnell said.

“Wine consultants can be enormously helpful as general guides for the hobbyist. Most folks don’t have the time, money, or inclination to devote untold hours to seeking out new wines. Find a consultant or reviewer whose tastes seem to dovetail with yours and let him/her be your guide. This method can save hobbyists considerable time and cut down on costly mistakes. Should you find that your consultants’ recommendations are not passing muster then find a new consultant.”

Reggie took time out on a recent Saturday morning to talk wine and the wine business. He said the key to any grocery selling more wine was better selection and simply someone there to answer questions.

Too many people find wine to be a mystery. When there is someone there to help buyers out, they buy more wine. Generic advice doesn’t always work, but simple things like reading labels, read the shelf notes, and try lots of different wines, will broaden your wine appreciation.

McConnell has another piece of advice I can heartily endorse.

“Wine’s ability to enhance the taste of food (and vice versa) cannot be overstated,” he said. “I suggest folks new to the hobby begin their journey by introducing wine with the evening meal. It’s amazing how pairing the right wine with the right food can turn one’s everyday dining experience into something truly special. Europeans have known this for centuries, while Americans are just catching on to the notion of enjoying a glass of wine each day.”

My suggestions would be a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with fish, Riesling with simple chicken or turkey dishes, Cabernet or a Zinfandel with steak off the grill, perhaps a Syrah with BBQ, and a nice Sangiovese-based Chianti with your pasta. If you have a food pairing question, go to my blog ( and send me an e-mail.

Howard’ Pick:

Klinker Brick – This is a label instead of a wine. I recently had the Klinker Brick Zinfandel, at about $18, and their Syrah, which was $16. The Klinker Brick label is relatively new but comes from a vineyard that has long sold its grapes to other producers. I thought both wines tasted well above the price you’ll pay for them. Both were great representations of the grape and big, bold-flavored wines. You won’t find Klinker Brick in any market, but I have seen the label in Indiana wine shops.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cabernet - Even the Name Sounds Royal

Cabernet Sauvignon – even the name sounds royal. That’s appropriate for a wine often thought of as the King of Red Grapes!

Cabernet, or “Cab”, is the world’s best known grape varietal. It is the big wine that gets all the attention, headlines, and often sells for really big bucks.

Now let’s be honest here, Cabernet is not what I’d recommend for beginning wine drinkers or even novices. It’s very difficult to find good ones under $20 and it is generally a big-flavored, very tannic, red wine.

But it is the wine most people have heard of and read about. It is the primary grape in the great French Bordeaux wines and it dominates California’s Napa Valley. It is the one red wine most often put away in the cellar to age for a few years, or many years, before drinking.

It’s a hearty grape that is easy to grow, at least in comparison to many others. It likes warm climates and has spread to every major wine growing region of the world.
And you can’t go to any grocery and not find a Cab on the shelf. In a wine shop you’ll find Cabs from around the world. There are many big wines that are actually blends with Cabernet. The traditional Bordeaux blend has long been Cab, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Now days you might find just about any red wine grape blended with Cabernet to soften the big grape’s flavor.

Being a big and brawny grape it’s the wine you want with a great steak. Cabs are usually very dark wines with a flavor of cherry, bell pepper or even green olive. You can almost always taste the oak used in the aging process on the finish as you swallow the wine.

And frankly, there are a lot of bad Cabs out there on the super market and wine shop shelves as well.

I waited 10 columns into this adventure in wine writing to just tackle Cabernet. I’d suggest if you have been drinking Merlot, Malbecs, Syrah and other varietals and have not yet tried Cabs then you are ready to get started.

I’d point you toward Washington State Cabernets initially. I’ll recommend what I think is a very good one below. The Washington Cabs seem more “ready to drink” than many you’ll find from California. They are a bit softer and smoother.

General guidelines never work, but if I was to offer just one I’d say buy a Cabernet that is at least three years old. If you’re not prepared to buy red wine and set it aside for 2-3 years, minimum, then the 3-year rule works well. The bigger the Cabernet the smoother and richer it will become with age.

There are some very palatable Cabs coming from Argentina and Chile. You won’t find many Indiana Cabernets but there is one I can recommend. Huber Winery’s 2006 Cabernet is surprising for a Hoosier Cab at just under $20.

There is nothing better with a steak off the grill than a really big and smooth Cabernet. For most of us the really good Cabs are going to be at or above the top end of what we want to spend on wine. The greatest glass of wine I’ve ever sipped was the iconic Joseph Phelps Insignia from Napa Valley. The current release, a 2004 Cab blend, retails at $225 a bottle! And, that isn’t the top end of what you’ll pay for the signature Napa Valley wines but it does give you a clue.

If you want to buy a really good Cabernet for a special occasion, there are many really great Napa Cabs in the $40-$60 range. Joseph Phelps, Cakebread Cellars, and Chappellet are three I have tasted and think are superb. All three are found in better Indiana wine shops.

But most of us aren’t buying too many bottles at that price point, especially in these economic times. There are good Cabernets out there under $20. And I’d love to hear your recommendations. I’ll include your favorite Cabs in a future column. Just drop me a line with the winery name, vintage year, and where you bought it, with your comments at:

The best two Cabs I’ve ever tasted under $20 are below.

Howard Picks:
Duck Pond 2004 Cabernet – This Washington state Cabernet tastes like $30-$40 wine. It’s big and smooth and ready to drink. I paid $10.99 at an Indianapolis shop and was astonished by the quality.

Green Lion 2005 Cabernet – This Napa Valley Cabernet is a bit bigger than the Duck Pond but also unbelievable wine for around $20. It’s a little harder to find than the Duck Pond but it is available in Indiana. Look for the funky and color label done by the same artist who once did album covers for The Beatles!
Remember to check out my wine blog for regular wine reviews.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Try Something Different for a Change

One of the greatest joys of appreciating wine is trying something new and different.
Maybe you love Chardonnay and really enjoy trying the big oak-flavored Chards of California and then comparing them to the lighter stainless steel-aged wines of France.

Or maybe you like the bigger red wines and like to compare the fruit-forward Syrahs versus the peppery finish of a big Zinfandel.

Here’s a challenge to be more adventurous. There are more than 10,000 documented varieties of wine grapes. Most fine wines come from about 230 grape varietals. There are hundreds more pressed and aged into wines in all corners of the world.
So instead of trying the same wine from another country, how about trying a grape you’ve only heard of or, better yet, one you’ve never heard of at all?

Let’s start with some red wines for your consideration. If quizzed on the mostly widely planted grape in the world many would probably guess it’s Cabernet Sauvignon. But it’s widely believed that Grenache is the most planted varietal of wine grapes. The heart of Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain) is the Spanish countryside and lower France, though it is grown around the world.

Grenache is often used in blends and is the key grape in many of the fabulous Southern France wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Those wines are usually more expensive juice, starting at around $40 a bottle and going up. But I’d suggest buying a bottle of Spanish Garnacha in order to try something different. There are many great Spanish Garnacha wines in the $12-$20 range.

Grenache will often have something of an herbal nose with raspberry and peppery notes. The wines can range from super smooth to big robust wines. It’s a very easy-to-drink wine you’ll enjoy by itself or with food.

How could you not like a wine when the grapes are known as “little sweet ones?” Dolcetto D’ Alba is an Italian grape and wine from the Piedmont region of Italy meant to be consumed when young. If you buy much red Italian wine the odds are you’re buying Sangiovese. The Dolcetto grape makes a wine which is dry with some acidity. You’ll taste the fruit and it will go down smooth. Try it with your next plate of pasta instead of Chianti.

You’ll have an easier time finding Grenache than you will the Dolcetto, but both are worthy of your palate. And both are usually quite affordable.

Other reds worth your effort which are relatively smooth, easy to drink and affordable: Malbecs and Bonarda from Argentina, Carmenere from Chile, and wonderfully affordable Tempranillo or Mencia from Spain. (I’ll be writing about these wines in future columns as well!)

Let’s switch gears for the white wine fans and offer a couple I think you’ll really enjoy.

First up is an ancient grape that dates back to Roman times. The wine is quite easy to find and even easier to enjoy. Viognier started in France but can be found extensively in the United States, Australia and other parts of the world.

One of the great things about this wine is the nose. I think one of the most under-appreciated aspect of all wines is the sensual pleasure of getting your nose into the glass and really appreciate what you’re about to drink.

Viognier will give you hints of peaches, apricots and sometimes musk. The California Viognier is usually very affordable. If you want to go to the grape’s origins pick up a Condrieu from the Northern Rhone region of France.

Some of the best white wines you will ever drink come from wineries and grapes you’ve never heard of out of Italy and Spain. One of the easiest to find is Soave, a dry white wine from Italy’s Veneto region. Soave wines will sometimes include more than one but always includes the Garganega grape.

The wine will be crisp and at least slightly acidic but pair it with seafood and you have a great wine-food experience. The wine will have a bright and fruity nose and perhaps a touch of mineral to the taste.

Other whites to consider include: Gewürztraminer, an aromatic and spicy wine that is awesome on a summer evening. Gewurtz’s hybrid brother Traminette is grown and made into great wine by many Indiana wineries, great Pinot Gris from Oregon, and a great French or American Chenin Blanc are all good choices.

Howard’s Picks:

2006 Vega del Castillo Garnacha – A nice representation of the wine, a bit acidic but pairs well with food. Give it an hour open before pouring. Under $15.

2004 Tamellini Soave – A beautiful wine that would pair nicely with white fish. It has a bit of apricot on the palate and a surprisingly smooth finish. I paid $13 for this Italian beauty.

A reminder that any wine I recommend in these columns was purchased in an Indiana wine shop. To read more about the wines and what I’m drinking, go to my wine blog at

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wine and Cheese/Chocolate Make Great Date

Wine and cheese.

We’ve grown up with the pairing as an established cliché in American culture. But with Valentine’s Day approaching, and really any other time, try something healthier and even more sensual. How about wine and chocolate?

At first glance the pairing seems most unlikely. I found myself in that camp for some time until I put a Zinfandel to a dark chocolate cake about five years ago. Wow! Now I regularly nibble a little bit of chocolate after dinner to finish off a glass of wine.

Pairing chocolate to wine is much like pairing your dinner entre’ to the right wine. You want to balance and complement the flavors of each treat.

There are some general guidelines that work in trying to find the perfect match. First, the wine should be at least a bit sweeter than the chocolate. During your experimentation, you will find some duos are great on the first bite or sip but then go sour. It takes experimentation.

Another tip is to let each totally dissipate in your mouth before going back and forth. You’ll find early on that each taste of chocolate and each sip of wine is like your first taste of the evening.

Now, some common sense advice: If you enjoy lighter and sweeter chocolates then you’re going to be looking at lighter-bodied wines. For example, if you enjoy white chocolate you might want to try a Sherry or a Muscat or perhaps even a sparkling wine.

You might want to pair a Pinot Noir, Merlot or even a German Spatlese-style Riesling with milder to medium chocolates.

If you’re ready to pair the big boys, start with chocolate at the 60 percent cacao level. Then you can experiment to see what works for your palate. At the 60 percent mark, you might want to try a Zinfandel or Syrah. If you are a big mouthful-of-flavor wine person, buy some 65-70 cacao chocolate and break out the Cabernet or any other big red wine.

My personal favorite is chocolate and Zinfandel. I like the big powerful Zins which tend to be very fruit forward with a peppery finish. They will hold up to the 60 or 70 percent cacao products. Some Zins will pair better than others. Many value priced Zins will pair best with chocolate in the 60 percent range. If you jump up in price point to around $25-$30 for a huge Zinfandel, you might want the powerful 70 percent chocolate to hold its own.

It’s not difficult now days to find good chocolate. Even grocery stores carry Ghirardelli, Dove, and other products. But as a recommendation to get started I’d suggest Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate. It’s 60 percent cacao and a fine product. Every grocery has it and the large bar is usually in the $1.80 price range. Indiana Kroger stores often have it on sale for $1 a bar.

Wine Spectator, in an issue on wine and chocolate about a year ago, singled out Special Dark as surprisingly good. You can also, of course, buy expensive hand-made truffles and live it up! There are even specialty chocolate companies that make specific chocolates for specific wines. I haven’t tried Brix but it makes three chocolate bars for wine. They’re available in Indiana at World Market and other up-scale groceries.

Start slow with small bites. Let the flavors melt in your mouth. Wine and chocolate can be a very inexpensive luxury.

Remember to check out my wine blog ( for updates on lots of different wines I’m drinking and news from the wine world.

Howard’s pick:
Renwood Zinfandel – Renwood is one of California’s best known and widely available quality Zinfandel producers. Its 2005 Old Vine Zin is a real gem at $14-$20, depending on where you pick it up. Most often, you’ll find the wine for around $15-$16. It’s nicely balanced though relatively high in alcohol at 15 percent. It’s a perfect wine for 60 percent cacao chocolate.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Few Basic Suggestions for Newbies

When I talk to friends or acquaintances really into wine, more often than not they most frequently ask about wine tips more than recommendations on particular wines.
So today I’ve rounded up a list of suggestions, guidance, and ideas that may help you enjoy wine even more. You can find list after list available in wine books and the internet but I’ve selected some I think are most helpful.

Wine storage – Keep your wine in a dark, moderate temperature spot. Ever wonder why wine comes in dark glass bottles? Light will break down the chemical structure of the wine. Buy a simple wine rack that is easy to find in most any home store. Keep it away from heat and away from direct sunshine or bright light and you should be fine. Never store wine on top of a refrigerator or near a heat source.

Wine glasses – You can find wine glasses at Wal Mart or Target. You can also spend close to $100 apiece for Riedel crystal wine stems. But the best and least expensive advice is to buy two different kinds of glasses. Buy a big bowl wine glass for your red wines and a smaller glass for your white wines. It took me a long time but it makes a difference. If you have advanced to wines which are a little more complex and expensive, then you can look to different shapes and better stemware. If you are getting serious about your wine, Riedel (and other companies) offer crystal wine glasses at a number of price points. Riedel, the Austrian glassmaker, is the world’s leader in wine stemware.

Washing wine glasses – You might say, huh? It’s important to clean your wine glasses thoroughly immediately after using them. Use mild dish soap sparingly and dry immediately. The slightest residue can affect the taste of your next glass of wine.
Wine Ratings – Ratings are one of the most controversial topics in oenophile circles. They are meant to be a guideline. If you buy highly-rated wines and like them, then the ratings are useful to you. I’d recommend you take recommendations from your local wine shop owner. Then when you return, tell them what you like and didn’t like.

Value wine – You like wine and want to enjoy it more often but don’t like the price of better wines? Go abroad! There are good U.S. made value wines. But if you look at South American wines, Spanish wines, and Australian wines, you’ll find some great wines in the $9-$15 range.

Restaurant wine – Unless you’re fabulously wealthy, buying a bottle of wine in a restaurant is seldom a bargain. Restaurant wines are often marked up 100 percent or more. I will order a glass of wine in a nice restaurant, but just refuse to pay $50 for a bottle I know costs $22.

Chilling wine - There is more advice on wine temperature than you can sort out. Put a white wine in your refrigerator for 1-2 hours – no more. For a red wine, I’d open the bottle and chill about 10-15 minutes before serving. Try these methods then adjust the time to your taste.

Storing wine overnight – Frankly, I’ve found few things that work and have tried them all. What I use is a vacuum pump and rubber bottle stop. The small stopper goes in the bottle and has a small slit in the top. The pump removes some of the air to help preserve the wine. It works about as well as any of the other methods. Basically, find a way to limit your wine’s exposure to oxygen. White wine will often last a couple of days in the fridge. For me, red will only hold together about 24 hours.

It would take all of the pages of this newspaper for a comprehensive list. If you have a specific question, drop me a line at the email address below. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find one for you.

Don’t forget to check the complementary blog ( I write for this column. I share wine news and thoughts about wines I’m drinking. In the blog I also share detail on price points and where I buy wine.