Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I've Been Drinking Lately

As Grape Sense nears the start of its fifth year, it's time to return to the staple of any good wine column and recommend a few wines.

People always ask, 'What are you drinking lately?' So, here is a column on five easy-to-find wines that are all priced under $16. All five are light-bodied wines perfect for late summer evening dinners. 

Burgan's 2010 Albarino - A great summer wine is a bit of an understatement with this $12.99 bottle from Spain. Albarino is a summer white wine with hints of lemon, nice minerality, floral characteristics and a beautiful freshness missing from way too many white wines. This wine has consistently scored around 90 points from the major wine critics. This wine is widely available at or near the price above. Serve this by itself, with appetizers or white fish and it will be a hit!

Graffigna 2010 Malbec Reserve - Even though many gravitate to white and Rose' wines in the summer, meat off the grill deserves good red wine. An outstanding choice - even for those grilled steaks is Argentinian Malbec. The Graffigna really delivers bang for the buck for around $11-$12. The Graffigna is frankly lighter than most Malbecs making it a perfect summer wine with steak or even pork. You'll get the typical beautiful dark berry flavors with a hint of vanilla. This is about as good as a $12 bottle of wine can ever get. 

Gerard Bertrand 2008 Minervois Syrah/Carignan - Here is another light bodied wine with a world-class pedigree. Bertrand is a much heralded Southern France winemaker who turns out several different wines under $15. But you will have to make it to a wine shop to find his wines. The Minervois region seems to always produce well-rounded and smooth-bodied wines. This is delightfully light-drinking wine than can use 10 minutes in the fridge - a very light chill - before serving. If you can't find this one pick up any of the Bertrand wines and give one a try. This Minervois region wine is probably the lightest but the winery consistently delivers very balanced and drinkable red wine.

Clayhouse Adobe Pink - No summer wine column can go without a Rose' wine recommendation. It's a Grape Sense mission to spread the word on the delightful dry Rose' wines. French Provence Rose' and Pinot Noir Rose from California and Oregon fill the wine rack. But the Paso Robles Clayhouse label delivers consistently good red and whites. The Rose' has done well with wine critics scoring around 90 points. This wine has a little bigger flavor than the French wines but it's a nice blend of Rhone varietals Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, and Syrah. You get really drinkable wine with Clayhouse Adobe for $14. Be crazy, live dangerously and try this with bold flavored fish or a salad.

Ravenswood 2010 Napa Valley Zinfandel - Ravenswood is a name many will have seen in wine shops and grocery stores. They've been around a long time because they consistenly deliver good wine. The Napa Zin has big fruit with a balance and finish any red wine drinker will appreciate for the $15.99 price point. Ravenswood has a basic bottling that turns up in many grocery stores that's also quite palatable for even less. Give that wine an hour or two in a decanter and it delivers for the cost.

All five wines are widely distributed in the U.S

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Innovator Trying to Change Restaurant Wine

As a life-long creator, innovator, and food scientist, Chaim Gur-Arieh has always sought out new products and better ways of delivering products to customers.

It might be a natural progression that after opening a winery, C.G. Di Arie, in 1998 that he would focus on wine delivery. Small production wineries like Di Arie often rely on restaurant sales. Gur-Arieh found an industry rife with inefficiencies he’s now trying to change.

“To me making wine is easy, quite easy,” he said during a recent Indianapolis visit. “I’ve been in the food business for 35 years, on product development side. I make wine but I’ve got to sell it. Selling it is more of a challenge.

“I sell a restaurant a case of wine, it goes onto the wine list but they may have another 100 wines. So I may sell them a case every three months. But the wines that sell the most are the wines by the glass and my wines are little more expensive than most wines by the glass. My wines retail at $18-$35 a bottle”

So Gur-Arieh wanted to develop cost efficiency for the winery and the retailer. “When you open a bottle of wine by the glass, you have a preservation problem. If you don’t sell the bottle, and a bottle is four to five glasses of wine or you don’t sell it that day, it loses quality.”

So Gur-Arieh penchant for development and innovation took over and launched his wine by the tap delivery system. Essentially the system is not unlike others boxed-wine delivery systems. It has wine vacuum sealed in a plastic bag, inside a cardboard “keg” with a draw tap for a restaurant bar or serving area. He developed the seal between the tap and bag which makes his product different than others.

He has the system in place in three Indiana restaurants, including Pure Eatery in Indianapolis’ Fountain Square neighborhood. He has three in Chicago and four in California. But this man doesn’t think small. He hopes to have the system in place in up to 100 restaurants this year and 500 establishments by the end of 2014.

“I can put a quality wine in a keg,” Gur-Arieh said. “I think the retailer has to change his thought process. Right now they want to charge the cost of a glass, same as cost of a bottle. They open a bottle and don’t know if they’re going to cover their cost. They have to change their mentality; they have to think of more modest margins. This system eliminates the risk.”

The Turkey native guarantees his wine for a year until each keg is opened. He extends the warranty for 60 days once each “keg” has been tapped.

Gur-Arieh’s winery is in the Sierra Foothills region of California. He produces a variety of wines including Sauv Blanc, Verdelho, Roussane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and a number of blends. His winemaking philosophy is for very drinkable fruit-forward wines with great balance and low acidity and tannins. He also thinks it’s important to keep his wines’ alcohol levels in check. A taste of his Syrah and Zinfandel from the keg’s tap mirrored the description.

It’s important to include a little bit of Gur-Arieh’s background as a food product developer. You may or may not have ever tried his wines but the odds are very high you’ve tasted other products he has brought to market. He’s best known as the man behind Cap’n Crunch Cereal but also helped bring Hidden Valley Ranch and Power Bars to market.

C.G. Arie Wines are distributed in Indiana by World of Wines, Indianapolis.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes Grape Sense every other week for 18 Midwestern newspapers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Indiana Wine Wins top Contest Honors

A gold medal here or a silver medal there boosts wine sales. Some wine enthusiasts dismiss medals under the ‘too many competitions to count’ excuse.

But one Indiana winery just picked off an historic honor that was unprecedented. River City Winery, New Albany, won the best wine of the Indy International Wine Competition with its 2011 Vignoles.
“This is huge,” owner/winemaker Gary Humphrey said. “This is just not Indiana. Nobody from the Midwest has ever won that honor.”

Now, before you dismiss an Indiana wine competition please note the annual contest is the third biggest in the U.S. and draws 2,600 entries from 41 states and 14 different countries. It was quite the historic moment for Humphrey and Indiana wine.

Vignoles is a hybrid grape grown widely in Indiana, Missouri, and other states. It is often used for dessert wines but also makes a nice semi-sweet wine. It often has hints of peach, pear, or apricot on the palate.

“This was first time we’ve done Vignoles so we nailed it,” Humphrey said. “We didn’t manipulate it very much in the vineyard at all. Actually the birds almost got it and we were in the vineyard picking within two hours of seeing that.

“Once it got into the cellar, we really pushed the envelope keeping it cold and doing very cold fermentations and arresting the fermentation. That keeps all that fruit flavor in there. Halfway through the fermentation I had nothing but a grin. I knew we’d have a wonderful wine if we didn’t screw it up. We spent the next few months trying not to screw up. Once fermentation was complete, that wine was excellent.”

Before you go out looking for Humphrey’s Vignoles it’s important to note he doesn’t distribute his wines. He makes more than 3,000 cases a year for his River City Winery and Restaurant in downtown New Albany along the Ohio River. The business opened in the spring of 2009.

“We don’t distribute and we have no plans to distribute,” Humphrey said. “We’re not in the bulk industry. We’re not going to make 20,000 cases to make a profit. We’re trying to keep it small with most of our batches under 500 gallons. We try to experiment and work different tanks, yeasts, strategies, see what works and what doesn’t. Then we blend or don’t blend and then make our changes for the next year.”

The 2011 Vignoles is a lovely wine with a hint of sweetness (2.5 percent residual sugar). Probably the most unique characteristic of the wine beyond the fruits mentioned above is a hint of banana. That surprised Humphrey during the tasting process until Purdue’s Professor of Horticulture Bruce Bordelon said that can be a trait of some Vignole wines.

What jumps out of the glass is remarkable freshness and extremely well-defined balance. The wine sells at the winery for $28. 

Humphrey has no plans to significantly increase his production. His restaurant has become a popular spot in New Albany behind the work of Executive Chef Nicholas Davis. The next door building has been acquired for expansion of the winery and restaurant.

Humphrey also makes two outstanding Chardonel wines, one barrel aged and the other aged in stainless steel. Even his obligatory Concord offering is significantly different getting aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels.

 Selling only from his business and in a restaurant setting allows River City to charge a bit more per bottle. You can buy wines to take home.

Next time someone bad mouths Indiana wine, they just don’t know the facts.