21 October 2008

Six Burgundies Worth Trying This Fall

18 wines before lunch? Sometimes we just have to take one for the home team. But when we're talking about flights of Burgundy, the task is always easier. Last week, Michael McNeill, resident wine guru (director of education and master sommelier) at Quality Wine & Spirits, came to Athens to show us some of the great Burgundies available currently in Georgia.

I was actually on a serious time constraint, so was able to garner an awful lot of information from Michael, but missed the end of his talk. However, I WAS able to taste through the lineup, and I have to tell you that this particular morning re-awoke my interest in one of my first favorites in the wine world.

First of all, Pinot Noir is of course one of the most noble grapes and a stellar example of what can be done in the bottle. Chardonnay, on the other hand, sometimes gets a bad reputation from people like me because we are so busy trying to wean people off California Chardonnay that we can miss the fabulous Chardonnay grape in its prettiest form from France.

Well, the love affair is back. Roux makes a regular Chard that is fine, but their St. Aubin 1er Cru '04 was smoky like a fireplace the day after you first use it in the autumn. The fruit from this vineyard next to Montrachet is rich, deep, and pretty. And the Pernand Vergelesses "Les Combottes" V.V. from Chateau de Chorey '05 held my attention with these notes in my book: mineral coated candied fruit and yellow apples and pears sprinkled lightly with stones. Even the regular Bourgogne from Thierry Pillot '06 was above the average, with pepper that trips on the tongue balanced with an apricot-like richness.

As if that wasn't enough, I got to taste the reds too! Out of the 9 exceptional wines we tried at varying prices ($18-86), my favorite far and away was Herve & Anne Sigault Chambolle Musigny '06, weighing in at $45. Remarkably stinky on the nose, I was inundated with purple flowers as if I was standing in the middle of a field, with delicious red and yellow plums on the finish. The Taupenot-Merme Passetoutgrains Bourgogne '06 was also nice, with hints of bacon fat and velvety dark fruit; Domaine Muergets Savigny Les Beaune Narbontons '05 had a classic nose of pencil, dirt, and peppered raspberry, along with a note of raspberry jello before it sets.

Since I've highlighted my favorite 6 of the 18 we had, I thought I'd give you a heads up on current and upcoming vintages from Burgundy, since Michael passed this along: since '05 was the best vintage since 1990, these can obviously be hard to come by and are sometimes more pricey. The '06 vintage therefore carries with it better values (not true 100% of the time, but this is common after a classic vintage--the good, even great, vintage afterward is often overlooked to the betterment of those who can see past hype).

2007 was a difficult vintage, so it might be a good idea for you Burgundy lovers to grab a few bottles of the '05s and '06s while the getting is good. And if you're not a Burgundy lover yet--well, that just gives us one more thing to talk about, doesn't it?

After all, as Michael says, "Burgundy is about participation." And I think that's my favorite thing about it, all told--that the most exciting part about finding a good bottle is enjoying it over different stages as it ages, watching the wine mature, and most importantly, opening it up with a friend.

A special thanks to Michael McNeill for taking the trek up to Athens to taste with us last week! (and to Rose Adams for setting the whole thing up beautifully)

07 October 2008

Pooles Picks: Top Four North Georgia Wineries

The staff and I recently took a tour bus of customers up into the North Georgia mountains for a tour of some of our state's premier wineries.  I picked out 4 facilities that I think are great examples of what Georgia wine has to offer, and we worked out the long day of touring with our guide Keith of Hargrave Motor Coach.  Lots of planning, tons of phone calls, and a few months later, we were finally ready to go for our second ever tour. . .

Mama's Boy prepared a delicious breakfast for us, and we armed ourselves for the long drive with strawberry lemonade mimosas and bloody marys with our special skewers we sell at Shiraz. We handed out bags with the itineraries, notepads, and snacks. We had quite a cheerful group as we headed up the road toward Dahlonega, our first major stop.

We've gone to Wolf Mountain twice with customers now, and Karl Boegner never fails to impress. His family is so hospitable, and the winery was compared to a European chateau by many of the guests we had with us.  The Boegners set us up in their patio below the dining room, and Karl's son Brannon, the assistant winemaker, guided us through a tour, later to come back and discuss the wines.  We also had our own buffet lunch station set up for us inside of the barrel room, along with a wine tasting as we ate lunch.  Some of the customers climbed up to see and smell Chardonnay fermenting, and we also tried the first vintage of their sparkling wine.

We hopped back into the bus again to head over to Blackstock Vineyards and Winery, where we were greeted by winemaker David Harris.  We clustered within their tasting room and together went through a lineup of wines while David told us about Blackstock's history in Georgia winemaking. We also tasted 5 different cheeses offered in their gift shop, and I was impressed to see that 4 of the 5 we had were creameries that we carry at Shiraz.  We have 3 of those cheeses in stock at the store right now, in fact.  David also walked the group out to the vines and let them take a look at them up close.

Next we went to a big highlight of the trip, a trip up to Tiger Mountain Vineyards' owners Bill and Leckie Stack's house for a tasting in their orchard (last trip, Bill and Leckie's partners, Martha and John Ezzard, tasted the wines with us at their winery)

We had arranged to have the tasting there, but even I was impressed and surprised at how well it turned out.  Not only did mother nature cooperate superbly with the weather, but the Stacks had bags for our guests with asian pears to enjoy, and they let them roam the property and pick apples. The orchard also borders on part of the vineyard, and we could pick and try some of the grapes. I actually picked some of the concord grapes growing on the edge of the Viognier rows, which were probably the single best-tasting grapes (as in, to eat!) I've ever had.  Not only did everyone enjoy the wines, but we loved exploring everything else there.

One more stop, and definitely not the least of the visits, was Persimmon Creek.  Mary Ann Hardman and her crew split us into groups and took us all on a tour of the winery, along with tasting the wines near the rows where the grapes were grown.  Then we moved into the tasting room, where dinner was ready for us.  We enjoyed a low country boil and salad with Riesling and Merlot, and then moved on to their winery-only Icewine, made in the traditional method and without shortcuts.

It was the end of a very long day as we rolled back into the parking lot here in Athens, but everyone agreed that it was an enjoyable, informative, and tasty trip!  Cheers to all of you who went--and we'll see the rest of you in a couple of years!

24 June 2008

A Taste of My Favorite Spanish Importers: Olé!

I was very privileged this summer to participate in a national trade tasting with my favorite Spanish importer, Olé. This is just the kind of thing I live for in my business—a small group sitting around a table and tasting a new slew of wines about to be brought into the country before anyone else has a chance to see them.

I have to mention that before I went to the show, I made a little time to explore the city of Chicago, home base for the event. Since I only had a little time, I decided to do the architectural boat tour of the city. I highly recommend this to anyone traveling there, as it was interesting, informative, and different. I also took a walk down the magnificent mile and took in a couple of art galleries. I did eat at 2 nice restaurants during the trip but the company I was with far overshadowed any memory of where or what I ate. But I digress; back to the main event:

The setup itself was simple—a long banquet table with a projection screen at the end for the lineup of guest speakers who had flown in from Spain. 15! winemakers and other representatives of some of the best peddlers of vino from the home country were there to teach us about their new vintages and different labels they are making. The table was, of course, covered in wine glasses, spit buckets, and water bottles.

But the perfection in the simplicity of the tasting was the size of the group; there were only 25 people invited to taste and take notes during the 6-hour event. What a joy to have Carmen from Etim fill my glass; to have David Sampedro from Bodegas Diaz Bravo chat with me about the new vintage of Cortijo; to get a hug from my friend Juanjo from Vinos Pinol. It is a completely different experience to be up close and personal with our heroes and their creations, instead of the normal trade show, which is littered with hundreds of wines and just as many bodies.

And what beauties! I found several new favorites in the mix: Avan wines from Ribero del Duero, 100% Tempranillo that shows what the grape is all about; Dignus from Vina Magana, home of the best Merlot in Spain; Pelta, one of the best inexpensive reds I've seen in a while; plus many more old faves that I've grown to love.

For me, the best part about the whole process was being able to place an order afterwards to bring some of my favorites from this tasting down to my little store here in Georgia. We deal specifically in smaller production wines, so the trick is to get them early on, while they are available, and advance showings are more than a little helpful to me in my buying.

So why am I writing about this now? While the show is still fresh in my mind 2 months later, the real reason that it was brought to the forefront of my memory is because the new Robert Parker Spanish book has just been released. My good friends, Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte of Olé imports have done it again! They are plastered all over the new reviews with stellar ratings—no surprise to anyone who has tasted a few of the wines from their lineup.

I do have to say, as someone who constantly tastes wines and picks them out, it is always a very justifying experience when good scores are given to wines I happen to like a great deal. For instance, we had a Txakolina in September's wine club from Berroia, which garnered 90 points out of 100. Hey, it's not just me! We've already chosen several new wines for the fall that got rave reviews.

At Shiraz, we have a lot of wines from this fantastic importer to choose from—and lots more down the pipeline soon, as my orders from the special tasting are still arriving this fall and winter. If you are in Athens or elsewhere in Georgia, I encourage you to come see us for some of our favorites. If you're too far away to visit the shop, call 1-888-ole-vino for the coolest thing to hit the wine sales industry in years—call the number, pick a wine, and the system will give you its description. It is a great way to find out more about great wines, and to use the only sense we don't use when we taste—our ears.