Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wines on Screen, SNL Edition

SNL recently aired an episode where Justin Timberlake does a monologue to open the show; it is available on Hulu, here. Towards the latter part of the sketch...wait for it...and there it is, the uniquely shaped bottle that is Domaine Ott's famous rose. The information sheet from Maison Marques, their importer, is here. It was the top rose in a tasting held here at the shop by Marcia Vanderlip, food columnist for the Tribune, last year; here is an article on rose from the New York Times that mentions Domaine Ott.

I have tasted two vintages of this wine and it tends to be a textually gorgeous wine, with a softness and delicacy that is almost velvety.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From the Latest Wine Advocate

The latest edition of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate is out. There are several interesting sections, most notably reviews of older Australian and Bordeaux vintages. Unsurprisingly, Parker finds that top-notch Australian wines are still holding their own, awarding several 100 point scores. There is also a two page section on the last pages reviewing two wine dinners Parker attended; among the list of wines chosen is Verget's 2005 Corton-Charlegmagne, which Parker rates a 93 and speaks favorably about. While the rest of the wines are wines I only get to read about (as most of them are prohibitively expensive and extremely scarce) I have tasted this chardonnay from negociant Jean-Marie Guffens and agree with Parker that it is in fact quite good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wine on the Screen, Entourage Edition

Entourage season 3, episode 16 (Gotcha) has a scene where Vince and E have dinner with their new agent Amanda. During the shots of the dinner a bottle of wine is barely visible; it has a dark metallic maroon foil cap, a banana-yellow label with a red border, and large dark lettering. I've seen enough bottles of Caymus's distinctive regular cabernet sauvignon to know the label when I see it and as far as I can tell, that's the bottle on the table. The label doesn't ever really come into focus, so I can't make a call on the vintage.

Stay classy, Entourage.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Notes from the Weekend

1. I went to St. Louis on Friday and walked by Racanelli's Pizza in the Delmar Loop. They specialize in New York style pizza, and though I unfortunately did not have the time to stop in and dine, I noted that their sandwich board advertising wine specials. Specifically, they're offering 1/2 off Cakebread Chardonnay, Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon, Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, and A. Rafanelli Zinfandel. Assuming restaurant pricing (which is variable but tends to be 2-3 times cost), the Cakebread Chardonnay should be priced at between $80 and $100; half off would mean the wine is selling at approximately retail. To me, that's a pretty good indicator that the high end wine market is in a pretty bad slump; in typical economic conditions these wines are allocated and fairly expensive.

2. For the geeks: Biophysicist Luca Turin has a very interesting TED seminar on his work on the science of smell. Fascinating.

3. On Wednesday, July15 at 7:00PM we will have a representative fromthe 75 Wine Co. in the shop. The 75 Wine Company ( is a project started by Tuck Beckstoffer, arguably the most important vineyard owner in northern California. The list of award winning wines coming from his vineyards is too long to mention. You need to come by and listen for yourself. They make only 3 wines so this tasting will be coupled with the Wednesday Wine Group.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Great Lines in Wine, Terry Thiese Edition

The idiosyncratic and garrulous Terry Thiese is one of my favorite wine writers. His latest publication details his trip to Germany in 2008, the wines he tasted, and the characters that made them. This gem appears on page 93, in a side bar on Helmut Donnhoff's vineyards:

In essence the Brucke is a minerally wine; it shows a more masculine profile, it's more fibrous and nutty than many other Nahe wines, but just at the moment you think you're tasting everything in it, it comes at you with even more nuances, yet another facet of flavor. If new world-oaky-creamslut wines are like basic addition and subtraction, these wines are like integral calculus--except that any ragamuffin palate (even mine!) can grok them.

I like this quote for three reasons:
1. I love the phrase 'new world-oaky-creamslut wines.
2. He draws a parallel between mathematics and wine.
3. He uses the word 'grok', coined by the American science fiction author Robert Heinlein.

Summer Bartending

Pete Wells in the New York Times writes a quick guide to summer bartending, with an emphasis on quality ingredients and how they're used to make truly refreshing drinks. As someone who rarely drinks mixed drinks (mostly because I dislike the bastardized versions that have become prevalent thanks in great part to syrupy high-frutose corn syrup additives in cola and tonic) I'm excited to try some of these at home, particularly the Pimm's Saigon.

As I noted previously, I rarely drink mixed drinks; when I do, it's usually at places like Cherry Street Wine Cellar & Bistro, Sycamore Restaurant, or Teller's. Where do you go for properly made drinks?

On a slightly tangential note, I'll be attending a blind beer tasting at Sycamore Restaurant this Sunday at 3pm (June 28th); the theme is stouts. More information on the tasting, hosted by Columbia Beer Enthusiasts, can be found here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections: Columbia Second Chance Fundraiser with Kysela

Our fundraiser for Columbia Second Chance Animal Shelter last Friday, co-hosted by Perlow-Stevens Gallery, Sycamore Restaurant, and the importer Kysela, went really well. 45 wines were presented, and though I don't know yet how much money was raised for the shelter, my early instinct was that it was very successful. Mark Grundy, who distributes Kysela in Missouri though Golden Barrel, intends to make this a yearly event for Second Chance. Much thanks to Guillaume Portalet of Kysela, who flew out from Washington DC to represent Kysela's portfolio.

A quick note about the wines. I didn't taste everything at the tasting (some of the wines I'd tasted before), but there were some wines that stuck out as particularly fantastic. Specifically:

2007 Guillemot-Michel Macon Villages ($31): For a village-level wine from Macon, this was fantastic and easily my favorite wine of the tasting. The wine is produced biodynamically and a wonderful example of a Macon: texturally sound, with vibrant undercurrents of fruit and mineral instead of explosive flavor. For people who've been disappointed with their initial experiences with white Burgundy, this chardonnay is a stellar introduction, and the price ($31) is very reasonable for wine of this quality. (buy the wine here).

2006 Alain Jaume, Clos de Sixte, Lirac Rouge ($25 ): The Clos de Sixte property in Lirac is roughly 22 miles from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation; the wine itself is a typical GSM blend (grenache, syrah, mouvedre). There were other good red wines on the French table, including a good Lirac from Chateau de Segries, but this effort stood out. It was yummy, fruit forward without being brash, and seamlessly integrated with soft, yet dense tannin. (Buy the wine here).

NonVintage Rubuli Prosecco ($22)
: This Italian bubbly was very good, with frothy mousse and vibrant fruit and hints of spice; this bottling was a crowd pleaser. I personally keep a bottle or two of prosecco at my house for guests; it is a versatile companion to foods or people of almost all genres. (Buy this wine here).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wine Notes: 2007 Rhones

The wines from the 2007 southern Rhone vintage are in the process of arriving in the United States. For both noteworthy values and dynamite quality this vintage is without peer in this wine market. The vintage was given a 98 point rating by the prominent wine critic Robert Parker, indicating a consensus that the 2007 growing season was as close to perfect as it gets, with a long, warm growing season without hail or frosts; the harsh mistral winds coming from the north were not too harsh and came just in time to prevent rot and mildew from attacking the vineyards. The harvest was long and leisurely during the warm yet dry weather that persisted during September to mid-October, producing perfectly right fruit that resulted in ripe, intensely flavored wines with soft tannins, brisk acidity, and higher than normal alcohol levels.

Given that the Rhone Valley is still primarily an agricultural region, labor costs and land costs remain low. I spoke to Bill Kniep, president of Pinnacle Imports, who reported that an entirely different ethos pervades winemaking in the region with producers who don't expect to receive hugely inflated prices for their wines; entry-level Cotes du Rhone can often be had for under $20 retail in America. One can expect that white wines often are composed of the aromatic viognier, along with the minerality and acidity of roussane and marsanne; red wines are often blends of syrah, mouvedre, and grenache.

We've to date sampled many of these wines and find an enormous range of stylistic differences as fruit from around the region managed to attain particularly focused expressions of the soils they came from. This is a vintage to enjoy immediately though rewarding for the individual with the ability (and the patience!) to lay them down for a couple of years or more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

News from the Rhone

Our friend Tammy Jones is in the Rhone Valley currently and has stumbled upon the Barruol family estate in Gigondas. Louis and Cherry Barruol are negociants in the Rhone, producing among others a wonderful 2007 Cotes-du-Rhone rouge from declassified Gigondas fruit. I've written about that wine before (click here).

Tammy's blog is worth a read. There are beautiful pictures of the region as well. The following is excerpted from Tammy's post on the Barruols.

North of Avignon by way of Carpentras, sheltered by the hauntingly beautiful Dentelles range is the famous wine producing town of Gigondas. I had heard of this part of the Cote du Rhone but it really picked up on my radar when Paul of Top Ten Wines turned me on to a glorious red wine from Saint Cosme. Imagine my surprise when we are driving down the road and voila - there in front of us was the place - the actual Chateau de Saint Cosme. Named for the patron saint of Gigondas, this working winery and vineyard dispenses quickly with any pretense. A friendly dog greets all who enter the small drive and provided a welcome diversion for Cameron and Caroline who have little interest in wine. The 14th generation winemaker, Louis Barroul and his family live on site. One would think it has nothing to do with viticulture or enology, but there was something reassuring and expected with seeing a bicycle and the of small children about. This was a terrior well connected to the human as the family to the land. The wines of Saint Cosme demonstrate this respectful symbiosis. One wine that stood out among all I tasted the was the 2007 Gigondas. I bought two bottles - with a silent prayer to the Customs God. One to watch is their table wine, Little James Basket Press Vin de Table. With Chateau direct prices at just over a mere 4 euros, word from the Chateau is US wine merchants are very interested in both the Little James and the Saint Joseph. The Little James is a whole lot of wow for the price - fat and round with berry and spice and those wonderful earthy notes I so love about good Cote du Rhone wine. The 2006 St. Joseph is selling for an average of around $45 in the US. It can be purchased from the estate for 14.20 euro.
There are 15 hectares (about 37 acres) of old vines around the estate with an average vine age of 60 years. Yields are kept very low at around 27 hectoliters per hectare (about 2 tons per acre). The soil is limestone and red clay but somewhat geologically complex. Grenache is king here, but often blended with Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise or Mourvèdre.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


We're doing a tasting tonight at 7 with one of the representatives from Fran Kysela Pere et Fils (Father & Sons), a well-reputed wine importer.

Kysela originally worked as the national sales manager for importer Kermit Lynch before starting his own import firm, which American wine critic Robert Parker has praised for his dedication to demanding accurate, terroir-driven wines without intervening in the wineries stylistic vision.

Kysela is very proud of what he does. On his website is a running total of the wine he's sold during his career. Through 2008, the figure stands at a little under $192 million for his 26 year career, a respectable figure though far short of his stated goal of $1 billion in sales.

Paul has worked with Fran Kysela for over 12 years, including a trip to Argentinian wine country in August 2008. If his name is on the back of the bottle, I know it is going to be something special and it will not break the bank. While he does represent several high-end, collectible wines, he is best known for value. The fact that he is a Master Sommelier shines through the entire portfolio.

Guillaume Pourtalet, regional manager from Kysela Pere et Fils, will be presenting the arrival of the 2007 Rhone's, arguably the best vintage of our lifetime. Mark Grundy of Golden Barrel will also be on hand.

If you're interested in coming, we still have some spots left. The tasting is free but we ask a 2 bottle minimum purchase. Call 573-442-2207 for reservations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Vintage Report, Missouri 2009

From Danene Beedle, of the Wine and Grape Board:
Despite sub zero temperatures, the freeze earlier this month was not a replay of the April 2007 freeze which severely damaged Missouri's grape crop. One major difference between the catastrophic freeze of '07 and now is that this year the vines were not in as advanced stage of bud growth as they were when the cold hit then.

Vineyards around the state are reporting no damage from the recent ultra cold weather. Only the early budding grape varieties, like Concord and Cayuga, were near bud break, however temperatures did not dip low enough for an extended period of time to do major harm. The buds on most grape varieties were still tightly closed, and therefore able to handle the sub freezing weather.

"The critical factor this time of year is how low the temperatures go. If temperatures stay in the mid to upper 20s then damage should be minimal. However, if temperatures drop below around 25 then there could be a significant amount of injury on several cultivars, particularly the early budding ones," explained Andy Allen, Extension Associate - Viticulturist at the Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology in Columbia.

Grapevines emerge from winter dormancy when budbreak occurs.Tender vine shoots and leaves push out from the dormant vine and are vulnerable to frost or freeze damage during spring. Missouri's grapevines are not out of danger until early May.

The current cold front actually helped the state's vineyards says Jon Held of Stone Hill Winery in Hermann. "The cold should slow the bud break down, which we definitely need since we really aren't out of danger from freezing weather until the end of the month."

Cory Bomgaars of Les Bourgeois Winery agrees,"Hopefully the cool temperatures will delay bud break and give us a little more protection from late season frosts."

April in Paris Industry Tasting, April 22nd

I will be going to an industry tasting sponsored by Missouri Beverage Company on Wednesday, April 22nd at Moulin in St. Louis at 2pm. Wines from the portfolios of Kermit Lynch, Boisset Family Estates, and Aquitane will be featured prominently. A few people from Sycamore Restaurant might be joining us.

If you're interested in hearing about any of the wines, leave a comment below. I should be taking video footage of the tasting and putting it up at our YouTube channel.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Talking Wine with Renee Hulshof

I'll be on 1400 KFRU AM with Renee Hulshof and Simon Rose today at 10:15am, talking about wine and economics. The live stream can be accessed at (button is at the upper right corner).

An article about Renee Hulshof and Simon Rose is here.

For the curious, you can follow Renee Hulshof at @ReneeHulshof on Twitter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Assorted Thoughts and Links

1. A bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover - by boosting the level of amines which clear the head, scientists have found. Gratuitous.

2. Had lunch at the International Cafe (209 Hitt Street) on Saturday. It's a really good eating spot; the food is entry level Greek/Mediterranean that's pretty good and inexpensive. The baklava particularly was excellent.

3. I know this is a couple of years old, but in 2005 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sent 2 cases of Italian wines to Swedish PM Goran Persson, publically noting that "(Persson) was so aghast at the English wines at the summit that I promised to send him some of our wines." The English wines in question were Welsh wines served by former British PM Tony Blair at a function. Link here.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Tyranny of Tasting Notes

Scott Rowson of Show-Me Eats pointed me over to an article in the Riverfront Times by Dave Nelson, who discusses his disdain for the point-rating system employed by wine critics, most prominently by iconic wine critic Robert Parker. This discussion is an important one; Alder Yarrow of Vinography recently posted his thoughts on the subject in response to a talk given by Eric Asimov, head wine critic for the New York Times.

Some quick background is in order. Until the late 1970's, when Robert Parker decided to drop his law practice to start Wine Advocate and provide independent, objective wine criticism, there wasn't much if any independent wine criticism. It was a common thing for wine critics to be financially involved with wineries and other parts of the industry; not only that, but wine reviews from that era rarely aimed for any kind of objectivity and often provided little to no information about the wine's quality.

Whatever else you can say about the subject, the introduction of an independent wine critic was a fundamentally revolutionary force for the industry. But it didn't happen overnight. The 1982 Bordeaux vintage was panned by most if not all major wine critics; Parker alone went out on a limb, identifying 1982 as a banner year for Bordeaux. When the vintage was released, Parker's status sky-rocketed; since then, Parker has become the biggest single-person brand name in history. His rating systems are criticized precisely because they are so influential; a rating of 90 vs. a 89 can be responsible for millions of dollars in sales and ratings of 95 points and up can create such high demands that some cult wines auction for thousands of dollars a bottle (or at least they did prior to the global financial meltdown).

Dave Nelson isn't the only person criticizing Parker's stylistic preferences; the criticism is often made that Parker's preference for big, massive wines loaded with fruit have driven winemakers all over the world to 'Parkerize' their wines, ie, make their wines in the style that Parker likes as it's easier to get a good rating that way. But the picture isn't so simple; while it's true that Parker does influence the stylistic decisions of many winemakers, the net effect is that wine around the planet has gotten better. The wines of Bordeaux and the Rhone particularly are good examples of this: Parker's reviews and ideas have pushed winemakers to understand the science of winemaking, to use clean equipment and better their vineyard management processes and to find the true potential of the grapes that they grow.

As a consumer, I'm glad of that. Here is Parker's rubric for scoring wines:

In terms of awarding points, my scoring system gives every wine a base of 50 points. The wine's general color and appearance merit up to 5 points. Since most wines today are well made, thanks to modern technology and the increased use of professional oenologists, they tend to receive at least 4, often 5 points. The aroma and bouquet merit up to 15 points, depending on the intensity level and dimension of the aroma and bouquet as well as the cleanliness of the wine. The flavor and finish merit up to 20 points, and again, intensity of flavor, balance, cleanliness, and depth and length on the palate are all important considerations when giving out points. Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement—aging—merits up to 10 points.

Scores are important for the reader to gauge a professional critic's overall qualitative placement of a wine vis-à-vis its peer group. However, it is also vital to consider the description of the wine's style, personality, and potential. No scoring system is perfect, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied by the same taster without prejudice, can quantify different levels of wine quality and provide the reader with one professional's judgment. However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.

That's not so bad as an effort at an objective evaluation of a wine. But as far as a consumer cares about what they're drinking, context is extremely important and point ratings alone don't tell the whole story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Cultural Meme Goes Japanese

The iconic wine country movie Sideways has been remade for the Japanese market:

The Japanese version of “Sideways” (which for the moment is still being called “Sideways”) is one of the most intriguing of these cross-cultural experiments. As in the original, the action takes place in California and the road trip involves plenty of wine talk, a leather-harness-clad chase, a jealous-rage beating and a wine-spittoon guzzle.

Plenty of other details, however, have been changed. The two male characters (Michio and Daisuke instead of Miles and Jack) now head from Los Angeles to Napa Valley, instead of traipsing up to Santa Barbara. While wine sales are on the rise in Japan — thanks in part to the comic-book sensation “Kami no Shizuku,” or “The Drops of God,” about a heroic odyssey to find the best wines in the world — a lesser-known wine region like Santa Barbara would still resonate little with audiences. And heading to Napa allowed the filmmakers to weave in some local landmarks. “You can’t do a road trip in California without going over the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Cellin Gluck, the new film’s director.

Link to the story, published in the New York Times, is here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sale at Top Ten Wines

While Paul's away, we're having a wine sale.

All Australian wines (over 100 different wines) and Pinot Noir from around the world and on the shelves are 20% off. Everything else is 10% off, except the those 25 wines at the bottom of the page which are listed. The sale starts Saturday, March 21 and ends on Wednesday, April 15. First come first served.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mark Sulltrop Leaves Bleu?

Rumor on the street is that chef Mark Sulltrop has left Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar on short notice. If true, I'm sorry to hear that; the restaurant seems to have hurdled many obstacles to opening and losing a chef is a really difficult thing, though not necessarily crippling. Owners Tina Patel and Travis Tucker seem to have a knack for dealing with obstacles and a vision that Columbia seems to have embraced.

Hat Tip: Scott Rowson, Show-Me Eats.

Monday, March 16, 2009

More New Stuff

1. A couple blogs I recommend: Chert Hollow Farm, by Eric Reuter and St. Louis Eats by Joe and Ann Pollock. I met Joe Pollock last night at the Bommarito tasting in St. Louis; really nice guy and his blog seems to be very detailed and well written. Both are good resources if you are interested food and agriculture in Missouri.

2. Great article on Springfield's iconic regional staple cashew chicken in the NYT. A little known-fact is that Springfield is probably the nation's most competitive restaurant industry and serves as the testing ground for most national chains. Tyler Cowen, economist at GMU, posts here briefly about the labor market economics of Chinese restaurants.

3. As previously noted, Jon Poses of We Always Swing Jazz Series is offering customers of Top Ten a $5 discount on seats to the Blue Note 7 concert this Thursday at the Missouri Theatre. The Blue Note 7 recently received some really good press in last Thursday's Tribune.

4. Paul is leaving for South Africa on a wine-buying trip on Thursday! He will return on the 2nd or 3rd of April. We will be posting videos from the trip on your YouTube channel, here. (I haven't uploaded anything yet but check back within the week). If anyone has recommendations or travel tips pertinent to South Africa, leave a comment.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back from the Bommarito Tasting in St. Louis

Paul and I just returned from the A. Bommarito tasting in St. Louis at the Ritz-Carleton in Clayton. There is a lot for me to talk about; I tasted wines from many different producers and many different regions that are represented in the Bommarito portfolio. There were lot of notable personalities there; for now I will note particularly Dan and Connie Burkhardt of Bethlehem Valley Vineyards in Marthasville, Missouri, as the only Missouri winery represented in Bommarito's portfolio.

I did get a lot of video footage from the tasting, including interviews with both Tony Bommarito Sr. and Tony Bommarito Jr. Tony Sr. is an iconic figure in the Missouri wine market, known for his commitment to integrity in his business; unlike the vast majority of wine distributors he does not play the discounting game. The theory is that heavy discounting signals that your product wasn't a good value in the first place, either because the product is inferior or because you haven't been able to invest appropriately in the kind of activities that add value to your product. I was particularly glad for the chance to talk to Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. as they are very highly regarded in the wine industry and have operated a successful and respected business for many years.

As I mentioned, I did get a lot of video footage (31 clips!), and I will be uploading it to our YouTube account and blogging about specific winemakers in the coming week.

I did run into some interesting industry people: Glenn Bardgett, the wine director at Annie Gunn's; Curtis Reis of Billington Imports, who's done tastings with us in the past; and Andrey Ivanov of Vin de Set.

I will note that Paul and I weren't the only Columbia folks making the trip; Tina from new downtown hotspot Bleu were also in attendance with a good chunk of her staff. It's one thing for owners and managers of restaurants to attend industry events like this by themselves; taking your waitstaff with you is an easy investment that reaps great dividends in terms of the ability to provide sophisticated, intelligence restaurant service. Kudos!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Popping the Cork

Old friend and former co-blogger Jason Rosenbaum stopped by my house last night with a rather tricky problem: the cork on a bottle of pinot noir he was having for dinner had partially disintegrated and the remainder of the cork seemed irredeemably lodged in the bottle. I thought this was a good starting point to sound off about a couple of things.

First, I don't know why producers of low to medium end wines still bother with cork. Screwcaps are much much easier to manage and you can easily recycle. Cork is also susceptible to bacterial infection that on occasion can taint the wine and produce some rather ghastly aromas of moldy basement and putrid socks. And some producers use composite or synthetic corks that are hell to open...sometimes it seems like synthetic corks are superglued to the bottle.

As a former waiter, I can assure you that you're not alone. Many times I've been in embarrassing situations opening bottles of wine for people. Some of these times have been actually rather dangerous: I particularly recall once trying to remove a synthetic cork from a bottle that just would not budge; ultimately I applied so much pressure with the corkscrew hinge that part of the neck of the bottle cracked in my hands, leaving me with a minor but bloody flesh wound. Not something I prefer to happen during table service...

Fortunately, there are some simple solutions. First, breaking the seal between the cork and the bottle is extremely do this, just insert the corkscrew into that space between cork and bottle instead of into the middle of the cork. That should weaken the grip between cork and bottle. Second, don't worry too much about disintegrating corks; worst case scenario is that you'd have to pour the wine into a carafe to filter out cork.

I'll finish off here with a note that I hope you enjoy your weekend. And for people looking to keep up with a really good Missouri political journalist, it doesn't get better than Jason's blog, Capitol Calling.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sushi And Wine Tasting, Friday, March 13th, 7pm

In preparation for the Sushi and Wine Tasting this Friday, here's a few of my thoughts regarding sushi, sake, and wine pairing.

On Sake
Sake, or Japanese rice wine, comes in a wide array of styles and flavors, but here’s a brief rundown of some of the most useful things to know. First, the styles vary from light to full-bodied, with the lightest being nama zake and progessing to ginjo, daiginjo, junmai, and aged sake. Sweetness is also a variable to take into account; sweeter sakes, like the unfiltered nigori or some aged sakes can be excellent next to spicy foods or desserts.

Sake is made through a process that’s kind of a blend of wine and beer fermentation. The grains are polished to some degree (with more polishing generally being associated with finer sakes), soaked, and cooked. They are then dosed with a dose of a fungus that turns the starch to sugars and a dose of yeast that turns the sugars to alcohol. Some sakes have brewer’s alcohol added before the final step (pressing the rice solids from the liquid sake) to enhance flavor extraction. Some sakes see a secondary fermentation in the bottle and become sparkling sakes; the sparkling sakes found in the US are tend to be sweet and acidic and thus fairly versatile.

Beverage Pairing with Sushi
Opinions are split on serving sake with sushi. Some people find that the ricey qualities of sake are an overwhelming complement to the rice in sushi and that flavors of things like wasabi tend to completely overwhelm the sake; these people tend to serve sake with sashimi or as an aperitif or with dessert exclusively. Others alternatively find much pleasure in matching the more delicate flavors of sake to specific sushis, but sake in general is not a optimal pairing for most foods, tending to be low in acid. Junmai sake particularly tends to have higher acidity; combined with its weightier nature, it can stand up to comparatively richer dishes than most, including and especially cream sauces.

Some prefer serving teas like oolong with sushi, but these are in the minority. Some ales also work. Successful wine pairings will take more care and thought, but they can be extremely rewarding. Low alcohol wines made from Chenin blanc, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer will do well with spicier sushi; unoaked, minerally chardonnay from Burgundy will have the body, fresh fruit, and minerality to work with most preparations; and the heavier flavors associated with eel or seaweed have been known to do well with Californian Zinfandel or Italian Amarone. Sparkling wine, from Champagne to the sparkling Vouvrays of the Loire or the cavas of Mediterranean Spain, are all well suited to deliver a pleasant accompaniment.

If you'd like to come to the tasting, call us at 573-442-2207 to make reservations. The cost of the tasting is $15 and we request a two bottle purchase.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Playing Catch-Up

A few things from last week that I think are worth mentioning.

Was in St. Louis Thursday night/Friday morning. Dropped by Iggy's Mexican Cantina (located right across from Laclede street classic Humphrey's) for a beer, then made my way to Llewellyn's on MacPherson for a couple more pints. Iggy's wasn't much more than a college bar with a vigorously drunk karaoke scene; Llewellyn's is much more of a pub, with a bartender pulling cask-conditioned beer.

I myself had the good fortune to run into an old high school friend who, like me, followed other academic paths and ended up in the wine and hospitality business and is now working with the acclaimed Vin de Set on Chouteau Avenue. I have not yet been to this restaurant but look forward at perhaps dropping by in the near future. If you've been to this restaurant, leave me a comment below...I'd love to hear about it.

Coming tomorrow: Posts from our Wednesday Wine group and some discussion on sakes in preparation for our Sushi and Wine tasting on Friday.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Downtown Hot Spots

Marcia Vanderlip, food editor/writer for the Tribune, has a really good listing of good places to lunch downtown for around $5. The article is here.

I thought I would throw in a couple extra comments. Formosa is good; the other underrated Chinese restaurant is Jingos, next to the Regency hotel. The prices there are in the $7-$11 range, but the food is excellent. I find the food at Jingos to be a little ligher and more nuanced than Formosa but both places are excellent.

I think Cherry Street Wine Cellar and Bistro also is a place that is often forgotten for lunch. Lunch there is not an extravagant affair; again, prices are extremely reasonable, ranging for a $5 salad to a $15 entree; I personally prefer the Camembert sandwich. The menu is here. Given the quality of the food, this might be the best lunch value in Columbia.

The Indian restaurants downtown (Taj Mahal) are decent but unsatisfying to my southern Indian palate. The food is good but I find it somewhat bland; this is because Indian restaurateurs cater to the bulk of their clientele (aka non-Indians) which means toning down the spices and presenting simple, accessible food.

Other places I stop by semi-frequently: the Artisan for simple, wholesome panini sandwiches, Sub Shop, Sycamore, Teller's.

In the works: My perspective on restaurant winelists around Columbia.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Californian Chardonnay in the New York Times

I'm not an experienced wine drinker yet, but I have been drinking wine long enough to know that people's tastes evolve over time. My personal evolution began typically enough with bad Californian chardonnay that I purchased from the discount bin. It was undrinkable to me and even though I would later on be introduced to some of the cream of the Californian crop--wines like Pahlmeyer, Cakebread Reserve, Kistler, DuMol, Forman, et al--I very quickly discovered that my preference was for wines that weren't overoaked, flabby butterbombs.

Part of the reason why California became known for their oaked, buttery chardonnays is because chardonnay is a grape that's very receptive to winemaking expertise because it tends to be somewhat of a bland, neutrally-flavored grape unless rigorously grown. Mass produced chardonnay tends to produce poor juice that turns into poor wine, high in alcohol and harshly acidic and without much defined fruit. To cover those deficiencies, winemakers can introduce a secondary malo-lactic fermentation that processes the malic acid in the wine into lactic acid (the acid in milk and cream) or they can saturate the wine with the vanillin flavors of oak using a variety of techniques, including dumping wood shavings or chips into the wine. Often, grapes like Columbard that grow even faster and provide higher yields (and hence are cheaper) are blended into wines for filler.

At some point though, it's unfair to castigate that entire segment of the industry. Wine--like any other food--is an agricultural product. And the mega-wineries in California were the companies that got large enough to invest serious money into research, spurring many of the technological and intellectual advances in our understanding of how to make wine.

In any case, Eric Asimov, head wine critic for the New York Times, headed a tasting panel trying chardonnays from Santa Barbara Country that's in today's NYT. Santa Barbara is a region to keep an eye on; at tastings in the last year I've noted that the chardonnays and pinot noirs from the region are not only fairly diverse but generally of a high quality. An excerpt:

While Santa Barbara can trace its winemaking history to the days of the Spanish missions, it is relatively new to the modern age of winemaking. Much of the region’s growth, in fact, has come in the last 15 years, which makes its accomplishments fairly remarkable given the decades spent seeking out the best places to plant vineyards in Northern California, not to mention the centuries of trial and error in Europe.
Still, the wines offer a palpable sense of experimentation. Sometimes they work well, occasionally they do not, and sometimes, well, the jury is still out.
Regardless of the style of the wine, what separated the bottles we liked best from those we rejected can be summed up in one word: balance.
As is often the case in California, the biggest struggle for growers is to get the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. The sugar, which is fermented into alcohol; the acidity, which offers liveliness, and the other grape components all must be in balance, otherwise the wines can be thin and acidic, or, more likely, overblown, hot and fatiguing.
All of our top wines achieved this precarious balance. Our No. 1, the 2006 Ashley’s from Fess Parker, was rich and full-bodied. Yet it was lively as well, giving shape and focus to the voluptuous flavors and keeping it refreshing.

Some of the other wines on the list, including the wines from Brewer-Clifton, are wines I've tried before; I'll concur here that the Brewer-Clifton wines I've tasted are beastly and massive and hugely concentrated and probably not for the faint of heart.

If you're interested in these wines, we do carry Brewer-Clifton as well as the 2006 Fess Parker 'Ashley's Vineyard' (3.5 cases).

A New Wine from Argentina

Paul and I tasted a strange new Argentinian white today, a blend of Malvasia and Sauvignon blanc with the label New Age. Malvasia particularly is not a grape that I have tasted much of, mostly white blends from Spain and Portugal. The wine that we tasted at lunch was really interesting, having had aromas of orange blossoms and citrus, bubbles to the point of effervescence, and flavors of sweet ripe orange, mineral, and a viscous texture.

Malvasia itself is the general name for a closely related group of varietals that are all genetically fairly similar. The most important specific grape is probably Malvasia bianca, which is responsible for white wines in Mediterranean companies.

Portugal has a number of grape varietals confusingly labeled Malvasia, one of which, Malvasia Candida, is also known as Malmsey, a grape used to make a sweet style of wine called Madeira. Madeira is a style of fortified wine that is made in a process that heats the wine to extremely high temperatures and lets it oxidize. Madeira is consequently famous for being practically indestructible; at auction you might find some extremely old vintages over a hundred years old. They can be really good wines (particularly popular prior to the Civil War in the South, being consumed generally with cigars), but not to everyone's taste.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Blue Note 7 at the Missouri Theatre March 19th

The "We Always Swing" Jazz Series has a concert coming up that caught my attention. The Blue Note 7 will be at the Missouri Theatre on Thursday, March 19th, at 7pm. The group consists of pianist Bill Charlap, Saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Steve Wilson, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. They were assembled by legendary label Blue Note Records to celebrate and perform many of the hard bop classics that formed the core of the company's catalog during the mid-1950's to the mid-1960's.

A good review of Mosaic, their album, is here. A blogger in Santa Cruz, raves about them here. Their second show in Yakima, Washington, apparently went very well.

And of course you can YouTube them here.

EDIT: Jon Poses at the We Always Swing series is offering $5 off public seating if you mention this blog post. You can reach him at 573-449-3001.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wines from Vina Cobos

We just got some of the wines from Vina Cobos, the Argentinian venture started by celebrated Californian winemaker Paul Hobbs. A video of Paul Hobbs discussing some of his ideas on winemaking is here.

Jay Miller of Wine Advocate, notes the following about Paul Hobbs in Argentina.
Vina Cobos is the Argentina winery of the renowned Paul Hobbs, best known for his namesake wines from California’s North Coast. Hobbs began consulting in South America in 1988 and, early on, became involved with Nicholas Catena in the startup of that winery’s Chardonnay program. In 1998 he temporarily left his consulting projects to start Vina Cobos with the first vintage coming in 1999. In 2005 Vina Cobos constructed its own winery.

Some of the malbecs and cabernet sauvignons from this winery in 2006 were rated as high as 99 points. We have the 2006 Cobos Bramare Malbec, Marchiori Vineyard (96-99 pts WA) along with the 2006 Cobos Malbec, Marchiori Vineyard (99pts WA). The Bramare is partially estate fruit with some being sourced from the Lujan de Cuyo region of the Mendoza province of Argentina. We've also acquired a case of the Bramare Cabernet (not rated), though the 2005 received 94 points.

If you're interested, a link to the Argentinian Red section of our website is here.

A really good article on Argentina and wine from CNN is here. It includes a discussion of Paul Hobbs.

Great Things Missouri

Tyler Cowen, one of my favorite academic economists, is someone who thinks about culture and economics as a hobby. His ethnic food guide for instance is well known, and when he visits or has reason to think about certain places he compiles a list of his favorite things or people or ideas from that place. Today's topic, Missouri. I highly recommend the click-through to this post.

I will note a couple of my Missouri favorites:
1. The Faulkner collection at SEMO; I remember hearing that they had acquired the world's largest collection of Faulkner memorabilia, which is impressive. Favorite Faulkner book: Probably Light in August.
2. Favorite Food: Gus's Pretzels in St. Louis.
3. Favorite Missouri Beer: Probably the specialty Schlafly beers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Econ Bleg

If you're curious about exactly what all those CDOs and exotic financial instruments were all about, this is the best article I've read yet.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Poetry Night Next Tuesday, Feb. 24th

Just got this email from Richard Smith, a friend of ours, who is putting on a second poetry night next Tuesday. The poetry night is True/False fundraiser for dissident Burmese journalists. The lineup of readers looks really good. Here is Rich with details:

Poetry night will start at 8pm. There will be four readers: two Stephens girls will read poems that they've written about Burma for the first 15 minutes. Then Katy Didden. Intermission. Then Marc McKee then myself. The whole thing should last about an hour.

The Fundraiser is for promoting free press in Burma, where our bald monk brothers over there are getting beaten up for trying to take pictures of the evil junta.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reduce Yields, Get Better Fruit

The rest of the world is catching up to what viticulturalists have known for quite a while. If you press for high yields and get lots of fruit, the fruit isn't that good because the plant has less energy and stuff to send each particular fruit. But if you reduce your yields you get better product and this is something that you have to do to make great wine.

A study conducted by Dr. Donald Davis in conjunction with the Bio-Communications Research Institute looks at evidence for the dilution effect when yields are higher. The basic conclusion:

plantings of low- and high-yield cultivars of broccoli and grains found consistently negative correlations between yield and concentrations of minerals and protein, a newly recognized genetic dilution effect.

Hat Tip: The US Food Policy Blog.

2006 Caymus Special Selection

I am offering the 2006 Caymus Special Selection through our website at $150/btl + tax + shipping. Link to the purchase page here.

Some notes: Caymus is very strict about what kind of price break I can offer my customers; they don't want their product bastardized through ultra-aggressive discounting. If I want to repeat my business with them next year I can't advertise the product for less than $150. There's a lesson here: if you see any online retailer offering it for less, these are businesses that are in enough serious trouble that they are trying to dump their inventory because cashflow now is more vital than continuing their relationships next year. If they have any of the wine in inventory left it's certainly a good buy, but you lose the ability to build a relationship with someone with whom you might be able to exercise bargaining power.

So if you're interested in the wine, it's available for purchase here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thoughts for the Day

More from my desk:

1. In another example of horrendous policy proposals, a group of Oregon lawmakers propose a $49 tax on every barrel of beer brewed in Oregon to strengthen the state's fiscal outlook. Link here.

This is a classic example of politicians looking for a politically convenient scapegoat. Sure alcoholism is a terrible thing but driving vibrant small businesses out of business is not the answer; the appropriate Pigovian response would be to structure a tax or set of incentives to levy more of the social costs on alcoholics or the social factors that are linked the closest to alcoholism.

This is also a classic example of politicians carrying out a cost-benefit analysis without considering the benefits. A summary of some of the health benefits of alcohol consumption is here. And an article about the social benefits of alcohol consumption and its positive relationship to income is here.

2. Zach Luye (@radzack on Twitter), a friend, student at the Journalism School, and brand representative for Adagio Teas, produced a review of some mint chocolate tea at Top Ten on Sunday. Here is the link to the Adagio website; to see Zach reviewing that tea, watch episode 7. Here is a photo of the filming in progress. Here is a photo of the brunch in progress, with @turtis providing the cheers.

3. Re-evaluating your diet can produce significant changes in your carbon footprint. Simple things like switching from beef to chicken (or even better yet, fish) can be profoundly meaningful if you want to do something about climate change. Article here.

4. Sam's Club is buying into the Fair Trade Movement. Post from Dr. Veseth, U Puget Sound.

My thoughts on Fair Trade: I certainly support taking the time and the care to know where your consumables come from; buying local food and artisanal products like wine is a great way to eat and drink healthier. I do have a few criticisms of the movement though. First, as Veseth notes, the certification process can be time-consuming and expensive, and few producers will really care to get certified. This also serves as a functional penalty on good, legitimate producers who choose not to be certified because they don't understand the process or because it's hard to be certified. Second, while human rights abuses are always bad, job creation and trade are always positive-sum things; trade liberalization has the very nice feature of bringing everyone along to the global marketplace and provides strong incentives for enhancing liberty. This is sometimes difficult to see in situations where companies or governments are doing legitimately evil things but ultimately its the ease of communication and information dispersal that trade brings along with it that strikes at the heart of things like tyranny. So if you care about changing the world, become part of the information marketplace and be vocal about the businesses and governments that violate liberty.

The other thing that we should do when talking about Fair Trade and human rights is look in our back yard. How many Californian vineyards use cheap migrant labor to produce grapes? How many vineyards exploit migrant labor? It would be appropriate to renegotiate the terms under which migrant workers can obtain employment to prevent unscrupulous businesses from reneging on payment promises or other things. If stories like this are true and are more common, then Fair Trade should mean for us that we start with re-evaluating the conditions of domestic production.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Maggots in Our Mushrooms in the NYT

E.J. Levy, a professor teaching creative writing at the University of Missouri, has an op-ed in today's New York Times about what else might be in our food. He notes:

You may be grossed out, but insects and mold in our food are not new. The F.D.A. actually condones a certain percentage of “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.

In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.

Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).

Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.

Canned mushrooms may have “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or an “average of 75 mites” before provoking action by the F.D.A.

The sauerkraut on your hot dog may average up to 50 thrips. And when washing down those tiny, slender, winged bugs with a sip of beer, you might consider that just 10 grams of hops could have as many as 2,500 plant lice. Yum.

Giving new meaning to the idea of spicing up one’s food, curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams. One small shaker of cinnamon could have more than 20 rodent hairs before being considered defective.

That's quite a mouthful.

Friday, February 13, 2009

This Just In: Sycamore Chef Mike Odette is Really Good

Sycamore chef Mike Odette has been announced as a semifinalist for the Best Chef: Midwest as part of the restaurant and chef awards sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. Three St. Louis chefs are also in the semifinals: Gerard Craft of Niche, Josh Galliano of Monarch and Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe.

Hat tip: Scott Rowson, Show-Me Eats. The story broke in Gut Check from the Riverfront Times in St. Louis.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate in the KC Star

Local chocolate make Alan McClure makes some small batch artisanal chocolates under the label Patric Chocolate (@PatricChocolate on Twitter) that we carry at the shop and have featured at a wine tasting or two before. He'll also be giving a short lecture on fine chocolate and its relationship to fermented, terroir-driven products like wine during our tasting on Friday the 13th. I mention him both because he's worth checking out and also because the Kansas City Star just featured him and his chocolate in an article in their food section. The article is here and here is a excerpt:

Blame it on France. That’s where Alan McClure first savored the chocolate that sparked his epiphany.

French chocolate was “so unlike anything I’d ever had here or even imagined could exist,” McClure says. “That changed my whole perspective on chocolate.”

McClure returned home to Columbia, where chocolate grew into an all-absorbing passion. He tasted more European and American bars, read books and called artisanal chocolate makers with questions. He experimented with cacao beans (the raw material for chocolate, pronounced kah-KAY-oh), wrote a business plan and searched out equipment.

In 2007 McClure opened Patric Chocolate and began making micro-batches of dark chocolate bars using organic cacao beans from Madagascar. Never heard of such a thing? You’re not alone. Nestle, Mars and other mass-production behemoths long dominated the U.S. chocolate industry until 1996.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cake and A Movie

I honestly have been meaning to do more blogging, but since I spilled wine on my laptop last month, my access to a computer has been limited. But that isn't really an excuse: I promise more posts more often.

Today's topic is actually something that I stumbled onto last night by accident. We have a few Columbia locals following our twitter feed (@TopTenWines) who dropped by the shop looking for wines to pair with carrot cake (they do a weekly Cake and a Movie event). I blanked a little bit; carrot cake isn't something that I think about very often and my intuitive pairing idea is of course milk. In terms of wine, I suggested the following:
1. Late harvest muscat from Rutherglen in Australia, a decadently jammy dessert wine full of figs and spice.
2. Roussanne from Domaine de Lancyre in the Rhone Valley; a clean, minerally wine with tart fruit and undertones of dusty, spicy minerality.
3. Riesling from Germany. The pure, mineral driven wines made from Riesling are exceptionally versatile, with brisk acidity, pure fruit flavors, and low alcohol.
4. Viognier from Ninet de Pena in southern France. A fat, viscously textured wine with a lot of candied fruit (people have variously identified candied raspberry, banana, and fruit loops as aromatic components).

This afternoon at the shop, Paul suggested German icewine (eiswein), with the theory that sweet wines do well with sweet food. Tays, our representative from Glazer's Midwest, suggested Moscato, the sweet, slightly effervescent wines from Piedmont.

The lesson is of course that most foods are pairable with wine; indeed, it helps to think of wine as a food or condiment. Pairing is an intuitive habit; it's why any kid wants to drink milk with cookies. Of course, this is something that is easiest understood through experience. For people who want to understand food and wine pairing better, my suggestion is simple: Drink more!

If you'd like to hear more about Cake and a Movie, follow our Twitter feed (@TopTenWines).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

400 Followers on Twitter!

We just got our 400th follower on Twitter!

Though I will admit a number of people who are following us are really trying to market themselves as 'social media innovators'. I hope that most of the people who are following us are interested in wine or in local culture around Columbia, Missouri.

Karl Storchmann and Doug Frost on Wine Judging

Karl Storchmann, economist at Whitman, has an article here on the reliability of wine judges in California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition and concludes that at this competition, at least, the average wine judge is very unreliable. This is a conclusion that by and large I subscribe to...I hazard a guess that at a very large wine competition, it's extremely hard to select judges that are skilled and knowledgeable to judge wines on a consistent basis (and I hazard a guess that both knowledge and skill are key determinants of that ability).

I emailed Doug Frost, Master of Wine and Master Sommelier (and one of only three people in the world with that dual distinction) for a comment. Here is his response:

Eapen - yep, I saw it and there's no question that differing judges have differing responses to wines. And that some judges aren't consistent. For one of the competitions I run, we have a qualifying test in which the potential judges are given nine wines to taste and rank. Then they are given the same wines two more times (in a different order each time) and told to rank them again. Selected judges either get it right 90% of the time or more, or some have a score of perfect. Those are the judges we like.


I think both Karl and Doug are worth listening to...Hopefully the publicity surrounding Karl's work will be very useful in changing how wine competitions select their judges.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

2004 Barolos in the NYT

I have long been a fan of Barolo, Barbaresco, and the other Nebbiolo-based wines of the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. They typically are very aromatic, tannic red wines that can be incredible. If you haven't tried a nebbiolo-based wine yet, start at the low end with the declassified nebbiolo from Proddutori del Barbaresco or the producer Paitin.

Eric Asimov and a tasting panel in the New York Times reviews the 2004 vintage of Barolo and finds them to be excellent and far more approachable than other vintages. An excerpt is below:

To see for ourselves, the wine panel recently sampled 25 Barolos from the 2004 vintage. We decided to limit ourselves to bottles under $100, which means we omitted many of the pantheon producers, like Bartolo Mascarello, Bruno Giacosa, Giacomo Conterno, Paolo Scavino, Luciano Sandrone and quite a few others.

Still, even at Barolo’s lower tier, it was clear to us that 2004 is indeed a fine year. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Chris Cannon, an owner of Alto in midtown Manhattan and Convivio in Tudor City, and Fred Dexheimer, the wine director of the BLT restaurant group.

What makes 2004 distinctive? To me, it is the fact that many of the wines are approachable right now — much earlier than is typical for tannic, high-acid Barolos — without sacrificing elegance or structure. In a classic, austere vintage like 1996 or 2001, Barolos can take years to come around. Many ’96s are still not ready to drink. Riper years like 1997 and 2000 are accessible earlier but sacrifice some of the precision and focus of the more austere years. In this sense, the ’04 vintage performs a rare balancing act.

The link to the story in the New York Times is here; a multimedia discussion of some of the most distinctive wines by the tasting panel is here.

We have recently obtained an offer for a number of these wines from the importer, A. Bommarito Wines. Quantities are limited, and more details can be found here.

More links here:
1. Ed McCarthy gives a report on the 2004 vintage specifically, and a quick report on other vintages here.
2. Gary Vaynerchuk thinks 2004 Barolo brings the thunder, here.
3. A good history of Barolo here.

What I'm Reading

1. They're cutting jobs at Kendall-Jackson. Profile of Jess Jackson here.

2. Wine and intoxication in High Classical Greece. From the blog 'Proof' in the NYT.

3. Robin Carnahan announces a run for the US Senate. Link goes to the Post-Dispatch; I hear she announced over YouTube.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bill Kniep of Pinnacle International on the 2007 Southern Rhone Vintage

Work seems to keep piling up: I still haven't gotten to my notes from Friday's tasting and I have an email from Doug Frost on the quality and consistency of wine judges that I need to post as well.

For right now, I'll post a short note from Bill Kniep of Pinnacle Imports, who was just in the Rhone on a buying trip.

Recession Busting Wines: What Can't Miss in 2009.

It seems like you can't turn on the radio, TV, or open a newspaper without the current fiscal crisis being the only topic for discussion. Our industry is facing the challenge of adjusting to a new public state of mind. We have had a wonderful run at Pinnacle selling some of the most exciting luxury wines in the world, and will continue to do so in the future, but "The Cutting Edge", is always changing. We have been very fortunate to have caught the front end of several exciting trends in the wine biz over the years. Pinnacle was the first distributor to focus on artisanal Pinot Noir before the Sideways craze. We pushed deep into the Spanish and Argentine markets before those categories really took off. The big question for today is, of course, what's next? People are not drinking less wine, but they are trading down a price category or two and are much more aware of great bargains.

In 2009, the best bargains in the world of wine will be found in one place: The Southern Rhone Valley.

I just returned from a week in the Rhone and I can say without any hesitation that the hype this vintage is generating can not be overstated. The wine critic Robert Parker has already gone on record calling this the greatest vintage in his long history of tasting in the Southern Rhone. The wines are staggering. I've never tasted more lots of Grenache that have achieved such a perfect ripeness. This is a vintage of black fruits and spices, flowers and fatness. The sauvage aspect of Chateauneuf and Cotes du Rhone is only a supporting player in 2007 as the wines achieved such perfect ripeness. I have never tasted CdP this good, and this comes on the heels of a series of very successful vintages for the region.

Combine a perfect vintage with the fact that these wines are among the most undervalued of the great wines of France and you have a recession proof category that should have the largest growth of any category in the industry this year. Pinnacle Imports will be on the point with these wines. We have added a new supplier, Alain Junguenet's Wines of France, which specializes in the Southern Rhone. He represents about 10 of the top 20 producers in Chateauneuf, as well as many more from other nearby regions like Gigondas, Lirac, Vacqueyras, and many more. We will be debuting many of these wines at our World Tour celebration at the end of March. Wines of France, in conjunction with our established suppliers of French wines, Martine's and David Shiverick Selections, will provide our customers with the ability to fulfill all their needs in this hot category.

In order to make these wines even more spectacular values, we will be buying direct from France in early April and passing the DI savings on to our customers. We have never purchased DI from France before as the cost of full containers of French wines is very high. However, we feel, that with the economy in such a tight place, we need to do everything we can to help our customers maximize their profits in 2009. We are assembling a pre-arrival offering that we will begin to present in the middle of February as prices are finalized. Save some serious budget for these wines, they are a once in a lifetime opportunity.

-Bill Kniep, President, Pinnacle Imports

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday at the Shop

I'll have notes from last night's Banfi South American tasting up by tomorrow; but I do want to note that we had a great turnout and a lot of good wines. My personal thought was that the more I taste these wines, the more I think of Argentina as place that produces wines that are similar to wines from California that exhibit that lush, fruit-driven style and Chile as a place where the wines mimic French Bordeaux. And the wines are serious wines; since the southern half of South America is relatively dry and isolated, it is rare that pests and diseases pose serious threats to vineyards and winemaking. The result is that no one who makes wines in Argentina or Chile has ever been faced with the incentive to use many chemicals and pesticides in the winemaking process, so it's relatively easy for a winery to make wine that is functionally organic or biodynamic.

It's Saturday night at the shop; Kristen is bartending tonight and the ping-pong table is open to challengers at 7pm. Come on by!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Poetry Night with Rich Smith

Tonight we're hosting a poetry reading hosted by Rich Smith, a student here at the University and a friend. As you might guess, there are a bunch of poets here, drinking (because, as we all know, that's what poets are invariably best at doing) and reading their work. Along with Rich, the other poets reading tonight are Liz Langemak, Jessica Garratt, are Sarah Barber. This hopefully will be a semi-frequent thing, so check our webpage or sign up for our email address for updates.

I'll note that this space is so perfect for small gatherings like this. On occasion we have local musicians like Anna and the X's or Satin and Chenille perform, and despite the copious quantities of glassware and wine around, things invariably go smoothly. The acoustics are excellent; the 5,000 odd bottles of wine on the walls tend to break up sound waves and eliminate awkward feedback.

I'll have pictures from the various events and tastings we've had recently up in the near future.

Wednesday Night Wine Tasting Group

I've been meaning to post about one of the Wednesday night groups, which have been going fairly well. We have certainly had an interesting group of characters at each session, but more about that later. First, a list of the wines. Note that I have listed retail prices where available; some of these wines are from private collections and not available in Missouri.

We opened a 2006 Chateau Grand Destieu (Grand Cru, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $47), a 2007 Agua Luca Chardonnay ($33) from Mendoza, Argentina, and a 2005 Verget Pouilly-Fuisse 'Terroirs de Vergeson' (a chardonnay from Burgundy, France, on sale for $18). We also had a chocolate flavored dessert wine, Desiree, from Rosenblum Cellars in California and the 2003 St. Cosme Cote-du-Rhone Blanc ($23).

Other people brought or opened the following:
2005 Amancaya Malbec/Cabernet from Mendoza, Argentina, $20
2005 Kaesler 'The Fave' Old Vine Grenache from Barossa, Australia, $45
2006 Casa Nuestre Tinto de St. Helena from Napa (9 grape blend)
1987 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, $25
2007 Seghesio Zinfandel, Sonoma, $23. This wine was #10 on Wine Spectator's top 100 for 2008.
2006 Domaine Coteau Pinot Noir, Oregon, $25
2004 Carol Shelton Monga Zinfandel, California, $25

I typically don't note the names of the people who brought the wines, but I did want to make at least two. Corey Bomgaars, head winemaker at Les Bourgeois, brought a 2007 Touriga from White Hall Vineyards in Monticello, and Jim Logan, a marketing professor, brought a 2003 Chambourcin from Harpersfield Vineyards in Ohio, (Jim owns a portion of the winery).

I hope I didn't leave anything out, but it seems like the lineup was pretty good. I would like to see more people come to these events; hopefully letting people know what they can expect will be part of that.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Interesting Blogs

I wanted to note two local foodie blogs that I've found that I thought were worth reading.

First, Scott Rowson of Show-Me Eats has been writing his foodie blog for quite a while. He reviews us here. He also has a column in the food section of the Tribune here, and is possibly the best source for restaurant/foodie reviews on the Columbia scene.

Second, some old college friends of mine have started a blog called Columbia Wingmen. Their noble goal is to review every variation of chicken wings served at restaurants in Columbia. They should be receiving some coverage in the Columbia Tribune within a couple of weeks, so look out for that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter

A friend of mine, Jason Rosenbaum, is on Twitter. I highly recommend following him; Jason was the former political writer for the Columbia Daily Tribune and now works for the Missouri Lawyers Weekly. The reason I'm noting this on the blog is because Jason often sends updates from live high profile events, including Governor Jay Nixon's State of the State speech tonight. I, along with many other Missourians, are anxious about how the FY2010 budget will look like. A change in funding for the University here could be potentially devastating for Columbia (and Top Ten Wines).

More details from the St. Louis Business Journal can be found here.

Edit 1/29/09: Jason has a new blog, Capital Calling. I highly recommend it as well.

Last Friday's Tasting and other interesting stuff

What I'm up to lately:

1. Our tasting on Friday was excellent. Here are the wines with some comments:
Regaleali "IGT Sicilia" Bianco 2007---Good entry level Sicilian white blend.
Principessa Gavia "DOCG" Gavi (Cortese) 2007 -- this is the 3rd vintage of this wine that I've had; I really do like the texture of this wine. Cortese di Gavi (the grape) isn't often seen but the wines make good apertifs.
Di Majo Norante "IGT Terre degli Osci" Sangiovese 2006 --- Another good Italian, this time from the red Sangiovese grape, which is the primary grape in Chianti.
Pio Cesare "DOC" Barbara d'Alba 2006 --- the grape Barbera produces simple, elegant wines that are excellent with light dishes and the meat-based cuisine of Piedmont. They are rarely expensive, and have substantially gained in quality over the last 20 years.
Masi "DOC" Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico 2007 $17 -- Masi is the first producer that I know of to pioneer the Amarone method of production. This wine, a typical Valpolicella blend of Corvina, Rondinello, and Molinara, had a dried cherry/dried fruit aspect with a nice hint of smoke and moderately forward fruit.
Castello di Corbara "DOC" Lago di Corbara 2003 $15 --- This wine is from Umbria, an agricultural province in Central Italy. I found this wine to be a solid value.
Villa Antinori "IGT" Toscana Red 2004 $22 -- From the famed Antinori winery in Tuscany, this Tuscan red has a nice loamy texture and bright acidity.
Tormaresca "IGT Salento" Neprica 2005 $15 --- Another southern Italian wine, this one a red and composed of the familiar cabernet and merlot with 40% Negroamaro. I note that I often find a barky, earthy quality in these wines, along with lots of dark fruit. I was quite impressed with this wine in 2008 when I first tasted it and thought it was a good value.
Layer Cake "IGT Puglia" Primitivo 2006 $15 --- Primitivo is the Italian version of Zinfandel (apparently they're clones, so they're genetically identical). This wine was very Zin-like--lots of blackberry fruit, rich and supple with hints of baking spice.
Montevina "Terra d'Oro-Amador" Zinfandel 2006 $16 --- I really was intrigued by this zinfandel, which was on the herbal, earthy side for zinfandel. I particularly noted a sage flavor/texture to this wine.

2. Some of the 2006 Bordeaux vintage reviewed by Alder Yarrow at Vinography.

3. We should be getting in some Rhone wines later this year; Parker rates the vintage in the Southern Rhone for 2007 a 98 point vintage. If you have any thoughts or are curious about what might be available, leave a comment or send an email. Some producers we have access to: Rayas, Feraud Brunel, Solitude, Clos Des Papes, P Usseglio, Bonneau, Fortia, Vatican, Mas de Boislauzon, Bosquet des Papes, Vieux Donjon, and many more. From the North, Chave, Burgaud, Gaillard, Jamet, Colombo.

4. I was recently introduced to Zack Luye of Bottles, Blends, and Brews; Zack is here in Columbia for MU's Journalism program. We look forward to seeing Zack around the shop at various tastings and I'll add that if you have questions about tea, Zack knows quite a bit. You might also recognize Zack from a couple episodes of WineLibraryTV with Gary Vaynerchuk.

5. We now have a Viddler account (TopTenWines) for creating and posting video. As soon as I get a webcam set up around the shop, we'll be able to add interactive video content to the blog and the website, so that's exciting.

6. Good article in the New York Times on the most excellent qualities of berries. I might write a short post later on wines made from non-grape fruit, though I've only had a few, including: Adam Puchta's Jazz Berry, the Olallieberry wine from Chaucer Cellars, and Chaucer's Raspberry Mead. None have struck me as exceptional, though they were all good.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hannah's Last Day and Other News

1. The Governator wants to raise the excise tax on Californian wine from 4 cents per gallon to 29 cents per bottle. If that happens, we're going to be buying a lot more Argentinian and Spanish wine! Link here.

2. We are receiving a case or two of the 2004 de Trafford Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch, South Africa. This wine lately received the top review from an New York Times tasting panel featuring Eric Asimov, one of the best wine writers in the country.

My experience with South African wines has been mixed. A lot of the wines have a burnt rubber or burnt bacon quality to them, especially wines made from the hybrid grape Pinotage (a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir) that is the most distinctive red grape of the region. But there can be some stars; I've never been disappointed by the wines I've tried from de Trafford, and I've found some excellent cabernet franc from Wildekrans, and the wines from Ken Forrester remain excellent, particularly his chenin blanc.

3. Our twitter account seems to be getting more attention. We've lately been friended by Chateau Haut-Brion, the first growth Bordeaux estate, Cornerstone Cellars in Napa, and quite a few others.

4. Hannah's last night is tonight! Come by the shope; we'll be composing poems and drinking wine and sending her off to New York City in style!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Regional Economic News

Good news for Top Ten Wines and other local Columbia businesses: Jay Nixon agreed today to seek budget cuts that don't affect colleges and universities in Missouri. The stipulation for higher education is a concurrent tuition freeze with the aim of retaining or boosting current enrollment.

The University is the largest employer in Columbia and is the focal point for much of the economic development around the region. Substantial business development happens as a result of not only the University's scientific research facilities (their nanotech program to pharmaceutical development comes readily to mind) but also through the myriad programs, competitions, and resources that draw people to Columbia from all over the world. Significant budget cuts would certainly have made a massive dent in the local economy; a conservative guess of mine would be that Columbia would start looking a lot like Cape Girardeau.

From the Post-Dispatch, the Columbia Tribune, and the Columbia Missourian. Best of all, from Gary Forsee.

MU News Bureau staffwriter Kelsey Jackson was consulted for this post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We have a Flickr account! And Twitter! Etc

Not much here yet, but you can find us at TopTenWines on Flickr or on Twitter. Here is our facebook page.

2008 Maipe Malbec

Source Reviewer Rating Maturity Current (Release) Cost
Wine Advocate # 180
Dec 2008 Jay Miller 90 Drink: 2008 - 2012 $13 (13)
The 2008 Malbec is a glass-coating purple color with a striking perfume of violets, black cherry, and black raspberry. Exhibiting surprising complexity for its price category, the wine has gobs of fruit, savory flavors, and excellent depth and length. It is an outstanding value for drinking over the next 3-4 years.

Alberto Antonini (think Altos Las Hormigas) is a consultant at Maipe which in and of itself is an indicator that the winery is focused on quality.

Importer: Kysela Pere & Fils, Winchester, VA; tel. (877) 492-7917; fax (540) 722-9258;

Monday, January 19, 2009

Assorted Links and Readings

1. Richad Woodward on 'en primeur' (futures) and the 2008 Bordeaux vintage in Decanter. It seems sensible to me that if Bordeux produces a good 2008 vintage that some chateaus that currently offer their wines on futures will end the practice: people don't want to spend that kind of money on wine they haven't tasted yet.

2. Related to #1: Update on regulatory change and a report on the economics of the latest French vintage. Quick nod: Thomas Duroux of 3rd growth Bordeaux estate Chateau Palmer cited.

3. Michiko Katukani on Barack Obama's literary life in the NYT. All political considerations aside, I am ecstatic that the President-Elect is an intellectual with a profound understanding of the power of language. As a former high school and college policy debater I have long bemoaned the shortcomings in our education system and I hope Obama's example (like Lincoln before him) inspires many young people to become articulate and determined advocates. Perhaps we could rename Ted Turner debate...

4. The Brits are now the world's largest importers of wine by volume. I'm impressed, but wait for the Chinese market.

5. We just received 20 cases of Maipe Malbec 2008. Paul was there last year and took pictures which will be up on the Facebook page soon; Parker just gave the 2008 Malbec 90 points; we'll be retailing it for $13 a bottle. You really should see this wine sometime; it's incredibly inky and stains the glass a vibrant purple.

Monday, January 12, 2009

2005 Caymus Special Selection

This post is just to provide the Parker review for the 2005 Caymus Special Selection, since accessing the eRobertParker website requires a subscription.

Wine Advocate # 168
Dec 2006 Robert Parker (92-94) Drink: 2006 - 2021 $127-$370
A barrel sample of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection offers terrific fruit intensity and purity, a more laid-back style, a meaty, chewy texture, and impressive opulence as well as length. It should evolve for 10-15 years.

Not yet released.

Mark Grundy at Perlow-Stevens Gallery

I attended a reception at the Perlow-Stevens Gallery on Broadway this past Saturday. New material was displayed by a number of notable regional artists; I would particularly point people towards the work of Joel Sager, who I've known for a couple of years. I find his work particularly moody and he does excellent portraits, among other things.

I also wanted to drop a note about another artist whose work was on display that night. Mark Grundy is a painter of some accomplishment and does good work with water-based paints. He also happens to represent Golden Barrel, a wine distributor, throughout Mid-Missouri, and we are proud to support many of the wines he brings to Columbia.

A final note: I don't claim to be very able to discuss art intelligently, so I hope I haven't misrepresented anyone's work; if I have, please leave me a comment.

Assorted Links and Readings

1. Alder Yarrow at Vinography rants about the travesty of wine as a status symbol and begs us to not be snobs.

2. PhD Economist Michael Veseth on water usage and wine production. It will be interesting to see how winemakers adapt to the realities of global water demandas it becomes a scarcer commodity.

3. Chateau Palmer on Twitter. Yes, the third growth Bordeaux estate does in fact have a twitter account. Kudos.

4. Not wine related, but interesting: "Gourmand syndrome": eating passion associated with right anterior lesions." Very interesting, though I'm far too ignorant on the subject to comment intelligently. Hat Tip: Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wednesday Night

I thought I'd posted earlier about the tasting group Wednesday night, but unfortunately that post seems to have been accidentally deleted.

Fortunately, I still remember most of what I'd wanted to write about. The night was a qualified success; had about 20 people show up, most of whom brought something. Everything on the table was interesting in some fashion, though I was hoping for a little more variety (which should happen with more people joining the group).

For reference, our purpose is to be able to taste some of the truly interesting wines around the world though we don't want people to think interesting has to be expensive (though it certainly can be).

In any case, the 1975 Mouton-Rothschild, while not corked, was over the hill, with rigidly aggressive tannins and little to no fruit. It certainly smelled great, but I had to agree that we'd missed the window of opportunity to drink that wine, which Parker says was probably about 9 years ago. But the rest of the wines were excellent: there was a 2004 Amon-Ra Shiraz from Barossa superstar winemaker Ben Glaetzer, a couple bottles from Domaine du Caillou, specifically their 2007 Cotes-du-Rhone and their 2005 les Quartz Chateauneuf-du-Pape bottling, which I thought was particularly interesting. I also liked a 2003 riesling auslese that was presented, though I forget the name of the producer.

I'm going to be trying this again this next Wednesday; hope you can make it. I might also have a winemaker or viticulturalist from the University attending, so that might be really cool.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back at the Shop

Pruning grapevines isn't terribly difficult. I was at the Hermannhof vineyards pruning Norton, which basically involved removing all branches that were more than a year old and pruning new shoots to strategically manage leaf growth and control sunlight distribution during the growing season.

Like I said, the pruning is the easy part. None of the vines seemed to be over a couple of years old, so there wasn't anything too difficult to cut away. The awful part, as you might imagine, was the bitter cold in the morning.

But it was fun, and I'll be out there again Friday. The weather promises to cooperate, with temperatures around 55 fahrenheit.

The point of this post, I guess, is twofold. First, I'm getting a sense of how labor intensive it is to make even decent wine from decent grape varietals. Second, there are some exciting things happening in terms of viticulture and winemaking in the Midwest.

I can't honestly claim I've had a truly great or profound wine from the Midwest, but there are some good wines produced locally. I personally think it's a shame that more restaurateurs don't think to put locally produced wines in their venues; I think that everyone would gain if that began happening. This is Columbia, Missouri, after all, and it would be nice to see more aspects of the community and the region being represented in the food and drink we present to visitors.

Plans for the Day

Am heading out here shortly to prune Norton at Hermanhof with Eli Bergmeier, who is with the Institute of Continental Climate, Viticulture, and Enology (ICCVE) at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

It's somewhat exciting to me that we're going out here; previously my experience with wine has been mostly an experiential thing, ie, drinking it. My experiences with Eli and the ICCVE over the past few months have really been fun and extremely educational, though I will also note that vineyard work is hard (and at this time of the year, cold).

Will be posting later about the interesting parts of this trip. Back in Columbia at around 5 this evening for the first tasting group at Top Ten.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wine Tasting Group

We're starting a tasting group on Wednesdays. The idea is that there's a lot of wine around that is interesting, eclectic, and/or high end that most of us don't get to try; why not get a bunch of people together and share?

So we are asking people who want in to each session to contribute a bottle (either buy one at the shop or bring one from your collection) and we'll be opening something worth trying ourselves.

The first session is actually tonight! Sorry for the late notice on the blog, but maintaining this part of the site has slipped my mind in the bustle of getting the inventory loaded to our website.

We are opening a 1975 Mouton-Rothschild;. Some local distributors will be there as well: Mark Grundy from Golden Barrel, Jon Dickinson from A. Bommarito Wines, and Chuck Johnson from Glazer's Midwest. Bottles will be cracked at around 7pm. See you there!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Website is up!

Our website is up! It has a ping pong game scheduler, links to our blog, and some of our retail inventory (which should be fully up within the day. Please visit us at