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