Thursday, March 31, 2011


With all the attention that California, Oregon, Washington and New York receive as wine producing states, it's sometimes difficult to remember that "the other 46" states also make important contributions to America's winescape.  Let's take a look at a Michigan winery in this edition of Wine Country.

In an interview with the wine blog "Michigan By The Bottle," Linda Jones, the Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, says over the past decade, the wine industry in Michigan has grown ten to fifteen percent each year.  She says Michigan is the eighth largest producer of wine grapes in the U.S.

Suttons Bay, Michigan is in the northwestern portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, just east of Lake Leelanau.  The tiny town is about halfway up the eastern shore of the Leelanau Peninsula.  It sports a Farmers Market, a lighthouse, a state park, a casino and a handful of small wineries, including one that's unique, in that it only makes sparkling wines.

L. Mawby Vineyards - and their M. Lawrence label - produce 14 different sparkling wines, many of them made from the traditional grapes for bubbly: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  They do produce one sparkler made from Vignoles, a hardy grape that thrives in cold weather.

Of the four Michigan bubblies I tried - kindly supplied by L. Mawby Vineyards - two bear the L. Mawby label and were produced using the méthode champenoise, in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  The two wines under the M. Lawrence flag are produced in the méthode cuve close, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in a closed tank.

L. Mawby Vineyards produces 14 different sparkling wines, and all but one are non-vintage efforts.  Their top of the line entry - the 2002 Mille - is $50, but most of their offerings sell for between $13-$22.  The two L. Mawby wines received a brut dosage of 0.8 percent residual sugar, while the M. Lawrence Sex received a slightly higher brut dosage of 1.4 percent RS.  The final wine I'll mention, M. Lawrence Fizz, is finished with a Demi-Sec dosage of 3.5 percent RS.

These wines, as different as they are, are all very well made and are quite impressive.

L. Mawby Cremant ClassicThe L. Mawby Cremant Classic is made from 100% Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles from the Cremant Vineyard.  It's an impressive wine, with frothy white bubbles, sweet citrus notes and almonds on the nose, lots of nuts in the flavor profile and a pleasant lemony feel on the palate.  It shows a very pleasant sensation of ginger beer on the finish.  The grapes used in making this wine - and the other three I'll mention - are hand-harvested and whole cluster pressed.  Only the cuvée - the initial, gently pressed juice - is used in making the Cremant Classic.  It retails for $22.

L. Mawby Blanc de BlancsL. Mawby Blanc de Blancs - like the Cremant Classic - is also produced in the méthode champenoise.  It's a non-vintage sparkler of 100% Chardonnay from the Leelanau Peninsula AVA.  Only the cuvée is used and it is bottle fermented and aged a minimum of 24 months.  This wine sports a nutty nose with lemon-lime citrus notes and a yeasty feel on both the nose and palate.  It's bright and festive, and retails for $19.

M. Lawrence SexThe M. Lawrence Sex is a rosé bubbly made from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay grapes.  This one is a tad sweeter, getting a Brut dosage of 1.4% RS.  Again, only the cuvée is used, but this wine is produced using cuve closefermentation - receiving its second fermentation in a closed tank.

It is aptly named, as the wine is sexy looking, with a deep pink rosato-style coloring and those frothy white fine bubbles, this time with a nose of cherry candy and strawberries.  Very fruity aromas mingle with a slight herbal edge and a bready nose.  The taste is vivid and bright, bursting with flavor and acidity.  An extremely refreshing mouthfeel sports a touch of earthiness on the finish.  It is extremely drinkable and extremely food-friendly.  You'll find it's a little sweeter than the Cremant and the Blanc de Blancs but just barely so, with 1.4 percent residual sugar.  The retail price of Sex is $15, a bargain.

M. Lawrence FizzFizz is also under the M. Lawrence label, and it's their sweetest sparkling wine.  Produced from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay grapes, Fizz differs from the other three L. Mawby wines I tasted, in that the tailles juice is used - the second fraction of juice pressed, after cuvée - and it's finished with a Demi-Sec dosage, 3.5% RS.

Fizz is honey-golden in color with a honey aroma on the yeasty apricot nose.  There's a slight taste of honey on the palate, too, but it’s not anywhere near overly sweet.  The finish is long and satisfying.  Fizz is sold for $13 retail.

The Wine Country stop in Michigan gave us four wonderful sparkling wines with ten more on the L. Mawby menu to try.  These wines are special enough to save for special occasions, but why wait?  Every day is special in its own way.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Semler Cabernet Sauvignon at Firenze Osteria

A visit to Firenze Osteria - Fabio Viviani's place on Lankershim Boulevard in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley - was a special night out.  Denise was looking forward to it more than I was, as she gets into the Top Chef thing more than I do.  It's a nice dining spot on a street that could use a few more nice spots.

Judging by what I've seen on the television competition, service seems to be one of Fabio's specialties, and he has trained his staff well at Firenze.  Very personable attention was given to our table throughout the meal.

The lobster bisque won out over the waiter's offer of garlic bisque, one of the specials mentioned.  As good as it was, I may have to return and try the garlic.  Penne Amatriciana featured spicy pork belly and onions, while two great raviolis came to our table, one of butternut squash with a brown butter sage cream sauce and another of braised short ribs.  Delicious on all counts.

The wine I had was from Malibu Family Wines, the '05 Semler Cabernet Sauvignon. The room is rather dark, and it may have added to the darkness of the wine - I couldn't see through it.

The nose shows cassis, blueberry, blackberry and violets - plus a bit of heat.  The alcohol also shows up on the palate, but decreases after some time for the wine to sit in the glass.  There's a big, rich mouthfeel with the Semler, displaying dark fruit and a very dry sensation.  The wine has nice acidity and strong tannins.  It's not the right choice for the spicy pork, but it paired excellently with the short rib ravioli.

The Semler Cab retails for $27, sells for around $20 a bottle on some internet sites and is $12 by the glass at Firenze.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Tinta de Toro

Spanish wines have always held a particular fascination for me.  One of the first tasting events I attended was one showcasing Spanish wines.  Since then, I have been drawn to the wines of Spain over and over again.

Recently I was invited to a presentation of wines from the Toro region - "Toro: Land Of Strength, Wines Of Substance" - held at the José Andrés restaurant The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.  The group was on a three-city tour, with Southern California as the last stop.

A tasting seminar led by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer (pictured below) proved to be informative on a region that is overshadowed by more well-known Spanish wine regions.

Toro is in the northwest part Spain, in the Castilla y Leon region.  Records show wine production there since the second century.  A climate featuring warm days and cool nights facilitates the ripening of the grapes, which tend to have thick skins and small berries, helping to structure and color the wines.  Sandy soil protects the grapes from vine-killing phylloxera.

The SettingThe 1200 growers in Toro produce wines which have a much darker fruit expression in than those found in in Rioja.  Most of the wines tasted at this seminar were between 14% and 15.5% in alcohol content.  Toro has whites made from Verdejo and Malvasia.  Garnacha is also employed here, but the reds are all about Tinta de Toro, and this tasting was all about the reds.

About 30 tables were set up for the seminar, with 14 wines poured at each place.  The room smelled intensely of Toro wine - a dusty, black fruit aroma.  Dexheimer noted that the winemakers represented picked the wines they wanted to show, so there was only the cream of the crop on the table.

Comments from José Amancio Moyano Muoz, President of theCRDO Toro, opened the event.  He spoke earnestly of the Toro region and the wines which are a huge part of the life there.

Fred Dexheimer, MSThe Wines:

All the wines sampled were made from 100% Tinta de Toro grapes - the Toro name for Tempranillo - except for #8, which had a smattering of Garnacha included.

1. Bodegas Estancia Piedra "Vina Azul" 2009 - The only unoaked wine of the bunch.  Inky black at the core with bright purple edges.  Intense nose of dark fruit and a floral aspect.  On the palate, intense dark, huge fruit expression of blackberry and raspberry, with muscular tannins.

2. Coral Duero Rompesedas 2006 - Even darker than the first wine, with less purple at the edges.  Oak is 60% French, 20% Hungarian, 20% American.  The oak comes through strong, showing its 18 months in the barrel.  A dark violet nose with spices, big tannins and strong acidity - a calling card of Toro wines.

3. Valduero "Arbucala" 2006 - A light nose with coffee notes, this wine received only 6 months in 100% American oak.  From 60-100 year-old vines, there is a savory taste with herb notes, minerals and earth.  Very dry.  With a $60 suggested price tag, this was by far the most expensive wine on the table.

4. Bodegas Francisco Casas "Vina Abba" 2007 - Only 13.5% abv in this one, aged 14 months in French and American oak.  Fruity floral nose had some in attendance thinking of walnuts and herbal components.  Tart taste and strong tannins.

5. Bodegas Covitoro "Arco del Reloj 2008 - From vineyards planted between 1880 and1910.
 14 months in French and American oak, aged 12 months in the bottle.  On the nose: a sweet facet of toasty vanilla and tobacco.  Very ripe fruit on the palate with hints of earth and some black cherry notes.

6. Quinta Quietude 2005 - 15% abv.  Extremely dark with very little purple at the edge.  A big, funky nose!  A huge herbal play, some coffee, baseball glove.  It tastes savory with black fruit, bell pepper, spices.  Great tannic structure.

7. Liberalia Enologica "Cuatro" 2006 - 15% abv.  Redder than the wines so far, it shows a red fruit nose, dried fruit taste.  Very smooth.  12 months in French and American oak.

8. Bodegas Farina "Gran Dama de Toro" 2004 - 6% Garnacha with the Tinta de Toro.  15 months in 70% American, 30% French oak.  80-90 yr old vines.  The nose is huge with dried plums, anise, licorice, clove.  Plums and cherries on the very interesting palate.  Very smooth tannins.

9. Vina Zangarron "Volvoreta Probus" 2009 - Organic and biodynamic, from a young female winemaker.  French oak for only 5 months.  It has a showy, pretty violet/blackberry/raspberry nose with a little spice.  Elegant rather than rustic.  Dexheimer called this the "sensitive side of Tinta de Toro."

10. Bodega Carmen Rodriguez Mendez "Carodorum Crianza Seleccion Especial" 2007 - Garnet with a purple brick edge, a floral nose with spices - black and red pepper, cinnamon.  Peppery raspberry and blueberry on palate.  24 months in new French oak.

11. Canada del Pino "Finca Yerro Crianza Viejas Vinas" 2006 - 15 months in French oak, 50+ yr old vines.  This shows the lightest color of the day, garnet brick.  A touch of red fruit on the dark, plummy nose.

12. Bodega Cyan "Calera" 2004 - Coffee and mocha with slight touch of raisins on the nose, making me think of a dessert wine.  Nice structure, good tannins, dry, nice grip.

13. Bodegas Rejadorada "Sango" 2006 - Very dark, inky color.  Dark oily nose, a very distinctive iodine aroma.  Very tannic, dry, big dark fruit with black pepper and a menthol, minty herbal angle.  That's something the old vines of Toro tend to produce, according to Dexheimer.

14. Bodega del Palacio de los Frontaura y Victoria Reserva 2005 - Elegant and complex nose and a taste of refreshing minerality.  A nice oak profile, big fruit, silky tannins.  Very soft, especially when compared to the other wines.

Monday, March 28, 2011



Wine containers are getting a lot of scrutiny lately as consumers look for environmentally friendly solutions and better prices on the wine and shipping costs.  Plastic bottles and boxes have already made their way into the marketplace.  Now there's the Astrapouch.

Edward Deitch wrote recently in his Vint-ed column about this alternative wine container.  It's a bag, without the box, which reminds Ed of an I-V drip bag.  He says they also look rather like a large version of the kind of containers in which juice drinks for kids come packaged.

He tried a California North Coast Sauvignon Blanc packaged in the Astrapouch, and reported that it was good, but not great.

The one-and-a-half liter bag is designed to make wine more easily portable.  It spreads at the bottom, so it can stand up in the fridge and features a spout for dispensing the wine.  Holes at the top of the bag make it easy to carry.  The maker of the Astrapouch claims they keep their contents fresh for up to 30 days.

The bags would seem to be environmentally proper, and as for shipping costs, Deitch reports the weight of the Astrapouch is 98% wine, so you save money on the cost shipping heavy glass bottles.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Wine Myths

There are plenty of myths about wine which have been repeated so often many people take them for the truth.  Wine writer James Lawrence took a look at a few of these old wives tales and gives his verdict on them at the website Wine And Food Travel.

Lawrence says using the freezer to chill wine is considered by many to be a no-no.  He says it's perfectly alright, though - as long as you don't forget it's in there.

He says using white wine and salt to remove red wine stains just makes a bigger mess.  As for placing the narrow end of a teaspoon in a bottle of sparkling wine to keep it fizzy - it doesn't work.

Old wine is often thought to be generally better than young wine, but Lawrence says no.  In fact, most of the wine produced these days is designed to be enjoyed immediately.

The notion that France produces the best wine in the world gets Lawrence all worked up.  Clearly, there's great wine being made all over the world.  He calls the idea that France is the final word in wine "complete and utter..."  Well, he didn't print it, so neither will I.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 North Carolina

The North Carolina Winegrowers Association had only about 20 members in North Carolina in 1994.  Today their membership numbers about 350, so the growth in winemaking in North Carolina has been fairly explosive.

Winemaking actually goes back to the early days in North Carolina's history, according to the NCWGA, but it wasn't until the 1970s that Muscadine growers formed an organization and got serious about it.  A decade later, interest in European wine grapes - vinifera - really brought North Carolina's winemaking efforts to the forefront.

Biltmore Estate Winery is one of the big names in North Carolina wine.  Most wine estates have grapes figuring prominently.  At Biltmore Estates - due to its size, splendor and history - wine takes a plush backseat to the mansion itself, a structure built by George Washington Vanderbilt II.

Located in the Mountain Region, in the western part of the state, Biltmore grows a number of different vinifera varieties and produces about 75,000 cases of wine each year.  Head winemaker Bernard Delille oversees the winemaking operation, which is housed in what was once the estate's dairy.  He was schooled in Lyon, France and did his internship in the Bordeaux region - pretty good credentials.  He's been with Biltmore since 1986.  Winemaker Sharon Fenchak, a Pennsylvanian, joined their ranks in 1999.

Biltmore joined the Now And Zin Wine Country series when they sent three of their wines for me to sample.

Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 North Carolina

Biltmore does make a Cabernet Sauvignon using grapes from California's Alexander Valley.  This Cab uses 89% homegrown North Carolina grapes and 11% California fruit.  The wine is composed of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Syrah and 1% Malbec.  The alcohol content is a moderate 13.9% abv.

The juice of the grapes is fermented in stainless steel, on the skins, and then transferred to French and American oak barrels, where it ages for 14 months. It retails for $19.

The color of the wine is quite dark fruit on the nose along with an herbal note.  The flavors are dark, too, with plum and blackberry riding on very pronounced tannins.  It's dry, and seems to become drier after sitting awhile.  An earthy minerality is the kicker on a very pleasant drink, which will perform well with any kind of meat you are serving.

Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North CarolinaBiltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North Carolina

North Carolina fruit is 83% of the Chardonnay's makeup, while California grapes account for 17%.  Chardonnay grapes comprise 97% of the wine, with a 3% smattering of Viognier.  The alcohol is restrained, at 13.7% abv, and the retail price is $15.

The Biltmore Chardonnay is barrel fermented in French and American oak, with about half the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation.  This process is what creates a creamy texture from the more acidic malic acid.  The wine is aged for 6-8 months before bottling.

Its golden-green hue is pretty, and some fine bubbles formed on the sides of the glass.  There is a lot of oak showing on the nose, reminiscent of the big California Chardonnays.  There are some tropical notes, as well as a citrus scent.  On the palate, the fruit shows better than I thought it would, with pears and mangoes taking the lead.  The big, buttery play is there, for sure, but so is a surprising citrus zing.  I didn’t expect such a zippy acidity, and it's a pleasure to find.

Biltmore Estate Château Reserve Blanc de BlancsBiltmore Estate Château Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2008 North Carolina Méthode Champenoise Brut

This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay, with 88% of the grapes grown in North Carolina, 12% in California.  At 12.4% abv, it's quite drinkable and it sells for $35.

Fermented in stainless steel, the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle and ages 12-16 months before disgorging.  It's a lovely golden straw sparkler with a yeasty nose showing nutty aromas.  Orange and pineapple flavors on the palate are topped by a touch of yeast and a bit of toasty almond on the finish.  The bubbles are festive and plentiful, leaving a frothy beard on the glass.

The Biltmore Estate wines can be found in stores throughout the southern and eastern U.S., or from their online store.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Curran Grenache Blanc

People have different reasons to explain their particular attraction to one restaurant or another.  A special dish or a favorite waiter might bring you back to a certain restaurant repeatedly.  As you might guess, I find myself returning over and over to eateries which have nice wine lists.  Akasha, in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City, is one of those places.

The wines on their blackboard have pleased me each time I've had one, and they feature quite a few wines of California's Central Coast, particularly the Santa Barbara area.

Lunchtime fish tacos - sea bass instead of the usual mahi mahi - fit perfectly with a wine from the Santa Ynez Valley, the Curran Grenache Blanc 2009, from winemaker Kris Curran.

Showing a lovely golden-yellow hue in the glass, the Curran's nose is accented by cantaloupe and flowers, with some wet rocks to show the minerals.  It tastes a bit of those minerals, too, but offers mainly a tropical guava flavor.  The acidity doesn't seem to be too strong until the finish, where it really kicks in.  The wine has very good weight and a full mouthfeel.  Despite the minerality, the mid-palate is smooth and almost creamy feeling.

That smooth nature plays very well with the somewhat picante guacamole which topped the fish.  The acidity shows up right when you need it, at the end.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Wine News

Top Ten lists - where writers offer their opinions about which wines they deem to be the best - can offer an interesting insight into what's going on in a wine region.  Wine blogger Frank J. Morgan always has interesting things to say about Virginia wines on his blog Drink What You Like.  He did a little research on some of the top twenty lists that have been circulating concerning Virginia wines.

Morgan found that, from those top twenty lists, the favorite winery of those who know Virginia wines appears to be Linden Vineyards in Linden, Virgina.  Winemaker Jim Law accounted for 11% of all the wines mentioned as Virginia favorites.

Breaux Vineyards, in Purcellville, Virginia also had quite a few mentions, as did Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal, Virginia.

The results also show what types of wines are most respected in Virginia.  Among the top twenty wines cited, white wines held a slight edge over red.  Both the red and the Chardonnay from Linden Vineyards was mentioned often.  Viognier seemed to be the most popular grape, but there were mentions for Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Nebbiolo, Merlot and Norton.

A dessert wine from Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville, Virginia placed on several lists.  It's made from late harvest Vidal Blanc grapes.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Wine Teeth

If you drink red wine, you may have noticed a tendency for the wine's color to show up on your teeth.  This can result in a purple smile that's a common sight at wine tasting events.

An article in the online publication Palate Press offers some advice from a dental expert, Dr. Dan Marut, a dentist in Medford, Oregon.

He says the wine's acidity is at fault for breaking down your tooth enamel, which makes the teeth more porous.  This allows the color in a red wine to attach itself easily to your formerly pearly whites.  Even white wine does this damage, but has no color to leave.  However, after drinking white wine you may find stains from other foods becoming a problem.

Dr. Marut says don't reach for the toothbrush - not immediately, anyway.  Using abrasive toothpaste on your acid-washed teeth may actually do more damage.  You should rinse thoroughly, wait an hour and then brush your teeth.

As you have heard all your life, flossing is stressed by dental experts, and this case is no exception.  Regular visits to your dentist for a complete cleaning are also recommended.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Wine News

You may remember him as the singer of the 1986 hit record, "The Lady In Red," but Chris De Burgh has found another way to make red pay off for him.

Decanter reported last year that DeBurgh has decided to put up for auction 320 bottles and 84 magnums from his extensive wine collection.  He told Decanter that he simply couldn't bring himself to drink them.  Luxist says the collection of mainly red wines is expected to bring in about 200,000 pounds at Christie's King Street in London on March 23, 2011.

De Burgh's collection includes such prizes as a case ofChateau Lafite-Rothschild 1945, with an estimated value of 12,000 to 16,000 pounds. He is also offering Latour '61Mouton '82Cheval Blanc '78 and a complete vertical collection of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild vintages from 1945 to the present.  That 62-magnum vertical is expected to fetch 70,000 to 90,000 pounds.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Charles "Jiggs" Davis, Managing Member and Co-Proprietor of Davis and Dyke Winery in Alameda, California, oversees the Napa Valley label called Three Hoots.  I’ll write a bit about their Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and they also make Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

Three Hoots is a proponent of sustainable and organic farming, including the use of "owl boxes," which are used for natural pest control.  Their wines feature owls on the labels, and their wine club is even called the Owls Club.  You must be a member of the Owls Club to purchase the wines.

Three Hoots Cabernet SauvignonCabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007 Napa Valley

The label’s initial offering was the 2007 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon.  This big Napa red is aged in 100% French oak barrels for 25 months.  305 cases were produced.  The wine carries a hefty 15% abv number, and the winemaker notes claim it will age well for 20 years or longer.

Winemaker Gustavo A. Gonzalez reports the ‘07 crops had half the average rainfall, so yields were down 25% and the fruit is very concentrated as a result.  The Cab is sourced from several hillside vineyards overlooking Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena and are farmed using sustainable agriculture practices.  The label features the image of the Great Horned Owl, one of the most widespread owls in North America.  All this attention to nature isn’t just a bunch of talk, either.  Three Hoots puts a portion of their net revenues from the sale of the wine toward the Audubon Society.

The Three Hoots Cabernet Sauvignon is inky black, no light gets through at all.  The complex nose has cassis, smoke, graphite and black olives.  The wine is much darker after being open a couple of days, and even more complex.  The scent of tar becomes apparent then.

A lot is expected of a Napa Cab, and this one delivers.  The taste is rich and dark - very intense - with huge tannins and huge alcohol.  It’s definitely brawny.  The finish is extremely dry, and this wine practically screams to be paired with a big, fatty steak.

Three Hoots Sauvignon BlancSauvignon Blanc 2009 Napa Valley

This 100% Sauvignon Blanc also features Napa Valley fruit that was farmed organically.  The label bears the likeness of a Barred Owl, and a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Audubon Society.  There were 504 cases produced, and the winemaker says it will age well for five years or longer.  It's a hefty white, at 14.3% abv.

The Three Hoots Sauvignon Blanc shows a very slight and fresh grassy nature, rather reminiscent of the Loire Valley.  The nose is really all about the fruit, though.  Delicious nectarine aromas mingle with a hint of wet stones.  The taste is crisp and lively, with pear and an awesome minerality in the forefront.  It's an extremely refreshing wine which begs for some oysters to be paired with it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Pairing Wine With Candy

Pairing wine and food always seems to center around matching wines with meat, pasta or vegetables.  You can have a lot of fun pairing wine with candy, though.  If you've never tried it, it's a taste treat you need to experience.

Chocolate is a natural for pairing with red wines.  I find that dark chocolate works best, and reds with a soft mouthfeel go really well with it.  Try to stay away from reds with a lot of oak, or too much tannin.  Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot are usually pretty good choices.

Chocolate candies with a creamy center of raspberry or cherry taste great this way, and the creamy center adds to the melt-in-your-mouth factor.  Port wine is nearly always a good choice for pairing with chocolates.

White wines can even be matched successfully with candy.  Try tasting a chocolate with a butter rum filling with a sip of Chardonnay, or a late-harvest Viognier.  Spicy candies - with peppers or chiles introduced to the mix - match up spectacularly with with a dry Riesling.

I recently found that brittle made with New Mexico chiles and pumpkin seeds was a perfect fit with Roussanne.  Throw a little goat cheese into the bite and you have a real delight.  With this kind of match, you want to use a white wine with a good deal of acidity.

What's your favorite candy?  Think about the flavors involved in it and pick a wine that suits those qualities.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Temecula Valley

The wine country in Southern California's Temecula Valley recently had its annual Spring Barrel Tasting weekend, which they call the World Of Wine.  It provides an opportunity for wine lovers to travel from winery to winery, checking out some of their best wines paired with some tasty food, and get a sneak peek at future releases sampled right from the barrel.

Peggy Evans, the Executive Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, said the event was a big success.  "We sold about 1400 tickets, which was great, and we had all 33 member wineries participate, so it was a great turnout."

More fun is in the works for Temecula wine country after the summer, says Evans.  "We won't be doing any big events until September, when we celebrate California Wine Month.  We do passport tastings for the whole month,and then we also do a big showcase event called Crush, which we'll be doing the second Saturday of September.  That's the only time during the year that we have all our wineries in one location.  Then we have another barrel tasting in November, so we have three primary fundraisers a year."

Any time is alright, though, for a trip to Temecula for wine tasting in Southern California.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre

The tent sale at one of my local wine shops - Wally's, in Los Angeles - is an event to which I am always drawn as if by magnetic power.  They could have the sale in the store, but it just wouldn't be the same even if the prices were.

Something about the carnival atmosphere produced simply by throwing up a big tent over a parking lot holds large sway over me.  I'm sure others feel attracted to tent sales, too, or there wouldn't be so many of them.  For me, though, it's only the one at Wally's where I find myself under the big top twice a year.

I see some of the same people there on each visit.  It's always nice to stop by Richard Maier's stack of wine cases, on top of which he is always pouring tastes of his rich Maier Family wines from the Sonoma side of Spring Mountain.  A guy named Anthony is usually pouring some Argentine delight or another.  And I swear the shoppers I see cruising the tented aisles - whose names I don't know - are as familiar as my neighbors, maybe more so.

The big thrill of the event is discovering new wines, of course.  One such thrill is the Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre.

Produced in the town of Fumane, near Verona, this big red is the first of my most recent finds I've tried, and it made the trip worthwhile.  This wine utilizes Corvina and Rondinella grapes.  A majority of them are vinified right after harvest, but some are sent to the drying room, Amarone-style, before being vinified in January.  Then the wines are blended and aged in oak barrels.  This estate-bottled wine has 13.5% abv, and lists for $22.  I picked it up for $16.

This Italian beauty is inky black in the glass.  The raisiny character promised on the label certainly comes through on the nose.  A huge element of dried fruit greets the nostrils, not smelling sweet at all, but very fruity nonetheless.  There is also a tar aroma.  The wine is very dry on the palate, with a full, hearty mouthfeel that’s more like a beef stew than a beverage.  That dried fruit plays on the palate, too, with a raspberry angle.  After a bit of breathing time, the tannins are silky smooth and the acidity is bright.

Go ahead and keep your in-store sales and online deals.  Finding wines like this makes me keep my eyes open for tents.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Wine Exports

California's Wine Institute reports that U.S. wine exports set a new record in 2010.  Last year, winery revenues from exports hit $1.14 billion, an increase of 25.6% from the previous year.

The California wine industry has set a goal of $2 billion in wine export revenues, which they hope to achieve by 2020.  Last year's jump makes that figure look very much within reach.

The numbers are great news for California wineries, as 90% of American wine exports originate in the Golden State.

The 27 countries of the European Union soaked up 38% of the stateside wine last year.  Other big consumers include Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and China.

A Wine Institute spokesperson credits "changes in the dollar exchange rate, a recovering economy and California’s effective marketing and high wine quality" for the improved export figures.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


When you think of wine from the Northwest, Idaho probably doesn't come to mind first.  The Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission thinks it should.  They report that the first grape plantings in Idaho date back to 1864, before Washington and Oregon.  As is the case in many areas around the U.S., Idaho's wine industry was practically booming when Prohibition shut it down.  It would be 1970 before Idaho grapes were again planted.

The region that took off first in Idaho's wine rebirth was the Snake River Valley, in the southern part of the state.  That region became an official American Viticultural Area in 2007. The Snake River Valley's cold winters allow grape vines to go dormant, which is a benefit come growing season.  It doesn't rain all that much there, either, and that helps control rot.  The warm days and cool nights during summer are not unlike some of California's great growing regions.  Temperatures swinging as much as 40 degrees between day and night are the norm.  Idaho's well-drained volcanic soil is similar to that of Washington, with even higher elevations for vineyards - as high as 3,000 feet.  All this means you can expect concentrated flavors and naturally high acidity in Idaho wines.

Sawtooth Winery was founded as Pintler Cellars in 1987, changing names in 1998.  Their Sawtooth Vineyard is one of Idaho's warmer growing sites, and is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Roussanne and Pinot Gris.  The Skyline Vineyard encompasses slopes facing in all directions and the cooler parts are home to grapes that like a cooler climate, like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.  Sawtooth Winery is a member of the Rhone Rangers.

Sawtooth CarmenereSawtooth Winery Reserve Carmenénère 2009

Sawtooth's '09 Carménère is labeled as a Snake River Valley wine, with grapes coming from both the Sawtooth and Skyline Vineyards.  The wine is 80% Carménère and 20% Malbec.  It sports an alcohol level of a moderate 13.5% abv.  108 cases were produced.

The Carménère is medium-dark violet in color, and the nose bursts with aromas: dark fruit, cherry and raspberry, a bit of tar and a pipe tobacco note.  The palate shows dark fruit, plums, anise and the whole bottom row of the spice rack.  The spiciness plays on forever on the finish.  There’s also something in the taste that reminds me of pine trees.

You'll find it benefits from a bit of decanting, but it’s not harsh upon opening.  The tannins are definitely present, but the wine is quite smooth going down.  Moderate acidity and very nice minerality make this a good choice for the dinner table.  It's a natural to pair with a skirt steak or pork chop grilled over a rosemary fire.

Sawtooth RieslingSawtooth Estate Winery Riesling 2009

Another Snake River Valley wine made from grapes grown in both the Sawtooth and Skyline Vineyards, the Sawtooth Riesling is abetted by 5% Muscat grapes.  With alcohol at only 12.3% abv and 2% residual sugar, this wine is very easy to drink.  Sweet orange on the nose and flavors of green apples and honeydew are simply beautiful, with a smooth mouthfeel and a refreshing acidity that concentrates on the finish.  I tried it with Castelvetrano olives and loved the match.  It should fit well with grain-based or pasta salads and almonds or pecans, too.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Banfi Centine Rose Tuscany

A restaurant which never lets you down is something to be cherished.  In Los Angeles, Denise and I have dined at any number of establishments with up and down results.  Dishes may vary in quality from meal to meal, the food's good but the service isn't, hype doesn't deliver - we've encountered each of these issues all over Southern California.

One restaurant where we have never been let down is Il Buco, on Robertson Boulevard.  This small branch of the Drago family Italian restaurant empire always delivers.  The food is excellent - never less - and their soups are an experience for which my wife lives.  The service is efficient without hurry and the staff is friendly in a familial way.  Waves and smiles always greet us and see us out the door after dinner.

The wine list - as I have written about before - is one of my favorites in Los Angeles.  There's plenty of choice in both Italian and California wines, and my selections always seem surprisingly good - although the surprise really shouldn't be an issue.  "Good" has become expected here.

On a recent lunch visit, a new entry on the list caught my eye - Banfi Centine, a Tuscan rosé which I decided to enjoy with my meal.

This pink wine is quite pink, and looks very pretty in the glass.  A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it is vinified for 14 days with minimal skin contact in stainless steel.  The alcohol content is 12.5% abv.

The nose of the Centine Rosé shows a beautiful fruit salad of raspberry, strawberry and sweet watermelon.  A light strawberry flavor is rooted in minerals.  The acidity doesn't quite seem to be there on the palate, but shows nicely on the finish.

Paired with carrot soup, it's a hit.  The thyme in the soup really sets off the delicate flavors.  The wine also provides a good match for an endive salad with walnuts, pears and gorgonzola. Rosemary chicken also fits very nicely with this lovely rosé.

At Il Buco, the Centine is $7 by the glass, and it sells for around $11 a bottle retail.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Holus Bolus Syrah Octobrist at Bar Bouchon

A wine's sense of place is its most important characteristic.  It's called terroir - the way the grapes, the soil, the climate and the winemaking all come together to create something much bigger than the individual pieces of the puzzle.

A sense of place is also important when tasting a wine.  A wine sampled in the hurried and sometimes chaotic atmosphere of a big tasting event may not fare as well as when it is sampled in a more relaxed and personal manner.

That note was gently brought home to me during lunch with Denise on Valentine's Day.  Almost by chance, we lunched at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, but not actually in the Bistro.  We had our Valentine lunch at Bar Bouchon, downstairs from the restaurant.  A few tables scattered along the beautiful courtyard in the bright, warm sunshine of February in Southern California called to us strongly, and we took a seat.

The wine I enjoyed was the '06 Holus Bolus Syrah Octobrist, a Santa Ynez Valley product of Black Sheep Finds , a winery located in a nondescript warehouse facility in Lompoc.  Peter Hunken - formerly winemaker at Stolpman Vineyards - heads up the collective which includes his wife, Amy Christine.  This Syrah is one of the most intense and delicious wines I've had recently.  Would it have been so good in a one-ounce sample, swirled, savored and spit at an event with other tasters crowding in at my elbow?  Maybe the taste would have been there, but the experience would have been missing.

The setting was perfect.  Valentine's Day lunch with my wife, bright sunshine warming us on a day that was just barely cool, and the food of the Thomas Keller eatery would have been enough to write home about.  But a big tip of the pork-pie hat should go to Bouchon's Beverly Hills sommelier, Alex Weil, for including the Holus Bolus on his list.  Kudos also go to Hunken for making the wine in the first place.

Inky black, this 100% Syrah has a nose that is dark, dark and darker still.  Dark blackberry and cassis fruit are joined by aromas of roasting meat, smoke, cedar and tar.  The taste is full of blackberries, spices and a Slim Jim component that both amuses and thrills me.  My BBQ sandwich of braised Hobbs Shore pork shoulder, cabbage and Fuji apple coleslaw paired perfectly with the Syrah.  The wine costs $13 by the glass at Bouchon.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Humberto Canale Estate Malbec

The wines of Argentina make for a fascinating study, particularly those from Patagonia.  A distinctive earthiness has been the calling card of the Patagonian wines I have sampled.  Humberto Canale is in the High Valley of the Rio Negro province, located in the northern portion of Patagonia, an area comprising the southernmost part of South America.

Malbec, an Argentine restaurant in Toluca Lake, CA, has a wine list that is heavy in Argentine brands.  A lunchtime visit there offered me the opportunity to try Canale's '09 Patagonian Malbec.

This 100% Malbec wine is fermented in concrete vats for 20 days, then undergoes malolactic fermentation and aging of about 20% of the volume in American and French oak for a year with another 6 months in the bottle before its release.  My waiter suggested it is on the lighter side, but I find it to have a very full body.  The alcohol content is 13.7% abv.

It's very dark, both in color and aroma.  The wine is inky with a nose of dark fruit and earth, with some tar characteristics thrown into the mix.  There is an almost a minty edge on the palate, which is dominated by the same traits found on the nose plus some spice.  The finish is quite long and entirely satisfying.  Very concentrated flavors taste great in the mouth and for minutes afterward.  Minerals play a large part in this wine, and the acidity is just about perfect.

This Malbec paired so well with wood-fired salmon that it seemed to be made for that purpose, although the winery suggests barbeque is its intended mate.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Wine Laws: Arizona and Massachusetts

Will it play in Peoria?  Apparently so, at least in Peoria, Arizona.  Safeway grocery shoppers in the Phoenix suburb will soon be able to enjoy samples while they shop.

An article in the Arizona Republic reported that the Peoria City Council has approved samples of beer, wine and spirits at two Safeway stores in a unanimous vote.

By state law, samples are limited to three ounces of beer, one ounce of wine and one ounce of distilled spirits per person, per brand, per day.

In Massachusetts, legislation has been introduced which would reinstate a sales tax on alcoholic beverages sold in retail establishments and increase the excise tax, too.  According to an article in the Wellesley Wine Press, Massachusetts residents voted not long ago that they did not want a sales tax on alcohol.

The article states that Massachusetts is still awaiting legislation which would allow the direct shipment of wine as well as a law that would allow retailers to ship wine outside of the state.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Paso Robles at Vibiana

Paso Robles is a great wine producing region, vastly underrated by many.  Winemakers in the California Central Coast AVA have great fruit and terroir to work with, and they make the most of it.

A group of Paso Robles winemakers brought their wares to Los Angeles on March 2, 2011.  The tasting event was held in Vibiana, a downtown church turned event venue.  Tasting heavenly wines in a former church seemed appropriate, I confess.  I prayed for a great wine tasting experience and, Lo! - one was delivered.  The miracle of turning grapes into wine was displayed at table after table.

Grape Geeks

Ken VolkWhen there's a big roomful of winemakers present, you're going to hear a lot about grapes.   You're going to hear very deep discussions about grapes.  You're going to find out how much you don't know about grapes.  I had the chance to listen to Ken Volk talk about grapes at length with someone who appeared to be trying to dislodge Volk as the biggest grape geek in the room.  Note to others: that's a game you won't win.  Volk gave an impromptu botany lesson, ranging from DNA to grape origins to the genetic offspring of Muscat Alexandria.  I was transfixed until the pourer looked at me and cocked his head toward Volk, saying "He can get geeky."  2010 was Volk's 34th vintage, so he has earned the right to be as geeky he wants to be.


When tasting wines at events like this one, I often ask about the alcohol content of the wine I'm tasting.  Most of the time the responses are not too unusual, but with nothing but Paso Robles wine in the room, I kept getting answers in the 15 to 16% range.  That's a fairly high alcohol reading, but I was told why that seems to be the norm for wines from Paso.

"It's the weather," explained Eric Ogorsolka of Zenaida Cellars.  He went on to extol the virtues of the climate in Paso Robles: the warm days, cool nights and 40-50 degree temperature swings between night and day during the growing season.  The area's grape growers can typically wait longer to harvest than anywhere in California, thus giving winemakers fruit that's as ripe as can be.

Vibiana interiorOgorsolka boasted that his wines nearly all fall between 15 and 16% abv.  Truly, that big bold wine is one of Paso's calling cards - and big, bold wines are okay in my book.  Many people feel that such high alcohol levels are not food friendly.  Some complain that wines like Pinot Noir simply aren't varietally correct in that rarefied air.  There are also voices out there who maintain that high alcohol wine is flawed wine.

I can certainly appreciate a fine and delicate offering that fails to hit 13%, but I can also appreciate aroma and flavor that's as big as America, even if it means the wine is creeping close to Port-level alcohol.  There's room in this big world for everyone to have it their way.   This is how they roll in Paso Robles.

Favorite Tastes

Ancient Peaks Winery 
Sauvignon Blanc 2010:  Grassy and fresh, with great acid on the finish. $12
Oyster Ridge 2007:  Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah/Merlot/Petit Verdot blend is brambly with flavors of blackberry and meat.  $50

Eberle Winery
Mill Road Vineyard Viognier 2009:  Huge floral play with great acidity.  $21
Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah 2008:  Earthy and dirty, very old world.  $20

Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Pomar Junction Vineyard Verdelho 2008:  Mix of flowers and citrus with great acidity.  $24
Pomar Junction Vineyard Aglianico 2007:  Dark, dusty fruit with a lasting finish.  $36

Kiamie Wine Cellars
R'Own 2006:  Rustic mix of Syrah/Grenache/Viognier with a splash of Zinfandel.  $38

Le Vigne Winery
Kiara Reserve Sangiovese 2007:  Bright cherry candy nose, earthy palate.  $20
Le Vigne di Domenico Cabernet Franc 2006:  Dark nose full of earth with mineral laden fruit.  $30

Lone Madrone
La Mezcla 2008:  Extremely refreshing white, with lime and other citrus and great minerality.  $22
Points West Red 2007:  Syrah/Mourvèdre blend displaying a big, juicy nose and a dark palate.  Grippy, big wine.  $28

Niner Wine Estates
Sangiovese 2007:  Beautiful, cherry nose.  Dark and dry.  $24
Twisted Spur Paso Robles Red 2007:  Big, rustic blend of Merlot/Cab Franc/Syrah/Petite Sirah.  $28

Ortman Family Vineyards
Sangiovese 2008:  From the O2 line.  Big, brawny take on the Italian grape.  $20
Wittstrom Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007:  Intense nose and palate with big tannins.  "Light" at just 14.2% abv.  $36

Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery
Estate Viognier 2009:  Nose of oranges and flowers, very fruity with great acidity.  $25
Espiritu Chardonnay 2009:  Very light touch of oaky vanilla with mouth-watering acidity.  $25

Roxo Port Cellars
Paso Melange 2007:  Extremely concentrated Cabernet Franc flavors from Port-style-only producer.  $44
Ruby Tradicional 2007:  Portuguese varieties, Paso-grown.  Coffee and chocolate notes.  $44

Terry Hoage Vineyards
The Gap 2009:  Invigorating white with nutty citrus.  Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc.  $38
The Pick 2008:  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise.  Dark cherry with tons of earth.  $48

Vina Robles
WHITE4 2009:  Vermentino, Verdelho, Viognier, Sauvigon Blanc.  Didn't remind me of Sardinia, but lots to like with citrus and minerality.  $16
RED4 2008:  Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre.  Earthy on nose and palate; brooding and peppery.  $16

Zenaida Cellars
Estate Zinfandel 2008:  Very fresh and vibrant.  A different slant on Zinfandel.  $27
Wanderlust 2008:  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre.  A brooding, old world style Rhone blend.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Lunetta Prosecco

Bringing bubbly to a Super Bowl party shows a particular kind of readiness for celebration.  It was not my intent to be boastful, merely to be supportive of the team allegiance of our hostess.  It turned out to be unfortunate that Sheryl was backing the Steelers for Super Bowl XLV, but being from Pennsylvania - Beaver Falls - she had no choice and wanted none.  The place was festooned in black and gold for better or worse.  Despite the success of the Green Bay Packers in that game, we all enjoyed the feast and festivities.

A couple of growlers of really great beer from Eagle Rock Brewery were the beverage star of the party, but I did manage to pop the cork on the Prosecco.

Lunetta is produced by Cavit, in the northern city Trento.  An Italian sparkling wine brut, Lunetta is pale in color and shows a white, foamy layer of fine bubbles which rise playfully and persistently in the glass.  A fruity nose gives way to green apples and peaches on the palate, with a dry finish that lingers with a cleansing effect.  It went great with the guacamole, by the way.  The wine has an 11.5% alcohol content and was purchased for $9, marked down from the original $16 ticket.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Chartron La Fleur Bordeaux Blanc

The wine list at Salades de Provence in Los Angeles changed recently, and one of the new additions was the Chartron La Fleur white Bordeaux.  The strength of the wine list here is not in quantity, as it is a rather short read.  The wines selected for serving at Salades de Provence always seem to to pair extremely well with their menu items.

Neither the food nor the wines are fancy.  Rustic or country might be an appropriate term to use.  Both elements of the meal, however, are quite satisfying - and have been so on my many visits to La Cienega and Holloway.

On this visit, my friend and wine expert Nicolas Soufflet joined me, along with his lovely Carol and my lovely Denise.  Nicolas also had a glass of the Chartron La Fleur to start, although he has a habit of announcing his white wine consumption as merely a "palate cleansing" measure.  He seemed to enjoy the wine, as he also seemed to enjoy conversing in his native French with our waiter.  "Garcon! More palate cleansing liquid for mon ami, s'il vous plaît!"

The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  It sells for $10 by the glass, probably less than that for a bottle at retail.  A tropical nose shows kiwi and honeydew.  The mouthfeel is almost creamy, but with a nice level of acidity.  Lemon curd on the palate fits well with quiche Lorraine, and I would imagine it would pair nicely with a wide variety of seafood items.


Temecula World Of Wine

Celebrate the coming of spring with a day trip to Southern California's Temecula Valley for some wine tasting.  It’s not too far from Los Angeles, the countryside is beautiful, the wine trails are really simple, the wines are often award-winning, and the quality is surprisingly high.  If you’ve never been to Southern California’s wine country, early March brings a great way to get an introduction. 
The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association has a world of wine to offer over their Barrel Tasting Weekend, March 5th and 6th, 2011.  Their member wineries - more than 30 of them now - swing open their cellar doors and invite you in to sample tank and barrel tastings of future vintages along with tastings of finished wine.  The event is even catered.  Each winery will have food selections specially paired with featured wines.

You can start almost immediately after exiting the 15 Freeway.  Take Rancho California Road or the De Portola Trail to get started on your self-guided tour.  At your first stop - Ponte Family Estate Winery - you’ll get a winery map with menu listings, a passport ticket and a souvenir logo glass.  Take a few minutes to map out the wineries you want to visit – if you haven’t already done so – and get started.  You may be surprised that you’ll find some new favorite wines as a result of your visit.  Ponte Family Estate Winery specializes in Italian varieties, so I'll probably linger there a bit.  Also try to make it by South Coast Winery Resort and Spa.  It is the jewel of the valley.  It was the first Southern California Winery ever to win the coveted Golden Bear Award at the California State Fair as "Best Winery in California."  They followed up that success by winning the award again.

The World of Wine Barrel Tasting Weekend runs from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets are $99 per person and are good both days.  Sunday Only and Designated Driver tickets are available at a discount.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Wine Consumers Wary Of Blogger Recommentations

A survey in the Wine Intelligence Internet and Social Media report finds that independent bloggers are the least trusted wine information sources in the U.S., the UK and France.  The internet is still a popular destination for those seeking wine information, though.

People seem to be more in tune with their local wine merchants when seeking information to help with their wine purchases.  According to the survey, 80% of wine shoppers in the U.S. say they trust the person on the other side of the counter, as opposed to the person on the other end of the Internet.

There's a lot of evidence, though, to suggest that Wine Intelligence patched together a quilt of lies and BS to come up with these findings.  That issue is explored in-depth by Amy Corron Power on Another Wine Blog.  It's worth reading.

As an independent wine blogger myself, the Wine Intelligence results seem downright embarrassing at first blush.   But, if the data is accurate, is the it surprising?  It would stand to reason that people would trust someone they can talk to face-to-face - someone who knows their taste and palate based on previous purchases - rather than someone with whom they have no personal connection.

I have long advised friends and readers to look to their palates for answers about which wines to buy.  I can't tell you what you will like - only you can find out that for yourself.  One of the best ways to do that is to become acquainted with a wine dealer you trust, preferably one who stages tasting events in the store.  Go to these events, talk to your merchant and you will be able to find wines that are right up your alley.

I just hope you trust me when I tell you that!

According to the Wine Intelligence data, online sources most trusted by American consumers are websites of wine shops, newspapers and small-production wineries.  Facebook comes in ahead of supermarket websites on the trust meter.

"We have known for some time that consumers trust people closest to them for recommendations about wine," says Jean-Phillippe Perrouty, Research Director at Wine Intelligence.  "This data shows the power of the Internet as a way of leveraging this trust as the consumer's search for wine knowledge moves online."