Month: May 2010

Interview with Kevin Mehra, 90+ Cellars, Latitude Beverage Company

This is an interview I conducted through email with Kevin Mehra of 90+ cellars.

WWJ: How long has 90+ cellars been in business? Where is the company based?

Kevin Mehra: The company Latitude Beverage has been in business since 2007 but we launched Ninety+ Cellars August of 2009 and it has quickly gained customer acceptance, we have already shipped just over 19,000 cases. The company is based in Boston MA.

WWJ: How does 90+ cellars ensure that the wine they originally sampled is the wine that they receive?  I have heard of other Negociants having to “send the wine right back to China, where it came from” so to speak.

Kevin: A few things:

1.       We deal with wineries that have a reputation already and can be trusted.

2.       We also send every wine into a lab for a chemical analysis on the wine to check for any impurities.

3.       When we taste a wine and decide to buy it we keep a sample of the wine as the standard, when the final Ninety+ bottle arrives we sample it against the standard to confirm it is the same wine. If the wine passes we pay the remaining balance due to the winery.

WWJ: How many releases has 90+ cellars released, how many current releases are there?  What would you say are some of the best values?

Kevin: We are excited to be bottling lot 20 Reserve Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast this week and just approved an Oregon Pinot Gris which would be lot 21. The best values would be the wines that sold out the quickest which would be lot 15 Pinot Noir from Carneros, it was a phenomenal wine from a producer that would retail it for around $35, our partner retailers sold that same wine for $15, and we sold out of 2,400 cases in 2 weeks. Other wines that have become very popular that we have partnered with the wineries to make extended lots and buy the next vintages on the wines are lot 2 Sauv Blanc and lot 7 malbec, which are $10 a bottle retail and are consistently our top selling wines.

WWJ: Do you reveal where the wines originally came from or did you have to sign NDA’s?

Kevin: No we do not reveal where the wines are coming from and do sign NDA’s if required.

WWJ: There is a lot of talk about “the coming carnage in the California wine Industry” as Alder Yarrow at Vinography puts it.  Basically there is a wine glut, and now there are hundreds of California wineries facing foreclosure.  This provides opportunities for Negociants such as yourself, but how are you going to sort through the hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of cases of unsold vintages some dating back to 2004?  how do you see this cataclysmic re-organization playing out?

Kevin: I believe that things will settle down this year with consumer’s slowly moving back up to the luxury wines and wineries with luxury and trustworthy brands will be back on track. For us I am confident with our relationships with wineries in California and around the world there will always be an opportunity to buy excess wine from each vintage. We represent a very profitable part of their business, they get paid within 30 days and they don’t have to budget any commission or marketing dollars on selling the wine. Many wineries may have over-reacted to the down turn and have laid off half or all of their sales staff which I think is a mistake, in hard times you need to work harder to service your customers. The biggest problem for wineries is the technology in vineyards has improved so much that yields are much higher, I think it’s the increased yields that in the future will be the cause of the wine glut.

WWJ: The wines you purchase, are they back blended?  Do you only buy finished bottling blends, or do you also buy mixing components and rework them yourselves, as some negociants do?
Kevin: No we don’t do any back blending we currently only buy finished wines or clean skins.

90+ cellars website

Rise of an American Wine Negociant

The Oxford Companion to wine defines a Negociant as “a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and wine makers and sells the result under its own name.”

According to the Wine Curmudgeon, this approach is a centuries old tradition that began in the French region of Burgundy.  Some well-known negociants you might have heard of: Louis Jadot, George Duboeuf?

During the recent economic recession, I picked up a part-time job selling wine nights and weekends for one such negociant.  The merchant is Cameron Hughes Wine Company.  The way the company works, is they track down orphaned mixing components from premium and ultra premium producers and retool them, and or they buy actual bottling blends.  Cameron’s family background is in the liquor and wine business, and so he knows a thing or two about over production in the wine industry.  He negotiates  deals with producers and a big part of the deal is that the producer is to remain anonymous.  The producers have expensive brand names to protect and so what Cameron does is offer something called the “Cameron Confidential”.  He gives you just enough information for you to speculate, but not enough to reveal the source.   Sometimes these deals can take months to come together, sometimes the deal never materializes and sometimes a deal just falls right in his lap.  Each deal that Cameron completes is given a “Lot’ number.  It’s the easiest way to track which deal is which.   I am reminded of the story of Lot 84.  According to “Cameron Confidential” This deal came to him through his banker!  His own banker had financed the original deal on the winery and now that the partnership was being split and the property being sold, he had a tip.  The new owner was not interested in running vineyard, or keeping the brand, he just wanted the Mount Veeder property for the view.  So within a couple of hours Cameron had his winemaker knocking on their door to buy all the remaining inventory.  The result is 2,400 cases of wine that retailed between $60-$80 through their tasting room and mailing list only, being sold by Cameron for $19! The 2 prior vintages received 92 and 93 point ratings. I had a chance to pick up a half dozen bottles of this wine, and now that they are all gone, I am wishing I had bought more.

With the recent recession, there has been a lot more wine for Cameron to choose from.  The recession came on so fast that most wineries had little time to adjust their production, and rather than lower their price to move product, they are willing to part with some of their juice.  In fact, some places have parted with half or entire vintages.  Nowadays Cameron is  not only buying the remaining mixing components,  he is  also picking up finished bottling blends, the exact same stuff that these producers are selling for $95+.

Have you ever heard of a 90 point Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon for $20?  see Lot 100. How about a 90 point Chalk Hill Sonoma Cabernet for $16? see Lot 140 How about a 92 point Diamond Mountain Cab for $22?? See Lot 146 You get the point: Extreme value.

Cameron Hughes Wine was rated by Inc magazine as the 18th fastest growing company of 2008, ranked #2 out of the top 100 San Fransisco-Oakland-Freemont area businesses and ranked #3 in the top food and wine businesses overall!

Visit Cameron Hughes Wines website here

A visit to ENO oENOlogy Wine bar, Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego

I took a trip to San Diego to attend my brother’s graduation ceremony.

Wine Cheese and Chocolate

He graduated from Scripps with a doctoral in Philosophy.  Interesting thing about the sciences I learned: Your degree is called a degree in Philosophy and that’s it.  There are no other letter codes such as M.D. at the end!  His area of expertise is stem cells.  So to celebrate we packed up the family and headed to San Diego.  We gathered with some of his friends one night and had dinner at the Hotel Del Coronado.  But before we met up, I took him to a little place called ENO.  Eno wine rooms are located in Chicago and California.  They specialize in wine, cheese and chocolate.  On Friday nights ENO has a happy hour with an assortment of wines for only $5 a glass.

Riedel stem ware

And the wines are only served in Riedel stemware.  Top notch.  The wines are stored sideways in a temperature controlled glass room, which is incorporated into the design of the bar.  There is bar seating, table seating and long tables with various varietals of grapes backlit in the tables surface.

Interesting table top

Eno has a great assortment of cheese flights, specialty meats, and amazing chocolates.  Click here to view the menu

My brother and I enjoyed “The Great Cheese Experience” which is 6 of the staffs top pics, and includes  Brindisi,

The Great Cheese Experience!

Noord Hollander Gouda, Robiola a tre latti, Gruyere, Brebis and Roquefort.  I really liked the Gouda, the Roquefort was very strong!

We also had the Charcuterie which was an assortment of Prosciutto, Sopresseta, Salame, and Duck Pate.  Followed by a bowl of Olives marinated in chili, thyme, garlic and citrus.  Delicious!

Last but not least was the Sea Salt Caramel!

Sea Salt Caramel

To enjoy this treat, you turn it upside down and place it on your tongue allowing the salt to melt before sucking on the melting chocolate and caramel.

While we were there we were introduced to the  assistant sommelier at the Hotel Del Coronado, Joe Weaver.  Super nice guy, a little shy, but super nice.  Ladies…take a trip down to this wine bar and meet Joe..wink wink.  We also met Ted Glennon,wine director.  Ted is also a super nice guy.  Friendly, out going.  Both guys are really down to earth.  If you are looking for wine snobs you are in the wrong place!

I almost forgot…the wine!  We sampled 4 wines:

Click to enlarge, you can see a man in the wine!

Four Vines “Naked” Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, 2008.  Un-oaked Burgundian, Crisp, clean, and if I’m not mistaken, not buttery.

Vina Nora 2008, Albarino.  Delicious, fruit forward, tangy pineapple and citrus.

Andrew Lane Gamay “nouveau” Suisun Valley, 2009.  I really loved the bright vibrant color on this wine.  Crisp, fruity, very light on the tannins.  Served slightly chilled this wine would be a great summer refresher.

Maipe, Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina 2008.    Yes, Bonarda.   Ripe black fruit, almost fig like with sweet herbs and a rich oaky finish.  I am going to have to buy this wine and give it a more thorough review.

Thanks again to the staff at ENO for a wonderful experience, I will definitely be visiting the next time I am in San Diego!

Wine Review: Intaglio Bianco 2008, Trentino D.O.C.

The Blend:  47% Muller Thurgau, 45% Chardonnay, 8% Riesling.

Where from?  Trentino, Northern Italy

Production: 1,500 cases

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: $13 at Oakville Grocery, Scottsdale Arizona

On the nose: Very aromatic, tropical fruit, melon

On the palate:  Lemon, Green Apple, creamy supple mouth feel, with light, mineral finish.

Verdict: 90 points.  Amazing wine, especially for the price.  The aromatics and the mouth feel are most impressive.

How to store wine

I bought some expensive wine many years ago,

Nice looking wine rack, but is it good for long term storage?

brought it home and put it on a funky fake mahogany wine rack in the kitchen. I was happy with how my kitchen looked like the show model house, with the wine in the rack. Little did I know that when it came time to drink the wine two years later that the juice would taste like burnt mud. Why?? I spent $80, eighty hard-earned dollars on that bottle! Actually I just thought that the wine was crummy. I opened another, and the same thing!
The wine rack sat in front of the kitchen window, in my house in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. The temperature inside the house is about 78F or higher for at least 6 months a year. So to save you the disappointment that I went through, here are a few simple tips..I will get deeper into proper storage issues in future posts

1. Light. Ultraviolet light is BAD. Experts agree that UV light impacts wine in a similar way to excessive heat, it can cause oxidation of the tannins. Do not let your wine sit in direct sunlight. Even secondary UV light can be harmful in the long-term so it is best to store your wine in a dark environment.

2. Temperature. Experts agree that 55F is ideal. If you store the wine too cold it impedes the aging process and if you store it too hot it speeds it up too fast. Anything over 70F is risky and anything over 80F is how you end up with burnt mud for $80 a bottle. The University of California, Davis has come up with a formula: For every 10F above 55F, the wine will age twice as fast. So if you store your wine at 75F it will age four times as fast as if you stored it at 55F. Not only that but when wine matures too fast, all of its fruity aspects are lost. Peter from Rose Hill Wine Cellars in Toronto Canada says “Storage at elevated temperatures more than 21°C (70°F) causes undesirable changes as various reactions are accelerated, but at different rates. The result is a lack of balance in the aging process.

Also in the Temperature category is Temperature Fluctuations. Temperature fluctuations can be harmful to the maturing process, even if the high temp is not over 70F. As close to constant is best. You will notice that most wine storage devices run in cycles so as not to be constantly running. The temperature may fluctuate between 52F and 58F, this is considered an acceptable range. Something else to consider is that although the temperature inside your wine fridge may be fluctuating, the wine temperature is fluctuating less.  That is because of the nature of liquid versus gas.  The temperature of air fluctuates more than the temperature of liquid.   Even so, Peter at Rose Hill says that fluctuations of more than 2° to 4°C (5° to 10°F) are undesirable. Something I find a little suspect in a lot wine fridge catalogues is the pictures of wine fridges in the kitchen. Nice under counter storage units placed right next to an industrial sized oven. Looks great, but how smart is that?

3. Humidity. Humidity is something to think about although not quite as crucial as UV and Temperature. 40%-70% is the ideal range. What you dont want to have happen, is for the cork to dry out. If it does, then cracks form in the cork and eventually air gets in the bottle and its game over. That is why experts recommend storing wine on it’s side. Too much humidity is not good because then your nice wine labels begin to bubble, and also there is the potential for mold to grow inside the bottle, especially if you leave it standing upright.

4. Vibrations. According to experts vibrations disturb the sediments in wine when alter the aging process. This is why most people would not suggest storing wine in a regular household fridge. If you stand a few wine bottles up very close to each other, you will hear them rattling in a normal fridge. Proper wine fridges are designed to limit vibrations.

5. Natural Ventilation. Adequate ventilation is important in order to prevent unpleasant odor build up and mold. Related to ventilation and odor buildup is you should not be storing wine in the same area as other things that have odors. Like food. Some experts claim that foul food odors can make their way into the wine. I for one do not want to risk finding out the hard way, so I am not going to be keeping any cheeses or garlic in the wine fridge, or keeping my wine in the food fridge for any extended periods.

A conversation with Sommelier Dave Johnson Oakville Grocery, North Scottsdale

Dave Johnson takes care of the wine department at Oakville Grocery in North Scottsdale, Arizona.

Dave Johnson

The Store is located directly across the street from P.F. Chang’s restaurant at the Kierland Shopping Center.  Dave is a warm and friendly fellow, he is well-traveled in addition to being a Level III Sommelier.  He has worked with and trained with some of the worlds most famous wineries, wine makers, he’s been there and done that, so to speak.  He now calls Arizona home, and has lived here for the past 10 years.

This is a video of my visit.  In it Dave tells us about a wine he had a hand in creating, he has actually made 6 vintages of wine.

Wine review: Bonterra Vineyards 2006 Syrah Organic Mendocino County

I always scan the Costco wine departments for “Markdowns”.  On a recent trip I found Bonterra Vineyards 2006 Syrah Organic from Mendocino County.  It was $9.97.  I don’t know what the original price was but $10 bucks seemed like a good idea at the time.  I don’t know enough about Organic or biodynamic farming, at this point, to talk confidently on the proof of that.  I can talk about the taste and how it makes me feel, and how I am going to look into that, later.

So some technical stuff:

The Blend: 97% Syrah, 2% Petit Sirah, 1% Grenache

Aging: 18 months in French and American Oak.  44% New, 22% once used, 22% twice used.

Alcohol: 14.4%

Production: 6,500 cases

Price: $9.97 on markdown at Costco.  Normal retail is $17.99

On the Nose: berries, not a heck of a lot going on in the nose for me

The Palate:  The palate is a nice surprise.  Fruit forward. Dark berry fruit.  Cocoa, black pepper and nice strong tannins on the finish.  There is a fair amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle.  I like to see that in a Shiraz/Syrah.

The verdict: 88 points.  There is nothing about this wine that I find out of balance or unpleasant, it would be a very decent daily drinker.

If this doesn’t sound like a glowing review, it isn’t.  But that’s not because I don’t think the wine is good.  I’m just guessing however you found this article, you’d probably appreciate the honest truth.  It’s good.  It’s something I would drink again, probably serve at a party, and will buy again if I see it in the $10 range.


2 inexpensive Chardonnays for #Chardonnay, a twitter event

Rick Bakas of St. Supery is at it again with another twitter wine tasting event.  Hot off the heals of #calicab, and Josh Wade’s #WAmerlot comes #chardonnay.  If you are looking for something inexpensive to sip and tweet about, consider the following two Chardonnays which I found on Markdown for under $10 at my local Costco. Plus if you are looking for something to serve with the wine, check out my French bread Brie and roasted garlic recipe HERE

Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards, 2007 Chalk Hill, Sonoma County

Price: About $20, as tested $9.97 at Costco

How was it made? 97% French oak barrels, 97% malolactic, and aged 9 months.

According the company literature, this wine should be enjoyed over the next 1-3 years.  It’s near the end of April, 2010 right now, so I believe we are reaching the end of this window, let’s see what it has left shall we?

On the Nose: Pear Pineapple butter and toast, not necessarily in that order, and it’s not abundantly obvious.  The nose is subtle.

On the Palate: The Palate is a lot nicer than the nose lets on.  The fruit is riper than the nose would suggest.  With 97% malolactic fermentation the fruit is predominantly green apple with a little hint of pineapple sweetness interwoven in the oak.

Starmont Merryvale, 2007 Napa Valley

What is it?  100% Chardonnay

Where from?  Napa Valley

How much?  About $20… as tested $9.97 at Costco

Alcohol: 13.5%

Production: 25,517 cases

How was it made? 50% barrel, 50% stainless steel fermentation, 60% malolactic, with 8 months in 15% new French oak

I took a trip down to my local Costco to search for markdowns.  I have enjoyed Starmont Merryvale Cabernet’s so I was interested in trying out the Chardonnay, especially at the reduced price.

On the nose, crushed pineapple in heavy syrup.  I can say this with certainty because I was making a pineapple marinade for pork tenderloin yesterday and the aroma is very fresh in my mind.  Though it is not a very strong aroma, it is definitely present.  There is also a citric aspect to it, a slight lemon.

On the palate, medium bodied, maybe just a little bit on the light side of medium.  The fruit on the palate is Citrus, predominately lemon.   It’s smooth, the acidity is quite subdued.

The finish is nice, and fairly long.  Surprisingly long, tingly, tart and there’s a hint of creamy oak nestled in there as well.

My first impression was that I was not wowed by this wine, but I gave it a bit of time to open up and warm up and it really made a big difference.  It’s a nice, fairly light, crisp simple straight forward Chardonnay.  If you are tired of over oaked over buttery monster California Chardonnay, you will be pleasantly surprised with this effort.

Arizona Judgement 2010: Arizona Wines Vs. The World

All eyes and palates will be on Arizona wines on June 2nd, for Arizona Judgement 2010. Pavle Millic, co-owner of FnB restaurant will be hosting the event.

Arizona State Flag

Note:  The event is not open to the public.  FnB can only fit about 35 people, so the event is limited to judges and a few members of the press.  This event is reminiscent of the Judgment of Paris, 1976.  The movie “Bottle Shock” is based on those events.

Here’s how it is going to work:  There will be 5 red and 5 white wines from Arizona going head to head against wines of the world.  It will be a blind tasting, so the judges won’t know which is which.  The Judges will make notes and keep score.  At the end, the wines and results will be revealed.

Who are the  Panelists?

An Arizona wine

Gary Vaynerchuk:  Host of the daily wine blog “Wine Library TV”, New York Times best seller “Crush It!”, and co owner of Vayner Media. a branding and consulting firm.

Laura Williamson:   Laura Williamson is one of only 105 people in North America who have earned the title of ‘Master Sommelier and she is one of only 15 women with the title.  Laura is also a Certified Wine Educator.  She is co-owner of Vin Tabla restaurant in Tucson where she manages the wine list.  She also lectures nationally. Check out her Bio at the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Tadeo Borchardt:  Tadeo is winemaker for Napa Valley’s Neyers Vineyards. Neyers Vineyards regularly scores 90+ points from Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.  Tadeo graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona.

Anne Rosenzweig: Anne has earned not one but two elusive and prestigious 3 Star Ratings from the New York Times.  One for each of ear East Side Manhattan restaurants Arcadia and the Lobster Club.  She opened Arcadia in 1985, and the Lobster Club in 1995. Read a little more about Anne in this article from Cuisine Net’s Diner’s Digest.

Mark Tarbell:  Mark is owner of Tarbell’s restaurant on Camelback, as well as the Oven, and the restaurant Home in Colorado.  He is also Arizona Republics wine critic.  Mark’s restaurants have won dozens of awards including Food and Wine’s “Best Restaurant”.  Mark has also been a judge at The Los Angeles International Wine Competition for the past 10 years.

Chris Bianco: Chef at Pizzeria  Bianco, James Beard award-winning chef that is!  Pizzeria Bianco has been rated by the New York Times as one of the best Pizzeria’s in the WORLD!!

Sommelier Journal will be assessing the results and providing final analysis.

I recently emailed Pavle Milic some questions I had about him, and the event:

WWJ: Where are you from, where did you grow up?

Pavle Milic:  Father defected from Communist Yugoslavia (Montenegro) in 1962.  He landed in Colombia, South America where he met my mom and I happened.  I grew up in Queens, New York with a pack of Jews and Italians.  I can say Shabbat Shalom on the weekends, drink grappa and break a leg (someone else’s) all at the same time.

WWJ:  How did you end up in Arizona?

Pavle Milic: Parents moved here in 1988 to open an Italian restaurant called Franco’s Trattoria on Mountain View and Hayden

WWJ: How long have you been in the restaurant business?

Pavle Milic: 22 years

WWJ:  How did you come up with the Arizona Judgement idea?  Was there an aha! moment?

Pavle Milic:  I have tasted a lot of guests in a blind setting.  Arizona wines have always faired well. When I performed blind tastings before I decided to do the list, guests loved the wine. Now that the wines are on a printed list–assumptions are made, like the wine isn’t good.   If you are judging a wine on balance and quality I think they are great.   I thought, why not have a tasting where we pair AZ juice against other wine regions and see what happens.  So here we are!

WWJ:  You are a very enthusiastic promoter of Arizona wines, why?

Pavle Milic: It felt good. I am not reinventing the wheel. Many restaurants close to wine regions pour the local bounty of the terroir. I figure this was a no-brainer. The idea of pouring local wines was also analogous to the way Charleen(Charleen Badman Co-Owner and head Chef at FnB) sources most of the time. I also felt honored and proud to partake, even at a limited capacity, in the beginning of something special. The folks that I met were passionate, creative, irreverent and true. I remember reading about Napa and its grassroots beginnings and the pioneering spirit of its people. I felt I was rubbing elbows with people whose energy was redolent of times past. I also felt that by pouring these wines I would help the local economy and minimize carbon footprint.  I firmly believe that this is how you build community. You support each other and endorse each other for working hard and making Arizona a great place to live. It is certainly acceptable to look outside of our state for inspiration, but there is so much to be proud of here. If the wines were not balanced and quality driven, I would not have done this. BTW-I love wines from all over the world.

What is that? It’s Tannat!

These days there are so many different places that you can shop for wine.  Some places carry furniture, garden tools, and oh ya… $2.87 wine.  Some places carry slightly

Tannat means Tannins!

higher end stuff, like funky furniture, and wine.  Oakville Grocery is not one of those places.  Oakville specializes in “the best” .  The best oils and vinegar, the best deserts, the best breads, the best meats and diner entres. And the best wines.  The Oakville Grocery in North Scottsdale which is located across the street from Kierland shopping center even has its own Sommelier.  Dave Johnson is not just a Sommelier, he is a level 3 Sommelier.  He is extremely knowledgable, yet totally approachable, down to earth.  There are not many places in the valley with such a well qualified staff to assist you in your wine purchases.   At Oakville you will find Louis Roederer Cristal.  You will find all the most well-known high California Cabernet’s.  But you will also find wines that you are not likely to find anywhere else.

I recently sat down with Dave Johnson for a private tasting.  The first wine we tried was a Tannat.  Dave asked me : “Do you know what Tannat means?  It means Tannins!” He poured me a generous glass of M. Cosentino Winery 2006 Tannat from Lodi California.  Actually, he popped the cork and then stamped my note pad with the wine stained end of it.  “Just look at that!”  he proclaimed.  I looked.  Dark purple, with tiny fine grains.  The wine itself was almost black.  Dave explained that there has been a huge rise in the popularity of red wine due to the “health benefits” of resveratol, and anti oxidants found in the tannins and grape skins.  It turns out that the Tannat varietal has 70 times more anti oxidants than Cabernet Sauvignon!  Wow!  But how does it taste?

I was expecting a bitterly acidic monster that I could use to strip paint.  It was nothing like that.  The tannins were actually not huge and over powering like a young Bordeaux or big California Cabernet.  M. Cosentino Tannat is from Lodi.  Lodi is the Zinfandel capital of the world.  This wine reminds me a lot of the Zinfandels that are produced in the area.  Big, for sure, but smooth, well rounded, and ripe.  It’s like a mouthful of astringent blackberries.  Some Zins are spicy, this Tannat was not.  Just an all around great wine.  If you like the bigger bolder wines like Cabernets and Zinfandels and Shiraz, you will LOVE this Tannat.  Plus you can pat yourself on the back for loading up on the health aspects.  And finally I flipped the bottle around and saw the price tag: $17!  What a deal!