Wine Talk

Snooth User: Really Big Al

Thursday (possibly into and through the weekend too) Wine Discussions

Original post by Really Big Al, Jan 15, 2015.

Due to popular demand (don't ask where that demand came from or you'll spoil my fun), we appear to need some new wine discussion topics.  This topic was only relevant to Thursday as a test case but was subsequently expanded to cover the weekend too.  What ever you bring up in this topic should either occur on a Thursday - Sunday, or it could be a follow-up to something that happened on a Thursday-Sunday.  No fair squeezing in something associated with Mondays. 

To kick things off, how many of you enjoy trying flights of wine before choosing one from the flight as the wine to drink with lunch or dinner?  Not every restaurant offers wine flights of course, but we've had several from restaurants in the Washington DC area.  Below is one from Seasons 52 earlier today.  Normally a three-glass affair, they made a mistake and had to bring me a fourth glass.  Sometimes we luck out.

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Reply by vin0vin0, Jan 17, 2015.

RBA, I feel your pain re: more bottles in the "collection" than ever anticipated. We purchased our 200 bottle wine fridge a year ago to go along with the 60 bottle under counter we've had for a couple years (plus the room in the regular fridge.  At first we had plenty of room, then the spring shipments came, then we took a trip to France and brought a case back, then the fall shipments came and we brought 2 cases back from our Russian River trip this past fall. For a while there I was back to storing wine in the hall closet again much to the dismay of my significant other. We have quit making the weekly Total Wine purchases and have started whittling away starting with the older reds, which for me are only like 5 - 7 years old and hopefully are emerging from their dumb state..

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 17, 2015.

EM - Ok, but the bet is only for $5.00; we'll determine if we have cut back on acquiring wines by counting the bottles in our cellar mid-Jan 2016, ok?  I'm kind of interested in how this turns out. 

OT - I guess from our viewpoint we definitely visit both Somona and Napa on the same trips and that includes eating food in both areas.  You are right about the number of great eating establishments.  We do eat locally too, but the really good restaurants near us are in Washington DC.  We avoid the concern of driving by taking the Metro from our nearby (as in about five miles away) metro station.  We allocate about an hour to park, ride the metro and arrive at a given restaurant on average so that gives you time to sober up.  We even get exercise by walking in the metro stations while waiting for trains.  In the off-peak hours, they only come about every 20 minutes. 

V V - I wish we had a 200 bottle wine fridge or even a 60 bottle wine fridge.  We have neighbors who also have one of those under-counter 60 bottle wine fridges custom installed in their kitchen (it's holding their collection of Duckhorn wines); they are coming over next Saturday for a wine dinner and hopefully bringing one of their nice wines with them.  Sandra will be making pasta with her new pasta machine so we have 'Italian' as the theme for this coming meal.

Oh, you guys might have noticed that I modified the name of this topic.  I seriously considered starting a new one for Mondays, and then Tuesdays, but I just knew OT would give me a hard time or perhaps even blow a head gasket.  I don't want to offend anyone but I do like to have a good time.  Humor keeps me in a happy frame of mind.

Lastly, we did visit the Paradise Springs Winery today to help them celebrate their 5-year anniversary.  We received a free 7-pour wine tasting and enjoyed conversation with the guy serving us.  He is also a member of the RdV Winery in Delaplane, VA - that Bordeaux winery I told you guys all about.  In fact, this guy and his fiance are going on a trip later this year to California and Washington.  They will be stopping at many wineries along the way.  So, back to Paradise Springs.  We enjoyed all the wines, and Sandra was impressed with their Meritage.  I think the Melange was my favorite, but their Chardonnay was divine (not buttery but not un-oaked either).  We asked about their experiment with Chinese Oak, and the guy said that it didn't work out too well, so they ended up blending what they had aged into something (He didn't know the specifics of what label it ended up in).  I was hoping to try some of that Chinese Oak aged wine one day.  Overall we had a good time, buying a glass to go with some meats and cheese, and then we also bought four bottles (2 of the 2012 Meritage, 1 of the 2013 Melange and one of the 2013 Chardonnay).  With our 10% discount due to the celebration and including the glasses of wine and food, we spent $190 today at the winery.

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Reply by EMark, Jan 17, 2015.

Al, you didn't even ask for odds!  I would have given you 20:1.  OK, $5.00 it is.

 

I am going to help morph this thread to a series of ramblings.

During my mid-day constitutional, today, I walked past the city's annual Winter Snow Fesival.  I'm sure that you are aware of the brutally cold winter we've been having.  Some of my pics:

The traditional Ice League Basketball Tournament:

 

Grooming the slopes for the downhill competition:

 

Luge:

 

Sand Snow Castle construction.

 

Across the street the sign in front of the local elementary school was reporting a temperature of 78 degrees.  I'm sure that does not account for the wind chill factor.

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Reply by outthere, Jan 17, 2015.

It's OK Al, I was an automotive tech for 20 years. I can replace a head gasket in my sleep.

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 17, 2015.

OT - Oh, so we do have something in common after all.  I was studying to be an automotive technician in community college (El Camino and then Pierce College in Southern California) when my dad offered to loan me money to attend university and study engineering.  So I completed a 2-year general education degree and transferred to Cal State University Northridge to spend another four years for the BSEE, and then another two years while working to get the MSEE and start paying my dad back.  When I was studying automotive technology I took some good courses, such as tune-up, brakes/suspension, and engine rebuilding.  I nearly sliced my left index fingertip off in the tune-up class when I tried to unstick one of those vacuum-assisted headlight covers while the engine was running (meaning high vacuum of course).  The knowledge I gained in both high school and college gave me the confidence to do my own brake jobs in the 1980's and 1990's but I don't do much on my cars anymore.  I know enough to not get cheated however.

EM - Are your pictures from central California?  It looks awfully warm there.  I'm so happy to say that we did get above freezing today - at least for a little while.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 17, 2015.

 "We asked about their experiment with Chinese Oak, and the guy said that it didn't work out too well."

 

Whose brainstorm was that, I wonder? Only could've been driven by cost considerations, with no proper research or even common sense. Al, were you participating here when I did the thread about heavy metals and other pollution in Chinese agriculture, including grapes (and oaks)? For anything involving internal consumption (and maybe plenty of other applications, too), I'd give Chinese cooperage a miss. Read this and then we can talk again if you so desire.

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 17, 2015.

DM - Sandra believes they tried the Chinese Oak due to cost considerations.  I don't know what they knew about pollution issues regarding what the trees would be experiencing in China.  I was not a member of these forums when that topic about Chinese agriculture was making the rounds.  Overall, it's probably best that the Chinese Oak experiment didn't pan out though.  As you know, some ideas are pretty hairy to begin with.

 

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Reply by GregT, Jan 18, 2015.

Al if it's true that you have 400 some bottles and you've only been really interested in wine for like three years, I would advise you to quit all of those wine clubs. Seriously. You may not even know what you like yet - there are thousands of wines in the world and you may find that you're stuck with a lot of wine that you wish you didn't have. Unloading the excess isn't as easy as one might think either - look at what sells on the secondary market -  classified growth Bordeaux, name Burgundy, a few cult CA Cabs, some wines from the N. Rhone and Piedmont and maybe the occasional Brunello and maybe a few collectibles from Spain.

I don't know what you have but as a general rule, wine clubs are not a really good way to acquire cellar-worthy wines. Best case, you'll just over pay. I have a fair amount of wine and I know that some of it was never meant to be cellared. Some I've kept specifically to find out what will happen, but I've also had my share of bottles that should have been consumed years before I got to them. Occasionally there's a brilliant gem that transcends any expectation one might have had. Generally that's not the case.

If you're planning to turn the entire inventory over within say five or ten years, that's a different story. Most decent wine should be good for that long.

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 18, 2015.

I should say that we've only been interested in collecting wine in a wine cellar for about three years.  We were drinking wine now and then back to the 1990's but only owned a few bottles at any one time.  It was Sandra's idea to have enough wine that we could lay a bottle down for a few years and once reaching critical mass, we would pull older wines while allowing younger wines to improve until they were pulled.  As we gradually increased our consumption (from once a week to what it is now :-)), we needed a pretty extensive collection to ensure we did not run dry.  We don't plan on selling off our wine collection at all. 

In terms of knowing what we like, our experience tasting wines is actually quite involved - more than I might suggest given my inability to distinguish and describe subtle notes present in a glass.  We have taken several wine classes at the Washington Wine Academy, most of them several years ago.  We have toured at least 30 wineries across the world (most of course in the US; VA, CA, and OR, but also MD and NM).  We've toured three wineries in Chile, and drank wine in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Iceland, England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.  The worst wine we have ever tasted was made in Vietnam.  The best wine we have ever tasted was made in Napa Valley (Barnett). 

The issue of over-paying for wines in a wine club has come up before.  I think it was OT that stated you should just get on their mailing lists so you hear about limited productions, special offers, etc.  At some wineries, the wine club members might get wines they would otherwise not purchase.  Our experience with Barnett, St. Francis, Medlock Ames, Duckhorn, Repris, Domaine Serine, J. K. Carrier, and RdV has been good however.  I think we are getting exceptional wines but I also don't like how some wineries charge excessively for shipping (a few don't charge shipping for a case).  Many of the wines obtained through these wine clubs are not available at wine stores such as Total Wine - there might be a similar 'retail' version rather than a special vineyard release.  In any case, we also purchase wines at several wine shops and directly from wineries that we visit throughout the year.  Just yesterday we picked up four bottles from Paradise Springs in Clifton VA.  

To sum it up then, we are basically trying to drink our older wines within about five years of procurement, but some are a few years older (nothing dates back into the 1990's). 

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Reply by dvogler, Jan 18, 2015.

Al, where were you in Brazil?  It's not an easy country to visit because the Visa process is practically a deterrent.  You probably have a decent number of bottles and it seems you guys are ripping through at a good clip!  You should try and get your hands on some older California cabs.  I was looking on E-Bay the other day and there's a place based in Fla. called Cult Wines.  They ship to wherever they're allowed and it's not like WineBid where they scalp you first, then charge shipping.  Try some 1994 cabs.  I had the Mondavi reserve ad the Beringer Private reserve last year and man were they good.  It might give you some ideas as far as tucking some of those babies away for awhile!

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 18, 2015.

DV - We did the Tauck 'Essence of South America' tour last year (about 15 days, late Feb to early March 2014) which took us to Chile, Argentina and Brazil in that order.  The tour stopped in the following cities / locations:  Santiago, Chile; Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, Chile; crossed the Andes over to Bariloche, Argentina; then up to Buenos Aires, Argentina; over to Iguazu National Park, Argentina; and finally to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  We also toured the Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side.  The visa process is a big pain and it's often changing.  We used a service out of Washington DC to handle getting the visas for our passports; you need to have at least 2 months for this process because they don't like to rush.  Back when I was working it was a big deal to personally go visit a foreign embassy and you had  to report those things.  Of course we had to get all our vacations 'approved' at work.  Our vacation pictures can be found here

I have tried a bottle of 'Cult' wine but I don't think you are referring to that.  I might look into that though; is this their web site?.  Have you tried 'Wines 'Till Sold Out (WTSO)'?  They give pretty good deals with shipping included. 

 

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Reply by dvogler, Jan 18, 2015.

I don't know if it's a bit easier if the Brazil government knows you are part of an organized tour group.

I was going for an international cycling race and I had to provide income tax forms, letters of employment, references from people IN Brazil and their government ID.  It was quite intensive.  Then, I went back for pleasure a couple of years ago and my wife and I had to do it all over again.  At least the Visa is good for five years!  Cult wine refers to stuff like Screaming Eagle, Opus One, etc.  The "Cult Wine" I was referring to is the name of a business that sells and ships said wine, not all of it necessarily exorbitant.  I honestly don't buy much wine online, but there's no other way to get stuff like a 20 year old California cab.

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 18, 2015.

I pasted in a link to Cult Wines in my previous posting; I assume that's the place you are talking about.

I noticed that just about everything is out of stock on the Cult Wines website.  That makes it a bit of a joke to me.  :-(

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Reply by EMark, Jan 18, 2015.

Southern California, Al, specifically, eastern Los Angeles County.

As much as I respect and typically agree with our most informed participants, I am going to buck GregT a bit and offer a defense of wine clubs.  Now, my comments are restricted to winery clubs that offer only their wines.  I have no interest in things like wine.com that want to send me a monthly package of whatever they have picked up.

Over the years I have belonged to six California winery clubs.  I now belong to four.  I think every one of the 4 sends me a package of 4-6 wines every six months.  On one of them I have a lot of flexibility in specifying the content.  On the other three, I receive what they send.  All of them offer a discount off their winery price--generally, 15%.  Even, with the discount, winery club pricing is still, usually, a tad more expensive than the best street price if, and "if" is the operative word, here, I were able to find these wines in a retail store.  All of them charge me shipping, and I am, again, very OK with that.  

One of the raps on wine clubs is that I do not get to pick the wines that I receive.  With the afore-mentioned exception, that is, of course, absolutely true.  I am OK with it, but anybody who is not should not join a club.

I do not expect any of the wines that I receive in these regular shipments to be "great."  They are, however, invariably, "darned good."  So, I feel there is a consistency, here.  I am willing to trade my choice for this consistency.  Obviously, I get to evaluate this consistency to make sure it is commensurate with my investment.

Finally, on the topic of lack of choice, this mechanism does give me the opportunity to try new wines.  I am not a big fan of Viognier varietal bottlings.  I'm probably not going to buy one in a retail store.  I have received a couple through wine clubs.  I have to say, they were a nice change, and I don't feel that I was screwed.  On the other hand, I'm still not looking for new bottles of Viognier to try.

Another benefit of winery clubs is the opportunity to buy special bottlings or library wines and still get the club discount.  It is not a benefit that I have used often, but it is nice.

Separate from the winery clubs there are the winery mailing lists.  Because of these on-line forums I am now on 5 or 6 maililing lists.  So, 2 or 3 times a year I get a solicitation from these wineries to buy their newest release wines.  Generally, these are wines that are hard, if not impossible, for me to find in retail stores.  Generally, these solicitations "allocate" certain quantiites for their subscribers.  I'm sure that these allocations are a function of the amount of wine that available for sale and the length of time (and purchase history) that subscribers have been on the mailing list.  So, I may be allocated 3 bottles of this wine, 1 bottle of another wine and 0 bottles of a third.  I then respond back to them which wines I want up to the limits of my allocations.  I may or may not be able to "wish list" wines beyond my allocations.  Depending on whether higher priority subscribers have fully exercised their total allocations, I may or may not get wish-listed wines.  Because these wineries have created an exclusivity for which they can charge a premium price, discounts are pretty unusual on these mailing lists.

I have to say that I have been very pleased with the mailing list wines that I have bought.  They are consistently high quality, enjoyable wines.  If anybody wants to argue that I looked at the label of every one of those wines and had an expectation before I took my first taste, then, I have to say, "Yes, you're right."

In spite of my enthusiasm I am currently thinking about reducing the number of winery clubs to which I belong and becoming a bit more discriminating about my responses to the mailing list solicitations.  

January 27 will be an interesting day.  Solicitations from Myriad and Rhys (I'll probably be careful with the one from Rhys, but I'll probably go overboard on the Myriad.) and it's Berserker Day.  I'm not exactly sure what Berserker Day is.  This will be my first.  I may just sit on the sidelines.

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Reply by GregT, Jan 18, 2015.

Emark - it's the anniversary of the founding of the site and many producers offer special pricing and deals to the members on that day only. Sometimes it's free shipping too, but it all depends on the producer and their finances. It's a good day.

Almost all will be CA wines, and if memory serves, mostly Sonoma and more southern CA wineries. If you know the wines, sometimes you can get pretty good deals. Imports are hard because importers generally can't sell retail, although in CA they allow retailers to do direct import. 

Aside from that, there are plenty of good deals out there. WTSO is having another clearance marathon this coming Tuesday and many flash sites do similar things.

As far as clubs and lists go, I realize that I may have easier access to some wine than other people, but the proliferation of deals and clearance sales all over makes it relatively easy for anyone to get pretty good deals. Sites like WTSO and Last Bottle and even stores like Winex and Wine Library and K&L and others will often take an entire allotment of wine from a distributor who wants to clear it out and they'll offer the wines at super discounts. We've had wine retail for less than the original wholesale cost.

I distinguish between clubs, where someone puts together a package of wines for you, like the various newspaper and retail store clubs, and mailing lists, where a winery offers you a chance to buy some of their products directly. Not sure if that's a standard distinction or not, but it works for me.

My advice to Al was for the former. In the latter case, if he likes a winery and he knows the wine, then affirmatively buying it every year may be a way to ensure that he gets what he wants.

OTOH, I would never have someone else select for me. I do understand your point but in the end it's my money and my taste. It's why I don't usually pay much attention to sommeliers either!

There's just way too much crap out there to trust anyone but myself. BevMo and Total Wine are filled with custom labels and many wine clubs have their own labels. Overseas, for every bottle that's imported, there are probably dozens that the importers passed on repeatedly. Generally they're overpriced for what you get, and those are good to look for because producers change importers constantly and as a result their wines get heavily discounted by the old importer. But many times they're just not good wine.

Back to Berserker Day - I'd caution against jumping in too deeply unless you know the particular wine. There is a handful of people on that site that I've known for many years, had dinners with, etc., and if they recommend something I don't know, depending on who it is, I might act. But it's like anyplace else. Most of the people, and that includes some of the most active and even some people I consider friends, really don't have a clue.

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Reply by Really Big Al, Jan 18, 2015.

This is becoming an interesting topic, being diverse and yet entertaining.  Hard to believe I was the one that started it.  Anyhow, not to change the topic or anything like that, Sandra and I just returned home from a 'Wines of Germany' wine and cheese tasting at our favorite cheese shop (Cheesetique in Del Ray - Alexandra, VA).  As you can see from the attached photos I took, it was mostly Rieslings and most were slightly sweet.  The first wine was actually a red, the varietal called 'Dornfelder'.  I was not really fond of any of these wines, but Sandra ordered a few of the #2 on the list, the Dr. Thanisch Riesling Spatlese Trocken 2012 from Mosel, Germany.  The cheeses were quite nice, my favorite being the Garlic Brie.  They were all cow type cheeses - no sheep or goats milk used here.  Even the Limburger cheese was good and it wasn't a stinky version either.  Overall it was fun but I'm not a fan of sweet wines.

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Reply by GregT, Jan 18, 2015.

Well Al, most of the wine in Germany is white and most of that is Riesling, although of course there are other whites - Schuerbe, Sylvaner, etc.. They're trying more and more reds but it's not really red country -  Dornfelder, Regent, St. Laurent, Spatburgunder, Zweigelt and others just don't come anywhere close to the whites.

But Germany isn't only about sweet wine. No reason to imagine that all Riesling is sweet. I happen to like those, but there's some very dry wine produced as well. Spatlese is harvested at higher sugar levels than Kabinett, but it's up to the wine maker whether or not he's going to make it into a sweet wine or ferment all the sugar to make a dry wine. That's the recipe for the GGs these days, which some people love, but I'm left a little cold by those. A good spatlese is one of life's great pleasures!

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Reply by vin0vin0, Jan 19, 2015.

RBA, GregT, great lead in for my post. We did a little side by side last night of two Rieslings. The US contender was this Napa based Chateau Montelena and the foreigner was the Mosel Spatlese. Consensus was the Montelena came out fractions ahead with just a bit more complexity on the nose and on the palate. The Spatlese was on the dry side but you could detect just a touch of sweetness from the residual sugar. Interesting comparison on the alcohol levels, Spatlese rang in at 8.5% vs 13.4 for the Montelena, guess that left over sugar makes a difference.

One other thing Greg most likely can answer, why are there so many Dr.'s making wine in Germany?

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 19, 2015.

Vino, my personal favorite is 'herr doktor professor' in that language with so many examples of officiousness and titular overkill. IMHo the least romantic of the European languages, forgetabout such ridiculousness as capitalizing every noun. We should be thankful that label size doesn't allow inclusion of the other two words (in the event any of the doktors have actually taught).

Haven't had the Montelena riesling in a coon's age. Am curious that it beat out the Thanisch in complexity, and would be interested in hearing any more TNs if they're available...

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Reply by GregT, Jan 19, 2015.

Well, the Germans do like to include the various titles. As you get them, you add them. So you may simply be a Doktor, but if you get a job as a professor, you become Doktor Professor. My grandfather was one of those and I always wondered about it. In the US I guess we assume you're a PhD if you're a professor, although that's not always the case.

But Americans are getting weird about it too. When I got out of grad school, one of my classmates immediately had cards made up calling himself Joe Blow, MBA.  WTF? I always thought that you only put letters after your name if it's a licensed professions - registered nurse, architect, lawyer, etc. You don't just put any old degree after your name and not for nothing, but MBA is no more licensed or worth calling out than an M.A. in history or literature.

The Germans take it to another level though. If you're an engineer with a degree, you're a Diplom-Ingenieur  and you're called Herr Dipl.-Ing. Smith If you're a "master" of any craft, like baking or chimney cleaning, you're addressed as Herr Master Baker, etc. So I guess a lot o those Germans may have been doctors or whatever back in the day, but I'm not sure the current generation of wine makers is.

About the Montelena - I can't recall ever having had their Riesling now that I think about it. Great producer but I have however, never had a Riesling from anywhere in CA that comes close to a decent one from Germany. I'd think it would be more likely to find one from New York, Michigan, Idaho, etc. I'm going to try a Montelena if I can ever find one.

 



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