Getting back into the swing of things. How've you been? I've been well. Whatcha been drink in' on? I've been drinking 90+...
90+ Cellars is the brainchild of one Kevin Mehra. Let's talk genius for a moment. The economy, believe it or not, sucks. Even the country club set isn't buying what they used to. Restaurants don't stock up on Cult wines like they did in the early 2000's. So what to do with all that high end, highly rated wine? Kevin comes along and offers them cash up front to have a portion of their juice bottled under his label. This is better than a knock-off purse because it's the same purse, just with a different label. To understand how this is possible, one must first look at how wineries out West operate. A store/restaurant buys from a distributor. The distributor buys from the winery. By law, the store or restaurant has 30 days to pay the distributor. There are no laws, however, regarding when the distributor pays the winery. Traditionally, a distributor will pay when they're ready to order again -- perfectly OK if you're Robert Mondavi, you've got an order coming every couple of weeks. But what if you're the small operation? That could be a year before you get paid. As a result, most wineries are working off high interest loans. Kevin's cash helps them pay off principal, pay their employees, put gas in the tractor, etc. So while it looks like they're losing money up front, for most of them it ends up a wash in the long run. The wines 90+ sources must, by rule, have a pedigree of high ratings -- one 90 point score by fluke doesn't count. These are real wines, with real ratings. I've been resourceful enough to figure out some of the source wines, which I'm not at liberty to share, after having to redact a few Twitter posts. Let me assure you, the savings here are IMMENSE. A $100+ Meritage for $25? How about a $30 Malbec for $12? Chardonnay fan? $25 for $15. Me? I like Pinot Noir -- $45 for $16. Basically, take a Ferrari, I've always wanted a Ferrari, pluck that horse logo off, replace it with a Ford sticker and sell it for twenty grand. How can you go wrong?
This stuff rules. But let's delve deeper into why this rules...
You're the Consumer 1. Great wine. Ridiculous value. 2. Supporting a young guy with a brilliant idea. 3. The wines are super-limited. You won't always find the same stuff -- no wine rut, ya gotta drink something different each time. 4. Friday night wine at Tuesday night prices. 5. Nobody knows about this stuff, so you'll always be ahead of the Joneses.
You're the retailer 1. They actually factor in a profit to their pricing. -- Not only do you the consumer make out like a bandit, they've allowed your local retailer to make a buck, too. All those big name brands don't let the local guy make any money, they figure they're doing the retailer a favor by selling them wine. 90+ gets that the retailer needs to pay his/her rent, too. 2. All you gotta do is point a customer to 90+ once. They'll keep coming back, and you can focus on something else. You've trained your customer to have good taste.
Need more reasons? Most wine brands are clinging to the past -- looking to wealthy, old white-guys for their sales. They haven't figured out the Gen. X/Y consumer -- these kids are the future -- better jobs, better taste, higher income, tech-savvy. 90+ embraces this demographic, eschewing traditional wine tastings for events like Second Glass' Wine Riot. They even allowed attendees of a recent Wine Riot pick their next wine...
Here's the best part... 90+ isn't some corporate scumbag wheeling and dealing. They actually turn to their retailers and restaurateurs occasionally to decide whether or not they should buy a wine. They go into the trade to see if their wine is any good. Even better? They self-distribute, cutting out a middle man that would drive the price up.
A while back, I started a wine blog. I was driving a truck for a wine distributor (the International 4300, arguably the most bad-ass of automatic transmission box trucks ever made) and penning an "everyman's" take on wine and what to find in the New Haven area. The graphics department of the distributor I worked for Googled one of their wines for a shelf talker, and found me. A few weeks later, I was called to the office and given a job as a salesperson. I handled mostly "on-premise" accounts in the lower Fairfield County area, and had a fun time of it. Some of my favorite accounts to call on were Ferrante (Stamford), Crave (Ansonia), and il Palio (Shelton). I was approached by an ad agency out of NYC, who purchased my blog (I know, sell out), for way too much money, and never updated it. The Bear Sterns crash hit, and selling wine along CT's "Gold Coast" was no longer fun (or lucrative). I switched sides to retail. I started with Southington Wine & Spirits and built up quite a following, before being invited to help start up a new venture in Milford, Total Wine & Spirits. With 20,000+ square feet of awesome, and a seemingly endless budget, I knew I could do good things.
All along, however, I missed blogging.
Then, as luck would have it, the NYC ad agency went belly up, and in a final act of benevolence, left me my old blog in their "will". I'd been toying with the idea of a dot-com, and still am. Just thought I'd use this forum, in case anyone still has me on their RSS feed (suckers), to keep you updated as to when that happens. In the meantime, keep drinking the good stuff!
I recently attended a tasting of Spanish wines from the Ole Imports portfolio at Meigas Restaurant in Norwalk (the sister restaurant of Ibiza - 39 High St., NH). Ole is the brainchild of Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, who began importing Spanish wines to Patrick's dorm-room in 1999. They share a passion for Spanish wine that transcends their own portfolio, adding an air of honesty to their work. Much like Jorge Ordonez, Ole Imports is one of those importers that can almost guarantee you a good bottle. Unlike Ordonez, however, Ole tends to lean more towards an Old World style of fruit characteristics and terroir-expression. Being raised on big California wines, Jorge has always been a safe bet for me, but now, as I experiment more with the European classics, Ole has consistently delivered. Many of the wines Ole offers see little to no oak, allowing the fruit to fully express its natural flavors without being "tamed" by wood.
There were many great wines in attendance, but some stood out for me more than the rest...
Oreka 2006 Txakoli ($$) from Talai-Berri was a remarkable txakoli. Txakoli consumption is on the rise, particularly in NYC, where it is customary for the server to pour the wine from at least three feet away to soften the effervescence of the white wine. Made from the indigenous grape Hondarribi Zuri, txakoli comes from three sub-regions of North-central Spain. The uncommon amount of rainfall in the area is prohibitive for most other grapes. The Oreka was full of honey and peach on the nose. The effervescent mouthfeel was nice and gentle, which carried with it flavors of green fruits. The wine is aged in stainless steel, which is evident on the palate. I found it to be "richer" than my recent favorite, Txomin Etxaniz. This wine is a MUST BUY. The '07 ($$) received 90 points from Robert Parker.
Bodegas Berroja Berroia 2007 Txakoli ($-$$) is 90% Hondarribi, with Folle Blanche and Riesling making up the other 10%. The wine was slightly more viscous than the Oreka, with a little less effervescence. The grapes are grown on a steep incline, allowing for more water drainage, giving the wine notes of minerality and vegetation.
I know Barcelona (155 Temple) uses Vinos Pinol Portal on their by-the-glass list, so I was excited to try the white "version". The Portal White 2007 ($-$$) is a blend of 70% White Garnacha (grenache), 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Macabeau, and 5% Viognier. I started taking notes before I read the description of this wine, and my initial impression was of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. When I saw the 20% sauv. blanc on the description, I was satisfied that my nose hadn't quit working. There was alot of peach on the nose, followed by cold weather fruits on a drier palate. The finish was slightly "tangy" and mellow with a lingering hint of melon. Vinos Pinol is currently farming organically.
I tried two Rose wines, Columna Rose 2007 ($) from Vinos Sin-ley, and Falset Marca's Falset Rose 2007 ($). The Columna was full of cherries on a lingering finish. The grapes are "Juan Garcia", which I can honestly say I've never heard of. I tried the wine primarily out of curiosity. The stand-out of the two was the Falset. It had much more nose and bolder tannins than I'm used to in a rose. Bonus points for organic viticulture. This will inevitably make it onto my picnic blanket this summer. For fans of Rose, this is a MUST BUY.
Vizcarra Roble 2006 ($-$$) from B. Vizcarra in the Ribera del Duero region offered freshly turned farm soil on the nose, followed by black pepper and black cherry on the palate. I was pleasantly surprised by this wine, as I believe I may have smack-talked a previous vintage. It proved to me that - 1. you must try different vintages of the same producer, 2. Ribera del Duero continues to be a region for great Tempranillo, and 3. organic wines don't have to suck anymore. This wine's fruit was mellowed out by the use of French Oak.
One of my favorites of the evening was Vinos Pinol's Mather Teresina 2003-2004 ($$$). The "2003-2004" signifies a dual vintage, where grapes from both years are used. Vinos Pinol first did this with a 1998-1999 offering, which had to be declassified because it did not meet the standards of the DO. Pinol kept issuing this dual-vintage wine and now the DO allows the practice, due in large part to the success of Mather Teresina. At first the fruit was hard to find on the nose, but after a few swirls tons of wild strawberry and dark purple fruits came roaring out with the strength of a freight train. It was an impressive spectacle. The fruit offered up super-ripe tannins, while the 2 years of oak aging (French, American, and Hungarian) gave the wine a "scratchy" texture and dry finish. The sandy soil comes through in the taste of the wine, helping transport the drinker directly to Terra Alta. After the wine had been open for a few hours, I returned to it to find the naturally occurring lactic acid had given the wine a funkier smell, almost like it had corked. Based on this I would not decant this wine, even though the tannic structure would suggest it. This was not a wine for the uninitiated, but a remarkable choice if any part of you leans toward, "geeky".
Hacienda Molleda 2006 Garnacha is 100% grenache that sees 6 months in French Oak. It was an interesting wine which had the nose of a Carignan, odd because the carignane grape originates from the Carinena region of Spain, where Hacienda Molleda is grown. Conspiracy theories aside, the wine had vegetal and floral notes on the nose, with more than just a hint of kerosene. The vegetal characteristics stayed through the palate where they were met by green olives and venison before a linering finish. This wine was probably the most complex and intriguing of the wines I tried, nothing like I would expect from the garden variety garnacha. For those into science projects, this wine is a MUST TRY.
Another 100% Tempranillo, Bodegas Ortiz' Dacu 2007 ($) had tons of fruit characteristics due to the lack of oak barreling. Black currant was the main fruit, but takes on a whole new role in a no-oak wine. Fans of Cortijo III and Campos RealesNEED to find this wine, which apparently has not yet hit Connecticut.
Anybody who has found themselves a bottle of the Arianna Occhipinti Frappato that I have been raving about should keep their eyes open for Barahonda's 2006 Heredad de Candela ($$-$$$). Strawberry and cracked white pepper show on the nose, while massive amounts of pureed strawberries dominate the palate, allowing just a hint of wild blueberries and black pepper through before the long, luscious finish of dark red fruits and more black pepper. This wine is a MUST BUY, and technically, a must-share.
Another MUST BUY, especially for fans of barnyard aromas, the 2004 Manuel de la Osa ($$$) from Bodegas Manuel de la Osa in la Mancha is balanced out by plums and black raspberry on the palate. Certified organic, the wine is made from a blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Graciano, 10% Tempranillo, 10% Cab Franc, and 10% Merlot, and sees one year in French oak. This wine was more of a Jorge Ordonez style red, which is ironic because many of Jorge's wines are unveiled at the winemaker's restaurant, Las Rejas, in la Mancha. One of the things that stood out for me with this wine was how bad everything after it tasted -- I had to snack on bread and grilled veggies, follow that by a cigarette, and find some water before I could start again!
Vinos Jeromin Manu 2005 ($$$) was another organically grown red, this time a blend of Syrah and Garnacha (40/40) balanced out by Cabernet, Tempranillo, and Merlot, seeing just over a year in French and Russian oak. It offered wet soil and bright red fruits on the nose, with cassis and a hint of strawberry on the palate with a nice "sharp" acidity.
From Falset Marca, the 2005 Etim l'Esparver ($$$) is a blend of Garnacha and Carinena (45/45) balanced by Syrah and Cabernet from Montsant. This wine was right in line with any of the higher end Monstants I have tasted, at a lower price point. The carinena comes through on the nose with wild strawberries and red berry. White pepper, strawberry, and a small amount of plum show on the palate before a nice spicy finish.
A nice treat was the 2005 Vizcarra Ines ($$$$$) from the Ribera del Duero region. While still a little young, it offered freshly tilled earth, cow "plop", and a hint of banana on the nose, with ripe plums and orange rind on the palate. The tannins may need more time to mellow out, but this wine was not un-drinkable by any measure.
Also a bonus was an as-yet-named Malvar (grape I ain't heard of) white wine. It was unlabeled, and apparently only the second bottle to be opened in the United States. It had a beautiful silver color with gold "trim" and seemed to have a slight effervescence, possibly from naturally occurring yeasts. It had copious amounts of fruits, running the gamut from citrus to colder weather red fruits with minerality and lemongrass on the finish. It's from the people who make Zestos and is something to keep an eye out for.
I was invited to dinner at Meigas with Patrick Mata and few others afterwards, where the chef brought out several dishes and paired them with several Spanish wines. My veganism was almost brought into question, and I received a generous amount of ribbing from those at the table. My dishes were great however, and I left feeling stuffed. The only disappointment at dinner was a 2002 San Roman from a relative of the Vega Sicilia winemaker in the Toro region. The wine was over-oaked and made me think more of California than Spain.
Moral of the story? When perusing the Spanish section of your favorite wine shop (or the not-everything-else section at Grand Vin), check the back of the labels for the Ole Imports logo. They also print useful facts about each wine on the back label and each wine has a 1-800 number for more information. The info they give you is enough to impress any dinner guest, all without having to ask the store staff any questions.
Yeah, yeah. It's been a while. We've been busy. Really busy.
We hear that Barcelona New Haven has hired a mixologist and now has a full-time DJ. Looks like everyone wants to ride 116 Crown's EXCELLENT rating from the New York Times. J&D at 116 tell us they'll have to stay, "Three steps ahead". The new chef is already turning heads. Some vegan options have appeared on the menu; I'm into the Tempura Green Beans, although it's a little small. New vegan options are on the horizon as well. Wine to drink when you're a three-step vegan DJ? Peter Lehmann's Barossa Valley Shiraz.
A new beer bar has opened up in downtown (or "Crowntown" for the boozerati out there). Prime 16 is across from the Omni on Temple Street and features 40 different bottles and 20 different taps, all without a single Budweiser in sight. MoJo is the only beer I'd drop from the list. Apparently they have food, too, but I didn't notice. Beer to drink at the beer bar? Celebrator Double Bock from Ayinger.
Spoiler Alert: New Haven Advocate Reader's Poll... Our sources tell us Geronimo (271 Crown St.) has won Best New Restaurant. Interesting, since reviews I've read give the impression that you get better table service at a McDonald's. Wine to drink at McDonald's? Robert Mondavi (you never know what's in it, but it always tastes like the same old crap)
Rudy's Restaurant (372 Elm St.), known far and wide for their Belgian Frites, appears to have changed their recipe. Mo reports that something is different, but she couldn't exactly pin it down. "The oil seems different. The potatoes are softer. This is definitely different." I didn't notice, but that could have been because of Rudy's stellar beer stash located in a little used cooler to the left of the bar. Anything goes down easy after a couple of Rochefort 10's. Beer to drink after a couple of Rochies? Leffe
Clos de los Siete is coming back to the area. It's still going to be the 2006 vintage. The Owl Shop has had it by-the-glass the whole time, but it had gotten scarce. The best place in town to find it is definitely going to be Grand Vin (28 E. Grand Ave). Wine to drink while waiting for the 'Siete? Venta La Ossa, tempranillo from La Mancha.
In non-booze related gossip, it seems that due to a complaint to the health department, Fuel Coffeeshop (516 Chapel St.) can no longer allow dogs into the shop. Fuel is a small neighborhood joint, in a neighborhood full of dog owners. It's sad someone would complain. It's not like the dogs were making those amazing lattes. Wine to drink when you're anti-dog? Most any California Sauvignon Blanc, which will often smell of cat pee.
Just heard through the grapevine that Connecticut's already tiny allocation of 2005 Bordeaux has gotten smaller. It appears at this time that at least 1,000 cases of wine have been stolen from a shipping yard in New Haven before it had the chance to be delivered to the CT distributor. Sources say the heist occurred in the wee hours of Sunday morning using a hot-wired truck. Camera footage apparently shows the thief/thieves opening several trailers, including one full of Jagermeister, leading us to believe the Bordeaux was targeted -- I'm guessing it'd be easier to sell Jager on the street. While this is not the first time thieves have sought out the good stuff (Atherton Heist 2007, Swedish Grand Cru Heist 2006), this weighs heavily on CT's fine wine market. 2005 Bordeaux has been hailed as one of the best vintages in history, with the Bordeaux Futures Market being one of the few sure-thing investments, with an almost guaranteed return of 30% within the next 5-10 years.
Among the plunder are some of the top producers of the region, including Chateau Leoville, Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Smith Haut-Lafite, Chateau Belgrave, and Chateau Pey la Tour.