Charlie Opines About Wine

In my search for interesting wines to serve to guests at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast, I attend many planned and impromptu wine tastings. I am happy to share my experiences with you. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wine Tasting: Search For Great Wines

 Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

The ides of March has past and so has Saint Patrick’s Day and here at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast we are ready for spring. Sure signs of warmer weather coming are the small buds on the bushes and the green sprouts appearing in the flower beds. The tiny white snowdrops are already dotting the walkways, soon to be followed by the crocus. For wine loving me, another sign that winter is closing is the Spring Tastings sponsored by the wholesalers and distributors. Getting that bottle of wine to the shelf of your favorite wine shop or liquor store takes a long supply chain. It starts in the vineyards with a grape on a vine that is crafted into your wine at a winery that distributes most of the finished product through wholesalers. For wine, like in other industries, there are specialist that focuses on different types of wines. Here in Massachusetts, the Martignetti Companies are one of the largest wholesalers of the full range of alcoholic beverages including beer, liquor, and wine. Over the years they have merged in smaller specialty wholesalers to service targeted markets; their high end wine specialist is Classic Wine Imports. Last week I had the pleasure of attending Classics’ Cape Cod Spring Tasting at the lovely Wequassett Inn overlooking Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic Ocean in Chatham, MA.

Wequassett Inn
Wequassett Inn
These events are unbelievable. For the ease of introducing their customers to new wines and reviewing the latest vintage release of wines in their portfolio, Classic brings together hundreds of vendor representatives under one roof. In the two large function areas of the Wequassett fifty-four vendor tables were set up, each offering eight to ten wines to taste. WOW, that’s over 400 wines.  Each function area also had food stations and water available. One should not approach this much wine without proper nourishment.

The tables are staffed by very knowledgeable teams presenting the wines they represent. Most of the tables are from wineries themselves, staffed by their experts presenting the range of wines offered by that single producer. A treat at these winery tables is that, in addition to what is listed in the program, they often bring some very special limited production wines from their Library Collections.

As I approached this challenge, I remembered some sage advice about ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ Good advice when facing hundreds of wines and only a 3-4 hour window. You need a strategy. I checked with my friends from Cellar 55 Wine Merchants, who are still at their business in St. John, for a list of wines they needed me to look at for them before they reopen in April. Starting with this list, I reviewed my advance copy that Poly Hemstock provided me of the wines to be offered on each table. Knowing I needed to pace myself and wanting to maximize my experience, I looked for wines I have never tasted and in a price range that I do not normally frequent. I honestly start my picking based on price, OK call me a snob. Yes, I know that you can find great wines in the very low price range, but let’s face it, the better juice usually cost more money. At trade tastings, the prices are presented as the wholesale price per case and some are only for six bottles. So I converted the case price into retail on the shelf price. Then I worked tables in the order of the descending price. The range in price is from $6.00 to $175.00 per bottle, with literally hundreds of wines in the $10-15 range. So I start by enjoying those dozen or so in the $55 to $90 and savoring those select few in the $100 - $175 market space.    

My highlights on the high end included two beautiful Heitz Cellars Cabs: the 2005 Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon at $100 a bottle and the always very special 2005 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon at $175 a bottle. No, it is not named for our own Martha’s Vineyard Island that is just off Cape Cod and a favorite summer retreat for certain Presidents of the United States and other celebrities. 

Also, I had the opportunity to taste compare 1998 and 2002 Burgess Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Library Selection at only $65 a bottle. Both are showing very well with the 1998 as smooth and drinkable as you could every want from a Napa Cab.

Although my driving strategy may seem purely mercenary, I also took the time to visit old favorites, even if they did not offer the most expensive wines. I tasted the latest vintage at Raymond Vineyards, an old line Napa family winery that I first visited in the 1980s. I have always liked their Merlot and the 2008 Raymond Merlot Napa Reserve at only $26 lived up to my expectations. I did sneak a taste of their 2008 Generations Cabernet Sauvignon at $100, but I preferred the Merlot. See, it’s not all about the money.

For other old favorites of mine, I got to try the most recent offerings from Wente, Whitehall Lane, Michael-David, Soter and Silverado. Even though we spent over three hours, we barely made a dent in all the wines, but what a great way to spend the afternoon.

Spring time on Cape Cod has much to offer and when we reopen our Sandwich Inn next month, I’ll be ready with new wines to share with our quest.  Come for a visit and I will happily share with you the benefits from all my hard work at the Spring Wine Tastings.
Happy Wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Wine Tastings Begin for 2013 Season

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

It is cold and wet on Cape Cod, but neither rain nor sleet will keep me away from my appointed task of finding the next great wine to serve the guests who stay at our bed and breakfast. We are still in Sandwich, having maintenance work to do and several improvement projects to finish, we have not yet left for our annual trip to Florida in our motor home. Since the Belfry Bistro has also been closed part of the time, I have not had my usual fix of weekly wine tasting. Thankfully, on Wednesday, February 27th was the first of the season, which we normally miss because we are enjoying the southern sunshine. But we are here and the sun is not, so I am thankful for the tasting to bring a little liquid sunshine into my life.

 The blazing fire in the main dining room at the Belfry warmed the room and the guest, cutting through the bone chilling dampness. It was my first tasting since the last event in mid-December,  and the first gathering of many of the oenophile ‘regulars’. Like a homecoming, we caught up on the holidays and shared stories about the now famous BLIZZARD OF 2013 a few weeks back that left many of us buried in snow and without power for way too long. The conviviality of the evening was enhanced by the wines offered.  Adam from Horizon Beverage Company shared four interesting California wines, three from Dreaming Tree Wine, and one from Simi Winery.

There is often a great story behind the wines and Dreaming Tree is a prime example of that. The wines are from a collaboration of Dave Matthews, of the Dave Matthews Band fame, and Steve Reeder, a renowned Sonoma winemaker. Dave Matthews started making wine on his farm in Virginia but longed for the experience that you can only get in the real wine country of California. Steve Reeder has decades of winemaking experience and is now the Vice President of Winemaking at Simi Winery in Healdsburg, in  the heart of Sonoma wine country. Steve’s goal for Dreaming Tree is captured by this quote ‘I make wines for people to drink. I don’t make wines for people to put in their cellar.’ Together, they have produced easy drinking, affordable, wines from grapes sourced from many of California's best grape producing areas. Adam referred to them as being like ‘hippies’ in their approach to their wines and the fun they have in the process. In hippie-like fashion Dreaming Tree is sociably responsible, using only lightweight bottles manufactured with clean-burning natural gas, all labels are from 100% recycled paper using only black ink printing—no bleaching, which reduces toxins and heavy metals, and only natural corks from sustainable farms. 

We started with the Dreaming Tree 2010 Central Coast Chardonnay. This lightly oaked wine paired nicely with a Shrimp, Mango, and Avocado salad. The Belfry Bistro’s Executive Chef, Ben Porter, was on his game as he matched the food pairings with the wines.

Next we went to the 2010 Crush, Red Wine North Coast paired with Grilled Swordfish, Sundried Tomato and Olive Chutney. Crush, my favorite of the night, is a Merlot based blend with some Syrah and Zinfandel plus a touch of Petit Sirah and Malbec.  Adam related how each of the grape varieties is fermented and aged separately, then Dave and Steve sit around a table tasting and mixing until they have the blend they want to release as Crush. Now that sounds like fun and this Crush drinks way to easy, with or without food.

The last Dreaming Tree wine was the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast paired with a wonderful Organic Mushroom Risotto, Caramelized Onion and Pancetta. This wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Merlot and some Cabernet Franc. With low tannins, this wine is very approachable immediately. Like Steve said, he makes wine to drink now, not needing to be cellared for years. 

We closed the evening with a 2008 Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Grilled Durham Ranch Waygu Flank Steak with a Chocolate Bourbon Reduction. Although the biggest wine of the night, it too is fairly easy drinking but benefits from food and the Flank Steak worked very well with it. The grapes are from the Simi owned estate vineyards in Alexander Valley, the northern end of Sonoma.  This wine was also made by Steve Reeder, but in his role at Simi not as part of Dreaming Tree. You can see Steve’s influence, but the unique Alexander Valley ‘terroir’ adds a depth not found in the Dreaming Tree Cab.     

All-in-all a very good night for wine-ing. I saw old friends, shared some new wines, and had a great time. Come stay at our Sandwich Inn and we’ll put some Dave Matthews Band CDs on and drink some Dreaming Tree wine.

 Happy Wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts