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Are you buying wine by the label?

When picking wine, what is the most important thing you are looking for? The grape varietal, the region, the name of producer, the winery? Or is it a design of label that catch your attention first? I have to admit that I get influenced by the art of labels often.

I appreciate if the label is beautiful. Just like we learned in early age that cloths can make the image of a man, marketing people learned very quickly that consumers buy products based on its packaging. And why wouldn’t we? Especially in the wine world, where there are so many wines to choose from?

Would you put a bottle with generic label on your holiday table, or would you rather choose something that is visually impressive ? How important is the label for your wine purchase?

When I think about wine I tasted, the visual part comes to my memory first. When I come to the wine store, and look for new wines, the most beautiful labels catch my attention. Then I read the information on the label.

Of course, the question is – what is a beautiful label? It could mean different things to different people. It is as subjective as the taste of the wine. Thank God, wine labels don’t have to follow some “newest fashion trends” or compete on the runway. But who knows, maybe somebody will come up with that idea….

Do you prefer very classic labels (like the traditional French or Italian houses) or do you like to be surprised with a new artistic trends? Simplicity, class, elegance? Do you like shiny labels? Or as simple as possible?

I am picking just a few examples of labels here that I find beautiful (and of course, there are many more that I don’t have enough space to show). Could the label be misleading as well? Oh yeah, most definitely. I have already made that mistake few times – buying wine based on a beautiful label and when opened the bottle, the wine was disappointment.

It is virtually impossible to never make a mistake when buying wines – especially when you’re exploring new wines. Even your favorite winery could have a bad year or change of winemaker.

That’s what is so exciting about wine – it will never taste exactly the same every single vintage. I am always tasting in the wine store when offered – the worse thing that could happen is that you’re not going to like the wine. Better than find out at home, after I spent money on it.

How about funky names and labels? Is that something you enjoy or does it turn you off when buying wine? Marilyn Monroe bottle (does she really get naked when you open that expensive box?) or series wines, or just crazy names like Jealous Bitch (would you buy it for your girlfriend?)

I have to admit – it does turn me off. When I see wine named Frog’s Piss (yeah, it truly exists), Horse’s Ass, Big Ass Red or Fat Bastard (which, by the way, is really good inexpensive wine) – in many cases it doesn’t inspire me to grab a bottle.

Do you bring something like that to your friends for dinner? But what do I know, maybe I am missing out.

There are few wines though, despite funky names and a low price tag, that might pleasantly surprise you. I remember convincing some serious wine drinker about Spanish wine called Wrongo Dongo. Yeah, it had really funky label too. This guy wouldn’t touch it and I just happened to have it open and tasted it in the store.

“Just take a sip,” I was begging him. “You will be really surprised.” This rich Garnacha from Southern Spain, Jumilla region was regularly winning in tastings among wines double the price. And yes, he ended up buying a case of it….

As prejudice as I could be towards wine labels, I was also pleasantly surprised with wine line from Chile, called Oops. That name wasn’t too compelling to me either. Until I actually tasted the wines and saw the label.

Even their White Carmenere (when I heard that, I was convinced that it’s going to be a variety of White Zinfandel) – nothing couldn’t be farther from truth! This pleasant Carmenere – and its blends are over delivering for the price.

And, their labels are kind of cute too. It says the story of the “oops” situation – when they actually found out that the vineyard, long confused for Merlot, was planted with Carmenere grape as well.My apology to all those designers of gorgeous wine labels that I didn’t have enough space to place here.

There are so many wine labels that are truly beautiful piece of art. And naturally, we like to look at beautiful things. If the wine taste great on top of it, that’s just a cherry on top of the cake, isn’t it?

If you’re like me, you might like to keep some labels in your wine journal – but how to get them off? I am using Wine label savers that helps to take off the label without damaging it, and you are left with a laminated wine label, with a sticky foil to seal it directly to your tasting journal.

The Local Wine Events company just came up with a nice idea – they started a new website called Wine Label World – it’s an online library of wine labels! What a splendid idea (how come I didn’t come up with that?!).

It will help those who remember the label but couldn’t remember the name of the wine. This website offers wineries to post their wine labels with tasting notes – and wine lovers can write their own reviews. I love it!

All my wine blogs, Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais-Villages

The fuss about Beaujolais Nouveau

The fuss about Beaujolais Nouveau

I believe that there isn’t other wine, causing as much fuss and as many contradictory comments, as Beaujolais Nouveau does. This “Thanksgiving wine”, as we call it in America, is being released within a few hours from now.

The French law and tradition determines that the Beaujolais Nouveau is released exactly one minute past midnight, on the third Wednesday of November, every single year.

No wine consumer in the world can taste it prior this time.While nouveau’s fans are counting hours to get the chance to try the newest wine, other wine drinkers are snubbing their noses at the idea.

For some it is the ultimate Thanksgiving wine that can’t be missed on the holiday table, for some it is not wine at all. So what exactly is Beaujolais Nouveau and should we pay attention? It’s the moment of the surprise that makes this young, soft, light and fruity wine from Gammay grape so interesting. You have to know what it is, not to expect the impossible.

Beaujolais Nouveau is never going to be a big, tannin red. When it’s really good, it might remind you of a fruity, light Pinot Noir. If you only drink your favorite Shiraz and hate wines that don’t taste like that, ignore nouveau. It’s not going to work for you.

No matter when the harvest occurs (not even French can command the nature), the release date is set in stone. Therefore nouveau is often made in hurry and could only have a few days fermenting. Every year is different, based on the harvest season – and so is the time that the winemaker has to work with the wine in the winery. Nouveau doesn’t spend any time in oak so what you grew is what you get. Unfortunately, that time pressure might sometimes result in sharp, too alcoholic wine without balance.

You should also know that nouveau doesn’t keep long. It is a young wine meant to be drank within a couple of months of its release. Winemakers from Beaujolais are promising a good quality this year. Nouveau is supposed to have a beautiful purple color, hints of wild strawberries, raspberries and currant, they are talking about great balance and perfectly integrated tannins.

We wouldn’t know until tomorrow, which is the first day we can buy some in States. Yes, the wine does fly overnight from France and it’s being delivered everywhere tomorrow.

If you are considering trying Beaujolais Nouveau for the first time, look for the one that says Beaujolais-Villages. It ‘s coming from the better half of large region of Beaujolais, and it’s often much tastier than plain Beaujolais.

As far as the brand name to look for, I would say that nobody knows fine Beaujolais wines better than George Duboeuf. He is easily recognized with his traditional floral labels.

I like what George Duboeuf once said about his designs: “Flowers and wines are fleeting in nature. They want to please visual and olfactory senses: they have the same annual cycle and the same allegiance to soils and sun. Flowers, like wine, are messengers of joy and happiness. But wildflowers are the work of nature alone while wine is the fruit of human labor.”

Some old-timers in Beaujolais still remember tough times during early fifties, when poor winemakers kept cows, chickens and pigs because they couldn’t depend on the wine only. Even worse, they were exploited by a class of absentee wine merchants – les négociants – located in big cities, who bought, bottled and sold their production in anonymous bulk.

Their favorite strategy was to go to local butcher or baker and ask which vignerons families were farthest behind their bills – those would have the weakest bargaining position when it came to prices.

George Duboeuf hated it and believed that there must be a better way. He spent his youth riding bicycle around the hills and valleys between Lyon and Mâcon. He was sampling, tasting, re-tasting over and over again, the finest wines in the region, while also sharpening his own palate and nose and building a list of the best vineyards. His hard work made him a legend among wine tasters and today it is a privilege to sell wine in Beaujolais to George Duboeuf.

The fuss about Beaujolais NouveauI love his Cru Beaujolais – from villages like Fleurie, St-Amour, Juliénas, Chiroubles, Moulin-À-Vent, Brouilly. But that’s only a few of the best villages, where his Cru Beaujolais wines come from.

But don’t look for them now. French wine regulation requires that the Cru Beaujolais can’t be released before December 15th.

So what do you think about the Beaujolais Nouveau – to buy or not to buy? Make up your own mind. No, it is not the most gourmet wine and you wouldn’t find Beaujolais Nouveau on the wine list of fine French restaurants.

I think it is a nice tradition and I will try a bottle, just like I do every single year. On a good vintage, Beaujolais Nouveau could be in fact a good match to your Thanksgiving meal. Its light, fruity and soft enough profile will match well with the turkey and side dishes. I would recommend to taste a bottle first, before you put it in front of your guests.

Based on the “Le Parisien” news, there were total of 266.000 hectoliters of Beaujolais Nouveau sold last year (that’s about 39,5 millions bottles) – more than half of it in France. The rest was sold in 110 countries of the world. I was surprised to find out that the biggest fans of Beaujolais Nouveau are lately Japanese, who purchased 6 millions bottles. Far behind is America with 2,3 millions and Germany with 1,3 millions bottles.


Italy, Montepulciano, Red wine

La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2007

Winemaker: Luca D’Attoma
Grape: Montepulciano
Region: Abruzzo, Italy

When Sabatino Di Properzio founded La Valentina in 1990 in Spoltore, Abruzzo region was historically known for producing industrial bulk wines. But this terrain, that is two-thirds mountains, was far more interesting for producing quality wines – and several artisan producers, who arrived on the scene in recent years, realized that.
“La Valentina is a young winery. The estate makes richly flavored, modern-styled wines under the guidance of oenologist Luca d’Attoma. These delicious wines are sure to find many fans… I found it impossible to resist [the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo]…great value too.” -The Wine Advocate, February 29, 2008
Five acres of Trebbiano and 12-1/2 of Montepulciano vines on the Spoltore hillside vineyard, near the Adriatic Sea were planted 27 years ago. Surrounded by mountains over 6,600 ft high, along with proximity to the sea, it defines the typical characteristics of the vine varieties planted here.

Now, there is a better understanding of the terroire to obtain healthier, more authentic wines – with the use of traditional farming methods, limiting use of chemicals and with a minimal intervention in the land’s natural processes. La Valentina staff respects the fruit of the land both in the vineyard and in the bottle.

After the fermentation, the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo aged for 15 months in large oak barrels.

Tasting notes:
Although many wine drinkers argue that Montepulciano is generally light wine with not enough body, that wouldn’t be an issue with this vintage of La Valentina. Deep ruby color in the glass promises a lot of fruit flavors. Wine has a beautiful aromas of ripe dark fruit like black cherries, blackberries and spices.

On the palate it is super fruity, smooth and clean with lovely spicy notes and well balanced with an acidity. Notes of dark cherries, currant or even plums on the palate. Very generous finish. This is an excellent example of modern Montepulciano, surprisingly rich in flavors. Wine like this could easily stand even to grilled meats.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 14.00

Ideal food pairing:

grilled meat, prosciutto, medium aged cheeses, Chicken and shrimp skewers, Chicken thighs in mushroom gravy, Tilapia loin with spicy sweet potato hash, Roasted salmon with spring spinach, Pork chops with wine and capers and many more

Old vines, Red wine, Russian River, Sonoma, Zinfandel

Mara Reserve Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch 2005

Winemaker: Charles Mara
Grape: 100% Zinfandel
Region: Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California

One of my favorite people to work with, Charles Mara, has a huge personality when it comes to wine. Well, that’s not completely true – when it comes to anything. He is funny and entertaining when it comes to wine judging, production or personal presentation of his wines. This Professor of Oenology is striving to make the best possible Zinfandel out of his Napa vineyards.And the results of his “healthy obsession with big wines” are showing great year by year. Never heard of him? Perhaps because the production of his wine is extremely low so his Zinfandels are not found in every wine store.Talking about boutique winery… This small, five-acre vineyard is owned and farmed by Jim Dolinsek and the production averages 350 or so cases of wine. Very low yields (less than 1/2 ton per acre) produces fruit with huge concentration and intensity. Dolinsek vineyard, more than 100 years old, produces variety of wonderful wines, not just zinfandel.Both Charles’ vineyards Dolinsek and Luvisi Ranch are located in the valley that produces some of the world’s best wines. His dream is to produce Zinfandel that “will drink and keep like Brunello” . The intensity and deep flavors are already there. His personal attention to the winemaking process and selection of intense grapes makes it possible.

Robert Parker said about this vintage:
Proprietor Charles Mara’s performance with these two 100% Zinfandels is exemplary. My favorite is the 2005 Zinfandel Dolinsek from Russian River. One of the vintage’s most complete and flavorful Zins, it offers up aromas of red and black fruits, underbrush, pepper, earth, and spice. This rich, full-bodied wine is an amazing achievement in this difficult vintage. Drink it over the next 3-4 years. Rated 91

Tasting notes:
As always, Mara’s Dolinsek Ranch Zinfandel has a deep ruby, almost purple color that you don’t want to spill on your white shirt. Lovely aroma of ripe dark fruit, raspberry and black cherry, even ripe plum on the nose. On the palate it’s a rich, full body flavor with spicy notes like tarragon and a lot of fruit expression.

Dusty cacao or chocolate flavors on the finish, combined with a fine vanilla touch of American oak. This is a huge, masculine wine that needs to be decanted to fully enjoy. Just like Charles Mara always says: decant your wine so that the first glass taste like the last one.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 35.00

Ideal food pairing:
grilled beef, barbecue meats, goulash, Flank steak with shitakee sauce, Beef Chorizo, My best Chili recipe and many more

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The Great with the turkey sign

"The great with the turkey" sign

Yeah, it is that time of the year again. Just days left till Thanksgiving, the biggest family gathering and holiday in America. The joy of entertaining!

Even though I wasn’t born in this country, I still appreciate this very special American holiday. The time to meet with family and friends, meditating about what is there to be thankful for – and most importantly, it’s the time of food extravaganza!
When I used to be on the road selling wine, I noticed an activity that started in different wine stores around this time of the year. Several salesmen of different wine distributors (my competition in the store) were going around, posting tiny signs that said: “Great with the turkey” next to the wine they were suggesting.

First I thought: what a great sales tool and help for consumers, overwhelmed with a large selection of wines. I was disappointed that our own company didn’t think of that. Then I quickly realized that these “miracle signs” suddenly appeared on literally every single wine that my competition sell.

It would be a great tool to help consumer to pick the ideal wine for Thanksgiving. The one wine that pairs well with turkey dinner. It would be a great idea – if it was at all possible. When I saw these signs posted next to German Rieslings, Bordeaux wines, Italian Pinot Grigios, Californian Pinot Noirs, Italian Amarones, even some big Cabernet Sauvignons – one can’t think of more completely different styles of wine that are “supposed” to pair well with turkey.

The truth is, turkey dinner may simply be the most difficult menu to pair with wine. Not because of the turkey itself – but think about all those side dishes! Are they mostly sweet or savory? When else do you combine so many different flavors in one meal? The delicate meat, a maple syrup glaze, rich gravy, a cranberry sauce or jello, a stuffing, a beans casserole with a heavy cream or or overly salty mushroom soup and caramelized sweet potato with marshmallows and pecans. Crown it with sweet pumpkin pie and tell me what wine comes to your mind when you combine all this?

Nothing? Exactly! In my opinion it is close to impossible to find one wine that will fit it all. Not to mention that you might have a very large crowd around your holiday table – and every one of your guests may appreciate different wines. So what is there to do? I would recommend to have a variety of wines on hand. Don’t try to buy wine that is a perfect match for turkey. Pick wine that is a perfect match for you!

I was always encouraging to explore your palate and try new wines. This special occasion is the exception of the rule. Stick with what you know. Rely on your personal taste. If you always liked Merlot, there is no reason to ruin your Thanksgiving dinner by suddenly serving bone-dry Alsace Pinot Gris (which is by the way highly recommended for a turkey dinner by experts). It might match well, but what if you hate the wine? Drink what you appreciate and pick another day to experiment with new wines!

Very delicious, white Austrian Grüner Veltliner is considered to be one of the most versatile wine of all varieties to pair well with different food. But what if you or your grandma doesn’t like dry white wines? I have met people that swore on aged Bordeaux with a turkey dinner. I would personally think that it could be a bit overpowering the delicate meat of turkey. My personal choice is usually dry white or Pinot Noir – mostly because I enjoy drinking it all the time, and it’s light, velvety and lacking big tannins that may go against the turkey taste. Pinot Noir works well for me. But again, you wouldn’t find too many sweet side dishes on my holiday table. Even my veggies are clean, simple and in the most natural form.

So go ahead, and buy wines that you and your family love and that are proven to satisfy your most members of your family. You want to make everybody happy. So let’s put this headache behind us, and concentrate on the atmosphere, great food and an excellent company at our dinner table. And, of course, let’s concentrate on The Bird. Let’s make it moist, juicy, delicious – and unforgettable.

"The great with the turkey" sign