The Race for 57 – Day Ten

Sorry baseball fans but the season is over.

No more blocking out four hours of TV time to fall asleep on the couch to the soothing tones of Vin Scully’s wonderful baritone, no more endless days pouring over pitching charts trying to think of who to start in game 145 of your fantasy baseball league.  Time to break out your calendars and start counting the days for your trip to St. Petersburg, FL for spring training in March.

Put another way, time to check back in to the game we call, “Life.”

But for those of you clamoring for the crack of the bat, the leathery smell of a new mitt or the freshly cut grass of your youth, I invite you to enjoy the rest of the winter following me while I chase history in my Race for 57.

On a night when the Phils made an entire city fall in love again and Obama spared us having to watch the Pre-game show, I pulled a new bottle out, L’Authentique (the authentic one) from La Caumette (vineyards?).

It was listed simply as a Red Table wine, which usually means a blend, though the varietals were not listed on the back.  The nose was filled with black and spicy fruit and the mouth feel was great, not overpowering but filled with noticeably jammy fruit, a throwback to a few years ago when the “fruit bomb” was all the rage.

I had really loved a lot of those wines, then seemed to opt for something a little more subtle, but this was a pleasant surprise.  The 12.5% alcohol was very tame but not invisible and wine was quite balanced.

It took a few small glasses but I soon realized that I really liked this wine.  And at $3.99, well, this one goes back, back, back, it’s outta here!


Published in: on October 30, 2008 at 8:28 am  Comments (3)  

News of the World

In an age when the 24-hour news cycle forces even the smallest, most inconsequential items to become “newsworthy” there are other things to be found on the web that just cry out for analysis and commentary.

The wine industry has certainly contributed to this climate, perhaps due to the fact that there is a mystique that has surrounded it for upwards of 5000 years.  I’m confident that no other beverage the human race has ever produced, either by accident or design has filled so many memories positively.

Perhaps because of this, those who would try to create such memories inorganically are always of interest to me.  Whether it’s winemakers styling their wines to appeal to a certain demographic (see: Mondovino) or the hiring of consultants to study what color labels (or cute animals) will appeal to the broad wine buying public at large.

And yet the Australians seem to have cracked the palatary secrets of the coveted Chinese wine market.

It’s not that I think the Aussies have could not have come up with something representative of what they believe the Chinese want to drink, I just think it’s bad business to make decisions based on the current trends.  Yes, China is an emerging market for wine but one need only look at the rest of the world and see how tastes have changed.

Heck, lets just look at my preferences.  When I first started buying wine I did so like many do, filling my cellar with age worthy California Cabernet, respected vintages of Bordeaux, etc.  Now years later, virtually all the wine I drink is bought and consumed in days, not years.  Not only that but I’m obviously drinking certain wines with certain foods.

Maybe the scientists in Oz are saying that the Chinese diet is not nearly as diverse as that of other parts of the world.  If that’s the case, then yes, maybe they can better craft wines that appeal to the population at large.

But the landscape is littered with say movies with $100M price tags that bombed, while the studio heads searched for reasons why a movie with lots of explosions, starring Bruce Willis and appealing to the masses did not hit their projections.  Could it be because the script was lousy, the director a hack or just that the public had tired of formulaic drivel?

And like with films, the enjoyment of wine is purely subjective.  What I like you might hate and vice versa.  The true pleasure of wine is in the experimentation of seeking out what is not the most obvious.

Good wine finds its audience, bad wine never does and the rest of it is about as predictable as a video poker machine…

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 1:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Race for 57 – Day Nine

Although I’m not the biggest baseball fan in the world, I am a big fan of two of Phladelphia’s sports teams, the Flyers and Eagles (I also have to give a shout out to the Penn State Nittany Lions for whom my allegiances are truly owed).  So it’s with a small amount of excitement that the Phils are nine innings away from the city’s first Championship team in TWENTY-FIVE years.

What’s more remarkable is that in the past quarter century, Philadelphia, one of only eleven burgs in the US with teams in all four major sports, this represents a full 100 seasons without a championship.

While I’ve not been bold enough to jump on the bandwagon while the Phillies stand poised to change our luck, I’ll be watching tonight and hoping they give the town what it so richly deserves.

But if I know my fellow Philly sports fans, they won’t feel good about it until they are actually standing curbside while the victory parade passes them by.  We’re just not programmed for optimism…

Last night I watched most of the home run derby with a few glasses of a 2003 Tempranillo from a winery called Raimat.  Being an older vintage, I’m going to assume that Jason is right when he suggests that wines like this, sold at Trader Joe’s are simply overages for the winery or distributor.

At $5.99 it falls near the normal price points they seem to have for Spanish wines and I was looking for something good in a five year old wine.

The nose was somewhat vegetative, but not in a Burgundian way though.  It was more a clean smell of a green vegetable (pepper?).  It was a bit tannic for me, certainly hot for a wine clocking in at a reasonable 13%.  The finish was pleasant, something resembling a smooth Jamie Moyers curveball.  When good, hard to hit, but in the later innings a pitch that could be smashed anywhere on the field.

For those following the baseball analogies, what I meant to suggest was that this wine could have been better.  If I was not clear, I’ll just state it this way:


P.S.  Go Phils!

Published in: on October 27, 2008 at 1:55 pm  Comments (1)  

The Race for 57 – Day Eight

As the process to go through at least 56 wines bought at Trader Joe’s continues I’m getting increasingly more impressed with their buying prowess while being equally confused as to how these low prices work for the wineries or distributors selling them.

Another case in point occurred earlier this week when I opened a Capolan Merlot.  In a simple web search (which I try to do for each wine to get a bit more info), the same wine is selling from a low of $9.24 to a high of $13.95.

At TJ’s it’s $3.99.

Now I’ve hypothesized that some of this may have to do with sheer volume, say “Wine Shop” buying three cases and paying $6.00/bottle and The Joe buying a thousand cases and paying $1.25/bottle but the numbers don’t make much sense to me from the winery perspective.

In digging a little deeper I found their total case production numbers at anywhere between “2000” or “7000” cases.  So further crunching the math (which I’m terrible at BTW) even if the wine costs as little as $1.00/bottle to produce (very cheap) I don’t see how marking it up so minimally to TJ’s makes much sense in the overall bottom line department.

For me, less than 10,000 cases is still considered small, not microscopically so (we produce wines in the 300-500 case range – that’s small) so I’m not sure how success can be defined at that level with any of these price points.

None of this factors in to what I thought about the wine mind you, but the whole Trader Joe’s price issue has been on the brain of late…

The wine itself is nothing special.  I got chocolate on the nose, but not like Belgian or Hershey.  What I experienced after a few extra sniffs was something I can only describe as hot cocoa powder, something you’d add hot water too, throw in a thermos and go watch a live football game with.  Not sure it’s what you’re looking for in wine though…

It was tannic and somewhat fruity.  As has been the case with a few of these wines, not bad but not anywhere near special either.  In fairness I gave it an extra day and it did come around somewhat.  The fruit was there and the finish was mild if a bit dry.

For the sake of versimilatude lets just call this a bad hop off the second baseman’s glove that could have been called an error but was scored a SINGLE.

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 12:42 pm  Comments (1)  

Turning Japanese

I’m not a fan of critics who (perhaps of no fault of their own) become the de facto last word when it comes to passing judgment on all manners of things.

Whether writing about movies, or restaurants, or Blue Ray players, anyone with an opinion can be a reviewer.  Some do it better than others, or have a certain style that the public responds to, but at the end of the day those that partake in this exercise – this humble blogger included – should do so knowing that their opinion does not mean a whole lot, that it can’t take the place of personal experience.  Many of us – this humble blogger included – probably just like the “sound” of their own words.

The wine industry is a big culprit when it comes to these critics.  There are the mighty and powerful, those that have willed their tastes onto the culture at large and have even effected industry beliefs, thus changing the landscape.  And then there are others, who through creativity and irreverence have done exactly the same thing.

I’ll always prefer the latter, which is why as usual, the hippest culture shocks seem to come from Japan.

Whether it’s the music of bands like Love Psychedelico, those crazy game shows that are fun even if you don’t speak the language or now in the form of wine critic, Shizuku Kanzaki.

That he’s now become the guiding voice for much of the wine buying in most of Asia is remarkable.  His musings on the wine he enjoys has caused a seismic shift in the wine preferences of those from Tokyo to South Korea, which had not allowed any wine imports until the late 80’s.  He’s responsible for a new generation of wine fans springing up, using his lingo and buying up, in droves, the wines he rhapsodizes about.

What’s even more remarkable is that Mr. Kanzaki is not even a real person.  He’s a comic book hero of oenilogical proportions.

It’s as if the long running comic, Apartment 3-G, took place in the world of wine instead of where it does take place (which is where exactly? – the strip has been running since 1961 and I think they just celebrated the moon landing).  Okay, think of Lucy from the Peanuts hanging a sign that says, “The Wine Critic is In” and having her dispense lovely words about a Gevrey Chambertin or Sancerre.

I guess my point is, what does it say about the biggest wine critics here in the States when the most influential one in the most populous part of the planet is a comic book character, created not even by wine experts but by an average brother/sister duo who simply love wine?

It says to me that the enjoyment of wine does not require an expert’s guidance, that the power to take pleasure in drinking it is well within our own means.

So hail to the great Shizuki Kanzaki, for after all, he is just us in comic book form.

Published in: on October 23, 2008 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Caberneticus Vegetaranis

I’ve been a vegetarian longer than I’ve been a wine lover.

This has meant almost a whole life of never knowing what a great Cabernet tastes like with a porterhouse, being unaware of the pleasures of a Vouvray with a nice piece of roast chicken or a Riesling with some spicy, sizzling scallops.

And while my love of animals has not tempted me away, nor has the love affair with meat affected the way millions of Americans view the most basic dietary staple of our daily lives.

Yet, the environmental impacts of meat consumption are getting hard to simply reconcile with an uneducated trip to the supermarket or local McDonald’s.  Its been reported by the UN that the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the world’s meat production industry exceeds that of every car, truck, bus, train and plane on the planet.  Yikes…

I’ve never been a militant vegetarian.  I like to joke that the cuter a creature is, the more likely my wife is to eat it.  This said, I’ve never once thrown blood on her or accused her of being a murderer.  I’ve sat stoically while she ordered pigeon (okay, *not* a cute animal) in Paris, while my declaration of, “Je suis vegetarian” was met with questions of what fish I eat.

But I’ve not gone thirsty for wine in any of these culinary minefields (and in fairness, restaurants having a few non-meat choices on the menu has become much more common over the last fifteen years).  In this time, I’ve discovered that really good wine goes almost perfectly with really good food, no matter the combination.  Yes, sweet wines do pair well with spicy food but you know what, so does Pinot Noir.

Maybe it’s as simple as the old commercial for Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.  No one thought of putting them together until two unsuspecting souls rushing somewhere, one with a jar of peanut butter (because who doesn’t carry a whole jar around with them to the office), the other with a chocolate bar, collided in the hallway, thereby creating the candy juggernaut we know and love today.

And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that a well thought out wine/food pairing can not be transcendent.  I’ve been lucky enough to have chefs create full course vegetarian pairings that made me feel like ever the gourmand my dining companions were.

Once again the theme is all about finding ways to get along.  Not only with those of us who share different feelings about the food we eat, but also just our relationship with the rest of the world’s creatures too.

Maybe I’m being a bit high handed here (though it wasn’t my intention going in) but if you’re an animal lover or maybe you just want the air we breath to be clean enough for your grandkids to enjoy one day, the next time you think about ordering a big, fat, juicy steak to go along with your Cabernet why not give the globe a break and order the pasta instead…

Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 12:09 pm  Comments (2)  

The Race for 57 – Day Seven

Serves me right for trying to throw a change up and taste a white wine as the World Series gets under way this week.  Sauvignon Blanc in October?  From Mendocino?

I didn’t go in with the highest of expectations for the Jepson SB but nor was I anticipating disappointment either.  It seems hard these days to mess up Sauv Blanc.  The grape is versatile and while they may not all be as wonderful as those found in the Loire or New Zealand, it’s generally an inoffensive choice to pair with one’s Indian food, as I did last night.

And while I can’t come here and slag this wine, nor can I sing its praises.  First off (and this may not mean anything) in going to the Jepson website, the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc is listed at $11.50, whereas the 2007 version I acquired at TJ’s cost me $2.99.  Hmmmm.  Did they make a lot more wine last year, did “Joe the wine buyer” make them an offer they couldn’t refuse (“Tell you what, I’ll give you $1.00 a bottle for everything.”)…

My first note was, “The wine is almost water-like in color and an anteater could not pull anything out of this on the nose.”  I mean nothing.  There was a hint of pineapple on the mid palate and it actually had some nice acidity.  The finish was dry, fitting in with the overall timidity of the wine.

Considering this, I can only score this a WALK on four pitches.  Nothing exciting but it got me on base…


Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 9:40 am  Comments (1)  

The Race for 57 – Day Six

On an evening filled with debates and the elimination of my home town Dodgers to those pesky Phillies (frankly I couldn’t care less – though it would have been fun to see Manny play against the Red Sox – who most likely won’t make it to the Series either) I opened a wine that you could safely call a ringer.

You know, like that 16 year-old kid who pitched three no-hitters in the Little League World Series a few years ago – when everyone else was 12.

Casillero del Diablo (The Devil’s Locker) – whatever that means…

The wine I drank last night was already a Trader Joe’s favorite, but what caught my eye and why I included it was the little sticker that said, “2007 Historic Vintage – the best Premium Red Wine Vintage“.   I’ve liked most red wine from Chile and while they’ve mostly been Cabs, this was a Carmenere, which I’ve only tried from these guys.  But a Historic Vintage?  How very French of the Chileans…

Note: And from the looks of the winery’s fancy website I’d say they’re doing very well with it…

The wine hits the glass like dark, purple, oil and I was reminded of Capt. Quinn’s explanation of a shark’s look, “Lifeless eyes, like a doll’s eyes.”  The nose offers nice blackberry and spice and the palate gets touched by mellow fruit, certainly not as dramatic as I expected given how heavy it hangs in the glass.

I was struck a bit by the heat on the finish, which tells me the wine may be a bit young and should/might benefit from a little time in the cellar.  Not five years or anything but maybe 1-2.

At $7.99 this is considered a splurge at the Joe, the equivalent of spending $20.00 at a wine shop.

This one is like a line drive into the right field corner (as a switch hitter I smacked this from the left) that gets away from the outfielder and skids along the wall almost to center field.  I chug around second and don’t hesitate, turning on the jets and sliding head first into third safely.


Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 9:58 am  Comments (2)  

Dreams From My Father

He’s been gone eleven years today.

It’s incredible to think I’ve been without him for a quarter of my life.

And yet so much of what I’m about, my creativity, my love of music, of reading, of fairness can only be attributed to him.  One thing that can not however, is my love of wine.  You see, my dad, the late, great, Richard E. Cohen was a tea-totaler.

Yes, he had his occasional Gimlet but that was very rare and certainly not something he enjoyed regularly.  And I seem to remember we had a liquor cabinet but its contents were reserved for their friends who drank.  Wine was nowhere to be found.  In fact, one of the last times I saw him was at my engagement party, thrown perhaps prophetically by my wife’s best friend, whose future husband (not even in the picture at the time) would become one of my partners in the wine business.

The theme for our party was to help start our wine collection as we embarked on a life together.  My parents had flown out from Florida and it turned out to be quite the perfect LA day, with family and friends, a chance for the parents and in laws to meet for the first time (I think), one of those days that sets you off for the rest of your life.

And five months later it was over.

What I suppose I didn’t know then was that my dad’s cancer had returned and I can look back now and recall him moving a bit slower, but in the midst of a celebration for you and your future wife, it’s hard to see imperfection anywhere.

I did get to see him one more time the following month, at my brother’s wedding, and I’m grateful that my last memory of him is outside on a driveway before I headed to the airport, standing with me and one of my oldest friends, just shooting the shit like we’d all be doing it again real soon…

I try not to think about the things we’ve missed together, though that’s obviously impossible, how much he’d enjoy being with my boys and they laughing with him.  Those discussions on many topics that I’m sure we used to have, now faded after a decade of neglect in thinking about them.

But most of all, I’m sorry he never got to experience all the great things in my life that revolve around wine.  Being up in Napa, glass in hand, taking in the scenery.  Something tells me that in his retirement years, I’d have gotten him into the joys of Pinot or Cabernet or Riesling.  That he and my mom would end up visiting Bordeaux or Barossa without me, relishing their carefree empty nest lives.

If only.

Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to him with the other men in my life, in the hopes that one day I’ll share these things with them and they in turn will pass them along to their children.  And so it goes…

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The Race for 57 – Day Five

This wine had all the earmarks of a classic Trader Joe’s bargain.

$2.99 – Check
Hip Looking Label – Check
Never Heard of it – Check

Gravity Hills

(Full disclosure:  In visiting their website I noticed that it was designed by the same company, Camaleo, that designs our sites.  Not sure this means anything in the way of a conflict of interest – just thought it was a fun coincidence)

It had a nice pedigree in the vintage, 2005, which seems to have been great for every varietal I’ve tasted that year and was a Paso Robles Syrah, which I tend to like.  The fact that it had been reduced in price to $2.99 caused me to wonder why, but that’s what TJ’s is all about.

Maybe they accidentally stumbled upon 35,000 extra cases mislabled in their corporate inventory, perhaps they strong-armed a better margin from the distributor.  Most likely it was just their own version of an economic stimulus package.

“I pledge to cut wine prices by 50% and offer a tax credit for all wine purchases under $36.00/case.”

I opened the bottle last night while engorging on so much althletic competition simultaneously that I was in need of a sports vomitorium by 9pm.

Channel 775:  Flyers/Canadiens – Philly manages to blow the game to start the season 0-2.  Great.
Channel 206:  Giants/Browns – Giants manage to cough up a hairball and I lose my fantasy football game when Eli and Brandon Jacobs fail to deliver.
Channel 11:  Phillies/Dodgers – Although I had the least interest in this one, it was by far the best game, appropriate since this wine stunt is all about chasing a hallowed baseball record.

The wine itself had nice balance and soft tannins but not much fruit (which as you may have guessed by now is what my palate looks/hopes for).  By the end of the night it had opened up a bit but nothing too dramatic.

My first thought when drinking the wine was, “It’s better than Two Buck Chuck, by exactly the dollar more I paid.”

One dollar= SINGLE

Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 8:40 am  Comments (3)