Wine Tasting Tell All

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water."


That may be a bit more analogous (there's that word of the day thing) than need be, and thanks to Jaws 2 for the quote, but just when I thought I couldn't, and wouldn't, be doing any more French tastings, another one pops up.

My last "Wine Tasting Tell All" in the latter part of June, goes to show that I really do like French wines, but even by then, I was pretty much thinking I was done doing an all-French tasting for at least a while.  This was not to be the case as you might surmise from this latest post.

One item I hadn't considered in my earlier post was that Bastille Day is on July 14, a couple of days after this latest tasting.  So that makes sense.


So I'm standing at my table going over my selection of the wines I'm pouring.  A couple things I know right from the get-go is that I'm thinking to myself that (and my apologies to Ricky) "you've got some splainin to do."  How so you may ask.  Well, my first white is a Muscadet, generally, a wine done in a dry style reminiscent of maybe a Sauvignon Blanc.  Not a real common wine and as I guessed correctly (I always like that), a number of folks confused that with Moscato (that sweet wine from Italy).

From there it was a nice Provance Rosé.  This can actually be a harder sell as in all of the French tastings I've done, almost every table had its own Rosé.  C'est la vie.  Okay, too many French tastings as I'm now speaking French as well....

The next two wines are reds from the Rhone Valley.  Both from the quality driven 2015 Vintage.  One made entirely of the grape Carignan, and, not so coincidentally, named "Carignon."  A very pretty wine at a very affordable price.  The second, a gorgeous wine from the Northern Rhone, specifically the Saint-Joseph region, made of 100% Syrah.  If not aware, most reds from the Northern Rhone are always 100% Syrah.  Can't wait to pour this wine.

Rounding out the selections were two new features.  They are called "Sparkling Wine Cocktails" and are made from either a white or Rosé wine to which is added fruit juice carbonation and a couple other ingredients.  Oh, I didn't mention, they are sold in a can!  4 to a pack.  Now I admire innovation, and with all the "experimentation" going on these days with anything alcoholic, it seems a novel idea.

Well, tasting went well and as expected, I did need to clarify the Muscadet/Moscato issue a few times, the reds went over very well with the Saint-Joseph earning great praise.  The Sparkling Wine Cocktails?  Surprisingly, they had a number of believers once people tried them.  I later found out that the store sells quite a bit of these cocktails.

So, another French tasting in the books and I'm ready for a switch to just about anything non-French!  Il est temps de passer à autre chose.  I did it again.  That's French for
"It is time to move on."


Drink Pink

The voices cry "Rosé all day" or "Drink Pink" and even "Stop and Smell the Rosé."


So what's going on with Rosé wine?  For the last few years, Rosé has gone from a Spring and Summer warm weather sipper to a wine drunk pretty much year round.  Like most new fads (I need to be cautious about calling this a fad) once a large enough group of wine drinkers "discovered" the pink elixir, they spread the word like wildfire.

People who had only thought of pink wine as being that sweet concoction "White Zinfandel" had never known this style of wine existed, or worse, thought it to be the same!  Now they were finding that pink didn't necessarily mean sweet.

These drier versions, which are made now throughout the world in many styles, tended to be from France and predominantly from the South around Provence, were Rosé accounts for half to two-thirds of total wine production in that area.  I recall in my early days of wine exploration seeing mostly the French versions.  I also grew to realize, for me anyway, that Rosés seemed innocuous (word of the day thing).  Not bad, just similar.  This issue comes up again later, so please read on....please, do I have to beg??

Rosés are showing meteoric increases in sales.  By most accounts, last year 2017, sales in the U.S. showed a better than 50% increase in dollar sales of Rosés.  That no small feat.  While it still only accounts for a small fraction of total wine sales, maybe 2% depending on who you talk to.  While harder to get specific sales numbers, Rosés are now being produced in record numbers throughout the world.  It is such a "fad" that Rosés are being produced by so many more wineries, leading to a variety of styles.

This leads me to the reason for my post (I know, about time).

I had the opportunity to pour at a recent tasting.  To me, it was almost historic in nature as it was an "All Rosé" tasting.  I've seen a couple smaller ones around, but this one had 40 or so different wines to sample.  Coincidentally, it was also Rosé day.  So here's where when I mentioned my thinking that most Rosés seemed "innocuous" comes into play.

This may be a good time to explain the different methods of making Rosés.  The primary way is what is sometimes called the "Direct Press" method.  Simply, the wine is pressed from the grapes and then (assuming you're using some selection of red skinned grapes) you leave the juice in contact with the skins until the desired color is achieved.  Another method, sometimes referred to as Saignée (from French bleeding), requires that the winemaker literally "bleeds off" a portion of red wine production that then becomes a Rosé.  Lastly, is adding a portion of red wine to a white wine to get the desired color.  This "blending" is not in common use and forbidden in some areas except Champagne, where the addition of a small amount of red wine as a part of the dosage (that's the small amount of solution added after disgorgement to help begin the second fermentation in the bottle) is allowed. 


Why have so many wines when they are almost all going to taste alike I thought, or at least a good number of them.  Fortunately, I ran into a husband and wife duo that I know and I asked that when they had completed the tasting to return and give me their thoughts about the tasting.  They politely did so and it enlightened me.  

Two main issues emerged from this tasting.  The first was that at tastings where Rosés may be available but spread out throughout the stations, it is difficult to really compare.  Makes sense so far.  The second was, and this is something that should have been more obvious, even to me, is the selection opens up new avenues for the numerous styles and flavors that are now coming to market.  In the past, I did pour at an "All Cabernet" tasting.  While having the same issues (too many and too similar), I didn't see it in that manner.  Okay, starting to make more sense to me.  Even this old dog can learn new tricks!  (See how I snuck in the old part?)

I do believe that there are going to be larger Rosé tastings, and if you're a fan, I highly recommend that you attend.  So feel free to use the rallying cry "Rosé all day," "Drink Pink" or "Stop and Smell the Rosé."


Mad Scientist

Wine Tasting Tell All


Ever since I was a young boy (and at this stage of my life, that's hard to remember) I had an urge and desire to dabble in science.  I would get my chemicals. beakers and eye droppers (do you know that those are?) all put together and start my experiments.

I loved to see what I could create.  To the delight of my parents I'm sure, I never created anything that exploded or caused bodily harm.  I did break a few test tubes and had my share of "what the heck did I just make" moments, but I still stayed fascinated by what you could do by mixing a few things together.

For the third time in my wine career I had the opportunity to do just that.  A selection of base wines (Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot) to choose from to concoct my own wine blend.  Mad Scientist 101!


This time it is wine coming from a slightly different area of the world.  Previously, it had been California, this time it was from Argentina.  For this particular seminar and tasting we were introduced to the wines coming from the vineyards of Susana Balbo.  Located in the Lujan de Cuyo region (Mendoza), Susana started her winery back in 1999.  Of historical interest is that Susana was the first female enologist in the history of Argentine winemaking, and has received numerous awards since then.

I'm no stranger to her wines, which include her Signature series (Susana Balbo) as well as her Crios (slang for offspring), BenMarco and Nosotros (a single vineyard Malbec).  Known for quality wines selling through a range of prices.

This particular evening we sampled her Signature Series Malbec and Cabernet along with the BenMarco Expresivo the Nosotros and her Signature Brioso (a blend of four varietals, Cab, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  While all of the wines were excellent, I had to give my nod to her 2014 Signature Cabernet.  A tad bit more tannin than the Malbec and slightly darker fruit with a dusty note thrown in along with a great price to quality at $20 a bottle made it my winner.  For those wishing a slightly smoother wine, the 2015 Signature Malbec would be my choice for you.  Both wines reviewed well with Wine Advocate rating the Cab at 92 Points and the Malbec at 91.

In the effort of brevity (like I really couldn't sit here and punch out hours more), I will move on to the blending portion of the show....

Four wines sit in front of me, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  I flashback to my days as a youngster (that's no easy feat mind you), ready to bring out that mad scientist in me to begin my experiment.  First I sip each wine, savoring the elements that each will bring to my final mix.  Knowing from my previous blending seminars just how little a particular varietal can change the final wine.

The Cab Franc is my favorite, so it gets top billing in the mix.  I also love the fruit that the Malbec can add, so it has to be up there as well.  The cab will add a little of that dusty earthiness with Petit Verdot adding body.  Knowing there is a lot on the line as it's been announced that the winner of the blends will receive a surprise reward.

So begins my laborious task of mixing and sampling and mixing again and tasting again.  Don't worry, the tasting part makes all this work worth it!  Once again, in the interest of not boring you to death, I settled on a blend of 33% each of the Cab Franc and Malbec with 16% each of the Cabernet and Petit Verdot.  I know that only equals 98%, but come on, I did a little rounding to make it easier.

Personally, I think I made one heck of a wine.  Big juicy with great spice notes and a touch of that earthiness ending with a long finish.  99 Points easily!!  I would give it 100 but I don't want to seem snobbish or self-serving.

What did the judge think?  Let's just say I didn't come away with any "surprises."  I think I should have called for a recount or something.  I was robbed!

A shoutout and big thanks to Kendra at Susana Balbo Wines and Brooke from Folio Fine Wine Partners for bringing this event to our area.  I had a great time as I know that everyone there did as well.

If you need a wine for the evening, make sure you check out the wines from Susana Balbo, you won't regret it.