Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Retailer's Responsibility or Being Overly Dogmatic?

Recently I was hanging out with a couple of friends who work on the retail side of the wine industry, as store owner and employee, respectively. During our conversation the subject of a retailers responsibility to the consumer came up. While that is admittedly a broad topic with regards to what you sell the consumer, the relationship you have with them, and where you steer their palates (for the new wine drinkers), the guys and I focused on the wines retailers hand-sell and recommend.

Why did this come up?

At the shop my friend owns, a local winery was pouring several wines, including a 2010 pinot noir. I tasted the pinot noir and put bluntly, it was not good wine. This 2010 pinot didn't taste like it should, based on the growing season Oregon experienced in that year. It lacked acidity and had no tannin, being instead soft and fruity, with a one-dimensional black fruit flavors and an evaporative finish. There was a perceptible ethyl acetate presence on the nose as well. Blind, I might have pegged it for a cheap pinot from Trader Joe's or Wal-Mart, but it sells for about $20. The wine was definitely not representative of Oregon pinot noir.

To that end, is it ok for the wine store to sell a wine like this? By selling pinot noir of such low quality, does that do a disservice to people who are buying what they think is a good expression of Oregon pinot? Those buyers may not know wine well enough to realize that this pinot isn't good, but there's an implied endorsement anytime a retailer stocks a wine. When I walk into a wine store, I trust the owner and employees to stand behind the wines they sell, it's an unwritten but incredibly significant contract.

Conversely, if the customer likes it, is that all that matters? Should those neophyte wine drinkers worry about whether or not a wine is "correct"?

During our friendly debate, my position was firm; stocking a wine like this and willfully selling it to customers is wrong, especially when there are similarly priced, higher quality alternatives available.

My friends position was that if someone wanted to buy it and liked it, there was nothing wrong with that. They also brought up the fact that a wine like this could be a good introduction to Oregon pinot noirs, whereby a neophyte wine drinker would slowly move up the ladder to better examples. I see where they're coming from, and that approach, building relationships with your customers slowly and over time, yields great results.

At what point do you draw the line with sub-standard wines though? If a wine is lacking varietal character and vintage typicity, shouldn't someone say something? I think that's where the contention was, and the source of our disagreement. Both guys admitted the wine wasn't great and they've each tasted enough 2010 Oregon pinot noir to get an idea of what the vintage expresses.

The reason I'm wrote this blog post is because I wonder if I'm being too dogmatic? Am I being too snobby by discounting this inferior wine? At the end of the day, if someone likes it, does that make the wine good?

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chamisal Vineyards Pinot Noir

I've been drinking a lot of California pinot noir lately, from appellations all over the state. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting up several blog entries that explore the wines I've been sent to try.

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First up are the pinot's from the producer formerly known as Domaine Alfred, now known as Chamisal Vineyards. Back in 1973, Chamisal Vineyards was the first to be planted in the Edna Valley, a cool-climate region located just south of San Luis Obispo. This could be considered the far-northern Central Coast area, or the extreme-southern Northern California area. The Edna Valley AVA was established in 1982 and comprises of about 22,400 acres. Among the grapes planted there are pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, grenache, and syrah.

Winemaker Fintan du Fresne takes great care in showcasing the area's cool climate and clay soils. He states that "we have an extremely long, moderate growing season that lends itself to the production of big, cool-climate styled wines." I suspect that he is aiming to balance ripeness with structure, to create full flavored wines that aren't total oak or fruit-bombs.

2009 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley "Califa" Selection: A pleasing bouquet of white pepper, grape stem, bramble, and black cherry. I like the balance in this pinot noir's nose, it smells ripe but not over-ripe thanks to the pepper and bramble notes. On the palate it's rich but balanced, with raspberries, black cherries, and baking spices. The firm tannin is a welcome addition to the ripe fruit flavors, bringing a cohesiveness to the texture and flavors. Exotic spices come in on the mid-palate, creating a good balance. The finish is light but structured, ending on a note of bright red cherry and oak. SRP $60. 14.7% abv.

2009 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Estate Pinot Noir: On the nose, subtle spices and cherries galore, along with a hint of nail polish remover showing perhaps an excessive amount of ethyl acetate (EA). Cola and rhubarb come out too, along with some sturdy oak aromas. Right now more oak is showing than I'd like but perhaps in a few more years some spices and peppery notes will come through. The palate is bursting with very ripe red fruits, red licorice, herbs, and some subtle baking spices that start in on the mid-palate. The lightness is welcome, with vibrant acidity and firm tannin making this a versatile pinot noir. Easy to drink, accessible, but something of a tough sell at the srp of $38. 14.5% abv.

Both wines were big, bold pinot noirs, though the Chamisal Estate pinot did have that distracting ethyl acetate fault. Still, if you're a fan of the California-style, those that are more extracted and perhaps riper fruit than Oregon or Burgundy, these are wines I suspect you'd enjoy. While they may not have the cachet or a Wind Gap, Cobb, or Williams-Seylem pinot, they're much easier to find. Food pairings would be grilled salmon, hanger steak, and coq au vin.

It's apparent that Fintan du Fresne takes the pinot noir seriously at Chamisal Vineyards, and I like how he's going for big-style wine yet one that's got structure too. I hope to continue tasting this producer over the next few years, especially now with 2010's starting to be released.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Summer Syrah Sipping Suggestions

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I love syrah. As such, whenever I get a lineup of syrah to taste, my excitement level ramps up. The grape is criminally underappreciated here in the United States, perhaps as a result of [yellow tail] being foisted on naive palates. That under-appreciation helps to keep prices down (for the most part) on domestic syrah, which pleases me to no end. Considering how overpriced cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir are, finding refuge in syrah's intoxicating mix of ripe black fruit, dried herb, heady spices, and smooth tannin brings many a wine geek moments of sheer joy. There was even an "Occupy Syrah" day last year, which I wrote about while tasting some delicious wines.

Here then are some domestic syrahs I was sent to sample. All are from California, and all were tasted blind first, then unmasked and re-tasted over the course of another day.

2009 Mandolin Syrah Central Coast: Aromas of wood, burnt match, ripe cherries, plums, and a sensation of alcoholic heat. As in the previous bottle of this I tried, I suspect there's a sulfides issue present. On the palate this syrah is somewhat thin and astringent, with none of the ripe, deep fruit character that I would expect. Rather, there's a simplistic red fruit that evaporates quickly. The acidity is nice but the overall impression I get is that of a hollow shell, or put more bluntly, a cheap wine. Disappointing, because the Central Coast of California can produce amazing syrah. 14.6% abv. $11 srp.

2008 Elizabeth Spencer Syrah "Special Cuvee" Sonoma Coast: A complex nose of fresh black fruit, molasses, baking spices, dried herbs, and wood are unfortunately held back by a subtle alcoholic burn. Still, I'd be lying if I denied that this syrah smells incredibly good. On the palate it's rich and mouth-coating, revealing flavors of blackberry, peppercorn, tar, and mocha. Chewy tannin give a wonderful structure to balance out the ripeness. The whole packages is closed out with an impressively long finish of herbs and dusty soil notes. I must say though, that I don't believe for one minute that this is truly 14.9% alcohol, I'd bet it's closer to 16.0%. $35 srp.

2006 James David Cellars Syrah Central Coast: Pours a very dark garnet, almost purple, in the glass. Aromas of Almond Joy candy, pencil lead, blackberry preserve, and fresh cut lumber. Definitely oaky, and there may be a an ethyl acetate issue forming due to the nail-polish remover burn. The palate is thin and drying, without much character other than alcoholic burn and grainy wood. With a listed alcohol of 15.7%, I suspect that could be a lot higher. I did notice the tannin, and if this wine had any lush, clean fruit flavors to show, that tannic structure would do a beautiful job creating balance. $N/A.

2005 James David Cellars Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch Mendocino: Pouring a much "redder" ruby into my glass, my first impressions of the bouquet were of garrigue and cherry preserves. There's a pleasant earthiness along with some nice mocha notes and a dollop of wood. There's some alcoholic heat too, but it isn't distracting. This style, for my palate, is what I love about California syrah. Balanced fruit, earth, and oak elements all play nicely together. There's some firm tannin at play, acting to nudge each element back into balance as they struggle to break out of the tannic pen. Red cherry and raspberry, herbs, and a dusty minerality compose a syrah I'd love to pair with a steak, or ribs. This 2006 is wearing its age with grace and class, as well as looking to improve with a few more years in bottle. 15.5% abv. $N/A.

Maybe the title of this post should be "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly". On the one hand, the Mandolin was disappointing to me, again, despite it's generally good reviews from Steve Heimoff and Bev-X. I could chalk it up to bottle variation though, especially at such a low price point. The 2006 James David was way too big and alcoholic for me, but if you're into lush, rich syrah you will love this one. On the other hand, the 2005 James David Eaglepoint Ranch was delicious despite the high-ish alcohol, as was the Elizabeth Spencer.

Any of these wines would pair beautifully with grilled meat, pizza, lamb, lasagna, or on their own. Despite being a full-bodied wine, syrah is versatile, and each of these wines does showcase a certain stylistic take on the grape. As we move closer to summer, I hope to offer more syrah reviews so please don't hesitate to recommend examples to me!

These wines were media samples from their respective producers.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Domaine Carneros, by Taittinger

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The wines I'm writing about in this feature were originally to be part of an Easter article, suggesting you pair sparkling wines with your Easter meal. Unfortunately due to a shipping mix-up, the wine didn't arrive in time.

Allow me to clarify though, sparkling wine should be enjoyed year-round. It's always a good time for bubbles.

Fast forward several weeks and I had occasion to open the 2005 Domaine Carneros Le Reve Blanc de Blancs and NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pomadour.

Our good friends Lars and Dave were celebrating their wedding anniversary and stopped by on their way home to say hi and catch up. Seeing as we get together all too infrequently, I decided that we were going to open a special bottle of sparkling wine and chilled the Le Reve immediately. Knowing its provenance, I anticipated a wonderful experience for us on that special day.

Domaine Carneros is owned by the famous French Champagne house Taittinger, which was founded in 1734 in the city of Reims. Over the years it has established a reputation as one of the foremost Champagne producers in the world, so when the Taittinger family started Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley, there was considerable expectation put in place. That was back in 1987. Since then, the Taittinger family has always exerted a light touch, allowing CEO/Founding Winemaker Eileen Crane to go about her pursuit of great sparkling and still wines with considerable freedom.

The selection of Carneros in Napa Valley was no accident either, and the region is now home to many of California's most admired pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards. As of now, the estate produces six sparkling wines, all done in the methode champenoise style. Methode champenoise means that the wines are made the same way as in Champagne, with the wine undergoing its secondary fermentation (the one that produces the bubbles) inside the bottle. That's the quick way explain, but there are many other factors that make this method unique when compared to others such as carbon dioxide injection or the Charmat Method.

How were the wines, you might ask?

2005 Domaine Carneros "Le Reve" Blanc de Blancs:
Beautiful aromas of lemon peel, brioche, red apple, and bracing minerality. This is 99% chardonnay and 1% pinot blanc. On the palate it's creamy and smooth while retaining a pleasing lightness. Flavors of cake frosting, golden apple, spiced lemon slices, and a yeasty richness emerge from the bubbles. The complexity is what you'd expect from a wine with this provenance, in a word: impeccable. That said, I'm equally amazed with the integrated flavors, a testament to the vintage and time spent on the lees. After each sip I reflected on how much it felt like a complete experience, so good was the balance. One of the best California sparkling wines you can buy, period. $95 SRP.

NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé:
This wine pours a beautiful rosé color, and when held up to the sun it reminded me of bright, shiny copper reflecting the sunlight. A beautiful bouquet of flavors wafts out of the glass, among them strawberry, brioche, hints of orange zest, and a lovely, delicate potpourri. While not quite at level of the Le Reve, this rosé (58% pinot noir, 42% chardonnay) does have a fine bouquet. On the palate it's light and dry, with plenty of tart red fruit and citrus, lifted by vibrant acidity. Fine, delicate bubbles create a lovely textural sensation that only ends many seconds after you swallow. Again I found the balance of flavors to be excellent. For a brut rosé, this is a wine I'd happily pour for a group of Champagne lovers, blind. At a suggested retail of $45, but available at $35, it's half the price (or more!) of brut rosé Champagnes.

Both of these sparkling wines were excellent, and much to my delight, neither showed any signs of oxidation. This is a testament to good winemaking, as well as perhaps indicative of the committment the Taittinger family has to making Domaine Carneros the best sparkling wine producer in the United States. With wines like these, I suspect they're close to accomplishing that goal.

For the 2005 Le Reve, I'd suggest pairing almost anything with this wine, short of a steak. I'd have enjoyed some oysters, lobster, caviar, or even more humble fare like fried chicken and french fries. Honestly, the wine would have been amazing even with a pizza. For the Cuvee de la Pompadour, I'd have paired it with grilled shrimp or chicken, anything fried, or even some berry sorbet.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wine Club Review: California Wine Club Sends Fess Parker Wines

I was recently asked to take part in evaluating a wine club, called the "California Wine Club". This isn't one that's run by a winery however, rather one where you receive different producers with each shipment. In that way, perhaps it's better for someone just starting to explore wines, because you're always getting something new to try. Clubs like this are often risky though, because the wines can either but custom labeled bulk wines or commercial grade selections from big wineries.

As part of the review process, I was given a complimentary three month membership in the "Premier Club". This is the first of three blog posts evaluating the shipments of wine I get and what I think of the club. First though, some background on this wine club. For starters, there are four club levels, with the Premier Club being the lowest-tiered. Since this club's wines are the ones I'm receiving, I'll be focusing on it instead of the other club levels.

Each shipment contains two bottles of wine (duh!), a newsletter, a special offer sheet, and a few other rather irrelevant bits of marketing material. The newsletter, called "Uncorked", has information on the current month's wines, recipes, some wine education articles, and at the back is a little bit about wines previously offered. The enclosed materials frequently mention that reordering any of the wines gets you a substantial discount.

So then, on to the wines! That's why you might join the club, right? For this shipment, I was sent two bottles from Fess Parker Winery, one of the biggest wineries in Santa Barbara County and a producer with a good reputation for delivering quality across the price spectrum. I have to admit though, I was a bit disappointed to open the box and find Fess Parker, especially when the Premier Club sells itself as finding "mom and pop wineries". Sure Fess Parker is family owned, but they make a ton of wine.

Still, I wanted to taste the wines, a 2010 pinot noir and 2010 riesling, and see just how far the $50 went. Interestingly, the pinot noir is listed at a suggested retail price of $26, and the riesling at $17. That said, a simple internet search showed the 2010 Parker Station pinot at around $11 and the 2010 Fess Parker Riesling at around the same price. That adds up to about $24, or half the monthly fee. The rest must go into the newsletter production and shipping costs.

2010 Fess Parker Riesling Santa Barbara County: I had some spicy Chinese food the other day and opened the riesling to pair with it. Despite my good intentions, I should have paid more attention because at a pH of 3.11 and 12% alcohol, this is a dry riesling. A sweeter wine would have been a smarter pairing. This riesling has a nice bouquet, full of floral notes intermixed with apricot, red apple, and a touch of spice. On the palate it's clean and crisp, with a nice citrus and lemon zest component. There's plenty of acidity to keep the flavors from getting too sweet and ripe, something I was happy to find. Overall it's a really solid riesling and at around $11, a smart purchase. Good job by the California Wine Club! 12% abv.

2010 Fess Parker "Parker Station" Pinot Noir California: With the pinot, I had no food pairing to try, just the desire to drink pinot noir, and one that wasn't from Oregon. Living in the Willamette Valley gives me the chance to try a lot of outstanding pinot noir but sometimes I seek California's take on this finicky grape. I do get suspicious of such cheap pinot though, especially ones that just list "California" instead of a specific AVA. So then, the wine. It's gorgeously colored, and I mean gorgeous! I was sipping this as I washed dishes and when the sun hit the glass, it was like a ruby exploded. I gave it a few sniffs and immediately noticed a ripe, almost candied-cherry aroma. There's also a hint of baking spice and some very faint cranberry. On the palate it's thin and somewhat lackluster though, and I felt it was very one dimensional. Spicy cherry and then it's gone, with no finish to speak of. 13.8% abv.

So as of this writing, the California Wine Club's Premier Club is batting .500, which would get you into the Hall of Fame if you played baseball. This isn't baseball. While I liked the Fess Parker riesling, I thought the pinot was really disappointing, especially since the Uncorked newsletter claimed the suggested retail is $26. At around $11 it's what you would expect from a pinot, but at $26 you're getting hosed.

With that said, I have to add in the caveat that this is not the kind of club I myself would join, because my palate preferences range much deeper into the geeky, esoteric side of wine. I think anyone who got these two bottles would be pretty happy, and the supporting material (in particular the Uncorked magazine) is solid. If you want to give your mom a Mother's Day gift, you should consider this club. If you use the code "beau12" at checkout, your mom will get four bottles instead of two. That might be the best deal of the whole club!

You can find the California Wine Club on Twitter as @cawineclub and The Boring Wine Guy as @boringwineguy. He's one half of the founding team behind this club. The California Wine Club Facebook Page is also full of activity and a good place to talk about your experiences. The Boring Wine Guy is also on Facebook.

Stay tuned for the wines in the next shipment. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they're from a smaller production, slightly more authentic mom and pop winery.

These wines were provided as media samples in collaboration with Mom Spark Media.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beckham Estate Vineyards, An Oregon Producer to Watch

I recently visited Beckham Estate Vineyards for the first time and tasted through their current releases. The vineyard is located just outside the town of Sherwood here in Oregon and the wine is made at Union Wine Company. Falling under the category called "micro-winery", Andrew and Annedria Beckham have only recently begun to release wines, starting with their 2009 Beckham Estate Pinot Noir. I tasted it, along with the 2010 and their first rosé, a 2011.

The story of Beckham Estate Vineyards is perhaps best told in a straightforward fashion. Two people from non-wine backgrounds came together several years ago and begun a lifelong journey. In 2004, they located a site that would properly express pinot noir and perhaps more importantly, allow pinot noir to express the site. Planting began soon after, in 2005. Sitting between 412 and 568 feet above sea level, Beckham Estate Vineyard is planted with four clones on 6.5 acres. Next year, one acre of pinot blanc is scheduled, so around 2018 we might get to taste it. As of now, the Beckhams can make around 900 cases per year.

I tasted three wines, the 2011 rosé, and both the 2009 and 2010 Chehalem Mountains pinot noirs. Andrew makes the wines at Union Wine Company, close to Sherwood. The reds see about between 35% and 40% new French oak with the remainder in neutral barrels.

2011 Beckham Estate Vineyards Rosé:
A 100% pinot noir rosé, this spent one year in neutral French oak barrels. It didn't undergo malo-lactic fermentation, leaving the acid profile skewed towards the drier malic (think green apples) versus the creamier lactic (think buttered popcorn). The bouquet is full of strawberries, summer melon, hints of wood, and a nice stemmy quality. On the palate it's clean and refreshing, the way a rosé should be. The acidity is lively, creating a deliciously crisp texture to balance the red fruit flavors. Overall an impressive display of complexity and balance. Andrew and Annedria's rosé finishes clean and soft, and very satisfying. $16 srp.

This was the first commercial release from the Estate and is comprised of three clones of pinot noir. About 250 cases were made. The nose is all Oregon funk,  peppery spice, sweet red fruit, and oak. One of the more enticing, interesting 2009's I've yet had. I like the balance that is present in the bouquet,and it primes your  palate for a wonderful experience. The flavors here are precise; blackberry, earth, wild raspberries, and black tea. Hints of oak weave throughout the fine-grained tannin and importantly, there is a lot of acidity. On the finish, bittersweet chocolate and a stemmy flavor linger for an impressive length of time. I'd love to taste this wine in 10 years. 14.9% abv. $32 srp.

2010 Beckham Estate Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir:
The bouquet opens with fresh pine needles, raspberries, cherries, and then segues into a sutble, meaty/woodsy aroma. Amazing complexity and near-perfect balance, perhaps a testament to great fruit and the restrained use (11 months) of oak. I could sniff this pinot noir for days it's of the best most aromatically beautiful 2010 pinot noirs I've yet to taste. On the palate I was impressed with the high-toned red fruit flavors (wild strawberry mixed with blackberries galore!), dusty earth notes, and restrained stemmy flavor on the finish. As with the bouquet, the mouthfeel is well balanced and the tannin acts to restrain the pure fruit. In my opinion, this is how Oregon pinot noir should taste. 13.3% abv. $32 srp.

The more I talked with the Beckhams, the more I was impressed with how humble they are. Simply tasting the wines will show that they compare favorably to Oregon's best, yet Andrew took the time to answer all my questions honestly and I'm just a little wine blogger.

During my interview, I found out that the future for Beckham Estate is equally exciting. Plans call for a reserve program, and indeed there is one lot of pinot noir already destined to become a reserve selection. Production is minuscule, 46 cases. Of those, 20 are pre-sold. That wine will be released in September, or as Annedria said, when it's ready. Other plans include the aforementioned pinot blanc, and a series of single clone bottlings.

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To find the Beckham Estate Vineyards wines or visit the tasting room, I suggest checking out their website. They're also on Twitter and Facebook:
Beckham Estate on Facebook
Beckham Estate on Twitter

Here in Oregon, the wines are available at The Heathman, The Allison, Marche in Eugene, 23rd & Hoyt, Sweet Basil in Cannon Beach, and Red Hills Market.

I hope you have a chance to taste these wines and support small producers, because they represent so much of the passion, hard work, integrity, and even the romance of wine.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Alto Adige Wines Come To Portland

I recently attended a tasting of wines from the Italian region of Alto Adige. This place, tucked away in the far north-east reaches of Italy's boot, has a long wine making tradition yet remains relatively unknown here in the United States. The goal of the tasting and seminar was to change that by exposing wine buyers, retailers, sommeliers, media, and other influential people to the diversity of styles found in Alto Adige.

Unlike the rest of Italy, if you visit Alto Adige you're just as likely to encounter a German-speaking resident as you are an Italian speaker. Historically this alpine corner was part of Austria-Hungary before being annexed by Italy after the First World War, and the culture is a fascinating mix of Germanic and Italian characteristics.

Alto Adige might be one of the most beautiful growing regions in the world, with vineyards terraced against picturesque mountains and quintessential European mountain villages. The location of the vineyards, on those steep hillsides, was repeatedly stressed throughout the seminar. On the valley floors you'll find apple orchards and other non-grape crops growing. Along Adige Valley, where the soil type is mostly poryphyric, vines bask in warm temperatures, cooled by breezes, for 300 days a year. That's a lot of sunny days, and apparently Portland sees 300 rainy days a year. Kind of puts things into perspective.

The combination of warm weather and sun, offset by altitude and wind, helps the grapes reach a state of ripeness that manifests as vibrant flavors tempered by pure acidic lift. In short, the wines are chock-full of refreshing flavors that make them perfectly suited for everyday drinking.

Within Alto Adige there are well known grape varieties like pinot blanc, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, and pinot grigio. There are also more unique grapes planted there, like sylvaner, kerner, and schiava. This tasting was my introduction to Italian pinot noir (called pinot nero), sylvaner, and schiava. I came away with a new appreciation of these non-traditional varieties.

Here are some selected highlights from the tasting:

2006 Cantina Terlano Vorberg Riserva Pinot Bianco: A perfumed nose of sweet stone fruit, pears, and lightly roasted nuts. Good structure, lots of pear and mandarin orange flavors that carry through to a soft, smooth finish. $39.99 srp. 13.5% abv. Imported by Banville & Jones Wine Merchants.

2010 Manincor Kalterersee Keil Schiava: Bright fruit notes, smoke, and savory aromas make up the bouquet. On the palate it's light, with dried black fruit, pepper, and a crisp finish. Practically begs for food and is a great introduction to the grape. $16.00 srp. 13.0% abv. Imported by Estelle Imports LLC.

2010 Kellerei Kaltern-Caldaro Lagrein: The bouquet is redolent of dark flavors; lots of smoke and savory meat, black currant, and intriguing minerality. Tannic on the palate, but a very textural wine. Shows more dark fruit and savory flavors along with a finish of earth and baking chocolate. $29.00 srp. 13.5% abv. Imported by Enotec Imports/Mitchell Wines.

2008 Cantina Andriano Lagrein: Another dark, brooding lagrein. More plummy and fruit-focused than the Kellerei example though, while retaining the woodsmoke element too. On the palate, a bit more polished tannin leads to black fruit and spices. Pleasing finish. $21.99 srp. Imported by Banville & Jones Wine Merchants.

2009 Cantina Bolzano Pinot Nero Riserva: Dusty earth and red berries rush up out of the glass. Subtle spices go hand in hand with the strawberry and cranberry flavors on the palate. Impressive balance and a finish that combines black tea and something akin to mint leaf. Outstanding wine, one that begs to be paired with salmon. $25.00 srp. Imported by Estelle Imports LLC.

2011 Erste + Neue Muller-Thurgau: Green apples and green figs lead the charge, along with citrus and limestone notes. The acidity is outstanding, creating a light, fresh white wine. More of the citrus shows through on the palate, along with a bracing finish of apple and wet rock. It's one of the most interesting, fun white wines I've tasted in 2012. $15.99 srp. Distributed by Corridor No. 5.

2010 Tenute Lentsch Fuchslahn Gewurztraminer: Freshly sliced ginger, flower petals, and a warm baking spice element work to create a delicious-smelling bouquet. On the palate the wine is dry and delicate, with sutble flavors of ginger, dried lemon, sweet pear, and a subtle spicy kick. Great balance and texture, a wine that would pair beautifully with grilled mahi-mahi or chicken stir-fry. $27.99 srp. Imported by Vinum Wine Importing.

I liked every wine I tasted at the Wines of Alto Adige tasting, which is a testament to the quality of the area. When Becky and I left, I wondered aloud why more people don't drink wines from Alto Adige, but was unable to come up with an answer.

The more I thought about this problem, the more I have become convinced that there are multiple reasons for the relative lack of exposure here in the United States. The first reason is simply a numbers game, with so many thousands of wines to choose from here, we're often overwhelmed. Another reason is the hesitation of most wine drinkers to try new things, especially with odd-sounding names, a phenomenon I ran into while working for Trader Joe's. Third, the lack of Alto Adige wines in many supermarkets makes it hard for the casual wine drinker to gain any exposure to these wines. Finally, the wines of Alto Adige need to be talked about, especially by influential wine personalities.

We all have to collectively demand these wines when we go out to our favorite restaurants and wine shops, then share our new discoveries with fellow wine drinkers. By doing that, some of the strangeness of a wine that says "Pinot Bianco di Alto Adige" will be lost, hopefully replaced with a big smile after a few sips.

Thanks to Vinum Importing and Cornerstone Communications for inviting me to this outstanding tasting.
For more information on the wines of Alto Adige visit the website and Facebook Page.

Beau Carufel