Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blessed with Bacon

I received my holiday gift early from the Grand Poobah - a bacon sampler from the Grateful Palate.   The four bacons I received are: Nodine's  Smokehouse 10 garlic clove and Nodine's Double Smoked from CT; Edwards Cinnamon Apple Virginia Bacon; Loveless Cafe's Hot and Spicy Jalapeño bacon from Nashville; and Oscar's Applewood Smoked from NY. Having  visited the Loveless Cafe years ago, this bacon has brought back special memories.  You must go there for the biscuits, jam, bacon and nostalgia.  The celebrity photos and stories are worth the trip alone.

We started with Nodine's 10 clove garlic bacon for the past two days.  This is a slab of bacon cured with a garlic emulsion and actual whole cloves of garlic studded in the meat. The perfume has made my house smell, well heavenly, thus instructing the family not to open any windows or doors in the house to best preserve the aromas as long as possible.  I am not sure how to describe this bacon.  My writing skills won't do it justice.  It's like writing about your first kiss 
or my first sip of a Cote Rotie.  Two loves, two passions combined into one - garlic and bacon.  I may have to save the fat and put a little on my wrists before going to work each day.  This bacon has a subtle sweetness followed by mellowed sublime garlic flavors which leads to a smoked finish.  Absolutely divine, this is a dream come true.  If you haven't figured out what to give the foodie in your family consider this bacon sampler.  I now know how much the Grand Poobah really loves me.  
Maybe 2009 should be the year Wine Authorities gets into the specialty bacon business?  We could fly in 1 lb slabs from around the country and sell them to other Durham bacon lovers. - Salamanzar

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rare FORMAGGIO TORO UBRIACO (drunken bull cheese) arrives!

Durham cheese maker Alessandra Trompeo has quickly received much international acclaim representing American raw cheese makers at the Slow Food Terre Madre event in Turin, Italy. Her "Duchessa" is our best selling cheese and she is a helluva nice lady to boot. We are proud to be the exclusive source for her latest cheese, Toro Ubriaco, or "Drunken Bull" in honor of our fair Bull City!

This cow's milk cheese is an aromatic, washed rind cheese, encased in Sangiovese must (the skins and seeds left over after the red wine making process) so it imparts a winey, fruity taste. Four and a half months in the making, we are extremely excited to debut this exotic, complex cheese starting today. It is made in one pound squares with grape skins intact and cut in half to show the inside and make it a more convenient size for couples. The cost is $21.99/pound (about $11 a piece).

ALESSANDRA HAS MADE ONLY 25 OF THESE CHEESES (50 halves). So please come soon if you are interested in getting some. They will sell out quickly!

Here's Alessandra's notes on the history of this type of cheese:

"The Drunken Bull has its origin in Eastern Italy.  Several folk stories tell how the cheese was born. Someone links its origin to WWI when the farmers, trying to defend their stocks from the soldiers’ raids, would hide the cheese under grape skins. Others think that lack of resources is the main reason why the cheese was born. Being the oil to treat the cheese rinds very expensive, several families of farmers would use grape skins to keep the rinds moist and clean. The result was a very aromatic cheese that would last much longer.
There is also a story about a crooked cheesemaker who tried to hide some wheels from his boss dumping them into a fermenting must barrel. The cheese became then the strong point of that dairy and soon the trick of aging the cheese in grape skins became a habit in many dairies of the area."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Way Over Due

Hi there and I apologize for the blog being left behind in the last month.  We are way over due for an entry.  November and December are the two busiest retail wine months and while that's not a great excuse, it's our reality.  

The "State of Things" radio show's impact has been tremendous and we welcome all the new customers streaming in from around the Triangle and beyond.  We are truly flattered and humbled by the number of people who have come to the store because they heard us on the radio and actually thought we sounded all right.  As our good friend Sally put it, "we really have a face for radio."  

More importantly we are getting our message out.  We make no claim that all things corporate are bad.  Heck we are an LLC and the wineries we represent are for-profit entities.  It's also difficult for someone to change paradigms when there is not immediate physical evidence to prove the contrary.  If we had a bottle of wine with an ingredient list that read like a Twinkie wrapper vs. a second bottle which stated, "made from grapes," the evidence would be compelling.  Or if we had a person take a sip of wine and immediately start to convulse and then take a sip from another bottle and feel fine, we would really have something.  But the reality is that we eat and drink things which don't necessarily have immediate short term effects and therefore we don't really see the harm or necessarily believe the item is "bad" for us even though long term effects can be considered harmful.

Probably the most compelling evidence we see on a day to day level are the people who claim no headaches or ill effects while drinking wine in small towns of Europe, but have serious side effects when coming back to the States and drinking a large corporate wine from a grocery store.  We all have our sensitivity levels and tolerance levels.  Some feel it, some don't.  

The simple beauty of wine is that you actually can make it from grapes.  Using the other additives are not necessary.  That should be argument enough.  For example, if you could buy an apple pie made from apples, flour, butter, sugar and spices vs. the pie made with loads of stabilizers, emulsifiers, and preservatives, and they both taste good, both cost the same, why choose the chemically added pie?

Maybe we need to have a 30 day challenge.  If you currently drink some of the big brand wines on a regular basis, try drinking anyone's small producer, family owned wine for 30 days and see how you feel.  Of course the opposite would work too, but I won't suggest drinking a Big Liquor Company (BLC) brand for 30 days.  I already know how you will feel.   Would John McEnroe be our spokesperson? - Salamanzar

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our first Live Broadcast Wine Tasting Dec 4

Coming December 4th you can watch and taste with us live on the internet.  We have three wines for you to purchase, take home, invite your friends to a wine tasting party and we'll taste together from our "living room" in the store to yours.

Monday, October 27, 2008

$3 Wal Mart Wine

In the Dallas news there is an article showing the results of an informal taste test for Walmart's $2.97 bottles of Oak Leaf wine.  I have not tasted the wine and don't intend to anytime soon.  If you do read the article, and I hope you do, be sure to read all the way through including the follow ups on who makes the wine, the other brands they make, and then the scores and comments.  The comment about the alcohol levels being moderate makes me think the wines could be a touch sweet, and that makes sense if you want to appeal to a large group.  Look at Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.  Both of these are very popular and on the sweet side.  Why do all these BLC (Big Liquor Company) brands come up with names using "leaf" in them? - Salamanzar

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blu Seafood Wine Dinner

On Wednesday, October 15th, we participated in a scary wine dinner with Chef/owner Tim and GM Eryk at Blu Seafood in Durham.  The event was supposed to be in costume with scary food and wine.  Actually most people showed up out of costume, but the food was outstanding and the wines were tasting great with Tim's menu.  Here's a slide show from the event.

WA in the news

We have been very fortunate to have a couple of mentions in local newsprint recently.  First, the Independent Weekly, had an article by Jane Hobson Snyder titled, "Planning the Perfect Fall Picnic."  Jane interviewed Chef John Toller of Bloomsbury Bistro, Chief Concierge Christopher Gould of Umstead Hotel and Salamanzar.  Second, the News & Observer featured our Enomatic self-serve wine tasting machine in an article by Amber Nimocks.  The article, "Expensive Tastes by the Glass," discusses our machine and mentions other wine shops with similar machines in the area.  The Enomatic is from Italy and is the original, but now there is a competing machine from CA called the Wine Station.   Also, we were interviewed on Thursday for Market Watch magazine for an upcoming issue.  Regular readers know that's my favorite magazine for beverage industry fodder.  -Salamanzar

Indy photo by DL Anderson; Enomatic photo by Larry Gottschalk   

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Two Special Holiday Treats

A sneak peak for you -  We are currently working on two special projects just for the holidays this year.  1. With Giacomo of Giacomo's Salumi, we are currently working on another limited edition, hand numbered salami for November.  We did this last year and sold out in about 36 hours so we plan to double production.  Each salami will be made with a unique recipe and a wine we sell in the store.  You will be able to buy the wine and the salami at a special price as a set. 2. With Durham cheese maker Alessandra Trompeo, we will have a special square Italian style cheese with Grove Winery's Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grape skins.  This cheese is in Italy is called  Formaggio Ubriaco or drunken cheese.  It doesn't have alcohol, but the name comes from aging it in the skins from wine grape pressings.  Stay tuned for updates as we get closer to their releases.  -Salamanzar

Foxy Red - Buy in Now!

This week we got the news that "Durham's House Red" aka Kit Fox winery's, Foxy Red, is probably going up in price starting in October.  So we took extreme measures and bought all the remaining inventory at the old price, 28 cases.  If you are a Foxy Red fan, now's your chance to buy in at the old price.   These last cases qualify for the "Just-In-Case" 20% discount on solid 12 bottle boxes. - Salamanzar

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Prost! Octoberfest/Oktoberfest is here

As I sit here enjoying my third bottle of Bell's Octoberfest beer (not in a row), I have to express my enthusiasm for this malty beer.  When I used to give beer tours, there were two points I tried to make clear.  First, beer is like milk in that it has to stay cold, doesn't like light, and freshness really counts.  Beer will expire.  Second, beer is like fresh bread.  It's made from wheat and at its best, malty style beers are like bread right out of the oven.  That's what I taste in Bell's.

Octoberfest beers or as the Germans would write, Oktoberfest, may be misunderstood.  The festival actually starts in September and finishes in October.  It was the celebration for a king's marriage or was it a horse race?  The details vary depending on your source.  It may have been a marriage ending with a horse race.  The festival runs 16 days or so.  The beers served at Oktoberfest are all lagers and therefore the fruity and hoppy flavors are not as prevalent.
While Oktoberfest is traditionally a lager, not an ale, many US craft breweries go with an ale style beer because they are set up to brew ales and not lagers. Lagered beers require more storage and time in tank.  

What I really dig about the Bell's is that unlike his other hoppy and fruity ales, this one really emphasizes the malt of a great lager and shies away from the fruity esters of some ale yeast strains.  Without getting too technical, the brewer can use different ale strains to emphasize or de-emphasize the fruity flavors of an ale.  A lager is brewed with a different yeast and typically does not show fruity flavors.  I think it's an excellent example of a German Lager from a brewery that mainly produces ales.  It is fresh bread in a glass.  

As I am a hop head, but enjoy all great beers, Bell's Octoberfest is a nice change of pace to the malty side of life.   Bell's is difficult to find this year, but other Octoberfest beers are around if you can't find this one.  

Remember to always drink your beer from a glass.  It really tastes better than from the bottle.
 - Salamanzar

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alessandra's Cheese - Mah!

One of our favorite cheeses and cheese makers was profiled in this past week's Independent paper.  Alessandra Trompeo from Piemonte, Italy who now makes her Italian style cheeses here in Durham, had a great interview along with photos in the paper.  We sell her Duchessa cheese - savory, buttery and firm with nice salinity - perfect with a glass of Barbera wine, in the store. Her cheese business is called La Casa dei Formaggi.  You can read her article and meet her in the store Sept 10th, or buy her cheese any time we are open.  - Salamanzar  (The photo is Derek Anderson's from the Indy week article .)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Our First Birthday

On September 10th we will start our second year of business.  Wow. It has gone by fast and we have been thrilled by the community's support.  Thank you to everyone who has shopped and keeps shopping at Wine Authorities.  
We have a great party planned for Wednesday Sept 10th from 5 to 7 PM.  Everyone is invited for Artisan Cupcake's cupcakes, sparkling wine, Alessandra Trompeo of Casa dei Formaggi Cheese will be sampling, Karen McCallister of Counter Culture Coffee will be sampling decaf, and we have Cotton the Clown for the kids. Everyone is welcome.

In the mean time we are celebrating our 1st birthday with a bump you up 1 discount level for the week leading up to our party. Buy 6 to 11 mixed/matched bottles and you go from 10% to a 15% discount, buy a mixed case of 12 bottles and go from 15% to a 20% discount and for our designated Just-in-Case wines, you go from 20% to a 25% discount.  Thought you might want to know if you don't get our weekly email.  - Salamanzar

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stone Brewery Launching in NC

All the way from San Diego, CA the Stone Brewing Co. is getting ready to launch their beers in North Carolina.  The launch date will start with a party for everyone at Tyler's Taproom in Durham at American Tobacco on Wednesday September 17th and the beer ships to Wine Authorities and other retailers on Thursday the 18th.  Everyone is invited to the kick-off party at Tylers starting at 5 PM until close.  They are bringing special beers just for the party along with their regular line up.  They will have: Stone Pale Ale, Stone IPA, Arrogant Bastard Ale, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Levitation Ale, 2006 Double Bastard Ale, Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale, and the 2008 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine!  

Wine Authorities will be selling the pale ale and the IPA in six packs to start, then work in seasonal products as they make their way from the West throughout the year.  Come have a pint with us and the Stone folks at Tyler's. See you there. - Salamanzar

All You to Know about BBQ

Thanks to our friend and customer, Nancy S., we have been enlightened by the videos by Rhett and Link on Youtube.  This video in particular is a great summary of the BBQ styles/types that exist in the South.  Since the Grand Poobah and I are BBQ lovers, we are going to have to learn all the words to this song and play it on the kazoo.

or click here: The BBQ Song


Monday, August 25, 2008

My Pick For Best Rose of 2008!

Knowing what basket cases the Salamanzar and I are for dry rose, you had to see this coming.  We've converted quite a few this year, and the battleground has become more friendly.  I'd say half of the people, who we recommend pink wine to, are afraid as opposed to previous years when most of them were.  Luckily, we've created an environment of adventurousness and safety in that people can randomly grab a bottle of something that they completely do not recognize, from God knows where, and still know that they'll get home with a great bottle of juice.  There's trust between our customers and us, and we love it.

So here it is, from a region that produces almost no rose (Ribera del Duero), from a grape not renowned for good rose (Tempranillo).  Like many pretty things from Spain, this one has a very long name.
Bodegas Penalba Lopez - Finca Torremilanos "Monte Castrillo" Ribera del Duero Rosado 2007.  How's that for a mouthful?

First off, the color is amazing.  It's a pale ruby, but there's definitely sparkles of lavender along the edge.  It's a shockingly bright and pure color.  Not that the color makes the wine taste any better, but this one has impact!  Next, the aromas of cherry and raspberry really leap out of the glass.  This is one of those wines where you can smell it from arm's distance while you are pouring or swirling it.  Up close the smell has more depth, with guarana.  If you've never had guarana (gwa-ra-nah'), it smells kinda like bubblegum, but it's a Brazilian berry that just happens to be loaded with caffein.

In the mouth, the fruit assault continues, but it's not overwhelming or alcoholic in any way.  More like waves of fruit and wonderful, dry juiciness.  There's the berries, but also orange citrus, and a slight hint of Balsamic on the finish.  What I really love about it though is that the tinge of earthiness that Tempranillo is known for is still there, patiently in the background while all of the fruit and color are dancing in front of it.  The earthiness is more mineral than anything else, but I do smell a touch of soil.  Man!  That much fruit, with restraint, while still showing the depth of minerals and earth?!?  How can you not love it?

Unfortunately (or is it fortunately), this isn't one of those roses that you can just toss back while talking with friends.  It's much too distracting for that.  You must keep looking back at it, smelling the deliciousness, catching glimpses of enticement, returning again and again.  (Your friends would really be annoyed at you for ignoring them.)  You should share this bottle with someone who would also be willing to be take in it's majesty.  Together you could enjoy it and behold this wonderful piece of produce, captured in a bottle, halfway around the earth.  $15.99.
- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wine Spectator Busted

I have not subscribed to Wine Spectator in years and don't read the magazine or pay attention to the scores.  My reasons are three fold: 1. Matt Kramer's editorials ticked me off one too many times; 2. I think the scores are dumb and the descriptions are useless.  In fact I have a theory that they use a bingo ball with 10 words and randomly pull out the same words to create each description.  If you cover the names of the wines in a section, the reviews are nearly the same with the words changing their order; 3. I have met winemakers who stopped advertising in WS and suddenly their wines got poor reviews.  I notice bigger ads seem to get bigger points too.

So it's no surprise to me that someone named Robin Goldstein recently did a little investigation on the Wine Spectators's restaurant awards.  I should note that I have received the award of excellence when I worked at the Sienna and always wondered how did WS know if my wine list was real?  Well, Robin did just that. He paid the fee ($250) submitted a fake wine list and fake menu for a fake restaurant and received the award of excellence.  Making it even better is that many of the wines on the list he chose were intentionally poor wines reviewed by WS in previous issues with scores like 72 pts, 64 pts and 62 pts for example.  

You can read his story at WS Award of Excellence.  -Salamanzar

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bottle Schlock?

Do the words "Hallmark television movie" or "Harlequin romance novel" strike fear in your heart? Do you know that feeling of general mediocrity, and the disappointing realization that you've just wasted hours of your life on something that completely lacks creativity or originality? I recently experienced these dreadful feelings during and after seeing Bottle Shock, the fairly well-reviewed wine movie that hit theaters Friday, August 15th. It's a film that plays more like a commercial for the beautiful California wine country than a feature worth repeat watching.

After reading these reviews and gullible-y swallowing them up, my anticipation was moderately high (I do have a slight interest in the subject matter). Although based on a true story, and a pivotal one in the wine world, the film is completely formulaic. The characters are not only one dimensional and poorly developed, they are complete caricatures. The "snobby French experts", the "humble farmers", and the "pompous Englishman" delve no deeper than the surface of these character types. The only exception is the part of Gustavo, the Mexican winemaker played by Freddie Rodriguez, who goes only slightly beyond the cardboard cutouts of the other characters. In Gustavo, you begin to get interested in his story before it's abandoned to focus on the primary storyline. For all of the main characters, you never get beyond the actors who are playing their parts. For me, forgetting about the actors acting enough to get lost in the story is paramount. It didn't happen here.

Again, the reviews for this movie have been very generous. After seeing this film, I couldn't help but draw an analogy to the wine press and the points system that so many people blindly believe is gospel. This movie may suit some, who may prefer their entertainment to be very familiar or even reprocessed and mild. The same can be said for some wines, and the wine press will definitely give those wines great reviews also, especially if they follow the standards set by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator and are more modern in style instead of traditional.

If you like your wine without soul, character and personality, then maybe this is your kind of movie. If you prefer them with teeth, style and interest, avoid this movie as if it was Barefoot Chardonnnay.
- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kelly - A Wine Hero

Today's Independent Weekly features a story about NC wines.  They assembled a tasting panel to blind taste NC wines and then published the comments by the group.  Kelly Skaggs is my wine critic hero.  Thank you Kelly for putting it like it is and putting it how you taste it.  Way to stand up to "wine professionals" who beat around the bush, while you get to the heart of the matter.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to hear you speak.  

My favorite Skaggs quote from the article, "I wouldn't drink it even drunk off my ass...Yes, it's easy to bash these things, but...people need to know, and people need...true, honest opinion. That's a crap wine, and I think people need to know honest feedback."

You can read Kelly's blog at Durham Foodie


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I like bacon and I like Bourbon - Let's try them together!

So I was watching the Food Network, and on some show they briefly mentioned a bartender that combined the great flavor of bacon with Bourbon.  I figured I'd try it since it seemed like a great thing to do.  The technique goes like this.  1. Make some crispy bacon and eat it, but reserve the warm bacon fat.  2. Pour the bacon fat into some Bourbon (I used Maker's Mark).  3. Let it come to room temperature and then refrigerate to congeal the fat, leaving the bacon flavored spirit.  All went to plan, except some of the white bacon fat was free form and floating like little white pearls of love.  I tried to filter it with a fine mesh filter but some got through.  I really didn't want to drink this fat.  So I went to the paper coffee filter method and finished with clear Bourbon.  Now it is ready to drink!   The Maker's definitely had a smoky bacon flavor which was delicious...if you really like bacon that is.  - Salamanzar

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lunch at Mez in Durham

Had lunch at Mez in Durham today. Thought I’d share the experience.  A friend had recommended we stick to the apps/small plates on the menu as the entrées still need work, so we figured it was a perfect lunch opportunity.  

If you have visited 518 West in Raleigh, the restaurant immediately makes you think of the same design. It’s the same owners, and the decor was pretty straight forward. It’s “nice.” Sort of chain looking, clean with straight lines and a carpeted dining room. There is a water wall with small pool in the back which was great entertainment for our baby.

We started with their margaritas. Fresh squeezed lime juice and made to order, they were very good. My only issue was the coarse Kosher salt on the rim that fell to the bottom, didn't dissolve and made the finish of the Margarita very salty. I couldn’t get to those last few drips of melting ice/watery margarita flavor as the drink came to an end. The wine list was not worth going into until that is greatly improved on.

The same friend recommended the guacamole. It was fine guacamole made from avocado, tomato, lime juice, etc, but nothing you haven’t had before. The chips were house made and very crispy, thin, warm and well salted. They had a great crunch and were not oily.

The next appetizer was the goat cheese/corn empañada with poblano rajas . It was very crisp and comprised of a half moon shape deep fried dough. Not like something I have had in Argentina, but very good with the tomatillo sauce beneath, these should be called Empañada Style perhaps. The slaw with a hint of fresh mint on the side was excellent. There were three half moons to an order. I’d order this again.

Next up carne asada soft tacos. These were a hit. The tortilla appeared to be hand pressed as it was doughy, soft and uneven in thickness. The meat inside was outstanding with great grilled and smokey flavors highlighted by chipotle. They were topped with fresh guacamole and very juicy with onions and tomatoes as well. Our portion had three tacos and my wife, who eats very little meat, fought me for the third taco.

We also had a child’s cheese quesadilla for our 14 month old. It was cheese and flour tortilla and she liked it. Our server said when we come back we have to try the Beef Brisket Vaquero, it was her favorite along with the Tilapia fish tacos.

Overall, a good lunch, not cheap but we went to “dine.” I’d go back, but not in a hurry to go soon. They are located just off Rt 40 on Page Road. Take a right at the end of the ramp and go to the top of the hill, on the right. Probably a good place to bring family for dinner out when those visiting are not necessarily foodies, but you don’t want to go to a chain.

Total for the meal with out tip: $54.74 -Salamanzar

Friday, August 1, 2008

Help Wanted

Wanted to Hire: Passionate food and wine person with previous retail or customer service experience in any field. This person must love to work weekends, holidays and some evenings; love tasting wine and talking about wine; be creative with a sense of humor; able to lift 40 lb cases (one in each hand would be very impressive); and most importantly want a wine career with Wine Authorities. Too many benefits to fit into this small space. We are gearing up for the fall season and continuing to grow into 2009. Our "to do list" is long. How much do you want to take on? Please email résumé to:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Locopops/Wine Authorities wine-pops coming!

Looks like the Salamanzar's vision from June 3rd will become a reality sometime in the next few weeks.  Planning is underway for a series of Locopops made with wines from Wine Authorities.  Possible initial flavors include Torrontes and a Dry Rose to be sold in limited quantities on Saturdays.  Stay tuned to this Bat Channel!
- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Friday, July 25, 2008

So Goes Chateau Montelena

News was just released that the famous Chateau Montelena winery in Calistoga, CA (Napa) has been bought by a French Bordeaux estate/corporation.  The irony is that in 1976, it was the Barrett's family and Ch. Montelena that produced the Chardonnay to rock the world of wine and beat French Burgundies in the famous Steven Spurrier tasting of 1976.  This is the tasting the movie Bottle Shock is based on, released in August.  Here's the link to the story, Revenge of Paris.  The article states that Jim and Bo Barrett will no longer be a part of Montelana.  This is another moment of great wine history slipping away in Napa's wine legacy.  Perhaps with the Euro being so strong right now, American "things" are looking really cheap to buy! -Salamanzar

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

State of the Estate Philosophy

I make no pretense that an estate wine automatically means the wine will taste good.  I have also had lots of home-made food which was not to my liking!  We regularly taste wine, and just this week after sampling seventeen estate-grown wines in one morning, we found only two which met our standards for quality, flavor, typicity, and value.  We are very selective.

Corporate owned wines are not all bad and can be quite nice to drink in some instances.  At Wine Authorities we choose not to support these Big Liquor Company (BLC) wines because they usually represent chemical winemaking vs. grape winemaking; marketing based on label designs and color vs. quality of wine; and we want to support small farmers who grow their own grapes and make their own wine. I cannot argue taste with as that is subjective. However, I can assert the BLC use of chemicals which harm the land, the chemicals used to adjust the wine's color, flavor, and aromas, the overpriced costs of wines which support the large corporate overhead, and the intentional manipulation of the market to make certain styles popular and trendy.

Our store also focuses on estate wines to distinguish ourselves in the market.  We want to offer a new wine experience to the consumer and to show some of the nearly 4,000 grapes used in winemaking around the world.  There are people who enjoy wines made from Friulano, Godello and Mencía.  The BLCs put very little to no effort in making these wines available in the market.  If these grapes are not supported they risk becoming "extinct" leaving us with Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet choices.

The word "corporate" continues to get a bad rap, but I don't think all things corporate are bad.  I just think corporate wine making leads to cutting corners and cutting costs to the detriment of wine, wine culture, human culture and human health.  My gosh, we could be facing the downfall of human kind through bad wine! 
 - Salamanzar

Monday, July 14, 2008

NC 2008 Vintage - early report

Max Lloyd, the owner of Grove winery in Gibsonville, NC (outside Greensboro) came into the store this weekend to buy some wine.  I asked Max how the 2008 vintage was looking for him and he explained it was great up until two weeks ago when the rain started.

Max explained that grass is the vineyard is used to help control moisture to the vine and ultimately the vine's growth.  Here on the East coast, we usually have enough rain during the season so in the vineyard they grow grass in between the rows and right up to the actual vines. This allows grass to soak up extra moisture and control the vine's vigor.  

The 2008 season started out looking dry, so to fine tune the rows, vineyard managers removed grass close to the vines allowing more rain to soak the vine.  Now that we have had a bunch of rain, too much water is getting to the vines.

On the West coast, rain water is a premium, so the rows have very little or even no grass. By having only dirt or gravel the maximum rain water gets to the roots.

Let's hope things improve for Max and his vines. -Salamanzar

What The Hell Is Vintage Prejudice?

    Why doesn't anyone appreciate gray anymore?  Few things in life are black and white, but most people still love to bundle up everything into tidy little, easy to understand groups.  Good or Evil; Sad or Happy; Conservative or Liberal; Good Vintage or Bad Vintage.  The world is not black and white, and the many grays and even colors of situations are what make life so dynamic and curious.

    For the good vintage/bad vintage scenario, most critics and wine professionals continue to perpetuate prejudice or favoritism so that they can quickly categorize wines into quality categories without even opening bottles.  Those wine professionals and consumers who continue to value critics opinions more than their own, are most susceptible of falling into the trap of absolute generalizations.  "This is a great vintage for Tuscany.  It's a 95 point vintage!"  Wow, that makes it easy.  Just like Consumer Reports reviewing a hair dryer.  "I'll only buy Tuscan wines from this vintage."  Says Joe Retailer.  "Don't even bring me something from that other vintage."  Seth and I have sold to this character in our previous life working for importer/distributors, and there are far, far more of them than the rare alternative.

    Joe Retailer, and his buddy Jane Restauranteur, love to prop up their selections with reviews from respected critics and their absolute points, and when those reviews aren't available for a specific wine, it can quickly be substituted with a review of the vintage instead.  Joe and Jane are not confident in their ability to make selections based on their own senses.  Instead they use points and sell to their customers (who most often don't even need more convincing), using other peoples opinions instead of their own.  (Most consumers really want the opinion of the person making the recommendation, not the anonymous critic whose points they're referencing.)  But once the consumer has been taught to value these points, the opinion of the salesperson no longer matters.  But that's a story for another post.  Back to the subject of vintages...

    In our previous retail and restaurant lives Salamanzar and I were not confident enough in our own opinions and sometimes fell into that same inexperience rut.  We sometimes used the "crutch" of critics points and sold to customers while using terms like "good vintage".  For us though, during these formative years, our integrity nagged at us.  It felt like our communcation during those moments was tainted.  When we finally sat beneath the Pippala tree and came up with Wine Authorities, our enlightenment brought us to some firm conclusions including:
    #28a -  Our customers would not trust us anymore than Joe and Jane if we hid behind the opinions of anonymous critics instead of standing behind our wine selection based entirely on our OWN opinions.  (This would establish a relationship with our customers based on trust and mutual respect and inspire repeat business.)
    Therefore, we would greet each wine we tasted without having preconceived opinions, especially based on vintages.  There's a sage quote in the wine business, even if it contains one of those generalizing phrases: "A great winegrower can make a great wine even in a bad vintage."  Good, but what is a good wine, and what is a bad wine to the person who first said this.  Is a good wine one which is powerful and ripe?  Does it have to age well?  Is it a dark red wine, or a thick white wine?  Is that what makes them good?  How about the bad wine?  Is a light wine bad?  Is a simple wine bad?  Is a wine meant to be consumed in its youth bad?

    For us, it mainly came down to pleasure and honesty.  Does the wine give us joy?  Did it do it without manipulation, tampering or additives?  Like a classic virtuoso musician who can make you feel the passion beneath the music, or the blues musician who can make you feel the grit and pain behind it, we were making our selections by asking questions like "How much soul does this wine have?" and "Would I want to drink an entire bottle of this?"  Those questions led to us turning down many wines that our peers were flocking to and fighting over.  Big, fat, powerful wines built like Humvees on Atkins diets.  The more those wines tasted like some caricatured, homogenous Pamela Anderson ideal that gets 100 points, the more we were looking for ones that were distinct and interesting, delicious and quirky.  Wines we could fall in love with, instead of lust for then be exhausted of by the end of the first glass.

    Here's a generalization for ya:  In general the "good vintages" are hot and dry and make powerful wines with elevated alcohol contents and thick textures.  The "bad vintages" are lighter and less fruity, less lush but more distinct, sometimes to a fault, sometimes to great elegance.  Our favorites have become the vintages in between, where the balance of a typical vintage gives the wine a chance to show it's character and soul (if it has one).  For mass production wines, a typical vintage means the wine will taste "fine" or "okay".  For wines made by artisans, a typical vintage is like a perfect canvas on which a masterpiece can be uncovered.

      We've gotten so comfortable tasting wines from all types of vintages and selecting them on their own merits that the vintage has become merely a way to identify one wine from its predecessor and successor, not its defining characteristic.  Somebody asked me today for a vintage chart at the store, and for a moment I was confused.  My first thought was "Why would you need one of those?  We've tasted all of the wines in here, and they're all delicious in their own way.  We're not hiding anything from you."  But reality quickly kicked in.  "This isn't someone who gets what we're doing yet, a new customer.  They need some advice, and they're coming to us after becoming accustomed to a vintage prejudiced environment that [Joe and Jane] perpetuated."  It was an opportunity to teach, an opportunity to break someone free from tidy groupings, and an opportunity to develop trust and hopefully a relationship with a new customer.  They bought a Bordeaux from 2002, a supposedly bad vintage, and I clearly explained that to them.  I extolled the doubtful couple on its virtues and charms.  They'll drink it soon and pay close attention to it.  Probably more than they would if it was from a more lauded vintage.  I'm confident that they will come back and let me know how much they enjoyed it, they almost always do.  Having a paradigm shift like this often endears them to us, and it's one of the most rewarding parts of doing what we do; building regular customers and being more than just Joe Retailer.  - Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Three Tiers and the NC Alcohol Laws

Post Prohibition, the government set up a three tier system to control the flow and sale of alcohol in the US.  This setup has minor variations state by state and even county by county (Lynchburg Tennessee, home to Jack Daniels, is actually a dry county).  The three tiers are 1. the point of origin (winery/brewery/distillery), 2. the distribution (wholesaler delivering the alcohol) and 3. the retail point (retailer or restaurant).  The laws prevent anyone from controlling all three.  

The reasoning behind the three tiers was to prevent monopolistic alcohol production, distribution, and retail/restaurant sales.  In other words post prohibition, the bad guys would've been able to make the beer, deliver the beer to the bar on the corner, and own the bar; thus controlling all alcohol sales and eliminating competition.  With the tier system we have an open market and the same bar could then offer all kinds of beer rather than just one brand.  It also affords the opportunity for entrepreneurs to create different spirits, beers and wines with options to get them out to the public.  

Again, this is the theory, but there are gray areas and places where at face value it sure looks like someone controls the entire market.  You may have visited a town where you can't seem to find any small brewer beers,  non-mass market wines or specialty spirits. 

In North Carolina the retailers and the restaurants all buy from the same distributors.  We have something like 60+ distributors in this state.  That's an outrageous number.  There are brands which the distributors have divided region by region making the maze even more confusing.  For example the distributor which sells Veuve Clicquot in the beach area is different than the Triangle area and again different in the Triad area.  I have experienced a wine being sold out in the Triangle, while in Greensboro, there is plenty, yet I can't buy any from that distributor.  NC retailers can't sell to restaurants and vice versa.

If you are looking for a certain wine and one wine shop makes an inquiry to find out that the wine is sold out, then it's sold out for everyone.  We don't have options to find other sources. Also, not every wine is available in NC.  If you traveled to another state and tried a wine, we don't have the option to call someone and get that same bottle unless it's already distributed in NC.  We can't call a winery and say ship us a bottle for the customer.  That wine has to go through a distributor.  A distributor cannot sell a bottle to the public directly.   All wine has to be registered with state and go through label approval, all of which takes time and money, so a distributor is not going to order that bottle or case of wine, just for us as a special favor.

And of course all spirits are controlled by the state ABC system, but there is a strong belief that this will be changing to private ownership in the not too distant future.  Mega distributors like Southern Wine and Spirits are working to see that changes happen in our state and then the flood gates will open.  Just imagine how the Costcos and Sam's clubs will have to expand to carry the pallets of vodka, gin, bourbon and tequila on the sales floor. 

One common exception to the three tiers system is that some states do allow self distribution by their local wineries and breweries when folks come to visit them,  and to local restaurants. -Salamanzar 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bottle Shock - the Movie

There's a new film coming out, August 6th, which tells the story of the 1976 Steven Spurrier blind tasting "The Judgement of Paris" which pitted CA wines vs. French wines and the Americans won.  The film stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachel Taylor and Freddy Rodriguez. You can view the trailer here: Bottle Shock  I think we need to organize a WA event around a movie night.  -Salamanzar

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What are you cooking for July 4th?

Just curious if you have a favorite or traditional dish you like to make for the Fourth of July weekend? Maybe a twist on a burger or hotdog?  I thought I would ask the throngs and hordes* of our readers for ideas.  We love to eat and are always on the lookout for interesting ideas.  You don't have to post exact recipes, but you are welcome to.  Be sure to let us know what you are drinking with your dish too. - Salamanzar

*Throngs and hordes refers to the six or eight people who actually might read this.  But let's not get too tied up in these definitions.  I am pretty sure my mom doesn't even read this blog.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Rhymes with Heritage

One wine term we frequently hear mispronounced is the word Meritage.  This is actually an American marketing term created by combining Merit with Heritage.  Folks frequently try to give it a French sound by pronouncing it Mer-i-TAHJ, as in the Taj Mahal, but it actually rhymes with heritage and is pronounced MER-i-tidge. 

A Meritage is a blend of grapes in the Bordeaux style - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec for the reds and Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Vert for the whites.  The organization was created in 1988 and you have to pay to use this on your wine label and become a member of the organization.

Unfortunately, the mispronunciation is propagated throughout the wine world daily, even by wine professionals and in wine shops.  Let's start getting it right in Durham and spread the word in proper English outward! -Salamanzar

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Top Beer Brand Sales 2007

In a former career I was a brewer for Goose Island brewery in Chicago.  Back then we often talked about our beer output at the pub being somewhere between 2,500-3,000 barrels of beer per year. [1 barrel of beer = 31 gallons which is two standard kegs you see behind a bar or at a keg party]  For comparison, I would talk about the Budweiser company producing 97 million barrels per year on the brew tours.  Today the craft beer industry is still a tiny fraction of the total beer market.  

So I took a look at where things are today with beer sales.  Again, Market Watch magazine is a great source for these stats.  Here are the top beer brands in the US for 2007 in million barrels (31 gallons or 2 kegs).
  • Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch) 41.2 million barrels
  • Budweiser (A-B) 23.2
  • Miller Lite (Miller Brewing Co.) 17.9
  • Coors Light (Molsoon Coors Brewing Co.) 16.3
  • Natural Light (A-B) 9.1
  • Corona Extra (Crown Imports [Constellation/Grupo Modelo]) 8.1
  • Busch (A-B) 6.5
  • Busch Light (A-B) 6.0
  • Heineken (Heinekin USA) 5.0
  • Miller High Life (Miller Brewing Co.) 4.9
  • Other beers made up for 66.6 million barrels
So total beer sold in the US for 2007 was 204.8 million barrels.  AB accounted for 86 million barrels of the top 10 beer sales.  Once again they prove, they are the king of beers.  You can see all the AB brands listed here.  Keep scrolling down to see them all! - Salamanzar

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pop's Pizza at Home

My wife surprised me and ordered Pop's pizza delivered for the first time to our house tonight. (She is insisting that I explain it was because we have a 13 month old daughter and she couldn't get it together to make dinner.  Okay, so we don't eat like kings every night.)  Anyway, when we sat down for dinner, she had a pizza in the oven on a sheet pan, so I figured we were having some sort of frozen Amy's or something.  I took a bite and immediately knew something was not the same. I asked her which flavor of frozen pie we had and she said, "ha!, It's not frozen, it's Pop's Backdoor take out." She admitted she had a tough time deciding which pizzas to order considering the specialty pizza choices on the menu.  There's a great package deal with a large specialty pizza, two salads and a bottle of wine for $40.  The decision was made to go with the Margherita plus proscuitto and the Polpette: house-made meatballs, broccoli rabe, roasted garlic and Parmesan.  Both were 10" size @ $10 per piece.  We were in the free delivery zone as an added bonus.  Delivery time was quoted at 45 minutes and they were right on time.

I have to say I was really happy with the pizza flavors.  I won't comment on the crust because I was late getting home from work, so she had to keep them warm in the oven.  We have a gas oven which means lots of moisture in the heat and let's just say the crust was a bit floppy.  But that has nothing to do with Pop's.  The toppings were generous, flavorful and very well done.  Every bite had all the flavors and things like the meatballs were not sparse. We also had Caesar salad and two small gelato cups.  

It was a decent meal and worth experimenting with the menu in the future to taste which pizzas travel well and which fit my palate the best.  I look forward to more pizza from the backdoor. -Salamanzar

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The "F" Word and the "C" Word

Customers are often surprised when they make their first trip to Wine Authorities and frequently use the F or C words.  While I think they mean it complementarily, we don't like to hear "is this a franchise?" or "is this a chain?"

I think it's because of the way the store is presented.  Folks are not used to an independent wine shop looking clean, being organized, having proper signage and appearing bright and colorful. I am not saying that a franchise or chain is a bad thing.  If we can spread the word about estate-grown wines by having multiple stores, then we are all for that.  Unfortunately we have seen many wine chains & franchises come and go, that we don't want to be a part of that group.  If we do go in that direction one day, we will certainly be TOTALly different.

So if you come in, know that it's just two guys from Durham with a passion for wine and a need to support farmers who grow grapes and make their own wine. -Salamanzar

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We Promised You a Rosé Garden

Finally, enough of our pink wines have arrived to build the Rosé Garden.  I built my first retail rosé garden wine display around 1998 or 1999.  It was a big deal then as the notion of dry pink wine was strange in this country.  While getting people to try pink wine is a bit easier today, it is still a foreign notion to many of us, ten years later. 

I am thrilled to have the garden back, complete with garden gnome, Tiki torch, flowers and lots of pink bottles of wine.  This display is right inside the front door and will feature dry pink wines all summer long as they come and go.  Wines range in price from about $7.99 to $15.99 per bottle. We don't even know all of the wines yet to come as we are still tasting and seeking the best of the pink.  -Salamanzar

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Part III: BLC Import's Growth for 2007

This is the last installment on BLC 2007 growth (Big Liquor Companies) for now.   If you haven't read parts I or II you may want to start there.

The trade magazine, Market Watch, also featured the top imported wine growth brands of 2007.  These are wine brands which showed the most growth over 2006 in 12 bottle case depletions.  Many of these names are familiar faces on ethnic restaurant wine lists, on grocery store shelves and featured in the price clubs.  Most of them are "fake" brands created to fit a niche, especially for the sweet driven American palate.  In my experience, many of these wines aren't even known in the countries from which they come.   In other words, the locals don't even drink the stuff.  They just ship it to the US.

Top Growing Imported Wine "Hot Brands" 2007 from Market Watch
Brand - (Import Company) - Cases growth
  1. Cavit (Palm Bay International) 3,355,000 cases
  2. Little Penguin (Foster's Wine Estates) 1,140,000
  3. Mezzacarona (Prestige Wine Imports) 870,000
  4. Verdi Spumante (Carriage House Imports) 775,000
  5. Santa Margherita (Terlato Wines International) 635,000
  6. Banrock Station (Centerra Wine Co [Constellation Brands]) 530,000
  7. Real Sangria (Shaw Ross International Importers) 425,000
  8. Castello di Gabbiano (Foster's Wine Estates) 360,000
  9. Greg Norman Estates (Foster's Wine Estates) 355,000
  10. Kim Crawford (Icon Estates [Constellation Brands]) 260,000
  11. Nobilo (Vintas [Constellation Brands]) 250,000
  12. Wolf Blass (Foster's Wine Estates) 230,000
  13. Trapiche (Frederick Wildman & Sons) 220,000
  14. Relax Riesling (Schmitt Söhne) 200,000
Again, these are brands which showed top growth, not necessarily top sales for imported wines.  The volume of cases is far and away beyond most of the estate grown wines which we feature at Wine Authorities.  When a winery is working at these numbers, quality is maintained with extra chemicals, color additives and stabilizers rather than being made from just grapes.  I like wine made from grapes.  But I guess I am grape nuts. -Salamanzar

Saturday, June 7, 2008


As of Saturday, Salamanzar and the Grand Poobah Wine Swami have been ordained official clergy in the Church of Rosé wine.  As clergy of Rosé (i.e. dry pink wine vs. blush- the sweet awful pink stuff), it is our mission to convert the non-believers to Roséism.  Non-believers are defined as those who look at a pink colored wine and run away screaming because they assume it is sweet. Our belief is held on three principles as stated in the temple scriptures.  1. Everything pink in life is good; 2. Rosé is not to be taken seriously, but seriously drunk.  3.  When we meet someone who thinks pink wines are sweet, it is our obligation to teach them about dry-rosé. 

Our daily service ends with this prayer:  We'd like to teach the world to drink, dry rosé pink wine.  We'd like to buy the world a glass and keep folks happy all the time.  That's the pink thing. [repeat until the bottle is empty]

Rosé is just a color.  And these wines go by other names like Pink, Rosado, Vin Gris, Rosato, Kretzer, and Weissherbst to name a few.  Well-made pink wines are based on a red skinned grape(s).  They have all the best qualities of a white wine with some of the qualities of a red wine.  By letting the red grape skins soak in the wine for a short period, the wine takes on a pink color. If the same wine were to have the skins left in longer, the wine would become fully red.  Most rosé wines are fermented dry or nearly dry making them easy to drink, very food friendly, and a great compromise between red and white wines, especially in warm weather.  However, we preach year round pink drinking. 

You can read more of our thoughts on pink wine in an article in Fifteen-501 magazine.  Scroll to the bottom of the page when you get there.

Now seeking disciples... -Salamanzar

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

ABSOLUTely outrageous money

This just in.  Pernod Ricard, one of the BLCs I have referred to in the global world of wine and spirits, has just purchased Absolut Vodka.  Analysts projected the selling price might go around $7 Billion.  Pernod Ricard bought Absolut for...$8.83 Billion. Gulp.  More evidence that the wines Wine Authorities seek out, support and are passionate for, are literally just a drop in the ocean of BLC supported wines. -Salamanzar

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Locopops also Helps Your Wine Palate

Finally had some free time to get my first Locopops of the season (2600 Hillsborough Rd, Durham).  I had the tangerine/basil which was excellent, but also was intrigued by the plum/black currant pop.  These are two flavors commonly described in Argentine Malbecs and also found in some Cabernet Sauvignon based wines.  While it wasn't my favorite tasting Locopop of all time, it was excellent for identifying these two wine descriptor flavors.  

This pop was very dark in color appearing purple and black and tasted of very bright plum and currant flavors. Since they don't use sugar in their pops, this one actually had some tannin from the fruit's skins and wasn't particularly sweet tasting, but very fruity tasting.  We often talk about the fruit of a wine, but we do not mean it tastes sweet.  Fruit vs. sugar are two different things.  I'd like every wine drinker in the Triangle to please go buy a small plum/black currant Locopop and taste it so they can learn about these flavors and the difference between fruit and sweetness, please.  Maybe we should ask them to do a series of "wine flavor" pops and sell them at Wine Authorities as an "educational" tool? - Salamanzar

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Three More Durham Converts

Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Mike, Mariana and their 14 month old, Tommy, at the wine store.  They are self proclaimed foodies and serious wine lovers.  Today they live in CA, but soon they will be new Durhamites.  Mariana is a sommelier originally from Argentina.   Mike works in the tech industry and they have an opportunity to move to the Triangle since his company has offices here.  With the cost of living so high in CA they were interested in moving to NC to grow their family and as Mike put it, actually get ahead by affording a house.  

Their preliminary research led them to considering Cary and Raleigh for housing, but after a few days of driving around and hearing good things about Durham, they came westward to check it out and that's when I met them at the shop.  They had heard about Wine Authorities from people in CA, which was surprising for me.  After hearing their story, I preached the Durham gospel and in a few hours, they agreed Durham seemed like a better suited home for their lifestyle.  They wanted to know more.  I gave them a list of blogs to check out when they got home.  We also offered to spend some time with them on Sunday to show off the city.

Sunday we pointed out the finer points of Durham even further, and after a few beers at Tyler's in American Tobacco, they are leaving for California ready to make plans to move to Durham. They will be a welcome addition to the local scene of great people making up our fabric.

I love wine.  It's been a source for meeting some of the best people in the world. - Salamanzar

Market Watch Part II - The BLCs

The majority of the world's wine is controlled by the Big Liquor Companies (BLCs) around the world.  These empires make far more money selling spirits than wine, but having wine allows them to fill trucks, control restaurant wine lists and has relatively little additional costs since they already have warehouses, sales people, offices and trucks on the road.  Some of the BLC names include Diageo, Foster's Group, Constellation Brands, Bacardi USA, E&J Distillers and Pernod Ricard. Just how much money and control are we talking about here?  Diageo recently bought 50% ownership in Ketel One Vodka for $900 million and Bicardi USA bought the name and logo for Grey Goose vodka for $2.2 billion.  That's just the name, not the distilleries or the recipe.  In fact the recipe is irrelevant for spirits like vodka.  It's all about marketing and image.

Here are the top spirit growth brands of 2007 from Market Watch:  
  1. Smirnoff (Diageo) 9,290,000 cases 
  2. Captain Morgan (Diageo) 6,335,000 cases
  3. Jose Cuervo (Diageo) 4,290,000
  4. Crown Royal (Diageo) 4,150,000
  5. E&J Brandy (E&J Distillers) 3,720,000
  6. Grey Goose (Bacardi USA) 3,325,000
  7. Svedka (Constellation) 1,600,000
  8. Patrón (Patrón Spirits Co.) 1,580,000
  9. Seagram's Vodka (Infinium Spirits) 890,000
  10. Three Olives (Proximo) 885,000
Other top growth brands you may know in the list: Burnett's Vodka, Jose Cuervo Golden Margarita, Jameson, UV, Admiral Nelson, Pinnacle.

Again, these are not the top selling brands, just the brands with the most growth in 2007.  Remember there are brands like Maker's Mark, Jack Daniel's, Sky, Ketel One, Jägermeister, Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo, Jameson, etc. still out there strong. 

When you add up the numbers involving spirits it's easy to see why the wine business is a side thought.  It takes pennies or nickels to make many of these spirits.  They sell for premium prices in the $20, $30, $40 or more range.  The top growth wines sell for dollars or at least under $15 in most instances and cost far more to produce per bottle.  

Most spirits drinkers are loyal to a brand for image, but are told they are drinking for flavor. Case in point the popular Tanqueray commercials right now featuring "Tony Sinclair."  The image they project is that drinking their gin is cool and therefore tastes better.  

BLCs exist in NC right now through wine on most retail store's shelves and in the ABC stores, but their presence is more behind the scenes.  They are working right now to get laws changed and move into NC in a big way.  We will most likely see the state run ABC store go away in the near future and then everything will change in NC when it comes to BLCs and their presence here.  We will see giant liquor warehouses move in, the price clubs will sell liquor and the wine playing field will change radically, dramatically and rapidly.

Fortunately not all wine is owned by the BLCs and you can find honest brands, real wineries and estate grown wines still in the world. That's what we do at Wine Authorities.  Our mission is to represent estate grown wines from around the world.  Most of these wines won't fit the BLC model.  - Salamanzar

Friday, May 30, 2008

Market Watch - Top Growth Brands

There is a trade magazine for the beverage industry called Market Watch which gives a glimpse into the global reality of the beer, wine and liquor world.  This magazine reports on major brands and follows new releases, trends and growth. The April issue with "hot brands" from 2007 is a real eye opener.  At Wine Authorities we work with wines on a smaller scale.  Sometimes we buy a wine that is very limited, perhaps as little as 10 cases available, or perhaps we buy 50 or 75 cases of 2,000+ available.  

Looking at the top growth wine brands for 2007 is staggering.  These are wines which had the largest increases in their sales of 9 liter cases (12 x 750 ml bottles) over their 2006 depletions.  Here are the top 10 brands for growth:
  1. Peter Vella (Gallo) 5,940,000 cases [that's almost 6 million cases!]
  2. Barefoot Cellars (Gallo) 4,000,000
  3. Foxhorn (Wine Group) 2,950,000
  4. Chateau Ste. Michelle (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) 1,760,000
  5. Crane Lake (Bronco) 1,200,000 [Bronco also makes Two Buck Chuck for Trader Joe's]
  6. Smoking Loon (Don Sebastiani & Sons) 1,190,000
  7. CK Mondavi (C Mondavi & Sons) 1,190,000
  8. Fish Eye (Wine Group) 950,000
  9. Sterling Vintner's Collection (Diageo Chateau & Estate) 900,000
  10. Black Box (Constellation Brands) 795,000
Other brands on the top growth list frequently seen in NC are Estancia, Rodney Strong, Mirassou, La Crema, Pepperwood Grove, Chateau St. Jean, Menage a Trois, Toasted Head, Concannon, Foxbrook, Simi, Castle Rock, Red Truck, Edna Valley, Big House, McManis, 3 Blind Moose and Gnarly Head to name a few.

Keep in mind these brands are not necessarily the top selling wines.  These are just the top brand increases for 2007.  It's scary.  Why?

Let's say you make a great apple pie by hand, taking care to select the apples, peeling the apples, make the crust with the best ingredients, use the freshest spices, etc.  Now make 5 pies.  Okay, it's do-able.  It will take time but it can work.  Now make 100 pies or 1,000 pies.  How do you do it and be sure they all come out, they all look the same, they all taste the same?  Maybe you buy pre sliced apple cinnamon filling, buy par baked crusts and bake them in an assembly line oven.  Will the quality be the same? Probably not.  -Salamanzar

Thursday, May 22, 2008

French Winegrowers coming to visit WA.

Just got an email from our good friend and importer Franck Agostini that he may be bringing some of our winegrower friends from France on a visit this Fall.  I'm sure that the Salamanzar and myself will make a big deal about this.  Most likely an event to introduce them to our customers and the store.  Many wines will be tasted, French food consumed (likely), and many of our customers will now get to associate a friendly face and rugged hands to go with the delicious wine they have been purchasing since we opened.  Here's who's coming (tentatively):

Jerome Choblet - Domaine des Herbauge (Muscadet, Loire)
Frederic Leydet - Chateau Leydet Valentin/Chateau Valois (St. Emilion/Pomerol)
Stephane or Laurent Gouron - Domaine Gouron (Chinon, Loire)
Philippe Durand - Chateau Rocher Cap de Merle (Bordeaux)
Christine Dupuy - Domaine Labranche-Laffont (Madiran/Pacherenc du Vic Bilh)!!!

Of course busy Franck and his pointy-toed shoes will be with them as well.  He was a huge hit at our "Every Bordeaux Open" event this past winter, I'm sure his fans will be back in attendance.  - Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Niman Ranch Chipotle Cheddar Sausages

I just tried for the first time, Niman Ranch pork Chipotle Cheddar sausages.  We bought them at the Super Target on 15-501/Southsquare and grilled them for dinner.  Wow!  I was expecting the usual sort of dry, mild/bland sausage we usually get and these were seriously flavored, incredibly juicy with squirt in your mouth fat in the most beautiful way.  I did a double take when I took my first bite.  This is a real sausage that brings the flavor in a big way and is not afraid of fat for a moist, juicy experience.  You gotta try these. And incidentally I had an open bottle of Don Rodolfo Torrontes 2007 to go with the sausage and the wine held up to the flavor marvelously.  I was surprised.  -Salamanzar

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Real Pinot Please Stand Up

Just tasted the 2006 Alma Rosa, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.  Thank you Thekla and Richard for coming back to winemaking (former owners of Sanford winery but since sold to a big corporation) and for making such a great wine that is true to the grape.  I for one am exhausted by so many Pinot Noirs I taste which are juiced up on Syrah, Cab and who knows what else.  This actually shows elegance and refinement, smokey ham (Craig nailed that one) with cherries and strawberry.  
And one more thing interesting note. The bottle from Alma Rosa can no longer carry the appellation "Santa Rita Hills" because the Santa Rita winery in Chile threatened all the Santa Rita Hills winemakers with legal action for using their name!  So now all the Santa Rita California producers have to abbreviate their appellation to "Sta." so as not to be confused with Santa Rita winery in Chile's great wines [insert sarcasm here]. -Salamanzar

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Old World tasting

I am not sure the average winedrinker gets what Old World wines are about.  These are the wines from countries that have a history of winemaking going back hundreds or more years.  Countries like Spain, Italy and France developed wine for the dinner table.  Long ago, drinking water was potentially deadly, so wine was the beverage on the table.  As a result the wines are best with food.  They don't fight with the food, and complement the meal like an ingredient or side dish.  My trouble is that most of the time, these types of wines do not show well in an open tasting format without food.  It's difficult to get someone to taste an old world wine and have an immediate affinity.  Whenever I sample new world wines, i.e. fruit forward, and more cocktail like, they easily sell as compared to the old world wines. Hmmm.  - Salamanzar