Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Opening our second location in Raleigh

211 E. Franklin St.
Raleigh, NC 27604

With construction of our second location about to begin, we have hung a banner above that door to help folks find where we'll be settling in. It's next to the future home of Market Restaurant. Two doors down is Yellow Dog Bread Company, and around the side will be Person Street Neighborhood Bar. Next to us is the Raleigh City Farm, and we're two blocks from the old Krispy Kreme downtown.

To get familiar with our new Mordecai/Oakwood neighborhood we've been studying up on its history.  Check out this great story about the unusual pronunciation of Mordecai:

It's Mor-duh-key, not Mor-duh-kai!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Austria 2010, Second Stop: Michlits

One of the visitors asks Werner how many head of cattle he has. Werner says “350”. The visitor asks “Are they for beef or dairy?” Werner says “I use them for the manure.” He’s not joking.
An important part of the biodynamic philosophy is the “extreme” composting of manure, and keeping his entire farm biodynamic means he needs a lot of fertilizer. The farm is to be entirely self sustaining in this philosophy. It is a holistic farm with one crop helping the other to flourish without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers.
     Fully biodynamic, with no additives in his wine which are spontaneously fermented, Werner Michlits has dozens of large agricultural hoop houses specifically for propagating predatory insects to use throughout his farm. He calls them “insect hotels”. Seeing them next to his vineyard, you realize his commitment to leading the biodynamic movement here. His resources committed to just these insects rivals most small farms and it's only a small piece of this farm. Young and passionate, with seemingly endless energy, excitement and curiosity, he pushes the limits of what can be produced naturally from his farm.

Many of the biodynamic producers I’ve visited do it strictly for the quality results they get in the end product. Studies have shown the soil on biodynamic farms has exponentially more microbic organisms, and its propon
ents show this as evidence that the process is less harmful for the environment, and therefore better for their crops. Werner is a complete believer in the entire philosophy and lives it with every ounce of his being. As he explained just the basics of the aging of manure in cow horns, creating a “tea” from it and very, very lightly spraying it in the vineyard (about a drop for every 30 square feet!) you could see a few of the visitors eyes rolling. But Werner could read his audience and knew when to cut it short before he got too in depth (plus our visit could not hold up the bus to our next producer). It didn’t prevent him from dropping tidbits of this information as we tasted the wines in his “egg room”.
His wines are lovely, full of fruit purity, elegant and balanced. Many of you already love his Pinot Noir Rosé Frizzante (one of our most popular wines in the store), his Zin-like Zweigelt, his lush Pinot Gris "Graupert" named after his unpruned vineyard, and his lovely Grüner Veltliner. He uses little to no oak, and has actually moved on to using “eggs”. These egg shaped vats are made of natural concrete with no reinforce-
ment from steel. “Steel is a cage” he says, and having these custom vats made very carefully without steel (if made improperly they will crack open!) shows how far he’s willing to push the envelope. The shape of the egg tank was adopted and updated by Werner for many of the same reasons that he follows biodynamics. Ask me in the store and I’ll give you a more in-depth version. It may sound like hocus-pocus, but the results are real... and the wines are fantastic. This year we’re going to offer 10 customers (plus Salamanzar & myself) the opportunity to “godfather” one of these egg shaped tanks. Each person will receive one magnum of the wine made in it for the next ten years for $300 and help this winery continue to progress. That ends up averaging $15 per 750ml for 10 magnums (1.5L). Interested? Ask us about it.
Coming soon: Juhfark, a Hungarian grape that Werner has planted in his vineyard just across the border in the Somlo region of Hungary (you reading this Century Club?). Tasty, and you'll love the pronunciation. Do I see another video coming?

I have to concur with Salamanzar's post from 2009 here, visiting this winery is inspirational enough to change your life.
- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Austria 2010, First stop: Netzl

One thing I love about visiting small wineries is the fantastic hospitality.
A great example is Christine Netzl making a batch of her family recipe Hungarian
Goulash for us and a delicious mushroom soup for some of the vegetarians. Franz Netzl’s vineyards are between the Neusiedlersee Lake and Danube River, and these two nearby bodies of water influence the climate of his vineyards. This is red wine country in the Carnuntum region of Austria, and his vineyards are planted with Zweigelt, in the flat lands of his property, while on the hillsides are planted his Syrah (the most acclaimed Syrah of Austria), Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. The family has farmed and lived on this property for 200 years. Franz changed direction of the family farm 25 years ago to focus on winemaking. They sold off much of their land devoted to crops and animals and used those proceeds to buy supplemental pristine vineyards and build a modern winery on the estate connected to their home.
Christina, his eldest daughter is now making the wine and she is clearly talented. She crafts the wines very professionally and is confident when she discusses what their different vineyards bring to the wines.

The whole family lives on the estate, Franz & Christine the parents in one part, young newlyweds Christina and her husband in another, and Christina’s younger sister Annemarie in another part. All are connected but have separate entrances. The wines here are well-made and modern (especially the reds), leaning more towards Californian in style. Their less expensive Carnuntina line is unoaked, friendly, accessible and great value (we’ve been selling their “Roseanna” Zweigelt Rosé whch is part of the Carnuntina line), while the upper level wines are rich, noticeably oaked and showy with intense flavor and little semblance to our image of classic, typical European wines. For more about this estate, visit Salamanzar's great post from 2009 here.

- Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Austria & Germany: My Goals

Leaving for Austria and Germany today, I've been considering my goals for this trip. Certainly I'm looking forward to visiting the vineyards, wineries and homes of some winegrower friends who I've known for years but never had the chance to spend time with on their home turf. That will be great! But, I'm also an avid sponge of world cultures and hope to gain a strong appreciation of regional distinctions and quirks. I'm sure I'll eat too much!

The wine will be abundant, that's for sure. Traveling with friends will be neat. Charlie Deal (chef/owner of Jujube, Dos Perros), Bill Bowman (former co-worker from my Fowler's days and now an importer/distributor) and Ryan Fulkerson (a friendly sales rep and overall good guy) will make this a fun and dynamic trip. These guys are pros, but they also know how to cut loose and have a good time. Plus they're all fun & funny. I'm looking forward to the laughs.

It's also a great opportunity to document a little slice of my life that I can share with family, friends and the community that has developed in and around our store. Looking past this trip, it will be neat to look back and laugh and remember.
Yum! Shellfish display from a previous trip to Barcelona.

Of course the primary goal is to find new wines and taste new vintages of wines I already know. Wine education is an important part of my life, so getting my fingers in the dirt and being exposed to the "terroir" will greatly help my understanding of why these wines are what they are.

I also want to give our customers following this trip online a taste of the adventure. One of Wine Authorities objectives for 2010 is to expose our customers to the potential adventure that can be found in the world of wine on the shelf just down the street from their house. Much goes into that tasty liquid living in a bottle that you bring home tonight. What you uncork and pour into your glass can either be a beverage that packs a little buzz, or it can be the latest chapter in a family's long history that speaks of their deep cultural roots and tells tales of that year's weather and the craft of the artisan who made it. Is it something you drink for comfort, or something you've never had before that opens a door to the unknown when you pull the cork? The Century Club has several of our customers considering that adventure, and I'll surely let you know the many obscure grapes that I hope to check off of my list.

Check back, I'll do my best to keep this interesting and entertaining!
-Grand Poobah Wine Swami

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tasting Notes

Customer Paul has asked about our note taking and how one might fashion notes of their own when tasting wine. Paul said, this would make an excellent blog entry. Well, here are our notebooks we use everyday and a few ideas on how to take notes of your own. Remember your notes are personal just like tasting wine.

In formal wine tasting training the CAT system is used. But as they say, there are many ways to skin a cat. CAT stands for Color - Aroma - Taste (& Finish.) The Color of a wine reveals much about its age, how the wine was aged as in tank vs. barrel, filtration, and possible clues as to the grape type. All wines brown as they age and oak can also add an amber quality at times. At the very least we know if were drinking a white (actually yellow), rosé, or red wine. By the way, most tasters cannot blindly taste red and white wine, served in a dark glass, at the same temperature, and accurately tell what color it is. Your notes need to be in your own voice so they are a useful reference. If brassy yellow brings a color to mind, use that. If brick red is familiar use it when you see this color. If Linda Blair pea soup green is appropriate, well don't drink that wine.

The Aroma is what you smell in a wine. The best way to get the aroma is to swirl a glass with an ounce or two of wine. This will release the aroma and by raising the glass to your nose, you can smell the subtleties of the wine. This can be as technical or simple as you desire. We try to be specific with aromas. Citrus is good, but lemon and lime is better. Herbal is good, but rosemary and lavender is better. We also encourage people in our classes to use familiar smells. If a wine reminds you of spending your summers with grandma and the smell of laundry drying on the clothesline in the summer sun, use that. If it smells like plastic Tupperware just out of the dishwasher, use it.

Finally, there is the Taste and finish. The taste is actually three parts. First, the tongue senses sweetness (sugar) or dryness (no sugar) or somewhere in between. This perception is relative to the taster. Let's just say that most American diets are filled with foods that have some sweetness so we tend to think wines with a bit of residual sugar are still "dry" vs. many European palates. The tongue (and cheeks) also sense acidity. This is what makes your cheeks salivate. We love acid! Acid in wine is like salt in food. It can bring out flavors and make the wine come alive. Tannin is a type of acid usually only found in a red wine and this can be felt on the roof of our mouth. It's furry and rough like a cat's tongue. You also recognize tannin from making tea. If you steep your tea bag too long, you can extract those furry tannins. That's about all that the tongue actually tastes when it comes to wine. The second part of tasting comes from swirling the wine in your mouth. While you swish it around, like mouthwash, you release aroma just like in the glass. These aromatics rise into your olfactory senses and that's when you "taste" the fruit, the earth, the herbs, the citrus, the licorice, the oak, etc. You don't actually taste these things, but you do smell them when the wine is in your mouth. The final part of tasting is after you swallow the wine (we spit our wines so that we are able to keep from getting too happy at work). The finish is a measure of how long you still perceive the flavor of the wine post sip. The finish is the #1 indicator of a wine's quality. The finish should be appropriate to the grape or type of wine, but if it is short or harsh you may be onto something less than appropriate for that type of wine.

One last tip is to taste wines at the same time of day if you can. Most professionals try to taste in the morning after breakfast when you senses are awake and you are not tired, nor full of food from the day. This will keep your notes more consistent.

And the best way to get good at tasting wine is to practice, practice, practice.

In the photos you see Craig's style of note keeping at the top. His notes are condensed, tight and uses his own abbreviation system. This is an evolution of tasting wines over many years and thousands of bottles. My style is in the second picture. I have a big ol' fat notebook with spread out notes. Since we also need some information for the point of sale system at the store, I keep track of things like alcohol percentages, UPC codes, importers, etc. At home, I wouldn't normally take down all these things, but it's appropriate for our current needs. - Salamanzar

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wine Hero

It's not everyday you get to say you met one of your heros, but I did last week at the store.

I have spoken with Mr. Patrick Campbell on the phone. I have spent a day selling his wines with his daughter, Arya, in the Triangle. I have tasted his wines many times and felt like I really knew him, but I never actually shook his hand until last Tuesday.

Patrick Campbell is the owner and founder of Laurel Glen winery on Sonoma Mountain. Sure the wines are excellent. I won't even get into that part. Let's just say the wine part is a given. Patrick has played a major role in our wine culture today and most people don't even know his name. Ever so humble and kind, Patrick comes across as quiet and mild mannered. He established the Sonoma Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area, the US wine appellation system); he fought the government when they proposed a more lengthy and perhaps even more unreasonable sounding alcohol warning on wine bottles. He is greatly responsible for getting it whittled down to the current warning you see today. In fact on his Counterpoint Cabernet bottling he has a statement regarding sulfites being naturally occurring in wine and a part of food for millennia. He is the only person with this statement on a wine bottle and the ATF is just itching to make him take it off. Patrick explained that he has never updated the Counterpoint label because if he makes the slightest change, it will have to go through re-approval and "they" will ban his sulfite statement. Way to give 'em hell Patrick.

Patrick describes his winemaking start this way, "I was born in Baltimore in 1947, grew up on the fringes of the southern California wine industry, and studied English Literature at Pomona College and Philosophy of Religion at Harvard University. I have a degree in neither viticulture nor enology. In short, I have the proper credentials for winemaking." Patrick farms his estate organically and started on top of Sonoma Mountain in 1977. He told me the grapes planted there were so incredibly inappropriate, Palomino in fact, but at that time matching vineyards and climate to the proper grape vine wasn't really discussed. He was the first American winemaker to go to Argentina to work with farmers and to bring the wine back home to the US for bottling. Bringing the wine back in bulk tanks as ballast for the ship below the water line ensures a proper temperature half way around the world and makes environmental sense due to the lack of shipping glass and boxes. To this day, he still stands for reasonably priced wine and thinks everyone should be able to drink well in the $10 range.

Patrick was also stricken by Polio as a child and walks with assistance. About three minutes after meeting him, you quickly forget, as he can be so engaging and his list of accomplishments include professional ocean kayak racing, concert Violist with several San Francisco Bay area symphonies, and winemaker making it seem like he has done much more than most people without the crutches. He has been a leader in the world of wine on so many issues that he received the first ever, Wine Industry Integrity Award. Today he is wrestling the legal system as an advocate for making wine shipping legal to all states.

I just love his wines and I'm never going to wash my hand again. - Salamanzar

For further reading check out the Press Democrat Article, and his website Laurel Glen Winery.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

BLT Awesomeness

Wine Authorities sells a selection of artisanal bacons, which we store in a chest freezer called "Pork Knox" (thanks to Randy for the name). One such bacon is the North Country Smokehouse's Peppered Bacon. Hmm, such a bacon must be an ideal B.L.T. candidate, no?

We had all the makings this weekend at home - fresh tomatoes from the garden, fresh arugula from the garden (a twist on the lettuce), sourdough whole wheat bread and the bacon was thawed.

One culinary tip to share. If you want nice flat strips of bacon, bake it in the oven between two sheet pans to keep the bacon flat and even. I baked this batch at 375º F for 17 minutes. I like it a little meatier, so go a full 20 minutes if you like it crisp. A picture is worth at least 1,000 BLT dreams.