Season 2, Episode 20: “The Full Monte(pulciano)”

Someday, I will again be on top of upload schedules! It is not this day, however. But, this day I have another varietal deep dive for you! This day, we drink Montepulciano! More specifically, Elizabeth Krecker, who you may remember from several previous episodes, and I drink three bottles of this particularly fascinating grape. Two of the bottles are from local vineyards in Arizona, while the third bottle is from Abruzzo, Italy.

For those who are not familiar, Montepulciano is a red varietal from the region of Abruzzo, Italy, as well as nearby regions such as Molise, Marche, Lazio, and Puglia. It is completely different from, and should not be confused with, the very different wine from Northern Italy, called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; that wine is made from a clone of Sangiovese. But, this association with Sangiovese is not necessarily unwarranted, as genetic evidence indicates there is a genetic relationship between the two grape varietals.

While Montepulciano is the second most planted grape in Italy after Sangiovese, here in the United States it is rather uncommon. Plantings in the US exist are focused around the American Southwest, being found in Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona. Indeed, a 2012 Montepulciano from Black Mesa Winery in New Mexico won the prestigious Jefferson Cup. However, I have been unable to find any information on how much acreage of Montepulciano has been planted in the United States. As for the two Arizona bottles in this episode, they come from two different AVAs in Arizona: the Sonoita AVA and the Willcox AVA. Enjoy!

Montepulciano
Welcome to the Montepulciano Party!

Season 2, Episode 20: “Bar-Bar-Barbera”

I’m sorry for not uploading this sooner; time has, once again, made a mockery of me. But for this episode, we have another deep dive into another fantastic Italian varietal; Barbera. While I didn’t necessarily intend for the Nebbiolo episode to be the episode immediately prior to this one, it is nice synchronicity as both grapes originate from the same region of Italy: Piedmont. However, while wines made from Nebbiolo are generally meant to slumber both in barrel and bottle for long periods of time, wines made from Barbera tend to be imbibed much younger. It also is the third most abundantly planted grape within Italy, known for high yields and for producing a deep-colored, full-bodied red wine with high acidity and lower tannins.

This episode marks the return of Elizabeth Krecker, Sommelier and now one of the owners of the newest winery that is open for tastings in the Sonoita AVA, Twisted Union Wine Company. I haven’t visted them yet, but I look forward to it immensely! In this episode, we drink a 2014 Barbera from Pahrump Valley Winery’s Nevada Ridge label alongside a 2017 Barbera D’Alba from G. D. Vajra, and the 2013 Le Cortigane Oneste from Caduceus Cellars, a 50-50 blend of Barbera and Merlot sourced from the Mimbres Valley AVA in Southern New Mexico. Along the way, we talk about how Sommeliers taste wine, and the history of Barbera. Hope you enjoy the ride!

Also, as an exciting announcement, I’m working on doing a crossover episode or two with Iso and Lindsay of the fantastic ENDLESS, NAMELESS podcast. Theirs is a fascinating podcast; a divorced couple drinks through their wine stash (largely AZ vintages) and reminisce about their shared past, both the good times and the bad ones. I hope to drink with them a bottle of wine I’ve been saving through multiple relationships, hoping to use as an engagement bottle, but that opportunity has never come to pass. Anyway, go check them out and give them some love!

Season 2, Episode 17: “Tasting Room Etiquette”

In the old days of the Long Long Ago, Before Corona, people would sometimes leave home and visit wineries directly to obtain their wine. This was often done as a ritual, accompanied by wine tasting, often with friends, sometimes even creating a party-style atmosphere. Everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked Covid came into the picture. Now, with vaccines starting to be distributed, someday we might return to the halcyon days of visiting tasting rooms directly. But this leads to a couple of questions. The first is, “How should I act in a tasting room as a visitor?”

The second? “How should I act if I’m a tasting room employee?” When I visited Nassau Valley Vineyards a few years ago, I was horrified at the way the people on the other side of the bar were treating my fellow customers, and me. The two folks (who were not the owners, nor the winemaker, I should stress) would curtly and rudely answer questions, did not know the information about their wines, acted very put-off that they were working, and generally acted snobbishly and unwarm towards us. They would also ignore us at times. It was so bad that my compatriots at the bar actually asked me afterward if this was normal for a tasting room, once they found out that I worked at one myself. You see, this was their very first time visiting any winery. They found themselves completely put off by the experience, and were close to having decided that the whole thing wasn’t worthwhile until I told them that this was not normal, or proper. As an industry person, I was absolutely horrified by their behavior.

I decided, though, that I needed to get this bottle of their 2017 House Red (a blend of 70% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon) simply to talk about that side of the etiquette question. As for the customer side of the equation, I was specifically asked to do this episode by Dan Pierce, of Bodega Pierce Winery; we visited one of their wines last episode. This episode was our attempt to make a Meta-Episode, where we sort of acted like problematic tasting room people to show the point, though I fear this doesn’t come through as well as I would have liked. I apologize for this necessary train wreck of an episode…

Etiquette As A Customer:

  1. Be curious. Try new things! Break out of your box. Sure, you may like only Cabernet Sauvignon, but there’s a whole world of different full-bodied red wines out there, but you never know, you might find your new best friend.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s okay if you don’t like anything, and you can be polite about your dislike. That’s perfectly fine. But don’t go out of your way to say that something is miserable.
  3. Don’t wear heavy perfumes. These can block some of the delicate aromatics of wine from both your nose and the nose of other patrons.
  4. Spit if you’ve visted a lot of tasting rooms. Yes, you can swallow your wine. But if you’ve been visiting more than four or so, it might be wise to spit so as to preserve your palate, at the very least. It also helps you keep your wits about you. After all, we sometimes have that experience at the end of the day where our palate is shot, we visit the last winery, buy everything because we’re drunk and we think it tastes good and we open them later to be… disappointed.
  5. Corollary: Feel free to dump a wine if you don’t like it. That’s why the dump bucket is there.
  6. If you are part of a bachelor or bachelorette party, make plans in advance. Tell the winery you’re coming a few days ahead of time. It can be easy to be overwhelmed in a busy day when there’s a full crowd and suddenly another 15 people walk in.
  7. Do Buy wines, but don’t haggle. We’re happy to sell wines! That’s why we’re here! But just as you wouldn’t haggle in a supermarket over the price of a block of cheese, you shouldn’t haggle with the winery over the price of a bottle. It’s just rude.
  8. Don’t be an insufferable know-it-all. Yes, it’s okay to flex a little bit of wine knowledge. But the person next to you who is here for the first time may not know anything (more on that in a moment), and might feel super intimidated. There’s also a huge difference between being a wine geek and enjoying the sharing of information, and being the asshole who is trying to impress everyone for no reason (or to impress their date). Sometimes the tasting room staff don’t know as much as you might, either. And that’s okay…
  9. If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay! A good tasting room staff person should know, at least, just enough to make you comfortable with wine. One of the great things winery staff can do is teach the basics about wine to make you more comfortable. And remember, it’s wine. It’s not nuclear physics, it’s alcohol. There’s nothing that will explode in your face here if you DO get something wrong.
  10. Don’t be super loud. Don’t scream. Don’t yell. Some people want to contemplate the mysteries of glass. It’s okay to talk to others in a tasting room; indeed, encouraged, but be mindful of other people and their experiences. But your fellow patrons (and the person behind the bar pouring your wines) do NOT really need to know AT ALL about why your lover’s penis is better than your husband’s. (Yes. This happened to me. No amount of brain bleach has removed this memory. I’ve tried.). Save that talk for the ride home with the girls.
  11. Don’t Pressure/flirt with your wine pourer. We’re here to teach you about wine, and introduce you to new worlds within a glass. We’re not here to be flirted with. It makes us very uncomfortable. If you’re a dude pressuring a woman who’s pouring your wine, that’s not nice, but it has happened with women pressuring me as well, and I’m a dude. Neither side is okay.
  12. Tip, unless explicitly told not to. At least, I would say this is the rule for America. Many of us are barely making enough to scrape by, and that tip money will come in handy for rent, or helping pay off a student loan. You can tip based on tasting price OR total tab, but it doesn’t matter as long as you tip.
  13. Have Fun. Really, that’s what you’re hoping to do, right?

As for the rules if you’re working in the tasting room? Well, you’ll just have to listen to the episode. I’m sadly running out of space as to how much text will show up on the show notes…

Cabernet Franc Count: 7

I strongly recommend not doing anything you see in this photo inside of a tasting room. Things got a bit, uh, crazy when we recorded this episode…

Season 2, Episode 16: “AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide, with Jenelle Bonifield”

Long-time listeners may know about my connections to the Wine industry in Arizona, where I got started, and it’s high time I return to my roots, pun intended. In this episode, I sit down with Jenelle Bonifield, who just released her fantastic new book AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide. Alongside her in this episode is her daughter Isla, who you may remember from our group podcast at ODV featuring the New Jersey wines of Sal Mannino, and of course Megan and myself. Oh, and Jason Dudley makes an appearance giving us snacks to pair with the wine we chose to drink over the course of our discussion.

I’m not kidding when I say this book is fantastic, even though I helped write an introduction to a section. The photography is absolutely stunning and vibrant, and I’d love half of them to be sitting on my walls. (I honestly spaced about asking during the recording whether prints of her work in the book could be acquired; I was told later she is considering it). As it turns out, literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the production of this book. (For that particular story, you’ll have to listen to the podcast!) If you are outside of Arizona, you can grab a copy online at https://arizonawineguide.com/order-book/

The wine we drank while recording this episode is the 2017 Gallia, from Saeculum Cellars. This wine is a sultry, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is a perennial favorite of mine from winemaker Michael Pierce. The percentages change a little every year, but it’s always a great bottle to grab. The grapes are sourced from Rolling View Vineyard in the Willcox AVA; farmed by Michael Pierce’s father. Thank you once again, Michael, for letting us record our podcast in your barrel room!

Cabernet Franc Count: 6

AZ Uncorked
Jenelle Bonifield poses with her masterpiece, and the 2017 Gallia by Michael Pierce

Season 2, Episode 13: “Grüner Veltliner‽ I hardly know ‘er!”

With the world in the current state, what better time is there to drink, right? Even though I recorded this episode last summer… better late than never! Apologies. Life has again gotten in the way of things.

But, never fear! In this episode, a massive group of folks who are friends with our intrepid Judgemental Graphics Designer, VeniVidiDrinki, join us in meeting one of the most interesting white grapes that is slowly beginning to take the market by storm: Grüner Veltliner.

Grüner Veltliner is probably the Austrian wine industry’s greatest claim to fame, as the country has 42,380 acres of this vine planted there.  This bright, highly acidic grape likely had its origins in Italy, as the name literally translated means “Green Wine of Veltlin,” Veltin being a community in Northern Italy. Grüner Veltliner has a reputation of being a particularly food-friendly wine, and is rapidly becoming a  popular offering on wine lists in restaurants, or even in grocery stores here in the US.

It is made into wines of many different styles – much is intended for drinking young, some is made into sparkling wine, but others are capable of aging long-term in a cellar. As an example, the steep vineyards near the Danube produce very pure, mineral-driven Grüner Veltliners referred to as Smaragd (etymologically related to Smaug, by the way), intended for long-term aging in the cellar. Meanwhile, down in the plains, citrus and peach flavors tend to be more apparent in wines of this grape, with spicy notes of pepper and sometimes tobacco, and these are intended to be imbibed sooner, rather than later.

As for the wines in this podcast, only one, the Crazy Creatures, is from Austria.  The other two are vintages from the USA; one from Michigan, courtesy of a #winestudio exploration of the region (the same which lead to our Chardonnay comparison), and the other is from Crane Creek Vineyards, in Young Harris, Georgia.  The state, this time, not to be confused with the country we’ve been exploring a bit in the last few episodes.

Along with exploring this grape with folks who have never tasted it, we delve a little bit into the world of wine marketing and label design… I hope you enjoy! 

Grüner Veltliner
Grüner Veltliner is the focus of our next deep-dive varietal episode. This grape produces wines which are great for hot summers.. of which we are in the midst of here in Arizona.

Season 2, Episode 11: “Rkatsiteli deep dive: Goldberry River-Daughter”

Way back at the beginning of season one, I tangentially mentioned a fascinating grape in our first episode talking about wines in Massachusetts: Rkatsiteli. This was just one of the five grapes in that particular blend, the 2014 Cinco Cães from Westport Rivers Winery. If you remember, I casually compared Rkatsiteli to Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife in the Lord of the Rings books.  I decided though, at some point, it would be fun to take a look at this varietal in-depth at a later time.

  But trying to find single varietal takes on this grape here in the United States is a hard thing to do. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery does produce a single varietal version (and an amber version I would dearly love to get my hands on), but the fact of the matter is that Dr. Konstantin Frank himself did so much for the viticultural industry on the East Coast that I wanted to do a deep dive episode on him, specifically–tackling two deep dives in one episode might make the resulting podcast too long.

But then, VeniVidiDrinki went to New Jersey and found a bottle at Tomasello Winery during the same visit she picked up the Blaufränkisch we enjoyed back in season one.  Problem solved!  I picked up a version from the Republic of Georgia at my favorite Russian import market in Phoenix, and we sat around and drank the two side by side to produce this episode. It wasn’t the best comparison, as the two wines were produced in slightly different styles, but mayhem still ensued.  Enjoy!

rkatsiteli deep dive
“O reed by the living pool! Fair river-daughter!” is a fair description of a good vintage of Rkatsiteli. Enjoy our deep dive of this fascinatingly ancient varietal!

Season 2, Episode 8: “Everything’s gonna be Viognier.” (Viognier Deep Dive with Michelle Petree)

First of all, let me apologize for the erratic upload schedule this January. There is a lot of stuff going on in my life right now; a struggle with depression, a struggle with finances, and my mother is on her deathbed. I beg pardon for not following my every 2-week schedule as I planned. Now, onto the blog. (If you want to help, please support the Patreon for this podcast!)

One of our very first episodes of season one focused on the supposed wonder of Virginia Viognier. As you may remember, neither Gary or I were impressed with the 2016 Horton Viognier and were deeply confused as to why Viognier was supposed to be the state grape of Virginia in the first place.  I told this to my friend Michelle Petree, who asked which one I had imbibed, and she proceeded to be horrified by my selection.  “Don’t worry,” she said, probably shaking her head sadly, “I’ll fix that for you. I know the good ones. The 2017 Viognier from King Family Vineyards is especially great.”

In return, I promised her my favorite bottle of Viognier from Arizona, the 2016 Rune Viognier, made by James Callahan. (He will be a guest in later episodes in season 2, so stay tuned!)  At some point, one of us (I can’t rightly remember who, lots of alcohol was involved…) decided we should drink these two wines side by side with a vintage from Viognier’s homeland, Condrieu… and settled on the 2017 De Poncins, from Francois Villard, as a comparison. And so this podcast was born.

Viognier, if you are unaware, has made a huge comeback in the last 60 years from near-extinction (in 1965, there were only 30 acres of this grape remaining) to a worldwide sensation, being grown across the world, from Arizona to New Zealand. Most of the Viognier acreage planted in the United States can be found in California, but it is also grown in 15 other states. One of the main reasons for Viognier’s fall from grace until the 1960s is due to the fact that this varietal is very difficult to grow, being prone to Powdery Mildew, as well as suffering unpredictable yields from one vintage to the next.

However, this grape is increasing in popularity as an attractive alternative to Chardonnay, so I feel we can only expect more Viognier to appear as time goes on. Watch this space!

viognier deep dive
So much Viognier to drink, so little time…

Season 2, Episode 6: “Sip your Chardon-nay-nay: Welcome to Michigan”

We explored Michigan once before, but that episode was recorded about a month before I got the chance to drink some fantastic Michigan wines courtesy of a #winestudio event and the Michigan Wine Collaborative. Among the bottles sent were two bottles of 2016 Chardonnay; one from Amoritas Vineyard, and the other from Chateau Chantal. These wines are from the Leelanau AVA and Old Mission AVA, respectively. The original idea for this episode was to focus on vine age and resulting vintages, but the conversation quickly shifted to different modes of making Chardonnay–not all Chardonnay vintages are made for the same purposes, as it turns out!

These two bottles, provided through the kindness of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and #winestudio turned out to be perfect examples of the two main styles of New World Chardonnay: Buttery and oaky, and crispy stainless steel. Both of these wines had us saying Chardon-yay, for sure, and allowed us to take a deep dive into a grape varietal that is perhaps overlooked due to its prominence in the wine market but is really just as fascinating as any hipster varietal you may not have ever heard of.

I learned a lot about Michigan wine thanks to the interactions on #winestudio with the folks tweeting at the Michigan Wine Collaborative and the veritable host of winemakers (most of whom were women, which is freaking awesome) over the course of the three weeks of this program. Emi Beth was fabulous at answering all of our strange questions about the wine scene that is exploding in Michigan currently. Another wine from this particular #winestudio program, a Grüner Veltliner, will appear in a later episode this season for a deep dive of this unique Austrian varietal.

michigan wine collaborative
I would like to thank the Michigan Wine Collaborative and #winestudio once again for the chance to drink these fantastic Chardonnay vintages!

Season 2, Episode 5: The Traditional Method (RJR Brut Cuvée, Westport Rivers, MA)

We’ve had a couple of sparkling wines in this program before, but we’ve never really had a traditional method sparkling wine on the show before.  Let’s change that, with a look at the 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée, from Westport Rivers Winery, in Massachusetts.

In case you were not aware, “traditional method” is code for the same method which is used to make Champagne in France; it’s just that nobody outside of Champagne can use this word to describe a wine method, due to very strict provisions laid down by the EU and France. You will occasionally see wines made in this method labeled as ‘Classic Method,’ also.  What these words mean is that the sparkling wine in question was bottle-fermented; that secondary fermentation which produced the bubbles occurred in the bottle in which the wine was sold.  This can be a time-consuming process if done by hand, but other places (such as Gruet in New Mexico, as an example) have figured out how to do mass-production of such bottles.

As you may have guessed from the implication above, sparkling wines made in the traditional method undergo two separate fermentations.  The first, which is usually carried out in tanks, creates what is known as the base wine, which is still–no bubbles. If the wine in question is a non-vintage blend, the base still wines will be blended according to whatever style and quality requirements exist for the given produced to produce a unified flavor for the brand; or still wines from a given year will be blended together (which is likely what happened with this wine in question).  This process, known as assemblage, ends with the blended wine put into bottles, along with a mixture of yeast and sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation.  The bottles are then closed with the same sort of cap you see on a beer bottle. (In case you wanted to expand your French wine terms, this mix is known as the liqueur de tirage).

Next up, the bottles are then placed on their sides in cellar environments, while that secondary fermentation begins.  It is this secondary fermentation that creates the CO2 which gets trapped to become bubbles. After the second fermentation is complete the wines are left ‘sur lie‘ (resting on its lees – wine terminology for the dead yeast cells in each bottle) for any period of time the winemaker wishes. This could range from a mere 6 months to upwards of several years, like in the case of this vintage. The longer the wine rests on these lees, the more amino acids and other compounds that are in the dead yeast cells will break down and be released into the wine.  Known as autolysis, this process is what adds toast, bread, and the yeasty character and aromas that are often associated with higher-end vintages made in this style.

The final steps of this process are known as remuage and disgorgement, where the lees are removed from the bottle.  The bottles are carefully rotated and shaken and slowly moved upside down so that the sediment in the bottle is slowly moved towards the neck of the bottle. This process is known as riddling–it can either be done by hand, or by automatic machinery.  After the sediment has been gathered to this part of the bottle, the material must be disgorged–something done by freezing the neck of the bottle in a freezing brine bath. After being frozen, the cap is removed, and the bottle of frozen lees sediment will shoot out.  The final step of this disgorging process is quickly topping off the bottle with a mixture known either as the dosage or ‘liqueur d’expédition. This is a mixture of wine and sugar, the amount of which is determined based on the eventual style of the wine.  As an example, the dosage for the  RJR Brut Cuvée probably contained somewhere between 6g and 15g/l of sugar; pretty standard for wines labeled as ‘Brut’.

After this, the bottle is closed with the traditional Champagne-style cork, with the wire cage (known as a muselet) and foil. The wine can now wait and age as long as the winemaker demands before being released to the adoring public. These styles of wine can age very well; as evidenced by our reaction to this bottle in the podcast.

RJR Cuvee Westport Rivers Winery
The 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée is our tasty introduction to the world of the Traditional Method sparkling wine – the same method used to make classics such as Champagne, Cava, Franciacorta, and others the world over.

Season 2, Episode 4: The Forgotten Pinot (Oregon vs. Germany)

Everyone knows Pinot Noir. Most folks know Pinot Gris, aka Grigio. Pinot Blanc has a few die-hard fans even among the general public. But Pinot Meunier seems to remain the province of wine geeks alone. In this episode, the gang tackles the challenge, when we compare the 2017 Pinot Meunier from Teutonic Wine Company (sourced from Borgo Pass Vineyard in the Willamette Valley AVA of Oregon), with the 2015 Darting Pinot Meunier from Pfalz, Germany. In this episode, we also talk about wine-making techniques and compare the Old-World style of Winemaking, to the New World style, and touch again upon the subject of Natural Wine. I REALLY need to do an episode just focusing on Natural Wine at some point. This also reminds me, I need to reach out to the folks at the fine Natural Disasters for a collaboration on the subject… I digress.

A word about tonight’s (today’s?) grape of the episode: Pinot Meunier.  Also known variously as Meunier, Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe, and Miller’s Burgundy, this grape gets its name (and most of its synonyms) from the flour-like dusty white down which is found on the underside of the leaves; like the result of grinding wheat.  First mentioned by name in the 16th century, Pinot Meunier is what is known in the plant world as a Chimeric Mutation, where different plant genes are expressed in different places.  In the case of this varietal, the inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype which is close to (if not identical to) Pinot noir, but the outer, epidermal, layer is a mutant, distinctive, genotype. I have no idea how this happens, but it is my understanding that the genetics of most Pinot varietals are about as stable as my average mood, and therefore the plant can mutate simply if you look at it in a funny way.

Of note: Pinot Meunier is apparently almost one-third of all the grapes planted in Champagne, but the French don’t like to talk about this fact and prefer to emphasize the use of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay… though I will say the best Champagne I’ve ever had was a Grower’s Champagne (the Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche Extra Brut from Bereche & Fils) made of 100% Pinot Meunier, so, uh, take that, popular kids!  Or something?

I acquired this bottle of the 2o17 Teutonic Pinot Meunier directly from their tasting room in Portland, Oregon, while visiting there last September; the German example was acquired from Lloyd’s Liquors, in Prescott, AZ.

Pinot Meunier
The 2017 Pinot Meunier from Teutonic Wine Company is the centerpiece of our third episode of Season 2.