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Wine Club Newsletter - March 2011

With Wine, How Do You Rate?

At The WineSellar & Brasserie, we keep a copy of a cartoon at our check out register in the wine shop for our customers to see. It goes like this:

A gentleman is in a wine shop tasting a wine that was offered to him from the clerk behind the counter. The customer tastes the wine, and quickly sours his face.

He exclaims to the wine clerk: “GEEZ, this wine is REPULSIVE!”

The wine clerk says: “The Wine Advisor gave it a 96 point rating!”

The customer then says, “I’ll take a case!”

Our wine shop staff finds this cartoon both humorous and a dilemma. The customer is completely disregarding his own tastes for the sake of someone else’s review, and putting money behind it! We would much rather want him to trust his own tastes, and say “The 96 pointer is not for me, what else do you have?”

I do not pay a lot of attention to wine ratings when it comes time to buying wine. Perhaps that’s a byproduct of my having a bit of cynicism about wine ratings, and that I also know my tastes, preferences and limitations. Plus I drink and taste wine everyday, which means I usually get to try before I buy.

The reality is that there is a vast selection of wines out there, and it is confusing and overwhelming for everyone. Even those of us in the industry can’t keep up with the tens of thousands of new wine releases each year, even with the help of the wine reviewers. But our hard-fast rule is, unless a wine has a superior history and heritage of high quality and consistent performance over the years, we must taste it before we commit to buying multiple cases of it. That is my suggestion to you as well.

That being said, wine reviews can be very useful. They sometimes get to the wines before we do, and if a wine gets a great review, we look into it. Also, reviewers may have other information we don’t have immediate access too, such as global and regional vintage assessments, winery trends, wines that have not yet been bottled, or imported, and wine “futures”. These are important details for us to know, so we can better guide our inventory choices and make the selection process easier for our consumers.

On the other hand, the results of strictly depending on wine ratings for your own purchases can prove to be frustrating for a couple reasons. Your tastes and preferences may differ from those of the publication, leaving you bewildered by their findings. Also, by the time the wine reviewers publish their results, it is generally months after the wine has been released. It happens all the time, people come in to the store with ratings in hand, and we tell them yes, that is a very good wine. We had it 4 months ago, and it is sold out.

Without depending on wine reviews, there are two generally fail safe way to spend your wine dollars wisely. First is to try before you buy. Attend wine tastings your local wine shop offers, or take a trip to wine country and visit the tasting rooms. The only issue with try before you buy is sometimes the atmosphere and the moments you are experiencing may make the wine seem better than it is. I have heard a number of people tell me “it tasted better at the winery, I guess”.

The second and most preferred way is to find a retailer you trust and like. You want to trust they will offer good service, listen to you, and learn about your tastes, likes, preferences, budgets, and then steer you into the proper direction. Good wine sales people want you to enjoy the wine as much as they did, and they really get satisfaction from turning people on to an excellent product.

It’s their passion, and they love sharing it.

In that spirit, I would like to offer two excellent publications that will help guide your wine choices and enhance your wine knowledge. You can Google them for subscription information.

The California Grapevine:  This is a San Diego based group of a dozen or so expert wine tasters, to include editor Nick Ponomareff, who is exceptional. They are credible and honest, with 35 years of findings on mostly California wines. I tasted on this panel 20 years ago, and learned a lot!

The Wine Advocate: About 30 years ago, this publication became the benchmark for much of what we read and hear today about wine ratings. International wine reviews, with colorful language.

Gary Parker, Owner

The WineSellar & Brasserie

2008 Karma Torrontes Reserva, Encantada

Growing Region:  La Rioja, Argentina

Varietal Blend:  100% Torrontes

Fermentation:  100% Stainless Stee

Suggested Retail:  $18.00

WineSellar Club Case Price:  $13.50

Broad Strokes:
I am going to assume many of our WineSellar Club Members have not experienced wine made from the Torrontes grape. If you have, you’ll notice this one is a little different from the norm. Virtually, all the Torrontes I have had here and in Argentina have been soft, fruity, and not too complex or serious. This Torrontes changes that notion, as you’ll find it interesting, complex, rich and rewarding. I don’t think I have ever had a better Torrontes!

Torrontes package looks much like the Sauvignon Blanc you received last month. Good looking, well appointed features. The label reads clear and direct. There is lots of information on the back label, which is great. I guess because I wrote it! I like the clear, tall bottle very much. The wine itself looks crystal like, perfectly clear, shimmering and shining in the light, with a white corn hue. It is very viscous and clings well to the glass.

It’s hard to get my nose out of the glass. I’m looking like a bobble head wine geek going down and up! Jasmine and honeysuckle fragrance is gorgeous, along with some very ripe pear, peach and spice. Yet, the most dominant aromatic traits would be Mandarin orange, laced with some vanilla and toasted marshmallow. Check it out after 30 minutes, Yowza!

The entry is smooth and creamy, with balanced fruit to acid. The acid is mild, but holds firm on the fruit. It is a bit more than medium in weight, and the balanced fruit and acid make it glide effortlessly through your mouth. Silky, rich, and then the acid becomes a bit more showy after airing 15-20 minutes, leaving your mouth watering and wanting more. I love this stuff!

It’s like drinking an adult version of a vanilla cream smoothie, or even a crème brulèe. The Mandarin orange rules in flavor, joined in by notes of pine nut, nutmeg, and sesame. It just doesn’t stop. At some point it reminds me of a nice Viognier from California, but then the acid gets firm again and behold, it is Karma Torrontes.

Serving Options:
You’re now spoiled in regards to Torrontes. I challenge all of us to find a better Torrontes anywhere, especially at $13.50! This is fantastic with hard cheese, all by itself, perhaps while in the hot tub, great with spicy foods, sushi, or white flesh fish with lemon or orange citrus butter sauce.

2008 Vina Robles, Syrée

Growing Region:  Paso Robles, California

Varietal Blend:  84% Syrah, 16% Petite Sirah

Fermentation:  100% French Oak

Suggested Retail:  $39.00

WineSellar Club Case Price:  $18.00

Broad Strokes:
Here is a fantastic buy for your WineSellar Club members! Retailing at $39, we can offer this beauty for $18 on a case price. I happen to love this wine and its style. Big and beautiful, very much Rhone like in character, with a distinctive California coolness. It’s a real a mouth full of pleasure, and if I were rating wines, this would assuredly be in the 90++ point range.

Nice, thick and heavy bottle with the reinforced punt. Almost Darth Vader looking black package with gold embossed lettering and black cap. The wine is quite dark, with a grayish crimson coloring on the edge. It clings to the glass very hard, as the curtains are stained dark red and slow moving.

I kept coming up with colors when I put my nose in the glass. Red Fruits, cherry, black fruits, black berry, black pepper, black walnut, brown dampened earth, chocolate, and vanilla oak. There is also a note of nuts, pine nuts, or more like peanut butter. I also got a nice aromatic shot of root beer, crushed herbs, and spice, like nutmeg and cinnamon.

This is a well-structured, full-bodied wine, with a glorious, harmonious feel to it. It is not too powerful or over blown, as it still exhibits good finesse to go with some of its masculinity. There is some heat from the alcohol (15.8%), but it too is not overbearing or out of context with the wine. The tannins are present, but integrated well.

As rich and full as this wine is, there is still a lively freshness to it that is quite engaging. All the colorful fruits from the nose are present in the palate, with the roasted nuts and coffee flavors stepping forward as well. Not noticed on the nose is the savory flavor of roast beef. Also got a dollop of maple syrup (not sweet though). As the flavors kept coming on, somewhere I likened this to a chocolate chip cookie, doughy with chocolate. The Pillsbury Rhone Boy!

Serving Options:
This will keep and improve for ten years, probably longer if stored well. At this price, I would suggest a case would fit into the cellar and hold a few of your bins proud. I am definitely putting some away. Great with grilled meats, game, such as venison or elk, or with a piece of chocolate after dinner.

2006 Karma Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserva, Encantada

Growing Region:  Mendoza, Argentina

Varietal Blend:  100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Fermentation:  Wood Barrels

Suggested Retail: $25.00

WineSellar Club Case Price: $18.75

Broad Strokes:
The Karma Cabernet Sauvignon is now five years removed from its harvest date, and though it will have a few more years of aging ahead of it, it is drinking perfectly right now. Designated a “Reserva” selection, the grapes were hand harvested from vines averaging over 25 years in age. The maturity and balance offered in this WineSellar Club selection is superior, and I am certain you will be quite happy with your Karma. What, a five year-old Cabernet for $16.50? Here it is!

I like the long neck, tall black bottle look very much, as well as the overall packaging. The label reads clear and direct. There is lots of information on the back label, which is great. I guess because I wrote it! The wine has a garnet coloring, which is deep in the center and grows lighter toward the rim of the glass. Appearing younger than its five years, and it clings nicely to the glass.

If you ever wanted to know what a classic Cabernet Sauvignon smells like, this is it! Jumping out 4 inches above your glass, a definitive whiff of deep black cherry fruit is married to a touch of bell pepper. That’s it! Good touches of oak, smoke, mocha, earth soil and anise lend to the evolved, almost textural aromatics. Lovely!

Partly due to the five years of age, the texture is fabulous. It is silken, very elegant, very smooth and pleasing on the palate. The tannins have resolved into the fruit, yet we still enjoy a beautiful kiss of acid on the clean, crisp finish. Medium in body and weight, it does not carry a notion of being either a masculine brute or delicately feminine, just the notion that this is one excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.

Deep black cherry fruit is first noticeable, followed by some fine wood-notes. Seems simple and good, until you wait a few more minutes. Then it begins to disrobe seductively, unveiling (through the its silky character) deeper, more evolved red and black fruits, with mocha, roasted almonds, chocolate, caramel, and a hint of black olives.

Serving Options:
I drank my Cabernet through a dinner consisting of grilled chicken thighs that had been marinated in soy, garlic, ginger and black pepper, and it was so right! An even better experience is when I snuck myself a little piece of fine dark chocolate with the last of the Cabernet. Yahoo!

2008 Expression 44, Pinot Noir, Roserock Vineyard

Growing Region:  Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Varietal Blend:  100% Pinot Noir

Fermentation:  100% French Oak, 1/3 New

 Suggested Retail:  $65.00

 WineSellar Club Case Price:  $53.99

Broad Strokes:
Only 150 Cases made of this stunner, which received a 94 Point rating from The Wine Spectator. This is a great Pinot Noir project from long time wine producer Bill (William) Hill. Eola-Amity Hills is a sub-appellation in Willamette Valley that benefits from coastal breezes, keeping the heat off the grapes and temperatures more even through the growing season. Anyway folks, this is it, a great, limited production, superb Oregon vintage, highly rated Pinot Noir that I am very proud to serve to our Gary Parker Collection Members!

Nice, thick and heavy bottle with a deep, reinforced punt. This is another nice looking, dark/black looking bottle, exhibiting a contemporary style of architectural and geographical design. Expression 44; “44” is the latitude of the vineyard, so that’s a very cool name. The wine is dark at the core, but correct for a Pinot Noir, in that it is not opaque, and it is light on the edges. It has a deep Burgundy hue with tinges of grey, and holds on to the inside of the glass.

Absolutely beautiful Pinot Noir fruit, with excellent wood integration, chocolate, spices and a hint of lavender. This is the kind of wine you can sniff all night, as the complexity keeps evolving. Spices become clove and oriental spices. The fruit is raspberry, strawberry and cherry. As it lingers, coffee, mocha, vanilla chocolate and black olive aromatics come forward. Really wonderful!

Pinot Noir, Texture. Texture, Pinot Noir. That’s what great Pinot Noir is all about. This one has it, what we all look for. Medium bodied fruit and weight is elegant and fully enveloping, balanced, smooth, silky, and quite luscious. The finish is very long, lingering and memorable.

The depth of the fruit flavors in this wine is amazing. Dark cherry, dark berry fruit constantly evolving and throwing out peripheral flavors, like ripe plum, mulberry, black olive, roasted nuts, chocolate and vanilla spice. It just keeps going on and on!

Serving Options:
I’m not sure exactly what to recommend about cellaring this wine. A few years will do it well for sure, but I don’t have a track record to follow. I had my Expression 44 with grilled salmon and a dollop of Dijon Mustard next to it, which was fabulous and simple. A true winner!

2009 Muscardini Zinfandel, Monte Rosso Vineyards

Growing Region:  Sonoma Valley, California

Varietal Blend:  100% Zinfandel

Fermentation:  30% New French Oak

Suggested Retail: $48.00

WineSellar Club Case Price: $26.99

Broad Strokes:
Here is another fantastic buy for you WineSellar Club members! Retailing at $48, we can offer this beauty for $26.99 on a case price. From the Monte Rosso Vineyard, which is one of the oldest and highest vineyards, up in the Mayacama’s Mountains. The vines are very old, and produce intensely flavored wines. Only 300 or so cases made, it is rare and hard to find.

Colorful package of gold font on black label and bottle, with red highlights. The wording is personal, informal, and reaching. The bottle is above standard, very nice package overall. The wine is very dark, black at the core, and a deep ruby along the edges. After you swirl, the legs come down the inside of the bowl in red syrup like fashion.

Black berry and blueberry fruit are assertive and enjoyable, as they come front and center with good force. A nice touch of wood highlights the concentrated fruit, along with black pepper, juniper, barley malt, and some fresh herbs.

Medium to medium full in body. While the wine is loaded with concentrated fruit, it seems pretty soft to me, especially considering the 14.5% alcohol content and youthful age of the wine. That is most likely due to the Monte Rosso old vines.  Almost sweet like impression is interesting, but not clinging or cloying on the palate. The ripe, big fruit texture is the most dominant, enjoyable character of this wine.

Big, bold, deep fruit flavors express very ripe plum, dark cherry, blueberry, and black berry which are quite engaging. Quite a mouth full of fun over all, and I love it! Some other tastes came along with air time: root beer (cola), gravel, mineral, and some soil notes.

Serving Options:
This wine is so enjoyable now, I want to drink it tonight. The wine is compelling from the minute you open the bottle to the very end. Maybe a few years in the cellar would benefit the wine, however, tonight, I want it with something Italian, like a pasta Bolognese, perhaps a pizza, Steak Florentine, or grilled meats or sausages.

Whole Chicken Steamed in Sake

Here is a great recipe to go with the 2008 Karma Torrontes.

The key here is to allow the Chicken to cool before cutting into it. It takes a little more time, but it is worth the wait!


  • 1 Whole Chicken, preferably organic
  • Kosher salt, coarse grain
  • 1 small brown onion sliced or chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 Pat of butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 Oz. cream sherry
  • 2 Sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 375 ml of Sake (any kind you like, does not need to be expensive)


  1. Gently add salt to outside of chicken, and set aside
  2. In a pot large enough to hold the whole chicken in a steaming basket, drop in olive oil and butter and melt slowly.
  3. Add onion and garlic, and simmer on low heat until onions are clear.
  4. Add Cream sherry and Soy sauce, simmer one minute
  5. Add Sake.
  6. Add 375 ml. of water.
  7. Add sprigs of herb
  8. Reduce until liquid is at bottom of the steam basket
  9. Place chicken in the basket, and steam until done, about 45 minutes or so (you can check by making a “peek’ cut between thigh and breast. It is done when juices run clear).
  10. When the chicken is done, remove from heat. Either leave it in the pot or place outside until it cools to nearly room temperature. This will keep the juices inside the chicken and make it quite tender.

You can reduce the cooking liquid further to make a base for a sauce, just add butter at the end.
Can be served alone, with pasta, and is very good cold out of the refrigerator for future consumption.

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