- Q & A
March 1998 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 204 Rejected: 187 Approved: 17 Selected: 2
Negotiating for the Best
Our selections this month come from negociants. Negociant Eleveure is a French term for a company that buys young wine in stainless tanks and then "elevates" it by putting it into expensive barrels and possibly blending it with other wine to make a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. Most of the famous wineries in Burgundy like Jadot and Drouhin are negociants.
Oftentimes, the negociant produces a better wine than the winery which grows their own grapes. If you own grapes and have a bad vintage, what do you do? You make the wine anyway and hope nobody notices.
Enter the negociant. In the case of our two selections this month, we would be hard pressed to do better than many small operations which grow their own grapes. The grapes for Eco-Wine Chardonnay actually came from one of the most revered wineries in the state. By keeping overhead down to a minimum and putting all their resources into the best barrels and storage facilities, wineries like Eco-Wine and Clos Robert are devastating the competition with the quality they're offering for the price. And that, my friends, is music to our ears (not to mention mouths!).
Domestic SelectionEco-Wine was established with many of the broad-based objectives that so many other wine operations are founded, but with a few unique additions. It set out to produce high-quality barrel-fermented Chardonnay and oak-aged Cabernet Sauvignon from California's prime vineyards and offer them at competitive prices. Many operations start out that way, but they don't seem to deliver either one or the other. Eco-Wine has succeeded better than any other. The company is also addressing the issue of environmental awareness by producing products and packaging which will be 100% recyclable. By using soy-based inks and sparse graphics on the labels and cartons, Eco-Wine will be leading the way in giving back to the environment as much as it takes. A worthy goal and one we heartily support. All this attention to the ecology, can take its toll on the pocketbook. That's why it was with some skepticism that we tried the wines after hearing their goals. After all, we reasoned, somebody has to pay for this attention to detail, and in most cases, that someone is us! Boy were we surprised. We actually thought this wine was one to be offered in the Limited Series at twice the price. We can't divulge the name of the winery that sold these grapes to Eco-Wine. This is not because they are concerned about their reputation, (they sell every drop under their own label at $30.00 a bottle!) but because they also sell a lot of grapes to other wineries. If another winery were to find out that Eco-Wine got this wine for this price, they would be more than just a little upset. We can tell you that this Chardonnay comes from one of the most sought-after, cool climate vineyards in California near the Carmel Valley in Monterey. The grapes were gently pressed and barrel fermented in 1/3 new French oak (at a cost of almost $700 each) for nine months. It was gently racked and bottled with minimum filtration to preserve the intensity and beautiful soil components that separate it from any competitor in this price range. Quantities are limited so don't delay.
Chardonnay, 1996. Eco-Wine
Piercing frontal assault of ripe mango and guava intermingled with loads of sweet, toasty oak tones and peaks of earth. Tremendous follow through of flavors ending with a solid punch. Stunning with the lobster pasta recipe on page. 6.
Great now. Will hold for a year or two. Serve chilled.
Imported SelectionThe story of Clos Robert is almost as interesting as the wine. It was started over 10 years ago by Robert Shack, the Director of Sales for Premiere Wine Merchants, a division of Remy Martin of France. Robert's superior at the time was also named Robert, so it appeared that Shack was not the Robert on the label. Shack's boss isn't there any more and the label is flourishing. So much for that theory. So, now we just affectionately refer to the wine as Clos "Bob." The idea was to source good quality grapes from smaller growers in California and bottle the wine under the Clos Robert label. In France, these merchants are called negociants. Well, it worked just fine for many years. As a matter of fact, we've featured some of Clos Robert's better offerings over the years. When California grape prices took a steep incline a few years ago, Shack had to look elsewhere for grapes. That search brought him to a vast area in the Provence region of France called Vin de Pays D'oc. Merlot is one of the most sought-after grapes in the U. S. The soft, rich berry and spicy flavors are engaging on their own. Merlot helps tame Cabernet's hard edge when the two are blended together. Since it is picked earlier than Cabernet, it offers an insurance policy when a late rain can damage the Cabernet crop. If the Merlot comes out better, they just use more of it in the blend. Merlot is the native grape of Bordeaux, primarily grown along the East bank of the Dordogne River in Pomerol and St. Emilion. While we think of Bordeaux in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot actually out-ranks Cabernet in acreage there by more than 2-1. That should tell you something about its place in the world of wine! We're glad to see that Robert, aka Clos Bob, is still out there producing great wines at inviting prices. Getting a wine of this quality for this price kind of makes you wonder what's going on with the wines fetching more than double the price of this selection. But, why wonder? This one's here to enjoy now.
Merlot, 1995. Clos Rpbert
Mare-low Klo Roe-bare
Lovely, bright ruby red color in the center transforming to lighter tinges at the edge. Soft and generous flavors of brambleberry, currant and spice. In the mouth it is enveloping and medium bodied. Try with veal roast seasoned with rosemary and chives.
A pleasure right now. Will hold for a year or two. Serve cool.
Member Inquiry"Paul, Almost every write-up in the newsletter stresses the importance of vineyards. What makes the vineyard so important?"
B. K., Arlington Heights, IL
No winemaker can "create" quality. The winemaker's duty is to take the grapes nature provides and guide them on their course toward becoming wine. If you begin with the best grapes and employ great skill and experience, you have the potential to make great wine. It's not a guarantee. There is an old axiom among winemakers, "You can make poor wine from fine grapes, but you can't make fine wine from poor grapes."
Vines cannot tolerate either excessive heat or cold. To bear fruit of even ordinary quality, the temperature range is severely limited. For these reasons, grapes grow only in a very narrow range of latitudes worldwide, and then only in areas where soils are suitable.
It has long been known in Europe that certain grapes thrive better in certain areas than others. The search for suitable climates in California was simplified in the 1960s when professors at the University of California at Davis devised a system for measuring ambient temperature during the growing season for vines. It is called the "Zone" system. Every vineyard falls within a certain zone. It is based on a fairly uncomplicated formula that calculates a heat summation number for every day in the vineyard beginning with the day the buds open and ending on harvest day. Each day's number is added up for the entire growing season, which is generally March through September, and the total is assigned to one of five regions based on a pre¬determined scale.
Region one is the coolest. Region five is the warmest. Any region cooler than a region one or warmer than a region five is most likely unsuitable for growing grapes.
Sensitive varietals, such as Pinot Noir, thrive best in the cooler climates such as Region one. Chardonnay prefers the climate found in Regions one and two. Cabernet Sauvignon does best in significantly warmer climates like a region three. The Zone system gives vineyard owners a little more information on which to base an expensive planting decision other than pure luck. If the vineyard is not in the best zone for the grape they wish to plant, they should either select another varietal or search for another more suitable location.
Adventures in FoodThere are few dishes that can handle the assertiveness of a big, rich Chardonnay, like our Eco-Wine selection this month, better than lobster, the richest shellfish of all. This recipe has it all: rich lobster meat, butter, pepper and garlic. It's a "take no prisoners" kinda dish.
Angel Hair with Lobster and Cracked-Pepper Beurre Blanc
2 live lobsters
1 tsp. dried green peppercorns
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
8 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Eco-Wine Chardonnay
3/4 tsp. salt
3/ 4 lb. angel hair
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook lobsters until just done, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, twist to separate the tail sections and the large legs with the claws from the bodies. With the tails upside down, use a large sharp knife to cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the tail meat and cut into approximately 3/4 inch pieces. Transfer lobster pieces to a bowl. Crack the knuckles and claws over the bowl to catch any juices. Remove the knuckle meat, cut into 3/4 inch pieces and add to the bowl. Remove the claw meat and keep it whole if possible. Set the claw meat aside.
Crush the peppercorns. In a small saucepan, melt one tablespoon of the butter over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced to 2 Tbsp. Cut the remaining 7 tablespoons butter into 3 pieces. Over the lowest possible heat whisk each piece of butter into sauce, adding the next piece when the previous one is incorporated. The butter should soften to form a creamy sauce but should not melt completely. Add the pepper and salt. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just barely cooked, but still slightly hard to the bite, about 3 minutes. Drain. Return the pasta to the sauce and stir about 1 minute or until the pasta finishes cooking. This allows the pasta and sauce to integrate. Add the lobster meat. Serve at once, garnished with the claws and chopped parsley. Serves Four.
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