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Monthly Wine Letter
1999-03 March 1999 Newsletter
March 1999 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 233 Rejected: 202 Approved: 31 Selected: 2
We've featured and enjoyed the wines from Paso Robles many times in the last several years. This time, we're getting a look (and taste) at a new project from a new winemaker. This may be the most exciting operation yet. Sangiovese is a spectacular grape and one that is finding a home in the Central Coast. I believe we'd be hard-pressed to find a better one than our Quercus, even at twice the price. The Paso Robles area has produced small lots other Italian varietals and if this is any indication of what's to come we can only say "molto buono."
If memory serves me, Paul Sr. first featured Verdillac as a Wine of the Month Selection around 1975. I think it sold for $1.99 and was an instant favorite. Things haven't changed too much since then. It's still a favorite and when you think of how other prices have changed in that time, our current Verdillac looks to be an even better bargain than it was then. As always, we look forward to your comments.
If we've learned anything in the past 27 years, it's been patience. We tasted this wine a year ago and were so excited, we bought all of it. And then we waited until it fit into a slot. And waited. Finally, a spot opened up and we are able to offer this truly remarkable selection. For starters, Quercus is the genus name of the oak tree. Different species of quercus provide bark for cork production and, of course, the barrels in which the best wines are aged. Michael Olsten is owner and winemaker. He started making wine at home 15 years ago. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in biology, he became assistant winemaker at Castoro in Paso Robles. He has been instrumental in the great wines from Castoro, many of which we have featured as selections over the years. This small venture is a new one from Michael and, based on this Sangiovese, one that will be quite rewarding. Sangiovese is one of the most exciting grapes grown in the world. It is the predominant grape in the great Chiantis from Italy and recently has shown tremendous promise in California (especially in the Central Coast), Argentina and South Africa. When properly grown and vinified, Sangiovese has exciting and imposing flavors similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but without Cabernet's often overbearing tannins and weight. Instead it offers engaging flavors of spice and forward fruits that are a delight with a broad spectrum of foods. Paso Robles is one of the most successful areas in California for growing this varietal. Like Tuscany, Paso Robles often has searingly hot days during the growing season which can't harm Sangiovese's tough skin, yet ripens the grapes to full maturity. It also boasts cooler nights so as not to diminish the grape's acid, thus keeping the resultant wine clean and fresh. Aging in properly selected "quercus" helps put the finishing touches to a terrific wine.
Sangiovese, 1997. Quercus
Lots of forward, ripe fruit reminiscent of blueberry, cassis and cranberry. Spicy, leathery and expansive with flecks of licorice and anise. A great foil with country fare like grilled sausages or the pasta dish on page 6.
Perfect now. Will continue to delight for another year or two. Serve cool.
We've probably featured Verdillac more often than any other wine. We may go five or six years, but eventually this lovely little gem comes back to us. Verdillac is in the world's most famous grape growing region, Bordeaux. It is responsible for both a red and white that are similar to its more famous neighbor, Graves, but without the impressive pricing structure. These are easy-drinking, almost country-style wines which give everyday pleasure as they have since first introduced in 1973 by world-renowned importer, Bercut-Vandervoort. Here is the classic white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It manifests the clean, vibrant flavors of the soil and the grapes from which it is made, just as it has since its introduction over a quarter century ago. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon have been a classic duo for over 100 years here. Sauvignon Blanc has an herbal; gooseberry and peach nectar component with stinging acidity. Semillon adds a soft and generous dollop of fig and pear fruit to balance the crispness of the Sauvignon Blanc. Nowhere else does this combination work so well. Bordeaux is the most famous wine-growing region in France if not the entire world. It is arguably the largest fine wine region on earth, nearly 10 times the size of Napa Valley, producing virtually no "bulk" styled inexpensive wines. Almost all the wine is bottled in cork-finished bottles. It also has one of the lowest yields of any region which further signifies its quality status. While there is diversity in the styles and types of wines made in Bordeaux, each sub-zone has a marked level of quality that is so high, that few argue with the contention that it is the biggest of the best. Nearly 80% of the wines that come from here are red. Little gems like our Verdillac, however, are definitely making headway into the minds and glasses of wine drinkers around the globe. Have this with a simple grilled snapper and you'll be a convert too.
Very dark and intense color with a purple edge and black core. Ripe vanilla and plum/spice scents signal the wallop to follow. Big, awesome flavors burst in your mouth. A heady mixture for heady foods like the Cabbage beef rolls on page 6.
Perfect now. Will hold for a year or two. Serve chilled.
"Paul, Do you really taste 200 or more wines a month? Sounds like a great job!"
RSK, Orange, CA
There is certainly a lot of agreement with that statement. The fact is (believe it or not) it's a lot of work. First of all, while quality is our first criteria, there are several others which also must be taken into consideration. Value and timing are two of the most important.
We do most of our tastings on Tuesdays. We have a steady stream of salespeople in here all day. While this regimen can get pretty tiring (especially after the 43rd tannic Cabernet in a row) it also allows us to compare wines within a short period of time instead of relying on memory. Actually, we take copious notes and then enter them into a specially designed computer with only one program on it just to handle this task. Tasting them all together is still the best way to evaluate them. By the way, we don't actually swallow, just taste and expectorate.
Now, let's say we find a terrific wine like last year's Ch. Potelle Zinfandel. We strike a deal and order it. Then, an hour later, we taste another big favorite from last year, the Eco Pinot Noir. We can't feature them both. We've already committed to one and if we don't buy the other one, we'll lose it because wines like that aren't on the marke for too long.
We negotiate. We'll bring it in a little sooner and hope our warehouse manager can find room for it. We may even pay a little more if we can secure it later on. This is the creative part. We hate to lose a wine because it just didn't come at the right time and, luckily, we haven't had that dilemma for quite some time.
We could, of course, cancel a selection we've already committed to, but that is a big mistake and one, I'm proud to say, we've never made. While there is always a certain adversarial relationship between buyer and seller, it's not like buying batteries where there are a lot of people selling them. In most cases, we can only buy a certain wine from one source. So we had better treat that source equitably or we may not have the opportunity to get those wines.
Of course, we expect to be treated fairly as well and in most cases, we both come out ahead. Does it still sound like a great job? No, I wouldn't trade it for the world, but there are some Tuesday nights when I'd prefer a beer with dinner instead of one more glass of wine.
Adventures in Food
Here are a couple of quick, easy and flavorful ideas to enhance our selections.
PASTA SHELLS STUFFED WITH CHEESES
15 ounces Ricotta cheese, part skim milk
1 cup Monterey jack cheese shredded
2 cups mozzarella cheese, part skim milk shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs beaten
10 ounces frozen spinach
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper
1/2 pound pasta shells jumbo
30 ounces Marinara sauce
1 dash ground nutmeg
Thaw the spinach, chop, and drain very well. Combine the ricotta, jack, Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Add the beaten eggs, spinach, salt and pepper. Add the dash of nutmeg . Set aside.
Cook pasta according to the package and drain well.
Fill the drained and cooled pasta shells with the cheese mixture. Place enough sauce in a pan to just cover bottom. Use a pan large enough to hold the filled shells in one layer. Pour remaining sauce evenly over shells; sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese over top of shells. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.
TARRAGON POACHED FISH
1 1/2 pounds fresh fish fillets
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup Verdillac
1/4 teaspoon salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Lemon wedges for garnish
Rinse fish and pat dry. In large heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat (use olive oil if desired). Add chopped onions and tarragon leaves. Cook until onions are limp; about 3 minutes.
Add broth and bring to a boil. Place fish in single layer in this mixture. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until just translucent. Do not over cook.
Approximate cooking time: if using fresh fillets about 3/4 inch thick, will take about 6 minutes, 1-1/2 inch thick will take about 12 minutes.
Carefully remove fish from pan, place on serving plate and keep warm. Turn heat to high and allow the juices in pan to cook until reduced to about one half. Pour juice over fish and immediately serve with lemon wedges, salt and pepper if desired. Each recipe serves 4.
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