Too Much Wine Too Little Time

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Napa trip planning

Tomorrow starts the month of May and that means only two months until we leave for Napa, the excitement is starting to build. Although, this year I am trying hard to go slow with the planning and keep the excitement level down just a bit so I don’t let my summer slip by with my thoughts all caught up in the trip. Trust me; it is hard as I am always excited when a Napa trip is on the horizon. We normally start picking out wineries brand new to us, and make appointments to visit, but as it stands now we have yet to make any new tasting appointments. We do however all agree on some return visits for this trip. Venge Vineyard is at the top of the list, along with some others. We had such a good time last year tasting some excellent wines and have fond memories of being the last customers to visit the old location. Now that Venge is open at their new location; the 12.6 acre Berlin Ranch in Calistoga we are excited to see it. Another return stop will be Grgich Hills Estate. If you remember, we visited there last year prior to another appointment and did not have much time to learn enough about the winery and the fabulous wines they make. The wines we tasted that day were all very good and I recall wondering why I had never tried Grgich wines prior to the visit. Grgich has a long Napa history including the famous Chardonnay that won the Paris tasting made by Mike Grgich himself as wine maker at Chateau Montelena. To be such a big part of the history of California wines is huge and we look forward to learning more about Mike and his wines, as well as their Biodynamic farming methods. Additional kudos to Grgich for their use of solar power at the winery, another environment friendly plus. Yes, we are looking forward to these two visits as well as many others you will learn about in the coming weeks. While we love to discover new wineries we have not yet visited, there are those we would never miss returning to.

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Villa Milagro Vineyards Wine and Cheese Tasting

Villa Milagro Vineyards is holding a Wine & Cheese Tasting at the Villa, 33 Warren Glen Road, Finesville, NJ. The tasting will be held on Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26 from noon to 5:00pm.
Enjoy locally handmade cheese made from goats raised organically at Flint Hill Farm and artisan cows milk cheeses. Taste delicious European style blended wines made from the wineries own organically grown grapes. A $5 fee includes the wine and cheese tasting, gift monogrammed wine glass and a wine/cheese pairing chart. For more information or directions visit the website or call 908-995-2072.

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Alba Vineyards Mothers Day Event

Mother’s Day Festival
Sunday May 10th 12:00 – 5:00PM
Enjoy food, wine tasting, music, crafters, children’s activities and more. An event the entire family will enjoy. The Voodudes will provide the music, a mix of jazz, rock and zydeco. Kids can enjoy face painting, sand art, pony rides and the moon bounce. Take a horse drawn ride through the vineyards or a hot air balloon ride (weather permitting). Admission and parking are free, wine tasting will be available all day for $5.00 per person along with an etched Alba glass you get to keep. Food will be available to purchase or bring your own picnic lunch. By law only Alba wines may be consumed on the property if you want to include wine in your picnic lunch.

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Entertaining an old Friend

We recently had a visit from a good friend of mine who many years back was my mentor and vice president at a major soft drink company we both worked at. Over the years we have kept in touch, at times there have been some gaps, yet we always managed to reconnect. We have both been through some major life changes, and no longer work in the industry. He has since moved several times and is currently living in the mid west. While still having relatives living here in New Jersey, he occasionally returns for visits, and we always try to fit in a visit or at a minimum a phone call. This trip was one of those special times we managed to visit in person. We both have a long standing love of wine going back to the soft drink days when our company purchased a rather well known Napa winery. We served their wines at all of our company events and at least for me that is where my love of wine began to blossom. Over the years my wine passion and knowledge have far surpassed those days, and sharing our new discoveries and favorite wines has become a big part of our current day relationship. Sure, there will always be the memories and great times we discuss and reminisce about, but creating new memories is just as fun. We sat by our outdoor fireplace on a great spring night and relived a lot of those old times. Fast forward to now and add in my son, my wife, the girlfriend and fiancée’ and new memories were created. I think back to the early days and compare them to my most recent visit and discovered how funny it is that it all revolves around good wine. Yes, friendships and memories are a huge part of it; however, the wine passion was always there and has continued to evolve. Also, my son who was a child in the early memories is now also a wine lover right along with his father and his father’s early mentor and that is great. Wine creates some of the best long lasting memories and I know in my heart it will be the center of many great memories to come.

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Building a wine cellar

Building a wine cellar is an exciting prospect and can be anything from a small rack in a damp cool corner of your cellar to a state of the art custom built cellar, but basically it should be what suits you best. Now as you know we have a 980 bottle self contained wine room, that was somewhat “prefab” meaning we purchased the whole room and just had to assemble it upon delivery. Well, we inspired our staff writer “beer guy on wine” to build his cellar. He will tell you all about it, step by step from the beginning, but we were invited to assist in the final phase, the racking set up. How exciting! Well, actually if I were to be honest, the men built the racks while us women discarded the packaging paper and crushed the cardboard boxes. Oh yeah, and we listened while the first rack had to be taken apart once and put back together….guess the men made a small error. Imagine that, it couldn’t be because men don’t completely read directions, could it? They said it was because they were so excited and jumped right into building. Not sure I buy that though as I rarely see men read the directions first, that usually comes once they run into a problem they can’t fix. So, after crushing 10 or so cardboard boxes, the women got a bored and decided to go wine shopping at the local Whole Foods. It is certainly a sign of the times when you get a free earth friendly wine bag for six bottles along with a 10% discount. Well our discount ended up being 20% as we purchased 12 bottles. Hey, in these tough ecomomic times you have to watch the dollars, and 20% off sure helps when you like good wine. With our earth friendly bags filled with 12 bottles of wine we headed off back to the house where the boys had run into a problem. Missing parts, don’t you just hate that? After searching every box and package we all agreed one box was missing so finishing the racks was not an option. Down to the cellar we went to sit and look at the racks that were completed and imagine what could have been had we finished. We did still toast the new cellar with a bottle of Frank Family Rouge Champagne and then a Robert Sinskey blend and then a Foreman Cabernet, all outstanding wines, maybe we were merely drowning our sorrows. Nah, we were still celebrating as the vision was there, just a few corner racks and it is now a complete wine cellar. Stay tuned for more specific details in forthcoming editions of Beer Guy on wine.

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How much to pay for wine

Many a wine drinker has pondered this question. Well, the real answer is, whatever you feel comfortable paying. Whether you want to admit or not, the amount of money you pay for a bottle of wine has a lot to do with your perceptions of how good it really was or will be. But, at the end of the day, does it really have anything at all to do with it. There are so many things that go into pricing a bottle of wine . . . I don’t profess to know any of it from an industry point of view. Although, I think I have figured some things out from experience.
Generally speaking, a bottle of wine that costs less then $5 is going to be in all likelihood, swill. Face it; in today’s economy does anyone really think it is possible to produce something that requires a natural metamorphosis to occur under a minimal amount of quality control and ship it to your local hooch dealer for less then $5 retail. Ounce for ounce, you can’t even produce beer at these prices, which is made from some of the cheapest and easiest to grow and harvest products. Forget about it, sorry Trader Joe and 2 Buck Chuck, Mad Dog 20/20, the list goes on. Leave that stuff to anyone who needs wine simply as a means to an end.
Once you pass $5, watch out, it’s all fair game. In the simple white wine category such as Sauvignon Blanc from Australia decent drinkable fun wine can be had for less then $10 a bottle. I wouldn’t go near red wine at this price point, but I won’t disqualify it, you might get lucky. Passing $10 a bottle there begins to be enough gross margins to produce wine with a modicum of care required to reveal complex tastes for real enjoyment. Go past $20, well, the conversation gets more interesting. At this point, let me introduce Cliff, our limo driver for a first time visit to Napa Valley several years ago. We piled into his town car and one of the first questions we asked him was “How much should we pay for wine?” Cliffs’ response was insightful and a rule I live by to this day that has never let me down. Paraphrasing Cliff:
Spend what you feel comfortable spending, but in general not more then $40 a bottle. A $5 bottle of wine will be crap. A $10 bottle of wine will be at least twice as good as a $5 bottle of wine and drinkable. A $20 bottle of wine will be very much better then a $10 bottle and wine priced at $20-$40 range will be regal and quite possibly give you experiences of a life time. Beyond $40, serious marketing/exclusivity claims kick in and put the buyer in a position of paying for the wine producers indulgences or special nuances of production technique. This may be worth it for some, but probably not a beer guy on wine.
All that said, obviously its up to ones personal budget. Do I spend more then $40 on a bottle of wine? Yes I do, and more often then I like to think about. Tip; try some wine produced by Vincent Arroyo. It sells at the $40 price point and for uniqueness; complexity and joy of drinking will stand up to any much “bigger” Napa Valley wine. But then again, you would have to spend more then $40 on a bottle to prove me wrong.

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Spring into Wine

Springtime is such an exciting time of year, the plants and trees come alive, the flowers bloom and the grass turns from winter brown to deep lush green. Well, at least in some parts of the country that experience winters as we do. Of course with that come the rains, while it is much needed rain, I tend to wish we could do without it. I keep reminding myself of that old saying, “April showers bring May flowers”. Spring is also alive with many holidays and occasions to celebrate. A fun time to select your wines and food for each occasion, a task any wine lover is sure to enjoy. There is Easter and Passover almost upon us, Mothers Day right around the corner as well as plenty of Communion, Confirmation and Graduation celebrations. Just to share a few thoughts here, when you have a large group of people such as a graduation party, you want to pick the best value for your dollar wines. Pick up a copy of Wine Spectator magazine and check out the best buy section. As mentioned on our “anything wine” page the April 30, 2009 edition of Wine Spectator magazine is dedicated to Stretching your wine dollar and delicious wines for $20 or less. You also want to remember to pick a variety of wines. Keep in mind not everyone has your taste in wine. If you like the big Cabernet, also provide a medium or light body such as a Pinot Noir, and the same holds true for white wine. I would suggest two whites, a lighter white such as a Sauvignon Blanc and a bolder white like the ever popular Chardonnay. While you should buy several bottles of each of the two red and white varietals you select, you may also want to have a bottle of sweeter wine like Riesling or white Zinfandel on hand. The weather on the day of your event may also influence your choice in wine. Let’s face it if the temperature is up there a big Cabernet is not the answer; a nice chilled Sauvignon Blanc would really hit the spot, so be prepared to pour more of the wines that are served chilled.

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Birthday Wine

As you know if you visit our site, I am a wine lover through and through. You also may recall that last year for my birthday I was given some really great wines by my wife. This year she also picked up some birthday wine for me, but left it in her car on a rather warm afternoon, almost cooking it. An episode that still makes me laugh. Well, as luck must have been on my side, I did get some other wine as gifts for my birthday. Some really good wines, I must say. My wine tasting partners aka brother in law and sister in law picked me up some pretty amazing labels. First there is the Chappellet 2006 Signature Cabernet; Chappellet’s flagship wine for several decades. This wine has double meaning, besides being an age worthy premier wine blended with small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the Chappellet winery was one that we visited on our Napa trip last year. A nice choice! The next wine they gave me was a 2000 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes! Another excellent choice as I am a big Cabernet guy. I like other wines, but Cab is always my first choice. The Chateau Montelena also had additional meaning as I had recently watched the Bottle Shock movie all about Chateau Montelena winning the great Paris tasting. I know it was their Chardonnay that won the tasting, but hey, my bottle of Cabernet is signed by winemaker Bo Barrett, a huge character in the movie that I really enjoyed and watched twice already. The last wine is of course another Cabernet Sauvignon, these people know me! This one is the Volker Eisele Family Estate 2005 Cabernet. This Cabernet is also blended with small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The winery was purchased in 1974, so the family is really one of the pioneers of the Napa Valley. This winery also has meaning as Volker Eisele was a huge part of the book I read about the early days of the valley. All that said, I have not tasted any of the wines yet, I am just excited about the meaning each one has and the thought process that went into selecting them for me. It proves once again that wine is so much more than just buying and drinking a bottle. Sharing wine has the potential to feed conversation, create memories, lighten a moment and build long lasting relationships. Once again special people giving me some very special wines have made my birthday a memorable one.

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2nd Quarter 2009

April 16-19 Pebble Beach Food and Wine
The second annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine presented by American Express Publishing will take place April 16-19. With 250 invite only wineries and 50 award winning chefs, it is the premier wine and food event of the year. To be held at the famous Pebble Beach Resort which sits along one of the most picturesque strips of coast line in the world. With detailed cooking demonstrations and some of the most sought after wines being poured, this event will be the ultimate wine and food experience of its kind. Tickets start at $165 and should be purchased in advance. For more information visit the web site at:

April 18-19 – April in Caneros
A Celebration and Wine Education: A unique opportunity to experience springtime in Carneros while tasting the best wines this region has to offer. A tour of this famous wine region offers visits to member wineries’ special events that include; food and wine pairings, live entertainment, barrel, reserve, and vertical tastings, as well as library wine tastings. Sounds like a fantastic time to sample some great wines at $40 per person. Events held April 18-19; call 800 909-4352 for reservations and details.

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The First good Wine

Having been a beer guy for so many years you probably wouldn’t expect such a person spending a significant amount of vacation time and money on trips to Paris, France. Paris, Texas maybe – but not Paris, France. Be it, as it may, due to a collision of work assignments and passing interest in art and architecture combined with an appreciation for almost anything old, I had come to grow very fond of Paris. On one of our vacation trips there, I decided to investigate The Hotel Ritz (pre-Diana fame) and one of its infamous haunts within, The Hemingway Bar. Infamous, because lore has it that upon the news of Paris’ liberation from Nazi rule, Ernest Hemingway bought the bar a round and toasted by firing his sidearm through the ceiling. Pssst, if you want to go to fun places on vacation, go to places where Hemingway liked to go. The place is now famous because it is home to the undisputed “Best Bartender in the world”, Collin Field. So, back to the wine. My wife and I decided on a pre-dinner drink at The Hemingway Bar. After successfully making it through the gauntlet that is the lobby of The Ritz(go there, you’ll know what I mean), then down a long hallway lined with jewelry shops only the Queen could appreciate, part the heavy drapes covering an unmarked doorway, you’ll find The Hemingway Bar. We saddle up to two of the total of only six seats the bar has. We were hosted to an unparalleled gracious hour or so by Collin. From perfectly prepared martinis to tiny appetizers prepared in seconds, Billy Holliday playing on an authentic 78rpm Victrolla, quiet conversation under subdued sepia lighting. Ouch, atmosphere so good you can cut it with a knife. We sadly needed to head out to our dinner when Collin stopped us and asked us if we would like to try some complimentary wine. He explained there was a couple at one of the few tables that had lost track of time and could no longer wait for their wine to decant. We both said “Is it red?” He didn’t reply, just pinched his eyebrows. Of course, our reply was – “we don’t care for red wine”. Pinching his eyebrows again, he proceeded to pour us a taste. And, without saying a word, we knew a whole new dimension of our life was about to open up. Collin kept pouring. I won’t pretend to describe the wine, as it was almost 10 years ago. What I do remember is it was a 1964 Château Ausone. We couldn’t resist asking Collin how much the couple had paid for the wine that we had drunk. 7,000 French Franc, about $700 U.S. dollars at the time. It remains the most richly priced bottle of wine we have ever consumed. We never made it to our dinner; we spent the rest of the evening chatting with Collin and various guests at the bar until the wee hours of the morning.