Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Franchise Wine Stores and Two Bottles a Month

I stopped by a couple new wine shops lately and discovered a new (to me) concept—the franchise wine shop.

Chain wine stores are not unfamiliar. Total Wine & More opened up a location here a couple years ago, and Green’s, a local chain, has been around for many years. But franchises? That’s a new one.

When I think about wine shops, I think about quirky places run by wine fanatics, stacked floor to ceiling with wine racks and case displays with little room to move. These shops bore no resemblance to such ventures.

The first store I visited was Wine Styles. It bills itself as the “new and easy way to shop for wines.”

If limiting customers’ selection to around 75 wines makes things easier, than I suppose it is. The main premise is that their wines are arranged by “style” of wine, rather than by type. You know, “smooth and fruity” and “big and bold.” That sort of thing.

The selection was actually interesting, with some wines I didn’t recognize and interesting choices. The prices were high, but I suppose with franchise fees and a limited selection, you have to make a few extra points on every bottle.

My favorite was the tagline for the wine club: “If you drink two bottles of wine a month, then our wine club is for you!”

I won’t discuss my monthly wine consumption…but let’s just say it’s a tad higher than two bottles. But maybe that’s how their customers can afford the prices.

The other store was Vino 100. It’s the same concept with better décor. They do offer six sample wines every day, which I think is a nice touch. They tout themselves as “100 great wines for $25 or less.” Once again, the prices are on the high side, even for a “boutique” wine shop.

In the spirit of full disclosure, both stores were staffed by friendly, knowledgeable gentlemen, and as previously stated, I am for anything that encourages people to learn more about wine. If places like this make for a better shopping experience for novice wine drinkers, then it’s a good thing.

As for me, I’d stack those places floor-to-ceiling.

I also think they are missing the boat on lower-priced wines. Under $10 wines are essential for anyone who isn’t wealthy, and who intends to drink wine on any sort of regular basis. I don’t know, like…more than two bottles a month.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

Monday, October 30, 2006

"D" is for Dolcetto

Let me begin by saying everything I know about Italian wines could be written on the head of a pin. In triplicate. Easily.

I know the major players and some of the supporting cast, but there are just too many regions and varietals to contend with. Not to mention that the vast majority of what’s available around here are very common wines.

Case in point—I had to do some looking to find a bottle of dolcetto, which really means I had to stray from my usual wine shop. The trip was well worth it.

Dolcetto is frequently described as “light.” Apparently, dolcetto is one of those Italian "lunch-wines" (love those Italians). So, in keeping with tradition, we sampled it over Sunday lunch, which was far from Italian fare—leftover black bean chicken chili.

The wine was Icardi “Rousori” Dolcetto D’Alba 2003. What a wonderful surprise.

Dolcetto is the type of grape. It is grown mainly in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy. From reading about what dolcetto is “supposed” to taste like, you would think it would be light and fruity—along the lines of Beaujolais Nouveau. Not this one.

There certainly was plenty of fruit—lovely aromas and flavors of blackberries, cherries and fresh grapes, but it was backed up with some nice spicy notes and lovely minerality. Dolcetto is supposed to be lower in acidity than barbera, but I thought it had good acidity—enough to keep it lively.

I also worried that my spicy chili would overwhelm it, but the fruit countered the heat nicely and there was enough body to stand up to the powerful flavors. Simply put, it was delightful.

I wouldn’t say it was light; I would say it was elegant and subtle. Maybe one of the reasons this wine was a bit more substantial than dolcetto is frequently billed as is that it’s a single-vineyard wine. "Rousori" is the vineyard.

I paid about $15 for it, which is a bit more than I like to spend. But I frequently find myself looking for more subtle wines (that aren’t wimpy) for lighter foods, and compared to a nice bottle of pinot noir or a good Rioja that price isn't bad.

If you haven’t read my previous posts, I’m making an alphabetical journey through the world of wine to highlight the amount of diversity out there and to expose myself to wines I’m not familiar with or haven’t visited in a long time.

And what a delicious journey it is.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ode to Muscadine Wine

I was startled and quite pleased to see a posting on Fermentation that mentions North Carolina. I lived in N.C. for many years and was following the rise of grape growing and wine production when things were very different.

Back before there was chardonnay, merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon (not to mention cab franc, vigionier, et al.) growing in the foothills of the Tarheel State, there was Duplin Winery and the Fussell family making muscadine wine.

I can almost hear the collective groan of wine snobs. In all the wines stores I've worked for, I have always sold Duplin wines, and without fail, the wine snobs would cast a disdainful gaze on the stack of sweet, local wine and snicker. However, the last retailer I worked for went through five to ten cases of Duplin wines a week depending on the time of year.

How many local wineries would like to have those numbers from just ONE wine store? Think about what that says for their statewide numbers.

People like muscadine wine. You may not like it, but you probably don’t like Livingston Cellars Red Rosé either and let me tell you—that stuff flies off the shelf.

As I’ve said before: there is no objective good or bad when it comes to wine. It’s all about what you like.

For the record, I don’t like muscadine wine. But I have a tremendous affection for Duplin and the wines they produce. I marvel at their determination and laugh at their critics. If, as Michael Rolland has implied, a wine’s sales are a measure of its worth, then Duplin wines are mighty worthwhile.

I don’t want to go on and on about this topic, because most wine people just don’t care about muscadine wines. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things.

Muscadine grape are native to the South and therefore don’t require the spraying and coddling that Vitis vinifera grapes require in this neck of the woods. That equals good for the environment.

Muscadine wines are, as I’ve already pointed out, very popular. If they get people with sweeter palates interested in wine, then they are good for the wine business as a whole.

Red muscadine grapes have as much as ten times the levels of resveratrol, which has been shown to have a variety of health benefits. Apparently, red muscadine wine is also being linked to immune system health.

In my humble opinion, the potential of muscadine grapes has been vastly underestimated. One can only imagine what the results would be if winemakers applied the same level of diligence to the production of muscadine wines as they apply to European-style wines. Maybe there is some undiscovered gem, like muscadine-based brandy.

Think I need my head examined? Well, check this out.

Firefly Vodka is a new muscadine-based vodka made from grapes grown on Wadmalaw Island, right here in South Carolina. It’s gotten some pretty strong reviews so far. (I’ll have a first-hand report on this, after an extensive interview with a bottle this weekend. Stay tuned.)

As more and more wineries pop up in the Southeast, it will be very interesting what can be done with the humble muscadine.

And to Duplin Winery and the fine folks there, I raise my glass to you. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

East Coast Wine

I hope all you East Coast winos have read Dan Berger’s piece on Appellation America about East Coast wineries and evaluating their wines . If not, I implore you to give it a read.

When most people think of “wine country,” their thoughts immediately go to California (domestically-speaking, of course). The more experienced wine drinker might add Washington and Oregon to form the Holy Trinity of wine-producing states.

For those who are really in the know, New York has become a full-fledged member of the “wine states” club (see Tom Wark’s Fermentation posting). But where does this leave North Carolina, Virginia or Maryland? Are their wines condemned to be merely a novelty?

Let’s hope not.

While Virginia is not California, do we really want it to be? I don’t want a world with just California wines anymore than I want a world filled with just French cuisine. Celebrating our different growing regions is an essential element of establishing the U.S. as a wine-producing country as opposed to a country with a couple of states that produce wine.

I would love to see this country covered with AVAs. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to identifying the areas where grapes will grow and the best varieties to plant there. One of the crucial aspects of this process is celebrating the unique attributes that each locale offers in terms of climate and geography, instead of expecting East Coast wineries to “rise” to the level of California or Washington wineries.

I’ve traveled to Virginia’s wine country twice, and I honestly can’t wait to get back. The area surrounding Charlottesville is home to some outstanding wineries, as well as great bed-and-breakfasts and beautiful scenery. Charlottesville itself is quite a cool place with a multitude of excellent restaurants and inviting watering holes.

If you’re looking for a wine vacation, but don’t want to pony up for the West Coast airfare or don’t want to fight the Disneyesque crowds in Napa, take a look at Virginia. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Are the wines just like the ones you’ll find in your local wine store?


That’s the point.

Some of my favorite VA wineries:

Horton Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

Afton Mountain Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards
(If you go, don't miss Brix Marketplace right around the corner for the ultimate picnic feast.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Say Grenache. You Say Garnacha.

But let's not call the whole thing off.

Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape used to make red wine. It’s used to make everything from lowly California jug wine to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I was pondering this while sipping and comparing two grenache-based wines over the weekend. The wines were Delas Frères Côtes du Ventoux 2004 and Artazuri Navarra 2004.

It wasn’t necessarily a competitive comparison. For starters, the Delas is a blend—80% grenache and the balance made up of syrah and carignan, and the Artazuri is 100% garnacha (as grenache is refered to in Spain). This was more of a curiosity tasting—comparing two wines from different places made predominately from the same grape.

It was also a which-one-of-these-will-be-a-regular-in-my-wine-rack tasting.

They are very different wines. The Delas was more complicated and nuanced, and the Artazuri much more fresh and fruit-forward. This makes sense since the Delas has some syrah and carignan, as well as the benefit of some barrel aging. The Artazuri is tank fermented.

Another difference is vine age; the fruit for the Artazuri is sourced from younger vineyards. I’m guessing the Delas comes from more established vineyards.

Côtes du Ventoux is always one of my favorite bargain-hunting areas. The wines frequently have much of the character of Côtes du Rhône with a little less of the price tag. The Delas was a perfect example: racy flavors of black cherry, sweet spice and a little tar on the finish.

When I think of grenache, I tend to think of France and the wines of the Southern Rhone. However, Spain actually has way more garnacha planted. It’s a pretty standard fixture in many of the “new” Spanish wines, which can be anything from light, fruity garnacha/temperanillo blends to the powerful cabernet sauvignon/garnacha blends of Priorat.

The Artazuri is an example of the former. It displayed lots of fresh cherry and raspberry flavors, but unfortunately none of the white pepper notes I expect with 100% garnacha. It’s still a nice, lighter red wine suitable for quaffing (Sunday afternoon wine).

Another place grenache is making its presence felt is in Australia. Historically, there has been a lot of grenache planted there. Some has been torn up in pursuit of more market-friendly varieties, but grenache is showing up is a variety of blends, including the pricier “GSM” (grenache, shiraz, mourvedre) blends coming out of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Even the invasive-as-kudzu brand, Yellowtail, has a shiraz/grenache blend.

While these were both very nice and priced about the same, ($10-ish) I’m still looking for another contender. Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Link and South Carolina Whine

Among my recent adds to the links bar is the Cork and Demon, a Texas-based wine blog. It's written out of Austin, and centers around the Texas wine industry and Austin wine life.

It reminds me how far South Carolina is lagging behind other states in developing a wine industry. While this doesn't surprise me, it does make me sad and somewhat embarassed of SC.

Try Googling Texas wine. See how much information regarding Texas wine is out there. Now try the same thing with our neighbor, North Carolina.

Now try it with South Carolina. Lame.

There are some wineries out there giving it a try and I applaud their efforts. It's not easy being a pioneer.

It stuns me that our lawmakers haven't realized the enormous potential that wineries hold for our economy. Again, this should really come as no surprise.

I dream of a day when every state has vineyards and wineries. I dream of a day when every decent-sized town has a local brewery.

Dream on. I live in South Carolina.

South Carolina Wineries

Carolina Vineyards

Irvin-House Vineyards

La Belle Amie Vineyard

Montmorenci Vineyards

Valetine Sagefield Vineyards

Michael Rolland, Big Ratings and Hummers

Eric Asimov’s interview with Michael Rolland set me to thinking. One of the more interesting things Rolland said was, “They [U.S. wine consumers] don’t want loser wines.”

He was obviously referring to wine with “loser ratings,” and he is correct.

We are a country obsessed with high-rating wines, big houses and conspicuous consumption in so many ways. A walk around most wine stores will illustrate the truth of his statement.

Of course, we all are influenced by “ratings” whether they are from WA or WS, or from the guy at the wine store or a friend. But when it’s all said and done, we like wine with big numbers and, therefore, we get the wine we demand.While some wineries surely make the wine they want to make with no concern for consumer taste, these are the minority.

Tom Wark, of Fermentation, has an interesting posting on over-done wines and high ratings. Check it out.

Most wineries make wine to sell wine, as Rolland points out. When consumer taste demands soft, fruit bomb wines, that’s what wineries produce. I’ll be the first to admit that I admire some of the effects of Rolland’s work. The full, plush, beguiling wines creates or inspires can be very seductive—like an evening at a brothel.

These wines are also more accessible to many wine drinkers and drink well when young, which are two good things in my opinion. And if soft, easy, seductive (promiscuous?) wines get more people drinking wine, why not?

I can remember a tasting I hosted when I was at my first wine store job. We opened several bottles of Rhone wines, one of which was a bottle of Château Beacastel Châteauneuf du Pape (don’t remember what year). The crowd was mostly casual wine drinkers, and they loved the Côtes du Rhône we had out.

But when they got to the CDP, almost everyone hated it. I was new to wine, but was completely fascinated by the earthy nose, the complex flavors and the sense of terrior of the Beaucastel.

It’s not that I had a better palate than my guests. I just was at a point in my wine drinking experience that I could appreciate what was in that glass.

If you had handed me the same glass ten years earlier, when I was drinking Beringer white zinfandel, I would have had an entirely different reaction. The more wine you drink, the more your palate evolves, and this leads you to seek out more challenging wines.

I’m glad that the New World wine style has made wines more accessible, easier to drink young and more palatable to new wine drinkers. There will always be wines that are funky, complex, in-need-of-bottle-aging and not-for-everyone. The only way people can find those wines is if they cut their teeth on the other stuff.

And, (hopefully) as people tire of over-done, fruit bomb wines, they will start to demand wines that are more subtle and understated. Maybe they'll even be embarrassed by some of the wines in their cellar.

Just like they’ll be embarrassed by the pictures of them driving a Hummer.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"C" is for Chenin Blanc

Talking about a white wine? So soon after gushing my enthusiasm about the start of red wine season?

Well, there were so many contenders for the "C" posting, I decided to go with what happened to be in my glass this past weekend.

One of my OCD behavioral tics is to really overthink wine and food pairings. I try not to write about pairing except in the loosest of terms, because it usually strikes me as a bit pretentious. And I'm not that great at it.

But that doesn't stop me from obsessing about it on my own time. Given my paltry wine selection at any given moment, I usually can't be as particular as I would like. There are, though, some things I can't compromise .

A favorite dish of mine is shrimp and pasta in a garlic-white wine sauce. Actually, calling it a sauce is a bit of over-promotion. It's just butter, olive oil, basil, garlic and white wine reduced a little and poured over pasta and shrimp. Simple, but tasty.

A dish likes this makes me wonder how in touch people who only drink red wine are with reality. This is food that should NEVER be consumed with red wine. Even in the depths of the brutal, bone-chilling South Carolina winter, I will NEVER drink red with this dish.

Okay...I'm feeling better now.

So, anyway, I popped open a bottle of 2003 Vinum Cellars CNW Cuvee. This was a clearance find at Green's and just $7.99. Perhaps the older vintage scared people off, but it's just as likely that this lovely chenin blanc just went unnoticed.

The "CNW" stands for Chard-No-Way! This is 100% chenin blanc and 100% good. Vinum champions less-than-popular varietals, like chenin blanc, cabernet franc (another contender for the "C" posting) and gewurztraminer. Their Web site is definitely worth a look.

Other than the fact it was delicious, the CNW impressed me that after several years in the bottle, it was still drinking wonderfully. I've always read that good chenin blanc ages gracefully and here was my proof.

It was a great match for my shrimp and pasta (although my favorite with this dish is a nice Mâcon or similar white Burgundy). It makes me glad I've got two more bottles.

It also makes me glad that I'm seeing more chenin blanc on the shelves at my favorite wine stores. One phenomenal value I've noticed is KWV Steen. Steen is what they call chenin blanc in South Africa. This is an awesome value and a fresh, clean, simple version of chenin. South Africa produces quite a bit of chenin blanc. They even have a cool Web site.

Undoubtedly, the Loire Valley is home to the finest chenin blancs in the world, but I’ve had a hard time finding good ones locally. And when I do find them, the price is a bit much for a poor, working stiff like myself.

Something I will spring for is a nice bottle of Crémant de Loire, which is the lovely and enticing sparkling wine of the Loire and made from, not surprisingly, mostly chenin blanc.

I’ve always got money for something bubbly.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Killer California Vinegar

Here’s a little something for the well-stocked kitchen.

It’s zinfandel vinegar from O Olive Company. I have to admit that I almost bought it just for the cool bottle and the stylish graphics. However, once I popped the top and tasted some, I was hooked.

I am a vinegar junkie. My dad once looked into my pantry and said, “Do you think you have enough vinegar?” Cider, red wine, white wine, sherry, balsamic, rice wine, white: one can never have too many to choose from. I use some more than others, but I’m always on the lookout for something new.

I like zinfandel. I like vinegar. Seems like a no-brainer.

This stuff surpassed all my expectations. It’s bright and tangy with wonderful red fruit flavors. I could go wild discussing possible uses, but before you do anything just pour some out on a plate with some tasty olive oil and dip your favorite bread product. Heavenly.

Using the Orleans methods, the vinegar is made in small batches and aged in oak barrels for two years and augmented with a touch of California cherries before aging six months more. It’s a real handcrafted product and the quality really shines through in the flavor.

I’m thinking it will make an awesome reduction that would compliment anything from duck to filet, but it’s damn good all by itself.

The same company makes an array of vinegars and, as the name indicates, olive oils. You can bet I’ll be sampling more of their products in coming months.

The zinfandel vinegar isn’t cheap at about $14 a bottle. But, that’s not bad for really high quality vinegar. Good balsamic will cost you a whole lot more.

I picked up my bottle at Earth Fare, but I’ve seen it in numerous stores around town.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wines from the Deep, Deep South

The weather has finally turned the corner and fall is here. Cooler temperatures mean my wine rack needs more red—lots more red. Not that I won’t still be enjoying white wines and rosé wines, but this is prime-time red wine season.

This means I’ll be scouring the shelves of local wine merchants looking for good deals on some interesting and tasty red wines. And one part of the world that will be getting lots of my attention will be the lower half of South America.

Some of my favorite go-to red wines come from Chile and Argentina. Both of these countries have a booming wine industry and are churning out everything from big-bottle value wines to some of the most interesting, sought-after wines in the world.

Of course, my selections fall somewhere in the middle.

A few of my favorites over the years have been Veramonte, Louis Felipe Edwards and Trapiche. The first two are Chilean and the last is Argentine.

Veramonte has a really solid line up of quality wines: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. The cabernet and the sauvignon blanc are my favorites, but that’s just my preference of varietals. Everything I have tasted from them has been pretty impressive. They also make a Bordeaux-style blend, called Primus, which is excellent.

Louis Felipe Edwards produces a full spectrum of wines, many of which I have not tasted. But, for the last five or six years, their estate-bottled cabernet sauvignon has been an outrageous value at around $7. I have an eye out for some of their other wines.

Trapiche is another perennial favorite. Their malbec has a permanent place in my everyday wine selection. Argentina has had tremendous success with malbec, which is one of the five grapes used in red Bordeaux. In Argentina, it shines all by itself.

Malbec, for anyone who is unacquainted, makes a wonderful detour for anyone who has been drinking merlot or shiraz/syrah. It produces wine that is full-bodied, but smooth and supple with rich flavors of black fruit. Yummy stuff.

These two countries have a number of things going for them: low cost of land, low cost of labor and supplies, plenty of old vines, and good-old climate and topography.

All this equals great bargains to had for wine drinkers. All the wines I mentioned (with the exception of Primus) are well under $10 a bottle, and many of these wineries produce wines in the $10 to $15 range that are truly outstanding.

Stay tuned for more about great wines from Chile and Argentina. As I drink them, you'll hear about them.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Think Local, Think Slow

I’ve added two links to the sidebar and I expect everyone to check them out and write a short essay on what you learned. How about two pages, double-spaced?

Just kidding, but if you aren’t familiar with these folks, you really should be.

Appellation America is dedicated to recognizing and promoting American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). These are the recognized grape growing areas of the United States. California, obviously, has the most AVAs, but a surprising number of other states have AVAs. It might surprise some of you that North Carolina has one and Virginia has seven.

Not surprisingly, South Carolina has zip.

Identifying these regions is very important for creating a real appreciation of U.S. wines and the unique potential of these growing areas. Wine is being produced in just about every state across the country. As more wineries open up, we need to create the same sort of appellation system that other countries have.

Local wineries are good for everyone, and everyone should support them. They bring tourists, spread awareness of local products and are a great asset to any community. Support your local wine!

Even if it’s muscadine wine.

Although to be fair—many, many Southern wineries are having great success with French-American hybrid and vinifera grapes. Check out Shelton Vineyards and Westbend Vineyards.

The other new link is to Slow Food USA. This group is fighting the global industrialization and homogenization of food. Their goal is to preserve local and regional diversity of foods and flavors.

In a more general sense, they are asking people to slow down and appreciate the subtle pleasures of dining. They promote everything from growing and cooking your own food to patronizing local businesses instead of national or international chains and encouraging local businesses to carry locally-produced goods.

Instead of tossing back a McDonald’s burger in the car, stop at your local burger joint—like Edna’s on River Drive. Instead giving your money to Walmart, support your local merchants—like Rosewood Market. Take some time to enjoy a meal with friends and/or family.

I know as well as anyone how hard this can be, but I try to get a little better all the time.

Both of these sites are dedicated to the local products, diversity and character that are rapidly disappearing around the globe. Reading what these people have to say inspires me to do better in my own life and consumption habits.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wine in the Third Dimension

I expected to write today about how I just can’t get into Bordeaux wines. That won’t be happening.

Last night, my girlfriend and I brought a bottle of 2000 Château Pibran Pauillac to Mr. Friendly’s for their BYOB night. I don’t have very much Bordeaux, but I did buy some of the 2000 vintage (what I could afford).

For the record, I don't think the Bordeaux that falls in my price category ($10-$15) is worth the money. I'd rather spend my money elsewhere. I will say that white Bordeaux is often a really great value.

If I could afford the more expensive wines, I might buy more. The Pibran probably ran me about $20.

We both ordered steaks, and the food was excellent. The wine was really spectacular. It reminded me why Bordeaux has remained one of the most venerated wine regions in the world.

The first thing that struck me about the Pibran was the complexity of the nose. There is something very unique about the aromas you get from Bordeaux wines: leather, smoke, tar, cedar and earth. These were the smells that wafted up from the glass.

It’s still a young wine and probably could use more time in the bottle, but I don’t mind drinking my wine young. It opened up quite a bit just during dinner.

It’s a powerful wine with a mix of (roughly) 65% cab and 35% merlot. The tannins were still very firm but softened enough to reveal black cherry, currant, licorice and some pepper notes.

It reminded me that a wine like this really expresses the character of its origin. For me, it also defines what it means for a wine to be three-dimensional. It had real substance and depth. It was truly a wine to contemplate—to look at, smell, swirl, smell again and sip.

As much as I enjoy wines that are simple and easy to like, I can’t deny the allure of deep, complicated wines that draw you into layers of smell and flavors. It’s what makes wine truly magical.

Maybe I should buy more Bordeaux.

As a side note, I would be truly remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful food and wine we had last weekend (during the weekend of mourning) at Gervais & Vine. If you live in or around Columbia and you have not been there—shame on you.

I’ll confess that it’s hard for me to be unbiased about this place, because it was one of the first great places I discovered here. But—I still say that what they offer is really unique and wonderful.

No other place has their combination of quirky wine selection, cool atmosphere and killer food. Their wines change frequently. You can get half glass, glass or a bottle of wine. The menu is mostly tapas, with some other items: pizzas, desserts, etc. The servers are usually great.

You get the picture. It’s a great place to sample different wines and have some tasty food, and they have a great patio.

We were even fortunate enough to drink some wine with Kristian, one of the owners, and—hopefully—a future contributor to this blog.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Blue light special

Attention K-Mart shoppers!

World Market at The Village at Sandhill has 2004 Flora Springs Sangiovese for $9 a bottle. This wine normally retails for $13-$16 a bottle.

I'm guessing that they couldn't move it at a higher price and now they're clearing it out. They may be doing the same thing at other stores. It's definitely worth a look.

If you don't live in the area, you might check out your local retailers. The same kind of mark-downs happen all over the country, particularly at big retailers.

What happens, is that they buy a bunch of something and it never catches on. Because they have more stock coming in, they need to move the "old" product. Ka-ching! Savings for us.

Sangiovese isn't the hottest wine on the market. Many casual wine drinkers don't even know what it is. You, being the savy wine person you are, know that sangiovese is the foundation grape of wines like Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and the famed "Super Tuscans." You also, no doubt, know that sangiovese does really well in Napa.

This is a great example of why I'm always harping about drinking off-beat wines—that is where you'll always get more bang for your buck.

A Tribute

This past Friday night, my girlfriend and I opened a bottle of Champagne and toasted the passing of a good friend.

We were drinking to the memory of my German shepherd, Sully. Sully passed away early Friday morning, and I dedicated the weekend to celebrating his life.

If you’re the type of person who can’t understand why someone would grieve for a dog, you can stop reading right now. But if you’ve ever loved a dog (or other pet) and made them a part of your family, I hope you’ll indulge me a little.

Sully was a big, furry mess of a dog. In his prime, he topped out at 110 pounds with a cinder block of a head. He was bigger-than-life in every respect: big in size, big in appetite and big on enthusiasm.

When he was younger, Sully was an impressive dog—agile, powerful, regal and, for some people, frightening. I never worried about my safety when Big Sully was around. He provided security for countless late-night wine drinking sessions. Even as an old man, he got plenty of respect.

He was also surly, incorrigible, bull-headed and had a host of other behavioral problems. Quite a few people got a warning nip when they didn’t show Sully the reverence he felt he deserved. He and I quarreled up to his final days, neither one of us willing to submit to the other’s dominance.

We spent more than a decade together. He saw me through marriage and divorce, the opening and closing of a business, and all the other highs and lows of my life. We grew up together, in many ways, as I was only in my early twenties when I brought him home as a puppy.

Like many big dogs, his health declined as he got older. Progressive Retinal Atrophy took his vision over the span of a couple years. His hips were giving out. Nagging health problems became more and more troublesome, and his once-large frame started to wither. Our walks became shorter (and slower, which he loved).

His mind was the next to go. He became increasingly disoriented and forgetful. The combination of vision loss and general confusion earned him the affectionate nickname, "Mr. Magoo."

He took all the physical changes in stride, and it never seemed to get him down. In his confused mind, everything was great. His great joys in life were food (especially crispy, grilled chicken skins), lying on the front porch and the endless stream of treats provided by my girlfriend.

His final days were sad (for us), but peaceful (for him). He never complained and his spirit never wavered. Even on his last night on the porch—when I had to carry him to his favorite spot—he held his head high and seemed as happy as ever.

In the early hours of the next morning, he slipped away. He died surrounded by the people and the dog (my other dog and his lifelong girlfriend) who loved him most. We should all be so lucky.

He’ll be greatly missed. There’s a big empty space on my porch and in my heart.