Feb 2009 issue


Send a letter to the Editor

PAGES (6) February 2009


Service Tip

Detecting and disarming wet dogs

Tasting guests’ wine before serving can help avoid pouring corked bottles, but is frowned on by many patrons. Still, it’s our job to disarm those combustible cardboard culprits, also known as “wet dogs,” before they fully detonate on innocent palates. I use tableside decanting for more than separating out sediment or helping a hard wine open up; it’s also a secret weapon in detecting TCA bombs.

Here’s how it works: After the guest agrees to have the bottle decanted, trickle-pour the wine into a large, wide-neck vessel, and watch the guests go right back to their conversation. Discreetly conduct the sniff test by slightly lifting both the bottle and the decanter upward, positioning your certified nose beneath the emanating vapors. If anyone at the table observes or asks questions, you are merely checking for sediment. If you pick up positive, Welch-a-licious smells, everything is good, but if you suspect something dirty, then you know it’s time to disarm!

Dealing with a positive wet dog can be tricky if at least one guest in the party has already approved and is beginning to ingest the hazardous, tainted liquid. You can retaliate by dropping another identical bottle on the table and letting them choose their way out. Most guests earnestly appreciate the disarmament. For some, it can be a bit of a hard-knock revelation; one of my recent guests actually preferred his nuclear-TCA-loaded California Cabernet to the clean rendition. In this case, it didn’t take but one dirty bomb launched from the Old World to really blast him out of his chair.

Certified Sommelier and Wine Director
Avenues Bistro
Kansas City, Mo.



Spurred on by the results of a year-long Bilan Carbone study conducted by the Bordeaux Wine Trade Council (CIVB), the Bordeaux wine industry has set goals of reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions by 75% by 2050 and decreasing its carbon equivalent (C.E.) by 30,000 tons over the next five years. The study found that gas emissions generated by the Bordeaux wine industry totaled 200,000 tons of C.E. per year. The incoming items/equipment category was the largest contributor, producing 85,000 tons of C.E., followed by wine transport/freight and individual travel. Glass manufacturing and the production of wine bottles accounted for less than half the C.E. of incoming items, while the use of wood and cork contributed only 2% of the total.

Based on the findings, the industry is looking into emission-reduction strategies such as making bottles lighter, cutting back on the use of fertilizers and vine-treatment products, reducing the amount of energy consumed in winemaking, encouraging the use of recycled metals, and urging individuals to take trains instead of planes for short trips. Muriel Barthe, technical department director for the CIVB, told us that the plan would take effect on Feb. 5. “We aim to launch sustainable actions by proposing realistic and efficient ideas,” she said. “All the Bordeaux wine industry’s partners fully support this project. This enthusiasm gives us more chance to achieve the reduction objective. Mobilization is important, and winemakers are ready to change their behaviors.”


Any restaurant wine director knows it’s far too easy to lose control of inventory. Bottles are mislaid, maturity dates are missed, and way too much potential revenue ends up going down the drain. Fortunately, a host of high-tech management tools are now available to help organize the cellar.

The Wine Collector 300 wine management system (www.intelliscanner.com/products/wine) consists of an Intelliscanner barcode reader and a suite of proprietary software, packaged in a wooden wine crate. Once the barcode is scanned with the handheld device, the program provides biographical information, tasting notes, and a plethora of other data about specific wines in plain language.

Wines can be tasted and tracked, and a detailed “Tasted” report can be produced relatively easily. I was quickly able to import my old spreadsheets (in Microsoft Excel 2000), and I found that adding new tasting notes was a simple, intuitive process. I did have to learn to store each bottle’s information in the system immediately, thus preserving the data no matter what actually happened to the bottle of wine. The software automatically calculates optimal maturity periods, prints detailed reports, tracks locations with the built-in Virtual Cellar, links to sites such as eRobertParker.com for wine research, and lets the user add personal ratings. When a bottle has been consumed, another scan takes it off the inventory list. Uniquely barcoded Custom Asset Tags can be printed directly from the IntelliScanner, and Mac users can take photos of wine bottles with the included iSight camera and add them to the artwork fields for instant identification.

A companion program, IntelliScanner.net Web 2.0 Publishing software, makes it easy to put a collection online on a personalized home page, which is then available anywhere there’s access to a web browser. A tech-savvy wine director can even browse through inventory on the go with the included iPhone web application. All in all, this is a slick, user-friendly package that will be valuable to both the novice sommelier and the seasoned veteran. The complete, portable Wine Collector 300 system costs $279; for $179, you can get a cabled version that must be plugged into a computer’s USB port.
—Benjamin T. Weinberg


A court decision has given all wineries, regardless of size, the ability to ship directly to Massachusetts consumers. Two Massachusetts residents and Family Winemakers of California had challenged a law prohibiting wineries that produced more than 30,000 gallons a year from shipping directly to consumers if they also sold through a wholesaler. U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel wrote that the law “has a discriminatory effect on interstate commerce because, as a practical matter, it prevents the direct shipment of out-of-state wine to consumers but permits all wineries in Massachusetts to sell directly to consumers, retailers, and wholesalers,” since the state’s wineries all fell under the cap.

In late December, Zobel signed an order allowing any winery in the country to apply for a direct-shipping permit from Massachusetts. The attorney general’s office was given 30 days to file an appeal. “Consumers and wineries have waited a long two years for this day,” said Jim Gullett, Family Winemakers chair and owner of Vino Noceto in Plymouth, Calif. “This was a long, thorough, and expensive process, but we’re gratified the court acknowledges that post- Granholm discriminatory laws like production caps cannot pass legal muster.”


Todd English’s new restaurant, da Campo Osteria , is open in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Marius Zemache selects the wines to pair with the northern Italian cuisine. Another TV personality, Tom Colicchio, has opened Craft Atlanta and Craftbar in the Georgia capital, with Kevin Maxey as chef de cuisine. Jean-Georges Vongerichten has his eyes on Atlanta as well, opening his second city restaurant, Market , in the W Atlanta-Buckhead hotel; Ian Winslade is the chef. New Orleans is welcoming two new wine bars: Helix , with chef Lillie Johnson and a 35-selection by-the-glass list; and Clever , an addition to the wine shop Cork & Bottle, which features 37 wines by the glass and offers access to the shop’s 400-plus-bottle inventory for a corkage fee. Chef Daniel Boulud and Manjy and David Sidoo have opened two new restaurants in Vancouver, British Columbia: Lumière and DB Bistro Moderne . Nebraska native Jesse Becker, MS, formerly with Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo., has joined chef Paul Kulik at the new Boiler Room Restaurant in Omaha, Neb., featuring chalkboard menus and French vins de pays. In Philadelphia, Di Vino Wine Bar has opened with chef Michael Kirk serving French and Italian small plates and Filibergo Magnati overseeing a program of 60 wines by the glass and 350 bottles. Regional wines paired with high-end charcuterie and cheeses created by consulting chef Roberto Donna are now being served at Baci Restaurant and Wine Bar in Rockville, Md. The French-inflected Le Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte is opening in New York in May, but the Rockefeller Center’s signature restaurant, the Rainbow Grill , closed in January. Resolving a trademark lawsuit, New York’s Forge restaurant has been renamed as Marc Forgione . In Los Angeles, at the new Tydes , chef Pilar Sanchez uses local ingredients to create French-, Italian-, Spanish-, and Moroccan-inspired food, while Lauren Howard runs the wine program. Chef David Myers, partnering with executive chef Steve Samson, has opened his first Italian restaurant, Pizzeria Ortica , in Costa Mesa, Calif. After nine years in business, JoJo restaurant, owned by Mary Jo Thoresen, formerly of Chez Panisse, and her husband, Curt Clingman, has closed in Oakville, Calif. ART Restaurant has launched in the Four Seasons Hotel, Seattle, under executive chef Kerry Sears; wine director Antonio Flores concentrates on selections from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Certified sommeliers Toni Johnson and Nate Norfolk have founded a company called Professional Wine Consultants in Milwaukee. Inertia Beverage Group has appointed Paul Roberti as senior vice president and chief financial officer. Sonoma’s Gundlach Bundschu Winery has announced its new cellar team: winemaker Keith Emerson (also director of winemaking for Vineyard 29) and associate winemakers Anne Dempsey and Jessica Koga. Importer Dalla Terra has added Chianti Rufina’s Selvapiana to its portfolio.

Hot Picks


2007 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés, Salta $15
This pretty little wine is made from Argentina’s most widely planted white varietal, which is actually a native of Spain. The Torrontés grapes were grown at a warm latitude, but at a cool, 5,000-foot elevation. Delicate-but-persistent notes of gardenia, fruit cocktail, litchi, honeydew, lime, and green tea emerge on the nose. Flowers, fruit, and perfume surround you in this aromatic wine, reminiscent of a combination of Gewürztraminer and Muscat. It smells sweet, but it’s dry, light, and clean on the palate, without even a trace of oak. It would be great with dishes featuring aromatic herbs, such as ceviche or Thai-basil chicken. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .


2006 Meyer-Fonné Tokay Pinot Gris Hinterberg de Katzenthal, Alsace $30
The deep straw color of this wine prepares you for the intensity that the nose and palate deliver. Honey, peach, apricot, almond-paste, lime, and lemon-leaf aromas lead to a rich, viscous mouthfeel. The creamy palate continues through a long, balanced finish. This moderately sweet wine walks the line between table and dessert styles, but does it beautifully. It would be great with a middle course of seared foie gras, perhaps better than a sweeter wine like Sauternes. It would also be fantastic with a strong cheese accompanied by honeycomb. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, www.kermitlynch.com .


2006 Castillo del Baron Monastrell, Yecla $12
The Monastrell grape, widely grown in Spain, goes by the name Mourvèdre and Mataro in other parts of the world. Yecla is a Denominación de Orígen in the southeastern region of Murcia. This fresh, juicy number is loaded with plum, strawberry, boysenberry jam, smoked-pepper bacon, roses, and intense black and white ground pepper. It is dry, soft, and smooth—remarkably complex for the price, but made for drinking young. Try it with salt-and-pepper pork chops or chicken molé. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .


2005 Seven Hills Winery Syrah, Walla Walla, Washington $30
Although Syrah has been grown in Washington state for less than 30 years, a lot of folks up there have figured this grape out. Seven Hills is one of the most consistent producers of Syrah and Merlot in the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area of southeastern Washington, and this may be its best bottling yet. Chock full of blueberry, black cherry, prune, anise, bittersweet chocolate, and dark, charred wood, it’s full-bodied and loaded with fruit and spice, yet not over the top. Balanced, firm tannins lead to a long finish. Try it with five-spice-crusted pork loin or grilled lamb. www.sevenhillswinery.com .

Director of Wine Schools
Professional Culinary Institute
Silicon Valley, Calif./Orlando, Fla.


2007 Pilandro Lugana, Lombardy $14
The Lavelli family produces wines from estate-grown grapes on 40 acres of land in the heart of the Lugana Denominazione di Origine Controllata. This wine, produced from a variety of Trebbiano that was first planted centuries ago, is straw-colored at the center of the glass, transitioning to clear at the rim. Aromas of green melon, honey, peeled cucumber, and lemon follow through on the lush, medium-bodied palate. The calcareous clay soil adds minerality. Tipping the scales at 13% alcohol, the wine finishes with bright fruit and balanced acidity. Importer: Omniwines, www.omniwines.com .


1998 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo $57
Lemon peel, ripe red apple, and shortbread cookie emanate from the glass. This yellow-gold, medium-to-full-bodied wine is lean and mineral-rich on the palate, although the finish is a bit oaky. Winemaker Francesco Valentini’s father, Edoardo, died in 2006 at age 72, after developing a cult following for world-class wines from Abruzzo’s native Trebbiano and Montepulciano varietals. Under a cloud of secrecy, on an estate his family has farmed for centuries, Edoardo transformed humble grapes into world-class wines that celebrated the terroir of Abruzzo. Judging by the ’98, Francesco is carrying the torch quite comfortably. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, www.domaineselect.com .


Agavero Tequila Liqueur $29
This complex blend of añejo and reposado tequilas is sweetened with a cane-based syrup infused with damiana, an indigenous flower that grows in the Mexican agave fields. The original recipe was created by Lazaro Ga-llardo, a master tequilero who noticed the small flower sprouting next to his agave plants. At 32% alcohol, this barrel-aged liqueur, displaying aromas of graham crackers, celery, and orange zest, is great to sip after dinner over ice—or mix it with equal parts añejo tequila and a twist of orange. Importer: Crillon Importers, Ltd., www.crillonimporters.com .


Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal $48
Del Maguey’s mezcal-based liqueur is produced from agave espadin grown on steep slopes at an elevation of 8,000 feet in the village of San Luis Del Rio, two hours’ drive south of Oaxaca. It has a yeasty, smoky nose and a palate of lime zest, roasted agave, pear, and almond. The potent (40.3%) spirit is sweetened with Miel de Maguey, so that unlike the distinctive Agavero, it’s ideal for introducing people to this challenging spirit or for mixing into a Tommy’s Margarita: just add lime juice to taste. Importer: Del Maguey, Ltd., www.mezcal.com .

Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal


2006 Del Bondio Chardonnay Oakville, Napa Valley $12
Brothers Rich Poncia and Jim Del Bondio have been farming their Oakville vineyards 100% organically for at least 20 years, long before “carbon-free” entered the Scrabble dictionary and when “green” still meant Kermit the Frog. But their Del Bondio Chardonnay is more than that: first, a delicious, classic Napa Chardonnay, steeped in broad, honeyed, fleshy, toasty-oaked (100% French), tropical-fruit intensity; second, pleasingly tart, with a zesty edge—the last thing you’d expect from a Napa-grown Chardonnay—leading to a refreshingly dry, mineral-toned finish. www.delbondio.com .


2003 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten, Bergheim, Alsace $29
Biodynamics has been called kooky, “voodoo on the vine,” yet it seems to be more self-sustaining and productive than straight organic viticulture could be. Biodynamics is also capable of yielding wines like the Engelgarten, a field blend of mostly Riesling and Pinot Gris, expressing not so much its component grapes as a specific terroir—a wine so mineral that it literally tastes like it was run through a filter of rocks and gravel. Still, the nose is honeyed, suggesting ripe, juicy, white-stone fruits, and a steely, austere entry quickly gives way to viscous sensations of that honeyed fruit before finishing full and stony dry. Importer: VINTUS, www.vintuswines.com .


2006 Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $12
Soon after Henry and Holly Wendt took over this vineyard in the middle of Dry Creek Valley in 1981, they embarked on a regime of organic farming, leading to full-fledged Biodynamic certification in 2006. The owner since 2006, Pete Knight, has pledged to stay the course. The current version is a quintessential Sonoma-style Zinfandel, brimming with raspberry aromas and sweet, jammy highlights, positively bursting from a dense, sturdy, even-keeled body—neither heavy nor dried out with excess tannin—with a fresh, zesty, snappy varietal fruitiness. www.quivirawine.com .


2006 Maysara Pinot Noir Jamsheed, McMinnville, Willamette Valley $25
Oregon has come a long way since 1965, when the late David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards staked out his first Pinot plantings in the deep, red-clay soils of Dundee Hills. Five more sub-AVAs of the Willamette Valley have been added since then. Perhaps the most unique, McMinnville, is a good 20 miles southwest of the Dundee Hills, where slightly drier weather and brighter days are offset by cooler nights and significantly shallower soils. The biodynamically farmed Maysara Jamsheed displays this side of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: more aggressive, slightly steelier in acid, and more structured in tannin and glycerol than the pretty, fruit-driven Dundee wines of old. Yet this is still a cold-climate Oregonian, sharing the plump, juicy, wild-berry traits of the finest Willamette Valley Pinots. McMinnville’s meager soils translate to a more pronounced anise and clove-like spiciness on the nose. The palate tends toward peppermint, green leaf, and herbs, intertwined with muscular tannins and almost sweet, marionberry-jam-like flavors. www.maysara.com .

Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal