Could you tell the difference?

MSN has the story of Hawskmoor, a steakhouse in Manchester, England, where a diner was accidentally given – and not charged for – a bottle of 2001 Chateau le Pin Pomerol worth the equivalent of $5,772 (US). (He had ordered a bottle in the $300 range … but the restaurant was busy and the wines apparently are kept near each other.)

According to the story, “The restaurant eventually realized the mistake and took to social media on Thursday morning to congratulate the diner for his stroke of luck, while simultaneously reassuring the person responsible for the costly error.”

The tweet read:
“To the customer who accidentally got given a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, which is £4,500 on our menu, last night – hope you enjoyed your evening!”

“To the member of staff who accidentally gave it away, chin up! One-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway.”

Could you tell the difference?  So much of wine enjoyment is the expectation created by the image or reputation of the bottle you choose. Unfortunately, disappointment is the result of expectations unfulfilled when an unknown wine fails to meet these expectations. I hope that consumer enjoyed the expensive bottle more than the one ordered or perhaps couldn’t tell the difference. The mistake will not happen again.

A number of years ago a friend gave me a glass of wine and asked if I could tell what it was. After a couple on minutes analyzing the contents of the glass, and then swirling it in my mouth, I proclaimed “It’s a very good Merlot.” My friend was astonished that I could not tell it was 1982 Chateau Petrus. At the time it was $300 a  bottle and far more expensive today. My analysis was correct of course, and that’s what most wine people would say. Identifying it as one of the most expensive wines in the world is a skill I have rarely found. Good wine is good wine regardless of price. The key is enjoying the best wine you can afford.

Wine prices are determined more by rarity than quality. A $500 bottle of wine does not taste ten times better than a $50 bottle. Occasionally a wine producer will charge an exorbitant amount for a wine that lacks a pedigree. However that will not last long and I have seen many of these pretenders in the bargain bin within a couple of years. A $50 bottle of wine in retail probably costs between $10 and$20 to produce. A $1000 bottle does not cost that much more to produce. It’s simply the demand and reputation that justifies the price.

I have had the great opportunity to enjoy the most expensive wines in the world. In most cases they were business expenses or organized wine tastings such as those provided by the Wine Spectator magazine. Expensive wines are so much more enyoyable when you don’t have to justify the price. That being said, I have found an inordinate number of consumers who do not understand wine, but are willing to pay outrageous prices for wine because of its reputation.

Wine is a social beverage and its enjoyment is increased by participating in wine tastings, wine dinners and wine clubs. It won’t take you long to “tell the difference.”

2016 Burgundy

From my two previous posts on this vintage, you can guess what’s coming. Yes, 2016 was a great year in Burgundy as well as in Bordeaux and the Rhone. The entire region of Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) is referred to as the Cote d’Or. It is broken down into the Cote d’Nuit in the North and Cote d’Beaune in the south. The only red grape grown here is Pinot Noir and the only white grape is Chardonnay. The Wine Spectator described the growing season as hot and dry with a little rain in September. This made for optimal growing conditions.

Burgundy produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. Due to the effects of primogeniture in passing down vineyard land over generations, most vineyards are quite small and the resulting grapes produce limited, expensive wines. Wines such as Richebourg and Eschezoux can command over $1000 per bottle. For the rest of us, there are regional bottlings of Pinot Noir from various vineyards in Burgundy. These are referred to as Bourgogne (Bur-goyne). Here are two that I enjoyed.

Bourgogne   2016  Ropiteau    $19.00

Light in depth and color, this Pinot Noir nevertheless had a great charm. An initial strong sense of cherry and chocolate gave it a sort of candy-like taste. As time went on, it developed a good balance and complexity. For a light appearing wine, it had good body and a balance of tannins and acidity. Definitely has aging potential.


Bourgogne      2016     Domains Des Farrondes   $17.00

Light in color, as most Pinot Noirs are, it still maintained good balance and complexity. It showed nice fruit character of black  current and blackberry. As the meal progressed, it  became creamy and exhibited elegance. Another wine with good aging potential


2016 Bordeaux

Recently, the Wine Spectator extolled the virtues of the 2016 vintage. This gave me the opportunity to revisit wines I have not tried in a long time. My introduction to wine began with Bordeaux and I was enjoying these with friends, primarily top growths, for many years. My change to  enjoying California wines began with representing Robert Mondavi Winery and favorably comparing California Cabernet Sauvignon to Bordeaux. Also French wine began its price escalation and therefore became more difficult to afford.

This article described the 2016 vintage as the best since 2010. A hot, dry summer, with a little rain in September, made for an  optimal growing season. It differentiated between the left and right banks of the Gironde river which separates the Medoc region (left bank), from St. Emilion and Pomerol (right bank). The Medoc wines focus primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon, while St. Emilion and Pomerol are Merlot based. Both regions are required to grow both grapes as well as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The blend is up to the chateau and depends largely on the characteristics of the grapes, weather, and tasting style of the chateau. The article stated that the left bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines were slightly superior to the right bank Merlot based wines.

I was able to find two Bordeaux wines locally from the 2016 vintage. This is early for shipments, with the bulk of more expensive wines arriving over the next two years. However the first arrivals often give an indication of the quality of the vintage and provide an opportunity for the producer to make some money while the more prestigious wines age and are shipped later. Bordeaux are the most expensive wines in the world with some costing over $1000.00 per bottle. Fortunately there are many less expensive. These were around $12.00 each. The reasons for the price disparity are the scarcity and reputation of the chateau. In my experience, I have not found a thousand- dollar bottle to be any better than a hundred-dollar bottle.

Barrail Meyney 2016 was an unexpected pleasure. Created in the small town of Genessac near St. Emillon, it was composed of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. My initial impression was a rich, dark, brooding wine with the musty character “gout de terroir” (taste of the soil). I enjoyed it with rack of lamb and as the meal progressed the wine became much smoother and more balanced. It certainly has aging ability and will be even more enjoyable in a few years. For the price, it was a wonderful introduction to the vintage and the Bordeaux characteristics I remember.

Michel Lynch Bordeaux 2016  led me to an interesting discovery. This is a wine blended from a number of appellations in Bordeaux but also includes wines from Fronsac, Cotes de Castillon and Blaye. It is meant for the mass market which desires a currently drinkable wine with the features of Bordeaux. Blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, percentages were not available. It was created by Jean Michel Cazes, the longtime and honored proprietor of Chateau Lynch-Bages. It was named after Michel Lynch, the original proprietor of Ch. Lynch-Bages and mayor of Paulliac during the French Revolution. It was a delectable wine with good color, intensity and balance. Flavors of blackcurrant and Cassis were noted.

It looks like 2016 was indeed a good year for Bordeaux and I look forward to enjoying many more.


Catania’s Winery

A winery in Englewood Florida? Yes! I  have driven River Road. many times and have been intrigued with the small roadside sign for Catania’s Winery. Last week, my wife and I and some friends decided to stop by. The building is in a small strip mall in an industrial area. Not expecting much, I was pleasantly  surprised by the facility. Having spent far too much time in Napa and Sonoma tasting rooms, this was eerily familiar. Entry is through a gift shop with all sorts of wine accoutrements, as well as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and winemaking supplies. The space is small but well fitted out. After you pass the gift area, you enter what appears to be a real winemaking facility. There were several 500 gallon fermenting/storage tanks and other winemaking equipment. There were several tables with stools for guests, and the tasting begins.

John Catania is the winemaker and owner. He presents small glasses and pours an ounce or two of Sauvignon Blanc. A few customers don’t care for whites but that’s no bother. He then proceeds to a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend which he pours from one of the tanks. Both wines were pleasant and well structured.  Before he pours reds,  he offers tiny samples of olive oil followed by balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately there are no crackers or bread to cleanse the palate.

The reds that came next were Cabernet Sauvignon based with either Sangiovese or Amoroso as the blend. Both are substantial and full bodied with good mouth feel and finish. All wines are twenty-four dollars per bottle which seems pricey but that’s a personal opinion. My friend and I had never heard of Amoroso but John said it was the grape of Amarone (Italy).

John has been making wine for over forty years. Born in Italy, he made wine in Canada, then in Connecticut, and now in Florida. There are no vineyards nearby so his wines are sourced from grapes he ships in from California or Washington state. Grapes are then made into wine on the premises. In addition he sources fruit from Canada which he uses to add complexity to the wines.

John is a most interesting man, charming and informative. When we asked about the blend percentages, he declined saying it was not to divulge. Also, do not get him going on Florda regulators. That is another story.

The only downside here is the tasting fee of twelve dollars per person which he did not waive when we purchased wine. Although the tasting glasses were complimentary. Also he has only one label for red, so only the foil will dictate which blend it is. I had to call back to identify the wines.

In addition, John sells homemade sausages, winemaking equipment, teaches winemaking classes and caters events.

Catania’s Winery, LLC  524 Paul Morris Dr. Ste. B, Englewood, FL 34223  941 475 7553

Staff Wine Training is Essential

Yesterday I held a wine training session for the staff of a local steakhouse.The owner has been working with me to update his wine offerings and train his staff. This initial meeting was to assess and improve their wine knowledge and serving techniques. It quickly became evident that there was a great disparity in knowledge. The manager knew a great deal and was eager to lean more. Others were in various stages of understanding with one admitting he was a neophyte. Falling back on my educational training, I tried to make it interesting and informative to all. Their wine list has about twenty-five selections, so I focused on the most obvious choices, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for whites, and a Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds. I have found over time that most servers will only concentrate on four or five wines to suggest no matter how many selections the wine list has.

The main concern here was to show the differences in style and intensity of the wines and have them use appropriate terms to describe their characteristics. While the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was acidic, I demonstrated how that acidity nearly disappeared with cheese samples. The concept is that most wines are meant to complement food. The trick is to get the best match. Selling terms were discussed such as crisp for acidic, and full bodied for tannic. We reviewed the menu items from fish and chicken to pork and steak. Each server now had a better understanding of wine and food matches and could now make appropriate suggestions.

Table service was another concern. Wine understanding and matching suggestions need to be put into practice at the table. Basic procedures were revived such as placing the wine list on the table, presenting the wine ordered to the buyer, properly opening the bottle, and pouring for the guests. Most servers were familiar with this practice, but now had a greater uniformity of style in wine service.

It’s difficult to create a staff of superior wine servers, but the understanding that appropriate service adds significantly to their tips is a grest motivator. The goal is to have the server and the customer benefit from the interaction. By the way, the restaurant has increased its wine sales and profits since intiating the new wine list offerings and hopefully this training will carry wine sales to higher level.

The presentation can be seen in the traing section of this website.

Wine Storage

A new wine storage facility opened in Sarasota and I decided to check it out. I met with the owner, of Cellar Fifty-Five, Brett Laurvick, and had a tour. This is a fabulous facility. It is only three months old and everything is brand new. The lockers vary in size from 3’x2’dx2.5’h  to 7’x9’dx8’h. Brett said that the larger ones were the most popular. They are symmetrically arranged  and the entire area is pristine. Some unit owners create racks inside and others simply stack cases. The entire area is climate controlled at 55 degrees (hence the name) and 60% -70% humidity. Membership has two levels, Basic and Premium, and monthly costs will vary accordingly. Entry level membership is reasonable at $35 per month. Access to the lockers is 10 AM to 5 PM weekdays, and 10 AM  to 4 PM Saturday. All customers are allowed 24 hour access. Another feature is the ability to accept wine shipments directly. They can be held or placed in the locker. Also a wine inventory is available to premium members as well.

Brett was involved in sports representation and became hooked on wine when a player served him a Joseph Phelps Insignia at dinner. A native of Washington State, he then made it his mission to visit as  many wine producers as possible. After leaving the sports business,  he then decided to focus on wine storage. According to him, this is the only  wine storage facility in Sarasota County dedicated to the broad spectrum of wine collectors. Another facility in Sarasota caters to large collections and is more expensive.

In addition to wine storage, Cellar Fifty Five has an intimate lounge at the entry to the facility. Clients can use it for private tastings at a reduced rate.

With the constant heat and the vagaries of weather in Florida, this presents a nice option to  the serious wine collector.

8229 Vicela Dr. Sarasota, FL 34240     Directly off Fruitville road, it is easily accessible from Lakewood Ranch as well.


Having spent most of my life in the wine business, I thought I was immune from novice mistakes. However, the other day I thought I did not have enough chilled white wine for dinner so I decided to put a sauvignon blanc in the freezer for a quick chill. Needless to say I forgot about it. The next day I realized my mistake and now it give me the chance to describe what happens. I most cases, freezing wine will not incur any problems. The wine will reconstitute itself after thawing and the taste will most likely be unaffected. However the danger lies in the wine  expanding upon freezing causing a pushed out cork or a split bottle if the glass is week. Fortunately there was enough eulage ( space between the wine and the cap) to absorb the expansion.

The other characteristic of frozen wine is the appearance of tartrate crystals. Many times people would tell me “there’s glass in my wine”. Actually it’s tartaric acid (cream of tartar) that has precipitated out. Totally harmless. Most wines undergo a cold fermentation to pecipitate them out before bottling but freezing carries the process to another level.


Tartaric acid crystals


Sometimes it takes a while to come to an obvious conclusion. After I began writing this blog and paying more attention to the analytic evaluation of wines, instead of the hedonistic (which wine was consumed more), I began to notice the initial harshness of big reds. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah  seemed to show a  bite on the tongue. Perhaps the alcohol was dominating the fruit due to the temperature. In order to alleviate that, I placed some in the refrigerator for thirty minutes or so. Voila. Each wine had a much more attractive and smoother taste. For comparison, I had two glasses, one with room temperature wine and the other chilled. It was easy to see the difference. Most red wines show best at room temperatures which in Europe could be 68 degrees and in most of North America 70 to 72 degrees. However, here in Florida, my house averages 76 degrees.

Visiting Publix always seems like an arctic excursion. However, yesterday  I purchased a bottle of Santa Christina (lovely Tuscan wine) and opened it upon arriving home. It was the perfect temperature. Easy way to get your wine chilled.

2016 Rhone Wines

The most recent issue of The Wine Spectator featured a  review of the 2016 vintage. Rhone wines are some of the most affordable French wines and generally portray a heartiness and fullness of flavor. The Rhone Valley is in the Southeast part of France abutting the Rhone River. Numerous grapes are grown, both white and red, but Grenache and Syrah dominate.

The Wine Spectator gave the vintage a 99 rating, the best in ten years. To verify this, I decided to try a few from 2016. I found three under $15 at ABC Fine Wine. The first is a 2016 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve. Perrin is the most respected producer in the Rhone Valley and is  noted for it’s higher end wine, Chateau Beaucastel. The Famille Perrin started somewhat dry and tannic, but soon developed a roundness and structure that was very enjoyable. It had good body and pleasant finish. Great wine for the price. My wife and I enjoyed it with pork tenderloin. Great match.

Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone from M. Chapoutier. Along with Perrin, Chapoutier is one of the top producers in the Rhone Valley. This wine was very deep at onset and quite tannic and astringent. At 14% alcohol, it was a big wine. As dinner progressed, it became more enjoyable with good complexity and body. It was a bit too strong for my wife.



Les Carteresses Cotes-du-Rhone  -The previous two wines did not list their grape content but this states clearly it is  made from 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Carignan, and 10% Mouvedre.  Carignan is the most popular red blending grape in France and allows the winemaker to keep the price low. This was not produced by a dominant winery but more likely a custom bottler. Since it was imported by Grantham Distributing (ABC) this is probably their arrangement.

This was not as rich as the previous wines, but from the outset was very smooth and flavorful. Very approachable and balanced with medium body. My wife thought it light but I believe it was a good representative of Cotes-du-Rhone.

Enjoyed it with lamb burger, stuffed mushrooms, winter squash and zucchini.

Les Carteresses