The Passing of a Barossa Legend

See on Scoop.itTerroir Radio

RT @DunstanDavid: Farewell Peter Lehmann (1930-2013) a great wine man and a great Australian

William Davis‘s insight:

The man had a great life.  He wil be missed by all that ever tasted a glass of Barossa juice!

See on

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Germany…A Wine Land of Extremes

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I love Riesling. I love German wines. My grasp, however, of the laws and vineyards of Germany suck. I am the first to admit it, and was reminded of it today during the TopSomm competition. Asked to pair a number of dishes with German wines with a GG (Grosses Gewachs) designation, I couldn’t state more than 3 to save my life (trust me, there are a crapload more than 3). We think of Germany as the home, the holy grail of Riesling, but this land is certainly more than its’ parts. And, as a wine dude, I get giddy like a schoolgirl when tasting these wines. Why can’t I speak intelligently about them?

I think it has to do with the sheer number of vineyards, along with the language. German wine law is easier to understand than in years past, but is still an exercise more suited for engineers and rocket scientists. I say in jest; you cannot escape the anal retentive strict personality of the German wine code, regardless of how much alcohol consumed. In addition, the lack of these wines on most restaurant programs make it difficult to gain access to them. And, quite frankly, I ain’t been there. I am reminded of certain guys in the business who can rattle these storied einzellagen (the German term for individual vineyard sites) off as second nature. These folk know where the umlauts go, the great producers in every wine growing region. Geisenheim gets them off. They have an intimacy that I can only hope to attain.

And Germany, with the advent of high-quality Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), the opportunities are endless. The cyclical nature of global warming has made the marginal climates of Germany more attractive to the palate for red wines, and richer, more expressive whites. Sylvaner, relegated to a novelty of sorts, is capable of world-class vino in the right hands. Chardonnay is on the move, with more vineyards dedicated to this variety, and early results are promising, if still a ways off from rivaling Burgundy…

If you are interested and want to learn more about German wines, check out germanwine,,,or drloosen.com

Thinking a trip to the Mosel may be in my future…


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‘I am Not Worthy!’-My Day at the TopSomm Regionals

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The past week has been insane. The first radio episode for Terroir Radio went off this Saturday, with a couple of hiccups, but all good in the hood. A big shout out to Chris Travers, winemaker at Mayacamas, for sharing his story to all willing to hear…

And then, the quick preparation for the TopSOMM regionals, held in sunny Chicago, where it is currently 28 degrees and freezing rain. Not that I am terribly concerned, because I have a glass of Chablis in front of me, calibrating my palate for the upcoming blind tasting portion of the competition. Just in case you aren’t familiar with the rundown, yo, this is how it goes…

TopSOMM is a sommelier competition held by the Guild of Sommeliers, to find the best somm in the United States. The selection process begins in January, where you take an online quiz (which was f*#%king wicked hard), and then the scores are tallied. If you make the cut, you are invited to one of four regional competitions (West, Central, South, East), and battle it out with the best talent in the country. The winners from those competitions will advance to the finals, held in San Francisco which, I suspect, will be as wet and cold as Chi-town. Can’t we do it in Hawaii or something?

That’s if I am considered worthy enough. Which is counterintuitive, given the role of a sommelier; we stress humility and grace in how we carry ourselves. You can, however, at any time, call bullshit. We are wine geeks, and the ham in all of us (salami, personally) likes to see where we are in the grand scale of things. Also, it is fantastic practice for the Master Sommelier exam coming up in May. But I say, there are great sommeliers, many of whom I consider friends, and this is a great way to catch up. It’s somewhat like a family reunion, only with wine and service instead of beer and dominoes. Not to mention the hot second cousin you can look at, but cannot touch…

I just finished round 1-theory. Good times. Wait, the Chablis is kicking in…let’s see how the blind tasting goes. Maybe I will get time to go down to Douglas Park, and take a pic of me in front of the Gallagher house from ‘Shameless’…

Yeah. I dig shows about dysfunctional families. Reminds me of my own…

Like I said…’I am not worthy…!’


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Henri Krug; A (short) Tribute to a Champagne Legend

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the greatest figures in the world of Champagne, Henri Krug, passed away last week. The man had lived a full and satisfying life. I put that in because, although family and friends are grieving, this man brought generations of wine drinkers to a new appreciation of exclusive, high end, top quality bubbly. So much so, that the most recognized of houses, Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot realized this decades ago, and took the estate under the wing of the LVMH conglomerate, but left the property much under its’ own control and destiny. Ironically, last weekend, I got to look at a Ernies’ wine list from 1968. Now closed, this venerable San Francisco restaurant had been featured in the 1955 Hitchcock movie, Vertigo, and was one of the greatest dining spots in California. I noted that it was a value, cheaper than Dom Perignon.

That is no longer the case. These wines are considered the most expensive and luxurious bubblies around. A great deal is due to Henri, who ran the house from 1977 until 2002. I wouldn’t be remiss in saying Clos de Mesnil (which he purchased), is the cru vineyard in the Cotes de Blancs, and defines Chardonnay as a sparkling wine. In fact, the growers of Champagne that are put into the Krug Grand Cuvee and other bottlings consider it a true honor.

I know that I am one of many across the world that are writing of his passing. I would say, given the breadth and depth, a fitting tribute.


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Corona-Light Beer (or, the Betelgeuse in the Constellation)…?

Ladies and Gents,

On February 14th, restauranteurs were focusing on the biggest night of the year. Valentine’s Day brings out the romantic in all of us, whether it be forced or real. Chocolates, dinner for two, maybe someone gets lucky at the end of it all.

The luckiest got theirs earlier that day. Constellation Brands, the largest (or second largest to E.J. Gallo, depending on who you ask, and what year it is), saw their shares in the NYSE jump 38%, the largest in 27 years, to $43.97 a share. Why? Because after a battle with Grupo Modelo and InBev Anheuser-Busch (the big daddy of beer companies), Constellation Brands procured the rights to U.S. distribution of Corona for 2.9 billion dollars. Read the full article below:”

Constellation Brands does a nice job with many of its wines, but is considered by many, along with Gallo, as the 800lb gorilla in the enology china shop. This tidbit of news, however, reminds us of how small the wine industry is compared to the sheer power and scope of the beer business. With brands like Svedka vodka, the diversification of beverages under the Constellation Brands umbrella is continuing to grow. This business model is not new; liquor companies have done it for years. Some have done the wines justice; others have failed miserably, at least from the position of increasing quality with the wineries in their care. It is interesting to see these acquisitions occur from the other side. Gallo has, in the past 3 years, created a spirits portfolio with brands that are on fire. Svedka less than 10 years ago was a blip on the vodka screen. Now, they are spoken in the same breath as Smirnoff.

I have long accepted the incestuous nature of this business, even though we look at the consumers of beer, wine, and spirits as decidedly unique and different from one another. With last weeks’ events, the bean counters have spoken.

Let’s hope that the wine star shines through…


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By the Glass, or by the Bottle? What gives?

Ladies and Gents,

Economy is coming back, people feel good about things…no. Fiscal Cliff looms, consumer fear, uncertainty, cost-cutting measures abound.

I am confused. Especially after reading the two articles from Wine Business referring to restaurant consumers opting for by the glass options instead of bottle options:
or the seemingly conflicting article ‘wine consumers trading up’:

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Are people drinking better, more expensive wines, or not?

I argue that they are doing both. If you look at many restaurant wine lists, the offerings of higher end options have risen significantly. No longer is there the ten dollar ceiling for a glass of wine. We now see 20, 30, even 40 dollars for wines and wineries that were previously reserved for, well, the reserve list. And the aggressive marketing plans that wineries are using for their high end products focus on getting the wine back into peoples’ mouths.

That means, a by the glass offering. A really good one at that. However, there are a few restaurants that are using the heavy discounts as a way to ‘feature’ price the wine as a bottle option instead of by the glass. Can’t change the system, but it certainly is changing the way the game is played…


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Fibbers in the Vineyards-The Armstrongs’ and Te’oo’s of Wine…

Ladies and Gents,

This week has seen its’ share of scandals. Oprah, Lance Armstrong, and Te’o are on the top of the Google Search lists, and rightly so. Lying about a dead girlfriend (the Te’o-ing craze is bloody hilarious), or a history of doping that make Bonds or MacGuire look like angels, deservedly needs to be talked about. It may not be major world news, but it begs the question…

Should athletes be held to a higher standard? For that matter, should personalities in the wine world be scrutinized equally?

I say yes, when it comes to furthering your career. For those of us in the wine industry, the allegations surrounding wine folk like Natalie MacLean, Jay Miller, and Pancho Campo are well documented. However, Jay Miller and Natalie MacLean have defended their position, much to the chagrin of their peers. Mr. Campo was forced to rescind his MW title. Consider it the asterisk after Barry Bonds’ HR record…

We are commending Lance for coming clean. His crimes against the cycling community, although horrible, can be forgiven.

Ms. MacLean, Mr. Miller, there may be a lesson learned…


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I swear I’m Legal! The Old Vine Debate…


What is ‘old vine’? According to many in the industry, most notably Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery, that age requirement should be 50 years. And he should know; Mr. Peterson is an authority on the heritage vines and grape varieties in California. Few have as much experience with ancient vineyards in the state.

I read an article recently that raises concerns about the future of these vineyards, which are being uprooted for reasons of urban sprawl or to replant with more desirable and profitable varieties. Please see the link at the bottom of this post. The article, ironically, is centered on Joels’ son, Morgan. He, like his father before him, loves the complexities and personality that these vines bring to wines. In short, making retro cool again. I have had the chance to taste some of his offerings, and these are truly great examples of terroir and what mature vineyards can deliver. Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Syrah, and Mourvedre were planted by immigrants coming to California generations ago, and they are as finicky as the cultures that nurtured them. I just hope that patience rewards you as it does some of these vineyards.

I am also reminded of the time spent at an iconic winery Imagein Napa Valley last year. Francis Ford Coppola had just purchased the rights of the name ‘Inglenook’ from the Wine Group. For years, Inglenook has been a cheap jug wine, a 3 liter bottle you had to reach down to the bottom shelf to grab. However, it was not the case 50 years ago. At that time, Inglenook was the most celebrated winery in the United States. When Robert Mondavi was managing sales at the family estate of Charles Krug in St. Helena, and his brother in charge of winemaking, this estate 10 miles south was king. And, as i walked through the vineyards early in the morning, i snapped pictures of these ‘old vine’ Cabernet Sauvignon rows. Gnarly, with trunks thick as my leg, they had stood the test of time, on rootstocks no longer used for fear of disease.

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The Holiday Musings of a Sommelier-What a Sommelier does…?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have had the pleasure of working with a few great eateries in the Denver area during the holiday season as a sommelier. I left the restaurant business full-time in 2004 to focus on selling wine and educating their buyers and staff. There are a few things I have noticed during service (the term we in the industry refer to when diners comes to eat), and wanted to share them with you..

1. There are a number of diners that have been to wine country more often than ‘beverage industry’ folk.
2. There are a number of diners that think Zinfandel is a blush wine exclusively.
3. There are a number of diners and service staff that think Burgundy is a grape variety, not a region.
4. There are a number of diners that want to be left alone when making a selection from the wine list.
5. Service staff are happy to see a dedicated, passionate, and knowledgeable sommelier on the floor.
6. Once you get talking to most folks about wine, they get interested about the subject, and end up wanting to learn more about it…

The Websters’ Definition of a Sommelier is ‘a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service; a wine steward’.

So, based on the above, it sounds like a menial position. And yes, much of what a sommelier does is menial. Moving cases, restocking bins, emptying boxes and clearing the cellar is ‘warehouse work’. All you would need is a forklift, and it could be a job in any industry. But the real joy and purpose comes from sharing the history, background, and region with the guest. How does it pair with your food, and why is it going to make your experience a better one?

I say more restaurants should dedicate another position to a viable beverage program that can, and rightfully does, create additional revenue flow. It raises the level of service, bringing diners back again and again. It’s just good business sense, when food costs continue to rise, and an effective way to make money is through beverage sales.

Just sayin’…

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside


The holidays. I just saw an advertisement for the upcoming Christmas cartoon specials, and am reminded of the days when we sat down and enjoyed Rudolph and Charlie Browns’ Christmas (gotta love the sick tree). Nowadays, it is busy with holiday business (the wine and spirits industry does 40% of their volume and sales in the last 75 days of the year), and working on restaurant floors, talking big wines for big appetites, comfort food for brisk weather. And then, the news from Connecticut.

This is a time for regaining innocence, for watching classics like ‘Miracle on 42nd Street’ or ‘A Christmas Story’; a time when all but the cynical of folks remember a lost youth that promised a bright and wonderful future. Unfortunately, this is a time of year when those battling their worst demons are unable to wrench free of them, deciding that life is not worth securing or possessing.

Wine, to me, is life. A result of the cycle of a grapevine, it brings hope, joy, and the promise of a future long after the season ends. Have a glass with family and friends, embrace the love that binds us, and never forget that, although it’s cold outside, inside, the forecast is warm and fuzzy.


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