Welcome to your Black Winer Newsletter for Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gotta love the grape!

Good morning folks,

I am now archiving newsletters on the site so that you can always see what was sent out in the past. Sorry for the test one that you received, but as I was coding in the new functionality, I forgot to turn off something in the script; actually, I just need to make a separate script for testing changes (shouldn't happen again). The new link will be on the site this afternoon and all newsletters from this one forward will be able to be accessed online.

Outside of that, I am looking for people who are local and really interested in some very good wines. I might have an opportunity for a private sampling of about 50 people for a number of wines from an importer/distributor associate of mine. Note that this is for folks that actually purchase wines on the regular, not people that just like to just get all of the free drinks that they can. I haven't decided how I want to run this, but am thinking that if they are providing the wine, then we can either chip in for the food, or actually do something like a potluck piece. It would be interesting, especially having some importers get exposed to cuisines which they might not have yet gotten introduced to. This event would take place in Northeast Philly.

We review more wines than the Inquirer!

I just realized today while reading today's Philadelphia Inquirer that we review more wines than them easily. I figure that in a given year I taste at least 500 different wines, and last year, I entered in 113 reviews. This year, I've written 75 reviews so far, but I am hoping to do more saturated tastings in which I lug a laptop or a notebook PC to tastings and just write my reviews on the spot. In a given year, I think that an average of 50 wine reviews gets published in the Inquirer.

Additionally, if we look at the magazines devoted to this region (outside of those specifically on food), they probably do no more than 48-60 reviews in a year.

Upcoming Wine Tastings

There should be some upcoming wine tasting starting again next month. Mantra->Bar Amalfi->Kasbar should be fully converted by July, but I will be talking to some other places as well. While I have been approached by a couple of others, I don't want to dilute the approach that I am taking with things. I will keep you posted further.

Well, that's it for this time around. Keep in touch folks.

Latest Articles

Decoding Pinot

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It seems that in the past five years, there has been sort of a consumer rage, or should I say, new American attitude towards both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, and I find it amusing every time I hear "I like a good Pinot" coming from someone's mouth.

The first thing I am wondering is what type of Pinot they are talking about. If the answer is red, then the next thing I am wondering is whether or not they are going to now talk about the releases coming out of Oregon and Washington state.

For the record, there are four types of Pinot grape: Pinot Noir (Nero), Pinot Gris (Grigio), Pinot Blanc (Bianco), and Pinot Meunier. While Pinot Noir is mainly associated with the Burgundy region of France, it's possible that it actually traces it's roots back to ancient Greece. This is considered the ancestor of them all, and the derivation Pinot comes from the combination of 'pine' and 'black' due to the darkness of the grapes and the fact that their bunches resemble a pine cone in the way that they grow.

Pinot Meunier is considered a chimera hybrid, with two sets of actual DNA in it, one of which is Pinot Noir. Considered it an X-grape (get it, a mutant link in the X-men).

Another child and mutation of Pinot Noir is the Pinot Gris (gray) and from that the Pinot Bianco (white). These both have DNA identical to Pinot Noir.

There are two other major Pinots, Pinot moure and Pinot teinturier, which I have yet to taste. Another newer variant is Pinot Gouges (Musigny). Wrotham Pinot is an English variant, and besides ripening earlier by a factor of two weeks, it has a nigher natural sugar content.

Because of Pinot Noir's ability to mutate quite easily, it has a large number of varieties , such as Gamay Beaujolais. South African Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and the Cinsaut grape, which is also known as Hermitage. It's crossings with many other species of grape have yielded products such as Chardonnay (remember this one, because it is important), Melon, and Gamay Noir.

It's impact on sparkling wines
All Champagne (sparkling wines produced in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle and within the French region of Champagne) can only be made of three grapes, and must have Chardonnay in it, with possibly one exception. Those three grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, which is essentially Pinot Noir and it's children. Blanc di Blancs are made primarily from the Chardonnay grape [and any combination of the other two], while Blanc di Noirs are made from Pinot Noir [with maybe a little Chardonnay or Pinot Meunier added]. Most of the sparkling wines that you will ever have a Chardonnay base and even Franciacorta (what would be considered the Italian version of Champagne, not to be confused with Asti or Prosecco) just uses Pinot Bianco instead of Pinot Meunier.

It's impact on the wine world in general
While Pinot Noir is grown over the world, its variants and children/crosses have been very prevalent worldwide, especially with the two grapes of Chardonnay and Airen, which are probably grown more than any other grape in the world. It is widely used in Sancerre and Alsace, as well as traditionally in Burgundy.

If we were to trace all of the wines made from Pinot Noir and its descendants and what not, we'd be simply amazed at how far it's reach encompasses.

The typical taste(s) of Pinot Noir can be that of strawberry, cherry and raspberry, but can also be reminiscent of green leafy vegetables. It usually is lighter as a red wine, but with a different taste altogether than the other â?otraditionalâ? reds.

Those other two [widely-known Pinots], Pinot Gris and Pinot Bianco:

Pinot Gris (Grigio): I tend to not place a lot of interest in Pinot Gris wines because most of them are akin to drinking a Coors Light; sure, it's a wine, but it's mostly like water. However, I have had a couple of very good ones from Oregon, Washington and New Zealand; the latter being a Kim Crawford release with over 13% alcohol and nice melon taste. The lighter, more delicate, ones are great for non-drinkers or just opening up the palate for the next wine, but the more robust ones can stand on their own.

Pinot Blanc (Bianco): This is usually dry, but in places such as Austria and Germany, they can also make it sweet. It can be used also in Vin Santo, a wonderful Italian wine which means the wine of angels. As mentioned earlier, it is also used in the production of Franciacorta.

That said, I think that we can all safely assume that we know very little about Pinot before reading this, and we also have a lot to learn about Pinot Noir and its many descendants after this. Of course, much of this will be filled with great tasting experiences. You can also grill someone the next time they say that they like Pinot.


On race, restaurants and wine choices

Monday, June 15, 2009

The main reason that I started theblackwiner.com was to get African Americans more exposed to wine, as it is no something that most of us are introduced to, if not acquainted with before adulthood. And even in the many of the cases that we are, it is usually in one of the most neglectful manners. Restating this, we are exposed to it on a level that is more proletarian which in turn deprives many of us of any significant groundwork of understanding the basics of the world of wine in general.

Now, several weeks ago, a past associate blurted out to me [while we were in a restaurant] that it seems that I only go to "white" restaurants, which was quite interesting based on the actual ignorance of the statement. There are really no "white" restaurants, as restaurants are defined by cuisine and not the customer base, but she was merely trying to say that she had only been out with me at restaurants that weren't Black-owned. I agree that there should be a progressive move by African Americans to support Black-owned businesses, but never at the expense of not getting what you want.

Looking at it on a more analytical level, I live in Philadelphia, PA. In this city, we currently have no Black-owned restaurants within the accepted boundaries of center city. We do have a couple of restaurants that fall outside of those boundaries by a neighborhood or so, but I seriously find their wine and beer lists lacking immensely. All of the other establishments are located within various neighborhoods in the city, and those neighborhoods might range from upscale to somewhat less than desirable. Of the restaurants, service can be dodgy at times, and you may or may not be comfortable with some of the clientele, but this can be said of many restaurants, regardless of who owns them. The cuisine might be Southern, Contemporary American, African, Caribbean, Creole, or a mélange of several. Some might have stellar food, while some might have average.

But I'm rarely in a restaurant for just the food alone, as I am not going to consume it just with soda, water or fruit juices. I like my wine, and I like me beer, and I have simply gone beyond the meager offerings that they give to anyone that hasn't actually expanded their palate. Oh no, you don't have to start pulling in bottles that cost significantly more than what you normally serve at a family cookout or barbecue, but you find some good items for around the same price, if not just a little more than what you're already purchasing. And if you are trying to expand the palates of what your customers are getting, then wouldn't it be wise to also extend/expand the range of what you are serving them? But the funny thing is that most restaurants aren't serving more than what the average home with a well-skilled cook can't do. My mother makes a mean southern style shrimp fried rice, and my aunt and uncle make a slamming Tarragon Chicken. Add this to anything that members of my family have prepared and they could take on most of these restaurants with ease (my mother can make a steak flavored better than anything that I have had at Capital Grille or Ruth Chris). Even my buddy Chris who owns Misconduct made sure to stock Aventinus Wheat Dopplebock beer when he opened; not everyone drinks it, but his years of bartending at CopaToo identified that there were people that came in religiously and only drank that and a couple other choices.

Of all the Italian restaurants that I frequent, they either have some very nice and affordable selections of wine, or let me bring my own selections. I even had the bartender at one turn me onto another drink based on the fact that I liked something similar, but that wasn't at smooth.

Of the last four experiences that I have had in Black-owned restaurants in Philadelphia, I have suffered disappointment. One place didn't have any of the good beers that were printed on the menu, the wine selection was very poor (not just the available varietals, but the quality of the wine as well), and the food wasn't good; how can you mess up a chicken sandwich! At one spot, while the food was slightly above average, the bartender didn't know to remove the foil from the top of the bottle of wine after taking out the cork. At another spot, all the wine choices were more suited to some corner bar found in any hood. At the last spot, not only were me and my dining companion unhappy with the choices, but I was served a Semillon/Chardonnay blend that they told me was Chardonnay. That was a crucial mistake on so many levels.

I stay out of most restaurants that have a crappy list of wine and beer choices, and there are a ton of them. Should my dining choices simply be limited to establishments that don't have what I am interested in, just so that I can be around other people that look like me, or patronize them simply because they are Black like me? When is the last time you went somewhere and was happy with bad selections and possibly crappy service? Should I feel happy in a club that plays music that I can't stand, or plays the music that I like but is filled with people that I am just not going to have a good time around?

Going out should be based on what you get out of something, and what is interesting to me is that you have a number of people that believe if you do something, you're not being "Black" enough (that's a very interesting statement saying it to me of all people).

To you readers, drinkers and diners, it's time that you make a stand for what you want, that is if you haven't already. If the place you like to eat doesn't serve anything quality, or on par with your palate, recommend some selections for them, or ask them if you can bring your own wine. I am sure that they're more interested with making what they could from serving you better wine, than losing out on the sale, both present and future. And if going to a restaurant that is not Black-owned is somewhat offensive to you, then that's your loss. You're going to miss out on a lot of experiences, culinary and otherwise; how's life inside that self-imposed box player?

Building a good home wine cache

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Most people that come over my house [and get to see my wine rack] know that I try to keep at least twenty bottles of wine in the house; this supply will dwindle depending upon my financial reserves, but I always try to keep some everyday drinkable white wines in the house. And the question most asked to me is "what should I initially start my wine rack off with?" And to this, here is my first attempt at answering it.

You have six basic categories to group your wine in: white; red; blush/rosé; fruit; dessert/fortified; and sparkling. Now let's take them on for size.

White wines:
For white wines, I recommend having a base of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The next thing to do would be to throw in a Chenin Blanc and maybe even a Viognier; the latter giving you a more exotic taste that might remind you of peaches and pears. For sweetness, you can look at Muscat/Moscato, Reisling and Gerwurtztraminer (Note that Ironstone Obsession is a semi-sparkling wine made from the Symphony grape; it has great taste, is inexpensive and can double as a dessert wine).

After that, I would next go with a good Pinot Gris/Grigio and possibly a Pinot Blanco/Bianco. The problem with these is that many of the latter have almost no real detectable flavor, however, Rex Hills Pinot Gris from Oregon State is great. Chaddsford Winery has a great Pinot Grigio as well.

Like anything else, there are a ton of white wine grapes out there, but before I would go to some of the more interesting grapes, I would try to get some white blends, like Evolution by Sokol Blosser (nine grapes), Seven Daughter white (seven grapes), or Buzz Cut by Shoofly (five grapes) or Adobe White by Clayhouse (four grapes). If you want something a little stronger, there is always Condundrum by Camus.

Red Wines:
The standard for red wines will always be Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot and Pinot Noir. However, there is also Malbec, and even better, Carmenere. Miguel Torres and Montgras both make very nice and very affordable Carmenere releases, and you'll probably like it more than Malbec. You can actually stock up using Rex Goliath for the four mentioned initially, as each bottle is less than $10 and most of them have ratings higher than 92 points.

If you want dry, you can get into Rioja, which is made from the Tempranillo grape, or try a Salice Salentino or a Primitivo. Codorníu S.A's Spanish Quarter red is a mix of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon and is wonderful at around $10 a bottle (they also make a white that's a mix of Albarino and and Chardonnay that is also divine).

If you're feeling adventurous, you can start to get into headier reds, or meritages (blends) like Alpha M by Montes (this one will run you, but it's totally decadent). Both Sokol Blosser and Seven Daughters make red mixes as well. You might also want to get deeper into some of the classical blends from Italy like Ripasso or Amarone. Cesari's Mara is a great Ripasso that runs about $17, but for Amarones, note that older is better and a good one will come in around $50.

If you're feeling like throwing people a curve, try picking up a Cabernet Franc or a Pinotage. Or, if you want to surprise them with a taste that doesn't match their typical expectations of the color, then go with some wines from Telavi, notably their Kindzmarauli and their Akhasheni. These are both reds that are sweet and made from the Saperavi grape.

Blush/Rosé wines:
Let's start off with this one: no white zinfandel! No white anything; Merlot, Grenache, etc. If it's a blush wine, and it starts with the word 'white,' leave it alone. Okay, okay, I'll make some exceptions, and that's for the wines produced by both ChaddsFord Winery and Penns Wood Winery, for the guys there are actually quality winemakers.

Right now, I have had some lovely blush wines made from Malbec, Syrah/Shiraz, Chambourcin, and even Tempranillo that have been divine.

Sparkling Wines:
Every woman loves champagne, or so they say, but sparkling wines are a great way to start a meal as well as to end one. These days, the availability of great and interesting sparkling wines ranges from the traditional champagne, to sparkling Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Shiraz (Hardy's makes a great one that is less than $10). There are two basic methods of making a wine bubbly; the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle and also the method of secondary fermentation in a stainless steel tank (Charmat).

You have your choice of wines such as Champagne, Franciacorta, Cava, Asti, and Prosecco as well as just your nondescript sparkling wines. Please avoid your Great Western, campy Freixenet (they actually make some great wines, but most of what you see on the shelves is all crap), and Cooks. A wine doesn't have to cost much to be good, but I would definitely not put these in your collection.

Fruit Wines:
Most people don't realize that there are actually some great fruit wines out there, and it is always interesting to present one to your guest(s). There are some that are straight forward and some that are made in a dessert wine style with higher alcoholic contents. Don't pass some of these by. I can't wait to go visit Cardinal Hollow Winery and try out all of their releases. Dessert/Fortified Wines: Everyone should have a nice bottle of Port around. But then again, they can up their rep with both a nice Sherry and/or a nice Madeira.

You could also go with any nice late harvest or ice wines, including Muscat, Gerwurtztraminer or Torrontes (there are a combination of good ones coming out of California, Canada, upstate New York and Pennsylvania, and Argentina).

That said, starting with the basics, get two bottles of each type of wine and stick with the most known varietals. Add on to that with some lesser knowns but still quite popular grapes, and then craft a couple obscure and unknowns to the common non-wine enthusiast. Some of your wines will need to be either chilled or decanted (allowed to breathe) before serving, but that's truly not the rule; do what feels good to you. Sometimes a red wine might be nice chilled, and a white or sparkling wine interesting warm.

Summarily, this should give you a nice overview of what to stock in your first wine rack, or how to go about making some of your choices.


Latest Reviews

A really berry sub $10 Cabernet

Brand NameMountain View Vintners
Wine Name2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
AVACentral Coast
CountryUnited States
Wine ClassRed
Wine TypeCabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol Percentage13.9%
Price$10 and Unders
Site Rating9 (on a scale of 1-10)

I love cabernet sauvignon and I equally hate it, the latter simply because it is not a wine that I can easily drink a bottle of, like I can a bottle of most white wines. Additionally, it's hard too find a good Cabernet with great berry flavors and low tannins for under $10. However, I have finally discovered one.

This wine attacks, or should I say makes loves to, your palate in an interesting build up with a nice smooth drop off. It has a nice level of black currant and blackberries in each mouthful with just the slightest hint of tannins that convey themselves as the lightest whiff of smoke buried in a velvety texture.

This is a great Cab for entertaining a large party or an intimate gathering of two.

Traminer, traminer, traminer... and a little riesling

Brand NameRosemount
Wine NameTraminer/Riesling 2008
AVASouth Eastern Australia
Quality/GradeDiamond Label
Wine ClassWhite
Wine TypeRiesling, Gewurztraminer
Alcohol Percentage10.5%
Price$10 and Unders
Site Rating9 (on a scale of 1-10)

Traminer is one of the most misunderstood grapes and that's because there are three types of it(white, yellow and red), but from DNA tests, they're indistinguishable. We are most familiar with gerwurtztraminer which is the most sweet and aromatic of them.

I was surprised that Rosemount would come up with this interestingly sweet, but not overpowering blend with a light alcoholic percentage. It's very delicate on the tongue, with a nice medium texture which is very silky. The aroma is very floral and the fruit would consist of pineapple, peach, pear and possibly apricot, but in a style that would be reminiscent of a dessert with burned fruit.

While this is not a dessert wine, I would say that this should be served mainly with desserts and maybe lighter seafood fare.

A slightly smoke infused Cab

Brand NameMar y Tierra
Wine Name2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
AVACurico Valley
Wine ClassRed
Wine TypeCabernet Sauvignon
Alcohol Percentage13%
Price$10 and Unders
Site Rating7 (on a scale of 1-10)

Another Mar y Tierra release, this was a different breed of cab, meaning it is a little more interesting than the traditional Cabs that I have had in the past. Understanding that this might not be 100% Cab, I am made to believe that there is a little Shiraz in this, as this wine has the lightest whiff of smoky charm in it. Rounding out the taste is a medium amount of black currant and very smooth tannins.

Great and very healthy

Brand NameFuedo di Santa Croce
Wine NameMegale 2008
AVAPuglia - Salento
Wine ClassRed
Wine TypeNegro Amaro
Alcohol Percentage14%
Price$10 - $20s
Site Rating9 (on a scale of 1-10)

Eugene Engel said that there was the a study done in 98 that revealed that the best (healthiest) grape of all European grape varieties was the Negro Amaro grape. I have had a couple of wines from this grape, and I love all of them.

The color is exquisite, but again it's not about the color. This wine has a fabulous taste that is so decadent as well as sophisticated, it does remind me of a nice 50yo Sophia Loren (oh, she was definitely fine then).

The flavor is concentrated, but not overbearing, filled with dark fruits (blackberry, plum, cherry) and a nice component of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg), becoming the perfect accompaniment for roast pork, boar, or pheasant. This is not a beef wine, because it demands a meal that has a depth of flavor in it (it might be very interesting with venison).

This wine would go great with a nice spicy meal, or great after dinner with a lovely dessert!.

Can you believe curry?

Brand NamePoggio Ai Santi
Wine NameLe Guardie
Wine ClassWhite
Wine TypeGewurztraminer
Alcohol Percentage13.5%
Price$10 - $20s
Site Rating9 (on a scale of 1-10)

So, I am up here in Terranova Wine's office, and Eugene Engel mentioned that he found the perfect wine to go with curry, and you know, I never even realized that sometimes when I am tasting nutmeg that that could also be attributed to light curry.

In a nutshell, deep dark purple, nutmeg/curry/coriander spices, and a deep dark plum imprint. Great taste, inexpensive and a definite good investment for all serious occasions.

This is a wine that you romance someone with, whether or not you actually feed them. I would pair this with nothing less than a good spiced sausage or a great chocolate cake (men, take notice of this for your sweetie!).


Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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