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Contents of this issue of
The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine

  • Corked Wine: Or Why the Wine World is Beginning to Hate Corks
  • What's New at the Wine Tastings Guide? - New Articles
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Corked Wine:
Or, Why the Wine World Is Beginning to Hate Corks

Darn! Another flawed bottle! I had been saving the bottle for over 10 years! I bought it when I was first getting into Burgundy and saved it for a special occasion. Well that occasion came and it wasn't that special after all. I open the bottle only to find a flawed wine which I ended up pouring down the drain! Why? Read on...

Good wine is a natural, living, breathing product of nature. Great! That's one of the things I love about it. But unfortunately that is also why it is susceptible to damage and flaws. In fact, there are several flaws that can plague a bottle of wine. Don't worry, they are all perfectly safe for your health, but they can destroy that wonderful liquid inside the bottle so that you can't appreciate it.

A "corked wine" is one of the most common flaws. No, it doesn't mean a wine with a cork closure. A "corked wine" refers to a flaw which is caused by contamination of the wine with a compound called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, called TCA for short. While the source of the TCA probably varies, it is generally thought to come from a fungus that can inhabit some corks. The TCA dissolved in the wine causes a musty, wet cardboard-like aroma which masks all the normal aromas and flavors of the wine. Once it has been pointed out to you a few times it is hard to miss it, although some people seem to be more sensitive to it than others.

While estimates vary, corked wines occur in as many as 2 - 10% of bottles. Despite attempts to alleviate the situation all wines closed with cork appear to be susceptible. Can you imagine, opening an expensive bottle of wine you cellared for years only to be greeted to a musty, dead wine that isn't even suitable to be cooked with?! You can learn more about TCA and recognizing it on our Corked Wine page.

So what is the solution? Unfortunately, for wines closed with cork there is none. You cannot save a wine once corked with TCA. Some people recommend certain tricks to decrease the TCA but I have yet to find one that leaves you with a good wine. So for years now there has been a movement in the wine world away from cork closures for wine bottles. With the high rate of contamination you may wonder why this hasn't happened sooner. Easy...history and expectation. Cork has been the preferred closure for wine for centuries. The process of pulling a cork is almost as much a part of the ceremony of wine enjoyment as any. There is a romance to it, a ritual. People hate the idea of their beautiful wine closed with anything other than cork.

However, over time, more and more people have come around to the idea that cork is destroying their wine and they want a solution. So you may have noticed that more any more wines are closed with alternative bottle closures. These include both synthetic corks and screw tops. These have gained rapidly in popularity with a large proportion of the wine world openly accepting them while some romantics hold onto cork. While you see the most alternative closures on inexpensive bottles of wine, their use has increased considerably even for very high end wines. Many people still associate these closures with cheap wine, but things are changing and no longer can you make that assumption.

So besides the change from history and the loss of the romance of cork, is there anything bad about alternative closures? Well the primary logical concern fighting against screw caps and other alternatives is that we do not know how wines will age which are closed this way. People debate what factors are needed for wine to age in a cellar properly. Some insist that a cork "breaths", albeit very slowly. They are worried that the lack of oxygen exchange with plastic or screw top closures will not allow a wine to develop in bottle normally. Whoever you believe, we simply don't have long term experience with these closures so we do not know if wines will age as we expected them to. For wines that are meant to be consumed young, this is a moot point. For the age-worthy wines, time will tell.

So should we embrace alternative closures? I am romantic about cork and the process of extracting them, but I must admit that something has to change. I don't ever want to have to pour a fine bottle of wine down the drain again! Alternative closures are most certainly the way of the future. So, while the metallic crack of a screw cap opening may not be as romantic or what you expect when opening a nice bottle of wine, the assurance that the wine within is safe and sound should more than make up for any drawbacks.

What's New at the Wine Tastings Guide

Wine Dinner Parties
One of the fun parts of enjoying wine is pairing it with great food. One of our favorite ways to do this is to pair the wines from a certain region with the classic, traditional cuisine from that region. These can be some of the best food and wine pairings you can find. We just posted this page which we will update occasionally with notes from themed wine dinner parties such as these. For example, we have just posted notes and photos from a great dinner where the theme was Southwestern French wine and food. From classics like Cassoulet with Bordeaux to Côte de Boeuf with little known wines like Madiran, Cahors and Irouleguy, all from the Southwest of France, this was a really fun wine dinner!

Wine Tasting Notes
If you can't get enough wine tasting notes from the Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine then we have even more posted on the website! We have a whole section devoted to tasting notes from wine tastings and wine dinners we have enjoyed. The focus here isn't necessarily on inexpensive wines but if you want learn more about wines from various regions it is a good place to start.

How to Make Vinegar
For those of you who find you have left over wine often or if you just have a crafty side and like to cook, making your own wine vinegar is a lot of fun and quite easy. We have a whole section devoted to different ways to produce wine vinegars from your left over wine. Start today and you'll have plenty to give for gifts for the next holiday season or plenty to age for years of your own home use.

The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Wine Ratings Explained:
Zero Stars A wine I don't particularly recommend.

One Star
Well made, simple and tasty wines that I recommend.

Two Stars
Excellent quality. Worth an extra effort to search out and enjoy.

Three Stars
Outstanding wine of the highest caliber.
Either a wine that is close to deserving a higher score or a wine that may not be showing that much but with the potential to move up in quality with further aging. A young wine that may be closed up or shows potential for significant improvement. Assuming it opens and improves with additional age, it may merit a higher rating.
??? Flawed bottles or wines that are difficult to assess for any number of reasons. Judgement reserved.

White Wines:

Savennières 2004
Drink Now
It is no secret that I adore Baumard's wines. From bone dry Savennières to sticky sweet Quarts de Chaumes, their wines are pure, pristine, complex, age-worthy and just simply great. It is hard to go wrong with them even from "off" vintages. This, their basic Savennières from 2004 is a great value. They do make other Savennières bottlings which are all very good.

Classic Sav Chenin Blanc aromas of sweet pear, cinnamon, apple tart and wool are all held together by a fine, delicately etched white stone minerality. The mouth is creamy, a bit waxy and with a vibrant , flinty minerality and a grapefruit pit finish. What I really love in these wines is the almost tactile sense of minerals, chalk and pit tannins. This is delicious but young. It will change and evolve beautifully for at least a couple decades. Two Stars. Importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, CA.

Botter Catarratto Chardonnay
Roccalanna Sicilia 2005
Drink Now
This Sicilian wine is made from 40% Chardonnay and 60% Catarratto, a grape with which I have little experience.

Interesting nose that is almost more Sauvignon Blanc in character with pineapple and bright white fruits not unlike stoney pears. Lively flavors that are light and with a chalky stoniness. Light and ethereal on the palate. Very pleasant light wine for drinking in the near term. One Star. Importer: Il Nettare Divino, LLC., North Hollywood, CA.

Cave de Lugny
Chardonnay 2006
Drink Now
The Mâcon is a region in the south of Burgundy which makes mostly whites from the Chardonnay grape. Because it is not in the Côte d'Or, the most cherished part of Burgundy, the prices are generally much more reasonable.

This is simply a great inexpensive food wine or apéritif. Fresh aromas of honeydew and citrus are simple and light and very inviting, like a fresh spring morning. Bright lively fruit flavors of peach, pears and citrus with good balancing acidity. Simple but alive and vibrant. Great value. One Star. Importer: Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, New York, NY.

Domaine de l'Aujardière
Éric Chevalier
Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France
Chardonnay 2006
Drink Now
This is a unique wine you can tell your friends about. It is grown in the appellation of Muscadet in the western Loire Valley of France. Typically Muscadet is made of a different grape, the Melon de Bourgogne, not Chardonnay. Therefore, this wine cannot legally call itself Muscadet.

This wine is one point of proof against all those who don't believe that terroir has a real impact on the character of a wine. This wine speaks much more of Muscadet than of Chardonnay! It has a Muscadet-like fragrance of honeydew melon and fresh sea air. Its flavors are crisp and lively, like honeydew juice spiked with lime, oyster shell and apple skins. Zesty and lip smacking. This is a real, vibrant wine that shows its origins on its sleeve. This would be great with raw oysters, sautéed squid or any other lighter seafood fare you can think to throw at it. One Star Plus. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market
Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Vin de Pays d'Oc
Zero Stars Drink Now
Monsieur Marcel is a gourmet market and restaurant at the Fairfax and 3rd Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. They bottle some wines for sale in their shop. Unless you are from LA you will not likely come across a bottle. But for those who do, here is a note to help you decide whether to buy or not.

This Sauvignon Blanc was very lackluster. Granted, I bought it to cook with a bit, but I hoped that it would offer some nice fresh Sauv Blanc fruit. I hoped for too much. This is very flat with only a hint of recognizable gooseberry fruit and very little else. The flavors were also flat, boring and a bit flabby for a young Sauvingnon Blanc. In short, not typical and also not very good for whatever it is. I haven't tried their other Monsieur Marcel-labeled wines but I wouldn't recommend them based on this example. Zero Stars. Importer: Truwines LLC, Mission HIlls, CA.

Palama Brontolo
Salento Bianco NV
??? Drink Now $6
Like the red version below, this white from Salento is super cheap, considering that it comes in a big 1 liter, screw-cap bottle. You aren't paying for looks, just a good simple food wine. Unfortunately, while I've been impressed by the red for the value, I've had hit or miss examples of the white.

This bottle had notes of oxidation with an almost Sherry-like nose and a flat oxidized palate. Not undrinkable but definitely a bit off. I've had previous bottles that were better than this with bright, fresh flavors that were refreshing. However, for this bottle and the apparent bottle variation, I have reservations recommending this and would rather reserve judgement for now. Importer: Vitis Imports, Santa Monica, CA.

JP & JF Quénard
Vin de Savoie
Chignin-Bergeron 2005
Drink Now
I reviewed the basic Chignin from this producer in Issue 001 of the Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine. They are from the Savoie region of France at the foothills of the Alps, near the Swiss boarder. While the Chignin is made from 100% Jacquèrre grapes, this Chignin-Bergeron is actually the local name for Roussanne, which is grown elsewhere in France, most notably in the Southern Rhône Valley.

This wine has an interesting nose reminiscent of spiced apple sauce and ripe peaches. Like most Roussanne, the mouth is rather rich, with an oily texture and apple, butterscotch and banana flavors that linger on the finish. Round and low in acid, this medium to full-bodied wine is typical for Roussanne and would make an excellent pairing for fish with cream sauces or white meat dishes. Because of the low acid, it is best served chilled to help balance the rich mouthfeel. One Star Plus. Importer: Charles Neal Selections, Richmond, CA.

Red Wines:

Simon Bize
"les Fournaux" 1er cru 2005
Drink 2011
This wine may not be cheap, but for a red burgundy from a fine producer it is about as close to cheap as you can get these days with the weak dollar. Unfortunately many upper level Burgundy has just gotten more and more expensive with each vintage and you practically need to be a millionaire to enjoy the better producer's premier and grand cru wines. To make it even worse, 2005 is an outstanding vintage which has received high praise elsewhere in the wine press. Therefore, prices for this fine vintage have soared even highter. Savigny, in the Côte de Beaune is a unique exception. For some reason this village has never skyrocketed in price but from a few select producers makes some outstanding red Burgs.

This is a premier cru vineyard called Fournaux. The aromas are an enticing toasty oak, bacon, coffee and black fruit. A bit much oak for my taste, but I hope that will integrate with time. The flavors are stoney and meaty with a dense, hard core of concentrated dark fruits. Super young but this has a solid core of fruit that I think will hold up to long aging. This is a bit rough around the edges but I think it can evolve into something very nice but needs some time in the cellar. Two Stars. Importer: Woodland Hills Wine Co., Woodland Hills, CA.

Ciù Ciù Bacchus
Rosso Piceno 2006
Drink Now
This is a rich, hearty red from Italy. It is a 50/50 blend of two grape varieties, Montepulciano and Sangiovese. This small producer makes traditionally made wines from completely organic vineyards!

The nose evokes smokey pepper-crusted pancetta. Dark and black fruits for sure. The flavors are big and dark as well with big meaty, black fruits, pepper and ripe velvety tannins. Nice on its own but this really screams for a rich dish to accompany it. One Star Plus. Importer: Vitis Imports, Inglewood, CA.

Primitivo di Manduria 2003
Drink Now
From Puglia in Italy, this wine is made from the grape Primitivo. Primitivo is the Italian name of the grape which when grown in California is known as Zinfandel.

Nice aromas of turned earth and black berries lead the way to brambly and earthy berry flavors with a nice herb kick in the end. Quite fruity and forward, I can see the similarity to California Zinfandel here but with a bit more spice and earth. One Star. Importer: Il Nettare Divino, LLC, North Hollywood, CA.

Cuvée Sélectionnée par Kermit Lynch
Côtes du Rhône 2006
Drink Now
This is one of two Côtes du Rhône that importer Kermit Lynch had bottled for his store in the 2006 vintage (see the next wine, the Cypress Cuvée).

Scents of woodsy garrigue (the Provençal underbrush and shrubs), rosemary, lavender, thyme and jammy raspberry fruit. The wine is a zesty, brambly mouthful of wild berries, earth and spice. Good depth but stays bright and lively and thus very food friendly. An excellent inexpensive southern French red. One Star. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Blended by Kermit Lynch
Côtes du Rhône
Cypress Cuvée
Drink Now
This is another of Kermit's wine selections which he had blended and bottled by a wine producer near Gigondas in the Southern Rhone valley. Because of the grove of Cypress trees in the area, he called it his Cypress Cuvée.

This has a much more reserved nose of grapey black fruits that really didn't open up much even after been open for over an hour. Flavors of dark, dense, spicy black fruits are quite young and closed up. This is darker and harder than the previous wine and therefore may need more time to come around. It is a nice wine nonetheless, just not as expressive as the previous wine. For now, I give that one the slight edge since it shows so much better now. One Star. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Martilde Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese 2001 Drink Now
Bonarda is a grape variety that does not get much attention in the US and the wine press, but I have grown to love it. It is grown a fair amount in the northernmost parts of Italy such as the Oltrepo Pavese, where this wine is from. I find the grape to be capable of great aromatic complexity, not unlike a Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo-based wine in some ways. By the way, this little family run winery produces all organic wines, like the Ciù Ciù wine reviewed above. Also, the labels all feature paintings by one of the wine makers.

A great nose of savory grilled meat, spicy fruit, earth and mushrooms. The character of the mouth is not unlike a Pinot or Nebbiolo-based wine with bright yet meaty fruit. Bright but at the same time has a dark structure with grippy tannins. This improved quite a bit with air, getting more lush and complex. The big tannins softened out nicely as well, boding well for short to medium-term aging. One Star Plus. Importer: Vitis Imports, Santa Monica, CA.

Palama Brontolo
Salento Rosso NV
Drink Now $6
This red from Salento is quite a bargain. It is a stripped down, base model but serves its purpose well. It comes in a big 1 liter bottle (making the $6 seem even cheaper) with a screw cap and ugly label. Don't expect it to impress at table, but if appearances are not important to you then read on.

Despite the ugly, screw-cap bottle this wine is for real. Meaty and fruity, this wine is ripe and alive like a young Beaujolais. Crunchy and chewy ripe fruit flavors are simple and fruity but so easy to drink. This is the kind of wine you can gulp if you want to. Great with a bit of a chill on a warm day to slug down with some pizza or barbeque. Simple, unassuming, real wine. It's also relatively low in alcohol so you can drink more of it! One Star. Importer: Vitis Imports, Santa Monica, CA.

"la Dominode" 1er cru 2005
Drink 2015
As mentioned above for the Bize Savigny, this is a red Burgundy village which is still relatively inexpensive compared to other Burgundies. Pavelot is one of the few producers at the top of the appellation, producing traditional, complex, age-worthy wines from several vineyards in the village. This is a premier cru vineyard that many consider Pavelot's best, but also requiring the most age to show its best.

This is showing very young today with a primary grapey dark fruit along with some herbal notes that remind me of lavender flowers and rosemary. Not aromas I typically associate with Savigny, but very pretty nonetheless. In terms of flavors, this bad boy is closed for business. It is big, hard, and quite tannic right now. I am a bit worried that this will always be fairly austere with big tannins but I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it will reward patience. Buy a couple and stick them away somewhere cool for at least a decade. If the tannins do integrate with time my score may seem conservative. Two Stars for now. Importer: Woodland Hills Wine Co., Woodland Hills, CA.

Vintner's Blend
Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Drink Now
Ravenswood has been making excellent wines in Sonoma since the 1970's. Their reputation was build on their single-vineyard Zinfandel which are still excellent, but the bulk of their business now is with the Vintner's Blend line of wines which can be found almost anywhere. They are best known for their inexpensive Zinfandel but they also make Cab, Merlot and Chardonnay on this label.

This Vintner's Blend Cab has a rich nose of toasty cassis, bing cherry and chocolate. Rich flavors follow with black fruits, spice and a quite tannic finish. This is simple but powerful and flavorful. To really balance its finishing tannins I'd recommend drinking it with some hearty fare. A good, basic everyday Cab. One Star.

Trader Moon Wine Co.
Old Moon Old Vine Zin
California 2006
Zero Stars Drink Now $5
My wife sometimes likes to buy wines solely based on the pretty label and to give the wine the benefit of the doubt. This wine was very inexpensive and can be found at Trader Joe's. I don't tend to choose my wines that way, but it's worth a shot.

This was quite ripe, forward and practically flabby with its stewed, over-ripe fruit. Sweet jammy spiced red fruits in the nose lead the way to very sweet berry flavors. What I can say about it is that it is smooth, with no hard edges. But it is one dimensional, lacks grip or vibrancy of any kind and is almost medicinally sweet. If you like your Zinfandel bubble-gummy and over-ripe, then you might like this. For me, it lacked interest. No Stars.

Dessert Wines:

Graham's Six Grapes
Reserve Porto
(375ml Bottle)
Drink Now
Graham's is one of the top producers of Port in Portugal. Their vintage ports are amongst the best. This is their basic vintage character Port you can find just about everywhere. It is a blend of young Ports without a vintage.

Stemmy cherry and cassis liquor aromas are spiced with cinnamon and milk chocolate. This is not a powerhouse port but has mild, sweet, tasty red fruits. Simple but smooth in texture and a balanced structure. Not a contemplative Port, but a simple tasty one which can accompany cheese or desserts well. One Star. Importer: Premium Port Wines Inc., San Francisco, CA.

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