The Story of the Wine Guide

In the 1980s, as the popularity of vintage wines soared in the USA, I tracked the best wines, and the best values. Focusing on red wines, but also enjoying great white wines, I began carrying a list of interesting, sought-after wines when I traveled for work. I found incredible values all over the USA, and in many other countries I visited.

The Wine Guide Cover

I subscribed to popular publications, including trade journals and food mags that promoted wines. Soon, I had too many wines on my list, so I needed a more efficient solution.

We entered my list  into a database. The personal computer movement was just starting to grow in the mid-1980s, but as an experienced database manager, I found a PC relational database tool called R:Base.

We used R:Base for our wine database; by 1985 I was carrying my printed database booklet into stores, for quick reference for the wines I encountered. The booklet was so handy, we gave copies of it to customers and friends. It was a hit, and everyone wanted a copy!  Continue reading “The Story of the Wine Guide”

Maryhill Winery Follows up in 2015

It would be difficult to top the San Francisco International Wine Competition ‘2014 Winery Of The Year’ award. Maryhill Winery followed up this year in fine fashion. First, the Wine Press Northwest Magazine named Maryhill as 2015’s Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. See the press release, and a good background on Maryhill Winery at the Wine Press Northwest magazine’s website.

And now, you have a way to taste some of those award winning wines, that we wrote about last year, and tasted this year. Maryhill Winery opened their Reserve Room, a 1200 square foot room that offers tastings of a rotating selection of their best wines. Of course, there is an additional charge, but visitors can apply the $20 fee towards purchase of the wines.  Continue reading “Maryhill Winery Follows up in 2015”

Cameron Hughes: An American Négoçiant

We discovered the wines of Cameron Hughes in 2007; our first purchases included Lots 29,  34, and 35: Lake County Meritage, and Rutherford and Yountville Cabernets, respectively. We soon followed up with 75- and 100-year-old-vine Shiraz, and more California Cabs (including more of the Lot 35. What a great discovery, that our friend Julie Bettis had turned us on to!

Soon, although we had an ownership interest in a wine shop, we were buying over half our wines from this discovery. So what is the story behind this interesting American Négoçiant ?

Cameron Hughes grew up in Modesto, California, and learned about wine from his father, Steve, who was involved in the wine industry as a salesperson, and winemaker. After getting a degree in marketing, Cameron decided wine was more interesting, so he used his–and his father’s–wine trade contacts to find wines. During the wine glut in the mid-2000s, he found excess wines from premium wineries, placed his Lot Number label on them, and sold them to major chains (e.g., Costco), and online subscribers, like us.  Continue reading “Cameron Hughes: An American Négoçiant”

Maryhill is 2014 Winery of the Year

A winery  that we frequently visit, Maryhill Winery, in Goldendale, Washington, was recently honored as the Winery of the Year for 2014.  A press release for the San Francisco International Wine Competition, in making the announcement, reported …

After judging more than 4,500 wines from 1,400 wineries, 26 states and 31 countries, the Tasting Panel Magazine at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition awarded Washington state’s Maryhill Winery as “Winery of the Year.”

In addition, Maryhill won 30 awards for its wines, including four gold, 11 bronze, and 10 silver, two “Best of Show” honors and three double golds:

• Best Mourvedre (97 pts): 2011 Mourvedre, Rattlesnake Hills
• Best Grenache (95 pts): 2011 Grenache, Proprietor’s Reserve, Columbia Valley
• Double Gold (95 pts): 2011 Syrah, Classic, Columbia Valley  Continue reading “Maryhill is 2014 Winery of the Year”

500 Years Of Great Wine, Born In Croatia

This is one of the most intriguing wine stories of the last 500 years! The Dalmatian Coast (formerly part of Yugoslavia) of today’s Croatia has long-been a favorite vacation spot, and a great wine-growing location.

Today, the wine world is re-discovering Croatia’s wonders.

Among those discoveries: Five wines are the same, or are direct descendants of one grape, as proven by DNA testing (you can still call the USA wine Zinfandel):

  • Primitivo is Tribidrag, transplanted from Croatia to Puglia (Italy’s boot heel) in the late 1700s;
  • Zinfardal (the original spelling of Zinfandel) is Tribidrag, brought to the USA from a Viennese Empire greenhouse in 1823;
  • Crljenak Kaštelanski is Tribidrag, and was lost for years; it has now been found and DNA-matched in a vineyard near Split, Croatia;
  • Tribidrag is now the accepted name for this grape and wine, because it is the oldest name; traced to Croatia in the 1500 (thus the 500 years in the title of this article);
  • Plavac Mali is the Croatian son of Tribidrag and Dobričić, a red grape from a nearby island.

Visiting the Source
After helping to organize a 2013 conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we spent a day of wine tasting on the Dingac peninsula (thank you again, Mladen Radujković!), visiting a half dozen wineries.  Continue reading “500 Years Of Great Wine, Born In Croatia”

Valentine Salentein was Fine Wine

This is a follow-up on our post that discussed our discovery of the Salentein restaurant in The Netherlands. The bottle of Salentein Malbec did indeed survive the trip home to Colorado, and Rose and I enjoyed it for Valentine’s day.

Interestingly, as we noted in the earlier posting about the difference between the magnums and the regular 750ml bottles, this single-vineyard bottling was more like the flavor of the magnums of the 2010 Malbec-–a little more tannin, more flavor in “the middle,” and a longer-lasting finish. We wondered if the magnums contain a different blend than the general Malbec, with perhaps a bit more from this single vineyard.  Continue reading “Valentine Salentein was Fine Wine”

Salentein for Your Valentine?

This wine adventure begins in the early 2000s, when Rose and I decided to travel to Argentina to explore their great wines. We had been enthusiasts of Argentine wines since the early 1990s, when we had annointed Malbecs as the next great value in wines. So, although we did not make it to Mendoza on this trip (we instead hung out at Iguazu Falls, and then at Punte del Este), we tasted a large variety of Argentine Malbecs in Buenos Aires.

We tasted the price range, from lower priced wines to several of the high-priced ones; as usual, the best values were in a notch above the lowest prices. Of course, we tasted the wines with food, and the pampas beef and the puffy fries were our favorites. And on our last night, we had an excellent dinner at a restaurant near the dock area–a bit out of the way.

Finding Salentein
While we had tasted some very good wines, even by our last evening in BA we had not found our expected noteworthy and outstanding bargain. And then on the wine list, we spotted a wine we had missed in all our adventures. A 2002 Bodegas Salentein Malbec, at a very reasonable price. We very much enjoyed it with our last dinner in BA.  Continue reading “Salentein for Your Valentine?”

Beat the Dao Jones Average

Perhaps that title is a bit too vague; so much for catchy titles! The purpose of this post is to highlight the wines of the Dao Valley, in Portugal. This post is the first of two parts, a story about a special wine in Brasil, in 1982. We will produce the second part after a coming visit to the Dao Valley, in Portugal.

Twenty five years ago this month I was in Brasil. I was teaching a Project Management class, the first of a series over the next 8 years. I had a wonderful time, and I love Brasil and its people. But I had nearly forgotten about one of my most interesting early wine experiences–until it was time to plan a trip to the source of the story. Here ’tis.

The date was 1982. I was at dinner at the Brasilton hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. I looked over the wine list, looking for anything I could appreciate. I saw a lot of very average wines on the list, and nothing that inspired me. I asked the Sommelier, who was hovering over me expectantly, “don’t you have anything that is a little more special?” He puzzled a bit, then smiled, and scurried off.  Continue reading “Beat the Dao Jones Average”

The Man From Margaret River

This post is about both people and places. Mat Lewis is The Man From Margaret River, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Rose and I had decided to visit Australia again. In prior trips, we’d been around the Eastern and Southern edges, and met many wonderful people. This time we wanted to visit the interior, see Uluru (Ayers Rock), and head to Perth, then to Margaret River.

Preparing for the trip, we websurfed to learn more about Margaret River. Already familiar with the wines, especially the Cabs from Devil’s Lair (and their bargain Fifth Leg), and from Leeuwin Estate, we figured we could find some less-discovered wines.

I came across the website for Margaret River Wine Club (no longer available), and signed up on the spot. Immediately I received a gracious response, saying “if we were ever in the neighborhood, to let them know”. I immediately replied that we were on our way there in the next month. That’s when the fun began!   Continue reading “The Man From Margaret River”

Mutant Teenage Ninja Winelist

This post is a rant about restaurant winelist prices. I have long been a critic of some USA restaurants that burden us with overpriced and underqualified wines. Indeed, part of the reason wines have not become a part of ordinary life is because of the fuss and nonsense restaurants place on wine–unlike much of Southern Europe, where one can have an excellent vin de pay with lunch or dinner for a reasonable price.

To this end, I have long used a guideline (and taught it to many others) that with some exceptions the cost of wine should not exceed 1/3 the cost of the total restaurant check. Do the math: if you and your dinner mate have a nice steak, salad and dessert, perhaps each meal comes to $20-$35 (or more), depending on the restaurant. Thus the wine for two people should be within that price range to be 1/3 of the total bill.  Continue reading “Mutant Teenage Ninja Winelist”

Visiting Barbi dei Montalcino

We were in Italy, traveling from Florence to Rome; the year was 1983. Before we left Florence, I had spotted a mention of a winery near Montalcino that had a nice mid-day meal. Montalcino is between Florence and Rome, and along the route, so we decided to stop in.

In the center of this great medieval city we saw a little fingerboard sign pointing to Fattoria dei Barbi; we followed the sign. Soon we saw another. We traced our way to the winery via the signs, sometimes doubling back because we had missed one.

Arriving at the winery, we went to the most obvious place for a restaurant, a low, smaller building. Although the door posted hours of Noon to 8PM, and it was 12:30, it was locked. We knocked.

A wizened gentleman opened the door, welcomed us, and escorted us to a 12-person bench. He poured wine into the jug on the table, and disappeared. Continue reading “Visiting Barbi dei Montalcino”

Great Wine People: Tom Cygnar

Tom and Claudia Cygnar

When I moved from Oregon to Colorado, one of my first challenges was to find a decent wine shop. For me, this was a serious project, because I visit wine shops all over the world when I travel, and have some expectations about selection, expertise of staff, and the condition of the wine storage.

After discovering treasures that the staff didn’t know were there in many candidate shops, I stumbled upon the Wine Company, some 45 miles to the North, in Littleton. What sold me on the shop were the owners, Tom Cygnar and Dave Tewksbery. Tom especially demonstrated far more understanding about wine and the trade than I ever would. I started making regular trips North to stock my wine cellar with his insights and discoveries.
Continue reading “Great Wine People: Tom Cygnar”

Getting Into Wine

I did not get “into wine” very early. When I drove through Napa and Sonoma Valleys in 1971 on my way to my sister Terry’s 21st birthday, we stopped off at Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, and Sebastiani. We liked the Sebastiani Green Hungarian wine most of all.

In the mid 1970’s, I tried to get my local wine retailer (Of Grape and Grain, in Eugene, Oregon, still a great place to find wine) to set me up with a progression of red wines to try, figuring that wine would be an interesting domain to master. I hated all of them! Of course, at that time, my idea of a good wine was Annie Greensprings Apple wine.

An event happened in 1982 that changed my wine path. I did a 10 day project consulting gig in Monte Carlo, and every night, after each long workday, I explored a different wine from the Hotel menu. I didn’t know anything about any of them; they were all French, all red, all started with a B. Some were good, some so-so, and some not very good (for my tastes).

Continue reading “Getting Into Wine”

The Cork Quandary

It has been going on for quite some time: the battle between those enthusiasts for corks, and those who prefer other options, such as synthetic closures and screwcaps.

Of course, corks have only been around for the last 3% of wine’s history, so it’s not like they are part of a long tradition. But the 4000 BCE wine pots we saw in China just had bronze covers, and we will certainly not go back to those!

So what are the issues on each side of the cork controversy?  Continue reading “The Cork Quandary”

Absolutely ZinFul

Here’s another Washington Wine Wonder! Maryhill Winery, just NorthEast of The Dalles, Oregon, on the Washington side of the Columbia River. We had visited them in our last two trips to Oregon, and the very nice young man (and knowledgeable, too!) behind the counter remembered us. That’s probably 5,000 visitors later.

It might have helped that after our first visit, we worked to get Maryhill’s wines into Colorado. It probably also helped that we got signed up in their Industry program on our last visit (their Gold Program is the best one for repeat offenders/customers).

In our first visit, we had purchased an assortment of wines to taste on our visit to the Oregon coast. As I recall, all were great, but the 2001 Zin was outstanding (note that we did not keep the label; the photo at left is from 2005). Between our visit and a week later when we returned to get more, it had won some California judging and had totally disappeared. That was the best Zin I’d tasted in 2 years! And it was gone! Continue reading “Absolutely ZinFul”

First Wine Insights

From our Wi-Know Wine Blog

The year was 1971, early January; Louise (then wife) and I decided to travel to San Francisco to help my sister Terry (Teresa) celebrate her 21st birthday. So we loaded up my Ford van, and headed South from Eugene, Oregon. The approximately 500 miles distance meant we should probably stop for the night somewhere before we reached San Francisco, so we started researching stopping places.

We quickly decided that sleepy Napa Valley would make an interesting stop-over; we knew nothing about wines, but figured we could learn. In fact, at that time, my idea of a good wine was Annie Green Springs Apple Wine, or for special occasions, Mateus.

On our arrival in Napa Valley, we found a place for the night, had a nice meal, and planned our next day. That next day, we had an entire day to tour Napa, and then Sonoma Valley, before meeting my sister and her husband in San Francisco. So we decided on the following:

  • Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi wineries, in Napa Valley;
  • Sebastiani, in Sonoma Valley; plus others, if there was time.

We figured that would be a good introduction, and still get us to San Francisco on time. Continue reading “First Wine Insights”