Our Love Affair with Everything but the Wine

As Wine Manager of Paradise Foods and a wine enthusiast, I spend a fair amount of time researching, sampling and enjoying wine on an almost daily basis.   This exposes me to a wide variety of wines and wineries from all over the world.  Over the years, it has become quite apparent that many wines seem to have strayed from their roots.  The last time I checked Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica (now free online!), the definition of wine was “fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes” or the “fermented juice of the grape.”  Whether it’s consumer demand or the winemakers playing with their juice a bit too much, there seems to be a preponderance of secondary flavors unrelated to this fermentation of said grape.

I hate to pick on one wine as it has certainly been beaten to death, but Chardonnay is the most obvious wine that seems to have strayed from its beginnings. Primary flavors like tropical fruit, green apple, or citrus have given way to vanilla, hazelnut, crème brulée, or toasty oak.  In the proper hands which allow the varietal to express itself, Chardonnay is beautiful wine.  When did it become dominated by other flavors, such as wood and butter?  Butter? Really?  That creaminess which is so popular comes from diacetyl, a by-product of a chemical reaction in the winemaking process and is the same flavoring used to butter popcorn.  Has Chardonnay just become a cocktail without the high booze levels?  Wine should be the expression of the varietal from which it’s made as well as the soil and climate from where it comes, what the French call “terroir”.  Sauvignon Blanc is known for its grassiness and grapefruit; Viognier its peach and honeysuckle; Gewurztraminer its lychee and spice; Riesling its lime and flinty minerality.  And these are pure flavors natural to the varietal, not unassociated secondary characteristics which just get in the way.

Wood is another component that is totally overused, especially with New World wines (any winemaking country outside of Europe).  I understand that for centuries wood has been a tried and true aging vessel, but how long is too long for a wine to sit soaking up all that oak?  This excessive woodiness leads to wines that are clumsy, heavy, and palate-fatiguing.  These days when assessing wines, the first thing I look for is wood.  Do I smell a lumber mill when I stick my nose in the glass?  Or do I detect just pure fruit?  It goes without saying there are oodles of terrific wines from the US, South Africa, and South America.  (As for Australia, the jury’s still out).  And don’t think that just because it’s European, it’s a superior wine.  Spanish wines often ooze excess amounts of cedar that is totally distracting from the wine.

So, if you’re interested in some wines that show off their true personalities, naked in all their glory, then try some my favorites.  I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

-Lenz Moser Gruner Veltliner Kamptal, Austria
-Domaine Pinson Chablis, France (Chardonnay!)
-Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Alsace, France
-Cantina Terlano Bianco Classico Alto Adige, Italy
-Justin Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles, California
-Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier Clarksburg, California
-Botani Moscatel Seco Malaga, Spain
-Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Bourgogne, France (also Chardonnay!)
-Manifesto Zinfandel Lodi, California
-Henri Fessy Moulin a Vent Beaujolais, France
-Mencos Joven Rioja, Spain
-Planeta Cerasuolo Sicily, Italy

Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager, Paradise Foods


French Wines for Cali Lovers!

Red WineLiving near the beautiful vineyards of northern California, it’s easy to don blinders and focus only on the locally grown and produced wines.  And these wines are so easy to love: they’re juicy, full-bodied and ooze flavors and fruit that pour effortlessly from the glass.  However, being the wine buyer here at Paradise Foods, I’m always looking for something new and exciting to offer our customers.  At home, I rarely crack the same bottle of wine twice in six months.  Every bottle has to be an exploration of what’s behind the label.  And more often than not, I find myself most interested in European wines.  With all their different regions and varietals, the options are endless.  France, Italy, Spain, Bordeaux, Alsace, Piemonte, Alto Adige, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro; the opportunities just go on and on.

France's Southern Rhone Region

So I’m picking one region today that I feel is a serious challenge to the Californian reds:  France’s southern Rhone!  These wines are bold, rich, full-bodied and never shy of fruit.  Sound familiar?  The southern Rhone is home to one of the greatest wines in the world, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, and other wines produced in nearby villages.  Always powerful, these wines ooze dark, almost black fruits, have a serious spine of tannins and acidity, and sometimes even a touch of alcohol warmth.  Other flavors also permeate these wines giving them a feral note, including what is locally known as garrigue, a heady and complex mix of herbal aromatics and flavors including lavender, wild thyme, rosemary, and sage that are grown on the hillsides near the vineyards.

Grapes growing in Southern Rhone Region

Chateauneufs push higher price points, but also look for other names like Lirac, Rasteau, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, or Cairanne.  All these raise the bar way above the local bistro pour, Cotes du Rhone.  They are intense wines that scream for bold foods, like ribs, lamb or the hearty southern French stew, cassoulet.  So, if you’re looking to shake up your taste buds, swing by the French wine section at both Paradise Foods locations and check out the Rhone!

Here are some of my favorites reds:

  • Domaine de Cristia 2009 Chateauneuf-de-Pape $41.99/750ml
  • Domaine de la Gardettes 2008 Gigondas $24.99/750ml
  • Domaine Amido 2009 Lirac $15.99/750ml
  • Chateau de Montfaucon 2009 Cotes duRhone $13.99/750ml
  • Domaine des Grands Bois 2009 “Cuvee Gabrielle” Cotes du Rhones $19.99/750ml
  • Domaine des Travers 2009 Rasteau $13.99/375ml

And there’s even a white:

  • Chapoutier 2010 Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Belleruche” $13.99/750ml
Chapoutier Vineyard

Beautiful View of the Chapoutier Vineyard


Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager