S P I R I T S !

image1November 12, 2016

As you may know, in Iowa, the State itself is the only distributor of spirits — defined as beverages above 22% alcohol by volume, or any beverage distilled from grains, cactus, or molasses.

On the other hand, a private enterprise can import spirits into Iowa, with the arrangement that the State will wholesale them (at a substantial mark-up) — providing said enterprise procures the proper licenses (in our case, obtaining three additional licenses over and above two previously held).

SO.  Best Case Wines recently started importing artisanal spirits.  Hoorah !  First, the Armagnacs.  Château de Millet in Gascony is, first and foremost, a six-generation producer of Armagnac.  We have been working with their white wine, a Colombard/ Ugni Blanc blend — in my view, the single best-value white we offer — for over five years now, but it is in Armagnac that François Dèche and his daughter Laurence most invest their hearts & souls.  And now — for the first time anywhere in the United States — their Armagnacs are available to Iowans.  Distilled entirely from the ancient grape variety Baco, these Armagnacs (the VS aged two years, the VSOP aged five years, the XO aged between 15 & 25 years) are sublime: smooth, nuanced, complex, delicious.  I cannot think of a finer way to cap an evening meal.

Armagnac is far less well known than its more northerly analogue, Cognac.  Don’t get me wrong, I love good Cognac too.  But I find Armagnac richer and more sublime and frankly more satisfying — with notes of dried fruits, flowers, nuts, cocoa.  Here is one journalist’s take on why Americans should be drinking more Armagnac:

We have also just recently begun working with two Eaux de Vie from our Alsatian wine supplier, Charles Baur.  The winery has been making brandies for a long, long time, but again, Best Case Wines is the first importer of these products into the United States.

Many winemakers all over France will make a “fine” brandy alongside their wines.  Thus if you travel to French wine country, after dinner you may be offered a “Fine de Champagne” in Champagne, or a “Fine de Bourgogne” in Burgundy.  So the first of our Alsatian brandies is a Fine d’Alsace — twice-distilled from Baur’s Alsatian wines, then aged a minimum of 10 years in barrel before release.  Expect notes of caramel, almonds, spice, and flowers.

The second Eau de Vie from Charles Baur is their Poire William.  Whenever I dine out in France, this is how I hope to end the meal.  Charles Baur Poire William is twice-distilled from juice of perfectly ripe William pears (called Bartlett in the U.S.) — around 30 pounds of pears in each bottle! — and aged at least six months in glass demijohns, clocking in at 45% ABV.  You couldn’t possibly find a purer, more concentrated expression of pear essence than this eau de vie, to be enjoyed in small quantities very chilled after a meal.

These small-batch artisanal spirits are a superb treat, available only in the state of Iowa.  Made and imported only in tiny quantities, these are special-order items perfect for holiday enjoyment or gift-giving.

It is not always easy to find artisanal niche spirits in a spirits-controlled state like Iowa (although I hasten to add that State officials have been consistently professional and helpful in working with us as we bring these items into Iowa).  If you are interested in obtaining some of these spirits for yourself or as gifts for discerning friends, please let us know at bestcasewines@q.com.  We would love to help you find available supply channels.

Wishing you all a spirited holiday season!  Cheers.

When is a wine not a wine?

October 26, 2016.  The title of this post goes back to the old childhood riddle: “When is a door not a door?”  Answer: “When it’s a-jar.”

I have always taken a rather laissez-faire attitude toward American wine consumption.  I figure, if people are drinking wine, and enjoying it, great!  I am glad for any increase in happiness in this world.  So much the better!

But I have to admit that it was disheartening for me to open my mailbox today and pull out the current issue of the Wine Spectator.  On the cover is Joe Wagner, the silver-spoon heir of the Caymus Vineyards Wagner Family.  Last year Joe sold his family’s fairly new “Meiomi” brand to Constellation for the tidy sum of $315 million.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Business is business, and I do not object to someone’s selling a brand, or a name, or an image, for whatever a buyer is willing to pay.  But in my world, what Joe Wagner sold — the name, the brand, the image, the marketing machine — is not wine: not any more than Tang or Sunny D is orange juice.

For me, it comes down to the authenticity of what is in the bottle.  As an enthusiastic drinker of blended wines, I do not object to blending up to 25% of other grape varieties into the predominant grape identified on the label — unless, as might be in this case, it’s a cynical ploy to attract unwitting consumers to a wine with a flavor profile untethered to the place or the grape variety from which it is made. The Pinot Noir grape continues to ride the tide of popularity it gained from the movie “Sideways.”

But if I open a wine labeled “Pinot Noir” and find it to be super-ripe, full-bodied, jammy, rich, and sweet — in other words, a manufactured wine geared to win high ratings from palate-weary wine-magazine tasters but having nothing to do with the signal characteristics of the grape (light bodied, ethereal, subtle, and elegant) — well, . . . I feel cheated.  I smell a rat.

Again, let me be clear.  I have no objection to sweet wines with names like Apothic, or Layer Cake, or Jelly Jar — wines with the kind of branding deliberately aimed to attract consumers of sweet wines.  Furthermore, I have no objection to sweet wines in general or broad-shouldered, burly wines.  I love many of both types!

What I do object to is the cynical marketing of one kind of wine in the guise of another kind of wine.  I object to a winemaker’s addition of a substance like “mega purple” — even if it is grape-derived:
To me, that “wine” is not wine.

NONE of the winegrowers I work with use this kind of manipulation.  If you want a sweet wine, or a big burly wine, go for it!  I applaud your search!  But that ain’t Pinot Noir.

In praise of Beaujolais

October 12, 2016. Let me lay my cards on the table: I love good Beaujolais.  Sure, the Nouveau released every November can be light & negligible (although let’s be honest: it can also be fun, and sometimes rather delicious, and is almost never awful).  But Beaujolais, especially from the Crus of named villages, can be very good, and good Beaujolais is a pure delight to drink.  A couple of years back I was thrilled to start importing the Domaine des Mouilles Chénas from Laurent Perrachon, whose family have been Beaujolais farmers for generations.  Chénas is the smallest & rarest of Cru Beaujolais, with only around 600 acres of vines.  Current vintage of the Domaine des Mouilles is the 2014, which has grown only more delicious over the last few months in bottle.  The wine is light-bodied, frankly grapey, with soft tannins — as you expect from the Gamay grape — but it is also surprisingly structured, with pretty notes of white pepper on the satisfying finish.  Any good Beaujolais, including this one, would be a welcome picnic wine (with or without a little chill), but the savoriness & depth of character of the Mouilles make it a heavenly match for pork chops (my dinner last night with the wine), or especially, for roasted poultry.  This wine will definitely grace my Thanksgiving table this year (again!).

Wine From A Bag In A Box

September 3, 2016

Q: What is wrong with wine from a box?

A: Not a thing.

As I see it, there is one significant downside to drinking wine from a box: you cannot see how much wine remains in the box.  So you better have a backup — maybe a second box? — because there are many upsides to boxed wine:
* Price.  A three-litre box of wine costs much, much less than the volume-equivalent four bottles of the same wine.
* Environmental impact.  In terms of both packaging and freight, a box’s journey from the vineyards to your kitchen involves a much smaller carbon footprint than four bottles would.
* Convenience.  Want a glass of wine when you come home from work?  Maybe just a small glass for while you are cooking?  Or alternatively, maybe you & your tablemates want to enjoy a quantity of wine that does not line up with any set number of 750-ml bottles?  No problem!
* Freshness.  The last glass of wine from a box is every bit as delicious as the first, since the wine never encounters oxygen until it leaves the box.

Of course all of these benefits presuppose that the wine in your box is worth drinking in the first place.  I am very happy to be importing two terrific Portuguese boxed wines from Vidigal Winery, one red (Vidigal Reserva) and one white (Porta 6 Branco), available at a very reasonable price.  At any given time you are likely to find one or both of these wines on tap at my own house.  Cheers!

Ca’ Furlan Prosecco in Wine Spectator

March 21, 2016
Okay, it has been a long time since I posted here.  You may be familiar with that old Zen koan about the sound of one hand clapping; that’s what writing these entries feels like to me.  Anyone listening?  And in any event, I have been a little busy lately, focusing on other elements of my work.  But I thought it was worth noting that the current issue of Wine Spectator, which focuses on Italy — Piedmont & Prosecco especially — singles out the Ca’ Furlan Prosecco, brought into the U.S. by Regal Wine Imports and distributed in Iowa by Yours Truly, as a “Best Value.”  This is no secret to anyone who has tasted the wine.  It is darn yummy.  Labeled as “extra dry,” the wine drinks more like the dryer Brut style.  I have just returned from an out-of-Iowa vacation with my wife & mother-in-law, both of whom want to drink bubbly wine pretty much every night.  So during the last week I have drunk a half-dozen different Proseccos, none of which were as inexpensive as the Ca’ Furlan.  Big surprise: none of them was better.  Wine Spectator text: “Balanced and lightly juicy, this creamy Prosecco offers textbook notes of white peach, almond skin and orchard blossom, as well as lemopn zest and spice details on the finish.”  All Right ! !

Wines for Thanksgiving

November 8, 2014.  Despite the kitschy commercialism that can accompany the season, I still love the holidays.  Above all, I love gathering for festive communal meals.  Here are a few of the wines that will make an appearance at my holiday table:

* 2012 Charles Baur Riesling “Cuvée Charles.”  Dry Riesling is, hands down, the best white for Thanksgiving, and this one from Alsace is pitch-perfect.  Crisp, with citrus and white flower notes and loads of minerality: it is hard to imagine a more satisfying turkey white at any price.
* 2013 Domaine Clavel Pic Saint Loup Rosé “Mescladis.”  Pink wine goes with everything on the table, and this Syrah-based blend balances elegance with spicy liveliness.  Plus it’s organic.
* NV Champagne Vollereaux Rosé de Saignée.  See above about pink wines.  This one amps things up because it is the loveliest 100% Pinot Noir Champagne you can imagine.
* 2013 Domaine des Mouilles Chénas.  I love good Beaujolais, and the Mouilles is about as good as it gets.  100% Gamay, so it is light-bodied, and grapey, but it offers surprising tannic grip, as well as a really fine note of white pepper spice.  Love it love it love it.
* 2013 Illahe Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley.  Lovely, hand-crafted Oregon Pinot — light on its feet and elegant, but lacking nothing in fruit.
* 2012 Monte Ferro Pinot.  From the warmer 2012 vintage, this one is a beautiful, ripe crowd-pleaser.  The winery is owned by transplanted Iowans, and this wine offers a lot for the money.

Bon appetit !

Franck Millet Sancerre honored for 3rd consecutive year

May 16, 2014.  I am proud to announce that the Franck Millet Sancerre Blanc was recently honored with a Gold Medal at the Paris Agricultural Concours for the third consecutive year.  So last year’s 2011, the current 2012, and the soon-to-be-released 2013 have each taken top prize–no surprise to those of us who find this wine the most sublime Sauvignon Blanc available anywhere.  Chapeau!

Alsatian Wine Dinner May 3

April 23, 2014.  I am very excited to announce that next Saturday, May 3, Salt Fork Kitchen in Solon Iowa will host a Farm Dinner, featuring four courses and four wines from Charles Baur winery.  Third-generation Alsatian winegrower Arnaud Baur will be on hand to talk about the wines.WINE Tasting This is an exciting event not to be missed.  Please phone or e-mail for reservations.  See you there !

Introducing Wines from Illahe Vineyards

August 6, 2013.  It is true that my heart is in France and that many of my favorite wines are French.  But in my former life as a retailer, and as an enthusiastic, interested wine drinker, I am happy to enjoy wines from other regions as well.  I am thrilled to announce the arrival my first-ever domestic wines — Pinot Noir, dry Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner from Willamette Valley’s Illahe Vineyards.

A couple of months ago, Nick Craig of Brix Cheese Shop & Wine Bar in Iowa City —
— asked me about Illahe Vineyards.  I contacted the winery, they sent a few sample bottles, and we tried them.  In short, we liked the wines.  We liked them a lot.

It’s a very small, family-run operation.  In every sense of the words, these are authentic and conscientiously farmed wines.  They are also incredibly affordable.  You can learn more about Illahe at their website:
Better still, try the wines.  They’re terrific.