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Administrative note:
Travel plans and publication hiatus

I'm focusing on Northern Italy this week because I'm headed that way on a wine trip. I'll be in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region for the next week or so, and for that reason, issues of the Wine Advisor will be sporadic at best. We'll make every effort to publish at least a brief edition next Monday, Oct. 8, but I don't expect to be able to mail the daily edition other than, possibly, an occasional quick bulletin. Please note also that I will not be able to handle administrative requests such as address and subscription changes until I return. My apologies in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.

30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Mixing grapes in modern wines

With a history that goes back more than 5,000 years to the Bronze Age, wine making may be one of the most traditional of occupations. It's a bold wine maker indeed who will go against the conventional wisdom to try something new.

This traditionalism may be particularly strong in the Old World, where many of the greatest wines of France and Italy, for example, are strictly controlled by regulations intended to ensure that tomorrow's wines will be made in the same way as those of the last year and the last century.

But from time to time an innovation appears, and when it works, it can be exciting. The so-called "Super Tuscan" wines of the Chianti region around Florence, for example, have drawn much attention by blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the great grapes of France's Bordeaux, into the Sangiovese and other native Italian grapes that made up the traditional blend. Displaying Italian style with a high degree of refinement, many of these wines have become sought-after and expensive.

While Tuscany is best-known for these new blends, however, it's far from the only Italian region where this kind of experimentation is going on. Today's wine (reviewed below) offers another delicious example of what happens when traditional producers try something new.

Ca' dei Frati, a winery from Brescia in Lombardy, near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, rings the bell with its Ronchedone Benaco Bresciano, which includes up to 15 percent of the French Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with local red grapes such as Groppello, Marzemino, Sangiovese and Barbera. It's a luscious wine, not a blockbuster but elegant and complex, and a virtual steal for $15.

If you would like to comment on this week's subject, you're welcome to post a message on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, Or write me at I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

Please tell your wine-loving friends about The 30 Second Wine Advisor, and invite them to register for their own free subscription at

Acker Merrall:
New online auctions every month
Acker Merrall, America's leading independent fine wine auction house, has begun conducting online auctions the first 12 days every month on Over 1,200 lots and $200,000 worth of wine are available Oct. 1-12, with "the largest variety of the world's most collectible wine." (Wine Market Journal)

Some examples of opening bids for this auction:
Lot 1241: 3 bot 1992 Bouchard Montrachet $300
Lot 1329: 6 asst. 1997 Kistler Single Vyd. $240
Lot 1379: Case 1996 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste $480
Lot 1469: 1993 De Vogue Mus, BMarres, Amoureuses, ChamMus $220
Lot 2034: 1 bot 1994 Hommage a Jacques Perrin $120
Lot 2044: case 1989 Lynch Bages $950
Lot 2112: 2 bots 1997 Colgin $700
Lot 2187: 1 bot 1993 Penfolds Grange $120
Lot 2266: case 1986 Chateau d'Yquem $2000
Lot 2702: 4 bot 1992 Dom Perignon $220

Get the idea?

Log on and get in on the action! Please note that new lots start with lot 2027.

Also, on Nov. 10, Acker Merrall will be holding its first Los Angeles auction at the Beverly Hills Peninsula. Free catalogs to the first 100 California residents! E-mail for one.

30 Second Tasting Notes:
Fine red from Italy's lake country
Ca' dei Frati Ca dei Frati 1997 Ronchedone Benaco Bresciano ($14.99)
Dark ruby in color, this fine blend of Italian and French grape varieties shows pleasantly complex aromas of red fruit - strawberry and plum - with herbal and earthy notes. Rather light-bodied but full in flavor, it offers red fruit and earthy nuances on the palate, fruity and acidic. It might remind you a bit of a Loire red in style, but there's an exuberant warmth that's all Italian. U.S. importer: Vin DiVino, Chicago. (Sept. 22, 2001)

FOOD MATCH: The wine's lean fruit and crisp acid makes it a fine match with a simple autumn dish of lamb shanks long cooked with white beans.

WINERY WEBSITE: Avaialable only in Italian, there's a fact sheet on Ronchedone at

Wine Tasting 101:
Three Australian reds for October
It's time for another round of our Wine Tasting 101 feature, in which we suggest a specific wine and invite you to taste it, take notes, and post your notes in the welcoming, non-threatening environment of our interactive online forums.

This month we're featuring Australian Shiraz, and we're trying something a little different: You may take your choice among three wines that cover a range of prices, choosing any one, two, or even all three as you wish.

The featured wines are:

  • Wyndham Estate "Bin 555" South Eastern Australia Shiraz ($8.99)
  • Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Coonawarra Shiraz ($13.99)
  • Penfolds "Bin 128" Coonawarra Shiraz ($22.99)

I have listed the retail prices I paid in Louisville; local prices may vary somewhat. You may choose whatever vintage is available in your market; mine are 1999 for the Bin 555, 1997 for the Wynn's, and 1998 for the Penfolds.

For more information about Wine Tasting 101, click to

The Great Sommelier Challenge:
A progress report
Several of you have written to ask when we will announce the winners of "The Great Sommelier Challenge," the food-and-wine-matching challenge that we featured in partnership with Charlie Trotter's restaurant last month. Here's the story: We received a surprising number of entries, virtually all of them detailed and thoughtful, so - even without taking the events of Sept. 11 into account - it has taken longer than expected for us to give them all a careful reading.

We will definitely announce the winners soon, in an article featuring excerpts from many of the entries; and we'll definitely offer more challenges of this type in the future. Watch for the announcement, and details of a new challenge, later this month.

30 Second Administrivia
This free E-mail publication is distributed to subscribers every Monday, and our daily Wine Advisor Express is E-mailed Tuesday through Friday. Previous editions are archived at

You are on the subscription list because you registered during a visit to Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page. To change your E-mail address, switch from the weekly (Mondays only) to daily distribution, or for any other administrative matters, E-mail In the unhappy event that you must leave us, please take a moment to let us know how we could have served you better. In all administrative communications, please be sure to include the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so we can find your record.

We welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. We do not use this list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail to anyone.

All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time at the Wine Lovers' Page,, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials. If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, click to our interactive, international Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forums,

Vol. 3, No. 37, Oct. 1, 2001

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