Today's Sponsors:
 French Wine Explorers
Meet me in the Rhone!

 California Wine Club
Wine Sale Going on Now!

In This Issue
 Premium Edition Sideways country.
 Simplifying the wine label Two interesting efforts to make wine more accessible.
 Canalegrande 2003 Barbera & Bonarda Italian Dry Red Wine ($18.50) Spicy, warm and ripe, this noteworthy table wine's label downplays its obscure appellation.
 French Wine Explorers Meet me in the Rhone!
 Circus by L'Ostal Cazes 2003 Shiraz/Cabernet ($12.99) The producer's name takes precedence on the label of this crowd-pleasing quaffing red.
 Wine Lovers' Voting Booth When do you drink sparkling wine?
 California Wine Club Wine Sale Going on Now!
 This week on One hundred new wine releases, and we debate the merits of retsina.
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index The Wine Advisor archives.
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Premium Edition: Sideways country
California's Santa Barbara wine region, so lavishly featured in Alexander Payne's Sideways, moves to center stage in tomorrow's Wine Advisor Premium Edition as I focus on a just-released Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from a respected winery in the exciting new Santa Rita Hills appellation. A Premium Edition subscription is just $24 for a full year of biweekly E-mail bulletins that give you the tools to shop with confidence when you're considering more upscale wines. Proceeds help me buy these special wines at retail, and support too!
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View a free sample.

Simplifying the wine label

A few weeks ago, I reported about growing concern over falling sales in the French wine industry, a trend that some attribute to an overly complicated system of wine regulations that makes the country's wines too complicated for the average consumer to bother with.

Similar concerns have been voiced about Italy, where the wine scene may be even more diverse than that in France, and Germany, where an extraordinary complex wine-classification system is further complicated, at least for English-speakers, by ten-dollar words like "Erzeugerabfüllung" and "Trockenbeerenauslese."

Let's return to this subject today, illustrated with tasting reports on a French wine producer, and an importer of Italian wines, who are marketing interesting wines with labels that take the "poly" out of "polysyllabic."

The French venture is a new label from Jean-Michel Cazes and his son, Jean-Charles, who own the respected Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Les-Ormes-de-Pez in Bordeaux. Their new venture, called L'Ostal Cazes, incorporates 150 acres of vines near Livinière, the first cru-designated sub-appellation within the Minervois region of Languedoc. Its two mass-market wines - a Shiraz (yes, they call it by the Australian name) and the Shiraz/Cabernet that I review below - are marketed under the Cazes family name and the proprietary trademark Circus, with the varietal names shown only discreetly at the bottom, and the appellation (Vin de Pays d'Oc) given only on the wine's back label.

The Italian wine, Canalegrande - a brand intended primarily for restaurant service but also sold direct to consumers through the importer's Website - goes even further toward simplification.

Importer James Koch explains in the firm's one-page fact sheet:"How many restaurants in the USA would ever consider pouring 'Azienda Agricola Podere Casale Gutturnio Fermo Colli Piacentini DOC 2003' by the glass?" The "Canalegrande approach," Koch says, restates the technical language in simpler English, presenting the wine under the proprietary name "Canalegrande" (with a woodcut-look logo showing a Venetian canal and bridge), the names of the grape varieties Barbera and Bonarda offered in place of the obscure "Gutturnio Fermo," and the little-known region Colli Piacentini banished to the back label in favor of "Italian Dry Red Wine."

"The result is a line of 'unusual' top-quality Italian wines that can be offered by the glass and easily explained to and by the staff."

Here's a simply formatted copy of today's Wine Advisor, designed to be printed out for your scrapbook or file or downloaded to your PDA or other wireless device.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on today's topic (or any other wine-related subject), you'll find a round-table online discussion in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to join in the conversations about wine.

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Canalegrande Canalegrande 2003 Barbera & Bonarda Italian Dry Red Wine ($18.50)

The simplified front label sells the wine identified in more detail on the back as "Azienda Agricola Podere Casale Gutturnio dei Colli Piacentini DOC 2003." By any name it's a fine Italian red from the Po River valley south of Milan, a blend of the familiar Barbera and the not-so-familiar Bonarda grape, the local name in Lombardy for Croatina, a different variety than the Bonarda of Piemonte. All this may help explain why they wanted to simplify the label. It's a very dark wine, blackish-purple at the center, clear garnet at the edge. Fresh berries make for an appetizing aroma, warm and ripe; on the palate, mixed-berry fruit is shaped by tart, lemon-squirt acidity in a wine that, like many of its Italian brethren, is made to go with food. U.S. importer: J.K. Imports, Pasadena, Calif. (Feb. 7, 2005)

FOOD MATCH: The wine would do well with a variety of red meats, poultry and cheeses. I matched it against an offbeat pasta creation, shredded chicken in an Alfredo-style sauce accented with smoked Cheddar and a hint of chipotle peppers over fettuccine.

VALUE: A good value for a wine of this quality at this price, which is available for by-the-case purchases made online.

WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink now; although I have little experience with this offbeat region and blend, I see no reason it shouldn't last a few years on the wine rack.

Barbera = "Bar-bair-ah"
Bonarda = "Boe-nar-dah"

Canalegrande wines are available in a few restaurants, but are primarily sold exclusively by the distributor online:
To search for other wines from Colli Piacentini on, click:

French Wine Explorers:
Meet me in the Rhone!

It's hard to believe that only three months remain before our annual tour with French Wine Explorers on June 6-12. We still have room for a few more, so I hope you'll visualize yourself, and perhaps a partner or friend, joining in as we visit some of the top wine producers, fine restaurants and luxury hotels of the Northern and Southern Rhône. It's a real joy for me to meet and get to know Wine Advisor readers as we travel on these memorable tours, and I hope you'll consider coming along.

This seven-day, six-night tour will take us on an in-depth exploration of the region's beautiful scenery, delicious Provençal cuisine, and rich, expressive wines, highlighted by a very special opportunity to join the wine makers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a gala dinner and dance in the historic 14th century wine cellars of the Papal Court at Avignon.

If you have any questions at all about the tour, please feel free to get in touch with me personally at

For more information, visit French Wine Exporers' Northern and Southern Rhône tour page,
And if you'd like to make your reservations now, send E-mail to, call 1-877-261-1500 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada) to request a reservation form, or download the form (Adobe Acrobat format) from this link:

Circus Circus by L'Ostal Cazes 2003 Shiraz/Cabernet ($12.99)

The bold, colorful and simplified label puts the producer's familiar name and the marketing concept up front, with the wine-geek details (Vin de Pays d'Oc) in small print on the back; and the Australian varietal name "Shiraz" in place of the French "Syrah" suggests a wine made in a fat, fruit-forward crowd-pleasing style. But there's still a mid-Atlantic hint of the Old World in the wine's complex aroma and relatively full structure. Inky dark reddish-purple in color, it offers fresh and relatively subtle aromas of black plums and fragrant black pepper. Black-fruit flavors are mouth-filling and ripe, smooth and easy to sip, but there's plenty of fresh-fruit acidity to provide structure and balance. (Also tasted, the Circus 2003 Shiraz for the same price was similar but a bit more sweet and plushy; the firm's grand vin, L'Ostal Cazes 2002 Minervois la Lavinière ($29.99), featured in the Wine Advisor Premium Edition on Feb. 22, 2005, is a memorable wine of outstanding quality-price ratio.) U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2005)

FOOD MATCH: A classic red-meat wine, it was fine with a grass-fed Kentucky Green River rare ribeye.

VALUE: Excellent value at this price, and may be found discounted for less.

WHEN TO DRINK: Designed for immediate enjoyment and ready to drink, but its fruit and sturdy structure will hold it for several years in the wine rack or cellar.

L'Ostal Cazes" = "Low-stahl Cahz"

The U.S. importer features a news release and details about Cazes' Circus wines at this link:

A British distributor, Mentzendorff & Co. Ltd., offers a page featuring Circus and Cazes' Michel Lynch line. The link is too long to transmit reliably in E-mail, but you can reach the page by visiting Metzendorff's Home Page,
then clicking Jean-Michel Cazes under "Suppliers" in the right-hand column.

For information on regional distributors in the U.S. from the importer's Website, click: currently is showing only European listings for L'Ostal Cazes:

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
When do you drink sparkling wine?

The festive fun of a popping cork, a frothy pour, a glass full of bubbles: It's no wonder that Champagne has become all but synonymous with celebration. Indeed, for many people, a festive occasion is the only time to uncork a sparkling wine. If it's not New Year's Eve, or a wedding feast, the bubbly remains tightly corked in the fridge.

But Madame Lily Bollinger, the widow who ran the Champagne house that bears her married name from 1941 through 1971, thought differently, saying, "I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry, and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."

How about you? We're curious whether you enjoy bubbly at any time of year or reserve it for special occasions, as we ask, "when do you drink sparkling wine?"

To cast your ballot, click to
If you'd like to see how others have voted, visit

California Wine Club

California Wine Club
Wine Sale Going On Now!

Save up to 73 percent off normal retail prices with The California Wine Club's March Into Spring Wine Sale. Choose from a large selection of award-winning wines. All of the club's past selections have been deeply discounted and are on sale only until March 31. To view the full list of wines available visit
or call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443.

This week on

Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:

Bucko's Wine Reports: Late Winter Releases
Computers have changed our lives for the better, muses our new releases columnist Randy "Bucko" Buckner. In many states of the U.S., wine lovers can search the Internet for dream wines and have them shipped to our door. We hope the upcoming Supreme Court decision on shipping will be favorable to all consumers, but the smart money notes that states will still have a say in regulation. While we're waiting for the decision, which rumor has it will be announced soon, Bucko offers tasting reports on 100 recently released wines.

Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: How can anyone drink this stuff?
Retsina! Love it or hate it, this ancient Greek specialty with its pine-resin flavor has to be one of the world's most unusual wines. What's your take on this often-maligned tipple?

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 A loaf of bread, a jug of wine (March 4, 2004)

 WT101: Syrah, Shiraz, Sirah (March 2, 2004)

 When skepticism is warranted (Feb. 28, 2004)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: The ultimate baguette (March 3, 2004)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:

 30 Second Wine Advisor, daily or weekly (free)
 Wine Advisor FoodLetter, Thursdays (free)
 Wine Advisor Premium Edition, alternate Tuesdays ($24/year)

For all past editions, click here


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Monday, March 7, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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