Connoisseurs' Series This exceptional program brings you the kind of rare, limited-production California jewels that are often available only on tightly allocated mailing lists. www.cawineclub.com/ connseries
In This Issue
Cork, screw cap, glass stopper?
Cork, screw cap, glass stopper?
It has been almost a decade now since alternative wine-bottle closures started to gain traction in the marketplace as potential solutions to the enduring problem of musty, moldy "taint" caused by defective natural corks.
The once-maligned metal screwcap has become so widely accepted that only the most recalcitrant wine snobs still resist it; and synthetic plastic stoppers have also found a significant niche, particularly among wines not meant for long aging.
But one particularly elegant solution still remains far enough out on the fringes that I finally encountered my first specimen just the other day: The trademarked "Vino-Lok" closure, developed by Alcoa Co. with support from the German government, is a modern variation on the ancient glass stopper used in old-fashioned apothecary jars.
Made to ensure that the wine in your bottle never encounters anything but pure glass (a plastic liner seals the stopper-to-bottle interface but does not appear to touch the wine), it may be the "cleanest" alternative yet.
At first glance, the bottle of 2006 Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling appeared to be closed with a very short metal screwcap; but a quick turn broke the seal to reveal that the metal cap is there simply to protect the clear glass stopper. As noted, it's very much like an old-time apothecary jar stopper, with a more modern neutral plastic lining to make a tight seal. The stopper pries out easily to reveal a fresh, clean wine untouched by cork.
The wine? Well, it's okay, a decidedly modest Rhine Riesling from an old-line Rheingau producer that's now under the corporate umbrella of giant Schmitt-Sohne. There's nothing wrong with the wine, at least in its 2006 edition, which is simple and fresh, clean fruit nicely shaped by crisp acidity and lightweight alcohol. It may not show the subtle minerality and singing acidity of the fancier Rieslings that make German-wine aficionadoes moan with pleasure, but it's a decent "entry-level" Riesling that offers a benchmark sample of the Rheingau.
For more about Vino-Lok, read the manufacturer's press brochure online at http://www.vino-lok.de/
Schloss Vollrads 2006 Rheingau Riesling Qualitätswein ($14.99)
Very clear, very pale straw color shows glints of gold. Sealed with a glass "Vino-Lok" apothecary-style closure, its simple but fresh aromas speak of ripe apples and distant wildflowers. On the palate, fresh apple fruit, just off dry with a very slight petillant prickle, is nicely shaped by crisp but not overwhelming acidity and lightweight 10.5% alcohol. Apples and a fresh citrus character linger in a medium finish. Good benchmark Riesling at the entry level. U.S. importer: Schmitt Sohne Inc., Wellersville, Md. (Jan. 6, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: It was perfect with a quick variation on an Alsatian Coq au Riesling, using a bit of the wine with heavy cream in the sauce.
VALUE: No real complaints, although it's a testimony to the times and the strength of the Euro to find a simple Qualitätswein going in the middle teens.
WHEN TO DRINK: Riesling is an ager, but simple Qualitätswein isn't really meant for cellaring. Drink it up fresh, or try keeping a bottle or two under good cellar conditions as an experiment in aging.
Here's a short fact sheet featuring Schloss Vollrads, its history and wines:
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The Connoisseurs' Series: Showing off the glory of West Coast wines
As regular readers know, I usually offer my notes every month on the current offering from California Wine Club's limited-membership Connoisseurs' Series.
These exceptional wines, selected each month by Connoisseurs' Guide publisher Charlie Olken and California Wine Club Proprietor Bruce Boring, give wine lovers the opportunity to sample the kind of rare, limited-production California jewels that are often available only on tightly allocated mailing lists.
Connoisseurs' Series members may subscribe for monthly, alternate month or quarterly packages. Each shipment includes two to four bottles of California's top wines, with detailed background information. Monthly shipments average $125-$175, including all shipping and handling. There's no membership charge, no long-term commitment (cancel any time), and every wine is guaranteed.
Visit www.cawineclub.com/connseries or call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 to join or learn more about The Connoisseur's Series. Feel free to tell them that I sent you ... and, if you join, please don't hesitate to contact me by E-mail and tell me what you think.
Members received a bonus box containing four excellent California wines last month. Here's my report on the first I opened, a delicious, high-octane but beautifully balanced Russian River Valley Zinfandel from Carol Shelton. Predominantly Zin, it's an old-vines field blend whose actual proportions in each year's wine can only be estimated. Shelton says the 2004 contains about 85% Zinfandel with 7% Alicante and 4% each Petite Sirah and Carignane, with a very small amount of the white California heritage grape Palomino to lighten and lift the flavors. Although I'm not usually a Zin fanatic, I could get used to having this wine around.
Carol Shelton 2004 "Karma Zin" Rue Vineyard Russian River Valley Old Vines Zinfandel ($39 retail; $33 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
Full and ripe, luscious fresh berries on the nose and palate, blackberries and a shot of framboise raspberry liqueur, with hints of cinnamon and black pepper as aroma accents. Mouth-filling, juicy fruit with subtleties that follow the nose; dry and acidic and just barely perceptible tannins, a balanced and food-friendly structure that sets it apart from the pack of California Zinfandel. The label says 14.9% alcohol; wine maker's specs on the Website say 15.4%. Either way, it's a high-octane item, but Shelton handles this ripe Zinfandel fruit with an artist's hand. I don't sense out-of-balance alcohol on the nose or the palate. Outstanding with beef short ribs, a hearty and robust comfort food for a hearty and robust comfort wine. Only 670 cases were made. Winery Website: http://www.carolshelton.com (Jan. 4, 2007)
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Dibbern on Wine: Decanting = Wine - Grit + Air
We've just come through the holiday season, a time when more wine than usual is opened and poured for guests. Especially in more formal settings, one is often faced with that vexing bit of pomp and circumstance known as decanting. Writer Donald A. Dibbern Jr. addresses decanting: the how and the why.
Our Internet radio "TalkShoe": Value wines
Have you recently enjoyed a really good wine for a really good price? Join us as we talk about wines of good value - how we define them and how we find them - in Monday's Internet Radio TalkShoe at Noon US EDT (9 a.m. Pacific, 6 p.m. in Western Europe). See the TalkShoe page for information about tuning in:
All our previous TalkShoes, including last week's discussion on wine trends and developments, are available for listening or downloading from the archives. Click to listen!
WineLovers Discussion Group: Ah-So!
One of the more popular alternative cork removers is the two-pronged device that you work down along the sides of a wine cork, then twist and pull to get the cork out. One familiar German brand bears the trade name "Ah-So." Getting about as far as we go into wine trivia, our WineLovers Discussion Group gurus are discussing the possible origins of this term. To read the conversation or join in, click to our recently upgraded online forum:
Netscape/Compuserve Community Poll: What's your price limit for value wine?
As we feature affordable and value wines this month, we're curious what price level wine enthusiasts consider the limit for "value" wines. Where do you draw the line when you're looking for something affordable for everyday drinking? Pick your choice in dollars or, if you're elsewhere around the world, estimate the dollar equivalent for your local price.
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:
Excellent Gewurztraminer (Jan. 4, 2007)
Wine Focus - Great value wines (Jan. 2, 2007)
My best wine values of 2007 (Dec. 31, 2007)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Veggie risotto (Jan. 3, 2007)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: