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Michael Franz
Michael Franz
(By Reginald A. Pearman
Chianti Charisma (Post, Jan. 15)
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Entertainment Marketplace: Winery Guide

The Grapevine
Hosted by Michael Franz
Special to the Washington Post

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003; Noon ET

Every other Wednesday at Noon ET, Washington Post wine columnist Michael Franz comes to the Web for The Grapevine to talk about the art of wine and his latest column.

Franz has worked as wine columnist for The Washington Post since 1994, and has conducted more than 650 site visits and tastings at wineries across Western and Eastern Europe, South America, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. You can find his column on alternating Wednesdays in The Washington Post Food section.

The transcript follows -- enjoy the oenological banter.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Michael Franz: G’day mates! I hope that your year is off to a good start, and that it will include plenty of vinous highlights. Welcome to The Grapevine, an interactive forum on all things connected with wine. The basic idea for the show is that you submit any question plausibly related to wine, and I do my best to shed some light on the matter. Anything from the growing of wine grapes, to the craft of the winemaker, to the workings of the wine trade, to issues of buying, storing and serving the stuff is fair game, so the range of potential discussion points is very broad. I’m always especially interested in questions regarding the pairing of wines with food, so let me help if you’ve got a question along these lines.
My column in today’s paper reviews wonderful bottlings of Chianti from Tuscany’s outstanding 1999 vintage, and to those I’d like to add one more wine that wasn’t included due to a sorting error: Santedame Chianti Classico 1999, $18. This is a single vineyard wine that stands as an exemplary combination of traditional and modern elements. On the modern side, the wine is soft and immediately appealing thanks to full ripening of the grapes, yet it also shows the medium body, fresh acidity, and dusty tannins that have traditionally made Chianti so distinctive and food-friendly. Given the escalation in prices for Chianti since the release of the 1995 vintage, I think it is also clear that this wine offers excellent value at $18. Pop a cork and pass the pasta!

Let’s get rolling with your questions. Please don’t be offended if I can’t get to your question during the hour, as there are almost always more than I can manage. Generally speaking, I try to respond first to those questions that may be of most general interest, or at least those that I can answer with information that will be useful to participants other than the questioner. However, I also take questions to help individuals, so please be patient and keep trying!

Chantilly, Va.: Hi Michael,

I was jazzed to see your column this week to be on Chiantis, as I have been on an Italian wine kick lately. I also wanted to recommend people try a Chianti like Fontodi with Peking Duck and other chinese foods - a wonderful match!

washingtonpost.com: Chianti Charisma (Post, Jan. 15)

Michael Franz: I couldn't agree more, and the range of things that these wines will suit is really just phenomenal. As you might imagine, I was tasting 1999 Tuscan wines intensively for nearly a month when preparing today's article (and the follow-up on IGTs, Vino Nobile wines, and bottlings of Morellino di Scansano), and naturally I wasn't chowing down on pasta every single night. It it in fact rather difficult to find something that fine Sangiovese-based wines from Tuscany will NOT suit, so great is their affinity for food. Only red Burgundy and fine Tempranillo from Spain play in this league....

Springfield, Va.: Enjoyed today's article, but my financial situation puts most of the wines you recommend out of my price range. Any suggestions for the under $10 crowd. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Chianti Charisma (Post, Jan. 15)

Michael Franz: I certainly sympathize, and yes, I can offer an excellent alternative. First, though, let me explain that the article lacks inexpensive wines because I was hitting the 1999 vintage in particular, and most of the "smaller" wines that ring up for less are released earlier, and hence are now already out in the 2000 or 2001 vintages. In any case, my colleague and friend Ben Giliberti recommended the 2000 vintage of Monte Antico recently, and that wine can be had for less than $10 with a bit of luck. In fact, Calvert Woodley ran a special on it on the "Wine Plus" page in the Post today, and you will not see it for less! Enjoy!

New York, N.Y.: Good afternoon! I jut enjoyed a wonderful bottle of 1997 Kistler Chardonnay. I do not normally drink or enjoy white wines, but this was superb. I have been trying to find retailers in either DC or NY that stock this wine, but so far I have been unsuccessful. Any thoughts about who may have it, or worst case scenario, what other white wine would be just as amazing?


Michael Franz: Kistler Chardonnays are pretty tough to find, and the excellent Pinots are no easier. I'd guess that Macarthur, Schneiders or Bell in DC are your best bets down here, and I'm really not up to speed on the situation in NYC. As for alternatives in that same style, try Robert Talbott...very impressive stuff!

Silver Spring, Md.: Hi!
I just wondered if you have heard about and tried the Charles Shaw wine available at Trader Joes right now (3.49/bottle in VA). I was in S.Cal over the holidays, and it was all anyone was talking about (it's 1.99/bottle there). People are buying several cases at a time and coming back for more - pretty good wine at an incredible price. Do a google search and you'll see lots of articles about how great it is.
Any comment?

Michael Franz: I have not tried it, but can note that a very close acquaintance who shall remain unnamed here (and who has a good palate) was introduced to the stuff at Christmas dinner (also in CA). She was told that the stuff was known out there as "Two Buck Chuck," which is certainly endearingly amusing. She reported, however, that the wine was hideous. Have you tried it? Anybody else out there?

Washington, D.C.: Michael,

I would love some wine buying advice. I recently discovered the joys and heartache of brunello di montalcino. The joy is that it is wonderful wine (I tried a '97 Fuligni). The pain is the price. Does it make any sense to wait for new vintages ('98 and '99) to purchase a case or two or would I be better served paying the high price of '97s and make my purchases now?

Michael Franz: If you are intending to lay the wines down, then I'd wait for 1999s. The 1997s were over-hyped by The Wine Spectator, driving prices beyond what is reasonable. The 1999s may or may not be less expensive when they hit shelves, but I doubt that they will cost more. They are more classic in structure, less freakishly ripe, and more sound where ageing is intended. Save your pennies, and please consider trying some other Tuscan wines that don't have the cachet of Brunello but have comparable quality, such as top Chiantis and Vino Nobile wines.

Small Town Florida: I am planning a wedding reception champagne brunch. Unfortunately the location of the reception does not allow alcoholic beverages. Would you provide the name of a good alternative non-alcoholic sparkling beverage? Thank you.

Michael Franz: Quick! Call for a public referendum! Or, break the contract with the reception hall on grounds of manifestly unreasonable restrictions! Both of these are going to prove much easier than finding adequate--or even palatable--sparklers free of alcohol. I try them every autumn just to discharge my duty, and did so again in 2002. Ran screaming from the house as though my hair were on fire. Don't believe me? If I recall correctly, even Jeanne McManus (my editor at the Post, who I am convinced is the world's single nicest person) wrote that the stuff was totally unacceptable. Sorry! I hate to be the bearer of bad news!

Glencoe, Ill.: Michael --

I have been planning on buying a bottle of vintage port from 1992 and drinking it in 2013. I have read that 1992 was a great year for port, but a local wine merchant insists that it wasn't. What do you think?


Michael Franz: Certainly not close to 1994, 1997, or 2000. Those are the years to buy...but I'm guessing that there is something sentimental operating here, given your specificity regarding years of origination and consumption. Is that right? If so, just go ahead with your plan...but don't buy a whole case!

Arlington, Va.: Food and wine pairing question here. What would you suggest to go with a roast pork loin with a port/cranberry sauce? I'm looking for something that will stand up to the sweet yet tart flavors in the sauce without overwhelming the milder taste of the pork. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Michael Franz: I really think that you could not do better than one of the Chiantis from today's column--self-serving though that may seem! The reason is that they are young enough to still have the "baby fat" and impression of sweetness of young wines to go with the port element, but also the acidity of Tuscan Sangiovese to deal with the tartness from the cranberry element. Moreover...they are great with pork. I promise!

Rockville, Md.: Question about Chianti Classico vs. Riserva: is it worth it to pay more? Italians are notorious for fibbing about their wine production, can we trust them.

Great article today!

Michael Franz: First, there is plenty of fudging and misuse of terminology all over the world, so I don't think we need to single out the Italians. Indeed, the term "Riserva" has real legal significance there (specifically regarding the duration of oak ageing), whereas anybody can slap the name on the bottle of absolutely anything made in the good ol' USA. But with that out of the way, your question is a really good one. However, the fact is that the situation is in flux, and I can't give a straightforward answer. On one hand, there are plenty of non-Riserva wines that are now MUCH better than ones that carry the term. Examples? Castello dei Rampolla, Castello di Fonterutoli, and Castello di Ama all made regular Chiantis in 1999 that totally throttle 90% of all the Riservas that will be released from the vintage. Nevertheless, their own Riservas are likely to be even better if given time for the wine to absorb the additional oak. So...the moral of the story is to look more at the producer than the label designation.

Bethesda, Md.: On Varietal-Specific Wine Glasses:

Hi Michael. I have Reidel Bordeaux glasses, and, much to my surprise, in a home taste test a sample wine actually tasted better out of the Reidels than out of my older (but still large-bowled), ordinary wine glasses. I'm very pleased with them, but I have a question about the idea of varietal-specific wine glasses:

Given that the same varietal (say, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay) can be produced into multiple styles of wine--from big and bold to light and restrained--how is it that the Reidel glasses are going to suitable for each of these styles? The ad literature around Reidel and Spiegelau makes their R&D sound quite serious, but I've never seen this issue of "varietal variety" addressed. Any thoughts?

Michael Franz: You make an excellent point, and there is exactly no reason to believe that two Cabernets made in the Barossa Valley and Bordeaux will both taste better out of the same Riedel Cabernet glass than out of different glasses. I play around with lots of different glasses, and find that the performance varies a lot along the lines you indicate. What to do about this? For most people, the smart thing is to get three sets of glasses that they enjoy both in terms of appearance and performance, with one being a small, one medium, and one pretty big. From Riedel, this would mean the glasses made for Chardonnay, Chianti/Zinfandel, and either Bordeaux or Burgundy. Comparable glasses are made by Spiegelau, and they are very good. Get enough so that you can entertain with them, and then stick with them and replace these same glasses when the inevitable breakage occurs (rather than switching lines and ending up with all sorts of odds and ends that are useless for entertaining).

For non-alcoholic sparkler in Florida: Too bad you can't have champagne, but how about serving sparkling water spritzed with Angostura bitters? Or even sparkling water in flutes, floated with slices of lemon or lime? This is what we offer at our receptions here at work for those people who don't wish to drink, but still want to partake in a toast.

Michael Franz: This is exactly the right idea for our friend...thank you. I'd much rather have a really good glass of mineral water than a really bad glass of faux Champagne....

Del Ray, Va.: I'm not sure I like the secret getting out, but... We've tried both the Charles Shaw Merlot and the Cabernet. The Merlot was not very good - very sweet - but we've been buying cases of the Cab. Worth it for half the price of other decent cheap wines! Sadly, the Trader Joes in Old Town has been out lately.

Michael Franz: Thanks for the info...anybody tried the Sauvignon Blanc?

Washington, D.C.: Michael,
Do California cabernets really NEED to be so expensive? I have just about given up on them, in favor of reds from the Rhone, Spain, etc. that seem to offer so much better value at any price you choose. Although I like Calif. cabs, whenever I match one up head-to-head with similarly-priced competition in a wine shop, I can never justify buying the California wine. It seems that California has taken the notion that wine is a "prestige" product and ridden it for all it's worth. Where does that ride end?

Michael Franz: From what I hear from the trade, that ride is already coming to an end for about 75% of California Cabs. I'm told that only the "cult" wines (gag) are still moving, and that the $60 bottles that are made in quantity aren't moving at all. There is no way to tell whether this is a function of general frustration with pricing or more generally softened demand due to economic conditions. In any case, there is good reason to believe that some moderation in price is just around the bend. Until it eventuates, I think you're doing exactly the right thing in hitting Spain and the Rhone, among other places!

College Park, Md.: I live in a older home heated by steam radiators. I have some wines which, although humble in collection, are special to my wife and me. The problem is that our house is almost perpetually cool. I would like to store the bottles in the basement but it is pretty cold down there and I detest cold Merlot. The best possible place to store wine upstairs are in sunny locations and can get too warm being that these locations are next to the radiators. Do you know what I could do?

Michael Franz: Keep 'em downstairs and just bring them up to your preferred temperature before cracking the cork. Assuming that your basement doesn't go into the 30s, the wines will be MUCH better off down there than being exposed to the heat (and constant fluctuations) caused by radiators,

Washington, D.C.: My parents just moved and I received their wine collection. A lot of it I already know and love. one bottle, though, has me stumped. 92 Chateau Charmont/Margeaux bottled at the chateau. I can't find anything about it other than 92 was an awful year for Margeaux. Is this worth anything? or should I just smile and drink it?

Michael Franz: "Smile and drink it" is standard procedure for me (though I add "spit" onto the back of that!), and I think it fits your particular situation perfectly!

Young Wine Drinker, Washington, D.C.: I'm a semi-new wine drinker (I'm 23), but I went on several winery tours when I lived in Australia 2 years ago. I was wondering why wines in the United States contain sulfites (which give me a headache sometimes) and why wine in other countries does not. Also, is it possible to buy wine in the US that does not add sulfites? Thanks!

Michael Franz: Trust me: All those Aussie wines had sulfites too...the only difference is that their Govt. doesn't require that this be indicated on the label. There are a few wines had here that are sulfite free, though I don't keep close tabs on them and cannot promise. Look for Frey and Badger Mtn. from WA.

Missouri: As far as American Chardonnay, shouldn't you also suggest the wines from Marcassin? - Norton

Michael Franz: Sure, although one must also say, FAT CHANCE! The stuff is much harder to get even than Kistler, and in fact the only bottle I've ever tasted came into my possession only because Helen Turley gave it to me. Know where I can get more? I'll wax your car and wash the dishes for a week....

Arlington, Va.: For research purposes I have pulled the
cork on the bottle of 2BuckChuck I was
given (as a joke) for Xmas and find it
about what I expected... a sweet and
simple 'manufactured' Cab without
varietal character but pretty consistent
with what one finds in CalCabs of double
the price or more. I don't intend that as a
compliment, I might add. In short, "it's the
sort of thing you'll like, if you like that sort
of thing." I don't find it appalling as a
wine, but I'd prefer a nice glass if San
Pellegrino water, if that were my only
alternative. Neither the wine remaining in
my glass nor the twenty or so ounces left
in the bottle will be tempting me this

In respect of reasonably priced '99
Chianti, I find Renzo Masi's Riserva from
the Rufina district, selling for about $9.99
to be quite appealing... wonder if you tried
it. Thanks for the guidance on the 'big
dogs' of the vintage, and I second your
endorsement of the two Lamole di
Lamole bottlings, particularly the

Michael Franz: Thanks!

Alexandria, Va.: They say to only use wine you would drink in your cooking. Well, I've never had red wine and I have a recipe that I'm dying to try that says "add 1/2 bottle red wine".

Can you recommend a good red wine? I'd prefer it to be easily picked up at, say, Total Wine, and be $15 or under.

Michael Franz: You don't need to spend that much to get the job done well. Buy a bottle of Cabernet from Chile (look for Santa Rita or Casa Lapostolle or Montes or Errazuriz or Concha y Toro) and you'll do very well for $10 or less. And--this is vitally important--drink the other half!

Takoma Park, Md.: Michael,

At the DC Food and Wine Fest, there will be a Mondavi tasting with Riedel glasses for $80 - and you get to keep the four glasses. Is this a good deal, or should I keep the money, buy more wine and get Spieglau?

Michael Franz: Hmmm...I'd need to know which glasses they'll be using. I'll try to look into it, so ask again in two weeks. By the way, I'll be doing a couple of seminars myself (one on food-and-wine-pairing for the Post, and another on South African wines), so I'll hope to see you there!

Michael Franz: Grrrr! Out of time with 50 questions to go! Thank you as always for your questions, and please forgive me if I couldn't get to yours. Try again in two weeks, same time, same site. Until then, Cheers!


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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