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Michael Franz
Michael Franz
(By Reginald A. Pearman
My First Love (Post, Feb. 12, 2003)
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Entertainment Marketplace: Winery Guide

The Grapevine
Hosted by Michael Franz
Special to the Washington Post

Wednesday, Feb. 12, 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! 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.

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!

Rockville, Md.: Hi,
I wrote in 2 weeks ago about the Mantel Blanco 2000 and the great harvest of 2001s in Spain. You said to watch out for the killer reds from Toro. Do you have any specific recommendations? BTW, the store that gave me the good advice about the great 2001 harvest in Spain was Addy Bassin's.

Michael Franz: Hi Rockville,
Good to learn that my friends over there at MacArthur Beverages are keeping up! I tasted a bunch of 2001s last summer in Spain, but most have yet to hit out shores. I'll keep tabs on their arrival, and you'll hear more on this before long!

Arlington, Va.: I am preparing a Valentine’s dinner for my girlfriend this Friday and I was hoping that you might be able to recommend a good wine to go with the menu… fettuccini alfredo with grilled chicken, roasted tomatoes and steamed asparagus.

Preferably I would like something relatively inexpensive. We have enjoyed Allen Scott’s Sauvignon Blanc several times, it is sort of “our wine” now, but I am looking for suggestions on something might be a little different that might go better with this menu.


washingtonpost.com: My First Love (Post, Feb. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: Especially in light of the Valentine's thing, I'd go with red in your case. Any of the Cotes du Rhone wines from today's column would do well, but you should also consider some Italians. Recent favorites: Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2001, $12; Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico 2000, also at $12. Have fun!

New York, N.Y.: On the topic of wallet-friendly Cotes du Rhone, have you tried Paul Jaboulet Aine's Parallele 45? The 2000 vintage earned a recommendation from the New York Times, and I'm fond of it. Pity it's $10 at the local wine store, but I've heard $7 around D.C.

Michael Franz: Actually, I did taste the wine for today's column, and it turned in a 3rd rate performance. I'm certain that my colleagues up there at the Times haven't stopped spitting...so perhaps they got a better bottle than I did? I then re-tasted it for another project just last week, however, with the same mediocre result. In many years that wine has been a sensational over-achiever, but not the 2000, at least to my taste!

Turriaco, Italy: I ask myself if you know our merlot wine, from the Collio region in the northeast of Italy, a popular wine quality not known in the foreign lands. Honest red, simply taste and not boring as the sophisticated named bourgogne or beaujolais but simply genuine. I can drink a half of a gallon without headache awakening in the morning! Can You do the same drinking chemical poisonings from outer space? Cheers! Thanks a lot for an asthemic answer!

Michael Franz: I have exactly no idea of how to respond to this, but find it so amusing that I cannot fail to post it....

Arlington, Va.: How does a great local wine shop like Arrowine stay in business, despite pricing pressure from megastores like Total Wine? Over time, do you think small wine shops going to be wiped out, like Walmart had done to myriad little Main Street retailers around America? Or can they survive, like some hardware stores miraculously seem to do despite the Home Depot machine. If it were your money, would you invest it in one?

Michael Franz: Great question. Places at that level of quality WILL survive. I'm certainly not an investment counselor, so you're on your own regarding that issue, but places like that outstanding store will last because there will always be a demand among savvy consumers for limited production, hand-crafted wines and for consultants who can steer consumers toward them. Wine is--if I'm not belaboring the obvious here--a spectacularly complex field, and the need for solid information will never, ever evaporate. This sort of knowledgeable service simply cannot be provided by a place like Total Wine with any regularity; their whole approach is to appeal to one clientele with very broad selection and to another segment on price.

Somewhere, USA: Winebottling?: This weekend I'm excited to have the chance to help a winery do their bottling. While I'm doing it for the experience and insight into the winemaking process, I have to confess I don't know what I'll actually be doing (we were told we might be outside, and to wear old clothes in case we're working with reds). Any idea what we might be doing? I've been to tastings before, but never a full tour, so I'm really in the dark!

Michael Franz: Ever see the episode of the Lucile Ball show in which they're working on the conveyor?

Arlington, Va.: Michael,
Is there any good way to decide what wine to order in a restaurant? I ask because, though I know enough to get by with California wines (at least the reds, which I prefer), I know nothing about French wines. In fact, I can't even pronounce many of them. In order to expand my horizons, I have started ordering Fernch wines in restaurants. However, when I do so, I usually just end up picking randomly based on how much I feel like spending. I've had good results with this strategy thus far, because I've been to a lot of very nice restaurants lately where I trust that the wine lists are well thought out and don't contain any losers. However, I'm concerned that this method will not work at a moderately priced establishment (assuming that there are any that serve French wines) and, therefore, need advice. While getting one or two bad bottles of wine isn't the worst thing in the world, it does sting a bit at the usual 300% markup that most restaurants charge. Any suggestions?

Michael Franz: Have you tried asking for assistance from your server? Or, alternatively, consider asking the host/hostess when you are on your way to the table if there's someone in the place who is especially knowledgeable about the list (which will help if the level of server training is uneven, as is almost always the case)? Also, you should feel free to ask for help in the context of a particular price range. A thoughtful and well-trained server would automatically recommend wines at a few different price points, but a less competent one might try to corner you into spending more than you'd like.

Rockville, Md.: Are you familiar with a grape called, Muller-Thurgau? Seemingly oddly, I found it is the grape used to make a wine from Sicily.

What flavors, food pairings are assoc. with this? thanks

Michael Franz: Hi,
It is a cross of two other vines produced in the first half of the 20th century in Germany, and is highly resistant to both mold and winter cold, with high yield levels. Not a top class grape, but when well made, can be perfectly adequate and rather inexpensive. Don't serve it if the Queen drops in for dinner, but remember it as a good budget buy.

Potomac, Md.: I was given the enviable task of selecting wines at a business dinner last week. My red wine selection was a 2000 Cambria Pinor Noir Julia's Vineyard. (The white was a Chimney Rock Fume Blanc.) Folks seemed to love the Pinot Noir and I had to agree. In looking at where it comes from, I am surprised that a Pinor Noir would grow well that far south in California. What is your experience with the vineyard and Pinot's from that region?

Michael Franz: Hi,
That wine comes from the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. I did a column on the wines from that area last month, so check the archive. They can make good cool climate wines from that region because the coastal mountains run (unusually) east and west, letting cool air from the ocean come inland....

Alexandria, Va.: Hello Michael,

A few years ago I won a bottle of wine in a contest (1993 Turley, Petite Syrah, Napa Valley, Hayne Vineyard), and on a trip to France I picked up a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape,Chateau Sainte Andre, Ricolte 1994.

Can you tell me how long I should hold these wines before popping the cork? My wife and I are usually in the $10-a-bottle range, and I know these are special wines, so my instinct is to hoard them until there's something Really BIG to celebrate. But I don't want to hold them past their prime.


Michael Franz: Go get 'em. Isn't Valentine's Day a sufficiently BIG occasion? If not...don't tell your sweetie!

Shepherd Park, Washington, D.C.: Michael,

Thanks for taking my question.

Another wine recommendation question for you. I recall that your answer to the question of 'what's a good all-around red/white wine' is that it depends on what you're having it with. Fair enough. But how about a recommendation for a wine to be consumed without other things - I'm a fan of sitting by the fireplace, reading a book and sipping a glass of red wine. (I know, it depends on what I'm reading.)

I'm especially interested in the under $10 range, but if you have any super recommendations not too far above that, I'm interested in them, too.

And do you ever drink wine 'au naturel,' without accompaniment?

Michael Franz: Sure, I drink whites and Champagnes as aperitifs without food, though I very rarely drink reds that way. But as for a specific red for you to try, I strongly recommend Masi Rosso Delle Venezie IGT "Modello" 2000, which is soft and ripe and lovely...and $9 at full markup. A dynamite sipper!

Atlanta, Ga. native: What type of wine stores are the ones that you list in your column? For example, is Washington Wholesale just for wine store owners, or do they sell to the general public, too? From the web, it looks like they are just a distributor. Just wondering which of the places you list are actually bricks and mortar, places that I can go to. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: My First Love (Post, Feb. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: Hi...ALL of those places are wholesalers. The idea is that you can ask a retailer to order from them on your behalf. That may or may not work, depending on the particular retailer and wholesaler involved, but it will at least enhance your chances a bit....

Somewhere, USA: Latest Craze: Why is everyone drinking the Australian wine Yellow Tail? It is a decent cheap wine?

Michael Franz: Yes, it is a decent cheap wine, though many other wines at comparable prices are more interesting. So what gives? The answer would probably involve some element of sheer market momentum, as well as name recognition, as well as the lack of time that most consumers have to invest in reading about alternatives, as well as a certain level of intimidation that many consumers feel....

Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.: Dear Michael:

I recently got a cold call from a British company that wants to sell me wine. Telephone orders only. They are offering what is supposed to be a fantastic value -$425 a case - on a wine not otherwise sold in America: a 1999 Bordeaux from Chateau Graves de Peyroutas. By using Google, I was able to verify that the Chateau mentioned does exist, but nothing else. The saleswoman claimed the company has a local distributor who will deliver the wine, which makes buying a case legal. I understand through browsing E-bay that DC residents cannot legally buy a case of wine shipped from out of state. I don't know if I smell a rat or not, and would value your input.

Michael Franz: I do get a slight whiff of rat from this...and would recommend that you first ask with which PARTICULAR distributor they work, and then check on that by phone. Then, call a couple of retailers here and see if they've go that same wine as a price check. I don't like the sound of all of this, but I tend to be a bit suspicious. In any case, though, I wonder whether you'd not be better off establishing a relationship with a local retailer--partly so that you'll have recourse if something goes wrong....

Washington, D.C.: What type of wine (preferably red) would you serve with a not very sweet shrimp, sage, and pumpkin bisque? thanks!

Michael Franz: Rose Champagne. Trust me!

Baltimore, Md.: Dear Mr. Franz,
I enjoyed your Cotes du Rhone article this morning. Chateau St Cosme has a bottling called Les Deux Albions (I think) which the New York Times felt was a top pick. Have you tried this wine? How does it stack up against the ones you mentioned? Also, how long can these wines cellar (cool, dark basement)? Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: My First Love (Post, Feb. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: Haven't tasted that one (which isn't so surprising, since there are hundreds upon hundreds of Cotes du Rhones made in each vintage), but I'll check around. As for drinking windows, you can drink all of the ones I noted now or hold them without worry for another three or four years. During that span, they'll lose some of their sweet, fresh fruit, but become more complex aromatically and softer in texture.

Washington, D.C.: Thanks so much for doing these chats. And your columns are terrific! As a Valentine's Day present, I would like to give my husband a card with a "certificate" for a special wine dinner sponsored by one of the local wine/food associations or restaurants or wine shops. Do you have any recommendations, either in general for organizations that do a great job on these, or specific dinners coming up in the next month or so? I'm reluctant to pick one on my own without knowing how they are rated by the "experts".

washingtonpost.com: My First Love (Post, Feb. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: Hi...that's a nice idea, but I'm afraid that I can't help with specific options. it would be nice if you would have had a chance to buy a dinner from a charity auction, but there's certainly not time for that now. Let's post this and see if any of our friends out there can help with a suggestion....

Washington, D.C.: Can I assume that the Italian producers opting for the IGT designation are working harder to make quality wines or have some simply jumped on the bandwagon?

Michael Franz: No doubt there are some who are just bandwagoning, but in most cases, these are innovative wines coming from producers who are working untraditional techniques and/or grapes. At some point, the category will become too unreliable to carry any weight on its own, but not yet!

Somewhere, USA: re: Killer Toro wine: one word: Numanthia! Made from Tempranillo - watch out for this big boy. Expect to pay $40+ though. Well worth it, from what I hear.

Michael Franz: Yes, indeed...but the 2001 won't get here for a good while. The 1999, however, is worth a search!

Baltimore Md.: Michael,
That email from Turriaco, Italy is a gem. It seems to me that everywhere I go, the locals tell me their wines do not cause headaches, as they are so pure and unadulterated (I also hear it about the liquors, rums, etc). I can't imagine drinking a half gallon of any wine, let alone the headache it would give me...but Collio Merlot is often a very nice red with food.

Michael Franz: Agreed, on all counts!

Gaithersburg, Md.: Don't want to embarrass myself, but I drink wine as a beverage and care little for the label or source as long as it tastes good to me. I favor dry whites and reds. I can't help but notice that there are wineries (or, at least signs with grapes on them) on back roads in MD, WV and VA. Any recommendations from those places? I'd like to do business locally, and by the case.

Thanks, SG

Michael Franz: Nothing embarrassing here! There are some very nice wines made in our area, and I absolutely encourage you to give them a try. One disadvantage is that most of these places are fairly small, and thus do not enjoy the economies of scale that will permit low prices. However, since you can usually have a sip in the tasting room, you'll enjoy the advantage on knowing exactly what you're buying.

Richmond, Va.: The other thing that a good local wine shop can do is to remember your feedback on wines they've suggested and to keep that in mind in making other suggestions, so they'll know you like big, fruit-forward zinfandels and don't like buttery chardonnays. Establishing an ongoing relationship with the shop staff is one of the best things you can do to get better wine suggestions.

Michael Franz: Quite agreed!

St. Louis, Mo.: I'm preparing a nice Valentine's Dinner for my husband and me... the only catch is that I'm eight months pregnant. Do you know of any non-alcoholic wines, sparkling or still, that are worth drinking? Thanks.

Michael Franz: Good luck! With the baby, that is...since the search for drinkable non-alcoholic wine is likely to be futile based on my experience. Perhaps you should just hang on for another month, and then take a page out of my wife's book: Demand a massive platter of sushi (also denied to you during pregnancy, I'd guess), along with a really first-rate bottle of Champagne. This is a made-in-heaven combination, and if you love sushi, the very prospect will help sustain you through labor!

Annapolis, Md.: A friend is going to Portland, Oregon on a business trip and plans to pick-up some Pinot Noir. Two questions: 1. Any recommendations? 2. Any benefit to buying there rather than here?

Michael Franz: 1: Yes, go to Ponzi, which can be reached in something like 45 minutes of high-speed driving; the wines are excellent, the people are very nice, and your friend will learn something while also buying on site; 2: No, the savings won't be appreciable, since producers won't undercut their customers in other markets by selling at a discount out of their tasting room. However, your friend WILL know that his/her wine wasn't mishandled in transit, which is really worth something in the case of delicate wines like Pinot!

Michael Franz: Out of time...with scores of questions yet to go! Please try again when we gear up again in two weeks! Until then, cheers!


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

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