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Michael Franz
Michael Franz
(By Reginald A. Pearman
The Glories of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Post, Mar. 12, 2003)
The Grapevine Archive
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Entertainment Marketplace: Winery Guide

The Grapevine
Hosted by Michael Franz
Special to the Washington Post

Wednesday, Mar. 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.

My column in today’s paper reviews some wonderful wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which produces the most famous—and often the best—wines of southern France. Not surprisingly, therefore, the wines tend to be rather expensive. So, for those of you who may be scared off by the prices, I’d first suggest that you look back at the Cotes-du-Rhones that I recommended four weeks ago. Those wines are from the same general area, and at the top end can actually challenge the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. By heading to the page on this site for the Food section, and scrolling down to the wine section, you’ll be able to find that piece in the archives.

Second, for those interested in something white, I can strongly recommend a delicious and outstandingly sophisticated Pinot Grigio: Plozner (Grave, Friuli) Pinot Grigio 2001, $11-$12. Many Pinot Grigios serve only a minimal function as refreshing little quaffers, but this wine has real complexity and class to go along with first-rate refreshment value. And, due to the fact that 2002 was a very wet and difficult growing season for most of south-central Europe, there is reason to be concerned that the 2002s that will arrive this spring won’t be up to the level of their predecessors. If you enjoy Pinot Grigio (and many of you do, since it is now the number one wine imported into the USA), I’d recommend buying a case of this to run you into the summer.

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!

Arlington, Va.: Have to ask, even though I suspect I know the sad answer: did you try any Chateauneufs in the under $20 range that are worth trying?

washingtonpost.com: The Glories of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Post, Mar. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: Hi,
As you can see from my opening posting, I'm sensitive to the issue...and as a general rule I hate to be the bearer of bad news! But bad news there is, which is that I tasted not a single bottle in that price range. There are several reasons for this, including the size of the appellation boundaries, land and labor prices, supply relative to demand, rising prestige for the wines (blame...and credit...to Robert Parker here!), and so forth. But the fact is that Chateauneuf is now a splurge wine. Sorry!

Arlington, Va.: Hello,

Just wanted to let you know that the Arlington Farmers Market is planning on selling wine at the Market from the spring and on. The following four Virginia wineries are candidates: Breaux, Chrysalis, Piedmont, Linden.


Michael Franz: Interesting! And altogether fitting, as wine is an agricultural product and a partner for food in a real sense, whereas spirits and beer are not. I love it that one can buy wine in grocery stores in Virginia, and I love this as well. Would that the authorities in Maryland, where I live, were so enlightened!

Falls Church, Va.: Hello Michael!

I loved your article this morning - Chateauneuf-du Pape is a favorite of mine. I have a 1995 Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils bottling, where do you think it stands at this point? Is it time to drink or should it hold for awhile longer?


washingtonpost.com: The Glories of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Post, Mar. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: This is really a matter of personal preference, and I see that another Grapevinista as posted a broader question along these lines. So, let me give you a quick, narrow gague answer and take the other question as well: I'd drink that wine anytime from tonight through about three years from now.

McLean, Va.: The highbrow wine magazines all provide recommendations on when to drink a wine (e.g., after 2005). I've read numerous places (your column may have been one) that over 99% of the wines released these days are intended to be drunk immediately. However, the Wine Spectator et al (whose ratings I've learned from experience are often pretty suspect anyway) seem to recommend cellaring for a year or more for way more than 1% of the wines they review. So what's going on here? Hard for me to believe that the wine press is reviewing age-worthy wines in such disproportionate numbers.

Michael Franz: Hi,
For starters, it is true that 99% are intended for immediate consumption, and also that 99% are actually consumed in a very short period after purchase. However, this can be slightly misleading, in the sense that all jug wines are included in those figures, and the percentage would be notably lower if only fine wines were in question, and much lower if certain categories were specified (like, say, red Bordeaux). Since magazines are focusing almost entierly on fairly fancy bottles, some of your discrepancy is explained.
However, there are really some subjective issues to consider. First, do you even LIKE aged wines as well as young, fresh, fruity wines? Many people don't. Second, do you have cellaring possibilities that make this a live issue? Most people don't. Third, which types of wines are you usually buying? Very, very few whites need or improve with ageing, and almost all of these are white Burgundies, and almost all of them are perfectly enjoyable on release. As for reds, most can really be enjoyed on release too, provided that you serve them with food. The most conspicuous exceptions would be big, classified growth Bordeaux, or Barolo and Barbaresco, or a few super-Tuscans, or Grange from Australia. But that's about it.

Long Beach, Calif.: What type of wine goes best with Freedom Fries?

Michael Franz: Good ol' American Zinfandel!

Drinking-age enforcement?: Hi, Michael. I submitted this to Tom S.'s chat earlier, but I thought you might be able to offer some insight.

I am 27, my husband 28, we're both professionals and dress appropriately when we go out to dinner. I believe we look our age.

But what seems to be happening with more frequency is that restaurants in the District have been reluctant to offer us wine lists, and generally aloof at the beginning. When we ask for one and order, we invariably get carded. Then, bingo! Suddenly the wait staff becomes a lot more attentive and polite.

Now, I don't mind if people think I look younger, but is this attitude common? (Do servers treat people who they believe will only order soda differently from people who are likely to have a significant bard tab?) I also wonder if the District is stepping up its drinking-age enforcement? I never, ever got asked for ID when I was 21, 22 (or, oops, even 20 -- and that's when I was ordering white Zinfandel instead of actual wine. Glad I grew out of that).

On another note, is there anywhere in this area where I can get a good glass of port? I'm the only one I know who likes port (like I said, I'm 27), so I'd need it by the glass rather than by the bottle.

Michael Franz: Hmmm...very interesting. The social scientist in me wants to know about your sample size. Has this really happended quite frequently? If so, I rather doubt that stepped-up enforcement is the explanation, since it seems very likely to me that the limited enforcement resources are being directed more toward bars and package goods stores. So, there's a decent chance that you've just run afoul of a string of servers who are sloppy or inattentive or indifferent to wine. Without wishing to speak for Tom, I'd bet he'll agree that there are PLENTY of these out there. Or it could be that, after forgetting the regimen in which they were trained and failing to give you a list, they simply want to cover their error by implying that you looked too young to them. One consoling note from a 45 year old: It won't be long before you'll enjoy being carded!

Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the Charles Shaw wines... I tried the Cab Sauv. last week after seeing a news report on it -- and I have to say it wasnt half bad! Very drinkable for far less than the price of an OK glass of wine out at a restaurant or bar.

Michael Franz: I thought the Merlot was actually pretty good, and that the Chardonnay and Cabernet were perfectly passable, and that the Sauvignon Blanc was hideous and bizarre. We strive for candor around here!

Lusby, Md.: Thanks for the great article on CdP today! It's definitely one of my favorite wines.

Do you feel the 1999 Guigal CdP "deserved" to be Wine Spectator's wine of the the year? I've also heard that the 2000 Guigal is even better than the 1999. Any comments?

Keep up the great work!

washingtonpost.com: The Glories of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Post, Mar. 12, 2003)

Michael Franz: I'm not very good about keeping up with that publication anymore, and was frankly unaware of that. I can't give a very satisfying answer since the criteria they employ have so much slack and involve so many different and incommensurable variables. Was it the very best wine released that year, or even the best Chateauneuf? Certainly not. Do they make a lot of it, and should that be considered along with its fairly approachable price? Sure. Are their better wines for even less money? Yes, I believe that there are, though from Chateauneuf they would all be made in much smaller quantities and hence not in truly nationwide distribution in the USA. Does that matter to a nationwide magazine like the Spectator when the choice is made, and does that sort of thing undermine teh value of their ranking? Absolutely. Do people take those rankings too seriously? Yes.

Washington, D.C.: I object to your assertion that beer is not a partner to food "in a real sense". A nice hoppy IPA compares well to a new zealand savignon blanc, and many german bocks and american/british porters and stouts are as delicious with meat as the big red wines. Many of the best beers offer just as much complexity as wines, at a much lower costs. WHile i am not trying to make the case that one is better than the other, they both can be equals without being the same. The added bonus of beer is that it is lower in alcohol content, which allows one to drink more of it, without clouding one's judgement and palate with too much alcohol. Anyone who doesn't believe me should take a trip to RFD in chinatown, and try some of their marvelous beer selections with their food.

Michael Franz: Of course you are right, and I want to clarify. I'm trying to type a mile a minute here, and I conflated two unrelated points. The comparative point was intended to stress that wine is an agricultural product in a more important sense than either beer or spirits, and this is incontestably true for a whole range of technical reasons. I'd be happy to lay them out if necessary. Regarding food-friendliness, though I'd be quite prepared to argue that wine is a vastly more diverse and interesting partner for food in a general sense, I'd nevertheless note that certain foods are better with beer than any wine. Regarding alcohol, you have a point, though I'd counter that a sip of wine with a bite of food is perfectly sufficient and much less filling, so that the quantity issue doesn't make much diference. And with regard to clouding judgment, I find that I can keep mine adequately straight by drinking mineral water along with my wine, but that doing so with beer is bloating and unpleasant. So there! Certainly there is room for many different opinions and practices here, and I thank you for your question and hope you take my reply in the friendly spirit in which it is intended!

Los Angeles, Calif.: Should we reconsider Bulgarian wine?

Michael Franz: Unlike the Supreme Court, I DO answer explicitly political questions. Is this one? Based on UN Security Council support? Or a question about possibly rising quality in Bulgarian wines?

Raleigh, N.C.: I have a good selection of Chateuneuf du Papes from 1988, 1989 and 1990 in my cellar. How much longer will they remain drinkable? Are they past their peak?

Michael Franz: I've got some too, and I'm drinking mine now. With great pleasure!

Baltimore, Md.: I'm hearing from some that the 2001 vintage in Germany was a spectacular year. Do you also believe this to be true? Any recommendations of 2001 vintage German wines, particularly at or near $15.00/bottle?

Michael Franz: Hi,
I wrote about them recently, so have a look back in the wine archive in the Food section home page on this site....

Falls Church, Va.: Hello! Thanks for taking my question. Some friends and I recently started a monthly wine tasting group. We select a particular grape each month and each person brings a bottle to share. We are interested in doing some other activities as a group, such as touring a local winery, attending a tasting class, etc. I am hoping you can offer some tips for scheduling events like this. We are a fairly large group (about 15-20 people) and don't want to barge into a winery unannounced. Thanks!

Michael Franz: I think it is a great idea, and I think you'll really enjoy it. Very important: Rent or use vans, and designate the drivers according to whomever is willing to spit along the way. Then, call some wineries and explain what you'd like to do. They'll almost certainly be delighted to receive you, since you can work out an agreeable time, and they can designate someone to speak with you, and since they'll be getting some genuinely interested people in the tasting room. When you're done, if they haven't charged you to taste, be srue to buy some bottles as a way of thanking them.

Young guy in Mclean, Va.: I'm just out of college, have a job, and am looking to become more knowledgeable about wine so when I go out to eat I'm not helpless. I know very very little about it, where do you think I should start?

also, can you change my Politics 101 grade? It was a B- and I could use a B.

Cheers, a former greyhound

Michael Franz: Hi there,
Sure, I'll change that grade right away, and I'll know who you are without difficulty, since it is a virtual certainly that everybody else got grades lower than B-. [For those who don't know what's going on here, I'm a mild-mannered professor in real life.]
As for getting up to speed on vino, reading, tasting, traveling and getting jsut a little bit of good instruction is the way to go. Head to a good bookstore and pick out something that looks appealing. Ask around about wine shops that do in-store tastings so that you can build up some tasting experience in a manner consistent with the budged of a recent graduate. Head up to a few nearby wineries for a tour and a quick rundown on the grape-growing and winemaking processes. Trust your palate and don't become a slave to fashion or the expectations of others, so that you're buying what you really enjoy and only what you can afford. Cheers!

Long Beach, Calif.: What's the most expensive capped wine in the world?

Michael Franz: Probably Plumpjack Cabernet from California, which is around $80. That will change though, as this is sure to be a contested matter before long!

Canandaigua, N.Y.: Michael,

In regards to the question about finding Chateauneuf du Pape for under $20, readers in Pennsylvania should be aware that the 1999 la Roquette has been available on truckload sale for $15, and the 2000 Chante Perdrix is available for $20 and change. Both are specialty items, and so need are only stocked in Specialty stores, though they can be ordered into any store in the state system.

Michael Franz: Cool! Thank you!

Long Beach, Calif.: Another political wine question from Long Beach. What type of decline in sales should French wine distributers in America expect if France vetoes in the UN? An educated guess,please?

Michael Franz: I'm guessing with both my political science and my wine hats on, and my guess is that the impact will be minimal unless the USA raises import duties.

Arlington, Va.: I thoroughly enjoy a couple glasses of red wine with dinner, but find that approx 50% of the time, I wake up at midnight afterwards. Not 100% of the time. I've tried to correlate occurences to body physiology (did I exercise today? did I sleep well the night before?) but without much luck.

Is there perhaps something about the wine? Are there any guidelines you can give about picking wine that won't, in modest quantities, wake a person up afterwards? This issue-- much more than nuances of cabernet grapes or the subtleties of terroir-- affects my enjoyment of wine.

Michael Franz: Very interesting. First, let me say that I can only work off hunches and experience, since I'm not a physician or a clinical researcher in this area, which is exactly the caveat that I lay down when addressing wine headache questions. Second, let me ask if this does or does not happen if/when you have a beer or a scotch at roughly the same time of day? I ask because alcohol is the most likely culprit in my judgment, as opposed to other elements present in wine but not spirits or beer. I know a few people who like to have a glass of cognac or scotch before bed, but who find that it will wake them up later even though it makes getting to sleep at the outset somewhat easier. I'm told that the alcohol gets metabolized into sugar, and that that little sugar buzz can awaken some people. If anybody else out there can shed any light on this, please post something when we do this again in two weeks, same time, same site. Until then, thank you for all of your great questions, and Cheers!


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

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