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

The Grapevine
Hosted by Michael Franz
Special to the Washington Post

Wednesday, March 26, 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 wonderful red wines from Greece, and I’ve you’ve not yet tried the wines from that beautiful country, I hope the article might prompt you to take an initial plunge. Due to the limitations of a set space, I’m often forced to bump a few worthy wines that can’t be brought within the thematic confines of a column. That was the case with today’s piece, from which I had to cut two delicious and attractively affordable wines from Crete:

Boutari Kreitikos (Crete) 2000 ($11.25, Ithaka): Full of fruit but also rich in character, this blend of Kotsifali and Mantilaria is as easy to enjoy as the low price is hard to believe. Medium bodied with nice fruit edged with spicy oak and interesting little complexities, this is a real winner.

Kourtaki (Crete) Dry Red 2000 ($8, Dionysos): Very light in color and body, this looks wimpy but turns out to be very interesting (both in aroma and flavor) and just right for grilled fish or chicken breast that might be overwhelmed by a more robust red. Remember this baby for warm nights this spring and 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!

Takoma Park, Md.: Loved the column on Greek reds, but I have a question about a terrific Greek rose I had at Zaytinya. It's made from the xinomavro grape. The other two things on the label are Akakies and Kir Yianni. I assume one is the winemaker and the other is the region, but I can't tell which is which. Not even the folks at Zaytinya could tell me which local retailers have the stuff. Do you or any chatters have an idea?

Michael Franz: Hi There!
I know the wine...I love the wine...and therefore I regard you as a genius! Akakies is the name of the wine, and Kir Yianni is the estate in Macedonia from which it comes. The estate is a gorgeous and very impressive place, owned and operated by a wing of the Boutari family that broke away several years back due to strategic differences. They are now concentrating on high-end wines, which thankfully don't generally carry high-end prices. The winemaker is a very bright young guy with a degree from U.C. Davis. The wine is imported and distributed locally by Vina Mediterranean, whose phone number you'll find in the article.

Washington, DC: Michael:

Thanks for continuing to host these chats -- I always learn something new. I recently open a bottle of a recent vintage, well-regarded Oregon Pinot Noir and was disappointed to find that it had almost a carbonated taste. What would account for that? Thanks.

Michael Franz: Oy...am I ever familiar with that problem! I run into this more and more frequently these days, though that is not all bad. The problem is usually a result of a bit of residual sugar in the wine re-fermenting in the bottle. Fermentation produces both alcohol and carbon dioxide as by-products, and whereas the CO2 would bubble away prior to bottling, it gets trapped in the solution once a wine has been sealed with a cork. Less frequently, I find this same spritzy sensation in wines that seem afflicted with brettanomyces, a rogue yeast that produces barnyard aromas. So...why is the rise of this phenomenon not all bad news? Because the standard measure to prevent re-fermentation is sterile filtration, which can really strip a wine of an important measure of flavor and character, and this is especially problematic with Pinot Noir. I--for one--would prefer to see 3 or 4% of my wines suffer from a little fizziness than to see 100% of my wine compromised by sterile filtration.
BTW...whose wine?

Baltimore, Md.: I will be getting married next year. Currently the reception will host about 80+ people. Without breaking the bank, what brand of champagne do you recommend? I don't want the absolute cheapest kind, but something that tastes decent and easy on the wallet would be great. Thanks!

Michael Franz: Try Chandon Brut fresco from Argentina, which retails for $13 or so. Juicy and full of flavor, with just the faintest sweetness. If you're willing to go closer to $20, nothing beats Roederer Estate from Mendocino.

Woodbridge, Va.: Michael,

Is there any update on what the Virginia legislature decided in regard to the bill that would allow wine lovers to purchase wine from the Internet as well as have wine shipped directly to us at home?

Many thanks,
Mack Holt

Michael Franz: Beats me, as I spent the past week tasting down in Chile. So, let's see if any of our fellow Grapevinistas know the current status...


New York, NY: I asked you this a couple of weeks ago, but didn't make the cut. What do you think of eiswein? I have an "in" on a couple of cases, but it seems pretty expensive. Is it worth the money?

Michael Franz: Hi, sorry that I couldn't get to you then.... First, are you referring to German Eiswein, or to something from Ontario? Both are plenty expensive, and both can be excellent, but the Germans are (not surprisingly) still leading the way. If you love very sweet dessert wines, and like them to taste fresh an lively with a little acidic bite in the finish, I'd certainly encourage you to have a taste of whatever you've been offered. Best, however, to taste before buying by the case!

Baltimore Maryland: Dear Michael, thanks for the tips on Greek wines. You have previously introduced me to Ramnista, by the Kir-Yianni winery mentioned earlier. This is a wonderful xinomavro wine, and I wonder where it would sit in this morning's triumvirate of xinomavro wines. Thanks!

Michael Franz: Hi,
I've had quite good luck with that wine in the past, and tasted the 1997 for today's column. 1997 is a very good vintage in that region, and the wine has performed well for me in the past, but for whatever reason, my sample bottle was very hard and tannic and wasn't showing the requisite depth of fruit to balance the tannins. That may be a problem peculiar to that particular bottle, or it may be that the wine is going through an awkward stage in its development. However, I would NEVER recommend a wine that I didn't thoroughly endorse, even if it has a good track record!

Silver Spring, Md: For my brother's 30th birthday, I'd like to give him 2 bottles of wine: one to drink now, and one to drink when he is 40. He is a big fan of red wine; and I know he likes California wines, but is not closed to anything else. I'm not a wine drinker, so I have no idea where to start. Can you make suggestions?

Michael Franz: Hi! This seems easy. Why not try a California Cabernet from 1997 or 1999 that he can enjoy now with a nice steak, and also get a bottle of 2000 vintage Bordeaux for him to enjoy in 2013? The 2000 Bordeaux are fantastic, and plenty of the better ones will be in their prime in another decade. My friend and colleague Ben Giliberti is something of a Bordeaux specialist, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't give these some coverage this spring. However, if he doesn't, DC stores like MacArthur, Calvert Woodley and Schneider's will all have plenty of candidates for you.

Silver Spring: I having a dinner party and was going to serve a flank steak with mexican seasoning and a side of "salsa": corn, red pepper and blue cheese mix.

What wine would you serve with it?

Michael Franz: Yum! Can I come? Assuming that you'll have some cumin and chili powder in there, you'll need a wine that has some fruity sweetness, and I'd recommend young California Zinfandel. This isn't my favorite type of wine in the abstract, but for your concrete application, I really think its the best choice. For $12 or $13, I've found nothing that comes close to Rancho Zabaco "Heritage Vines."

Towson, Md.: Hi, I see you just got back from Chile. Any tips? I recently enjoyed Caro, which your colleague Ben Giliberti recommended, and found it very pleasant. Have you tried Le Dix from Los Vascos? Just wondering how it compares. Thanks for any early tips for us grapevinistas.

Michael Franz: Hi,
I had a great week, and found that things are getting very exciting indeed down there. The ranks of high-end wines have really filled out, and there are also many more excellent wines at moderate prices (i.e., in the teens) than when I was last there three years ago. So stay tuned...I'm considering an article on Carmenere as well as another on Cabernet from the Maipo Valley.
As for Los Vascos, I've consistently been underwhelmed by those wines, but look forward to tasting the Le Dix you mention, as it presumably represents a more serious effort on their part. When I visited in 1995, they were still doing the traditional flood-style irrigation rather than using drip lines, and the wines were predictably diluted. Didn't see them this time around, but I'll do some checking....

Falls Church: Dear Michael - can you steer me toward some good Provencal roses? Don't expect the variety available in France but as the days warm up and salade nicoise appears, nothing beats a lovely, dry rose. Merci!

Michael Franz: Hey...are we on the same wavelength or what? I've got spring fever so bad that I actually ENJOYED taking out the trash this morning! [Which is no small job...since it also involves bottle recycling!] The prospect of a juicy little rose from Provence with a nice piece of grilled fish is just about as appealing as anything I can imagine. However, the stuff is really best when absolutely fresh, and the 2002s are just starting to trickle into the market, and I've yet to taste them. So, if you're impatient and want to go for a 2001 (or even 2000) that is nevertheless guaranteed to still be fresh, you'll need to pony up about $20 for Domaine Tempier from Bandol, which is not only the world's greatest rose, but also one of the world's top wines regardless of category!

Richmond, Va: Regarding the Virginia direct shipping legislation:
Among other things, House Bill 1652 enacts a new section, sec. 4.1-112.1, which permits direct shipment of up to 2 cases per month of wine and beer to individuals for personal consumption. The shipment has to be by someone holding a wine shippers' license (or beer shippers' license), for which there's a $50 annual fee (plus doubtless some amount for an application fee). The Bill was passed by both houses and sent to the governor. The governor has made a couple of suggested amendments to the Bill (they look minor to me), and sent it back to the legislature for their review and approval.

There's also a Senate Bill 1117 which appears (at first glance) to be identical to House Bill 1652, and is in the same position of having been passed by the legislature, sent to the governor, and returned by him with amendments.

So it looks promising. One significant drawback may the the requirement of the shipper needing to have a wine shippers' license - small wineries in Oregon, for instance, may not want to got to the expense of obtaining and maintaining a license from Virginia unless they can be assured of more than just a couple of case purchases each year.

Michael Franz: Thank you!

Fredericksburg, Va: Hi,
Sorry I missed your other articles on Greek wine, had I only known...

Have you tried the Santorini Nikteri? My wife and I discovered it when we were travelling in Greece in 2000. Everyone that tried it has not been disappointed. Available through Fotis and Son Imports, Huntington Beach, CA order online at www.greekfoodandwine.com

Thanks for listening and now I am off to the post archives to look up the other articles.

David Marcos

Michael Franz: Hi...don't know the wine, but I've had some really astonishing wines made from Assyrtiko on Santorini. Thanks for the tip!

San Francisco, Calif: I was a little surprised you didn't mention Vieux Telegraphe in your discussion of Rhone wines. I buy a case of their red every year -- few wines have given me such consistent pleasure year.

Michael Franz: Hi...there was no implied dissing of that wine...I just didn't get a sample from the local wholesaler, which means that the wine was sold out, which means that you are partly to blame! Just kidding...hope you enjoy your case!

German and Austrian wines: Hi Michael. I've posted this before, but you haven't gotten to me, so I thought I'd try again. You've done several articles about German and Austrian wines, and I believe you mentioned you've traveled the countries and tasted wines there. How did you know where to go and what wineries to try? I've been looking for a travel guide that focuses on the wines of Germany and Austria to no avail. We're going to southern Germany and Austria this fall, and I would like to include visits to some wineries in our itinerary. I'd appreciate any assistance you can provide.

Michael Franz: Hi there,
Often, when I don't select a question it is because I don't have any pertinent info. I do this not to conceal my ignorance (which is surely apparent anyway!) but rather to devote my limited time to questions to which I can contribute something. Here I'm at a loss, but the cause is worthy, so:

Anybody out there have a source of info for our friend here?

Washington DC: I was asked by a group of friends to put together a case of wine as a wedding present for some friends who enjoy wine. All told I have a generous $800 to spend. What would you include in the case? The case should include wine for immediate drinking and some they can enjoy over the next few years. The couple in question has an extremely diverse palate and likes to taste new wines all the time.

Michael Franz: Wow! How about:
--Merlot-based Bordeaux from Pomerol
--Cabernet-based Bordeaux from Pauillac
--Trimbach Clos St. Hune Riesling from Alsace
--Krug Grande Cuvee from Champagne
--A top Cote Rotie from the Northern Rhone
--Jayer-Gilles Echezeaux from Burgundy
--A 2001 Auslese from Willi Schaeffer in Germany
--1999 Numanthia from Toro in Spain
--A 1999 super-Tuscan from Italy
--Joseph Phelps Insignia from California
--Penfolds 707 Cabernet 1998 from Australia
--Almaviva 1997 from Chile

and...to make it a baker's dozen...

--Grosset Riesling from Clare Valley in Australia!

Rockville, Md: On the geopolitics of wine...I recently returned from a two-year detail in Paris and was astounded at the mediocre quality available at retail of reasonably priced wine (up to 30 euros). In light of my experience, the chances of getting a good or exceptional bottle of French wine at retail in the US is much higher. My explanation of this paradox is that retail shoppers in France are out of the loop. It is much easier to unload the ocean of plonk on an unsophisticated public and sell the good stuff to restaurants and US importers. As for a boycott to punish the French, I would respond that living well is the best revenge...

Michael Franz: I can't address all of the implications here, but I do want to say: You are absolutely right about the relative merits of the retail wine scene here and there: We're much, much better off!

Arlington, Va: Hello! I wanted to offer another opinion on a subject you brought up a few chats ago... You had mentioned that you were considering switching your general tasting glass from the Riedel Chianti to the Spiegelau version because it put your nose closer to the wine (or something like that).

Your reasoning isn't sound. You smell the vapors from the wine, not the liquid. A larger bowl will capture more vapors. But at the same time, it takes a little longer to fill a larger bowl with those vapors -- depending on the temperature of the wine and ambient air.

I do, however, like both companies' glasses. The differences aren't that important. I just like wine... good wine. The only thing that matters.

Michael Franz: Hi there,
Glad you posted this again, as it showed up right at the end of the session.
There would be absolutely no surprise if my reasoning were unsound, but in this case I don't believe that it is. it is true that a larger bowl can theoretically hold more aromatically-charged air. However, a given sum of wine will only provide a limited sum of aromatic charging, and this can be diffused in a very large bowl, and distance from the liquid can indeed be a factor in all of this. I thin you'll agree that if you were to empty the wine from your glass into a stainless steel bucket, you'd get less aroma from smelling at the lip, and that distance from the liquid would indeed be an issue! This would be true no matter how much time and how much swirling you were to do....

Washington D.C.: A couple quotes from two weeks ago regarding the merits of beer vs. wine that I think many beer lovers would object to:

"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."

Please do! How is wine more "important" as an agricultural product (aside from historical, and sometimes elitist or snobbish, reasons)? Real beer is four things: hops, malted grains, yeast, and water. Unless this statement is tied to the fact that the vintners product is linked directly to the land that they own (putting aside, of course, that a large proportion of wine makers buy their grapes from outside sources). There are a few small beer producers who grow their own grains and hops that I'm sure would take offense at the notion that their product is not "agricultural"

"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."

And I would be prepared to argue the exact opposite (as did the poster who prompted this statement). Preference for wine over beer is COMPLETELY a matter of individual taste. I personally find the pairing of beer to food to be more "diverse and interesting" than wine (and I really do enjoy good vino, it just doesn't do it for me the way a really good beer does). To engage in an I'm-right-you're-wrong battle over this is pointless.

Michael Franz: Yikes! I just saw this in the que with only a couple of minutes to go. Let me say this quickly:
--Wine is an agricultural product in a more important sense than beer because the grapes almost always come from a single agricultural site, the peculiarities and character of which is expressed in the wine.
--Beer, with the different components that you mention, is more a concoction of the brewer than wine is the result of any recipe used by a winemaker. And since the brewer's components typically are sourced from different places, beer simply can't compete with wine in terms of being a beverage with agricultural "somewhereness".
--As for wine's superiority as a partner for food, I say this partly as an (admittedly) subjective assertion, and partly on the objective basis of the fact that there are namy, many more wines than beers that can be brought into play when seeking a synergistic interplay with food (55,000 for sale in the USA alone, and unlike beer, they all change with each new vintage).
--Clearly I've gotten under a few people's skins with that posting, but vive la difference! I'm delighted to see that you enjoy beer so much that the issue could tick you off! I might just have a beer this evening in your honor!

Michael Franz: Sheesh...we're out of time, and indeed I've run over, with dozens of interesting questions that must be left unanswered! If I couldn't get to your question, please try again when we next crank up The Grapevine in two weeks, same time, same site. Until then, contribute to the cause of peace by being nice to a beer drinker!


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

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