Hosted by Michael Franz
Special to the Washington Post
Wednesday, May 7, 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 vinous. 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.
WORD OF WARNING: If I seem a bit off my game today, it is because I am. I was afflicted with a very severe reaction to poison ivy about ten days ago, and am being treated with a prescription of massive doses of prednisone, which is doing the job on my rashes but also doing a job on my brain. One of my best friends, Dr. Michael Apstein (a real doctor; not a mere Ph.D. like me) who happens to be Wine Columnist for the Boston Globe (aside from his medical practice) tells me that I’ve almost certainly got something called “steroid psychosis.” No kidding. So, while the show must go on…don’t invest your life savings based on anything that I say today! The up side of all this is that I’m pretty sure that the steroids will enhance my typing speed!
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!
Falls Church, Va.: Michael,
Please remind us how to find the wines you recommend in your columns. I find that Virginia wine retailers do not use the same distributors as the stores in D.C., so the wines you recommend are often unavailable. You always list the name of the distributor in your column -- should I call the distributor directly and ask where to buy that particular wine? Or do I call my local wine store and ask if they use that distributor? Thanks!
Michael Franz: Hi there,
This whole issue is so difficult and distressing that it is making me almost as crazy as the prescription steroids. Believe me...I feel your pain and understand your frustration. I've written a formal proposal to start a system that would enable us to list the retailers who have each of the wines recommended in the WINE column, but I cannot seem to get any progress on this. So, for the moment, you are probably best off using the D.C. wholesaler as a guide to help your VA retailer figure out who can sell the wine to him/her on your side of the Patomac. If your retailer won't order for you this way, develop a list of phone numbers for retailers and just start calling around on Wednesday mornings. Sorry I can't be more helpful!
Somerville, Mass.: First, I have had two of the wines you recommended in the last week, and want to second one and refute the other. Just last night I had the Domaine des Dorices (Loire Valley, France) Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, and it was delightful. I have been singing the praises of Muscadet to all and sundry for a while now. La Barillere also makes an excellent one, that is slightly crisper and a bit more effervescent, thought it lacks some of the subtler notes of des Dorices.
On the other hand, I found the Cave les Costieres de Pomerols (Coteaux du Languedoc, France) Picpoul de Pinet to be unctuously yucky, like a cheap Viognier. (I have only had cheap varieties of the latter, and cannot recommend them in any way.) Maybe I simply had a badly corked bottle, but mine was not nearly acidic or structured enough. I poured most of it down the sink.
Now to the question: I have a decent but not great sense of when a red wine is age worthy. The tannic structure tells a lot, and even a neophyte like me can learn to read it in very general terms. But I find the aging of whites to be a mystery, and rarely have any idea from one bottle to the next why one is recommended "drink now" while another is "drink now through 2063." What are indicators a consumer of whites ought to be looking for?
washingtonpost.com: Well-Priced Whites for Spring (Post, May 7)
Michael Franz: Hi!
I'm glad that you enjoyed the Muscadet, and am outraged that you didn't like the Picpoul, but then again, mood swings and temper flashes are classic symptoms of steroid psychosis. So its probably me. Still, I tasted that wine before my affliction, and there is no doubting the high quality and sufficient structure of the sample I tasted. My wife tasted it too, and she loved it, and she is even more intolerant of flabby wines than am I. So, clearly, you got a bad bottle. Was it 2002 vintage?
As for your question: I find that there are almost no white wines made anywhere in the world that NEED to be aged, and most of these are white Burgundies that need time to absorb oak. Even these CAN be drunk young; the thing is that they are really better if you can lay off of them for a couple of years. Almost every other white wine from anywhere in the world will get WORSE over time, losing freshness and fruit and acidity and sparkle, and will do so without shedding anything undesirable (like astringent tannins in reds). So, what to do? For my money, drink all whites within a year of purchase unless the your particular experience with a specific wine indicates otherwise.
Fairfax, Va.: Today's column was very useful. On the evenings you describe -- light, warm, airy, sitting on a porch, etc. -- I also love to drink Champagne. Maybe a blanc de blanc or something on the non-Bollinger side of the Champagne scale. What would you recommend? Also why do lower end American sparkling wine producers keep using the name Champagne? They seem to be confusing and, frankly, insulting the consumer while higher end US sparkling wines (Schramsberg, etc.) have given up the terma nd are proudly saying they are sparkling wines from a particular place. Thanks for your thoughts here...
washingtonpost.com: Well-Priced Whites for Spring (Post, May 7)
Michael Franz: Hi,
How about a nice, fluffy bottle of non-vintage Taittinger? At a higher price, for something really spectacular, try to find a bottle of Jacques Selose...a stunning Grand Cru wine that gets its first fermentation in wood. Astonishing stuff.
And for the use of the name "Champagne" by the likes of Korbel: It is unconscionable, and it should be legally prohibited. I will never, ever devote a single line of positive press to anything made outside of Champagne that uses that name. And this is a steady conviction...not a steroid mood swing!
Washington, D.C.: What's your take on the wine selection at Fresh Fields? Do you think their buyer has a good eye (or nose/palate, in this case) for wines and wine values? It's been fun to try a lot of their under-$10 offerings, for example, but I'd be interested in your overall take on their selection/philosophy/skill, or any guiding principles you'd offer us humble consumers.
Many thanks -- and hope you feel better soon!
Michael Franz: Thanks for the good wishes.
I live in Montgomery County, so my Fresh Fields/Whole Foods Market doesn't have wine. Don't get me started on the County monopoly issue...I can feel a temper tantrum coming on. Let's throuw this to our fellow Grapevinistas:
What's the story on wine in these stores? Good stuff? Broad selection? Fair prices?
Washington, D.C.: Michael,
In mid-winter, I discovered a crawl space off my basement that remained a crisp 54-56 degrees, and thought I had found a good place for long-term wine storage. Unfortunately, the temperature there has ranged as high as 68 degrees on the warmest days of spring. It's dark, and still, but humidity varies with the outside weather. Is this acceptable, better than nothing, or should I abandon the idea? I have a case of good 2000 Chateauneuf in there right now.
Michael Franz: This is puzzling. If our spring weather, which hasn't yet gotten very worm, has already raised the temperature as high as 68, it would seem that the space isn't well insulated enough to keep 100+ degree outdoor temperatures from taking the temperature in that space to unacceptably high levels. However, if it were really that susceptible to external temperature, there's no way the swings wouldn't have been wider during the winter. In brief, there's some other variable involved in this equation. So, two questions:
--First, to you: Can you tell me more about the space, especially how deep below grade it is, and also its proximity to any furnace or thermally-significant object?
--Second, to everybody else: Am I crazy? Doesn't seem like an impossible result that cannot be explained without reference to another variable?
Germantown, Md.: Michael, I took your "great reds for under $12" to a local discounter (SFW) and found three of the four I was looking for. The Centine Banfi is outstanding! Thanks. Anything planned for a similar list of whites?
washingtonpost.com: Reds Under $12 (Post, April 23)
Michael Franz: It is in today's paper! Get a copy and start your engines!
Rockville, Md.: Hello Michael,
You have commented in the recent past about the Mantel Blanco sauvignon blanc (year 2000 and 2001). The stores have all seem to run out of the excellent 2001 harvest. I have tried the 2002 and have found it definitely not as good as the 2001; maybe not even as good as the 2000. Have you tried the 2002 yet? Was 2002 a good year in Rueda?
Michael Franz: I haven't yet tried it, but will do so at the first opportunity. 2001 was extraordinary all across nothern Spain. I know that many areas in Europe were hit with lots of rain in 2002, and perhaps Rueda was as well. I'll do some checking....
Waldorf, Md.: Hello there! Loved the article about be-decking your house. I'm having a ladies' night Friday, which includes attending a jazz concert at our local community college. We're having a light gnosh before leaving my house for the concert -- cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktail, etc. What wine would you recommend as an accompaniment?
washingtonpost.com: Stacking the Deck (Post, April 27)
Michael Franz: Thank you! I had a lot of fun writing that story for the Washington Post Magazine. For those who didn't see it, you might click on the link provided here by my always excellent producer (thank you, Eleanor!).
As for light aperitifs, I swear on my life that every one of the wines from today's column would be perfect for the job. All are wonderful aperitifs, and I promise you'll be pleased!
Bethesda, Md.: I'll be having a BBQ for a large group. Ribs, burgers, sausages, and standard picnic salads (some of which will be pot luck). I'm thinking of serving an Albarino (valminor is probably the right price) and I'm looking for an affordable red to serve that can be slightly chilled and go nicely with the mix of food. Can you help?
Michael Franz: Sounds delicious! Here are a few outstanding reds that are affordable and, with just a little impression of ripe sweetness, just right for the spicy edge in BBQ dishes:
--Zinfandel “Old Vine,” Kenwood, Lodi, 2000
--Rosso IGT “Vitiano,” Falesco, Umbria, Italy, 2001
--Pinot Noir, Camelot Vineyard, California, 2001
The first two will only cost $10, and the Camelot rings up at an unbelievable $7. Go get 'em, and have fun!
Fairfax, Va.: On the previous Whole Foods question.... I love the store for all sorts of reasons, but their wine pricing is ridiculous. Sometimes 5, 10 or 15 dollars higher than the wine store around the corner. They do seem to have interesting selection, but I only use them for inspiration and buy elsewhere.
Michael Franz: ...I post this without comment, as I can neither confirm nor deny. I'll also post all other reactions--positive or negative--that come in during the show.
Washington, D.C.: Michael:
Re Fresh Fields wines -- they seem to have a pretty good (though not very wide) selection of wines, which are usually $2-3 more than in the wine shops. They also do a good job of highlighting lesser-known, but good, newcomers. Some thought seems to have been put into the choices, so that what you get for your extra dollars is good chance of enjoying the wine. I buy there occasionally and have not had a disappointing wine.
Michael Franz: ...here's another post...
Washington, D.C.: Fresh Fields can offer some good choices and value. I like Hijos de Barcelo Vina Mayor for about $7 from FF. But some of their recommendations are awful. I always avoid their merlots! That's where they do the mass marketing appeal. Blech.
Michael Franz: ...and another...
Rockville, Md.: For the frustrated Falls Church poster. . .When I used to sell wine at the retail level, I would hear that complaint all the time. A wine that was reviewed in a newspaper or Wine Magazine is now sold out.
Well, in most cases, I told you to buy that wine weeks ago when you were in my store. But you would not take my advice. You wanted an official blessing in writing or worse a particiular number of "points"
Learn to trust your retailer. They should be like your butcher or florist. Let them know what you like, and they will find the wines for you.
Then, the next time you read a glowing review of a wine that has long since sold out, you may just have half a case in your rack.
Michael Franz: I post this interesting comment with mixed feelings. On one hand, a good retailer is clearly invaluable for an open-minded wine lover, and where a good retailer is in question, I endorse this view emphatically. However, many or at least retailers have salespeople who know next to nothing about wine, and who may well have a conflict of interest due to sales incentives. My advice: Know thy retailer, and trust him or her if you've had good success with their recommendations. But also: Continue to read and learn from all available sources to build your independent sense of wine; do not become dependent upon a retailer any more than on a wine writer; continue to seek wines about which you have read which seem interesting to you; trust your own palate and use retail advice to try variations on things you've enjoyed!
Arlington, Va.: Hello! I wish you a quick recovery from the poison ivy. I know how horrible it can be.
I, too, have run into the problem of not finding a wine that was on someone's list. It's just not that big a deal. There are so many wonderful wines, and the only way that you will find them is by trying as many as you can. It seems to be a uniquely American habit, seeing X mentioned and needing to find X to the exclusion of the whole alphabet and perhaps numbers and other unknown symbols. There's so much out there, so much wonderful wine out there that will never make it onto a list.
I don't mean to critize you. Your passion for wines -- everywhere -- is evident. My suggestion is if you can't find a wine from some list, shrug your shoulders and say, "I'd like to try something new..."
Michael Franz: Here's another comment that connects to the previous posting...
Washington, D.C.: Michael:
The crawl space is under a wing of the house, about 2-3 feet below grade. It's behind a wooden door, which itself is not too far from the furnace. So you're right, I'm sure the furnace keeps it from getting too very cold. I know I'm asking you the impossible in trying to visualize my basement, so let me simplify - assuming 68 degrees is as bad as it gets, is that OK?
Michael Franz: Yes, absolutely, if you don't get above 68 degrees, and arent't expecting to age your wines for 20 years, you'll be fine. However: If you've already gotten to 68 this spring, I must repeat my concern that you'll get notably above that in August. Can you insultate that door? Even just lapping some Celotex (foil coated, 4 foot by 8 foot sheets in various thicknesses, stocked with the drywall at Home Depot and the like) and using some weatherstripping might make a big difference....
Fresh Fields Wine: I have to say that I've had great success at Fresh Fields. I've always found what I'm looking for and the folks that work there have been very helpful. One in particular, in the Reston store, recommend a Red Shoulder's Ranch Chardonnay that was big, bold and delicious.
Michael Franz: ...more on Fresh Fields...
Washington, D.C.: Fresh Fields is def. more expensive than a Total Beverage type place but for those of us who live in the District, it can be cheaper than the corner store. I live in Woodley Park and Fresh Fields beats Sherry's prices.
Michael Franz: ...and another one...
re: elegant summer bubbly: I would also recommend a Billecart-Salmon Brut, a wonderful, elegant bubbly in the non-Bollinger camp.
Michael, have you also tried Segura Viudas "Aria" cava? A great cava for under $10.
Michael Franz: And let us not forget Billecart-Salmon Rose!
As for Aria: I find that I don't much care for it, and yet my colleague and friend Paul Lukacs (Washington Times and Washingtonian Magazine) like it. Cavas seem to be polarizing. As I noted in today's review of Avinyo, many Cava are either boring or weird, and of course these characteristics will prove polarizing, as one person's "weird" is another person's "characterful," just as one person's "boring" is another person's "subtle."
Washington, D.C.: A friend just recently introduced me to Malbec and I LOVE it! Nice cross between a Merlot and Cabernet ( I am no expert ) any recomendations on others? I tried an inexspensive brand called Septima, T think.
Michael Franz: Expert or not, you've got the right idea. Try Terrazas, which makes three different levels of Malbec: A regular bottling, a very good Reserva, and an extraordinary "Gran Malbec."
Somewhere, USA: I second Michael's recommendation of the Anton Bauer Gruner Veltliner. This is my new favorite wine. I used it with fantastic restults in a spinach risotto last night -- of course drank a glass of it with the risotto. Have you tried the Jackson Estate unoaked Chardonnay? After trying their Sauvingon Blanc on your recommendation, I branched out into other offerings. While not what you typically think of for Chardonnay -- not heavy, buttery, or oaky -- it is lush and delicious. Perfect Chardonnay for spring.
washingtonpost.com: Well-Priced Whites for Spring (Post, May 7)
Michael Franz: Glad we're in sync. The Jackson Estate is very good, and I consistently enjoy that producer's wines. However, I absolutely insist that you try the “Unoaked” Chardonnay from Kim Crawford (Marlborough, New Zealand, 2002, about $16) which is totally stunning.
Dupont Circle, Washington DC: Michael: I work just one block from the P Street Fresh Fields/Whole Foods. I love their wine dept. for one reason: they stack a very small but diverse (and good!) selection of half-bottles. I am the only one in my family who drinks wine, and then only on weekends. I Just don't need a full bottle going to waste. I wish more places would stock half bottles. They are perfect for picnics or small dinners too. You can get a couple different varietals. Thank you, wine manager at Fresh Fields!
Michael Franz: ...here's another Fresh Fields posting...
Arlington, Va.: Would it be possible to list retailers as well as distributors where the reviewed wines can be found?
Michael Franz: This is exactly what I proposed, and the idea really originated from Ben Giliberti, my friend and colleague in the Wine column. I fleshed out the idea and wrote out a specific proposal, but it hasn't found favor. I may try again, but perhaps we'll all just have to put up with the unfortunate status quo.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Michael -- love the chat -- thanks! My question is about lighter reds, which I prefer for summer, like beaujolais and pinot noir. Can you recommend some beaujolais or another category of red that's light for summer fare?
Michael Franz: Hi,
The top categories in this genre are Sangiovese-based wines from Italy; lighter-style Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja and Navarra in Spain; Pinot Noir from just about anyplace if it is good (which is the hard part, especially at approaachable price levels); and Cabernet Franc-based wines from France's Loire Valley.
Michael Franz: Yikes! We're out of time, with many, many good questions that must go unanswered. Thank you for trying, and please try again when we do this again in two weeks, same time, same site. Until then, stay the heck away from poison ivy and enjoy the spring!
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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