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Michael Franz
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Entertainment Marketplace: Winery Guide

The Grapevine
Hosted by Michael Franz
Special to the Washington Post

Wednesday, May 21, 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.

If you’ve seen today’s “Wine” column in the Post, you know that I published a mini-history of Carmenere from Chile. Telling the complicated (but interesting, I hope!) story required using up almost all of the available space, so here are some tasting notes on the recommended wines:

Terrunyo (by Concha Y Toro) (Puemo Valley) 2000 ($28, National): 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in this. Concentrated and generous dark berry fruit, with lightly herbal aromatic edges. Lots of wood has this still seeming tight. Likely to develop into a truly excellent wine; just very good for the moment, as the wood needs time to meld with the fruit material. The 2001 is fantastic, but not yet released here; a dramatic wine with intense aromatics and explosively expressive fruit augmented by lots of fancy French oak.

Veramonte “Primus” (Alto de Casablanca) Carmenere/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($16, National): This wine is a blend of 60% Carmenere, 22% Merlot, and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon. Since Chile’s wine law dictates that a single variety must comprise 85% of a wine for it to be named after the grape, this wine shouldn’t be included in this column. However, it is far too delicious to be excluded, especially in light of the fact that it is priced far below its value relative to wines of comparable quality. Just a beautifully crafted wine, with no hard edges. Soft, generous, complex, but easy in every important respect. Wood perfectly tuned to the fruit, very soft, ripe tannins. Lovely.

Arboleda (by Caliterra)(Colchagua Valley) 2001 and 2000 ($15, National): Note carefully that there are two wines here, 2001 and 2000, because the 2001 is considerably better. 2000 is certainly still worth a try, but 2001 is striking and fascinating, showing an aspect of Carmenere that is really unique: Extremely dark color and very soft, ultra-ripe fruit, but with herbal aromatics indicative of less-than-fully-ripe fruit from someplace climatically cool. This may prove a bit jarring to those who taste lots of wine and don’t expect to receive these signals in tandem, but the wine is wonderful if approached with an open mind. Tastes something like, maybe, Cabernet Franc from the Barossa Valley? 50% new wood in this, but the material is up to the challenge. 6% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Syrah; 2% Merlot.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Rapel Valley) 2001 ($7.65 whole; Select): An excellent wine from a clearly outstanding vintage for red wines, this shows very dark, deeply colored and flavored, juicy ripe fruit. Red and black, with berry flavors and lots of chocolate layered through. Ripe, with no green notes; juicy and really expressive.

Casillero del Diablo Rapel Valley 2001 ($9, National): Blackberry, chocolate, black pepper and oak spice. Tasted many times during the past two months, and always unbelievably good for he money.

Santa Rita Rapel Valley 2001 and 2000 ($7, National): The 2000 is a solid wine that I’d be happy to recommend at $10—much less $7. But the 2001 is an outright steal, offering enough flavor and fun and interest to justify a price fully double the $7 tag. You MUST try this wine.

WORTH A SEARCH: The following Carmeneres are not readily available in this area at the moment, but they performed well in my tastings in Chile earlier this year, so be on the lookout: Errazuriz (Aconcagua Valley) Don Maximiano Estate “Single Vineyard” 1999; Luis Felipe Edwards (Colchagua Valley) 2001; Errazuriz (Aconcagua Valley) “Estate” 2001. All tasted in Chile earlier this year; bug your retailer to bug his/her wholesaler to but the importer to get on the stick with these!

ALSO TASTED: The following wines did not earn a recommendation, and are noted here as a warning that they do not show Carmenere’s potential: Portal del Alto (Maule Valley) “Gran Reserva” 2000; Casa Julia (Maipo Valley) 2001; 35 Sur (Valle Central) 2001; Aromo (Maule Valley) Reserva Privada 2000; Castillo de Molina (Lontue) Reserva 2000; Ventisquero (Maipo Valley) Reserva 2001.

So…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!

Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: I like red wine chilled. Am I weird?

Michael Franz: You may be weird, but not on this count! Most Americans drink their reds way too warm...75 degrees rather than about 62, which makes a remarkable difference in how they perform. (Over 70 or so, they start showing too much alcohol, and the bouquet becomes diffuse, and acidity disappears). Now, I don't recommend going with fully-refrigerated temperatures even for whites (take 'em out of the fridge for 15 minutes or so before drinking), but putting a chill on lighter reds like Chianti, Pinot Noir, Rioja (or other tempranillo-based wines from Spain), Cabernet Franc from the Loire, or, if you must, Beaujolais, makes perfect sense. This is especially true in Spring and Summer, though there's probably no point in noting this, since we're apparently never going to come out of this perpetual monsoon.

Rockville, Md.: Hi Michael,

I prefer not to purchase French wines at this time. Can you suggest Chablis, Rhone (red) wine, and Alsace Gewurz substitutes?


Michael Franz: Now THAT is an interesting question. Even the political implications are interesting, as it may or may not make sense to embark upon this course for reasons of political conscience. [On one hand, it may not make sense to punish winemakers and importers, who are not much more likely to support Pres. Chirac's views on intervention in Iraq than Pres. Bush's. On the other hand, you may not regularly buy anything else made in France, and may not have another means at your disposal to make a personal statement of disapproval of French policy.]
But your question pertains to Wine, not Political Science: There is no substitute for Chablis. It is a geological and geographical miracle, and no other Chardonnay is remotely like it. Closest thing: Unoaked Chardonnay from Marlborough, New Zealand. Try Kim Crawford.
Rhone Reds: This isn't quite so tough, but there are no really close EQUIVALENTS, because Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre from anyplace else doesn't quite have the earthy terroir characteristics imparted by either the Northern or Southern Rhone. (Something close to Chateauneuf-du-Pape is easier to find than something plausibly akin to Hermitage or Cote Rotie.) On the low end, try Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley (WA) Syrah 2000 ($12) for starters; it is fantastic and should be keeping winemakers in St. Joseph and Crozes Hermitage up at night.
Alsace Gewurz? Easiest of the three, but largely because the grape itself has such a strong signature that terroir issues recede into the background. I really like Thomas Foggarty from Monterey, and both Navarro and Lazy Creek from Mendocino are exceptional. And: Hard to find but fantastic are some of the renditions from the Finger Lakes and--believe it or not--Michigan!

Washington, D.C.: I was recently given a tin of foie gras - what is the best wine to match it?

Michael Franz: The safest thing would be to give it to me, so that I can do some careful testing and make sure that you've got just the right match for your next tin.

Assuming that you're too clever to fall for that, I need to know: Is it a tin of "Pate de Foie Gras," or a tin containing solid Fois Gras? Big difference betweent these (and we've got our fingers crossed in hopes that you've go the latter), and with the right wine for them. Please post again!

Washington, D.C.: Michael,
Great column today, just great. Malbec is one of my favorite varietals, I first tried it years ago based on one of your columns...

Here's my specific question: for Father's day, we are thinking of grilling a variety of German sausages (weisswursts, brats, knockwursts, well you get the picture). My dad is perhaps one of the biggest fans of your columns and loves to spend his afternoons walking up to the wine stores on Conn. and Wisc. avenues, just window shopping their selections. So I want to serve some wine with our wursts, rather than the usual beers. Any suggestions?

washingtonpost.com: Carmenere, Lost and Found (Post, May 21)

Michael Franz: I like you and your dad for about eight reasons, foremost among them being our shared love of GRILLED SAUSAGE! This may not come as a surprise, given my Germanic family name, but we're totally sympatico there! (And, we need to get your dad together with mine; mine recovered his mother's German-by-way-of-Hungary sausage recipe years ago, and found a sausage stuffer in an antique shop, and had his pipeline welders rig him up a smokehouse, and first he and now my whole family make our OWN sausage each year!)
Sausage is magnificent with wine, and the best thing is, different sausages work with very different wines, so you've got an excuse to turn your Dad loose on Conn. and Wisc. Ave. with a big order! Chardonnay and drier styles of Riesling are great with Weisswurst; Brats and Knockwurst do well with medium-bodied reds; Blood sausage is awesome with good Rioja; and things like lamb sausage are stupifyingly great with wines from the Northern Rhone. My suggeston: Get a whole bunch of different sausage (not just German), get all of your favorite wines, block off the street, take two aspirin, throw away your car keys, and devote the day to Sausage Wine Science! Report your results here in the aftermath!

New York, NY: Great article today as usual. Two clarifications: The Rothschild you mention is a mostly Carmenere bottling that is only recently available, there is also the "Escudo Rojo", a joint venture between Rothschild and Concha y Toro which is a very nice cab/carmenere blend. And the Veramonte Primus is not pure carmenere but one third each cab/merlot/carmenere. My impression is that carmenere improves with blending, as for instance cab gives the final product more structure. Agree?

washingtonpost.com: Carmenere, Lost and Found (Post, May 21)

Michael Franz: Hi,
--Right on about the Rothchild;
--Didn't get a sample of Escudo Rojo for this column;
--Veramonte Primus is actually 60% Carmenere, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet. Please see my tasting note above.

--Yes, there's good reason to believe that Carmenere is better with a 10-15% addition of other grapes to complexify and lengthen the finish. Even the winemaker behind the Terrunyo is with you on this. You've got a good palate, so I hope you can't write!

Falls Church, Va.: Okay, NOW you've piqued my interest. Give us the details on the Michigan wine you oh-so-slyly alluded to in the previous post. My family is from the Detroit environs and needless to say, "Michigan" and "wine"....well....kielbasa and Pabst, yes but wine, no! Do tell!

Michael Franz: I wish I could be more specific, but my experience is almost entirely indirect, from bottles that were procured and shown to me in blind tastings by my friend Paul Lukacs, who writes about wine for The Washington Times and Washingtonian Magazine, but who also covers wines from across all of America as a book author (see his award-winning "American Vintage"). So, I don't have the specifics for you, but trust me: Wicked wines from up there, and sparklers too! When you're back there for Thanksgiving, excuse yourself from the table, sneak out the back door, roll the car down the driveway in neutral, and then hit the gas and the road! Taste and report back!tasting

Washington, D.C.: Hello Michael,

Thank you for your columns. I truly enjoyed today's piece on Carmenere. Would you be able to recommend some good food pairings for it? Last weekend I picked up a bottle of the Casillero del Diablo Carmenere and would love to open it up over dinner soon.

Michael Franz: You can drink these with anything that you like with other Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet (Sauvignon or Franc from the New World). So, beef, lamb, or robust, grilled preparations of veal...and, of course, cheese!

Washington, D.C.: My impression is that the quality of Cabs in Chile has sort of plateaued after a fairly quick ascent in the 90s. Do you share that view? Is Chile still a good value alternative to California for Cabs or would you point me to another country? Thanks.

Michael Franz: I think that you must be a wonderful person but no, I don't share that view. I think that the wines actually slumped in the late 1980s, rebuilt in the 1990s, and are now poised to challenge every Cabernet producing country in the world--and at ALL PRICE LEVELS! The low end stuff is better every year as producers have turned away from flood irrigation to drip systems. Medium priced wines like the Marques wines from Concha y Toro are stunning at $14 (look for 2001 especially), and I've tasted some $75 Cabs from Maipo that would rock your world. Really. I'll be back with more on these....

Silver Spring, Md.: First let me say this...your deck is a work of art. Really great ideas and extremely well executed. Fabulous.

Now my question.

Montrachet. Is there anything at a not too outrageous price that you recommend? It seems to be a $30 a bottle and up thing. Anything a little less pricey?

And Bravo on your article today. Asa big fan of South American wines in general, I like to see them get press. The wines are far superior to most California wines at the equivalent price point. I can get decent table wine for $8.50 for a 1.5l bottle. What else can you ask for?

Between South America and Austrailia, the domestic wines are just not measuring up at the lower price points for the day to day quaffer. I should not have to spend $10+ dollars for a decent bottle of domestic red or white.

washingtonpost.com: Stacking the Deck (Post, April 27)

Michael Franz: Thank you!

If you can find Montrachet for less than $50, call me! let's be sure we're talking about the same thing, though: Le Montrachet is the most famous vineyard by far in Burgundy's Cote d'Or, and wines bearing this appellation generally ring up at over $100. However, wines from nearby vineyards can carry as appellations the name of two communes attached to Montrachet: Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet. These will include "Villages" wines theat can be had for less than $30, but qualtiy is iffy and very specific to both producer and vintage variables. Also, Premier Cru wines with these appellations, from about $30 to $75, and then Grand Cru wines from sites like Batard Montrachet that are adjacent to Le Montrachet, which range from abotu $50 to $125. Check with a good retailer for a few things to try in your price range....

Washington, DC: Greetings! I'm headed to the Burlington/Montpelier area of Vermont this weekend and was curious if you or your readers knew of any wineries to see--or skip. Thanks!

Michael Franz: Can anybody help with this?

Alexandria, Va.: A food and wine pairing question: I purchased a bottle of sweet white wine from a Virginia winery recently. The wine does not have a specific varietal as it is named after something unique to the winery. It is more fruity than flowery. Which foods would you serve with this wine? The simpler the recipe the better as I am no gourmet chef. Also, if the weather cooperates this weekend, I would like to incorporate this wine into my holiday celebrations, so any foods that could be grilled might be a nice touch. Thanks!

Michael Franz: Hey, what could be simpler than ripe, fresh berries and a couple of cookies? I've tried EVERYTHING, and aside from maybe a fruit tart, this is really the best partner, and I serve fruit and cookies frequently--even when we're hosting fancy chefs and winemakers. I've long since given up trying to impress people at the table, since everybody whose opinion I value turns out to be impressed only by how good things taste--not how laborious the preparation may have been, or how intricate the finished product. Berries and cookies: You can take it to the bank!

Washington, D.C.: what was the chinon you mentioned a couple of weeks back -- you forgot to mention it in your column -- and online indicated he was a bit of a rebel wine maker....where can i find it?

Michael Franz: May not be stocked in more than a few places, so: Print off the transcript of that show, and ask your retailer to order a bit for you from Country Vintner, which is the local wholesaler. Good luck!

Arlington, Va.: Hello. This is in response to a topic covered in the last chat. Someone asked how to find your recommended wines in retail stores in Virginia, and you responded that it is a very confusing issue having to do with distributors, etc. A wine store owner wrote in and said that people should not give so much weight to your reviews and should learn to trust their local retailers instead. Personally, I prefer to purchase a wine that has been recommended and described in detail because I have limited funds for which to experiment. I have tasted many different wines and know my preferences, which is why I prefer to select wines from yours and other critic's lists that match my preferences and that are good. I'm sure there are many others in my position, and it would be nice if local retailers would recognize that consumers often like to purchase wines recommended in your columns.

Michael Franz: Well, gee, I'm sure not going to pick a fight with you over this! That exchange was really quite interesting, and I remain agreed with that person that good retailers CAN be invaluable, but also that good retailers REMAIN the exception. Moreover, the quality of advice even within some of the better stores can be quite uneven, depending on which consultant you happen to get, and how well trained (or tired, or cranky, or bored with your question) that person may be. One big advantage that writers have: We taste things systematically (e.g., every wine in a particular category, in close succession, rather than one Chablis from each wholesaler every other week), and really have time to assess the wines and collect our thoughts before ranking and recommending things. Oh, and one more thing: Have a look at how most retailers promote their wines: Not with their own reflections, but with ratings and remarks from wine writers. But the bottom line, again, is this: Get help from both retailers and writers as you learn, but learn with the long-term objective of developing INDEPENDENT preferences...and I mean independent from BOTH retailers and writers!

Michael Franz: You people never cease to amaze me: We're out of time, and I must have three dozen questions that will need to go unanswered! Thank yo ufor your energetic and thoughtful and consistent participation! Please forgive me if I couldn't get to your question, and join us 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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