Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Ignore the Name and Try this Wine: “B I T C H,” the Wine by Philip S. Kampe

You can’t help noticing the bottle on the shelf.

With a pink neck and bold black label emphasizing  the word, “BITCH,” it’s had to pass up this affordable wine ($14),

Its a wine to show off to a crowd or one to bring to an event where social distancing is practiced. Or even, serve it along with the other Bitch wines, Grateful Palate imports.

As founder Dan Philips might say: we have a Bitch for each course. Grateful Palate imports Bitch Bubbly, Bitch White, Bitch Vodka, Bitch Power and Bitch Chocolate Truffles.

Yes, the name is catchy, but, what’s in the bottle of this Spanish (Aragon) wine?

The 2016 Bitch Grenache exploded with obvious aromas of raspberry, upper Michigan cherries and Australian style, black licorice. The bouquet enticed my plates curiosity. Which was awakened and even startled with juicy fruit-especially blackberry, raspberry, red plum and pronounced cherry. That’s where the flavors began to open on my palate, followed by a healthy dose of baking spice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and milk chocolate dipped glazed apricots.

The tannins were soft,
I’m guessing the extra aging of this 2016 un-oaked Grenache contributed to its exceptional acidic balance, holding off the ripe fruit and 14.5% alcohol. Its structured, soft and truly enjoyable.

If the name of the wine is offensive to you, ignore it and try this wine. Its affordable, available and delicious.

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Komarna7-“High Quality” Plavac Mali, a Croatian Red Wine Made by Seven Wineries by Philip S. Kampe

Croatia is a beautiful country.

Years ago I spent four months on the Dalmatian coast, traveling in a VW camper. Split to Dubrovnik was one of the many drives where the seaside and somewhat dangerous coast roads, with memorials and monuments to those who perished in freak accidents, adorned the road.

The beauty of Croatia was the lure.

 Since those days, my curiosity of food and wine from Croatia has been very high on my list of what to learn more about. I have a great Croatian friend, who has been an inspiration for the past twenty years. He has opened my eyes with observations about Croatian food and wine. I’m seafood oriented, he’s meat oriented.

We both agree on wines.

So, when we both were about to taste this “High Quality” Dry Red Wine, as the label expressed, we were doubters, simply because who in their right mind would prejudice you with the words “ HIGH QUALITY”  That means that the wine has to, 100% of the time, turn into a “ High Quality” wine on your palate a hundred per cent of the time.

We all know that’s impossible.

So, after definitive advice from Brendan David Edwards of 21st Century Wines, regarding decanting the 2016 Plavac Mali, I followed his direction for the wine to breathe. In fact, two hours was necessary for this “High Quality” wine to reach its peak.

Seems like I sampled its growth, every fifteen minutes.

Like a new born horse, it takes a little while to get on your feet.

Once this 2016 Komarna Plavac Mali woke up, (2 hours), the super “High Quality” of the complex wine kicked in. My Croatian friend would say it’s definitely a “meat wine,” and I would agree. Its dry with medium tannins, rich, but needs to age, rounded with medium acidity, has concentrated fruits, a long finish and has lots of spice and chocolate.

At under $24 a bottle, paired with aging capabilities, this is the wine to buy.

Komarna 7, actually is a serious name for the wine.

Seven vineyards blend their Plavac Mali wines together as a collaborative experience, market only one Plavac Mali together, the Komarna7, and market it to America through Croatian Premium Wine Imports (Boston, Ma).

If you like wines like Sagrantino from Umbria and Primotivo from Puglia, you will love this wine. Its big, bold, with 14.5% abv and complex.

Why not put a case in your basement and age this underpriced beauty.
It won’t be here very long!

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Three Quarantine Russian River Valley Wines from Ron Rubin You Should Be Drinking by Philip S. Kampe

The more time we have at home means the more time we have to learn about wines. Its a big wine world out there.

 With well over ten thousand vineyards in America and 89% in California, its obvious what states wines to try extensively, until I begin dreaming  about the wines from Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.

A lot of my ‘workaholic friends’ who are home bound ask for wine suggestions-each one with different price points. Most prefer wines in the $15, $20 and $25 range.

It seems $10 bottles of wine are out of favor or they are embarrassed to ask.

I believe a good way to learn about regions and wines is to find wines that are from the same vineyard and various locations on their property. Sampling the same variety, whether, oaked or un-oaked is a mind opener, as well as sampling a single variety from  a single plot versus the same variety from several plots in the vineyard.

Recently, I was introduced to the wines of Ron Rubin. He is an entrepreneur and founder of the Republic of Tea. His story is interesting and on his website, if you have interest. What interests me are his wines, their quality and affordability.

The Pam’s Un-Oaked 2018 Chardonnay was made specifically for his wife, Pam, who is obviously not a lover of California style, buttery and toasty Chardonnays. Her husband took care of that and made this wine especially for her. Winemaker, Joe Freeman modeled the Chardonnay after a Riesling-low alcohol, lots of sunny fruit and off dry. Its a wine that should be poured quite cold and served festively like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Its under $14 a bottle.

The complete contrast to Pam’s Un-Oaked Chardonnay is Ron Rubin’s 2018 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Its a barrel fermented wine, using a mix of both American and French oak. Its buttery, oaky, toasty profile opens up to lively acidity, full of hints of butterscotch, cream cake icing, burnt pineapple and vanilla. If you like California style of buttery Chardonnay, at $19 a bottle, this wine should fulfill your desire.

Ron Rubin Winery makes an affordable Pinot Noir , at $24 a bottle. Pinots under $40 a bottle are rarely enjoyable. This one is. Its dry, smooth with a medium body, full of cherry, strawberry, vanilla, oak, dark chocolate, plum and blackberry. Its dark ruby color and long finish with red berries and smoke make this a wine to buy over and over, again.

Philip S. Kampe

Monday, May 11, 2020

EXCLUSIVE: How the Coronavirus Affected Two Wine Shops in Massachusetts by Philip S. Kampe

Life in western Massachusetts has been tourist oriented for as many years as one can remember. With an abundant amount of ski slopes to choose from in the winter and the seasonal likes of Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow, The Clark Museum, The Mount, Mass MoCA, Berkshire Theater Festival, Hancock Shaker Village and a handful of year round spas, including Canyon Ranch and Miraval, there is little doubt that the area is hopping with locals, tourists and second home owners much of the year.

The second home owners comprise families from the New York City area (under three hours by car) and Boston (under two and a half hours). The demographics and deep pockets help keep Berkshire county alive.

My observation for this second home owner economic infusion started many years ago when my first business, The Candy People, opened in downtown Pittsfield in 1982. Jack Welch and Gene Shallot were among my weekly customers.

When I expanded and opened my second  ice cream shop, Fabulous Phil's, in 1989 at the ill fated Berkshire Mall, three quarters of sales on weekends were attributed to the second home owners. Add the buying power of the locals and transplants to the area and Berkshire county is sound, business wise.

At least, this is what it was like, pre-coronavirus.

What are these people doing during quarantine? Apparently, the second home owners have found their homes as havens and are working from home-in the Berkshires. Since these coronavirus transplants are here for awhile, maybe forever, their buying power has helped our community.

My interest is solely on how the local wine and spirit establishments are doing, sales wise. Are customers in the stores? Do they pick-up curbside or are their products delivered?

With no sales tax on wine and spirits, the customer is already ahead of the game.

Joe Nejaime is the proprietor of  two stores, named Nejaime's, one in downtown Lenox and the the other in the center of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His brother, Jim Nejaime, owns Spirited, a shop in Lenox, on busy Route 7. These are the two shop owners I interviewed and these are their responses.

1) Is your store open for business the same hours as before the pandemic?
Jim from Spirited-Before 9am-9pm Monday through Saturday. Now: 9am-7pm Monday through Saturday.
Joe from Nejaime's-Hours changed to 9am to 6pm Monday through Saturday and 11am o 6pm Sunday. Normal hours, 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday will gradually resume.

2) Do you do curbside pickup? If so, what percentage of your business is curbside?
Jim-Yes, we immediately began curbside pick-up. About 60% of our business is curbside.
Joe-Yes, curbside pick-up +/-20%

3) Since your shop is open, do you have more or less sales then a year ago at the same time from from February to now?
Jim-Yes, our sales are higher than comparable months.
Significantly increased during the lead up to and is continuing during the pandemic.

4) Have buying trends changed? If so, how?
Jim-Clients are much more trusting to allow us to select for them. They want higher quality products than before. And they are very explorative, and willing to try new, recommended products. They are also using, exploring and placing curbside, shipping and delivery orders through our website much more than before. Exponential growth in web sales.
Joe-Customers are often ordering in case quantities as well as large sizes. Quicker transactions and higher quality products.

5) Are brand names outselling specialized wines?
Jim-No, both are selling well.
Joe-Brands always have outpaced specialized wines. But, unique wines are still selling due toour customer service and the selections available through

6) Have beer sales increased? What are customers buying?
Jim-Beer sales have increased-primarily craft beers. Sales of spiked seltzers have increased similarly.
Joe-Beer sales are up. Craft beer sales are up and commercial brands like Bud and Coors are brisk.

7) Have spirit sales surged?
Jim-Yes, spirit sales have surged. People are buying higher quality spirits-primarily, Bourbon, Whiskeys, Scotch, Vodka and Gin. Many are buying Tequila and Mezcal also, as well as aperitifs and digestives.
Joe-Yes, top shelf is very active. Customers are very discerning.

8) You sell charcuterie. Have sales increased or decreased?
Jim-Our cheese, charcuterie and panini sales have all increased dramatically.
Joe-Our large selection of cheese and charcuterie and all of our specialty groceries are selling well. Fresh deliveries arrive weekly. 

9) Are you able to receive deliveries from your vendors, as easily as prior to the pandemic?
Jim-There are minor interruptions in product flow to us-but, for the most part, we are able to re-stock and get deliveries.
Joe-No interruption in deliveries by suppliers.

10) Do you have new customers? Or mostly the same from pre-pandemic?
Jim-We do have a very significant increase in new clients shopping with us, and they have been very appreciative about being able to be provided with our products to enjoy while they are quarantined.
Joe-Long standing patrons and new ones too.

11) Do you deliver wine? What percentage of customers prefer delivery?
Jim-We do deliver to every corner of Berkshire county. I'd estimate about 5% of clients aew utilizing our delivery service. More are using and enjoying Curbside service.
Joe-Yes, we deliver 10-15%, as an estimate.

12) Have you reduced or increased staff?
Jim-We have added staff, especially in the areas of answering call in orders and deliveries. We have some staff working from home, due to concern of exposure.
Joe-Same staffing levels.

My first take from the answers suggests that the wine and spirits world is as active as ever. Business is booming. Curbside pick-up has a new life. Hand selling wine via suggestions has reached a new high. With the cannabis shops closed during the pandemic, it should be obvious that the wine and spirit shops should emerge as the only legal choice for consumers.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Rich, Deep 2015 Reserva Rioja from Beronia Meets It’s Perfect Food Pairing by Philip #. Kampe

At this most crucial time of separation from the ones you love, thanks to the Coronavirus, for some of us, it creates the opportunity to cook. In my case, for the past 26 years, I have been the sole cook in our household. So, the pandemic is only a stretch from reality.

My wife, Maria, just started cooking her Caprese mother’s recipes. Its a first since we have been married.  She uses her mother’s recipes and has cooked soups, primarily. lentil,  chicken and Pasta Fasul. All have been winners. Her mother, Anna, was an exceptional cook.

I realize that writing only about wine is fine, but, why not pair the wine with selected food. And why not share the recipe? I am one of the types of cooks who doesn’t use a recipe. I don’t measure amounts, but, take a pinch of this and a pinch of that. I grew up in New Orleans and learned the basics from my mother.

In Italy, where food is so important, most households choose the wine first, then cook a meal around it. That’s been the mantra in our house for years.

Today is no exception.

The wine we chose is from the Rioja region in Spain. It is the largest wine producing area in Spain, located in north central Spain, about a two drive from Bilbao. Red wines shine in Rioja and Tempranillo is the star.

The wine we chose to pair a meal with is a 2015 Beronia Reserva. It is 95% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano and 1% Mazuelo.  Spain, as like most wine producing countries has countless indigenous varieties. Wines that retail under $20 a bottle is my usual ‘go to’ price range. Big wines like this one at 14.5% alcohol pair best with beef, lamb, veal and poultry. I’m not much of a meat eater, but, I do love lamb.

Fortunately, I had a three pound lamb in the freezer, left over from Easter. It was intended for our 91 year old friends who spend the holidays with us. Due to the Coronavirus, Easter didn’t happen this year.

Cooking lamb is quite simple. The Greeks do it so well. I’ve adopted their style. I marinate the boneless lamb in olive oil, rub anchovies on the outside and make holes in the flesh and stuff them with sliced garlic and rosemary. I marinate the lamb for several hours or even days, After marinating the lamb, put it in your fridge. Take it out and hour before cooking it in the oven. Preheat your oven for thirty minutes at 300F. Put your lamb on an upper shelf and cook for an hour- if you like it medium rare. The Greeks eat lamb well done. If that’s the case factor in another thirty minutes in the oven. My wife eats lamb with mint jelly.

Pairing lamb with this Rioja wine was perfect. The gamey lamb needs a big wine. The 2015 Beronia Reserva is bold, dry, tannic and acidic. The wine evolved into another wine once it paired with the lamb. It became velvety and soft.  The lamb balanced the wine. It was rather magical. The leather and spice and oak in the wine appeared before the plummy fruit took over and lingered on the palate.

The 2015 Beronia Reserva was aged for five years. The aging developed notes of vanilla, cherry, spicy plum, chocolate, dates and leather on the palate. Frankly, all of these nuances appeared while it was paired with the lamb. Does that mean that this is a food wine.? Absolutely, yes.

Beronia Vineyards sources their grapes from two-hundred growers. Vines range from thirty to sixty years old. Winemaker Matias Calleja selects the grapes, parcel by parcel. Its as if the vineyards are his. He has complete knowledge of Beronia’s 70 acres of vineyards and the 2000 acres Beronia sources in Rioja Alta. All of the growers are within a six mile radius from Beronia’s vineyard.

Philip S. Kampe

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Its May and I’m ready for my First Rose of the Season-Vina Real 2018 Rioja Crianza LaGuardia by Philip S. Kampe

Imagine waiting for Cinco de Mayo to wake up your senses and your desire for Rose wine. Today’s weather of 72F (22C) was an oddity during this perpetual spring season in western Massachusetts. Snow is expected next weekend, while temperatures dip in the 30’s at night.

The Coronavirus has kept us at home, so, when it is time to open the daily bottle or two of wine, anticipation grows. With more then a dozen bottles of rose in my wine cellar, it was difficult to choose the first one of the season.

I looked at all of the bottles available, thought about opening the traditional bottle from Provence and knew that my heart was still in Spain, having returned from five weeks in Spain on 10 March, barely in time to escape the pandemic.

Having visited Rioja and the winery that produces Vina Real, the choice was easy. C.V.N.E., (Campania Vincola del Norte de Espana), the producer, also known as Cuna is located in a group of 19th century buildings surrounding a courtyard in Haro (not too far from Bilbao).

Rioja is well known for its red wines and their phenomenal aging characteristics. There are three different regions in Rioja: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alvesa and Rioja Oriental, each producing varieties that grow best at various elevations.

Rioja Alta, the highest area is known for bright, elegant varieties, while Rioja Oriental, which has conditions like the southwest in America, hot and dry. Varieties produced there are higher in alcohol, deeper n color and add body to blends.

Tempranillo adds backbone to wines, while Viura, a white variety, adds crispness, complexity and  life to wines.

The 2018 Vina Real Rosado is made from 30% Tempranillo and 70% Viura. Its truly salmon pink in color-the desirable color in the U.S. Europe likes darker rose wines. The bouquet is intoxicating, strawberry, lime, tangerine, white peach and rotten apricot. On the palate, the wine is seamless, well balanced and reminiscent of a fruity, light, acidic Southern Hemisphere white wine. Its a young Crianza aged for five months in oak and only 12.5% alcohol.

I paired it with a ‘Ramp Pasta,’ but know that’s seasonal. It certainly would pair with fish, chicken, ceviche and light cheese.

Try this wonderful Rose if you can find it. At under $15 a bottle, its a true bargain.

Philip S. Kampe

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Famiglia Pasqua 2015 Amarone Della Valpolicella Ranks Highly in a Difficult Year for Winemakers by Philip S. Kampe

Having attended three Anteprima Amarone tastings of Valpolicella wines in Verona (Italy), I was primed for judging the new vintages, normally 100=150 producers. 2014 was an exceptional year, yet, according to the vineyards, 2015 would not be the same. I was told that the winemakers who produced a 2015 vintage with poor weather and farming would shine, just because of their perseverance.

I now can attest to that fact-the 2015 Valpolicella from Famiglia Pasqua reaches heights for a year of uncertainty. If I didn’t know about the setbacks, I would have scored the wine differently, but, knowing the obstacles, there is no doubt that Famiglia Pasqua’s 2015 Amarone would have stood out in any given year.

Several years ago I visited Famiglia Pasqua. No invitation, just my desire to meet the winemaker and see the facility. They obliged, showed me their operation and actually brought me to a local restaurant for lunch, where we sampled more wines after tasting twenty or so at their facility.

Obviously, they won me over.

During this pandemic, with exchange rates in our favor, wouldn’t it be nice to purchase a special bottle of wine? At under $40 a bottle, this should be a possibility.

The wine is deep in color, with an intense bouquet of fennel, white pepper, dark cocoa and blackcurrant. The palate is overwhelmed with a contrast of serrano chiles and raspberry jelly. Soft tannins exist, but, paired with the appropriate food, balance out.

Famiglia Pasqua sources their grapes for the Valpolicella blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone and Negrara. The grapes dry in wooden crates for five months, where their concentration increases by a third. The grapes are then pressed and fermented for a month, then are racked before being placed in oak barrels for up to twenty months.

The result is a wine that is full bodied, savory and rich, with silky tannins that leads to a long lasting finish. Its doubtful that anyone would complain about the 15% alcohol in this stellar, bargain priced Amarone.

Its destined for your Coronavirus dinner table, and if not, mine.

Wines like this Amarone aren’t released until four years after the vintage date. These wines age very well and can be drunk immediately, but, in many cases aging is desirable. With the Coronavirus as part of our reality, I opt to drink this wine as soon as possible.

Philip S. Kampe

How Hungarian Cabernet Franc Changed My Life by Philip S. Kampe

My Dad was known to his friends as ‘Cab Franc.’ You see, his name was really Joseph and all of his social time with visiting frien...