Ayala Champagne joins World Class Wines

Two years ago I attended a French Trade tasting in Chicago and was introduced to several new Champagne producers but one of the standouts was Champagne Ayala.

The Brut Majeur which is the real value of the line-up is a dryer style NV Brut with only 9 grams of sugar (some cuvees have as much as 200 grams!) but still delivers a broad palate of richness and flavor, but with a delicate bubble bead that is creamy and elegant.  The Brut Majeur also has an average of “93” on the Echelle des Crus scale*!   I was equally excited about the rosé here, very refined style and yet persistent and refreshing.

A petite histoire……..
The only French champagne house with Latin roots, AYALA was established in 1860 in Äy, France by Edmond de AYALA, the son of a Colombian diplomat in Paris, who married the niece of a noble Viscount and received the Chateau of Äy as his dowry, along with prime vineyards located in Aÿ and Mareuil sur Aÿ.

The House of AYALA was one of the elite founding members of the “Ivy League” of the top champagne houses, the Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne.  AYALA was purchased by Bollinger in 2005.

On December 26th, 2008, Ayala was named Wine Producer of the Year 2008 and Ayala Cuvée Rosé Nature named Wine of the Year 2008 by the highly regarded American writer and Champagne expert Ed McCarthy.

Ayala Brut Majeur is also one of the 8 champagnes recommended by the Wall Street Journal and in the Top 10 Affordable Champagnes of Food&Wine.

Welcome Ayala to the World Class Wines family!

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Tour de Farm at the Walker

Tour de Farm visited the Walker Art Center, and the wine and dinner was fantastic.  Living in Minnesota encourages appreciation of the bounty when it arrives, and this even amplified the emotions.

The wines from the evening, with notes by Annette Peters:

Baumann Cotes de Gascogne Blanc from Gascony France– this refreshing summer quaffer is a blend of Columbard, Gros Manseng, and in this vintage a little Ugni Blanc.

It’s from the French Southwest;land of Fois gras, The 3 musketeers, and some of France’s richest heartiest cuisine.  The perky acidity and bountiful fruit give a sweet yet tart impression that makes this a great aperitif wine, perfect for oysters and shelffish.

Served with Trout course

Dal Maso Tai Rosso  from the Veneto, Italy- many of you may have been astonished when this fruity little red arrived in your glass PERFECTLY CHILLED!  Yes, there are red wines that are appropriate for chilling.  This is a juicy and fruity red from near Venice Italy, where it is frequently consumed chilled with fish.   Its made form Grenache planted in the Colli Berici,  and made by one of our favorite rising star winemakers Nicola Dal Maso.  A real fruit bomb, this wine!

Served with  Pork Confit

Pirineos Mesache Tinto from Somantano Spain– this is from one of the coolest areas in Spain at the foot of the Pyrenees.  In addition to the Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot there is a little Basque grape called Peraleta in the cuvee.  Dense, massive yet perfectly ripe and soft.

Served with the beef course

Falesco Rosso 2007- this may be one of the best vintages of this Umbrian icon we’ve ever tasted.  Juicy and spicy, this is made from Merlot , Sangiovese and Cabernet that consistently delivers the character of perfectly ripened fruit .  Ideal with the beef, rich enough and also bright enough to stay refreshing.

Served with Dessert

Moscato  D’Asti, Batasiolo  2008 – “striking” were the words I heard one guest say.  The aromatic Muscat, refreshing bubbles and slight sweetness played well off the berries and the beet combination created by pastry  wonder  Michele Gayer.  This is a perfect summer “uplift” for desserts when other wines would be just too heavy and sweet.

Tour de Farm, Part One

World Class Wines, as wine contributor to TOUR DE FARM,  is very pleased to share selections that come from our portfolio of family producers for the first Tour de Farm dinner of 2009.  We picked these growers because they embrace the philosophy of naturally made, hand-crafted wines from vineyards that proudly leave a legacy for the generations that follow.  As more Americans are drinking wine it is important to support the efforts made by family producers from around the world in the interest of conserving the kinds of vineyard practices and winemaking that makes these people proud to put their names on the label.

CAVA- Juve y Camps “Reserva de La Familia”, PENEDES, SPAIN  NV

One of the greatest parts of being in Barcelona is what many would call the “CAVA HOUR”.  In Spain, it’s that just after work, not quite tapas time, when you need a little ray of sparkling sunshine in your life.  The Xampaneria, a bar specializing in CAVA, overflows with people onto the sidewalks and streets around 7 pm.  Ask any Catalonian who the most respected and famous producer of Cava is in Spain and you are sure to get the answer “JUVE Y CAMPS”.  Cava is made in the same method as Champagne, the wine is fermented a second time in the bottle except the grape varieties are indigenous: Parallada, Macabeo and Xarrel-lo, the essentials to classical Cava.  The Reserva de La Familia Cava  is aged for 3 years on the yeast, giving a nutty aroma that mixes with apples and lemons, boisterous and lively bubbles and an assertive acidity that wakes you up and refreshes you.  Perfect for a summer day! Reserva de La La Familia is very appropriately named as it has been the everyday favorite of the  Juvé Raventos family for three generations.

LUSTAU “Jarana” FINO SHERRY

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood wines of the world, FINO is to be thought of, managed, stored, chilled, and consumed as one would a fresh white wine.   It gets its character from aging in wooden barrels, under a blanket of yeast that protects it from oxygen, while being refreshed with younger white wine over a period of about 3 years.  It is DRY and carries the flowers and fruits of white wine, but has the added complexity of the environment around it as the yeasty protection flavours the wine with its character of minerals, yeasts, iodine, and sometimes even a salty note of the sea.  It is one of the few wines that can go gracefully with spicy meats, piquant olives or spicy ham.  No wonder it is so traditionally consumed with tapas.  Lustau, owned by the Cabellero family is a testament to high quality Sherry.  They take no shortcuts and are renowned as one of the great Sherry houses.

KURT ANGERER Gruner Veltliner  “Freisenrock”, KAMPTAL, AUSTRIA  2007

The wine growing estate of Kurt Angerer is a family business and has a tradition of 150 years.  Located in the Kamptal region the vines have south and southwestern exposure protecting them from the rough north winds.  Due to Kurt Angerer’s lack of compromise and commitment to high quality, both in the vineyards as well as during vinification the wines are considered some of the best in Kamptal.  Angerer feels strongly attached to tradition and his vineyard “terroir” which is evident in the names he has chosen for his different wines: Freisenrock refers to the loam this Gruner Veltliner is planted in.   He is also organic in his practices. Rooted in the soils of the Kamptal yet a man of the world, Kurt has found his own style which is being validated by the international awards and achievements he is now receiving.  The Freisenrock, has pineapple and papaya with a little bitter lemon peel that mingles with a minerally note.  Dense but never heavy as its weight is lifted up by a snappy acidity.

LIVELI “Orion” Primativo, PUGLIA, ITALY

The Falvo family has long reputation as a great wine making family in Montepulciano Italy.  10 years ago they purchased this estate in Puglia because it offered a history of great vineyards and old vines.  They overhauled the winery, and set up organic practices in the vineyards, many of which are high- density plantings in the “spoke and wheel” manner of the ancient Romans.  The Primativo, also known to us as ZINFANDEL, is an example of the innovative changes they have made at Liveli.  It is redolent of black cherries, Moroccan spices and herbs, high-toned for a full bodied red, the freshness is amazing considering the warm climate of Puglia.  So juicy, it’s easy to match with any food.

GRAHAMS 10 year TAWNY PORT

It is a tradition for the Symington family to take their Tawny port chilled in the summertime, a necessity in the searing heat that bounces back and forth off the slate slopes that flank the Douro river.  So often we think of Port being sipped by the fireside on a snowy Minnesota evening.  It’s quite a different image to think of patios that overlook orange trees blossoming on rocky terraces above the river, and the clink of ice in a glass, the smell of lemons being sliced, the salty taste of fried almonds followed by the strong and sweet taste of a chilled white or tawny port.   A very summery Portuguese moment indeed!

Welcome the wines of Patrick Lesec!

Patrick Lesec (in red), the mad professor

Patrick Lesec (in red), the mad professor

Provence can be a spooky and unfriendly place in the winter. Winding around on narrow tree-lined roads, over treacherous bridges and aqueducts, dodging the debris kicked up by the   notorious mistral winds, its hardly the sunny place depicted by   Peter Mayle.  It was dark by the time I arrived at the manor house of Patrick Lesec. Chateau de la Barge, at the end of the muddy rutted road,  huge wooden doors dimly lit, reminiscent of Young Frankenstein, he is waving a flashlight through a swirl of leaves, lavender and maybe an occasional poodle.

I’m quickly brought into the warmth of this medieval kitchen, he tours me through his blending laboratory strewn with bottles, beakers, and tubes.  This is the workplace of a wine mad scientist. We take a seat at a paisley patterned  kitchen table to taste wines. Patrick pours the wine, his Robin Williams face is expressionless. Another wine buyer, another tasting. I ask him if this wine comes from the “arriere” of Beaumes de Venise.  His face brightens, he smiles, he pours another wine, sits back, folds his arms, and says “how about this one?”   He seems happy that he’s now got game.

The wines of Patric Lesec  are natural, true-to-type, and are excellent values. They are in fact all estate-bottled wines, vinified in the cellars of the properties that Patrick Lesec has contracted to work with.

Patrick makes great efforts to search out the finest terroirs, the best soils with old vineyards – and thus the finest sources of grapes – in each appellation. These are often growers who own parcels of the best sites, but who may not bottle wine under their own label. Historically, these growers have sold their production to negociants who blend and market their own cuvees.

lesec1Once Patrick has located and made agreements with these growers, he works closely with them to produce the highest quality possible using his principles of non-interventionist winemaking. First, he tastes through all the barrels and tanks and makes a strict selection of components he wishes to blend into his final cuvee. The variables in this process include different grape varieties, different vineyard sites, and even different lots of the same wines (since each tank or barrel has its own unique character).

Once the lots have been selected for the final blend, Patrick specifies how he wants the élevage done. Some lots will be kept in tank to preserve the freshness of their fruit; others will be aged in barrels to add richness, texture and complexity. He continues to visit the cellars and taste the lots to monitor their progress. Adjustments are made, as necessary or desirable.

Patrick’s cuvées are usually treated with as little sulphur as possible. The wines are not fined or filtered, and are hand-bottled where possible.

Patrick’s cuvées of Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Cairanne, Rasteau and Vacqueyras clearly reflect the style of their respective appellations and terroirs. They have in common lovely aromatics, a distinctive purity of fruit flavors, soft, round tannins and long, pleasant finishes. His cuvées are fresh, natural and vibrant. They generally represent great values.

World Class Wines is proud to be the distributor of the Patrick Lesec selections for the state of Minnesota!

Hanging out with Shane Finley, Shane Wines

We have met the new king of cool, and his name is Shane Finley.

He’s in a position in life where he could easily swagger in with attitude.   As the associate winemaker at Kosta Browne, one of the hottest wines of the last five years, we would understand at least a little bit of pretention.  He’s earned the right to brag.  He’s earned the right to talk himself up.

But we experienced none, and let me rephrase that, NONE of that.  He’s as humble as they come, wearing jeans and joking around.  He could just as easily be a pro surfer or coffee shop owner.  People in positions like his are usually not like this.

On the side, at the Kosta Browne facility, he makes a truly tiny, wee, itsy bitsy bit of his own wines.  With his background in Syrah, especially after helping out Gaillard in the Northern Rhone (!!!), he has a taste for how great that grape can be.  The two Syrahs we currently have at World Class Wines, The Villian and The Unknown, are simply the most Alain Graillot-like American Syrahs we have ever tasted.  (“Thank you!” Shane said when we told him that.)  Additionally we got a short little pile of the most serious Rose’ we’ve come across in years.

All this from a kid from West Bloomington that until nine years ago never set foot in a vineyard!  Read Bill Ward’s article for more information on Shane’s backstory, including climbing around the Highland Hills Ski Area with a backpack full of books to get ready for the hills of Cote Rotie.  World Class Wines is proud to represent the wines of Shane Finley to the state of Minnesota.

How to be an incredible restaurant in a down economy

A smattering of ideas for you to chew on.  After my last post I felt a need to balance the scales a bit.

I’ve had three great restaurant experiences in the last ten days, and there were some consistent reasons.  Some of these may not be applicable to your establishment, but I think a bit of creative thinking goes a long way in an economy like this.

  • Off night focus. All the following ideas are for during the week, which as we all know is the time that can put the financial statement in the black instead of the red.  You need to get people to go out on Tuesday or Wednesday much more so than Friday or Saturday.  And I suggest these are not broadly advertised, but rather (if you can afford a bit of time to let them build) word of mouth.  “For the next month every weekday night we are …”
  • Little freebies. Which are of course not free (nothing is), but on the slower nights a little plate from the kitchen, a free taster of a new wine, free dessert, etc. goes a long way.  Again, however, it does not BUILD the business unless it is explained that we appreciate you coming in tonight and for the rest of the season on weekday nights we are ….
  • Fixed price menus that are affordable. This has been done with great success for many years by many restaurants.  If you’re not doing it, you are losing potential business.  A three course meal for $20 will draw people in, no doubt.
  • Wine specials. The half price bottle night still works.  How about half price glasses?  Again, the idea is that it gets people in the door.  Food sales will follow (for the most part …  you’ll always get that one customer that orders a glass of the cheapest wine and doesn’t leave a tip.  It’s part of life).
  • Guest chefs. The chef community is strong in the Twin Cities, and a simple way to take advantage of that is a chef swap for three weeknights in a row.  Pump it up, advertise the heck out of it, let your customers know via your email list (and if you don’t have one of those we need to have a sit down talk).  Nothing too fancy as far as food, and definitely nothing too outrageous as far as prices.  This is all about buzz.  Another alternative — contact any local, well known, out of work chefs and see if they want a week in your kitchen.  Pump it up.
  • A consistent message that is positive but lets the customers know the restaurant business is tough right now. This is marketing 101.  Don’t let the customers choose how they tell their friends about eating in your establishment.  Give them the words.  Shake hands.  Discuss the business end of it with them (the public gobbles this up).  Thank them for supporting local endeavors.  Make damn sure they hear that local restaurants exist because of people like them.
  • Spread the good karma. I’m a big believer in this.  When thanking a customer ask them where else they have dined recently.  Then suggest some places that you believe in and want to see succeed.  Good karma pays back faster than you may think, and word will get around that you’re a class act.  And trust me, when favors need to be asked for, this will be like having a million dollars in the bank.

How to be a bad restaurant in a down economy

Photo by Flickr user Naomi Ibuki

The glass is empty for a reason ...

It’s February 2009. We’re in an economic slump the likes of which is scaring many people. Last weekend was Valentine’s Day, and I’m happy to report that many restaurants were full and did several turns. In other words, they got a little (much needed) money in the bank.

Last night my wife and I went out with two good friends. Haven’t done this for awhile — we’ve been holding onto our cash like everybody else. We went to a rather well known local restaurant that has been established for several years. WE WENT WILLING TO SPEND MONEY. I grabbed the wine list and found it smaller and shorter than I remember it being (which is fine). I saw a wine I really wanted to share with my friends, and it also happened to be the most expensive bottle on the list (at $95). I told the server, she got a smile on her face, I felt good about ordering it, and off she went.

Four minutes later, she returned empty handed. “Sorry, we’re out of that one.” No ideas, no suggestions, no offers for another product at a discount. Nothing.

This gave me a chance to think logically: $95 is a lot of money today and I really shouldn’t be spending that much. Okay, then, I’ll take the $55 bottle right there. Four minutes later, the perky waitress came back empty handed and put her hand on my shoulder. “You’re going to hate me, but …”

Think about this: We’re six days off of clearly the busiest weekend in the restaurant business in over a month, and they are still out of stock on two of the most expensive wines on their list. And I KNOW they could have the wine because they are sold by World Class Wines and we have stock! Also consider the following:

  • No options were given. Nothing was presented to try to keep my business.
  • The manager never visited to explain or apologize.

So we left. Us and our $300+ that we were ready to spend but suddenly saw the reality that we didn’t have to. But it gets better…

We were still hungry and wanted one more glass of wine. So we walked across the street to a hip, happening, uber cool restaurant that is known for a good wine list and delicious appetizers. We sat down, were greeted promptly, and things were looking up. My wife ordered a glass of very decent Shriaz (confirming my theory that in tough times people who know wine will easily spend $14 on one glass of great wine rather than two glasses of Chateau Cashflow junk). Amazingly, they were out of it. No offers, no explanation, and barely an apology. We stayed for an hour, spent less than we planned on, and went home.

So a few observations:

  • Inventory control is everything today, and out of stocks are a natural and unfortunate side effect. But please tell your servers and have them convey it to me BEFORE I try to order a wine. Communication is everything.
  • Empower the servers to make offers or concessions to keep me happy. “We’ll happy give you a glass of our most expensive wine at the same price” goes a LONG way.
  • Think about this — Minnesotans are constantly worried about our ‘big city’ image. Are we in the big leagues? Just because we have four professional sports teams and internationally known chefs are opening restaurants here, are we worthy? Well, if instead of four friends that live in the Twin Cities what if we happened to be four business people from Chicago trying to impress a client? If this same experience happened to them, the Twin Cities would be the laughing stock of their jokes when returning home. “You’ll never believe it, they put all this good stuff on their wine lists and nobody even had it in stock!” What happens in your restaurant and on your wine lists are BIGGER THAN JUST YOUR OWN BUSINESS.
  • Finally, because of these incidents, do you think I’m going to be in a rush to return to these establishments? Not a chance. There are too many choices out there.