Monday, August 28, 2006

Korbel Responds

The following posting came from Paul Ahvenainen, Korbel's Director of Winemaking, in response to my posting, in which I suggested that the Champagne should be used only by wine producers in the Champagne area of France. In his response, Mr. Ahvenainen suggested that this is the view of the self-righteous. My position is that when we receive accurate information from wine producers, everyone, including the producers, is better off.

There is an interesting article that deals with the subject in depth in Wikipedia. Click here to read it.

While I do not agree with his position, it seemed to me to be fair to give the "other side" visibility in this debate.

Mr. Paul Ahvenainen's comments follow:

God I just love the web! Anyone can say just about anything and actually have it read. Unfortunatly, the web hasn't figured out a way to filter for accuracy.

Here I am on a Monday morning, pressing a few hundred tons of chardonnay for future Korbel champagne, and up pops another blogger verbally wagging his self rightous finger at me and all the hard working people here at Korbel.

Everyone is entiled to thier opinion. Let's at least get a few facts straight.

1. The question of regional place names growing into common usage goes far beyond champagne or other wines. Take the term cheddar, is it a place or is it a style of cheese? I think that most sensible people would say that once a term like cheddar comes into common usage to represent a particular style of cheese, regardless of where the cheese was made, it is available for usage. I don't think the US consumer is clamoring for Kraft to drop cheddar from its cheese line anytime soon.

Ask yourself this question: If, without saying anything, a friend at a party hands you a traditional flute of pale fizzy wine as you walk in the door, in your own mind, what did you just recieve? For 99% of people, the honest answer is, "a glass of champagne". Clearly the term champagne refers to a style of wine, not just a place.

2. Korbel's use of the term champagne is permited by both US and EU regulations. The French don't like to admit it, but they just signed a treaty within the last several months, clearly (however relucantly) acknowleging the long usage of the term champagne outside of the Marne Valley. Essentialy, the EU is agreeing that the term is in common usage now, but are trying to bring the usage back under thier control. That's just not going to happen. Cheddar will always be a style of cheese. Wine with bubbles will always be champagne.

3. Don't buy into the Moet & Chandon propaganda machine. This isn't about wine or small growers toiling in the soil. It's about a competitive market place, major corporations and MONEY. I have seen reports circulated in France that converts "California Champagne" sales into euros, very large numbers of euros.

You did'nt also buy into Moet's Dom Perrignon fairy tale, did you?

4. Korbel has been using the term "California Champagne" for over 120 years. Nobody cared until we became a major player in the US market in the 1970's.

5. I have been associated with Korbel for over 20 years. In that time, I have never met a consumer who was confused about the origin of our products. Our identity is firmlly based as an American / California producer.

We are proud to offer the US consumer a choice, and a great value.

Too bad about the White Star, your loss.

Paul Ahvenainen
Director of Winemaking
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Guerneville CA, USA

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Moet 1 - Korbel 0

That's right. The winner is Moet. Korbel just lost a sale

I have just bought a bottle of Moet & Chandon White Star. Actually, I was looking for a bottle of California sparkling wine, but I decided not to because I became irritated by Korbel.

I have had Korbel's sparkling wines before, and I have enjoyed them. But today I noticed that they continue to mark their offering with the word, Champagne, in addition to indicating that they are made in the methode champenoise. I carefully looked at all the other bottles, and I noticed that all the respectable companies in California (Piper Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, Codorniu Napa, Mumm) call their wines in this class sparkling wine. The exceptions to the rule tend to be at the very low end of the market, including some of the wines from New York State. It seems to me to be silly that Korbel wishes to join the ranks of Cooks, Totts, Taylors, and Great Western.

So to express my irritation, I decided to buy a bottle of the real thing!

I would be interested in comments from readers. In my opinion, there is no need to call a wine Champagne when it clearly does not come from the Champagne area. Let me know if you agree, and if you do, please boycott these wines! If you don't please let me know. I would be interested to hear from you. In the meantime, I am looking forward to drinking a wine that truly deserves to be called Champagne.

In my previous post, I noted how much information Ridge gives to its consumers. I wish Korbel would give us the same respect!

Ridge Vineyards 1991 Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon

If you were to ask me which were my top ten American wine producers, Ridge would definitely be in the list, and it would probably be near the top.

Although I have more experience with their Zinfandel based wines, I have always enjoyed their Cabernet very much indeed too. But I must admit to approaching this bottle with some trepidation. Although, I had kept it in good condition, the recommended "bottle age" was "five to ten years" so I was afraid I would be drinking it after its expiry date. This fear increased when the cork broke as I was opening it. But I was able to salvage it without dropping a single piece of it into the dark red liquid.

To the nose, you could immediately tell that this was a rich, long, deeply-flavored wine that would refuse to "go away" even if you wanted it to. The flavors were deep cherry and cassis with a hint of cigar box and tobacco. The presence of a little Merlot and Cabernet Franc were suggestive of a Bordeaux although the richness and a tiny bit of sweetness distinguished this wine as distinctly Californian.

I absolutely loved this wine, and comments from all who tasted it about its silky smooth finish suggested we were drinking it at absolutely the right time. A very well rewarded wait!

I once visited the winery in Cupertino. After a long drive up the mountain, you are welcomed to a friendly tasting room with well-informed presenters. I remember being very amused when the mail man dropped off his letters and was rewarded for his pains with a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember thinking how very civilized that was. And how European!

One of the marvellous things about Ridge is how well they document their wine both on their website, and also on the bottle. The text on the bottle is below:





91 Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard, bottled March 1993

On Monte Bello Ridge, our vines are divided between two vineyards—Santa Cruz Mountains and Monte Bello. The former extends from the thirteen hundred foot elevation upwards and includes the old Jimsomare Ranch, as well as those vines higher on the ridge which typically produce more supple, less tannic wines. The 1991 was initially aged in new, air-dried, american oak and finished in two-year-old barrels to maintain the balance between spicy oak and berry fruit. The inclusion of merlot and a small amount of franc added further complexity. A lovely wine, enjoyable now, it will develop more fully with five to ten years of bottle age.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sunset Rentals -- Hilton Head

The living room
View of the beach from the balcony

We rented an apartment for a week in Hilton head from a company we have used before, Sunset Rentals. The cost for the week's rental in August was approximately $1,200, and that included everything (tax, clean up, and cancellation insurance.) The fourth-floor apartment was in South Forest beach and had a master bedroom with bathroom, second bedroom, second bathroom, kitchen, dining/living room, and a balcony. We could see the ocean from the bathroom and the master bedroom. There was a telephone set up for local calls only.
Sunset Rentals was really efficient. They send you e-mail with codes that allow you to get in, and you never have to see anybody.
When we arrived the apartment was in perfect working order with shampoo and other amenities in the bathrooms, toilet paper, and other "starter items." There was also high speed Internet available in the apartment although that was what I wanted to get away from!
Sunset Rentals is recommended, and we were able to do all transactions across their website.
Click here to go to their site.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hampton Inn, Florence, South Carolina

Hampton Inn Florence-North
1826 West Lucas Street
Florence, South Carolina
United States 29501

Tel: +1-843-662-7000
Fax: +1-843-661-5150

For a Google map, click here.

I suppose you could say that we went to the wrong Florence! The drive from Maryland to Hilton Head is long and dreary. Traffic can be horrendous in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, and the door-to-door journey from our house in Maryland is 630 miles. Quite often we stop on the way. And there aren't many interesting places unless you stray a long way from I-95, the interstate that runs from top to bottom along the east coast of the United States.

This time we decided to stay in Florence.
We did not come to Florence to see the Ponte Vecchio or the Uffizi Gallery. Rather this town is just across the South Carolina border, and we felt that crossing the border would create a sense of accomplishment. We would be in the same state as our beloved Hilton head. This is the third Hampton Inn where we have stayed recently. Our rate was only $66.00, and I have to say that I have been very impressed with this chain every time I have stayed at one of their hotels.

Our room accommodated all four of us in two double beds although Iran thought our bed was just a little narrow. Shampoo and lotion were provided and the bathroom was excellent. The air conditioning worked well. The bedding was good too. We had a perfectly adequate breakfast in the morning, which was included in the price of the room, and we got a newspaper in the morning.
A final touch is that we got Hilton points and British Airways miles. And the person at the reception desk was really nice and very helpful!

For the price and the location, I don't think you could expect much more! Incidentally, it was much nicer than a horrid Holiday Inn, where we stayed in the other Florence a couple of years ago!

I no longer post to this site.  Click here to access my new web site:

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hilton Head, South Carolina

The beach at Hilton Head

We have just come back from a week on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. We have been here several times before, but it reminded me what a wonderful and relaxing place this is.

There are twelve miles of beautiful beach. There are good restaurants, and excellent golf courses.
 Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gruet -- Blanc de Noirs, NV

After a recent post about Blanquette de Limoux, a good friend of mine, Suzy, suggested I try a sparkling wine, Gruet, from the state where she lives, New Mexico. So I was delighted to find Gruet's Blanc de Noirs when I was shopping at Balducci's in Alexandria recently.

Made in the traditional methode champenoise, this is a remarkably refined sparkling wine. It has the tiny persistent bubbles that characterize very good bubblies. It also has that attractive toasty flavor with red berry notes -- something between strawberries and raspberries. Its color is typical of blanc de noirs. Made mostly with Pinot Noir, this wine has a dark straw color with a suggestion that, if it blushed a little more, it would become pink -- in the sparkling wine world, people talk about salmon!

This is an exceptionally nice sparkling wine at a very fair price (about $15.00). A highly recommended low-priced alternative to Champagne!

Thank you, Suzy, for such a wonderful suggestion!

Connexion by Boeing

I read recently in the Financial Times that Boeing has decided to stop its Connexion service on flights.

This service, which is offered by several airlines (including Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, El Al, Korean Air, All Nippon Airways, Scandinavian, and JAL) allows passengers with Wi-Fi on their computers to connect to the Internet during a flight. And, based on my experience, it was wonderful. I am so disappointed that they have decided to discontinue the service. And I am surprised that they cannot make money out of this service. (According to the Financial Times, it costs $500,000 to equip a plane for this service.)

I was even able to write on this blog while in the air!

British Airways -- Baggage Allowance

Passengers on British Airways should note that BA will be reducing the amount of luggage that passengers can take with them free of charge. To see the new policy, click here.

The policy, which becomes effective on October 11 of this year, includes a charge of GBP 120 for extra bags on long haul flights. These charges are reduced by 20% if you pay in advance on line.

Whenever companies begin to offer less service or want to charge more, I find the way they sugar coat the changes especially irritating. Here is their expanation:

British Airways is introducing changes to baggage policies to make them easier for passengers, reduce queues at the airport and to bring them in line with Department for Transport recommendations and requirements of the UK’s main airport operator, BAA.

And, just in case you were hoping for a free upgrade on your next BA flight, there is a new notice at the check-in desk that advises passengers looking for extra comfort to ask about an upgrade. This makes it very clear that BA is willing to upgrade -- but for a price.

Singapore Airlines -- First Class Wine Service

I recently proposed a scoring system for rating airlines on their wine service. The system is based entirely on price, and, although it is certainly flawed in many ways, it should give the traveler a sense of whether the airline considers offering top wines to first and business class passengers a priority.

For example, if a wine lover has a choice between flying United and Singapore Airlines, the fact that Singapore spends more than twice as much on its wines should help.

I ranked a few airlines, but a reader recently discovered a silly mistake I had made when trying to rate Singapore Airlines. The score, which is the simple sum of the value of its Champagne, its leading white wine, its leading red wine, and its dessert wine should have come to USD 280 rather than USD 250.

With this correction, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are equal in spending more on wine for their first class passengers than any airline I know of.

I would love to hear from readers, who have airline wine lists so that I can add to the airlines I have scored. (I wonder what kinds of wines Emirates is offering these days in First Class!)

To see my scoring system, click here.

To see my score of Singapore Airlines, click here, and for Cathay Pacific, click here. And click here, for my report on United's First Class.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Levante's, Dupont Circle, Washington DC

1320 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

For a Google map, click here.

Levante's is a very nicely appointed Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in the Dupont Circle area in Washington, DC. We decided to stop for a beer and an appetizer before taking the metro home today.

Once we got settled at the bar, I began to wish that we were here for more than just an appetizer. I was pleased to see that they have several beers on tap although Sam Adams is the only one I would not be a little ashamed to drink. The wine list includes offerings from Lebanon, Georgia, and Greece amongst others.

Since we were here for only an appetizer, we decided to have a plate that included an assortment of their cold appetizers ($11.95). This generous plate included Baba Ganouj (pureed grilled eggplant with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil), dolma, feta cheese, tzatziki, hommos, tomatoes, lettuce, and other stuff that I can't remember. It was all fresh and delicious. I particularly liked the Baba Ganouj that tasted smoky from the wood burning grill. This whole dish came with plenty of Levantine bread that is made on the premises.

Other items on the menu include Lamb Shish Kebab ($17.95), Salmon Fillet ($18.95), and Moussaka ($10.50). They have a happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 pm on weekdays. Drinks and appetizers are at reduced prices (wine, $3.00, calamari $3.95,and hommos ($2.00).

This is a friendly place with good service and very fair prices. They have another branch in the Woodmont Avenue of Bethesda. Recommended, and we will certainly go back for a full meal.