Sunday 31 January 2010

Whole Foods, Wine retailer of the year, 2008

It’s a long time since we took a look at the wines at Whole Foods Market. We had been reasonably impressed by the selection and knowledgeable staff previously but the wines seemed not surprisingly to be par for the course for a US-centric outfit (a bit like Costco with knobs on) and a bit on the expensive side. Nothing therefore prepared us for the excitement and depth of the selection we found there on a recent lightening visit.

Mirabile dictu, there were no less than three rarities we have been banging on about in recent blogs: wines from Viginia, Torrontes from Cinco Tierras and another Argentinian from Salta - Don David (Tannat instead of Malbec but thanks to the excellence of the latter, a must-try). Previously Virginia wines had not been seen in the UK or, as we wrote, hardly in Virginia! We had to go to Paris to find the remarkable Torrontes from Cinco Tierras. There was an empty rack labelled ‘Cinco Tierras Bonarda’. We were told it was empty because “sold out”. Obviously Whole Foods clientele are super sophisticated! The staff was even better informed than ever: we asked two guys about the grape content of bottles of ‘Red’ and ‘White’ wine and the answers came tripping off their tongues, unerringly as far as we could tell.

These finds were trawled only from the racks of mainly biologically produced and New World wines. There was a wall of mainly European wines we had no time to investigate.

Why had we missed this evolution? Because Whole Foods wines are not online or even listed on Winesearcher. Our loss!

Here’s their charming website intro:


Wine Enthusiast Magazine names Whole Foods Market "Wine Retailer of the Year"
"In an attempt to change the face of wine purchasing and merchandising within the supermarket format, Whole Foods Market has taken its wine departments to an exciting new level, by making them a destination for current and new shoppers with outstanding customer service and incredible variety, quality and price. From wine-tasting stations and enomatic wine serving systems to inviting department design and layout and creative signage that includes complementary food pairings, Whole Foods Market's wine departments successfully showcase wine in a grocery store setting."
Wine is good. Check. And a little intimidating? Check! Sure, it's a deep and complex subject, but unless you're a philosopher with a vineyard, wine is simply about enjoying what's in your glass. In fact, we've built our entire wine department on this philosophy.
A formidable group of Team Members—think of them as your very own wine superheroes—scour the world's vineyards to bring you the fruits of the most talented winemakers' labors. They're always on the lookout for sustainable vineyard practices and organic and biodynamic wines, too.
So the next time you're in our wine department, stop one of our Team Members, many of whom are full-fledged sommeliers, and hit them up for answers. Are they snobbish about wine? No way! Whether you're a novice or a seasoned sipper, they'll love you just the same. In fact, every Whole Foods Market store that sells wine offers wine classes where grapes, tastings and pairings are discussed—over a glass of wine, of course. (Check our
store calendars for more information.)
If you're the kind that likes to forge your own path instead, that's cool. You know we respect a little personal exploration, so look for abundant signage in the aisles of the wine department to help you make a great selection on your own.
Now humor us for a sec; we've gotta toot our own horn. We've been named 2008's Best Wine Retailer of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the first grocery store ever to receive the award. We'll drink to that!

They also have a hilarious grape guide (we just love PEE-no NWA!):

On most wine labels you'll find the name of the grape used to make them or the district (also called the "appellation") in which they're produced. Head spinning? Don't panic!

To simplify things, here's a list of popular grapes along with their flavor descriptions and tasty pairings. And to make sure you never blush at a dinner party again, we've included a few tips on how to pronounce everything, too.

Chardonnay [shar-doh-NAY]: These dry wines are bold, ripe and rich. Their apple, fig, lemon and honey undertones are out-of-sight with cream sauces, shellfish, poultry, pork, veal, salmon and full-flavored cheeses.

Chenin Blanc [SHENIN BLAHNK]: Close your eyes and you'll think you're eating a slice of ripe melon. Peach, spice and citrus flavors also float through these wines, so serve them with Asian food, roasted chicken, shellfish (clams and mussels are a stellar match) or mild cheeses and you can't go wrong.

Gew├╝rztraminer [geh-VOORTZ-trah-MEE-ner]: This one may be a tongue-twister, but trust us, you won't regret learning how to say it right. This grape makes for wines full of spicy peach and apricot notes. Sip them — no, wait, guzzle them — with Asian seafood or noodle dishes, pork, veal, poultry or even mild cheeses.

Pinot Grigio [PEE-no GREE-zho]: These wines, also called pinot gris (PEE-no GREE), are full of citrus, spice and toasted almond flavor. Pour them generously when you're serving rich cream or red sauces napped over pasta or veal and poultry dishes like grilled chicken. Full-flavored cheeses hold their own with these wines, too.

Riesling [REES–ling]: Since these wines come in dry, off-dry and sweet styles, if you've tasted one you definitely haven't tasted them all. Redolent of apricots and green apples, pair these with Asian food, grilled seafood (fish, shrimp, crab and lobster are all stand-outs), smoked salmon or fresh fruit and mild cheeses.

Sauvignon Blanc [SO-vin-yon BLAHNK]: You're barefoot on a beach in Hawaii. The smell of tropical fruit wafts through the air. Just as the sun goes down, you're thinking about having a bright salad with a dollop of soft goat cheese and a plate of seafood for dinner. This is the wine you're looking for.

Cabernet Sauvignon [cab-er-NAY SO-vin-yon]: You wouldn't want to run into these wines in a dark alley. Marked with firm tannins and flavors like currant, plum, black cherry, spice and dark jam, they're big and tough. Pair them with hearty meals of roasted red meat, game, lamb, pasta with red sauce, full-flavored cheeses or rich chocolate desserts.

Merlot [mur-LO]: Because Merlot's style can range, some offerings may be softer, suppler and less tannic, but they're no slouches. These well-loved wines are full of currant and cherry flavors. Pair them with roasted red meats, duck, goose, lamb and full-flavored cheeses.

Pinot Noir [PEE-no NWA]: These grapes have classic black cherry, spice and raspberry flavors with an aroma that can resemble, well, wilted roses of all things. Since these chaps are earthy, pair them with turkey, beef, game, lamb, pork, veal, pheasant, duck or goose.

Sangiovese [san-geeo-VEHS-eh]: Wines made from this grape are spicy and taste a bit like raspberry or anise. Pair them with beef, veal, pork, pasta with red sauces, poultry and rich, powerful cheeses.

Shiraz [shih-RAHZ]: Also called syrah (sir-RAH), these grapes can be very rich and complex with pepper, spice and leather and tar flavors (in a good way, we promise). Pair them with beef, game and chicken or turkey.

Zinfandel [ZHIN-fan-del]: These guys can be a little tannic, but don't hold it against them! They're rich cherry overtones are perfect for everything from pizza and hamburgers to barbecued ribs and tomato sauces

Friday 29 January 2010

Going backwards?

This Blog seeks diversity in wine but recently we wonder if things are going the other way.

Two days ago we received an email from the International Riesling Foundation (founded in 2008: welcoming us to the “Wonderful World of Riesling.” Nothing wrong in that but the fact that someone in the US felt the need to found a lobby to encourage Americans to drink Riesling is worrying for those of us with hopes the world was about to embrace Vernaccia Nera and Encruzado some time soon.

Also this month Decanter interviews another great and good gent whose ‘taste is French, specifically Bordeaux, and [who] seems unwilling to step out of his bubble.’ A restaurateur of our acquaintance mentioned that in a new venture he wouldn’t be making too much of a feature of his wine list and even Jancis’s FT pieces seem to have dwelt rather more on Bordeaux and Burgundy than usual. Are we getting paranoid?

Just in case we at Slotovino are going a bit fast for some of the rest of you, we will meet you halfway just this once with a fantastic Barbera d’Asti “Stradivario” (Bava)
from the Gura di Cocconato vineyard in Monferrato ordered by The Maestro at ‘Metodo Classico’, one of the world’s best and most sympathetic restaurants (via Guglielmo Calderini 64, 00196 Roma. Tel: 06 3244262, Fax: 06 3244262, email:

The Maestro has been a reliable source of recommendations in the past. He chose an equally fine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (if that is not a contradiction in terms) the previous year at the same restaurant.

So there you have it: no need now for an International Barbera Foundation: Avanti, Maglioppo we say!

Saturday 16 January 2010

Where to get it: New York Wine

We were saddened to learn, rather late in the day that Vintage New York have closed their establishment in Amsterdam Avenue as well as the one in Soho. As we described it, this was a place where you could sample a large variety of wines from New York State and then have the modest cost of the sampling deducted from any purchase. Where to get new York wines was not a problem with such an establishment at easy reach.

New York wines are rarely found on restaurant winelists and in wine stores. Even our favourite Astor Wines of New York have only a modest and sadly diminishing selection. No wonder New York Wines wine won the Slotovino prize for 'best kept secret' in our 2008/9 awards.

In the absence of a Consortium Outlet similar to Vintage New York, here is a short list of merchants with a respectable choice of New York state wines. Any additions would be welcome.

Beacon Wines and Spirits
2120 Broadway,
New York 10023-1736
Tel: 212 877 0028

Columbus Wines and Spirits
730 Columbus Avenue,
New York 10025
Tel: 212 865 7070

Fermented Grapes
651 Vanderbilt Avenue,
New York 11238-3829
Tel: 718 230 3216

Gotham Wines
2517 Broadway,
New York 10025-6934
Tel: 212 932 0990

Le Du's Wines
600 Washington Street,
New York 10014-3319
Tel: 212 924 6999

New York Wine Exchange
9 Broadway,
New York 10004
Tel: 212 422 2222

Union Square Wines and Spirits
140 4th Avenue,
New York 10003
Tel: 212 675 8100

Vintage Grapes Wines and Spirits
1479 3rd Avenue,
New York 10028
Tel: 212 535 6800