Help Change Maryland's Wine Shipping Laws in 2010!

Annapolis State House (Courtesy of Wikipedia) As many of you residents of Maryland are aware, the Old Line State takes a hard line when it comes to shipping wine. Lots of states have laws limiting the shipment of liquor to a private residences; many limit the amount one may receive in a year, some only permit intrastate shipment, and others levy a tax. At my old retail job, we often shipped to some of the more, erm, "questionable states," and had a pretty good success rate. Maryland, though, was on a very short list of no-no states, as their laws are downright draconian. Not only does the state forbid liquor shipping from out-of-state, but in-state liquor shipment of any kind is also verboten. And guess what? If you're caught, it's a FELONY, even for the recipient!

Sound a bit outmoded? Unjust? Unconstitutional, even? A lot of folks think so, and have pushed for legislation to have Maryland join the thirty-some-odd states that treat their citizens like responsible adults. In both '08 and '09 bills have crossed the congressional table, but thanks to tired old morals and some stiff opposition from the wholesaler lobby (which has much to lose, and lots of money to throw around) each has been summarily dispatched.

But grassroots support has been building, with several groups popping up fighting for the rights of MD drinkers, most notably the Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws. Founded in 2005, the MBBWL organizes meet-ups advocates on behalf of Maryland producers and consumers. Thanks to their work and that of some allies in the government, it looks as if another bill might make it to the floor this session. But they need your help! The nice thing about issues like this is that an single individual can have a real impact. So what can you do?


  • Go to MBBWL's Petition Site, and take a few seconds to give your support. The group is hoping to gather 10,000 digital signatures in support of altering MD's antiquated and prohibitive liquor laws. They are well on their way, but could certainly use your help.

Maryland Residents:

  • Free The Grapes, a national advocacy group for free and open wine trade, has made petitioning your state legislators on this matter a breeze. Click on this link, and you will be taken to a site with all the digital details taken care of for you. Simply fill in your info, personalize your message as you see fit, and hit send, and your representatives in the House and Senate will soon know how you feel.
  • Take a look at MBBWL's event calander, and consider attending one of their meetups. On February 22nd, the group will be attending a House Economic Matters Committee hearing dedicated to this very issue. If you are passionate about the cause and live in the greater Annapolis area, take an afternoon off any make your voice heard.

On the scale of injustices in the world, this is, of course, a minor one. But if you are resident of DC or Virginia, where laws are more progressive, it will only take you a couple seconds to do your neighbors to the north a solid. And Marylanders, I know your state has as many problems as the next, but this is a inequity with a realizable solution just over the horizon. Not only do these laws hurt consumers and support big business, but they are also a huge detriment to your state's growing winemaking industry. Click those links and get yourself empowered!

BOE Social Club White: Wine From Brooklyn?

BOE1 I love wines from strange places -- I've had domestic wines from Idaho, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and you've heard about my experience with Chinese and Japanese wines. But one thing I had never had was a wine from a major metropolitan area. Grapes are sensitive little things that do not respond very well to pollution, and in a place where a studio apartment can run ya $2,000 a month, a vineyard might not be what you'd call 'economically viable.' Thus was my interest piqued when I saw the Brooklyn Oenology Social Club White 2007 at a local wine shop; could this wine really be from one of NYC's five boroughs?

Umm, not so much... but the BOE (as in Brooklyn OEnology) is still a damned fine wine! Though based in the Williamsburg area and featuring labels by local artists of local landmarks, BOE is made at a host winery on Long Island's north fork by winemaker Alie Sharper. The winery produces a series of wines, including a couple high-end Merlots and Chardonnays, in addition to the modestly priced Social Club series. The 2007 White is a stainless steel fermented, lightly oaked Chardonnay. The wine pours a pretty pale lemon color and has a full, fruity nose, featuring apricot, orange and lemon. On the attack the wine is slightly fizzy, with more orange and pear flavors, and a flinty, stony edge. Dried fruit and a smoky, earthy quality emerge on the mid-palate, leading to a dry, stony, pleasantly acidic banana and lemon flavored finish.

BOE2 The Social Club White has that quintessential NY State rocky profile, backed up with ample acidity, a great full body and abundant fruit. Certainly a great pair with creamy cheese (we enjoyed is with St. Andre), this wine would also compliment shellfish, lighter chicken dishes, and most mildly spicy fare. I picked this one up at Screwtop in Arlington (more on them in the future), for a very reasonable $13.99. Though not yet widely available, I know the wine is also available at Planet Wine in Del Ray and The Wine Cabinet in Reston. If this sounds like a wine you would like, or know a friend who would get a kick out of it, ask your neighborhood shop to order you some from distributor Siema Wines.

Recession Refreshment: Saint-Meyland Brut, for New Year's!

Jayzchampagne "Cristal Forever, play the crib when it's mink weather."

When Jay-Z penned that way back in the mid 90's it felt like the truth, and sounded like a damn good plan, especially on New Year's Eve. Fast-forward a decade or so and the economy is in the toilet, Mr. Carter has declared war on the brand he made big, and nobody is buying Champagne. The boom years are over for the world's finest sparklers, and the fourth-quarter '09 has been so bad that many importers are sending the stuff back to France, to make room in their warehouses. After expanding vineyard sites, upping production and jacking up prices, the Champenoise are feeling the bitter bite of hubris this winter, and who's to say if and when they'll rebound?

But passing New Year's without the bubbly would be like celebrating without the ball in Times Square, or the increasingly awkward Dick Clark. So what are people popping these days to let the good times roll? Spanish Cava, like the ubiquitous Freixenet, and Italian Proseccos are a dime a dozen, and many can be had for less than 10 bucks. Unfortunately, many of these are on the insipid side, and often have an unpleasant cardboardy finish, not to mention the wicked hangover they leave you with the next day. No, for my money, French is still the way to go, and one of my all-time favorites, Saint-Meyland Brut, can still be had for a song.

SaintMey Made by Caves de Musigny in the region of Bourgogne, Saint-Meyland has most of the pedigree of it's high end cousins, without the price tag. Like Champagne, this wine relies heavily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and it is fermented in the same manner, using the methode traditionnelle. All bubbles are not created equal, and it is generally accepted that those attained by the Champagne method wherein the second fermentation occurs in the bottle, are by far the most long lasting and pleasant. Also, that second dose of yeast in the bottle imparts toasty, bready flavors to the wine, which are much harder to achieve through other means.

The upshot? Saint-Meyland comes pretty damn close to the good stuff. After popping, the wine pours a pretty lemon yellow with golden highlights. Toasty pear notes dominate the nose, with mild notes of quince and apple sauce. More apple flavors accent the attack, which is carried by a fine mousse of tingly, well-formed bubbles. Bready yeast, cider, and black pepper lead the middle to a dry, lemony, herbaceous finish.

I picked up my bottle at Connecticut Avenue Wine and Spirits for $12.99, but it should be pretty readily available at most of your better local retailers. If you're looking for a last minute selection that won't break the bank, keep an eye out for this bright blue label. To end a year where even ballers aren't partying like ballers, Saint-Meylandis super appropriate. Drink up, and Happy New Year!

Recession Refreshment: Aleph Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Aleph Hmm... I wonder how accurate this column title is at this point. The economy is on an upswing, after all, and I am starting to feel a bit unpatriotic, dwelling our nation's shortcomings so. Maybe I should be calling these things "Recovery Refreshment," or maybe, "Boozehoundin' and Reboundin'?"

Anyway, I know I haven't gotten a raise in awhile, and cheap wine is always welcome, good times or no, so I've got a real winner for ya'll this week: Aleph Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, from Mendoza, Argentina.

I picked this one up on a whim at Schneider's of Capitol Hill last week, from a case stack near the front registers, priced at a mere $3.99. When I asked the sales guy for his opinion, I was informed that it was "great," and had garnered an 89 point score from the Wine Spectator, to boot! Here's what that rag's editor James Molesworth had to say about the Aleph, back in September of 2004:

High-toned berry, vanilla and floral notes are followed by red and black cherry and red currant fruit, with elegant toast and mineral notes as well. Gains flesh and length as it opens, with nice sweet fruit through the finish. Drink now through 2006. Score: 89. 750 cases made. Release Price: $20

(As is evident from the review, scores do come with an expiration date, which is part of the reason I think they are BS to begin with -- does the Aleph stay an 89 for its entire usable life, or did it drop to an 88 in 2004, then a 75 in 2005? Is it now a big fat goose-egg, or worse, poison?!)

Well, regardless of score, this one apparently did not sell as well as it might have, which is why Schneider's got it at such a deal, and is now marketing it now at a fifth of it's release price! After many years in bottle, this wine now exhibits a pretty dusty leather / mushroomy character on the nose, along with violets, raisins, and grapefruit. The black cherry on the pallate still holds over from this Cab's youth, as does a bit of vanilla, but the flesh and sweetness that Molesworth found have mellowed out, leaving it much softer and more mild than it had been upon release. Where it was once vibrant and bright, the Aleph has faded, but in the best possible way, retaining plenty of acid and fruit, and trading power and grip for those strange and wonderful flavors that only come with age.

(Note: Unfortunately, age also brings brittleness. As with many old wines, removing the cork on this one was a bit of a challenge, and it broke in half in the bottle neck, so exercise caution whilst opening.)

Considering the extremely small production run on this wine, I am not surprised that I have not seen it anywhere else, and I don't expect to. Schneider's had about four cases stacked on the floor, and probably has several more in their sizable warehouse. If you eschew the bold fruit and boozy strength of young wines in favor of something a bit more subtle, the Aleph Cab 2002 is an incredible buy for less than a fiver.

Schneider's of Capitol Hill
300 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast
Washington, DC 20002-5702
(202) 543-9300

Last Minute Turkey Wines, and a Way to Perk Up Our Troops.

Thanksgiving is quite easily my favorite holiday. Sure, Christmas is great, but it's expensive these days; Halloween hasn't been anything worth getting excited about since I was like 10; Easter has kinda lost its charm since this lapsed Catholic has realized all the various ways in which he is damned. Thanksgiving, though, is perfect -- all the gluttony and overindulgence, without the crassness, and costumes, and guilt about going to hell and junk. But with all the prep work that comes with preparing for family, it's understandable for one to forget a detail or two. For those of you who left wine till the last minute this year, I've got a couple of quirky all-American crowd-pleasers that pair well with practically any meal.

DAVIDHILL David Hill Farm House White -- Non Vintage, Purchased at MacArthur Beverage for $13.99

David Hill is a small, 140 acre farm winery based out of Willamette Valley, Oregon. This humble field blend -- a mixture of Semillon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Sylvaner -- pours a pretty, pale straw yellow. This wine gives up plenty of muscat grape, pear and golden delicious apple on the nose, along with tropical undertones. The attack is slightly sweet and a bit minty, leading on to more grape and some zesty lime, and ending with a pleasant dry finish. This combination of sweetness and high acidity is unusual in a wine of this price, and makes this one a winner with everything from appetizers to dessert.

EDMUNDS Edmunds St. John "That Old Black Magic" -- 2006, Purchased at Ace Beverage for $19.99

The Berkeley-based Edmunds St. John is one of the few domestic producers to specialize in Rhone varietals, and they make some really novel, food friendly wines. This blend of Grenache and Syrah offers lots of complicated autumnal scents on the nose, featuring overripe apple, curry spice, and dark berry fruit. Chewy tannin and dark plummy fruit lead into a medium-bodied, bold, velvety mid-palate, and a lengthy, fruit and curry flavored finish. This spicy treat would match well with any of your traditional Thanksgiving foods, and according to the label, is "Cellared and Bottled by Wayward Pilgrims of the Vine," making it an all but a perfect pickup.

STARBUCKS But of course, Thanksgiving is about more than just gluttony -- we Americans have plenty to be thankful for, and owe a lot to the people that protect us. If you find yourself in the Georgetown neighborhood in the next few weeks, take a swing by the Starbucks at 3122 M St., and pick up a coffee for our troops. Apparently, the US Army's 1st Cavalry Division is short on coffee, and one thoughtful Starbucks manager has decided to do something about it. When you pay for your latte, you can also pay for a few packets of Via -- Starbucks' new coffee concentrate -- which they will ship to our troops stationed in Baghdad. The thought of going through a day without caffeine makes me slightly sick; I can't even imagine doing so under the constant physical and mental stress inherent in combat. Though a cup of coffee might seem insignificant, to someone so far from home, undergoing such deprivation and hardship, even the smallest comfort can make a huge difference.

ChocoVine: A New Baileys Replacement Therapy?

CHOCO1 I have a problem with Baileys. No, not like a beef with it, more like an addiction. As soon as the weather gets cool, and the noon sun gets closer to the horizon, stores put up those stacks of shiny, shiny gift packs, and I invariably pick one up. "What the hell?" I ask myself, "I'll just have a glass or two after dinner." Yeah, right -- fast forward to 48 hours later, and that bottle is gone; that's twenty-some-odd bucks, down the hatch all too quickly.

There has got to be a better way! Oh, sure, I could try to exercise a bit of willpower, but I have no illusions about myself. As the nights get longer and the ol' melatonin levels drop lower, my willpower loses what little influence it ever exerts, and gets put away until March. But a $22 bottle of Irish cream every two days is just not sustainable. Thus was my curiosity piqued when I saw ChocoVine at a DC shop last week. As you can see from my picture, it looks kinda like Bailey's, and one of the gentlemen at the shop assured me that it tasted just like Baileys... and this for $12.99? I'd had cheaper Irish creams before and been less than satisfied, but this was something altogether different, and the price was right. Sold!

ChocoVine is a new beverage made in Holland from a combination of chocolate and Cabernet wine. According to its website, ChocoVine is "the perfect union of wine and chocolate," and sure to "create a near-orgasmic taste experience." Quite the claim! So I brought the ChocoVine home, and I am afraid it didn't quite get the reception I had hoped -- my girlfriend also likes the Baileys, but living with a crazed addict, she rarely gets to have any, and was disappointed by my knock-off replacement for the bottle I'd downed. But eventually, despite the cheesy trade dress and dubious origins, she was grudgingly won over, and I, too, felt my $13 gamble a success.

Choco2 ChocoVine, beyond opacity, doesn't really bear much resemblance to Baileys at all. For starters, it is thinner than Irish cream, though still quite thick, and almost buttery on the front. ChocoVine pours an odd shade of dark muddy brown, looking much as you might expect of a combination of red wine and chocolate. Though Baileys does have cocoa nibs in its recipe, ChocoVine tastes much more heavily of chocolate, and is markedly sweeter on the finish. In a nutshell, ChocoVine tastes like really strong chocolate milk, with the slightly gritty texture of a heavily cocoaed drink, and a slight bite thanks to its 14% abv.

Neat or on the rocks, Chocovine is a little cloying and oddly textured -- but shaken a bit with ice, it mellows out nicely, and develops a slightly foamy, more milk-like mouthfeel. We also sampled a few of the cocktails listed on the ChocoVine website, and found the Lady's Night (2 parts ChocoVine, 1 part Chambord, shaken with ice) to be a very pleasant nightcap, a fact I don't consider the least bit emasculating. Haven't tried it yet, but we've both been eyeballing that bottle of peppermint schnapps someone gifted us several years ago...

I picked up my bottle at Dixie Liquors (3429 M St NW), but I am pretty certain I have seen it pop up at several other stores in the last few weeks. Fellow closet dessert drink fiends, I will not go so far as to say that ChocoVine surpasses the glorious liquid crack that is Baileys, but it is a damned satisfying and versatile alternative for the money. Pick up a bottle and let me know what you think!

Recession Refreshment: Meet John B.

Johnb Meet John B. Exotic foreign type (he's from South Africa!) -- White, and on the young side, with a light build, and racy personality. The perfect companion for a quiet dinner at home (he loves Indian and Lebanese), but always down for a party. John B. will entertain groups of any size, so invite your friends. Though adventurous, John B. is also traditional, and will certainly make a good impression on your parents this holiday season. Non-judgmental, discreet, and cheap, John B. will take on any and all callers. Sound like your kind of guy? Read on for details...

Sorry ladies and gents, but John B., though available, is not a man, but a wine (I know, right? I totally fooled you!). Nevertheless, the Rietvalli 'John B.' Sauvignon Blanc / Colombar 2008 is a hell of a catch. Made with 60% of the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc -- which grows well in the country's southwest -- John B. is blended with 40% of the lesser know Colombar. Know as 'Colombard' in France and the US, this grape is heavily planted for its productivity and ample acidity, and is a primary ingredient in both Armagnac and Cognac. Reliable, and most importantly, cheap, this grape is also a frequent ingredient in box and jug wines, where it is very rarely featured on the label.

In John B., the Colombar's natural acidity and straw notes shine through winningly. This pretty, pale straw colored wine displays notes of pineapple, lemon zest, and dried grass on the nose. It is very dry on the attack, starting out with tart acid, which quickly evolves into clementine, pear, and peppery flavors. The finish is tangy and zippy, with those citrus qualities continuing to dominate the surprisingly lengthy finish.

Seem worth checking out? Well, don't take my word for it -- the John B. was just ranked #5 in Wine Enthusiast Magazine's "Best Buys of 2009" list. Here is what editor Susan Kostrzewa had to say:

Fruity, floral and feminine, this cheerful white blends Sauvignon Blanc and Colombar. On the nose—lemon zest, minerals and tropical fruit—and on the palate, fruity but crisp citrus flavors are balanced by fresh acidity. Want a go-to summer white for everything from grilled seafood to Indian cuisine? Check this out. (88 Points)

I picked this one up at Potomac Wines and Spirits for a mere $5.99, and according to their website, Calvert Woodley has it for the same price. This wine, though not terribly wintry, is a great match with lighter fare, like the aforementioned Indian, fish, salads, lighter chicken dishes, and almost anything spicy.

Recession Refreshment: Anciano Gran Reserva 1999

Anciano1 Spain has been a hotbed for value priced wines for several years now, long enough that the wine magazines' calling it the "next big thing" is getting a bit old. It makes sense, though, that the Spanish should make lots of good cheap stuff, having more acres under vine than anyone else, and hundreds of years of winemaking heritage under their belts.

Most of the great values coming out of Spain are thoroughly modern -- light bodied and fruity, but concentrated, high in alcohol, and ready to drink on day one. Contemporary winemaking technology has made this style surprisingly easy to do well, and thanks to modern taste and a bit of promotional encouragement, the fruit bomb style is now the height of fashion.

It is nice, and indeed, a necessity for apartment dwellers, to have wine that is ready to drink without cellaring -- hell, with my tiny wine fridge, if I had nothing at hand but heavy, tannic Bordeaux, I'd be relegated to about a half case a year, which just would not due. Before clonal selection, carbonic maceration and other fancy-schmancy new techniques, the Spaniards came up with their own method of smoothing out their tannic-ass tintos: age 'em well and good.

Traditionally, in Spain's most storied wine regions, no wine was released before it was ready to drink. In poor vintages, this was no problema, as the washed-out juice was about as good as it was gonna be right off the bat. For better years, a complex system of aging designations was established and encoded into law. After six, twelve, twenty-four or more months in barrel, even the tightest wine would reveal itself, after which time it would rest in bottle at the winery for some time before release. The big daddy of the Spanish system is the Gran Reserva. In Rioja, a Gran Reserva must have spent at least two years in oak, followed by another three in bottle, before release -- these criteria vary by region, but are generally pretty stringent, though many producers choose to go above and beyond.

As you might expect, all that aging ain't cheap, so Gran Reservas often fetch a hefty price, most now selling for $100 or more! Thus, when I stumbled on the Bodegas Navalon Anciano Gran Reserva 1999 for $11.99 at Schneider's of Capitol Hill, I was nonplussed. Though I figured it for dubious, over the hill plonk, I let my curiosity get the best of me and picked one up, and was later very pleasantly surprised.

Anciano2 The Anciano Gran Reserva 1999 is a Tempranillo based wine from Valdepenas region of southern Spain; beyond that, I haven't been able to find much credible information. But that's okay, because the wine rocks! The Anciano pours a deep garnet, with brick-red highlights around the edge. Musty leather mingles with prunes, licorice and a hint of woodsy oak on the nose. On the attack the wine is soft, with most of its bitter tannins smoothed away; despite this, the flavors remain amazingly lively considering the wine's age, with tons of blueberry and strawberry leaping to the front. More woodsy and purple fruit flavors shine on in the middle, hung on a full, slightly chewy body, leading to a lengthy earth and rhubarb pie flavored finish.

The balance and fruit flavor on this wine would make it a steal for $25; being 10 years old, and having real, old wine flavor, at half that price, makes it unbelievable. I was told at Schneider's that this was a closeout from a now defunct distributor, but that they'd bought a "good amount," and should have it for awhile. Don't wait till it's gone, as the Anciano is the perfect autumn wine, and I've found it to be a great compliment to lamb, sweet potatoes, and roasted squash. And, as if that weren't enough, you can use the gold wire net to make yourself a sweet glass decoration like mine pictured above!

Recession Refreshment: Last of the Summer Wine Edition


I have a confession to make, folks: I have been a bit selfish this summer. As some of you may know, I have a bit of an affinity for the pink wine. No, not White Zin, (though I have to admit, Paul Mason on ice with some mint leaves ain't too shabby) I'm talking about rose, rosado, rosato... you know, the underrated dry stuff. Back when I was working my retail job, come early July I was rolling in the stuff, and sometimes had it for as cheap as free. Sadly, those days are gone, and now I have to fend for myself like the rest of ya'll. This is probably why I have kept the Spier Discover Rose 2008 to myself for so long. So sorry guys. Mea culpa, mea culpa...

Spier is one of the oldest wineries in Stellenbosch, South Africa, having been founded in 1692. Though little known in The States, Spier is huge in SA, operating 560 hectares worth of vineyard, and producing some 900,000 cases a year. Despite the size, most of the grapes used by Spier are hand picked and hand sorted, processes that lend themselves to gentler handling, and therefor, better juice and better wine. The winery produces several lines, featuring the usual suspects like Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, along with some unusual grapes to the area, such as Petit Verdot, Mourvedre, and Viognier.

While all of the Spier wines I have tired have been pretty good, for all in all value, the Spier Discover Rose is surprising. This 100% Pinotage pours a pretty russet pink, reminiscent of an autumn sunset. On the nose, lots of ripe strawberry and raspberry notes emerge, along with a faint whiff of pepper, which is not uncommon to the varietal. The palate reveals more red fruit, with a pleasing sweetness on the front, yielding eventually to dry, slightly tannic, well-balanced, sour cherry finish. Though great during the summer (sorry again!), this wine is actually a perfect autumn rose, in color, weight, and flavor profile. The Spier Rose would be a great pair with any number of squash-based dishes, sweet potatoes, or beet salad.

Oh, and I haven't even gotten to the best part yet! Though this stuff is common enough around town in the $6 to $8 range, it is currently available at Potomac Wine and Spirits for $2.99 a bottle. Let me say that again, just to be clear: Balanced, food-friendly, dry pink wine, for less than three dollars!  They have it case stacked right by the front door, and there still seems to be plenty to go around. If you are like me, and love pushing the summer wine season to the breaking point, head to Georgetown and pick yourself up a $36 case, and keep the pink wine flowing clear through first frost.

My First Koshu; or, Rob has a Thing for Asians.

Okay, so is it cliche for a skinny white dude to have a thing for Asians? I try not to be tacky or predictable, but apparently I can't stay away. A few weeks ago, I went on about this exotic Chinese find, that I admit was a bit of a disappointment. But did that deter me? Of course not! This week, amidst my usual degenerate trolling for whatever is tasty and cheap, I wandered into one of my usual haunts on Wisconsin Ave. Expecting to pick up my usual fare of lithe Italian, or maybe a quick French pink, my eye lights upon, of all things, a Japanese Koshu! Though a little bit older than I usually care for, the chance at a Japanese wine (what did you think I was talking about?) was one I couldn't miss.

Koshu1 You don't see these ones stateside very often, folks; I've been looking for years. But believe it or not, Japan actually has a sizable wine trade, consisting of over 175 wineries, operating in almost 90% of the country's prefectures. Though small compared to many western wine industries, Japan meets more than a third of her wine demand domestically. As such, very little is exported, so I was shocked to see this one at Wide World of Wines, relegated to a bargain bin at $5.99, one quarter its original price. Upon asking the owner, I learned that this was a direct import ('DI' in the biz), so you won't find it anywhere else. When I asked, very bluntly, if it was still potable (it is a 2004, and five years is a bit long in the tooth for even your finer white wines), I was informed that it "...should be." Though not a ringing endorsement, this seemed good enough for a $6 gamble.

Koshu2 This particular bottle was made by Grace Winery, which the back label informs me was founded in 1923 in the region of Katsunuma, near Mount Fuji. Katsunuma is Japan's most important wine region -- according to legend, the grape vine was first planted here by a follower of the Buddha Nyorai in the Eighth Century, and the area still and industry leader. The golden boy of Japanese viticulture is the Koshu grape, a vitis vinifera (i.e., European varietal) brought over and gone native some 1,200 years ago. I don't know much about Koshu, or Japanese wine in general, so I checked out Grace's English language website. "With the belief that the aroma of climate is a reflection of the human work to nature," I was assured, "we want to be one for Japanese winemaker to occupy certain place among well-known world bland." Fair enough!

The Grace Koshu pours an almost colorless lemon yellow, telegraphing its generally light character. The nose is amazingly youthful given the wine's age, offering up subtle notes of white flowers, citrus, and a vaguely milky note. On the palate the wine is very light, but has a forceful lemon-accented palate, and a short, dry finish. Typical of cold climate, lighter whites, this wine would pair well with lighter salads or white fish, or make an excellent quaff for someone who likes his wines dry and lemony.

Though obviously not mainstream in either flavor or origin, this wine was quite pleasant, and a good bet for any Japanophile or wine lover looking to surprise his friends. Wide World of Wines only seemed to have a few bottles left, so if you count yourself in either of these camps, go soon!