Thursday, May 14, 2009

Drink Well - Spend Less - Part One: "Off Vintages"

In the current economy, the question of the day seems to be how we can spend less and still not give up too many of the good things in life. The good news is that when it comes to wine, there is hope! At 56 Degrees we spend far more time looking for great value wines than we do on the cellar-able classics, in part because they are harder to find, but also because it's a little more work and more time consuming. We taste thousands of wines every year and only select those we feel provide great value and quality, regardless of price or scores, vintage or producer, grape or region. This is part one of a series of short thoughts on how you can drink well and spend less. It's a little more work, but if you stick with us we've done most the the ground work already!  Enjoy!

Rule # One - Don't be afraid of "off" vintages: With better wine making, better weather forecasting and maybe a hint of climate change in the air, it seems that there are not all that many disastrous vintages these days. Yet entire vintages and regions tend to get written off by the press and consumer at large, when in most cases a shade of grey is more likely the story rather than "good" or "bad". I can't really blame people for avoiding wines from vintages deemed less good. It's complicated, and you really do have look for the quality in some years, sometimes only finding one wine from a grower that really sings. "Ze hail, she meesse zis vineyard!". Seriously though, I have found that good growers tend to make good wine even in lesser and more challenging vintages, and often sell them for substantially less. If you persevere, get good advice, and close your ears to the nay sayers, you can find wines that have a lot of the similar characteristics of the more expensive vintages, and that can be more accessible and perfect to drink while you wait for the big boys to mature.

The only reason I picked this topic first is because of the fantastic wine dinner we held last evening at Sette Cucina in Bernardsville where we tasted the 2003 vintage of Collemattoni Brunello (as well as the 2004 and 1998 Riserva). While 2004 is world class and without doubt the "better" wine, it's a baby, quite young and tight, and in need of about 10-20 years before it truly stretches its legs and shows what it really as to offer. The 1998 Riserva, a "difficult" vintage, was stunning too, but alas it's not available, and was there to illustrate what these younger wines will become with time. (It was great!)

That brings us to the 2003, not generally my favorite vintage, a tough year with the heat and drought conditions leaving many wines with a dried, scorched, even sunburned over ripeness that can make them seem heavy and a bit blowzy and disjointed, but again the idea of this article is looking for value in lesser years! The 2003 Collemattoni has none of that - while it is a bit more precocious and ripe, (an attribute that manifests itself in this wine in a supple, mouth-coating plushness that makes it more accessible at this young stage), it still has lovely freshness, superb dense, dark, earthy fruit, all wrapped good solid tannins and not a hint of over ripeness or cooked character. It is a wine that after decanting for an hour or so really starts to shine, but will age and improve for 5-15 years developing more secondary aromas, flavors and complexity. It was perfect with the grilled baby lamb chops, perfectly pink, seasoned and succulent, bravo Chef Russo! 

But what really makes this 2003 stand out is the price, severely reduced in part because it's living in the shadow of 2001 and 2004 (with people are holding out for the world class 2004's), but also in part due to the economy. The result is a win/win for our customers. A lovely, classic Brunello, ready to drink now and over the next 5-10 years (while you wait for your 2004's to mature) that is under $45 per bottle (regular price over $60!) and an amazing $39.50 by the case! Click on the following link to go to our website and purchase, but don't wait - it won't last long at this price! 56 Degree Wine.

About Collemattoni: 

Region:  The winery is located on the south side of Montalcino, close to the tiny village of Sant' Angelo in Colle. They own seven hectares in all, divided into four parts. Sesta, Fontelontano (for Riserva), Cava and Collemattoni which is the oldest is where the winery is located.

Grape(s): 100% Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello)

Density of plants: 4500 plants/ha.

Altitude: 350/400 m above the sea level.

Soil: sandy clay with fossils and marl. 

Vinification: de-temmed, soft pressing, fermentation in stainless steel casks at the controlled temperature of 28-30° C, maceration on the skins for 20-25 days with extracting technique made with delestage (one a week) and pumping over. 

Method of aging: it ages for a minimum of 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels of 32 Hl. Then other 4 months in the bottle.

Aging potential: 10-20 years according to vintage.

Next in the series: Second labels

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wine Experts Web Page Now Up - Click here to visit!

Wine Experts, LLC was created by Master of Wine Christopher Cree in 1999 to offer a wide range of educational and entertaining wine programs for corporate clients, meeting planners, charitable organizations and private clients. Whether the goal is education, entertainment, reward or incentive programs, client development, or fund raising, our events provide a perfect venue for our clients to connect with their key customers, employees, suppliers or supporters. The casual and relaxed wine tasting environment also offers our clients a great setting to strengthen and build relationships and deliver their message in a relaxed, enjoyable environment.

We employ numerous different formats including food and wine pairing dinners, formal class room style seminars, casual “walk around” reception style tastings, and travel to wine regions. Seminars can be conducted either at your location or at a number of off-site venues such as hotels, conference centers, restaurants, and wine regions virtually anywhere in the world.
Our team of wine professionals is headed up by Chris Cree M.W., one of only 29 Americans to have earned the prestigious Master of Wine degree, and all of our speakers are vetted and certified to have substantial wine knowledge. But more importantly, they must have the personality and communication skills to deliver in an intelligent, sensible, down to earth manner that makes our events not only educational, but enjoyable and entertaining as well. As Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of The Wall Street Journal quipped when referring to Chris: “Real wine experts aren’t snooty…they’re simply passionate about wine. You’d enjoy sharing a bottle with them.”

Our services include:

· Event location and planning
· Consulting with and or contracting caterers, restaurant staff and travel arrangements.
· Wine and menu selection.

Our event menu offers a number of themed tasting and class ideas. Most can be set in several formats depending on our clients’ goals and preferences and can be customized to suit specific individual requests.

Event Formats

Our classes are designed to be informative and enjoyable, delivering information to a professional level audience in an entertaining manner. They can be presented at an introductory through to an advanced level of knowledge. Most classes can be conducted as a stand-alone one time class or in a series. They can be customized to be either more formal or educational, or geared towards providing a more social networking type environment.

Classroom style: Wines tasted in seminar format, guests seated for comparative tasting and talk. Power point presentations are often used to enhance experience. This format can be coupled with a dinner and/or a reception for more complete experience.

Wine Dinner: Guests are treated to a themed wine pairing menu specifically selected by our team and a catering or restaurant partner, and we have worked with some of the best Chefs and Restaurants in the country. Typically a brief aperitif and reception with passed appetizers followed by multiple course dinner, with introductory welcome talk about the wines and menu and running commentary throughout the event.

Reception: “Cocktail hour” format with a wide range of wines typically served at stations. Great food pairing opportunities from passed appetizers to full food stations or both. Generally a short welcome and talk at some point early during the event.


Wine Experts works with a wide range of highly qualified speakers and wine educators, and speakers’ fees vary with qualification of speaker, type of event, planning, travel and other expenses. While Wine Experts LLC does not sell wine or food directly, our services include developing a budget, location, menus, wine and all aspects of your event, and events can be individually customized to suit a wide range of objectives and budgets.

Seminar Summaries

The Fundamentals of Fine Wine; Grapes, Terroir and Wine making: An introductory course that looks at the how and why behind wine styles. It examines the underlying factors that determine a wine’s style, price and flavor profile by examining the grape varieties, terroir and wine making techniques employed, literally from the ground up.

Old World/New World: A comparative tasting and seminar that focuses on similarities and differences between the European classics and new world counterparts. Tradition, terroir and technique all play a role in this fun and eye-opening seminar. This popular format delivers a lot of information in an entertaining, fast-paced, highly illustrative format.

Wines by Country: These courses focus on a single country, offering a broad look at the many different regional wine styles within a country and what makes them unique.

Wines by Region: Regional classes look more closely at the wine areas within a specific country, and offer a more in depth view into the world’s greatest wine regions. Regional courses are offered either individually, such as “The Wines of Bordeaux”, or in a series featuring a combination of all or some of the regions within a single country.

Courses by Wine Style or Grape: Examples include Rhone or Bordeaux varieties around the world, or Sparkling Wines: France vs. the World.

Real Wine: A discussion and tasting of natural, organic and Biodynamic wines. Find out why this growing trend and return to traditional methods is producing some of the greatest wines made.

To schedule and event or for more information, please contact Chris Cree at 908.310.6127 or via email at To read more, visit my blog at Down to Earth Wine or visit on Twitter Wine
For more information about Chris Cree click here: About Chris Cree M.W.