Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An interview with a "Wine Guy"

When it comes to picking good wine; knowledge is power. While I’ve purchased my share of wine at Costco, Bev Mo, and my local supermarket, I always spend a good amount of time and money at my favorite wine proprietor. A good wine guy can become a friend for life and offer more wine buying information than even Google can provide. For those that don’t live in California, or other major wine growing states, your wine guy might be your only access to one of your favorite brands. While they may not always have the cheapest prices, the true value finds are found at a good local wine shop.

When I moved back to California eleven years ago, many of my clients on the east coast thought Sacramento was a stone’s throw from Napa and they were always asking me what wines they should buy (Translation-“Hey I just did a huge amount of business with you, how about shipping me some of those fantastic Napa Cabs!”). My wine knowledge was limited at the time and I needed help. That is when my relationship with Lakeforest Wines started. The Sachdeva family opened for business in the mid 1990’s and their wine knowledge and salesmanship have rewarded them with business from all parts of the world. What made them unique to me was their eagerness to actually let me try a bottle before it was purchased! They have a beautiful granite countertop bar in the back of their shop and the number of regular customers hanging out there gives it a sort of “Cheers” feel to it. Back I would go to the bar and we would discuss the story behind the wine and what made it unique. It was a great experience for me. More than once, Mrs. Winologist would call the store and kindly ask them to send me home. Slowly (remember I’m of Irish descent and nothing comes quickly for us except a good joke), my knowledge of the wine world accelerated and before I had realized I’d picked up another expensive hobby, I was hooked. Below is an interview with Raj Sachdeva. Before I begin, let me just say this is not a cheap advertisement for www.lakeforestwines.com. I have stuck to my journalistic integrity and not accepted a dime for this post. However, if Raj happens to give me a HUGE discount on my next case, don’t hold it against me!

Winologist: What qualities should a consumer look for when searching for a good wine merchant?
Raj: Selection is very important. They should be offering wines you don’t normally see in a supermarket. Also, the number of years they are in business is important. There are many “fly-by-night” operations that don’t understand what it takes to build a clientele. I also tell customers to be wary of on-line only operations, particularly when purchasing older vintages. You don’t always get what you think you are paying for.

Winologist: Where is the best value today?
Raj:- Domestically, I think California Syrah wines are extremely undervalued. I’m not sure why, but there just don’t seem to be buyers for this varietal and there are some very talented winemakers putting out quality Syrah wine. Internationally, I think Chile and Argentina are putting out great wines for the price. It’s important to stick to what they are known for such as Malbec and Cabernet. Also, some will get better with age, but many are made to be drinkable right away.

Winologist: Anything particular?
Raj: JC Cellars does a nice, fruit forward Syrah and for the quality of the wine, it’s a good value in the mid twenties. Wine Spectator usually has them rated in the low 90’s. Also, there are a number of great Syrah wines from the Paso Robles region.

Winologist: What about white wines?
Raj: Right now, it seems Chardonnay has gotten unreasonably expensive but there is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that I like. The Brancott Conders Forest Sauvignon Blanc is very nice. It has that classic acidity of the region and fresh citrus aroma.

Winologist: I keep hearing about an oversupply of wine produced in Napa but I never really see any price cuts. If I were going to spend say $70 dollars on a big Napa cab, what would you recommend?
Raj: Right now, I’m selling a lot of the Ramey 2006 Napa Cabernet. It usually retails for ~$55 dollars and I am making money selling it at $35.

Winologist: OK, back to reality. How about $20 dollars!
Raj: There are two I really like at that price point. The 2006 Steltzner Napa Cabernet and the 2008 Eberle Cabernet from Paso Robles are both outstanding. The Steltzner cab is all fruit from the Staggs Leap region and it is very rare to see a wine priced in the low 20’s from that part of Napa. The Eberle wine has always been consistently good and the 2008 is no exception.

Winologist: What buzz are you hearing about the 2010 Napa Vintage?
Raj: We’re hearing it was a difficult vintage. We had a very cool summer which delayed the harvest. Then we had a two week span of unusually hot weather right before grapes were to be picked and a lot of fruit had to be cut. . This year will be similar to the 2000 vintage which was very small. There will be some great wines, but it won’t be a year to be remembered favorably.

Winologist: Thanks for your time Raj. Now can you pour me a little more of that JC Cellars Syrah?

January 2011