Think wine auctions are stodgy affairs reserved for the filthy rich? The reality may surprise you.
Auctions For All Levels Of Wine Enthusiasts
Wine auctions of decades past were often exclusive, stuffy events geared to the top echelon of consumer. That’s far afield from today, according to Samantha Compono, director for Acker Merrill & Condit. The firm has conducted fine and rare wine auctions since 1820.
Today’s wine auctions are inclusive, fun and interactive celebrations of food and wine catering to all walks of wine lover. Compono was recently featured on the Wine Studio education program and was interviewed by Vino-Sphere.
The advent of the digital age means that participation in wine auctions is no longer limited by geography. Anyone with access to a website or an app can participate. You may be someone ready to jump into an online wine auction if you are interested in expanding your cellar, exploring older vintages or simply enhancing your palate.
While some lots can range into the tens of thousands, web auctions feature many lots under $100, said Compono. You can taste great producers without committing to a case or half case. Mixed lots are appealing to cost-conscious buyers and feature great finds and great values. It’s a way to get diversity into your cellar quickly.
The Thrill Of The Hunt
First time auction participants should know that there is no entrance fee to participate. Acker Merrill applies a 24% fee to the winning bid price to offset the auction house cost of conducting the auction. Getting started is as simple as filling out a registration form with basic information and a valid credit card to hold your bids. If you are itching to experience an online wine auction, Acker Merrill’s next online auction starts January 1, 2019, and runs through January 13.
A wine auction might be just the ticket if you are on the hunt for something special - a coveted vintage, a bottle of a newly discovered producer you’ve been clamoring to try, or finally finding that perfect bottle to complete a vertical you’ve been working on. While seeking elusive vintages or filling in weak spots in a wine collection are all motivations, there is more.
“Wine auctions are fun,” said Compono. “From a practical perspective, participating in wine auctions is the best way to access vintages long gone on average retail shelves and finding and winning a lot at auction can feel like uncovering lost treasure. Plus, there is the thrill of the hunt. It always feels great to win!”
Lots from Bordeaux and Burgundy are the real superstars and those coveted wines can be very costly. Aged Champagne, Rhones, and wines from Italy, Spain and California all frequent the auction catalogs.
First Timer Tips And Ensuring Quality
If you are bidding on a Burgundy from the 1990s, how do you know the bottles aren’t spoiled? In the case of Acker Merrill, are wines are carefully examined to ensure they have been stored properly and are, in fact the wine represented. Acker Merrill subjects all wine to robust inspection procedures and also use a third party to inspect the bottles. Frequently the bottles are opened and sampled to taste for provenance. A limited guarantee is provided by Acker Merrill if they are notified of problems in a timely way.
First timers needn't be hesitant. Acker Merrill offers a “fine wine concierge” who is available at any time to help with questions on bidding. Bidders can also connect with one of the company’s experts to hone in strategies on focus for each sale.
Here are some tips for first time online wine auction participants:
Do your research. Whether a single bottle or a case or cases from a specific producer, search through open auction inventory via digital or hard copy catalogs. You can search specific auction house latest results to ensure low and high estimate ranges are accurate, and that you place a proper competitive bid.
Check your increments. Most auction houses will tell you if you place a bid off-increment, but in case they don’t put yourself in the best position to win by checking and ensuring you place your bid properly, within bidding parameters for the house.
Know your limit, and place it. Always go into an auction with an idea of your max spend, keeping in mind auction premium and any tax that may apply. If you’re bidding digitally, utilize the ‘max bid’ feature to have the system bid immediately for you up to your limit so you aren’t outbid at the end of a heated auction. If you’re willing to pay more than your initial bid, you’ll still have the greatest chance of being the winner up to your maximum price and not miss your chance with a manual click.
Don’t underestimate the value of a great mixed lot. Big time collectors seek out original cases of 6 or 12 bottles, but there are great values to be had when exploring mixed lots that can cross country, vintage and style, and the estimates typically reflect that.
Never let geography define your role in bidding. You can bid from any mobile device or tablet, submit auto-bids and watch a sale as it happens in real time, anywhere in the world. If you don’t need your purchases right away, return shipping via temperature-controlled shipping container is typically affordable, if not complimentary.
Sangiovese and a juicy steak is a marriage made in heaven. So with an uncorked bottle we fire up the grill to cook a famous Italian dish.
Bistecca alla Florentina
Bistecca alla Florentina is an Italian dish with English roots. In the early 19th Century, the English settled in and around Florence and introduced new cuts of beef, including the T-bone and porter house steaks. Bistecca alla Florentina, or Florentine steak, was born.
The cut is a porterhouse of T-bone with as large a fillet (tenderloin) as possible. Most of the Bistecca alla florentina sold in Florence is Spanish Beef. The meat should be kept at room temperature for 10 hours or so before grilling. Traditionally, the thickness should be “three fingers.” We ordered our 1 1/2 inch-thick bone-in porterhouse (about 3.5 pounds) from Pat LaFreida online. The meat was cut and shipped in an ice-gel pack and never frozen.
Trial By Fire
The traditional Tuscan Bistecca alla Florentina recipe calls for cooking over charcoal, preferably hardwood. Since I have a natural gas grill, that wasn’t an option.
I cranked the grill up as hot as it has ever been, in the neighborhood of 650 degrees. We were going on faith in the recipe, since I’ve never cooked a large steak like this before.
After about 7 minutes I flipped it to the other side using tongs, as opposed to a fork, which would release that precious juice. On the seared side I poured some olive oil and Tuscan sea salt.
When the other side was done, I flipped the steak on end for a few more minutes before entering into the house triumphantly. It was a monolithic masterpiece!
Wine Pairing Perfection!
We’ve enjoyed some superlative wine pairing dinners over the years, but the pairing of the Il Poggione 2016 Rosso di Montalcino and the bistecca was off the charts. The meat was smoky and the charred crust and juicy meat exploded with flavor. “That chef was truly amazing.”
Our meal was accompanied with roasted broccoli and potatoes. We had a nice loaf of crusty Italian bread with an olive oil dipping sauce.
Rosso di Montalcino is sometimes called a “baby Brunello” after the highly regarded Brunello di Montalcino. The Il Poggione Rosso is 100% Brunello (the local name for Sangiovese). The wine is matured for 12 months in large oak barrels before undergoing bottle aging.
This is a silky wine with flowing flavors of red berries and sour cherry. The oak aging provides a welcome structure. To have a bite of steak in your mouth and sip in the Rosso di Montalcino was euphoric.
The Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino has an SRP of $27. When you can enjoy it with a beautiful steak it is priceless!.
Full disclosure: We received the wine as a marketing sample and the steak was provided gratis.
There’s a new entry in the Bourbon-barrel aged beverage market. We uncork Exitus to test the merits of the new offering.
Something Old, Something New
There is a buzz – in more ways than one – about Bourbon-barrel aged beverages these days. There are a multitude of Bourbon-barrel aged craft beers. Aging reds in Bourbon barrels has also launched several successful wines.
We’ve also seen white wines aged in Bourbon barrels. Some whiskey makers have also flipped the tables by aging their spirits in old wine barrels. It seems like the latest trend – but it isn’t exactly.
The cost of oak wine barrels can run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 or more depending on the producer and whether it is American or French oak. It’s easy to see that oak barrel aging can be quite expensive. Decades ago, some small wine producers would buy much cheaper used Bourbon barrels to age their wine. Score one for Mrs. Alba, my 6th grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, whose favorite saying was, “There is nothing new under the sun!”
What is new, though, is that winemakers are now using Bourbon barrels to introduce new flavors into wine specifically blended to marry with the dark smoky notes that BBA (Bourbon barrel aging) brings. Exitus is a case in point.
To Exitus With Tradition
Exitus is a Zinfandel-based red blend that includes Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is produced by O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, one of the largest wine and brandy producers in California. It’s portfolio includes Robert Hall and Austerity wines, among others.
The marketing theme of Exitus is, “To Hell With Tradition.” Its bottle certainly breaks with wine packaging norms. It is clear glass, unlike the dark greens and ambers typically used for red wine to limit exposure to light. There is no foil capsule on the top of the bottle. Instead, there is a seal-like sticker like you might find on a bourbon bottle.
Below the main label is a rectangular one listing the “batch” number, year and noting that the wine is aged for three months. Again, this label is a nod to what your might find on a small batch bourbon. The main Exitus label is gold lettered on a dark brown background and brings to mind a craft beverage.
It’s a very cool package and we were anxious to uncork.
Imbibing The Bourbon Barrel Blend
Raise your hand if this has happened to you. You uncork a wine that from all outside appearances should be world-changing, only to disappointed by what was inside.Would that be the case with Exitus?
Exitus considers itself a “badass” wine. We agree. Unlike other BBA wines we’ve had that proffer a smidgeon of Bourbon taste, Exitus is a wine for Bourbon lovers. From the first sip, the Bourbon flavor is out front.
Even without the Bourbon barrel aging, this is a big wine. It weighs in with 15.9% alcohol. I don’t recall drinking an unfortified wine with more alcohol content. That being said, it sill has some great dark berry flavor with touches of earth and spice. The BBA adds caramel, smoke and toasted oak to the party. It’s a tasty value at about $20.
This isn’t a wine for wimps. It is perfect for those seeking adventure in their wine drinking. Chances are if you serve this at your next party, guests will be headed to the Exitus, not the exits.
Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.
Hundreds of lanterns light up the night sky in Cary, NC, during an annual celebration of Chinese art and culture.
Enter The Year Of The Pig
The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival is being held through January 13, 2019, at the Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary, North Carolina. We had an opportunity to tour the event and came away impressed with the beauty and a deeper understanding of Chinese culture.
In case you are wondering, 2019 is the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the lunar calendar. Pigs are diligent, compassionate and generous. There were pigs aplenty at the festival.
Zigong, The Chinese Lantern Capitol
The lanterns are created by hand on silk fabric stretched over steel frames then lit with hundreds of LED lights. In fact there are more than 15,000 LED lights contributing to the glowing masterpieces . It takes 19 tractor-trailers to deliver all the lanterns for the festival.
Zigong, Sichuan, considered the capitol of Chinese lantern-making for thousands of years, is where almost all the lanterns are made. The skills of the artisans are passed from one generation to the next.
There are 25 different displays ranging from traditional palace lanterns and traditional oil-paper umbrellas to a fairy dancing with phoenixes. My favorite was the fairy tree, making its world premiere this year, a glowing silver tree that looked like a sea anemone with strands of pearls.
A Life-Size Dragon
The Chinese Drum is an impressive display and is even more engaging when you strike the drum to change the colors of the lanterns. Dignity and grace is exemplified in the Swan Lake display of two swans in the lake. There is also the Closely Attached Hearts display which has two buttons that require two people to press so that the light in the massive heart will illuminate.
Dominating the scene is the glowing yellow Chinese Dragon lantern, which is longer than three school buses and weighs 18,000 pounds. It stands 21 feet tall and is 200 feet long. It’s head had to be installed by a 15-person crew.
Ticket prices start at $10 and food trucks offer refreshments for sale. Cultural acts run regularly on the main stage and we enjoyed hat jugglers (we didn’t know there was such a thing!), plate spinners and acrobats.
The holidays bring out a variety of festive foods. Germany’s white wines are delicious choices and versatile enough to pair with savory or sweet dishes.
German Riesling Versatility
For Thanksgiving we opened our doors to family and friends to share our holiday feast. In addition to the traditional turkey, we had a variety of sides including potatoes both mashed and sweet with cranberry sauce and gravy. Veggies ranged from brussel sprouts to green beans. Our table was overflowing and there are probably a few dishes I left off.
What wine to pick? A great grape for this meal, and to keep in mind for Christmas and New Years festivities, is Riesling. Germany’s reputation for outstanding wine is built on producing world-class Riesling. It’s a smart choice for holiday entertaining.
By all rights, Germany shouldn’t be able to produce excellent wine. Germany is home to some of the world’s coldest climate vineyards and it is far away from a large body of water. It’s difficult for grapes to ripen in such conditions.
Through determination and wise vineyard selection, with southern-facing slopes and close to rivers, German winegrowers have experienced success. Riesling, a cold-hardy variety, is the most widely planted grape in the country.Holiday Feasting
The 2015 Clemens Busch vom Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken is a dry wine that was a delightful pick for our main course. The grapes are grown on treacherously steep slopes of slippery slate that are snug up to the Mosel River. Mosel is the most northerly great wine region in the world.
This is a fresh wine that is crisp without harsh acidity. There are notes of white flowers and citrus graced with a flowing minerality. A wonderful blending with the turkey!
In contrast, the 2015 Louis Guntrum Niersteiner Rehbach Riesling Spätlese from Rheinhessen is an amply sweet wine. How sweet? It was sweet enough that my sister-in-law snuck into the fridge and opened the wine a few hours before our meal.
The Guntrum Riesling is juicy with honey flavors and notes of tropical fruit. Spätlese means late harvest, and the grapes are more intense in flavor than the lower Kabinett level. The ripeness can also come with sweetness.
Residual sugar is listed at 4.5%, which isn’t too extreme. It is just the ticket for some people. (I’m talking to you, sister-in-law Sandra!). The sugar is balanced nicely with the acidity.
For our dessert, we had pumpkin and pecan pie. The dessert that paired best with the Spätlese was prepared a few days later by our daughter: Bartlett pears poached in lemon jasmine tea spiced with ginger. The sweetness of the dessert dials down the sweetness of the Riesling. The pears also had some nice savory notes courtesy of the tea and ginger, which had delicious interplay with the subtle notes of the Riesling.
Rheinhessen is the largest wine-growing region in Germany and on August 6, Rheinhessen saw the first grapes picked for the earliest harvest in Germany’s history. These grapes are used to make Federweißer (“new wine”). The partially fermented, traditional beverage is halfway between grape juice and wine. It’s offered all around Germany but not exported.
Germany Riesling runs the gamut from bone dry to sublimely sweet. It’s a perfect “pearing” for you holiday meals.
Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.
Looking for a holiday gift for a wine lover? Try this madcap romp of a wine buyer mixed up in game of black mail, gun play and organic wine fanatics.
I just finished Brut Force by Peter Stafford-Box and I’m still chuckling thinking about it. In Corkscrew, we were introduced to Felix Hart, a wine buyer for a major supermarket chain. Brut Force continues his legendary escapades delivered with piercing wit, unexpected plot twists and a never-ending fountain of premium wine.
Felix is blackmailed into judging a corrupt wine competition designed to reinforce the primacy of a top Burgundy wine estate’s Pinot Noir. The tasting of French Burgundies versus Pinot Noir from a number of other countries has sales implications in the millions. If it weren’t for the two corpses buried in an unmarked grave, Felix wouldn’t be in such a predicament.
How did the tasting go? I won’t spoil the suspense, but let’s just say the hero ends up hanging from his feet and being dunked headfirst into a barrel of Loire Gamay. Not perturbed by his imminent demise, Felix tells his tormenters that he would prefer Cabernet Franc.
Brut Force is published by Acorn Publishing and is available via Amazon in paperback for $12.99. Interspersed with enough vino to please the wine lover, Stafford-Bow’s razor sharp wit will appeal to anyone who enjoys humorous repartee. Please note that this book isn’t for youngsters or those easily offended. I’m not in either of those categories, so it gets high praise from me.
Known for dreamy sunsets and near perfect climate, San Diego is an American favorite. The county is also home to more than 100 wineries.
San Diego: Site Of California’s First Wine
More than 90% of the wine made in the US comes from California. One might be tempted to think that the climb to the pinnacle began in Napa Valley – but that would be wrong.
San Diego was the first area in California where vineyards were planted and wine produced. Franciscan missionaries tilled the San Diego Mission lands and grapes flourished thanks to the favorable climate and soil conditions. California’s first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, was known for producing high quality wines.
Bolstered by Italian, German and French immigrants, the wine industry in the San Diego region flourished after the Civil War. In time the promise was squelched by a devastating flood in 1916, Prohibition and then World War II.
After the war, the rebirth of California wine was centered in northern California and areas like Napa and Sonoma. It wasn’t until the 1990s that San Diego’s wine industry began to reemerge.
Acreage and volume of wine produced steadily increased until wildfires destroyed hundreds of acres of agriculture in 2003 and 2007. Farmers used the misfortune as a chance to pivot from water thirsty crops to grapevines, which use only 3% of the water required by a mature avocado tree.
The regrowth is still underway, but San Diego vintners are focused on putting San Diego back on the map as an award winning California wine region. During a recent Wine Studio education program, we had an opportunity to explore the wines of San Diego County.
A Diversity Of Wines and Vines
We certainly don’t have anything against Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Heavens no. Often, though, winemakers bend over backwards to produce what they think is most popular, rather than digging into the dirt and discovering what grape varieties thrive best in their locale.
Our survey of San Diego County wines included Grenache Blanc, a Grenache rosé, Viognier, a sparkling red wine, Barbera, Sangiovese, Carignan, Syrah and a GSM blend. That’s grape diversity, for sure and the grape varieties reflect what’s best suited for the area rich in microclimates.
We sampled a quartet of San Diego bottles during our “Naughty Nine” wine tasting. We had a lot of wine to review and the best way was to throw an impromptu party. A very intriguing winery is Domaine Artefact, which specializes in Rhone grapes. We sampled their 2017 Les Printemps Grenache Rosé (SRP $30), made in the Provence style with tart strawberry and good acidity. Their Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend is called Rincon del Diablo (SPR $45) and is a stellar red, with complex cranberry and earthy notes.
Italian grapes are also well-represented in San Diego County, as wines from Altipiano Vineyard and Winery show. We tasted two high-end reds, the NV Estate Barbera ($58 SRP) and the 2016 Estate Sangiovese Reserve ($65 SRP). The Barbera is light and elegant with a nip of spice. The Sangiovese was our final wine of our tasting party and we enjoyed the bottle out on the patio. The juicy flavors continued to open up as we savored and swirled. Outstanding!
White grapes were also amply represented, with an impressive 2015 Grenache Blanc from Stehleon Vineyards ($23 SRP) and a 2017 Viognier ($23 SRP) from Charlie & Echo, a small independent urban winery. Charlie & Echo had the most unique wine we sampled, a sparkling red blend of Zinfandel and Syrah called Darkstar ($25 SRP). This had notes of blackberries and plum with light, frizzante bubbles.
From Vesper Vineyards we sampled the 2013 Carignan McCormick Ranch (SRP $25). Vesper focuses on single vineyard wines and we enjoyed this at the house of friends with a grilled chicken dinner. It has medium body, great acidity and an explosion of raspberry flavor.
Our final wine was the Koi Zen Cellars 2016 Paso Syrah ($33 SRP). Koi Zen is a small lot producer and sources grapes from top vineyards. The Syrah grapes come from Paso Robles and it offers nice structure, bold tannins and brambly fruit.
We were impressed with the quality of San Diego wines. The wines are mostly small production using interesting grape varieties crafted by passionate winemakers. There’s a lot to like about San Diego wine country and now’s the perfect time for a wine tasting trip, before the masses discover it. Sip San Diego, you’ll enjoy.