Tag Archives: French wine

Bottle Shock: Why aren’t Local Wines in More Restaurants and MO and KS Wines in TV Blind Tasting

24 Jun

Here’s the full Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) half-hour show about regional wines and their absence from Kansas City wine lists, plus the big grape showdown where Missouri and Kansas wines take on the French and Californians in a blind tasting – and win!



Bottle Shock Redux: Missouri Wines Triumph in Blind Tasting

22 Jun

In yesterday night’s regional wine special and blind tasting on ‘The Local Show’ on Kansas City Public Television (KCPT), Belvoir Winery’s Plumeria and Stone Hill’s 2008 Norton received the most points in their white and red blind tasting sections.  What a great result! Both sections included competition from well respected Californian – Rodney Strong Vineyards – or awarded French wine makers – Baron Rothschild and Gerard Bertrand.  The ‘wild card’ randomly chosen wine – $3 chuck from Trader Joe’s – was cause for a bit of giggling and the five blind tasters from Belvoir customer Lucinda to former football star Eddie were chatty and articulate about he wines and their scoring.  Show hosts Nick Haines and Randy Mason lucidly knitted the show together and wine expert Doug Frost provided engaging commentary and explanation as to what was going on as the wine tasters responded and scored the various wines.  Emily Ghertner and Eric Mater produced the show with flair and calm (a good combination!)  and the editing job was great.  It was a lot of fun and hopefully helped to squeeze out some of the stigma against local wines and show that Midwest wines can rub shoulders with the best!  Hopefully we can have another round some time.

Here are the full points scores and wine descriptions courtesy of KCPT:


A Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Bordeaux, France
THE WINE: Mouton Cadet Blanc, 2007 – $12.99 retail

From one of France’s legendary and most well known winemakers, a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc (40%), Semillon (50%) and Muscadelle (10%)

Total Score: 10

B Belvoir Winery, Liberty, Missouri
THE WINE: Plumeria – a blend of Traminette, Vignoles and Seyval – $18 at the winery

The wine is named after the owner, Dr John Bean’s, late wife’s favorite flower. The winery is located in an impressive Jacobethan Revival style building that was a former orphanage for the International Order of Odd Fellows.

Total Score: 21

C Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery, Basehor, Kansas
THE WINE: Seyval, Kansas Table Wine – $12.95 at winery and retail (only available in Kansas)

Holy-Field is a father and daughter team – Les and Michelle Meyer – who pride themselves on their canine ambassadors who feature on some of the wine labels. The dogs are: Vinnie, Bacchus, Corkie and Sinbad

Total Score: 17

D Charles Shaw Winery, Napa and Sonoma, California
THE WINE: Chardonnay, 2010 – $2.99 at Trader Joe’s grocery store

The wine is affectionately known as ‘two buck chuck’

Total Score: 11

E Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington State
THE WINE: Chardonnay, 2010, – $12.99 retail

A respected wine making region of the US. This winemaker is often in grocery stores and on restaurant wine lists in Kansas City.

Total Score: 18


A Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sonoma County
THE WINE: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 – $17.99 retail

A California Sonoma red that is often seen in Kansas City grocery stores, liquor stores on on restaurant wine lists.

Total Score: 11

Jowler Creek, Platte County, Missouri
THE WINE: Chambourcin, 2010 – $19 at the winery and retail

Jowler Creek emphasize their sustainable vineyard practices. They use Olde English Babydoll sheep to control grass and weed growth.

Total Score: 4

C Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, Missouri
THE WINE: Norton, 2008 – $18.99 at the winery and retail

Stone Hill is Missouri’s second biggest winemaker producing 260,000 gallons of wine in 2011. They’ve been making Norton for decades. A Stone Hill Norton is thought to have won the prestigious award for best red wine “of all nations” at an international competition in Vienna in 1873.

Total Score: 21.5

D Gerard Bertrand, Languedoc Pic Saint Loup, Narbonne (Languedoc-Roussillon region, on the coast, south of Marseille) France
THE WINE: Grand Terroir, 2005 – $16.99

European Winery of the Year for 2012 in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s annual Wine Star Awards. Wine Spectator magazine’s ‘Best Value Winery From France’ in 2008.

Total Score: 14

E Charles Shaw Winery, Napa and Sonoma, California
THE WINE: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 – $2.99 at Trader Joe’s grocery store

The wine is affectionately known as ‘two buck chuck’

Total Score: 20

Midwest Wines vs The Rest of the World

20 Jun

Tomorrow, Thursday June 21st from 730pm on Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) it’s the battle of the grape.  Two blind tastings, one for reds and another for whites, will determine if wines from Missouri and Kansas can compare with the best wine making regions in the world.   The show also tackles the issue of why most restaurants in Kansas City (and in cities all over MO and KS) are happy to serve local food, but don’t serve local wines.  The blind tastings will help determine if the preference for Californian, French and other international wines is actually fair and based on quality and customer preferences, or just a result of inertia, snobbery, ignorance – or all three.

White paper bags look quite classy don’t you think?

Surely if French and Californian wines are so good and the local wines so poor, the blind tasters will prefer those? The restaurants will be proved right afterall…but if MO and KS wines do well hopefully it will be a small wake-up call to consumers and restaurants alike.

So tune in to KCPT on tomorrow! Or come to Belvoir Winery in Liberty where we’ll be watching the show.

Lucinda, Stretch and Katie Van Luchene rehearse raising their numbers

I tried hard to make this a fair contest.  The five reds and five whites in each tasting cost between $12 and $20 retail, except for a ‘wild card’ that could cost anything.  Two of the wines in each red or white tasting are from MO or KS, one is from California, one from France  and one that ‘wild card’ that could be from anywhere.

The basis of prejudice against MO and KS wines is often based on their tendency to be sweet.  People seem to think that sweet is all the Midwest does well and discount the quality dry stuff that has emerged and is emerging all over the place.  This tasting will be meeting Californian and French wines on their own terms: all the reds competing are dry and all the whites are dry or semi-dry.

I was also conscious of how the order in which the bottles would be tasted could confer an advantage.  It is probably not ideal to be the first wine tasted, or the last.  The order of the tasting was determined by me reaching blindly into a case where I’d place the bottles and pulling the bottles out, lottery style, one by one.

The bottles were placed in white paper bags and each labelled with a letter – A to E.

From left to right: Nick Haines, KCPT host, Stretch, Lucinda, Stephen Molloy, Katie Van Luchene, Eddie Kennison and Doug Frost.

The 5 blind tasters were chosen to be widely representative of wine lovers and to be fun – there’s a mixture of celebrities (Eddie Kennison and Stretch), wine and food experts (Stephen Molloy and Katie Van Luchene) and Lucinda, a young woman and regular customer at Belvoir winery, chosen to represent ‘normal’ people (possibly like you?).  They all like a wide range of wines.  Overseeing them and to offer his analysis, wine brain and expert, Doug Frost.

The blind tasters are not comparing the wines to each other, they’re just making a very simple judgement: how much do they like each wine and why? In other words, how does the wine they’re blind tasting compare to their idea of the perfect white or red?  They mark each one with 1 to 5 points, 1 being ‘not to my taste or ‘I don’t like it’, up to 5, which means ‘excellent ‘ or ‘I love it’.

So tune in! Will this be a humiliation for the Midwest wine industry?  Or will this be a case of Bottle Shock and a humbling experience for  French and California? Find out on Thursday at 730pm…

Midwest Wine Appearing in More Top Restaurants

21 Feb

The author of this article is Mary Mihaly of Midwest Wine Press (MWP), based in Chicago.  MWP is the first business publication dedicated entirely to the art and business of winemaking in the Midwestern United States.  The editor of MWP is Mark Ganchiff, whose stated goal is to help winery owners, grape growers and cellar masters be more effective and profitable. The story first appeared in Midwest Wine Press in December and provides a positive tonic to, as well as supporting, the dark findings revealed in the blog posting “Wine Lists of Shame”.

Salt of the Earth Rustic American Eatery and Bakery in Fennville, Michigan has a dozen Michigan labels on its wine list. The event was an upscale food expo in Cleveland. I was pouring wine samples; the fellow pouring at the next table owned an award-winning winery in northeast Ohio. Our conversation turned to restaurant wine lists—specifically, why don’t we see more local wines listed?

“Beats me,” he said, “and it makes no sense. They talk about using local produce, local meats, farm-to-table everything—and they carry wines from France, California, everyplace but Ohio.”

His point is valid: why don’t more restaurants carry regional Midwest wine—and more importantly, how can regional wineries get onto their wine lists?

“I suspect it’s probably a little more expensive, takes a little more legwork to carry regional wines,” says Jon Trasky, general manager of The State Room Restaurant and Lounge in East Lansing, Michigan. His 17-page wine list features dozens of Michigan wines; they show up in nearly every category from Riesling to rosé. Trasky concedes that as part of the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at Michigan State University, it follows that he would carry Michigan wines.Still, he has a choice, and he sees buying local as good business: “What’s good for Michigan is good for us,” he says. “We live here, so we want to do all we can to support Michigan businesses.”

Every restaurant and winery owner we interviewed agreed on the chief reason for carrying a local wine: because it tastes as good as wines from the “major” wine regions. “That’s the biggest factor for us,” says Nolan Cleary, beverage manager for Lola Bistro in Cleveland, one of several restaurants owned by Michael Symon, TV’s “Iron Chef” and star of  ”The Chew.”  “For us, quality is a big motivator; we’re not going to bring in local products if they’re inferior.”

For Cleary, carrying local wines was serendipitous. An owner of Laurello Vineyards in Geneva, Ohio is a regular at Lola and brought in some Vidal ice wine for Cleary to taste. It landed on the wine list. The other winery whose wines Cleary serves—Harpersfield Winery, also in Geneva—is on the wine list because, according to Harpersfield owner Patty Ribic, the Iron Chef himself “heard the buzz” and visited the winery.

“We’re a very small producer, just 3,000 gallons. Since we only use our own grapes, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.  There’s a finite amount so we watch where our wine goes and I guess that impressed [Symon],” Ribic recalls.  Symon’s bar manager called, they met, and as a result, Lola Bistro became Ribic’s only restaurant outlet.

Farmhouse Tavern, one of Chicago’s newest hot spots (open just 10 weeks at this writing and pictured on the homepage), is trying a more inclusive tactic, offering wines from throughout the Midwest. “All of our sparkling wine is from Michigan,” says Robert Diaz, manager, “and we carry wines from Indiana, and even a Riesling and Pinot Noir from Firelands Winery in Ohio.”  Wine selection,  he says, can be easy.  “Put together some reds and whites from Argentina, Australia, and France, and your customers will be reasonably happy. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to seek out the smaller players, offer something different.”

Taste is Diaz’s top priority, and he speculates that perhaps more restaurants don’t offer local wines “because a lot of the root-stock in the Midwest isn’t old,” he says. “Europe and California have been growing grapes for a very long time, and older vines sometimes make better wine.”

Michigan wines “sort of fly under the radar,” says Mark Schrock, owner of Salt of the Earth in Fennville, Michigan, “but we produce some of the finest Riesling out there.” One of the most expensive wines on his wine list—“Shou,” a Bordeaux-style blend from Wyncroft Winery—is a Michigan wine with limited production. “You feel like the winemaker has examined every grape when you drink it, it’s that well crafted,” Schrock says. “If you want to be on a good wine list, quality is everything.”

Carey Amigoni, whose family owns Amigoni Urban Winery in Kansas City, agrees. “There’s no question,” she says, “a Cab Franc is a Cab Franc. If you make a pretty good one, people will want it.”

That view is echoed by the Wine Business Institute, which surveyed sommeliers of 74 restaurants in 2009. The results were unanimous: 100 percent ranked “tasting good” as the top factor in selecting wines for their lists. Nearly 98 percent ranked “matches with food menu” as the second priority, followed closely by “competitive price fit” and “balance of varieties.” Sixty-two percent said they prefer to buy locally—a bit surprising, since relatively few high-end restaurants offer regional wines—and only 35 percent said they would list a particular wine to maximize profits. Zero respondents said they relied on a supplier’s recommendations in buying wine.

Marketing, however, is critical to getting on wine lists, especially for small wineries. “Usually, a small distributor will do a good job for small wineries,” Carey Amigoni says, “where with a big distributor, the small wineries sort of disappear.” Amigoni likes her distributor, but she sometimes accompanies him on calls to new restaurants: “You have to go with them, personalize it, enjoy the wine with the bar manager, help sell it.”

That means talking up anything that would appeal to customers. If your wine is certified organic or Biodynamic, mention that to the bar manager. If Justin Timberlake or Bette Midler ordered a glass, or if it was fermented in barrels made of a special wood, that’s worth a mention. Anything that helps create a memorable experience for the customer will help sell your wine.

Megan Zander, bar manager at Blue Bird Bistro in Kansas City, offers wines by Amigoni as well as locally brewed beers and liquor from a local distillery. “Everything’s of the highest quality,” she says, “but we also want to talk to the winery owner and other producers. It’s about building relationships—you have to be as passionate about your wine as we are about our restaurant.”

Patty Ribic agrees: “Let’s face it, there are a million wineries out there. You have to have passion for your wine—put out a product you’re proud of.”

As for the future, Mark Schrock believes, “more and more, `local’ translates to sales,” he says. “Our guests are asking for it—but you’ve got to bring your best stuff.”

“I think you’re going to see people take notice of local wines over the next 10 years,” Robert Diaz predicts. “Wineries should start now, creating and developing relationships with restaurants and restaurant groups, and good things will happen.

“Get into a few good restaurants and people will start noticing—and buying—your wine.”

Reprinted with permission of  Midwest Wine Press.

Historic Downtown Liberty Promotes Missouri Wines

20 Feb

On Saturday there was an annual wine tasting event just around the corner from my house.  Let’s Wine About Winter, organized by

Liberty Square sunshine on the day of "Let's Wine About Winter"

Historic Downtown Liberty Inc., involved the shops on the pretty Liberty square (site of the first daylight bank robberyin US history, thought to have been performed by the Jesse James gang) providing a selection of free wine on a sort of round the square wine crawl.   You bought a wine glass for $10 and then strolled around on a gorgeous sunny spring like winter’s day, popping in and out of the shops, tasting wines.  Each participating shop chose its wine and the great thing about their selections was that about half of them were local Missouri wines. This surprised me given that you might expect high-end clothes boutiques, antiques and nick nack stores to favor high-end Californian or French stuff – but not on Liberty Square!

Cathie Meyer, owner of "Quotations" boutique, and to her right, Amigoni Winery's Cabernet-Franc

While the restaurants in Kansas City might generally be neglecting their local wineries, the Liberty shop owners proudly poured wines from Jowler Creek Vineyard, Amigoni Urban Winery, Westphalia Vineyards and Crown Valley Winery.   It was a popular event – there we dozens of people out.   In fact, since moving to Liberty in November, I haven’t seen so many people on the old downtown square.  It was a great way for the locals to explore the shops and for the owners to get to know their potential customers over a vino.

Heather Chaney and Anna Wright with Jowler Creek wines in their "Catfish & Tater" boutique

Liberty square's "Let's Wine About Winter"

Daphne Bowman from "Willow Spring Mercantile", that specialises in Missouri wines, pours for two wine tasters in "The Polished Edge" jeweller

In the foreground, Vicky Burnett considers her next wine stop after sampling some Spanish vino in "Crepes on the Square", as owner Neil Battrum serves wine tasters

Wine Lists of Shame II: The View of the Winemakers

27 Jan

I was a little worried when I posted the Wine Lists of Shame blog.  I have enjoyed eating at about half the restaurants on the list (thanks to a generous mother and father-in-law) but was always disappointed by the absence of Missouri and Kansas wines from their wine lists.  The thought of stirring an angry response from the city’s restaurants got me quite excited and nervous in the moments before the blog was posted.  Of course my small act of defiance wasn’t in the same league as Martin Luther giving one to the Pope and I’m not reporting for BBC News anymore, this is a WordPress blog, so I suppose the muted response has been understandable.  So far only Bluestem Restaurant has commented and they say they’re planning to include local wines on their new wine list – full marks to them.

The issue of how to break into the Kansas City restaurant scene is a topic I brought up with the winemakers I visited on Mission Impossible I: The Search for a Drinkable Norton.  I also spoke on the phone with Tim Puchta, president of  Adam Puchta Winery  (resplendent in blue overalls in the photo for the Defenders of Norton blog) and in a long conversation he was clearly frustrated about the situation. “It’s a very tough issue to deal with”, he says, noting how on the one hand restaurants have adopted the slow food movement with local produce, “but when it comes to wine, they absolutely have a totally closed mind.  They absolutely do not like to even think about attempting to even try some of the Missouri wines.”

When I turned up at Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport it sounded like winemakers Cory Bomgaars and Jacob Holman were trying to expunge their frustrations about this issue by playing in a heavy rock band.  The sound blasting out of the winery was so loud and clear I thought I was interrupting a band practice. It turned out to be just a very good sound system and anyway, Cory and Jacob are probably more surfer types than rockers.  Cory sees restaurants as crucial to positively changing people’s opinions about regional wines.  “The service industry is kind of the ambassador of wine, and good restaurants really have a lot of influence on perception of wine quality for the community,” he explains to me in his small office behind the winery’s shop.

Kansas City isn’t alone in generally turning its back on local wine, winemakers say the situation is the same in top restaurants across the region.   But there are notable exceptions to the Wine Lists of Shame, says Tim of Adam Puchta Winery, like Annie Gunn’s Restaurant in Chesterfield, Missouri that features about thirty Missouri wines on its wine list.  However, getting MO and KS wine into most restaurants depends heavily on the sales reps and distributors, who are more likely to push their better known French and Californian bottles because they are easier to sell.  For that reason, some restaurants say they never see any regional wines.  Cory says the answer is to incentivize the distributors and make it worth their while to push the local, regional wines.

But even if distributors are convinced to push the local stuff, Cory says restaurant staff need to be educated.  Otherwise, says Tim, even if the restaurant’s manager or wine buyer purchases the local wine, it generally won’t sell unless the restaurant staff know about the wine and promote it.  “We were in a couple of places in Kansas City for a while,” says Tim, but the restaurants would say the wine wasn’t selling and drop it from the list, “I would say 99% of the time the wine wasn’t promoted or mentioned.” Or there’s a change of manager or chef at the restaurant, and in the change of regime, the regional bottles are often the first to be dropped from the wine list.   Educating restaurant staff can be difficult says Tim, “even though we educate them, we bring them out to our tastings, we go through the motions and their minds are just really closed.”  But Cory says this education drive needs to continue and across the industry.  “Bring them up here and teach them about what we are doing with Missouri wines,” he says.  “All the way through to chefs thinking about what they are cooking and the waiters behind the product.  To really break that barrier is going to take some intense one-on-one stuff.” He says in the next twelve months Missouri vineyards are likely to do some organized industry-wide marketing aimed at restaurants.

The West Bottoms area of Kansas City © kcphotoblog.com

I met Michael Amigoni in the tasting room of his Amigoni Urban Winery in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City (for the full interview see: Regional Wines: “We’re catching up”). There was a tasting in progress and about a dozen people were there to taste Michael’s wines and listen to him chat about them.   With his commanding presence he reminded me of a Roman emperor as he strutted and talked about his wines (but I’m a bit obsessed with ancient history). His location right in the heart of KC has probably helped his relationship with restaurants there.  He told me afterwards that part of the restaurant problem is the difficulty selling wines made from grape varieties like Norton and Vignoles that haven’t been accepted by the wine establishments on the east and west coast and are still unfamiliar to many local wine drinkers.  Michael says he’s the only winemaker in Missouri who, despite the challenging climactic conditions here, focuses very heavily on growing European varieties like Cabernet Franc.  As a result, he says he’s had some success breaking into the Kansas City restaurant scene, but it’s been tough going.  “It’s very difficult, but we probably broke some of that ceiling that was there.  The local restaurants, especially here in the metro, have not embraced any of the Missouri wines.” He tells me as we talk on the long wooden benches in his tasting room.   “They felt that someone would have a hard time paying the prices for some of the hybrid varieties and the other varieties that people are not familiar with and since we brought in varietals that they can put on a restaurant wine list and people understand those varietals, they can be assured that they might sell it a bit easier.”

But at St James Winery the studious looking CEO, Peter Hofherr, told me with enthusiasm that times are changing and the dawn of the native grape breaking into KC restaurants is nigh.  “I think that the wine culture for local wines is changing. We’re seeing some of that now.” He says, “I’ve done a lot of work in Kansas City that shows me that while you don’t see them in the restaurants right now, we are seeing some chefs that really are embracing local wines, so I think that you will begin to see more than them.”

Cory from Les Bourgeois agrees and puts it down to improvements in the quality of local wines. “I guarantee that you could wrangle up 40 wines across the state of Missouri, red and white, that would be delicious at any dinner table,” he says. “I think we have the product now, and we have the reputation on the product.  Most restaurants at this point are really eager, and as the restauranteur says: ‘Well I’d put some local wines on the wine list if someone came and talked to me.” Winemakers say, ‘Well shit! I’ve got a warehouse full of wine!’    ‘You and I should get together!’”

Peter from St James views it this way: “We see ourselves as sort of on a wine frontier here.”

Kansas Wine Causes Bottle Shock

11 Jan

In a video interview with Regional Wine Taster, Michelle Meyer, owner of Holy-Field Vineyard, tells how a Californian wine connoisseur was gifted a bottle of their Holy-Field Late Harvest Vignoles dessert wine and took it to a blind tasting where it faced the best bottles his wine friends had to offer, including a Dom Perignon, a Chateau Mouton Rothschild and high-end Californian wines.   Against this classy opposition, Holy-Field’s dessert wine was the hit of the tasting!  Michelle says the Californian wine fans were “tickled” when the Kansas identity of the wine was revealed and they regarded it as the one everyone wanted to top.

Michelle says the response from these wine fans underlines the  US public’s growing interest in trying regional wines.  “I think for a lot of people regionality is becoming more important and as that happens they’re pleasantly surprised to find something outside the traditional wine regions, ” Michelle says.

Perhaps today, some Kansas and Missouri wines stand in relation to Californian wines, how three decades ago Californian wines stood in relation to French wines (like that Judgement of Paris 1976).   Maybe Missouri and Kansas wines could use a few more ‘bottle shocks’ like this to help both their reputation and challenge the wine status quo.