Even Gnarly Dudes Can Make Great Wine

img_5867-editedMy taste buds and I spend most of our time hanging out with the wines of the eastern
United States and Canada: our passion, our wheelhouse. However, every now and then we remember that the rest of the wine world exists and we venture out to explore; it’s very important not to become too accustomed to a “house flavor,” so to speak. Understanding a wine in the context of its region and place in the wide, wide world of wine is both palate-calibrating and fun. So, when the opportunity to learn more about Two Hands Wines of South Australia through #winestudio’s interactive social media tasting program came along, my interest was piqued.

Image result for images of two hands winesTwo Hands Wines was founded in 1999 by friends Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz with the intent to stand out from the sea of large producers who managed to stay afloat during the decade-long Australian grape glut by driving down their retail prices and decreasing quality. According to winemaker Ben Perkins, “It was a hard time for sure, but we were positioned well with good brand equity; [the] industry is still recovering.” As stated on Two Hands’ website, “With so much Australian wine being sold around the globe under multi-region labels in a formulaic style, the intention was to break the mould and showcase the diversity of Australian Shiraz by highlighting regional and vineyard characteristics by allowing the fruit to be the primary feature of the wines.”

#Winestudio participants evaluated wines from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, both famous for high-quality shiraz production. Barossa is a continental climate and experiences weather extremes like cold winters and long hot summer days. McLaren Vale is situated on St. Vincent Gulf and experiences a more moderate Mediterranean climate, with warmer, wetter winters, hot dry summers, and cooling winds because of its proximity to the coast and the Mt. Lofty Ranges. Given the differences in their climates, Barossa typically produces wines that are big, juicy and fruit-driven, and McLaren Vale produces wines that are more balanced, herbal, and spicy in character. Two Hands showcases the regional differences in their growers’ vineyard sites with well-made wines at several price points.

img_5776The Pictures Series (closed with screw cap, for any other “cork dorks” who may be interested)

2014 Angels’ Share Shiraz (McLaren Vale): Aged in a combination of 15% new French oak and the remainder in older French and American oak. Dark ruby color with thick, red-tinted tears at 14.8% ABV. On the nose: Garrigue, crushed herbs (rosemary, mint), violets, blackberries, black plums, anise/black licorice and bell pepper. The alcohol level is very apparent at first whiff. Jam, anise/licorice, green bell pepper, near-neutral but slightly toasty oak, juicy black cherry, black raspberry on the palate. Fleshy and complete. Low tannin, medium-acid. Nice weight, long tarry finish. Day 2, noticed more cocoa on the nose. Surely the angels, who theoretically took their eponymous “share” of this wine during barrel maturation, took pity and left us the very best part. $36 retail

2014 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz (Barossa Valley): Aged in all French oak with 15% new barrels. Slightly lower alcohol at 13.8% ABV. Smells like rose petals, blackberry/black cherry, cassis, slight powdered sweet cocoa, and high-tone vanilla. Much lighter on the palate; the body is less complex than Angels’ Share. More linear, with medium tannin. More prevalent oak markers: vanilla, toast, caramel. Day 2 added smoked meat, more vanilla and pencil lead to the nose.  Named for the gnarly old vines from which these grapes were harvested, or for “The Dude” character from the film The Big Lebowski, or both—you decide. $36 retail

2015 Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale): Named as an homage to Ben Kingsley’s character, “a real badass,” in the 2000 British crime film, Sexy Beast. At 14.5% ABV, it’s nicely balanced and the alcohol is not overwhelming to my cool-climate palate. The tears running down the side of the glass were thick and prettily purple-tinted. The color denotes a very young wine: ruby red with a purple rim. This wine’s aromas include cassis, blueberry/violets, green bell pepper, black pepper, mint and black fruits. The palate evokes much of the same with blackberry, ripe black cherry, medium tannin, and a cedar finish. Very perceptible toasty oak, with this wine being aged in 15% new 300L French oak barrels from a cooperage in Cognac (characteristically bold toasting) and the remainder still picking up aromas from one- to five-year 300L French barrels. $36 retail

The Garden Series (closed with Diam agglomerated closures)
Bella’s Garden 2014 (Barossa Valley):
Blood red. Nose is hot, boozy, very ripe with notes of violets, spice, black olive, cola, black/blue fruits, pomegranate. I loved this wine for its combination of complexity and balance. Ripe and rich but not overextracted. Big and mouth filling, but balanced. Not as boozy as the nose initially led me to believe. Subtle mushroom, black/blue fruits, dusty tannins, vanilla/chocolate/caramel/toffee/coffee from the 16% new French oak, long cedar-y finish on the palate. My favorite of the bunch! $69 retail

Lily’s Garden 2014 (McLaren Vale): Named for owner Michael Twelftree’s daughter, Lily, this wine is a deep, concentrated, purple/ruby red. Vanilla, blue fruits, black fruits, the nose is less aromatic than Bella’s Garden. Palate: Black fruits, firm tannin, coconut/vanilla, cedar/sweet pipe tobacco mid-palate drifting to slight tar on the finish. Herbal, tomato-leaf notes throughout. Delicate and pretty. Aged in 6% new, 94% older French 300-liter barrels. More linear than Bella’s Garden. Nice balance of acid, fruit, oak. $69 retail

img_5842The Flagship Series (closed with natural cork)

2012 Ares Shiraz (Barossa Valley): Always 100% Barossa Valley fruit and aged in 25% new oak for 23 months, Ares is one of Two Hands’ big, bold flagship wines. If you like huge, ripe, high-alcohol wines, you will be thrilled at what awaits you with Ares. At 15.5% alcohol, it seems almost like an appassimento-style or fortified wine, with immediately noticeable viscosity and thick colored tears running down the side of the glass. The nose presents raisin-y, very ripe blackberry/black plum, and violet notes; the oak markers include lots of baking spice, musk, and a touch of smoke. Extremely aromatic. At first sip, I wrote, “Jam! Spice! A little boozy vanilla. Juicy sweet black cherry. Spice! Spice! Spice! Same as nose. Cedar on finish.” These flavors are not for the faint of heart. Because of the extra care, extreme barrel sampling by the winemakers (about 100 barrels per day until all 2,000 barrels are tasted!) and “best of the best” selection that goes into this blend, the price tag is not for the faint of heart, either. $185 retail

Disclosure: Wine samples were provided by the producer for the purpose of the #winestudio social media program. All opinions are my own.

October is Barrel Adoption Month


When we started working with Tonnellerie Cadus French oak barrels and puncheons earlier this year, we had an idea of how many we wanted to sell for the 2016 season, but, as with all new partnerships, we forecasted conservatively to ensure that we’d meet Cadus’ expectations as well as balance our efforts with our other valued suppliers.

Well, we’ve exceeded our initial goal by about 100 barrels, a testimony as to how well these elegant barrels mesh with the cool climate wine styles (and beer styles–Midwest breweries LOVE Cadus!) of eastern and central North America. Thank you, thank you, thank you to our customers who have given them a try. We’re now down to only about 15* barrels left in our east coast warehouse. Hooray!

So while we can always tap into our reserves in img_5370California and Oregon warehouses, I love being able to keep the number of miles these little guys spend on the road as low as possible to ensure the gentlest ride available to their forever homes. They get along well with barrels from other cooperages; they’re not aggressive and they play nicely with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Marquette, Chardonnay, Albarino and Sauvignon Blanc (to name just a few of my faves), supporting and lifting the fruit with unconditional love; and they’re very loyal–they’ll cuddle with your wines for 12 or even 24 months straight! Pedigrees available upon request. Won’t you take one home to join your cellar family? (We try to keep barrels from the same litter together, though, so–better yet–how about two?)  🙂

*Update as of 10/6: Only 5 cute little puppies, er, barrels left on the east coast!

An Unlikely Sommelier

There’s been some controversy recently about non-restaurant people usurping the title of “sommelier.” After all, the very definition of the word, per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service: a wine steward.” So, by that definition, am I a sommelier? Not in the least. My last restaurant experience was in the Dairy Queen drive-thru several years (okay, decades) ago, upselling high-margin extras: “Would you like nuts and whipped cream on that sundae?” Is it to impress my winemaker customers? Not really. From the perspective of the production side of the business, winemakers and somms seem to be more like “frenemies” than true allies. Is it part of the continuous academic growth and challenge that some crave? A little.


So why the sommelier route? While I’ve sold oak products to wineries for over a decade, the industry supplier where I spent 13 years is more widely known for its closure and packaging side of the business, and I definitely have a healthy dose of geek-level cork-capsule-and-screw-cap expertise. But with closures, one always hopes for neutrality; the goal is to leave the wine the way the winemaker intended, without contributing ANY flavors (TCA, oxidation, reduction, etc.). Diving from the top of the bottle into the bottle requires some different skills because barrels or alternatives do significantly (for better or for worse!) impart aromas, flavors, weight, and texture to the finished wine. Third party palate validation through a quantifiable system of tasting and describing wine using The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Deductive Tasting Method is a great way to ensure that what I am tasting when I’m in the barrel room with my customers has some basis in objectivity. There are a few other excellent certification programs, but the one I completed previously didn’t have a tasting component, and the ones that did didn’t work logistically for a mom who runs a full-time business from home but still travels a lot.

But at its crux, the reason is less rational and more emotional. For those of us who develop a passion for wine but don’t actually make any wine or work in a vineyard, there is a deep need to be somehow connected to the grapes, the growers, and the makers; to feel like a part of the process, even if only through our shared enthusiasm, camaraderie, and nerdy love of the minutest details intrinsic to the world wine community. It’s why so many shout about wine into the social media abyss, wax poetic about it on blogs, publish wine reviews that may or may not ever be read by another human, and study its history and service tradition even if there’s never any professional opportunity or intention of pouring it for others. Education and certification through competitive programs can help validate a fierce and somewhat crazy obsession with what is, at the end of the day, just grape juice. When you make wine, you end up with a bottle, something deliciously tangible. When you merely adore, study, and stalk wine and its people, it is reassuring to finally have something real, albeit a piece of paper and a pin, to show for the hours (days, months, years!) spent with noses buried in books, flash cards, wine cellars, and wine glasses in the quixotic pursuit of this elusive wine world, that says, “You belong here.”



#TasteCamp #Vermont: A photo journal


Tonnellerie CADUS welcomes Petraea Plus as sales agent for eastern North America


Ladoix-Serrigny, FRANCE—April 1, 2016—Tonnellerie CADUS is most delighted to announce the recruitment of Gina Shay as our new agent for Ontario and the east coast of the USA.

Gina spent over 13 years in the eastern North American wine, beer, and spirits industries selling closures, other packaging, oak barrels, and oak alternatives for the Cork Supply Group. In 2015, she achieved her CSW certification (Certified Specialist of Wine) through the Society of Wine Educators is seeking sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers by the end of 2016 for increased palate validation and to better understand the on-premise/off-premise markets into which her customers sell their wines.

“I believe that Cadus barrels are a wonderful match with cool climate wines since they support and frame but do not overwhelm the more elegant, food-friendly wines produced in eastern North America.” –Gina K. Shay

Please find bellow her contact data:

Gina Shay

Petraea Plus, LLC

cell: 585.705.7500

email: gshay@petraeaplus.com

web: www.petraeaplus.com

Full web link to this article here: http://www.tonnellerie-cadus.com/liste-des-actualites/gina-shay-devient-le-nouvel-agent-cadus-aux-eta.html

The day I was recruited into a wine country commune

It’s been a while since I visited Northern Virginia wine country and, as expected, several new wineries have popped up. The best way to figure out the current vibe of the wineries, both old and new, is to walk in, talk, and taste, which I did. Copiously. In addition to the standard Viognier offering at every winery, I enjoyed racy Albariño, round-but-minerally Chardonnay, spicy Cabernet Franc, grippy Tannat, and juicy Petit Manseng (hands-down, my favorite Virginia grape). I got to examine varying degrees of oak impact from the barrels and oak alternatives I sell and to listen to winemaker feedback. It was a good day for forging new relationships and for refreshing longtime friendships.

As a traveling salesperson, it can be tricky to find both places to eat and places to stop for clean restrooms. Wine country can be pretty remote. The struggle is real. So, still basking in the glow of a great day in NOVA wine country and pondering why consumers and even some in the wine community can be resistant to understanding wines made right in their own backyards (and appreciating their intrinsic quality instead of so often comparing them to California or European wines), I decided to stop at a little roadside market because the day’s wine and coffee had finally caught up with me.

Feeling guilty about using the facilities at any business without making a purchase, I quickly looked around for something to buy.  Most of the snacks and other items looked über-organic and handmade, down to the clothing worn by the man and woman proprietors. I settled on a piece of banana bread from their homemade pastries, paid, threw the banana bread in my purse, and dashed into the WC, eager to get back on the road. When I was about to exit the shop, one of the owners struck up a conversation, asking my name and where I was from. Not wanting to appear like someone who was just there to use their public restroom (ha!), I answered politely. She started asking more questions and telling me how their business worked: “We follow the teachings of the Lord and his disciples, making everything we consume and sharing it amongst ourselves, farming our own food, and helping each other care for our kids. Here’s a pamphlet…” While I have my own personal spiritual beliefs, I thought, “Oh, boy, here we go” and continued to nod and smile but edged my way toward the door. It had been a long day and I the last thing I needed was to be sucked into a religious commune. (Although the thought “Having extra sets of hands for childcare would be nice… Wait! Snap out of it, sister!” did cross my mind.)

Though I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this lady was a nutcase trying to kidnap me into a cult, the more we talked, the more apparent it became that she actually just wanted to learn more about Michigan, where her group was starting a new farm and where she and her young family would be moving in about a month. Originally from San Diego, she was concerned about the weather, particularly how much snow they’d encounter. Also, it turns out that her mom grew up in Rochester, New York, which automatically makes her family OK in my book.

The moral? Just as I had been driving along and wishing that people wouldn’t make snap judgments about wines from the eastern U.S. and Canada before trying them, tasting them, and enjoying them with food, I now felt silly having assumed that this lady was interested in brainwashing me into eschewing my cozy world of travel and craft beverages for an alternative farming-and-worship lifestyle. She was just being nice and wanted to share some information about herself. The same goes for wines: They might be from outside of your current comfortable wine world, but they just want to strike up a conversation with you. Listen to them. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to say.

By the way… Best. Banana bread. Ever!

Getting closure: From cork dork to oak geek

After 13 years in the wine industry selling natural corks, synthetic closures, screw caps, capsules, and other packaging, I’m diving from the top of the bottle into the bottle: I’ve started Petraea Plus, a company dedicated to providing oak barrels and other maturation vessels, barrel alternatives, and premium automatic slide-out barrel racks to the wineries, breweries, and distilleries of eastern North America. In my travels through New York, Michigan, Virginia, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky (and the list goes on), I’ve noticed that these areas are woefully underserved by all of the industry suppliers tripping over each other for the “big biz” in California, Oregon, and Washington. Time to give the states east of the Rockies the glory and attention they deserve!

I’m a wife, mom, passionate foodie, and avid traveler, visiting customers all over the most exciting emerging craft beverage regions on the continent. I’ll be posting photos, videos, and articles about my [awesome] clients, travels, somm study, industry trends, and educational content arising from my tastings and conversations with the winemakers, brewers, and distillers of the eastern United States and Canada, who are some of the most interesting, intelligent, compassionate, and hilarious people I’ve ever met. Cheers!