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Vice President Athenee Importers

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is wine in NY supermarkets really a bad thing?

Over the past few weeks the debate and discussion has been going on regarding legislation that may be introduced in Albany regarding wine sales in supermarkets.  Feelings for and against the proposed legislation run deep.  As an importer of a more hands-on portfolio, I am swayed to believe that wine in supermarkets isn't the evil that the opposition claims it to be.

Athenee Importers has distribution in over 36 states - many of which already allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and wine shops to sell non-alcoholic beverages and food products.  Wine shops coexist with supermarkets and from what I have seen, better quality wines end up becoming the focus of these shops and the "bulk" or "cheap" wines find their homes on supermarket shelves where most of them belong anyway. It can  also make wine shops more specialized - a destination to buy your wine, throw in some cheese and possibly even some olive oil that you would not find in your mainstream market.  These foodstuffs have the ability to be marked up 20-30% and increase the store's margins.

For importers like myself with a niche portfolio, this is a welcome opportunity.  As I see it, retail shops will potentially have to shift away from buying mass market brands in quantity and will need to focus on working with better quality wines from established and lesser known wineries/wine regions where the customer doesn't have as much experience with.  They will be able to offer them something unique and provide a better customer experience. 

If the law allows for wine shops to sell foodstuffs, this opens up another avenue for us to sell our olive oil & vinegars.  For companies like mine, this is a great opportunity to increase distribution outlets past supermarkets and small grocery stores whose focus is on price point and tend to stay away from higher priced, specialty items.

Another proposal that may be introduced is to allow owners to have more than one shop ("chains").  While it IS illegal here now, some crafty owners have found ways around this law and even though on paper the shops are not the same name, they really are affiliated.  Other states have allowed "chain" stores to exist.  Even though in some states chain stores dominate the landscape, the way that NY has pricing laws enacted, stores still could not buy in extremely large drops and then share the goods amongst the other stores.  They would need to buy only for one store at a time (unless NY changes the laws).

Overall, I do agree that in this cash-strapped state increased revenue from the taxes alone would help the state's purse and can only help towards getting us out of the financial troubles that we've been experiencing since the crash in 2008. It will also give the customer the opportunity to have an experience of shopping for alcohol and other foodstuffs in one location.  This is something that consumers in other parts of the country have been enjoying for years.

Since the state assembly has only 4 weeks left in session, we will see if they take up the discussion and whether or not the debate will continue or be set aside yet again.  Stay tuned.....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

First look: GAIA Notios White 2010

The new look for Notios White 

Since the late 1990s, when we began working with GAIA Wines, one of the first wines we imported was the Notios White & Red.  Back then, quality wines at a good price from Greece were few and far between.  The Notios line, with its fun and quirky packaging, was a breath of fresh air in the US market. Through the 2009 vintage, those of you who have seen this wine in the market will remember that each case had 4 different labels in it.  With the 2010 vintage of both the red & white, the winery decided to modernize the package and combine all 4 labels into one.  Additionally, both the Notios Red & White are now released with screw cap closures.

The word "Notios", means south in Greek.  This reference lends itself to the wines because they both come from the southern Greek region of the Peloponnese.  The use of a Greek word to establish a brand was ingenious at that time - it's easy to read, pronounce and drink!!

The Notios White is made from a 50/50 blend of 2 indigenous southern Greek grapes - Moschofilero and Roditis.  Moschofilero grows in the Arcadia region of southern Greece - it is known for its floral aromas.   Moschofilero is a pink skinned grape that is used to make mainly white wines but is also used in rose and sparkling wines.  This grape is the only variety allowed in the Mantinia appellation.  In blends, Moschofilero is used typically for its floral notes.  Roditis is a grape that is common across southern Greece.  It is one of the authorized grape varieties for Retsina production.  Roditis is a grape known for acidity yet lacks significant aromatics.  It has citrus flavors and aromas.  On its own, Roditis typically isn't very exciting and lends itself very well to blending.  For this wine, Roditis is used as the acidity component.  With is subdued aromatics, it gives Moschofilero the platform to shine.  Each grape is vinified separately and fermented in stainless steel.

The 2010 Notios White has aromas on the nose of flower blossoms and ripe tropical fruit.   It is medium bodied with flavors consistent to the nose in addition to citrus notes.  It has a pleasant, lengthy finish with lingering mineral and floral notes.

Notios White is a great option to serve as an aperitif or with lighter dishes such as fish, pasta and chicken.  The Notios line retails for approximately $12-$15 a bottle.

First look: GAIA 14-18 2010

2009 14-18 on the left & 2010 on the right

Last week we received our first shipment of GAIA Wines 14-18h 2010.  This wine has been part of Athenee's portfolio since we first began working with the winery in 1997.  Every year its popularity continues to grow and has been a wonderful introduction to Greek wine for many a consumer.

14-18h is made from 100% Agiorgitiko that is grown on high altitude (800m above sea level) vineyards in the Nemea region of the Peloponnese.  The grapes grown at this altitude tend to be more aromatic and this lends perfectly to the idea behind this wine. The name, 14-18h, refers to the number of hours the skin and juice remain in contact for color extraction.  On average, most rose wines have less extraction time (on average it's about 6-10 hours depending on the style of wine you are going for).  In this case, 14-18 has an intense plum color and in some vintages it bordered on fuchsia.  Many mistake the wine for a lighter red as opposed to a rose.

One of the most significant changes to come to this wine is that it is now available in a screw cap.  As you can see from the picture above, the 2009 (on the right) bottle was taller and for many on the buy side of the business, the bottle was too tall to fit on a shelf or in the refrigerator easily.  The new bottle is about 2 inches shorter and remedies complaints we've had in the past.

GAIA decided to move to screw cap last year after the winery's owner and chief oenologist, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, went to Australia.  In the past, you could not broach the topic of screw caps with him without hearing a lecture against it.  Somehow on this trip he had an epiphany and all of the 2010 vintage of their value wines (Notios Red & White, 14-18h & Ritinitis Restina) will be released in screw cap.

I had the opportunity to try the 2010 vintage this weekend.  True to years past, the color of this wine is a ruby red.  On the nose, bright cherry and raspberry aromas are found.  On the palate, the flavors continue from the nose.  This year I was pleased to find that the acidity was a bit higher along with notes of persistent minerality.  The finish was medium in length and pleasant.  This wine is always in my wine fridge because it pairs well with so many different types of food.  I especially love this wine with turkey - it has just the right amount of tannin and acidity to compliment it.  Even though we are moving into spring, keep this in mind for next fall.

GAIA 14-18 retails around $15-$17 a bottle.  The 2010 vintage will be making its way through the distribution channels over the next few months and will be readily available across the US by May, if not sooner.

First look at the Argyros Atlantis Rose 2010

Last week our first shipments of 2010 white & rose wines arrived.  Weather in NY this winter has been a bit harsh and I was worried the first containers of the year would meet with rough weather and shock the wines. Luckily we unloaded everything with above freezing temperatures and all was well.

In our portfolio we have offered two rose wines every year - GAIA 14-18h and the Spiropoulos Meliasto.  In recent years we have offered a third rose from various producers to see if they would work or not.  Unfortunately, the options we tried, albeit that the wine was good, never really translated into strong enough sales to justify permanently including it in our portfolio moving forward.

Two years ago when we were in Santorini, we tasted the Argyros Atlantis Rose.  I had fond memories of the wine and thought it would make a good addition.  To my chagrin, I was overruled that year and another producer's rose was added instead.  The Atlantis Rose kept nagging at the back of my brain and when the opportunity arose to work with it, we took it.

The Argyros Estate is one of Santorini's oldest wineries and wine producing families.  The Argyros family has been producing wine commercially since the early1900s.  The winery is famous for their Vin Santo dessert wines in addition to their still wines.  The Atlantis line is the company's value line with all wines selling on the shelf under $20 a bottle.  This line includes Atlantis white, rose and red.

Atlantis Rose is a blend of 80% Assyrtiko and 20% Mandilaria.  Assyrtiko is Santorini's main white grape variety that is known for its intense minerality.  Mandilaria is a red grape that grows throughout the southern islands of Greece such as Rhodes, Crete, Paros and Santorini.  Mandilaria is known for its fruit notes, light to medium body and soft tannin.  

Even though this wine is made from only 20% Mandilaria, it has a bright purple-ruby red color that would make you think that the percentages were different.  On the nose, ripe cherry aromas were present.  On the palate, the Assyrtiko really made itself known - the palate was intense, high acid and mineral.  The Mandilaria was present and gave the wine a pretty ripe berry flavor.  

I had this wine at a BYO pizza joint in Brooklyn and it paired beautifully.  The acidity cleansed the palate and the fruit paired very well with the pepperoni and tomato sauce.  It will work very well with Asian and Indian cuisine in addition to grilled meats and Ahi tuna steaks.  I am pretty confident that this wine will be one of my staples this spring/summer.

For those of you who like the softer, lighter rose wines, the Atlantis Rose isn't for you. The acidity alone on this wine will catch you off guard.  For those who prefer more structure to their rose wines, you will be very happy with it.

The Atlantis Rose will start making its way into various markets this spring and will retail around $15-$17 a bottle.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

1st look at the 2010 GAI'A 14-18 screw cap

2009 14-18 on the left and the 2010 on the right

GAIA has decided to move to screw caps for the Notios, 14-18 rose & Ritinitis Retsina wines.  As you can see, the new bottle (on the left) is about an inch shorter than the current bottle.  The only other difference is the new EU appellation on the label - the 2009 label has the Regional Wine of the Peloponnese and the 2010 shows the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Peloponnese.

We hope to begin selling the all of the new 2010 wines by March.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Osso Buco & Gentilini Syrah Limited Release 2004

Gentilini Syrah 04 Limited Release Decanting

After a hectic first week back from vacation & a trip to frigid Chicago I decided to make beef Osso Buco for my husband & I. Since there was allot of meat we decided to invite a few friends over.  Since I braised the meat, I figured that a spicy Syrah would pair very well and would have enough acidity to stand up to the meat and the sauce.  Luckily, I was right.

I decided to decant the wine and did so about 2 hours before our gusts arrived.  The wine was a deep red color and surprisingly didn't show signs of age (tawny color, etc...).  The nose had opened up beautifully with aromas of spice, vanilla and ripe red berry.  On the palate, the wine's tannins had integrated beautifully and the acidity was balanced.  Flavors were consistent to the nose and had a pleasant finish. Unfortunately I only had one bottle of this wine and the group was disappointed when we quickly finished it.

The Gentilini S Limited Release Syrah is a wine produced in very limited quantities (about 600 bottles per vintage) annually to commemorate the winery's status as one of the country's oldest boutique wineries (they've been producing wines for over 20 years).  The grapes are from a single vineyard and after careful vinification it is aged for 18 months in Ermitage barrels before bottling.  This wine isn't available for sale due to its small production.  However, Marianna & Petros have been so kind as to bring bottles to me when they come for visits to the US.  Aside from the 2004, I also have a 2006 but I think I'll wait to open that on another night.

Here is my recipe for Osso Buco - it's not too complicated and the oven does most of the work for you.  I have used meat from the CSA that I belong to, 8 O'clock Ranch.  If you are on the East Coast of the US their grass fed meats are really good and are worth ordering from their site.  One note: I never use exact measurements - i always eyeball and add or subtract as necessary.  Sorry!!!

This recipe serves 4.
4 bone in beef shanks (ask your butcher to tie each one w/twine in order to keep the bone with the meat as it cooks)
flour for dredging
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil ( I use Sitia 0.7)
salt & pepper
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 14oz can of diced tomato or plum tomatoes coarsely chopped (you can add a 2nd can if you want more sauce)
1 1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons Beef Demi glace (if you have it)
low sodium beef or chicken stock (whatever you have on hand - I prefer Kitchen Basics brand)
Bouquet garni: 6 parsley sprigs, 4-5 fresh thyme springs, 2 fresh rosemary springs & a bay leaf all together tied up in a cheesecloth
Garnish: finely minced parsley & lemon zest

Preheat oven to 325F

  • In a dutch oven (large enough to lay all shanks in 1 layer) heat over moderate heat 2 tbs butter with some olive oil.  Don't let the butter burn.
  • Season each shank with salt & pepper on both sides & then dredge each shank in all purpose flour (both sides).  
  • Add the coated shanks, 2 at a time to the dutch oven and sear until each side is a golden brown (about 3 minutes per side).  Remove from dutch oven and transfer to plate or rimmed baking dish & repeat with the remaining shanks.
  • Once all shanks have been browned add white wine & scrape up the brown bits.  Reduce the liquid by half.  Pour the liquid into a bowl & set aside.
  • Add the carrots, onion, celery & garlic to the reduction along with the remaining butter and some olive oil if it begins to look a bit dry.  Cook until the vegetables have softened (about 6-8 minutes).
  • After about 3 minutes, add the beef demi glace if you have it and stir to combine.  You may need to add some stock at this point to soften it.
  • Once the vegetables are softened, add back the reduced wine to the pot and then nestle the shanks on top of the vegetables.  Pour the can of tomatoes over the shanks.  Add enough liquid (stock) so that it comes up almost all the way up each shank and put the bouquet garni on top.  Bring the liquid to a rolling boil. Cover and put in the pre-heated oven.
  • Bake for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, until meat is practically falling off the bone
  • Carefully remove the shanks form the sauce and cover with foil to keep warm (this is where the tied up shank will keep the meat from falling apart in the sauce & causing you to fish around for it)
  • If there is allot of liquid, bring to a simmering boil uncovered to reduce the sauce.  Remove from heat.  Taste & adjust seasonings as needed (salt & pepper).
  • If you like a smoother sauce (I do), use an immersion blender on a low speed to blend.  Alternatively you can put some of the sauce into the blender and puree it then add it back to the rest of the sauce.  Place shanks back in the sauce and let them rest.
  • Plate the shanks and sprinkle with some minced parsley, lemon zest if you have it on hand to jazz up the presentation.
You can make this dish a day or two in advance.  Cool completely and then refrigerate.  Skim off all fat that has risen to the top and then reheat.  Serve the bone & its marrow with a small fork to scoop out the good stuff & enjoy!!!

I served this with a simple salad and potato gnocchi - unfortunately, the dish was inhaled so quickly I was not able to get a picture to post!!!

Friday, January 7, 2011

New to the portfolio for 2011 - Argyros Atlantis Rose

I am pleased to announce that this spring we will be including the Argyros Atlantis Rose 2010 to our portfolio.

Atlantis rose is a blend of 80% Assyrtiko, 20% Mandilaria
It's color is a vibrant rosy red - which is brought forth from the Mandilaria grape. Aromas of strawberry, apple and cherry fill the nose & mouth. The relatively high acidity of Assyrtiko gives it a crisp freshness.
This wine pairs extremely well with Asian cuisine, light chicken and pork dishes.  Expect its arrival around March/April 2011.  We will have samples to taste at our 2011 Road Show.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A peak into the mind of an importer - an open letter to wineries seeking representation

As an importer of product from Greece, 2010 was a challenging one.  Strikes were once again a huge thorn in our side - it's extremely frustrating to have orders for product that you cannot fill.  Hopefully 2011 will bring an end to the turmoil in Greece and an end to strikes that aside form plunging Greece further down the economic spiral, will help us meet demand with steady supply.  It may be wishful thinking but it's January - one can still be optimistic, right?

With the bleak economic picture in Greece, many wineries are looking to sell their product out of Greece.  Many feel that they will at least get paid in a timely manner by those other than their compatriots.  Over the past few months, we have received inquiries, samples and telephone calls from many wineries - some already known and others up and coming.  What amazes me is that there are MANY people involved in the Greek wine industry that have not done their homework and think that it is easy to export their product.  I have sat with potential suppliers and when I begin to ask them questions about their products, philosophy, vision and future plans, I am met with a blank stare.

As a result, I think that to start the year off right, I will give those hopeful of exporting to the US market a bit of insight as to what is needed & what to expect.  This doesn't just apply to Greeks - hopefully this information will be useful to wineries from other parts of the world as well.

If you are a winery looking to approach an importer, here are a few key points that you need to be prepared for:
1. Familiarize yourself with an importer's existing portfolio.  Every reputable importer has a website.  Go through a list of the wineries already being imported - do your wines fit a hole in the importer's portfolio or is it similar to other wines already being imported?  In many instances, importers are looking to offer their distributors a well rounded portfolio with wines from all regions of the country.  If you see a gap somewhere, that can be an opportunity to have your wines and winery taken into consideration.

2. Pricing.  Are you going to charge for your wines in Euro or in Dollars? If you are charging in Euro, your wine, without even factoring in freight, taxes, etc... will already be about 30-40% more expensive. You need to factor this into your price offering.  No matter how great a wine is, by the time you factor in FX rates, taxes, freight and traditional markup, it will cost reasonably more than what you sell it for in your home country.   As a result of the financial collapse, many wineries have 2, maybe 3 vintages holding in tanks.  There is an immense pressure to reduce inventory whatever the cost.  You are seeing many well known wineries releasing 2nd or 3rd labels at lower price points in order to move through their stock.  You are getting great values in this category and while it may be only for the short term, there is enough stock to supply demand for the next year or two (or three).  The bottom line is that you are competing against the world's wines for market share - buyers are driven by price. Even if the wine is good but they feel the price is too high, they will pass over it because there will be 5 wines similar to it waiting to fill the slot.

3. Labeling. I have seen my share of hideous labels from many countries.  You would think that with the globalization of wine, labels would become modern, cleaner, easier to read.  In the US having an English only labels is key.  One of the worst things I see is the use of the cliche Greek columns, warrior heads, etc....  Americans buy with their eyes - if they think a label looks cool they tend to buy the wine.  If the label looks like it's out of the 1980s, your potential customer will pass your wine over for something more appealing. On your back label, include 2-3 sentences describing your wine.  Give the customer just enough info to get them interested in the wine so they take it home & experience it for themselves. Keep the labels clean, simple and in English.

4. Develop POS/Marketing material.  Since many consumers are easily influenced by the written word, POS like shelf talkers and info sheets are crucial.  You do not need to go to the expense of actually printing them - having it available on your or the importer's website is all that is needed.  Those that need the info will print it themselves.  Having a plan in place to present to a potential importer shows us that you are serious about the US market and want to invest in it.

5. Spend time in the market.  The only way you will really learn the market is to spend time in it.  As importers, our schedules are filled with market visits, education and promotional activities.  There are only so many hours in the day.  If you want your wine to sell, you need to establish a connection with sales reps and buyers. Even one visit a year can establish relationships that will help your wine's sales in the long run.  You need to be prepared to visit a minimum of once a year for a week to 10 days.  Importers realize the cost associated with this and we truly appreciate it.  We will pack your schedule and  make you work 'till you drop:-)

6. Be prepared for the long run.  

7. Be available electronically.  As with anyone in business these days, quick responses to e-mails & texts is essential.  There are times when we are in the market and a question comes up that needs addressing.   While I'm not an advocate of constant connectivity, a reply within 24 hours is greatly appreciated.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I have not even begun to discuss the legal aspects of importing.  Those are subjects that importers guide you through once you decide to work together.  The bottom line is that working with a winery as a long term relationship.  We like to connect on a personal level as well as on a professional one.  It's important to be able to put a personality to a wine & brand and it helps make things more "real".

The first quarter of 2011 will be a busy one for us with the Road Show and the release of the 2010 vintage.  I wish you all the best for 2011!!