Monday, December 10, 2007

Things That Sparkle

Blog production came to a halt last week as I entered into phase 1 of my finals. Tonight, after presenting a group project to 20 some military folk, who happen to be taking a class with me, all I wanted to do was get home, quickly assemble dinner and celebrate the end of phase 1 with a glass a wine. Unfortunately I was in a bit of a wine predicament - I only had the following three options to choose from: a rich, dense South African Cabernet Sauvignon, a very special bottle of 1997 Riesling given to me as a gift, and a bottle of Cava.

Well, the Cabernet was out because it would certainly over-power any frozen item that I found to thaw out for my entree. And the Riesling was clearly far too precious and rare to crack open without being able to share it with at least a few other wine lovers. That left the Cava, which I had intended to use for some "festive" occasion. As I made my way downtown on the number 2 train I remembered that my good friends Dottie and John like to keep a bottle of bubbly in the fridge at all times. If Dottie and John could drink sparkling wine on a "regular" night, then so could I!

The more I thought about the idea of saving sparkling wine for special occasions the more it seemed odd. After all, Americans have no problem drinking other sparkling beverages on a daily basis. Think about it - we don't make a big deal about drinking "sparkling" coca cola, or "sparkling" Budweiser. In fact sparkling beverages are filling up vending machines, deli counters and big gulps everywhere. Why then do sparkling wines get such a fancy and exclusive reputation? Maybe the Krugs and Dom Perignons of the world are giving sparkling wines a bad rep. After all, just because they are called "sparkling" doesn't mean we have to give all bubblies diamond-like status. Yes, it is true that certain bottles of Champagne can be extraordinarily labor intensive (and therefore expensive) but other sparklers can be made in large vats or with simple C02 injections.

With my newly found desire to consume sparkling wine on a more regular basis, I sprinted out of the subway station and marched home. I found my frozen item of choice (Trader Joe's chicken and Vegetable dumplings... Delicious!) and made a quick side salad. I popped open my Cava and within 10 minutes (beat that Rachael Ray!) I was at the table. You are probably DYING to know...How does Cava pair with dumplings? Quite well in fact. The cava was dry and clean, standing up to the vinegar in my salad dressing. The slight hint of sweetness balanced my dipping sauce. The bubbles brought out the spice I added to my sauce.

Tasting Notes:
Savia Viva Blanco "Clásico" - 2006
A nice clean and simple sparkling wine that has the added bonus of being organic. It is dry but has good fruit. The website from the store said that there is "quince" fruit, but I honestly haven't had much quince (maybe just in preserve form) and so I didn't taste quince. What I can tell you is that that it was NOT too bitter, NOT too alcohol-y and also went well with the honey roasted peanuts that I had for dessert.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The guy named Brett, in the Barnyard with the loaf of Bread

When was the last time you played the game of Clue? You remember don't you? The one where one winner gets to shout, "It's Ms. Scarlet, in the dining room with the candlestick!" thereby declaring the suspect, location and weapon used in the "murder." Well, I present you with a new version of the classic game. This one is called: What is that Smell?

When I first began hanging around people who "know a lot about wine," I remember being told that this or that wine was "bready." I would then stick my nose in the glass and take a nice long whiff, hoping that I too would be able to smell that home-baked goodness. I certainly smelled a lot of something, but it wasn't bread, it was stink; a combination of horse manure and wet gym shoes. Where was the bread and how could my nose be so off? Maybe in passing by the south end of Central Park, I had inhaled just as a horse drawn carriage was passing, thereby allowing manure molecules to lodge themselves deep in my nasal passages. Alright, let's be honest; it had been weeks since I had last visited midtown or the park.

On another occasion I was sampling a particularly wild wine. The Olivier Cousin Anjou Pur Breton 2004 had actually been made from grapes that were grown on land that had been tilled by horses. The sommelier who happened to be sampling the wine with me said that it was too "bready" for his taste. I asked him to clarify and discovered that he was actually talking about that same funky horse poop meets dirty shoe smell that I had recognized in the previous wine. Well, apparently no one had told me that "bread" was both a delicious food item and an off-putting barnyard aroma.

I thought I had solved the puzzle until I mentioned the "bready" quality of Olivier Cousin's wine to another wine expert. He turned to me and said, do you mean "Brett?" Aha! I was given a very important piece of the puzzle. That soft "t" had sounded like a "d" to me.

Mystery solved: Brett stands for Brettanomyces, a unicellular fungus that can infect the wine. It causes that barnyard odor. It can also creates spicy and smoky smells. More often the "Bretty" quality can be found in old world wines. Brettanomyces is a problem, because if it is not controlled it can cause widespread contamination throughout a winery. However, many people actual enjoy and seek out bretty wines. Why would anyone want their wine to smell like horse manure you might ask? Well, think about it like cheese - where mold is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it makes you throw the cheese in the trash and sometimes it makes you pay $24 dollars a pound!

Tasting Notes:
2004 Olivier Cousin Anjou Pur Breton is a biodynamic wine made from Cabernet Franc. Its taste changes with each sip - one moment bursting fruit, the next horse manure, tabacco and tar. If you like rustic wine, you will like this one. It was a little too bretty for me. 17.99

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Phooey! I can't remember the Pouillys!

Let's say that you like white wine and you have discovered that Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are different but both quite appealing varities. After several trips to your local wine store, you've tried the California Chardonnays (Edna, Chalone)and Sauvignon Blancs (Geyser Peak, Frogs Leap). You even ventured into the Southern Hemisphere, sampling Argentina, Australia and New Zealand's selections. At this point, feeling ready to branch out a bit more, both in geography and price range, you decide to head to the French aisle. But when you arrive, you can't find a single bottle of trusty Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Instead you find yourself trying to pronounce (in your head of course) names like "Chassange-Montrachet" and "Gevrey-Chambertin."
Alright, at this point maybe you have remembered that French wines are labeled by their region, village or Chateau instead of their grape variety. So you think to yourself, "Pouilly-Fume is a white wine, but is it Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc?" Then there's Pouilly-Fuisse... now which one is that one? Two almost identical labels, neither of which you can properly pronounce... how can you tell them apart?

Here are 3 ways to help you remember how to match the grape with the name (One of these explanations was provided to me by a wine expert... can you tell which one?)

1. Let's look carefully at the words Fuisse and Fume. The middle consonants in each are ss and m. Take the "m" and go back one letter in the alphabet. Are you at L? Good! Now what's the first thing you think of that starts with L? Loire Valley of course! And what grape varietal is grown in the Loire? Yep, you guessed it... Sauvignon Blanc. Now you have a "quick and easy" way of remembering the difference between Pouilly-Fuisse and Pouilly-Fume.

2. Walk to the French section and find a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. Now you have two options. You can either tilt your head upside down or flip the bottle so that it's neck is pointing down. I vote for the first. What is the only letter that is right-side up in Fume? W! W stands for White and blanc means white in French, so clearly you have a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in your hands! Buy it immediately and enjoy its smoky flavor.

3. Alright, here is your last option. Let's eliminate the first word "Pouilly," (which is pronounced pooh-YEE by the way) because its in both names. Okay, now we have Fume and Fuisee. Fume which means smoke in France was taken by Robert Mondavi. He took that word and used it to replace the word "Sauvignon"and ended up with "Fume Blanc," his fancy sophisticated name that was meant to attract wine drinkers back in the 1968 in California. If you can remember that Sauvignon Blanc = Fume Blanc = Pouilly-Fume, then you'll be set (just remember that the other one that doesn't end in Fume is Chardonnay).

Tasting Notes:
Oh forget the Pouilly business.. just give me some good, inexpensive French white wine.
Moulin de Gassac
Le Mazet Blanc 2006. This is a crisp, very dry, tart white wine from a very good producer. It is a blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc and our favorite, Sauvignon Blanc! Not complicated but very appealing. $8.99

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Volatizing the Esters and Violating My Nose

The other night I was browsing through the low channels on DirectTV. I was in unfamiliar territory, far away from the HD channels in the 80's, the food network in the 200's, the premium movie channels in the 500's or the music stations in the 800's. I was surfing down in the single digits, the long forgotten local channels, when I discovered a program about wine. A woman with voluminous red hair was explaining how she taught her good friend Peter about wine (I later found out that her name was Lettie Teague and that she wrote a book about the experience). She said that Peter really got a kick out the term "volatilizing the esters." I'm with Peter on that one... volatizing the esters sounds like something mad scientists should be doing in their top secret chemistry labs. But it appears that those who know wine know this term. Bloggers, wine writers and especially wine-know-it-alls have decoded this phrase countless times before for those of us who still think of wine as more of a beverage than a science. So, for all my faithful readers, here is my attempt to explain the term:
Volatizing the esters = swirling the wine in the glass to get in contact with the air in order to help release the chemical compounds in the wine so that our nose can detect the aroma.

Volatizing the esters is actually a skill that requires a bit of practice. It's kind of like hula-hooping. Do you ever notice that really good hula-hoopers seem to be able to keep the hoop spinning without moving their hips very much at all? I suppose its all about getting in sync and finding the right rhythm. Wine pro's have the same ability. With a quick flick of their wrists they can send their wine spiraling around the glass bowl.

When I recently realized that I too had developed the habit of swirling my wine each time before inhaling, I knew that I had entered into a new phase of wine connoisseurship. I had begun swirling my wine, I mean, "volatilizing the esters," so much, that even a friend once commented on the tornado-like activity going on in my glass. I thought I had it down pat. I felt that I could walk into a tasting session and at least look like I knew what I was doing (the tasting, spitting and identifying part aside).

One day however, thankfully home alone, I opened a bottle of 2006 Michel Torino, Don David and poured a glass. I began the volatilizing process as I lifted the glass to my nose when suddenly I lost control of the liquid and it sloshed out of the glass just as I was inhaling. The wine burned my nose and shocked my system. I had to immediately run to the bathroom sink and splash water on, well let's be honest, UP my nose.

I'd like to blame the incident on the fact that I was using a different glass than I normally use. The Ikea glass had a smaller bowl and different shape than the Crate and Barrel glass that I usually drink from. But I suppose "real" wine pros could volatize esters in any kind of glass. Perhaps I'd better keep practicing.

Tasting Notes:
2006 Michel Torino, Don David. Cafayate Valley, Argentina. This wine is made from the Torrontes grape. Torrontes may be related to Malvasia. This wine is aromatic and floral. It is still rather dry and high in acid which makes it very drinkable. The finish was surprisingly long and rich. If you are not into aromatic wines, you may find this to be a bit soapy. But I would definitely get this one again. $14.99

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A-E-I-O-U and sometimes why?... Unpacking Beaujolais one vowel at a time

Do you ever look at a word and think, "wow there are a lot of vowels in that word." Well, okay maybe not. But I can tell you that from being a first grade teacher for 3 years, it's a habit I just can't seem to break. Teaching children about vowels is an endlessly frustrating and hilarious task. But somehow by the end of the year, all the students know about those magical letters: a-e-i-o-u and sometimes y; the glue that allows us to make all kinds of words both big and small.

A bottle of Beaujolais is usually made out of the Gamay grape;

Except if you get a bottle of Beaujolais Blanc, which is made from Chardonnay and Aligote.

If you want something special, go for a Cru Beaujolais (the 10 top villages get this region).

Or you can try Beaujolais-Villages, a step up from the regular variety.

Unfortunately Beaujolais can be easily overlooked as a "simple" wine.

Why you should NOT go out and buy a bottle of Beaujolais- Nouveau* - Resist the gimmick and go for the good stuff. Plus you will be doing your part to reduce carbon emissions.

*A quick lesson on Beaujolais Nouveau: After the harvest the the grapes become wine through a process called carbonic maceration. This means that the grapes were left hole during the fermentation process. The juice in each grape ferments inside the skin. Because the skins were not smashed up in the mixture, the wine that results is not as tannic. It has a light fruity style. This wine is then bottled and sent around the world for the Beaujolais Release Day (the 3rd Thursday in November). I love rituals and I love celebrations, especially ones that involve wine, but this is one ritual that may need to be re-evaluated due to its negative environmental impact.

Tasting Notes:
2002, Louis Jadot, Chateau des Jacques Moulin-A-Vent
This is a delicious Beaujolais that is both fruity and woody. It has some richness to it that makes it taste a little like a Pinot Noir. It also still has good acidity and is great chilled down a bit.

2006 Jean Paul Brun, Beaujolais Blanc
This is a Chardonnay that exhibits bright sharp fruit flavors of apples and lemons. It's not buttery it is fresh.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How do you take your tea?

I tend to think of wine as being a far more intimidating subject than tea. I would argue that many people think that wine is for the wealthy, the cultured (or snobbish) and the well-traveled while tea is for your grandmother, your upset stomach or your breakfast. Generally speaking (and without doing a true ounce for ounce comparison) wine is considered more costly than tea. A cup of tea from the corner cart vendor will only cost you a dollar while even the cheapest house wine averages 5-7 dollars at a restaurant. And when you do order that glass of wine you are faced with many choices. Whereas generally speaking people usually stick to the same type tea. It seems that people prefer their tea made a certain way.

During my first year as a teacher I always got my tea with milk and no sugar while my co-teacher ordered hers with lemon and four sugars - we were on complete opposite sides of the tea spectrum.
I have just made many many generalizations; some of which I believe and others which I don't think are true at all. Nonetheless I will continue to make generalizations in an attempt to demystify some of the choices about wine. I will use tea as my guide, so before you go any further, ask yourself, how do you take your tea?

You like that bitter astringency that comes from the tannins in the tea.  You may even enjoy that feeling of wetness being wicked away from your tongue and the squeekiness of your teeth
You will like dry red wines. Try one from France like a young Bordeaux (younger wines = more tannic) or a Chateaunuef-du-Pape.  Or if you are on a budget, a Cabernet from South America may do the trick. 
With milk only
You like the mellowness that the milk brings as it cuts down the tannins in the tea, but you still like a little bitter element.
You could be interested in a smoother red wine such as a Merlot. For a splurge try a Pomerol and experience its velvety texture and smooth tannins.  Or go for a Carmenere - doing well in Chile. 
With sugar only
You enjoy the bright, lightness of the tea, but without the bitterness. 
Try a Beaujolais, made from the light and fruity Gamay grape.  Or maybe even a rose.  If you're really feeling adventurous, go for a Sparkling Lambrusco - a red sparkler that will remind you of drinking grape juice as a child.
With lemon only
You love the crisp sour acidity that the lemon brings to the tea. In wine this is not a favorable combination
You will go for a white wine.  Try a Vernaccia from Italy for its crisp citrus notes and light body. 
With milk and sugar
You are using the tea as a vehicle for a sugary, creamy dessert.  You love sweet, mild flavors
You may like a rich Chardonnay, aged in oak for its buttery finish. Or try a Viognier - if you really want something unctuous go for a Condrieu. Or try an aged Semillon.
with sugar and lemon
You like the acidity of the lemon but you want it toned down a bit.
Try a Kabinett Riesling if you take one sugar, Spatlese if you like 2, Auslese if you like 3 and Trokenbeernauslese if you like 4 and can afford it
Green Tea
You enjoy the grassy flavors of the green. Perhaps you like the bitterness too.
You could either do a white or a red.  If you go with white try a Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand - they are especially grassy and zesty. 
You like herbal teas, maybe you like organic things too. 
Try an unfiltered white wine - one that has been oxidized.  You will get that chamomile taste as well as apple cider.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What does wood do to wine?

Long ago wine was stored and transported in an amphora (a large ceramic container). Nowadays, with the exception of the rogue winemaker, the only places to find amphorae are museums. These days winemakers have many decisions about the vessel in which to ferment and store their wine. In fact, the choice of containers is actually an integral part of the art of making wine. And with increased technology, the choice has become far from simple. It's not just a question of whether to put the wine in metal or wood; there are many other factors to consider. As I set out to list the numerous decisions that face the winemaker, I started to hear a version of Dr. Seuss' One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue fish in my head... only instead of fish we are talking about wood. So here is my Ode to Dr. Seuss; an attempt to explain the ever so complicated relationship between wine and wood. Read the following poem to get a sense of... oh the places wine can go (read it out-loud, find your teacher voice and really get into that sweet sing-song rhythm that you can remember your first grade teacher using during read-aloud time)

Wood and Wine - An Ode to Dr. Seuss

New wood, old wood,
French wood, bold wood
cheap barrels, true barrels
used barrels, new barrels
Oh where should all my wine go?

Wine in big barrels
Wine in small barrels
Wine in tall round oak barrels
I just don't know!

Short time, long time
sometime, no time
wood at the beginning or wood at the end
wood wants to be my wine's best friend

Oak makes wine smell like vanilla and taste like spice
Some people hate it and some think it's awfully nice
Oak in chips or oak in powder,
We could make a wine chowder!

Would you ever know,
how wood could be
wine's friend or foe?

Fluent readers - for a full length explaination on the use of oak in wine making go to Oak(wine).

Tasting Notes:
2001 Vina Salceda Reserva, Rioja
This wine is restrained, classy and complex. Served at "cellar temperature" it was deliciously flavored with vanilla, wood and subtle red fruits. It is a dry wine, with sturdy tannins and without the hot, high alcohol content that is prevalent in many new young wines. We drank it with mushroom risotto served in a roasted carnival squash and simply sauteed chicken with a white wine sauce.
The back of the label...
Vina Salceda, "founded in 1969, is located in Elciego, an area of Rioja with a privilged microclimate and soil. Vina Slceda Reserva has been made with selected, handpicked traditional Rioja grape varieties Tempranillo (90%) Graciano (5%) and Mazuelo (5%) from our own vineyards. Aged for 18 months in American oak barrels. Store at cellar temperatures and conditions. 20.99

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom... Why I like wine: Reason #1

Frequently I am asked to explain why I like wine so much... why not tea, mystery novels or modern art? Well, there are many reasons why I love wine, so I thought I would devote a few entries to explaining my interest in, enjoyment of and passion for wine.

If you live in (have lived, or even visited) New York City, you know that the pulse of the city is beating far above a resting heart rate. Try crossing through the Times Square subway station at rush hour or navigating the streets of Midtown, Chinatown or Broadway St. and you will feel the frenetic energy of the city. The city's fast paced, high energy reputation draws people from around the world, but only some (often the native New Yorkers) really thrive in this environment. The rest of us just try to hang on for the ride. If we are lucky find ways of coping and adapting so that eventually fast and frantic begins to feel normal.

Recently though, I have noticed that I have been operating at such a high speed that I often swear I have that Zoom, Zoom, Zoom jingle from the Mazda commercials running through my head. I zoom to the store before the rain hits. I zoom through the closing subway doors, zoom up to class before the lecture begins. Then I zoom back down to my apartment, like a rat scurrying through innards of the city, I zip through my same route, up the same staircase, into the same subway car, through the same passageway, down the same avenue and into my building.

Today I was so focused on getting home as fast as possible I found myself slamming into the turnstile at the subway station. I was in such a hurry that I forgot the all important step of swiping my card. After the initial shock of realizing I was not exiting but rather entering the station, I looked around quickly to make sure that no one else had noticed, then whipped out my card, swiped and hustled along. Back safely at home, with the zoom, zoom's fading away, I pulled out a bottle of Pinot Grigio that I had opened the night before, poured a glass, sat down, sipped and everything started to slow down.

Wine begs its drinker to enjoy a slower pace of life. The ritual of having a glass of wine at night, after a long day allows me to unwind and gives me the opportunity to focus on nothing else but the colors, smells, tastes and textures of the wine. When I have a glass of wine I allow myself to enjoy each sip. And then I take the time to write down everything I taste. I suppose I could slow down with a cup of tea, a mystery novel, piece of artwork, yoga or any of the other activities that people engage in to unwind and de-stress. But I have found that wine is the one that works for me. What works for you?

Tasting Notes:
2005 Vila Marija Pinot Grigio, Slovenia. Light golden color. Herbaceous, with a slight spice. Bitter notes but with a touch of honeysuckle. Not very fruit forward but clean and has good acidity and minerality. $13.99

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

5 Friends, 5 wines, 5 countries

Last week I sprinted home 20 blocks on an unseasonably warm evening and wearing rather uncomfortable heels in order to host a wine and cheese party for some of my friends. I asked each friend to bring a wine. It could be red or white but had to be $10 or less. Upon arriving, my friends handed over their bottles and I put them into paper bags numbered 1 through 5. We conducted our tasting which was interspersed with lots of talking and eating.

I came to several realizations during the evening. First, I realized that I have managed to accumulate more wine knowledge than I thought I had. Being constantly surrounded by people who know a whole lot more about wine than I do has caused me to consistently feel behind the ball...rather than on it. Yet, when I actually think about it, I've actually picked up a lot information in the past year about wine making, grape varietals, wine growing regions and of course wine consumption. What I hadn't realized until this night, was that reading, writing, watching and blogging about wine has given me a whole new vocabulary for which to describe the things that I already actually knew about wine. So instead of saying, I like this wine; it tastes good. I can now say, I like this wine because it has ripe fruit flavors, soft tannins, a silky smooth mouth feel and long finish. I'm not actually tasting anything different in the wine, I just have the language that enables me to more accurately report my experience.

The wine community's use of language (barnyard? cat pee? foxy?) has been widely debated. And, as I have said previously, I do think that descriptors can be taken too far. I also firmly believe that while having the shared language to talk about wine enables you to communicate your opinions in a vivid and specific way, it does not necessarily allow you to enjoy the wine to a greater extent. I saw this to be true as my friends sipped their way through the five wines.

We used a form that I made to write down our notes and scores for each wine. Then at the end of the tasting we ripped off the paper bags and found out the identity of each wine. At first I thought it rather remarkable that no one chose the same grape variety and no one chose a wine from the same country. But when you think about the diversity of wines (even the affordable under $10 variety) it actually is quite plausible. Moreover, if you factor the distinct personalities of the wine buyers into the equation the wide range does make perfect sense.

Tasting Notes

2006 Fairvalley Chenin Blanc, South Africa - Crisp, dry white wine that has the grassy quality of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc quality. Citrus notes, with a relatively short finish. 8.99

2005 Costentino Winery, "The Novelist" Meritage (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), California. Think of words that convey richness: Creamy, buttery, vanilla (balanced with good fruit and acidity) - this wine fooled me into thinking California oaky Chardonnay. If paired with a triple cream, this would make a milkshake in your mouth. Yum! 9.99

2006 Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina. Bonarda (also known as Charbona) is a grape that most likely originated from Italy and is doing very well in South America. It had good fresh juicy red fruits, with soft tannins and medium finish. This wine was unassuming but very drinkable and could go with many different kinds of food. - Dr. Vino liked this wine too! 5.99-9.99

2005 Monte Degli Angeli Monferrato Pinot Noir. This had the most open nose (are you imagining wide nostrils because I am) of the bunch - classic young Pinot smell, which quite honestly, I may not be able describe very well, but I think of a sweet jammy bouquet with a touch of earth. A rather light, astringent wine, but still lively and fruity. It had more depth than most other inexpensive Pinots that I have tried. I liked it a lot on the first day and not quite as much on the second. 7.99

2006 Oxford Landing Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Shiraz (30%), South Australia. This was the most tannic wine of the bunch. Bitter, vegetal and rubbery tires. I want to try this wine again because I think it may not be a good bottle. $8.49

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why is my tongue purple?

Last week I veered off of Walling Road and onto the fundraising/event planning path. It was quite a bumpy path and one that I hope I will not be heading down any time soon. Nonetheless, I was able to raise money for NYC kids and it appeared that all who attended had a good time. But in the weeks leading up to the event (Pong at Porky's: Play for Public Schools), I did a whole lot of stressing and not a lot of wine writing. So, this little anecdotes comes from a few days ago...
My parents were in town toward the end of September and purchased two bottles of wine for me - both at a reasonable cost and both red. Though they were from different continents and hemispheres, they were told that the two could be compared in a taste off (at least for value and flavor). Upon receiving these two gifts, I had every intention of cooking up a delicious meat sauce and hosting a small dinner party with one or two other couples. Of course, the days went by and things got more and more hectic as the day of the big event approached. I decided that instead of opening the two bottles simultaneously, I would just have to experience them on their own.
The 2006 El Seque Vinedos De Seque was opened. I was especially excited about this wine because I spent a semester in Alicante,,where it was produced, during my junior year. I poured a very judicious amount into my glass - there was just too much to do and I needed to be able to read for class, write and take notes, start research email guests and plan out the details of my party. I took a sip, swishing the wine as the wine pros do - all around my tongue to the back of my throat, in front of my teeth, coating my palate. I swallowed and tried again. This was certainly a big wine. After a few more sips my glass was gone and I went about my tackling my to do list.
About 15 minutes later I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked strange; something was wrong. I stared and realized that my lips had a strange hue to them. I smiled and my teeth had a slight blue cast. I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue... purple! My tongue was dyed a deep indigo. I had a sudden flashback to the days of devouring candy with names like "blue razzberry."

Now I know that it is quite common for people to get the red wine teeth (when your teeth lose their pearly white sheen and become a little gray). This was not the same thing. This was on a whole other level.... and I had only had a few sips! I was so preoccupied with the color of my tongue that I forgot the think about the flavors of the wine. I decided to wait until the next day to do another test. And of course the same thing happened. I have to wonder, what is it about this wine that made my tongue, my teeth and my lips take on a purple hue?

Tasting notes:
Strong, full bodied, well structured wine that was better on the 2nd day after opening. Slightly leathery, with good black/purple berry flavors. This wine is made from a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvingon, Syrah and Tempranillo. Did you know that Monastrell is more commonly known as Mouvedre? This wine would NOT be good for the following events: first dates, weddings, gallery openings, schmoozing parties, business dinners. It would however be fine to have on a night in, with a steak, a burger or lamb. $11.99

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sonoma in New York: the Chick and the Hen, the Zin and the Zen

I would never have guessed at the time that I created this blog and conceived the idea of writing from the perspective of a both California native and a New York resident, that months later, I would be sitting in the heart of Manhattan, eating a winegrape that was freshly picked off a vine from the Dry Creek Valley. Thanks to Dr. Vino and Larry Levine (of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission), I got to experience a bit of Sonoma right here in New York City.

Jim Murphy (of Murphy-Goode) guided us through a tasting of the recently Fed-exed grapes starting with Pinot Noir, which has the "chicks and hens" characteristic (smaller and larger grapes in the same cluster). We moved on to Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel, and finally four different samples of Cabernet from four different Sonoma County regions. We learned that the we can expect very good things out of the the 2007 vintage from California. Apparently, beginning of the summer was quite warm, which caused some concern among the wine community. However, a cool period came later in the summer that allowed for phenolic ripening. This fancy term basically means that the cooler weather allowed the grapes to get to their full flavor maturity, before the grapes ripened fully and the sugar content became too high. When grapes can achieve their full flavor potential, the wine that they produce is better and more complex.

There was at least one person in the group who didn't get the message, and she did the classic asking of the question that had just been answered - an enduring phenomenon that I have experienced both as a teacher and a student. So let me be very clear. 2007=GOOD YEAR, especially for Zinfandel, as Joel Peterson, the man behind one the of the three reliable R's (Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Ridge) reported. Joel should know, after all, he has been making wine for 31 years and has passed on his great grape gene to his son, Morgan, who has recently started his own winery (Bedrock Wine Co.)

What did the grapes taste like?
Wine grapes in general are smaller and have larger seeds and thicker skins than the table grapes that we get from the grocery store. These grapes were deliciously ripe and sweet (25+ Brix which means they were well past their wine making prime). Each variety had its distinct flavor, with Zin being the overwhelming favorite of the group.

Then came Chef Bruce Rie-Zen-Man. He brought along all things Sonoma: Mt. Tam Cowgirl cheese, Liberty Duck, duck confit, melon, prosciutto, salumni, and mushroom duxelle. He gave us a lesson on the weight of wine and food as well as the six elements of food tastes and four elements of wine tastes.
Food: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Hot and Umami
Wine: Sweet, Acid, Bitter, Alcohol

We were given permission to play with our food as we mixed and sprinkled our way through various food pairings. Each element that we added, whether it was salt, coffee grounds or lemon, changed both the flavor profile of the food and the interaction of that food with the wine. My friend and I thought that the duck with salt and Cabernet pairing was very metallic and unpleasant (I'm pretty sure I made that face a baby makes when they're fed something "icky"), but mysteriously no one else in the crowd had that experience.

The night finished with a reception that gave us a chance to try even more food and wine pairings and gave me the chance to talk to the Sonoma county natives about the valley, Walling Road and the ever changing face of Healdsburg.

If you want to experience a little of Sonoma and you can't get in your car and drive there, click on the picture and look through the lens of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission's live web-camera. Just make sure you don't visit after dark if you want to get a glimpse of the vines.

Tasting Notes:
Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc (vintage?)
A floral herbacious (and yes... there was some cat pee) nose. Concentrated flavors of blossoms and citrus, but with a slight vegetal flavor at the end.

2006 Alexander Valley Winery New Gewürztraminer
Very aromatic nose of honesuckle, honeydew and sweet, ripe pears. A spritzy wine with slight fruit and a quick bitter almond finish.

2004 DeLoach Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Classic Cabernet - intense and rich, good fruit, licorice and also some leather and smoky qualities. Not good with salty duck breast!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Wedding Ethnography - The meaning and use of Champagne

Weddings are perfect venues for both sampling various wines and champagnes and for observing social, cultural and familial practices - two of my favorite hobbies. Fletcher and I split up this weekend and went to two different weddings. He was in Maine while I made the trip to Vermont to attend a wedding as the date of a very good friend. She was kind enough to let me take part in what can often become a very intimate and revealing family event.

Needless to say the time I spent with her family was really enjoyable and the insight into wedding decisions and preparations reminded me of one of the most common themes in life (and wine) - almost everything is subjective. The bride and groom lived out their vision of their perfect wedding - pies instead of a cake, potluck instead of a caterer, books as center pieces instead of flowers. Their wedding decisions were reflections of their personal styles, tastes and values. In short, there is no one right way of doing a wedding; it is all a matter of what suits the bride and groom. Similarly there is no one right way to select, drink and enjoy a wine; it is all a matter of what suits the consumer.

One very prevalent and I suspect enduring element of most weddings, no matter how traditional or unconventional the wedding, is the Champagne toast. When I think about Champagne I think about two occasions: New Years and weddings. Champagne at New Years usually comes in a plastic flute and is often gulped down in between the 10 second count down and the stroke-of-midnight hoopla. Wedding Champagne on the other hand has a more reverent place in the celebration. We clink and sip our way through various toasts in honor of the newlywed couple. We drink to happiness and everlasting love. While the toasts are not nearly as sacred as the ceremony and the exchanging of the vows, they do usually play a significant role in the celebration.

So what about the bubbly itself? What does the kind of Champagne served at the wedding say about the bride and groom and their future marraige? Donald and Melania served Magnums of Cristal to their guests. Dottie and John's Champagne of choice was Tattinger. The bride and groom this weekend decided to serve Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay (Australia) for their "Champagne." The bottles were chilled in a large 300 gallon stock tank (translation: the neighbor's steel tub normally used to serve their sheep drinking water).

I hope that you will agree with me in believing that there is not necessarily a positive correlation between the quality of the champagne used and the quality of the marriage.

Cheers-Salud-Skaal (click to learn salutations in other languages)

Tasting Notes:
Light, fresh uncomplicated and unpretentious sparkling wine. Great for a toast or two or three. Not something that distracts from the festivities, but something that would appeal to almost everyone in the crowd. Less yeasty, toasty and bitter than Champagne. A great fit for the non-traditional wedding, the casual dinner party or the after work cocktail. 9.99

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How to Taste Wine

I recently attended my very first importer tasting event and it prompted me to think about how one goes about tasting wine. Wine tasting has been transformed from a simple action to an elaborate activity and even an art. There is a book entitled How to Taste: A guide to enjoying wine, written by Jancis Robinson. While I am sure that I will at some point read this book and will most likely find it at least somewhat useful, I am also amazed and even a little disturbed by the notion that one needs to read an entire book to learn how to consume a beverage.

I decided that before I read anymore instructions, guides, suggestions and rules about the "art" of tasting wine, I would share my own views on the subject. But as with almost everything that I have thought of or discovered about wine on my own - someone else has thought of or discovered it before me. And moreover, it is already easily google-able.

So when I thought to myself, "I know, I could write about tasting wine in terms of the 3 S's: See, Sniff, Sip," of course I found an abundant number of google hits for that phrase - and there were not only the 3 S's but the 5 S's of tasting wine: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Savor. Maybe I could put my own spin on things and bump the number up to the 7 S's of tasting wine with: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish, Swallow, Savor. But this gets back to the whole question of whether or not drinking wine should be such an elaborate and/or rigid procedure.

When I began drinking wine, I certainly did not swirl the wine in my glass. I thought that was a rather pretentious display. My sniffing was merely incidental to the fact that my nose was in the glass as I took a sip. After taking a sip I moved on with my conversation or my meal. It was an unceremonious event.

As my interest in wine has grown I have picked up on the following pieces of advice:
  • Hold the glass against a white background in order to see the true color of the wine
  • Open your mouth when you inhale (it helps you detect smells better)
  • Swirl the liquid in the glass (it aerates the wine and releases the aromas)
  • Sip the wine and actually swish it in your mouth - allows it to touch every surface.
  • Sip your wine with a piece of food in your mouth (how else will you know if they go together?)
  • Keep the wine in your mouth for a few or even many seconds longer than you would when you sip of water - keep thinking about what you are tasting
  • After you swallow the wine, note the sensations and residual flavors in your mouth.
  • If you are at at a professional wine tasting you must spit out the wine that you try or risk being "that obnoxious person."
Well, as you can see there are many things that can be considered when tasting wine. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that there are no rules. If you enjoy the wine, then you're tasting "the right way."

Tasting Notes:
"Maximum" Pinot Noir, Labouré-Roi - 2005 (13.99)
First sip - good aroma, fruit, maybe red fruit. Nice smooth texture, easy going down, not very acidic. Back to the kitchen - mussels into the pot, onion chopped, tomatoes diced. Back for second sip - joined living room conversation. Back to the kitchen, spilled jar of capers, took mussels off the flame. Needed another sip. Tried wine with bread and aged goat cheese. Not bad, maybe even good....back to kitchen.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Legend of the Dom Perignon

It all started almost two years ago. Fletcher had been working in the city for less than 6 months, but long enough to receive a very generous Christmas gift from a colleague - a bottle of 1998 Dom Perignon paired with two crystal flutes. The day that he received the gift he decided to come straight to my apartment and had left the gift box on the floor of my bedroom. I of course noticed its presence immediately and with great excitement inquired about it. He explained both how he got it and what his intentions were with it. My response was, "WHAT!!? You brought this extraordinarily expensive and romantic bottle of champagne to my bedroom (with 2 glasses included) and you want to bring it to a large party and just pop it open so that 10 of us can each have a sip!?!?" Clearly I had a very different vision for this special bottle of bubbly. I ended up shedding some tears and Fletcher ended up deciding to let me save it for a "special occasion."

Fast forward to six months later: The gift box had not left my bedroom, but it was time for me to move and more importantly, for Fletcher and I to move in together. I carefully hand carried the precious Dom to the front seat of my Uhaul rental truck and made sure that it found a safe spot in our new place. Shortly after we moved in we decided that the Dom would be more comfortable in the cool confines of the refrigerator instead of our sweltering "living area." With it carefully tucked away in our fridge we were one step closer to actually enjoying the prized bottle.

Then came a flurry of action including the purchase of essential furniture (couch and tv), the upgrading of refrigerators (our original one was definitely past its prime), and my first poker night with friends. Also, our 3 year anniversary was rapidly approaching and we thought it was a fitting time to open THE DOM. Soon after I went to check on it and, and... where was it?! It wasn't in the fridge where I had been assuming it was all along. It wasn't in the living area. It wasn't anywhere in the 370 square feet of our apartment. Where could it be?

We came to three possible conclusions.
  • It was left in the old fridge and put out on the curb for some passer-by to encounter and enjoy.
  • It was thrown away by one of us - full heavy bottle and beautiful label and all.
  • It was stolen by the "friend of the friend" who made an impromptu appearance at the poker party.
Whatever the cause, it was gone. I mourned the loss for weeks... make that months. How could the most luxurious, decadent, expensive and personally relevant bottle of wine just disappear?
No other bottle of wine had caused me to feel such mixed emotions of excitement and disappointment. It was gone and that was that...

Until this summer, now it was year and a half after the original gift had been made and I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles. I happened to noticed that they had a bottle of the sacred DOM in their beverage refrigerator and it inspired me to tell them the story of my lost bottle of Dom.

At the end of the visit they handed me a bag and inside was their bottle of Dom. I was overwhelmed - thrilled to once again be in possession of the precious liquid, excited to finally get to share it with Fletcher, and overwhelmed by their generous act.

The story does not end there. I was on the west coast and needed to get the Dom back to NYC. Unfortunately the new air travel rules meant that I could take no more than a 3oz sample in my carry-on. Therefore I would have to let the Dom out my sight. I would have to check it. My parents, eager to see this story have a happy ending, helped me to fashion a special, cushioned box for which to transport the champagne.

It made the trip safely and was immediately put in a safe hiding place in my closet. I made a pact with myself. The Dom would not get comfortable nestled between my winter sweaters. Lessoned Learned: Carpe Diem! Or as Dottie and John would say - let the wine make the occasion. I would not try to find the perfect date and setting to unveil this bottle. It needed to be drunk before anything else bad could happen to it.

The night finally came last Friday. I suggested that we eat in and said I would find an affordable menu on my trip to Trader Joes that day. I found a pre-seasoned pork loin. Fletcher requested a green bean casserole (yes, the Campbell Mushroom Soup variety). The meal was rounded out by a simple couscous with pine nuts and scallions. I brought out the Dom and the
saga came to an end.... a very sweet and bubbly end.

Tasting Notes:
Beautiful light golden color. The bubbles were very fine. There was a sweetness at the beginning and a delicious nuttiness - toasted nuts - at the end.
It was a very good champagne. Would I spend $120 on it? No. But was it delicious? Yes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Wineless in New York City"

I completed my task yesterday with considerable ease in large part because I brought along my friend Kellie, who needed to make her own wine purchase, and so I was able to live vicariously through her. We went to Astor Wine and Spirits for their Tasting Event with "Australian Phenom Grant Burge." I described this wine store in an earlier post, but I have had more thoughts on it since that original visit.

Upon my second visit to Astor Wine and Spirits I had a flash from the movie You've Got Mail. In the movie. Meg Ryan plays the owner of a small children's book store while her rival, Tom Hanks, is the owner of the big bad chain store, Fox Books. Suddenly I felt like I was in the Fox Books of New York Wine stores. It's big and bustling, and they even offer those discount cards that you can attach to your key chain like the Duane Reade or CVS cards. I have to wonder how this store has impacted the other smaller shops around the area. I for one appreciate some of the "chain-like" qualities, namely the affordability, selection and free tastings. On the other hand I really appreciate the intimacy of the "Mom and Pop" shop.

Anyway, let's get to the Phenom, Grant Burge and his wines. First of all the tasting was widely attended and the store provided REAL wine glasses. I was thoroughly impressed by this touch (though people like Gary - see yesterday's post, who wash out their glasses between pours with the wine itself (!) may not have been as impressed). Kellie and I got our glasses and approached the bar. We ended up getting to talk to several people including Mr. Phenom himself. He was actually quite approachable and I managed to come up with what I hoped was an appropriate question:
What is the life span of a vine and how does the grape/wine change as the grape ages? (Since his vines are very old)
His response: If the wines are tended to properly they can live for a very long time - over 100 years. The wine changes within the first 50 years of the vine's life, but not much after that. When the vine gets old, just like people, it loses a lot of its foliage and produces fewer grapes. The grapes are therefore exposed to the sun more and become more concentrated which give the wine blackish characteristics and intense flavor.

Old Man _Old Vine _____

Tasting Notes:
2005 Grant Burge "Barossa Vines" Shiraz, $11.99
My notes will be brief since I only had two small sips in a crowded store in which to evaluate the wine. Caramel/toffee nose, with smooth soft tannins. It was rich with a long finish and as Kellie said, good for winter time. It was not as spicy as other Shiraz that I've had. I would have bought it (it was on sale for $10) but then I would have failed my own test.

**Thanks for everyone who participated in my poll - a rather obvious question (4 out of 5 got it right and the 5th, I'm convinced was my mother trying to use reverse psychology). I wanted to get the Poll function up and running. Check out the new question!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mission Impossible?

I have decided to give myself an assignment: to go to a wine store an NOT leave with a bottle of wine. Perhaps this seems like an awfully easy task, but for me it's not. When I go to a wine shop it is pretty much guaranteed that I will leave with a bottle. Let me make some analogies:
  • A kid in a candy shop
  • A 20-something female Manhattan resident at a Bloomingdales sale
  • A coupon clipper at a grocery store on a Double-Day
  • A surfer in the water with an oncoming wave
  • A retired person (and half the general population) when the lotto reaches above $100 mil.
Inevitably the allowance will be spent, the new "going out" top will be purchased, the cereal, crackers or odd cleaning supply will be bought for a miraculous 49 cents, the wave will be ridden and the lotto ticket... lots and lots of lotto tickets will be distributed. So will I too follow in the same predictable pattern?

Here are the rules of the game:
  • I must bring my wallet
  • I must take part in the wine tasting promotion
  • I must talk to at least one sales person and get at least one recommendation
  • And most importantly, I must leave without making a purchase.
Will I succeed? Or is it... (dun dun dun) a Mission Impossible? - take my poll (see left side bar).
And in case this has not provided enough (or any) amusement. Check out Gary's video from the Wine Library.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Off the Beaten Path

This week has been all about venturing away from the tried and true and discovering the new: new classes, new people, new subway routes, new investigations into the wine world in cyberspace, new wine shops and most recently a new grape varietal.
Let me back up and explain where some of this newness came from. As a new blogger I decided it would be worth my while to look at other wine blogs. Typing "wine blog" into Google, I came across a website called Dr.Vino. It looked like a reputable site (Winner of the 2007 Wine Blogging Award) and I was particularly attracted to it because it gave maps of NYC wine shops and wine bars.

On the day that I happened upon this site, the blog entry was giving a reminder about "Wine Blogging Wednesday" I read on and discovered that Dr. Vino had given fellow wine bloggers an assignment: "pick a wine made from a grape variety that comes from a place it might call home. Taste it and write up a tasting note." Well, with my student hat securely in place I decided that I was going to do this assignment and it would be my first attempt at putting this blog into the wine blogging community (eek!).

Yesterday, with four hours of time in between classes and no "real" assignments on the horizon I decided to find a new wine shop to buy my indigenous bottle. I went to Dr. Vino's site and looked at his map of NYC Wine Shops. You have to scroll up on the map toward the top to what some Lower-Manhattan dwellers may consider outer-space to find the Columbia Campus area. There, a few blocks away from campus, I discovered Harlem Vintage. A few minutes later, after walking through a park and across several blvds I found myself in a lovely, warm and well organized shop. I was the only customer there and took my time looking through their selection. One unique feature of this shop is that they identified wines made by women and people of color with multi-colored stars.

After several passes through each section (organized by grape varietal) I found a potential candidate. It was an unassuming bottle with a sketch of a mustached, apron wearing man in mid-swing, closing a barrel of wine. The wines name? Craftsman. The grape? Kiralyleanyka (Kee-rye-lay-ohn-kha). The price? 9.99 New wine, new grape, very familiar price - things were looking good. I brought the bottle to the counter and asked the women if they had tried this wine. One told me that she had and thought it was a nice aromatic wine and a good value. I was sold. I bought the bottle and put it in my bag next to my new textbook (which was not nearly as good a value). It came to my evening class with me and then went straight into the fridge when I got home.

Tasting Notes:
2006 Craftsman Kiralyleanyka (Hungary). A very pale yellow color. It had a wonderful perfumed fragrance and gave the slightest prickly sensation on the tip of the tongue (from spice or effervescence, I couldn't tell). It was light and finished quickly, though it started to leave a sour lemon aftertaste a few sips in. I tasted green apples, lemons and another sweeter fruit like peaches. This wine reminded me of the fresh crispness of a Vinho Verde crossed with a dry and aromatic Riesling (others say it is like Viognier and Chenin Blanc - but I wanted to provide a new interpretation).
Fletcher commented that it was a good food wine; strong enough to cut through the garlic vinegarette and boiled (read:stinky) egg that I had put on my salad tonight. He recommends having it with fish (I think it's a bit too sweet for fish) and cheese. I would put it with cheese or spicy Asian noodles.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Meet my (imaginary) friends Dottie and John

One morning, almost a year ago, the Wall Street Journal began appearing at my front door. I hadn't subscribed to the paper and didn't know anyone who would have sent it to me as a gift. Yet, everyday there it was with my name on it. Fletcher began to take the paper on his way to work and I didn't think much more about it until the day I discovered the Friday "Weekend Journal" section. Inside this section I found a column entitled Tastings, written by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. I can't remember the theme of that first article, but I do remember that it was accessible, friendly and informational. I was instantly hooked.

The next week I waited eagerly for Friday to roll around; not for the entry way into the weekend but for the paper. I gave Fletcher specific instructions to leave the paper for me on Fridays and he obliged. Week after week I read about wine; Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadets, Italian Whites, Roses, wineries and New York wines. After the first few Fridays I even sent out a test email. The authors had said that readers interested in seeing their article on Viognier should send an email request. I sent out a very tentative, short two line email requesting both the article and any recommendations that they had for affordable viogniers. I got the following email in return:

Dear Lauren,

Thank you for your note. Here is the article about Viognier. Enjoy!


Dottie and John

I was happy to get a response and didn't care that they hadn't mentioned anything specific about affordable viogniers. They also mentioned their book, I decided to go out and find their book. I ended up purchasing their book, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine. The chapters are organized by grape variety and are ended with a short wine essay tangent. The book is personal, funny, totally engaging and absolutely nothing like a dry textbook. Again I was hooked. Now not only did I want to read about the wine, I also wanted to read about Dottie and John. I felt as though I could relate to them. They helped me learn about wine through their personal anecdotes.

After finishing a second book, Love by the Glass, I found myself incorporating Dottie and John into my daily conversations. I would say, "Dottie and John think that wine should make the occassion and that we shouldn't just save wine for special occasions." The next time I went out to eat, I leaned over the table and quietly said, "Dottie and John said that often the cheapest wine on the menu is the best deal, while the second cheapest isn't very good at all." Later I commented that, "Dottie and I both like rare meat, organ meat and sushi... I think we have the same adventurous taste in food." Pretty soon I was mentioning Dottie and John so often that my dad said I reminded him of a little kid who referenced his/her imaginary friends. I even found a way to link myself with them in only three degrees of separation - college dorm-mate - her father (quoted in their book) - Dottie and John.

Dottie and John went on vacation this summer, and I went four weeks without their Friday Column. This Friday they came back. They wrote an article on American Pinot Noirs. I was tempted to run out and buy one of their recommendations, but I am trying to be frugal these days and I did already have a Pinot from Chile in the apartment. So these tasting notes are in honor of the return of the Tastings Column and my friends Dottie and John.

Tasting Notes:
2005 Solario Reserve Pinot Noir (Chile). Immediately I noticed an orange tinge to the garnet colored liquid. The smell reminded me of christmas spices - the combination of cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon that I have used in baking. I also got a hint of christmas tree (or was I just reminiscing about all things christmas?) Then I got a sharp whiff of cat pee. The first sip was dry, alcoholic and spicy. A few sips further in I did start to get the ripe fruits but I couldn't distinguish a particular fruit flavor. I have stuck with this wine for three nights and it hasn't gotten any better. It is drinkable and I will finish it but it hasn't convinced me any further about the merits of Pinot Noir. I have found very few that I have really enjoyed - and only one that was less than $10. If you find one let me know.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ode to the Apparatus

A few days I caught the tail end of Napa Style on the "Fine Living Channel." Michael Chiarello was interviewing Bob Trinchero, who is credited with developing the original White Zinfandel in the 1970's at Sutter Home Winery. He was originally just trying to make a better version of the Winery's red Zinfandel but ended up with a pink concoction. White Zinfandels, and most other roses, are made from red skinned grapes. The skin is left in the fermentation tanks for only a small amount of time (usually only a few hours) so that only a little bit of the color from the skin seeps into the juice. The original White Zinfandel was actually quite dry, but was made sweeter to please the American palate.
Michael Chiarello and Bob Trinchero talked about how the Sutter Home White Zinfandel made wine accessible to mainstream America. It bridged the gap between soda pop and the bone dry wines of the Old World. Mr. Trinchero commented on the "intimidation factor" of wine. He made the point that wine is one of the only beverages requiring the consumer to actually go out and purchase a tool in order to open. Most beverages can be opened with a simple twist, pop or poke of a straw - not a very complicated or intimidating feat (let's not go into beer bottles or the new screw cap wine top for now).
Yet opening a bottle of wine can be quite a complex task. I've opened many bottles but on occasion I still find myself with the bottle between my knees and a red face from wrestling with the cork. I've also broken the cork in half, chipped the glass lip of the bottle and almost been brought to tears of frustration.
When I moved into my current apartment and realized that I did not have a single drawer for utensils in my "kitchen," I decided to economize and buy the smallest wine opener I could find. I settled on the simple "waiter" wine opener. It served two purposes: space saver and fine dining server practice (an indispensable skill in the city). I have come to appreciate this tool and its simplicity. However, I will admit that I do have a very nice Rabbit Corkscrew waiting for when I upgrade to at least that 1 drawer apartment.

If you would like to read the full article on the creation of White Zinfandel click here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Glass is Half Empty

Today I registered for classes. It was an all together dreadful experience. Openly acknowledged to be a flawed system by the registrar herself, it was far worse than I could have ever have imagined.
This morning 1200 students gathered in a large auditorium to listen to yet another welcome speech. The air in the auditorium was thick with anticipation and nervous sweat. If there was a machine that was able to mute to speaker's voice and tune into everyone's internal monologue it would have picked up the 1200 voices chanting the same message - "Are we EVER going to get to register?"
When the time finally came for the faculty to give out the pin numbers that would enable us to register online, by phone or in person, the entire school erupted into chaos. The scene was a frenzy of laptops, cell phones and hallway runners. This was soon followed with error messages, busy signals and long, long lines. Three hours later I left with only three out of the four of my courses and lots of questions and concerns. I am about to study "Organization and Leadership" and I just experienced one of the most DISorganized experiences of my life! What could I really expect out of this program?

So, I came home and opened a bottle of 2005 Milziade Grechetto Colli Martani (Italy).
As excited as I was to try this new grape varietal, I couldn't shake this feeling of skepticism and doubt. I looked at the printout given to me from the store (Astor Wine and Spirits - they give you a list of the wines you buy upon request). It said, "An Umbrian white wine full of character made from the Grechetto grape. Dry, full of lemon citrus fruit character and white flowers. Beautiful minerals on the finish with firm fresh acidity." It sounded delicious, but would the wine really exhibit such delectable characteristics? I poured a shallow glass and plopped down on the couch.

Tasting Notes:
Before taking a sip I smelled ripe apples and pears. I smelled something sweet, like a sweet liqueur. I took a small taste - it wasn't sweet at all! It didn't taste anything like apples or pears. In fact it was quite dry, citric and had a distinct mineral taste. When I say "mineral taste" I think of two things - a mix of what you smell when you spray hot gravel with a hose and what you taste on a fork that gives off a metallic zing on your tongue. I took several more sips and didn't taste anything different.
Overall, I appreciate that this wine could be a conversation piece. It is an rare grape variety. Its smell fools the senses. It is "complex" and enjoyable. Let's see what others have to say about it...

I turned to the internet and found the following review from the Wine Library website:
"Classic golden yellow color. Nose of white asian spices, fino sherry, herbs, almonds, and cheese. In the mouth the wine shows flavors of kiwi fruit, pear skin, stones, and wild, white mushrooms. Well structured and long. Charmingly rustic and idiosyncratic. 100% Grechetto." 7.99 (reg. 9.99)
And here was my internal monologue:
"Really? Reeeeally? WHITE!?! asian spices? What are white asian spices? I'm afraid to google, it sounds like a search
query that would result in many things not food related. Next.
Okay, sherry - I get that. It's the sweet liqueur I thought I tasted. Herbs? No wait, herbs is not as far out there as cheese. CHEESE? I don't taste anything even close to cheese? What kind of cheese have you been eating? Next!
Well at least Kiwi fruit is harmless - it's not a particularly overpowering flavor. You can get away with adding Kiwi fruit in the description of many wines. Next.
Pear... got that, but pear skins? I am going to go buy a pear and dissect it in my kitchen, because I definitely don't know the difference between pear skin and pear flesh. Next
Finally, wild white mushrooms. Are we trying to make a Haiku here? I applaud the person that can pinpoint the mushroom taste in a wine tha
t is both wild and white.

So there you have it. I do love a good wine description. But sometimes, more often than not, when I read a wine review I get that scrunched up brow look and I just have a hard time believing that anyone's palate can really pick out all those scents and flavors.
I'm reading a book right now called The Accidental Connoisseur, by Lawrence Osborne. I think his words are influencing me because he is also a pessimistic wine taster. But who knows, maybe one day I will reach wine enlightenment and I too will be able to taste the sweet earthiness of white wild mushrooms.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Please accept my apology... oh, the perils of over-zealous blogging

Dear Blog Readers (who, up until this point I thought there were only 4 of),

I am writing to apologize for writing some misinformation in my "What does sexy taste like?" entry. The sparkling Touraine wine is actually made by Jean-Francois Merieau not Jon-David Headrick, as I previously stated. This mistake was brought to my attention by Jon-David, the importer. See the comment posted on the entry for his kind response and information regarding the wine.

I have learned many lessons from this mistake:
  • First and foremost, I ought to be more aware of what I write in this blog. I quickly got caught up in the "blogging frenzy" and forgot that what I was writing went into a very public and google accessible domain.
  • I was far too hasty in my own google "research" and should remember to fact-check before posting. Same goes for copyrighting of images and the tendency to provide TMI.
  • I think I need to be more aware of something that I talked about in my last posting, "My Wine, Your Dog." There is no one great wine... we all have our own tastes. I want to continue to write about wine in a personal way, but I don't need to be an authority on what to buy or not to buy - you may love what I dislike and vice versa. That's all part of the great fun about opening any bottle.
  • And to elaborate further on my statement above - wine blogging is a completely subjective sport. So much of what I think about wine comes from the context in which I am consuming it. If I were to go back in time and open the Touraine again, knowing both the story of the wine maker and the process that went into making the wine, I probably would have said very different things. I'm okay with that - to me, the story and history behind the wine add just as much as the grape varietal, soil, barrel and everything else that goes into the wine.
  • Lastly, I need to learn how to read a wine label! As a California girl, I'm used to having it all spelled out for me on the bottle - flowery description and all!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Wine, Your Dog

Yesterday was my last official day of vacation (if you don't count the upcoming Labor day weekend). Today I officially kicked off my new life as a graduate student with a day long orientation at Teachers College. So to celebrate the end of summer I decided to take a walk to Astor Wine and Spirits. Surprisingly I had not been to this nearby store since it moved from its old location over a year ago.
The store is immaculate and has all the bells and whistles of a new-age wine shop: a tasting counter (with built-in sink), a research office, a chilled glass walled cellar, and rows upon rows of carefully stacked bottles. I had no problem spending an hour walking around and I left with 6 bottles (all $7.99 or less).
With the great feeling of buyer's-high, and eager to take my bottles home where I could study them more closely, I decided to cut diagonally through Washington Square Park. At 4pm the park was filled with loungers, musicians, skaters and dog walkers. Crossing my path in the center of the park was a woman and her dog. This dog, in my opinion was the antithesis of cute.. it was hideous. It looked like it was assembled on one of those virtual make-over websites where you get click on different features - red hair, puffy Angelina lips, green eyes... whatever your heart's desire. Only in the case of this dog, it looked as if the features had been chosen at random. It had those three inch stumpy legs, an impossibly elongated body, over-sized head and splotchy fur. People who know dogs probably could tell you the breed (Corgi-Gone-Wrong?), but I am not a dog person. Let me say that again - I am NOT a dog person.
So what does this horrible looking dog have to do with wine? Well in the moment that the woman leaned down to gingerly scoop her dog's poop into a plastic grocery bag, I was suddenly reminded that she actually loved and probably adored this dog. In fact she probably thought this dog was one of the better dogs in the entire park. Dog lovers, like wine lovers have specific and sometimes quirky taste. The Miniature Poodle owner would probably not be so thrilled with a Pit Bull, just as the White Zinfandel drinker might pass on a glass of Shiraz. I don't care for the sour tannic flavors in certain red wines that my friend refers fondly to as the "winey" taste.
Many people who write about wine acknowledge that it is hard to define "great" wine. Our taste buds and flavor preferences are as wide ranging as our partiality toward German Shepherds or Shitsus

Somebody loves her as much as I love Viognier

Right now I'm really into Viogniers. I don't go around the city petting other peoples dogs and discussing breed types. But I do hunt down every affordable Viognier I can find. Each Viognier has a different flavor profile. Some are rich and buttery like Chardonnay. Others have luscious floral bouquets like some Rieslings. Last night I had a glass of Pie De Palo, 2007 Viognier from Mendoza, Argentina.

Tasting Notes
This is one of the first 2007 wines that I've had. It instantly reminded me of the Honey Moon Viognier. Which was the first Viognier I tried (from Trader Joes). It is sweet with flavors of white nectarines (I say white because i think they have more of a floral bouquet than regular nectarines), pineapples, white grape juice. It has a slight taste of pepper at the end. There is a scent of honeysuckle. I liked it, but just as with the Honey Moon, think that it's better on its own than with food. I would like to try them both side by side to compare them. For 5.99 I would get it again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What does sexy taste like?

When I recently asked a wine salesman for an "interesting and different sparkling wine" he gave me a bottle with colorful and whimsical polka dots on its label. As attractive as the label was, I actually had some difficulty in locating the name of this wine - but here is my best shot: Merieu Touraine Brut, Jon-David Headrick. In describing this wine to me he said, "this wine is sexy." Now perhaps he was just doing his job as a saleman and in assessing that I was a young woman, thought that the word "sexy" would appeal to me. Well, he was right, I did buy the wine. But here's the thing, what does sexy taste like? I tried thinking about other "sexy" food - strawberries... chocolate dipped strawberries, or better yet... a fondue fountain where you can dip your own strawberry thereby engaging all the senses at once. Champagne I suppose also falls into the "sexy" category, or at least it conjures up images of romance, love and celebration. Yet, all this brainstorming still did not help me understand what I was going to taste in this wine. So, what better way to find out than to open the bottle.

Tasting Notes
Whenever I drink sparkling wine the first sensations are always the bubbles and the cold (duh). These two elements are delighful, but they make it hard for me to taste the flavors. On the first few sips I thought this wine was well balanced - neither too sweet nor too dry. But I also got a bitter note. Perhaps something like roasted coffee beans. Maybe a little green tea. There is a yeasty flavor, but no fruit flavors jump out. I went to google in search of some help - maybe I could some other reviews of this obscure wine. I couldn't find anything but I did find the above photo.
This is a not-so-sexy photo of the winemaker, Jon-David Headrick.
This wine is probably not readily available, but you're not really missing out for 12.99

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gavi paired with blue Ikea tupperware and an orange full moon

Fletcher and I decided to take our dinner out to the piers on the Hudson tonight. I have been anxiously waiting for a good night to make dinner so that I would have a reason to open a bottle of 2006 Broglia La Meirana Gavi di Gavi. I made poached salmon and served it with a greek style orzo salad (with feta, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts and a basil lemon dressing). This wine was recommended to me because it was supposed to stand up to the meaty and hearty flavor of salmon. I have never had a Gavi before, but I did read about it in one of Dottie and John's summer columns - so again, I was anxiously awaiting the uncorking.

I find that whenever I veer off of my regular nyc routes I am hit with a sense of awe and appreciation for the city. Since I rarely make it to the river's edge at sunset, I was feeling especially strong, positive nyc-vibes. When we reached the end of the pier we unpacked our food - 2 large blue plastic Ikea containers for our pasta and fish, 2 small containers for the basil aioli and lemon wedges and 2 plasic wine cups. I opened the wine (with much apprehension for fear of getting caught with an open container of alcohol) and we ate. As we ate a large full moon rose above the Manhattan buildings. The gavi was perfect, plastic ware and all.

Tasting Notes:
Gavi is made from Cortese grapes. Gavi is in the Piedmont region of Italy. Wine that says Gavi di Gavi, it means that it was produced in the actual village of Gavi. It is supposed to be refreshing, grapey and have good acidity, but can at times be bland.
This wine was anything but bland. There was an immediate and strong flavor of apricot and lemon. It had good crisp citrus notes with a balance of sweetness. This wine had a surprisingly long finish. At first I thought that the finish was vanilla and oak. This was rather astonishing because I am usually hit with oak right away (California Chardonnay), and have never tasted a wine where the oak came out after I swallowed the wine. However, I did a little research and found out that this wine (named after the estate's farm and said to be the most classic representation of the grape from the winery) is fermented in steel barrels - so no oak is involved. I read a few other reviews and many mentioned almonds. This is the finish - an amaretto flavor comes out at the end. I'm not a huge amaretto fan, but in this case it is delicious.
I highly recommend this wine, but it's 18.99 - well above my usual price bracket.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Zweigelt, "I'm not ordinary; give me a job" wine

Yesterday I mentioned that I went to a wine shop in an attempt to get a job. I came away from the experience $50 dollars poorer and without a job. However, I'm not a quitter and I consider the $50 an investment in my future. I bought three wines (I set a $20 dollar cap instead of my usual $10 because there were no under $10 bottles for sale). I asked one of the sales people to give me an unusual wine - something that I've never had before. He handed me a bottle of 2006 Berger, Blauer Zweigelt wine from Austria. The important thing about this wine for me is not its uniqueness -which i will talk about in a minute. The important thing about this wine was that it gave me an opportunity to send a follow up email to the owner to say thank you and to also show him that I'm not just some ordinary girl looking for some ordinary old job. We'll see if it works.
Tasting notes:
Zweigelt (Zv-eye-gelt)
is a cross between Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent. It is common in Austria and is a lighter red variety.
This particular wine comes in a stout 1 liter bottle. So for 14.99 you get 250 ml more. When I showed Fletcher he said it reminded him of a 40 (malt liquor) bottle. And sure enough underneath the outer foil was a beer bottle cap. The first taste was sharp, salty and vinegary. Not a good start. However, there were some cherry notes and other dried fruit flavors that came through. We each had a small glass and then put a rubber cork in it to save for the next night. Apparently the wine gets better after its been opened for a while.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

ALAIA - "don't give up on me yet wine"

I'm back. I have delayed adding anything to this blog because I couldn't figure out how to format the page to my exact liking. But now I realize that's not the point. And in these past two months I've missed out in adding great wines, not so great wines and experiences to this memory-tracker.
I am having a glass of Dehesa de Rubiales, Alaia wine from Spain. It is my latest addition to my $10 and under list of favorites. I opened it a week ago, and today it is serving as my "don't give up on me yet wine." It's old and doesn't taste like it did on the day I opened it. Today it tastes like raisins and if I'm really trying to make a connection, I could say it kind of tastes like an Amarone della Valpolicella. But again, that would be stretching it.

I'm sipping my glass slowly because it is the middle of the afternoon and I'm not usually a day drinker. And I'm having it with a pesto pasta, not because they do anything for each other, but because it is also a leftover that I found in my fridge. But I'm hoping that my Alaia is going to soak into my core soon and remind me that I do love wine, and that I can in fact become a wine expert if I want to become one. I should explain that I just went to get a job at a wine shop and I was told that they are really looking for someone with wine experience. Well, how does one get experience with wine if everyone is looking for someone who already has experience? I know that I'm not the only one thinking this - it's not a new problem, but it is new for me because I rarely put myself out there; I'm too afraid of rejection.
So I'm giving my Alaia, seven days old and a mere 6.99 a chance, I'm hoping someone will give me a chance too.

Friday, June 8, 2007

I have started this blog to keep track of my wine notes. I recently misplaced my wine journal, which is hard to believe considering that it hasn't left my 370 square foot apartment in the last 6 months. I figure that putting my notes on a blog would eliminate the possibility of losing them. So for now, my blog is simply an organizing system for myself and is not meant to be a "blogger's blog".

The blog name comes from my family's house in Sonoma County. My parents bought 29 acres at the end of Walling Road when I was six years old. The road is just over two miles long and turns into a gravel driveway for the last quarter mile. This road has been part of my childhood, my adolescence and now my adulthood. I picked berries, road my bike, learned to drive and most recently wine tasted on this road. Up until the last two years I never really saw the road as being about wine. Of course I noticed that it was lined by vineyards. I watched Gallo plow and plant new vines on one side of the road, while our neighbor Jerry's old gnarled vines were rooted firmly on the other side. J Pedroncelli's Winery sign signaled that we were near the end of our 80 mile car ride, but it never said, "wine" to me.

Now I am living in New York City and I have found out that I love wine. It is too bad that my interest could not have started back when the family would make weekly trips up to the wine country (though I would have been under age anyway). So my exploration of wine has an will continue to be from the East Coast... for now.