May 27, 2019

Aussie Wine Advocate

Many people in the wine industry can recall a moment early in their career when they tasted something absolutely memorable. My moment happened in the Barossa Valley, Australia during the 1997 Culinary Festival, a now defunct event that brought together the best of Adelaide cuisine with Barossa wine. I was at the Elderton Winery and it was their 1995 Barossa Shiraz. It tasted like someone had taken a pepper grinder to my glass. I’ve been a wine geek ever since. I’ve also been an Aussie advocate ever since. Australian wines enjoyed a boom during the 90s food culture revolution here…

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Beer: The Other Food Pairing

The dragon the wine world forever chases is food pairing. It started with the simple mantra of white wine with fish, red wine with meat. Now there seems to be a whole industry searching out all the flavor nuances of a particular dish and what wine matches best with that. It’s been a boon for the culinary world as the diversity of tastes from cuisines around the globe has caused a food renaissance in the United States that has taken us from the bland meat and potatoes of years past to vibrant, bold flavors that enhance the pleasure of eating…

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The Science of Taste

I read an article from a colleague in the wine industry recently that lamented the state of the American palate. He was basically frustrated by the desire to have everything big, rich, fat, salty and sweet. He, of course, is not from the United States, so he didn’t grow up eating McDonald’s and drinking Coca-Cola. It got me thinking though about how little the average person understands when it comes to flavor and taste. I experience this on a regular basis with customers that can’t identify, or explain, the basic flavors in the foods they eat. So, let’s look at some…

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The Coming of the Can

The current be-all and end-all package of the beverage industry is the can. Cans are sturdy when filled, lightweight, air tight, block light from the contents inside, can hold carbonated backpressure if designed properly, are easily recycled, and with the proper internal sealant are virtually non-reactive with the contents they hold. Cans take up less space. Thin metal is very conductive, so cans heat faster if pasteurization is required, and cool quicker for your enjoyment. Plus, a shiny metal surface is the ideal canvas to paint your logo and product brand for display. The brewing industry caught on to this…

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Don’t Eat the Worm

In honor of Cinco de Mayo and all other great things Mexican, this month I’m going to talk about that exotic spirit from south of the border – tequila. Agave Tequila is the end product of fermenting and distilling the agave plant. All distillates produced from agave are actually known as mezcals (which is a whole other topic for future discussion), of which tequila is a special class. It’s like making the distinction between brandy and cognac. For a mezcal to qualify as tequila, it must come from a defined geographic area, which is mostly in the Mexican state of…

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The Race to Zero

One recent trend I’ve noticed in the beverage world is the low calorie drink. It started with the rush to have the lowest number on light beers. It’s morphed into cocktails now with ready-to-serve brands geared towards the diet market. I’m not a fan of the trend in the slightest. Not because I disagree with healthy eating (or drinking), but because I disagree that these products are necessarily healthy choices versus more traditional options. That, and after trying many of them, I seriously believe consumers are short changing themselves on flavor just so they can have an extra serving of…

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Beware Drunk Moose–and Other Blue Law Irregularities

                            One of the lasting legacies of prohibition is a mishmash of laws by the Federal Government and the states in regulating alcohol. It gets even more complicated when localities get involved and add another layer of regulation. Our elected officials, in their infinite lack of wisdom, do manage to come up with some ridiculous offerings when regulating one of their favorite targets for social control. This month, just for amusement, I wanted to look at some of the various alcohol blue law favorites from around the…

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Sulfate, Sulfite, Sulfide

One of the positive trends in the agriculture industry is the push toward natural farming and food production methods that are environmentally friendly. They promote healthy soils, and limit the potential for exposure to toxic chemicals in the food chain. The wine industry has been on the leading edge with organic farming methods, as well as low impact wine making in the cellar. One substance that leads to mass confusion is sulfur. I see this frequently in dealing with consumers, so this month I will address the role of sulfur in wine making, and why in limited amounts it’s considered…

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Hand Selected, With Predicate

Do you know the difference between spätlesen and auslesen? How about QmP versus QbA? German wines have been on the rise recently, thanks in large part to the renewed popularity of Riesling. Let’s break down German wine labeling to help you understand. Germany uses a meticulous labeling system that designates the factors used in producing the wine, some of which include region, if sugar was added, and how ripe the grapes are when picked. Wine is broken down into four major categories: table wine (tafelwine), country wine (landwein), quality wine (qualitätswein), and top quality wine (prädikatswein). Tafelwein and Landwein Tafelwein and…

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The Politics of Drinking

Bourbon is required to contain at least 50% corn and must be aged in a new, charred, American oak barrel. In 1516, Bavaria passed a law called the Reinheitsgebot allowing only 3 ingredients in the production of beer. One of my favorites: to this day, the Vatican has given its blessing to consume as much bock or doublebock beer as you wish. There are basically three major influences on the development of beverages in history: the local raw materials used in production; natural barriers between regions that isolate people and plant species; and the never ending influence of those in…

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Wines for Thanksgiving

I always enjoy the autumn season. The summer heat is finally gone. The harvest has come in, bringing with it all the abundance of nature. After a long summer season of light and simple flavors to avoid weighing one down, the hearty foods and robust spices come out to satisfy the palate as the days get shorter and colder. The quintessential expression of the season is my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving. The traditional turkey dinner can be challenging to match wines with as the popular varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are not typically the best fit. So,…

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O’zapft is!

Even as a wine guy, I’ve always kept a fondness for beer (it does take a lot of beer to make great wine after all). Arguably the greatest beer event in the world, the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, will be ending as this issue goes to press. It’s an event that embodies what most people know of as stereotypical Germany. It’s one of my favorite holidays, not simply because beer is involved, but it’s a signal for the change in season that brings with it the robust flavors of autumn and winter: dark holiday brews, hearty cold-weather meals, holiday festivities…

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Understanding the Old World

One thing I’ve noticed that causes confusion among wine consumers is how to decipher European wine labels. Consumers from the US and other developing wine markets tend to understand wine based on the predominant grape, meaning you buy a Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, etc. The vast majority of Europe, however, traditionally names wines after the region the wine is produced: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, etc. The main problem this presents for consumers is that they’re often not familiar with what the wine regions of Europe have to offer in the bottle. Just what is Chianti? What are you drinking when you…

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The Little Pearl

Ever wonder what’s in a name? I worked in Portugal a few years back and recall a conversation with the English winemaker about the meaning of names. He told me about his Portuguese friend with a very proper and formal surname that basically happened to translate into English as “all day long, I ride motorcycles.” Most people think English names have little meaning, but if you research the origins of any name you’ll usually find some meaning behind it. Take Margaret Thatcher for an example. A thatcher is someone who traditionally built and repaired old straw roofs. Margaret actually comes…

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Summer Bubbles Over

The champagne/sparkling wine category has some of the more underutilized drinks in the wine world. People for some reason only tend to break out a bottle of bubbles for holidays and occasions instead of grabbing a bottle for everyday use, despite the fact that most wines in this category are extremely versatile as a culinary pairing. Several wines in the sparkling category are light, crisp, and very refreshing since they’re effervescent and served at ice cold temperatures, so they make an excellent option for light summer drinking. Let’s take a look at some of the less common wines in the…

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A Horse, a Donkey, and a Communist

Admittedly, I am not much of a cocktail drinker. My beverage preferences are heavily skewed to the fermented variety versus the distilled, and most mixed drinks tend to be a bit on the sweet side for my palate. Margaritas, for the most part, are the only cocktail I’ve ever really cared for. Recently though, I was introduced to an old cocktail that has become trendy once again, and when the heat’s coming on, it’s one that gives a refreshing option for the mixed drink aficionados out there. It’s called a Moscow Mule. The origins of the cocktail date back to 1941…

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Wine by the Numbers

Have you ever tasted a 100 point wine? More importantly, would you care if you did? I’ve worked off and on in customer service and sales in the wine business, and the value that many customers place on scores given to wines by various critics is always a point of curiosity to me. Customers routinely ask how many points a wine scored, and there are those that refuse to buy anything that scored below a 90. Ask yourself though, what do these scores really mean? Let’s examine the world of wine reviews and give you some of the positives and…

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The Mad Scientists

People often have the perception that the wine industry is all picturesque postcards with sophisticated people standing around pontificating on the finer points of their latest bottled masterpiece. That may be the case if you’re a well paid critic whose entire job is nothing but going from tasting room to tasting room. The typical is far less glamorous. While many people think of the art and romance of wine, there’s a great deal of science that goes into your average winery. Want to become a serious winemaker? Study your chemistry, microbiology, physics, and horticulture. I wanted to take you behind…

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The Indestructible Wine, part 2

In my last column, I took you through some of the history of Madeira wine, and discussed its role in trade and the formation of America. Here, I continue with the topic and examine the drink itself – what it’s made of, how it’s made, and understanding what the labels mean. Madeira Island has an oceanic/tropical climate, so fungal diseases and rot are persistent problems. To combat this, grapes are grown on terraced hillsides, often trained on trellises called latada. There are four traditional grapes: Malvasia (Malmsey), Bual (Boal), Verdelho, and Sercial. The grape Tinta Negra Mole became the most…

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A Wine for Lovers

When the calendar roles around to February each year, one thing comes to most men’s minds: what in the world am I going to have to do this year to make her happy for Valentine’s? While you’re busy with flowers, dinner reservations, buying a gift that doesn’t get you exiled to the couch, and every other hoop you have to jump through, I’m here to help you make that beverage choice that scores you some points at the end of the evening. It’s called Brachetto d’Acqui, and it’s my topic for the month of February. Connoisseur Ramblings Brachetto d’Acqui, or…

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The Water of Life

Typically, I prefer to be relevant to the season, its holidays and so on, when not writing about Arizona wines. That means Valentine’s Day in February. I debated on champagnes, maybe dessert wines for couples, or pairing fine wines with a romantic dinner. I’m single though, and Valentine’s is more like Singles Awareness Day for me. Plus, football season will have just ended and with it the addictive distraction of fantasy leagues and other such pastimes of the manly weekend warrior. Take all of this together, and I’ve decided to scrap all things feminine or couples related and focus on one…

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The Indestructible Wine, part 1

There’s a book I was introduced to recently entitled A History of the World in Six Glasses. The premise of the book is that there are six key beverages that played a major part in shaping world history, as they were the crux of human settlement, the basis in forming major trade operations and trade routes that developed over time to supply those that lacked the beverage with ample amounts from those that made the beverage (or at least grew the ingredients), and the development of modern globalism and consumer culture. Now, I’m a history buff. Colonial and Revolutionary America…

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5 Tips for Buying Wine

Having studied wine more than most people, I know many of the little tricks used to get you to part with your dollar and pour the beverage down your throat. Some of the choices I see customers make in their selections are head scratchers to me. I know to each his own, and that people have different tastes, but there are several general recommendations I would give people when making their selections so they get the best value for their money and aren’t stuck merely with something to drink, but rather a beverage to enjoy. I’ve decided to pass along…

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The Common Man Behind the Curtain

What comes to mind when you think of a winery? It’s probably a picturesque property covered with vines, a sophisticated tasting room that pours the range of wines, maybe a few knick-knacks, and that mysterious cellar you can get invites to if you’re a member of the club or there’s a special event. That or it’s something quaint and rustic with not much fancy decor, but still a good bit of tourist charm. The world looks a little different when you’re on the other side of the tasting room table, though. When I tour a winery, I usually go where…

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That “Crushing” Feeling

Currently, there’s just one thing on every winery’s mind – and that is the harvest, a.k.a. “the crush.” This is the time of year that vineyard managers and winemakers start running around their fields checking, double checking, and triple checking the ripeness of their grapes, waiting for the perfect time to pick the crop and make the season’s wines. You watch the weather forecasts, worry about having everything ready for action in the cellar, and on top of it all have to make room by getting the previous vintages still in the cellar finally bottled. Depending on the size of…

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A Rosé by Any Other Name

It’s the time of year in Arizona where the temperatures are just plain hot. Tastes in the beverage world switch from the hearty and robust to the light and refreshing. A class of wine that has risen in popularity the last couple years, and matches perfectly with summer tastes, is rosé. Most people sadly see a pinkish colored wine and instantly think White Zinfandel. While this does fit into the class, it’s hardly representative of great rosé wines. This month, I’ll introduce you to the world of rosés, recommend a few regions to look for, as well as suggest a…

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“I’ll Have ABC, and Hold the Oak”

It seems like the only white wine that was available to consumers for some time was Chardonnay. The folks from Napa all gave us the same heavily wooded, buttery rich stuff, too. Personally, I can’t stand those wines. I know many winemakers that hate them with a passion as well. Even though Chardonnay is still the most popular white wine, and the big woody butter bombs still sell like mad, there’s been a growing movement by a group of people known as the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay) to have more interesting white wines grace their tables. So, with summer temperatures…

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The Glass Less Tasted

A while back, I lamented about Chardonnay being the only white wine most people were familiar with, and that there is a group of people in the wine industry that referred to themselves as the “ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd.” This also holds true for red wines, but is not quite as extreme. Americans rarely venture beyond Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot in their red preferences. Pinot Noir has seen some popularity since the movie Sideways a few years ago, and Zinfandel has always had a bit of cult following, being one of California’s signature grapes. Syrah (Shiraz) has also settled…

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The Wino’s Geek Speak

All professions have their own language. Call it jingo, jargon or whatever other term you desire. Few are as incomprehensible as legalese, but they can still befuddle the uninitiated and unfamiliar. The wine world is no exception. Most people would simply stare at me with an odd look if I handed them a Syrah and said, “It’s a little reductive.” You can even confuse those within a profession as the slang tends to get regional. For instance, if I were in Western Australia, that same Syrah would be pongy, not reductive. What’s the point of mentioning this to you? Well,…

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You Say Syrah, I Say Shiraz

One of the more confusing things for people about wine is the fact that the same grape may have many different names depending on where you are in the world. Grigio vs. Gris The current trendiness of Pinot Grigio is a great example of this. If you come from Italy, it’s a dry, crisp white wine that goes great with all sorts of seafood. Raise your hand though if you’ve seen it on the shelf next to other wines called Pinot Gris and been confused. It’s OK to admit it. Pinot Gris is the exact same grape, it just happens…

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