March 24, 2019

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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No Toils or Troubles, Just Tiny Bubbles

Our subject goes by many names. The Germans call it Sekt. The Spanish use the term Cava. Italians have a few different names for it but generally call it Spumante. Some places say Sparkling Wine, but most of you know it by the name of its French home – Champagne. Champagne is a beverage that’s synonymous with celebration. The wines of Champagne were long heralded by the rulers of Europe, mostly because French Kings were traditionally crowned in the city of Rheims located right in the heart of the Champagne region. Since royalty liked to party, the local tipple became the…

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The Legacy of Wine

I’ve noticed the passing of several large names in the wine world over the years. Among them are a few the average person may know: Julio Gallo and Robert Mondavi, as examples. There have been many others that professionals in the industry know as familiar names. This thought was brought to a head for me recently as a legend in wine education and research from my alma mater passed away after a battle with cancer. Lesser Known Wine Giants I’d like to take a few moments to pay remembrance to a pair of significant names I’ve personally known in the world…

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The Juniper Tonic

There’s one particular drink I have yet to touch on in the six plus years of writing this column–gin. That fact mostly comes from my personal preference, as I’ve never been a particular fan of gin. Ignoring it simply out of bias though is a disservice, as gin is still quite a popular beverage. Many people may see it as a cocktail spirit of an older generation, associated with the speakeasy era of prohibition and bootlegging. Many craft distillers though consider a well-made gin to be the pinnacle of artisan spirits, as it requires more finesse and skill to make…

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4 Booze Myths Demythstified

I’ve been dealing quite a bit with the public lately in regards to booze, and it surprises me how much the incorrect myths regarding beverages become entrenched in the minds of people. I wanted to set the record straight on a few things to better educate the readers who enjoy a tasty glass of EtOH (that’s the common chemical abbreviation for ethanol). Myth #1 – The Sulfite-Free Wine The first myth that needs dispelling is sulfites in wine. There is no such thing as sulfite free wine. All fermented beverages will have at least some amount of trace sulfites as they’re…

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The Wisdom of Miyagi

by Joel Mann One of the great cheesey movies from the 80’s is The Karate Kid. Say what you will about the acting, the general plot line, or even the ability of a teenager to learn martial arts at a black belt level in a few months. The real gem of the movie is Mr. Miyagi and his philosophy of life. Balance is the whole key. It’s the old wisdom of all things in moderation. A bit apropos tied into a discussion concerning alcohol. I bring the topic up not to beat the drum of a teetotaler or neo-prohibitionist, as…

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Blind and In the Dark

I’ve seen a few stories recently about trendy gimmicks in the dining world. My favorites are the restaurants that serve dinner in the dark or make patrons wear blindfolds as part of the meal. While I don’t advocate eating with the lights off, as it’s a recipe for spilling and slopping all over yourself, it does emphasize a key concept in the world of sensory perception. People in general are extremely visually dominant when it comes to the five senses. After sight comes hearing. That leaves the senses of  smell, taste and touch lagging behind. The average person is quite often pressed to describe the world…

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Recent Adventures on the Drinking Trail

The winter season is always one of my favorite times of the year. In the booze world, it coincides with the release of all the fantastic seasonal beverages for fall and winter, particularly in the beer world. I’ve been busy as can be personally the last several months, so it’s always nice to take a moment to relax and enjoy the simple pleasure of a good meal and a tasty beverage. To start the New Year, I’m just going to recap a few of my recent enjoyable experiences in the drinking world, some seasonal, some not, that you hopefully get…

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Remedial Beer

I’ve spent years educating myself on the topic of booze, and sometimes take for granted that not everyone may understand what, to me, seems like common knowledge. I encounter frequent misinformation from the average consumer as a result, so every now and then I just feel the need to give an education lesson. I almost debated calling this article Beer 101, but that titling format gets far too over-used, and let’s face it, this is information you should know well before you ever dream of college studies. So I went with Remedial Beer, because this really is the 1+1=2 basics,…

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Please Do Burn The Wine . . .

One of my favorite things when the weather gets colder is bundling up and enjoying a warming beverage. I like dark winter beers, or a shot of tawny port. I’ll even break out the occasional mug of hot chocolate on a cold night. One beverage I don’t drink often, but goes well during the holiday months and cold nights, is brandy. So, let’s delve into wine distillates and introduce you to Cognac, Armagnac, and plain old American brandywine. Brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, which translates as burnt wine. Traditionally it’s the distilled spirit of grape wine, but any…

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The Beer That Conquered the World

What image comes to your mind when I say beer? Is it the dark, inky, black body and creamy white head of Guinness? Is it the cloudy, opaque appearance and creamsicle hue of a hefeweizen? Most likely it’s a beer with a light straw color and bright clarity similar to a Pilsner, as roughly 9 out of every 10 beers brewed and consumed in the world is an imitation of this Czech standard. How did this beer come into being and make its way around the globe to be imitated by brewers worldwide? Let’s go to the town of Plzen and…

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Drinking on the Dark Side

I’m going to tack in a different direction and discuss that malty cousin to wine, also known as beer. Some people may wonder what a wine column is doing discussing beer. In truth, I think of my musings as an equal opportunity chance to highlight all tasty beverages of the adult persuasion. Besides, those that know the wine industry are familiar with the cliché, “It takes a lot of beer to make great wine.” And this is the best time of year for beer. The fall and winter months bring the return of all the tasty seasonals that warm you…

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