August 16, 2017

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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Getting Your Just Desserts

The holiday season and its feasts are almost here. While an entire industry exists to help you pair your meals with an array of wines, one of the often overlooked parts of the meal is the digestif. I’d like to introduce you to some classic dessert wines, fortified wines, and some liqueurs that are not only exceptional beverages in their own right, but are the perfect end to any meal. Port Port wine is probably the easiest to get your hands on. Several countries make a fortified style wine that generically is called port, but I personally am a snob in…

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Ye Olde Demon…

One drink I haven’t touched on much in my writing this column is the spirit, rum. That’s mostly because I don’t drink much hard liquor. I do enjoy a well-made spirit from time to time though, and when it comes to my tastes, my preferences include whiskies, tequilas and nice dark rums. Rum tends to be one of the more neglected spirits in the average person’s bar repertoire, as it gets relegated to cheap cocktails and fruity tooty drinks. Rum has a storied history though with influence around the globe. The drink has quietly earned a place amongst the world’s…

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An Apple a Day

I’m a history buff. I took a vacation recently to one of America’s richest history regions in Central Virginia. What struck me touring about Monticello and Montpelier (the respective homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) is the day to day life that the estates would produce from the land. I found the way the homes were constructed so they could deal with everyday tasks to be fascinating, especially regarding the harvesting, storage, and preparation of foodstuffs, as both Jefferson and Madison enjoyed fine dining and entertained quite often. I had known for some time about traditional drinks of the…

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Colder is Better and Other Wise Words

I once again want to tackle the myths that seem to stubbornly hang on regarding beverages. Call them what you will, but most are nothing more than rumor, second-hand innuendo, and wives’ tales that somehow get accepted as fact by the uneducated masses. Just because some bartender at your favorite club swears it’s true because it happened to his friend, doesn’t make it so. So strap in and learn a little something about what actually goes on in your glass so you don’t make the beverage mistakes that do result in a lousy tasting product. The issue at hand that…

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The Wino’s Geek Speak Part Deux

I began explaining some style definitions and descriptive terms commonly used by winemakers as they discuss and evaluate the labors of their fruit. Here I continue on with the topics of taste and smell that were cut from my last column to be pasted here for your enjoyment. Bitterness, Astringency, and Tannins What many people run in fear of when mistakenly saying a wine (particularly reds) is too dry are overly tannic wines that leave a bitter flavor and extreme puckering astringency. Many people confuse bitterness and astringency. Bitterness is a flavor. It’s somewhat difficult to describe without making you…

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A Winery’s Best Friend

I’ve easily been to over 100 tasting rooms at various wineries around the world. I’ve probably easily been to over 200. I can’t really say as I lost count a long time ago. How many wineries I’ve been to isn’t important though, as this article isn’t about how much wine I’ve had to drink. I wanted to talk about something I think is a must have, necessary, arguably mandatory requirement for having a great winery: cool pets that give a friendly greeting and enjoyable experience to everyone that visits the winery. Most tasting rooms, especially the ones in the well…

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Eau, That’s Schnapps

I recall having a conversation with a woman while out wine tasting one day several years ago. She was very excited because she was taking a trip to Germany, and one of her scheduled events was touring about a few schnapps distilleries. I struck up a conversation with her on the topic since I’m a fan of all tasty beverages, had just been to Germany, and enjoyed a few schnapps while there. It seems she was a big fan of the sweet, syrupy, flavored liqueurs that most Americans associate with schnapps (we spell it with two P’s, the Germans only…

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Hard to Starboard

The holiday season is a great time for food lovers. All sorts of delectable goodies find their way to the table. Beverages are no exception, and this time of year tends to see the dusting off of various specialty wines, that although great year round, usually are associated with the festivities of the holidays. One particular style has always been a favorite of mine. I’ve touched on it superficially before, but I want to delve into the world of Port Wine and bring you some knowledge behind one of the world’s great beverages. Port is what’s known as fortified wine. That…

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Let’s Go Tasting

One thing I’ve mostly avoided in the almost five years of writing this column is being a simple wine critic that gives you a list of wines complete with my personal opinion and some arbitrary number score. I myself am a critic of the critics, as many times I don’t feel they do justice to the wine world since each critic comes with a full set of biases on what they like and don’t like, and simply telling you wines they enjoy without admitting their bias faults doesn’t help you if your palate differs from theirs. That being said, reviews…

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What’s the Word for It?

One of my favorite things to poke fun of in the wine world is the critical review. I find many of them comical because it seems that the writers try to find the most obscure phrase possible. While characters of earthy morning dew from a Tuscan field may sound adventurous, it doesn’t really tell you much about the wine. The sensory teams in winemaking try to evaluate their wines in clear and concise terms. Esoteric descriptions are to be avoided as best as possible, but that’s not to say that exotic terms aren’t still valid descriptors. Lychee for instance is…

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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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