December 13, 2017

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…

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…

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…

Intoxicating License Plate

DRY STATE NEWS: Merlot can be a variety of grape or a type of red wine, but not an acceptable personalized license plate in the state of Utah. The Utah Tax Commission told the owner that he had to remove it because the state doesn’t allow words of intoxication to be used on vanity plates. Someone should tell the Utah Tax Commission that Merlot also is a variety of grape, originating in southern France and Italy. Snitching drivers are now on the lookout for the plates Muskat, Champagne and Concord. ANIMAL LOVING NEWS: A man from Flushing, Michigan is loving…

“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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Wal-Mart Wine

Some Wal-Mart customers soon will be able to sample a new discount item: Wal-Mart’s own brand of wine. The world’s largest retail chain is teaming up with E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, California to produce the spirits at an affordable price, in the $2-5 range. While wine connoisseurs may not be inclined to throw a bottle of Wal-Mart brand wine into their shopping carts, there is a market for cheap wine, said Kathy Micken, professor of marketing at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. She said, “The right name is important.” So, here goes: The top 12 suggested names for…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…