Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Do German wine labels seem foreign to you? Here are a few hints to help you navigate the language barrier.

First, the producer is listed, followed by the town where the grapes were grown. (They make it easy to spot by adding an "er" at the end.) The vineyard name is next and then unlike many European producers, Germany also lists the grape variety on their label.

Riesling is the main variety grown but for the adventurous, try Silvaner. Red grape varieties are Dornfelder and Spätburgunder, the German name for pinot noir.

With Germany's cool northern climate, the grapes ripen later, but lower alcohol wines are slightly sweeter than those with a higher percentage. Learning a few terms like tafelwein, Qba, Qmp, kabinett and spatlese, auslese, berenauslese, trokenauslese, and icewein will steer you to the level of sweetness you prefer. Kabinett, is the lowest ripeness level in "Qualitätswein mit Prädikat," which is the highest quality level.

Some German wine labels will also show Trocken (Dry) or Halbtrocken (Half Dry) to denote wines vinified to less natural sweetness.

Be fearless, learn a new label lingo and experiment.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Three "WOW" Whites

Change, it's so darn interesting. Given a choice, red wine usually fills our glasses. But, over the past few years, and especially in the summer, we tend to reach for a chilled white.

Here are a few distinctly different bottles to try.

2005 Occhio a Vento Vermentino. This 100% varietal dry white wine is grown in the Rocca delle Macie's vineyards in Maremma on the SW coast of Tuscany. It is an aromatic straw colored wine that is slightly frizzante. Drink as an aperitif or with fish or vegetables.

2006 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has classic characteristics of gooseberry, pink grapefruit and grassy herbaceousness. As the winner of the international aromatic wine competition, it is mouth filling with good texture and finish. It is ideally suited to asparagus, oysters and summer salads. Sealed with a screw cap, this is a perfect picnic wine.

The final white wine is the 2005 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Pinot Gris is a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. The color is pale straw with aromas of white flower blossoms, citrus, lychee and hints of honey. This wine starts fruity on the palate, then finishes with racy minerals. Pair with seafood, salmon with fennel, pork or chicken.

Embrace change and have your own "WOW" moment.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What’s The Diff?

You may have heard the terms “Old World” and “New World” when reading about wine and felt clueless.

First, let’s start with a brief history lesson. Wait, stay with me!

Wine is one of the world’s oldest agricultural products dating back to 5,000 B.C.
Egyptian statues have been found in tombs showing servants holding a wine jar or amphorae. This association of wine and worship to “gods” spread to Greece, Asia and Rome. Subsequent wars, conquests, religion and wealth brought the culture of vines to France, Germany and Spain. Here it was used for trade between merchants for spices and cloth.

Wine’s evolution is long and fascinating but I don’t want to lose you.

The difference between these styles is mainly due to laws and terroir. “What’s that?” you might say. Wikipedia states that terroir’s elements can include: soil, geology, altitude, vineyard management and wine making practices.

The modern European governments have heavily regulated the winemaking process. They have standardized the amount of grapes harvested per acre, chosen the varieties of grapes that can be grown in a particular region, determined how long the wine must age and how it is labeled. Thus, the winemakers' opportunities for innovation are limited.

New World producers like those from the United States, Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, etc., are much freer to be creative in their wine making.

Whereas wines from Old World producers are labeled with the name of the region/city/village (otherwise known as an "appellation") from which they originate: i.e. Bordeaux, Chianti, Burgundy, Rioja, Sauternes, Barolo, Champagne, etc. In the “New World”, most wine is identified by the main type of grape from which it is made: Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, etc.

However, I think the primary difference between the two styles is the acid-sugar balance. Here, climate plays the major role. Most northern European wine growing regions have a shorter growing season so they have less time for the grapes to ripen with high sugar content or Brix. Thus, the resulting juice retains higher acid levels. Because each two degrees of Brix equals one percent alcohol, these Old World wines usually have lower alcohol contents. They may require more bottle aging to soften the acids and other chemicals such as tannins, as well as to develop their usually more delicate fruit, mineral or earthy flavors.

In particularly cool years, many wine makers in Europe (where the law allows) will add a touch of sugar to their grape juice. This is called chaptalization or sugaring and it helps to achieve a more balanced product. Many producers are limited to the amount of irrigation and fertilization in their vineyards, forcing the vines to venture deeper into the soil for water and nutrients. These flavors are then transferred into the finished wines. Examples of words more often found on Old World labels would be subtle and complex, with mineral, berry and tar aromas, full-bodied, with firm yet silky tannins

New World wine makers, on the other hand, generally grow their grapes in warmer climates where riper fruits can frequently have an excess of sugar but too little acid resulting in a higer percentage of alcohol. The wine maker may add acid ("acidification") to keep their wines from being flabby and unbalanced. Because the grapes are grown in drier regions, irrigation is more often used and the vines are more shallow rooted and retain a fruitier flavor.

Most descriptions of New World wines focus on this fruit-forward style. You may see labels with words like juicy black cherry, plum, wild berry and cherry, finishing with a spicy edge and firm tannins. These more intense and sometimes sweeter flavors make them more approachable at an earlier age after bottling.

Take these clues and "explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly go where no man has gone before."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Everyday Is A Celebration

It is no secret that I love Champagne and sparkling wines. There is always a bottle in my fridge for that special occasion. But sometimes, even the big moments pass without popping the cork.

Don't wait to celebrate! For something completely different, try a sparkling Shiraz like the 2004 Majella Sparkling Shiraz from Australia. Can't find it in your location? Order from Wine Library at this link:

While you are there, check out the daily free shipping specials posted at 1:00 p.m. EST and the newest video from Gary Vaynerchuk. Or search for information on wines or producers that interest you. Chances are, you will be a "vayniac" in no time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cheap Bellini

Looking for a quick summer dessert? Slice ripe peaches into a bowl and cover with Prosecco.

Close your eyes, imagine your corner table at Harry's Bar overlooking the people and pigeons in St. Mark's Square. Smile, you just had a mini vacation.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Am Drunk All Over

If you want to learn about wine and laugh out loud while doing so, read Natalie MacLean's book, Red, White and Drunk All Over.

Of all the resources I have read, none has encapsulated both concise information and passionate enthusiasm. She has received numerous awards, all well deserved. If I could express how wine engages all my senses, I would be parroting Natalie's words.

Read this book!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Que Sera, Sirah

Petite Sirah or Durif was recently confirmed by researchers at UC Davis as a true offspring of the Syrah grape. It is prized for it's deep color and intense tannins and has long been used for blending in "Burgundy" styles wines. The vines are sturdy and long-lived and thrive in a wide variety of soil types. It is a prolific producer of tight grape clusters that can be prone to rot in damp conditions. Over 3,200 acres are planted in California where the grape ripens in midseason under optimal conditions.

The 2005 Bogle Petite Sirah has a slightly smoky black pepper flavor that was a home run with the grilled chicken, bacon and swiss ciabatta we enjoyed on Monday.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Grills Just Want To Have Fun

Can you smell that? It is summertime and the neighborhood grills are smokin’. Why pour yourself another cold beer when grilled foods go so well with the right wine? To help you choose, consider the flavors in the marinade or sauce used on the food you're grilling.

For citrus-based marinades, pair a crisp, herbal white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc or a tangy Australian Verdelo. Raw citrus usually battles with wine’s acidity, but once warmed, it can be very complementary. Try food pairings such as roasted veggies in fresh herbs, grilled fish with dill and lemon or chicken brushed with Italian salad dressing.

Balance the spicy bite of rubs on pork or chicken by opening a fruity white like a Gewürztraminer from Germany or a Vouvray. If you like reds, a soft, low-tannic California Merlot or "grapey" Beaujolais will not fight the spice. You can make your own rub or buy one already prepared. Find a wide variety at

Cabernet Sauvignon is made for steaks. The higher tannins are mellowed by the meat’s fat, producing a palate pleaser. Top your burgers with bold cheeses, like blue or sharp cheddar and it gets even better!

If you are a purist and use a charcoal grill, the smoky flavors it imparts work best with a Shiraz or Syrah. This varietal's big fruit flavor and mellow tannins is a winner with grilled food.

When the working day is done, grill's just want to have fun.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Food and Wine Pairing Primer

Because food and wine pairing are very subjective, balance and harmony can be perceived differently by different palates. Also, each individual has his or her own threshold for certain tastes.

Therefore, I feel that one of the most important aspects in pairing is matching the weight or body of both the food and wine. Body refers to how the wine feels in your mouth as well as how long the flavors last. The common analogy is that a light-bodied wine is similar in mouth feel to that of skim milk where a heavy-bodied wine is more similar to drinking cream. Examples of different body styles in foods would be grilled chicken as opposed to fried chicken.

Foods can also be served that mimic the flavors of the wine. This complementary aroma and flavor approach to pairings is usually very successful. By using fruit in a sauce similar to the fruit flavor in the wine, the two elements “marry” together. An earthy red Burgundy or Pinot Noir works well with earthy foods such as root vegetables or meat with onions, mushrooms, walnuts or mustard. Try an herbal Sancerre alongside shrimp flavored with dill or other herbs. A late-harvest Riesling with flavors of apricots and almonds goes beautifully with an almond tart.

Wine can also be included in the food preparation to create a “bridge” between the two elements. Create a quick sauce by first browning your entree, then saute some shallots in olive oil and deglaze the pan with the wine you are drinking.

Matching intensity of the wine with that of the food is another pairing strategy. For instance, more delicate dishes should be served with lighter-bodied wines.

Certain food textures, types of spices used, methods of food preparation and amount of fats used will also influence the choice of wine and whether it is perceived as harmonious.

Most of the classical food and wine pairings match regional wines with regional dishes. For instance, Spanish paella with Rioja, coq au vin with red Burgundy, tomato-based sauces with Chianti and lamb with red Bordeaux.

The more you learn about the different grape varieties and their characteristics, the process of wine making for both red and white grapes, and the changes that occur with aging, you will be able to understand that some elements may seems more prominent upon tasting and are not necessarily signs of an unbalanced wine. Some harmonious young red wines can have an astringent or dry feeling in your mouth that comes from tannins in the grape or from fermentation practices, which can convey to you its aging potential.

A few components of a wine’s balance can be manipulated. The consumer can alter the intensity of sweetness or acidity, mute flavors or magnify tannins in an unbalanced wine by serving it more chilled.

Experiment! Plan your menu and choose both a white and red wine to compare. The best food and wine pairing is ultimately the one you prefer.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cellar Letter

Dear Mr. Difficult Client,

Before preparing my report, I would like to arrange a meeting, at your convenience, to tour your home so I can best determine the proper location to design your cellar. This location will depend on a variety of factors. Although it is preferable to store wines underground, away from exposure to light, excessive humidity could also spoil or prematurely age your wine collection. The temperature should remain as close to a constant 55 degrees F or between 10-12 degrees C, and the wine should not be subjected to vibration. With these factors in mind, I also want to make the wine easily accessible to you so it will be convenient to monitor the aging of your collection and facilitate the selection of a bottle.

We will also discuss the amount of wine you normally drink on a weekly basis, how many parties and special occasions you host and what types of wines you enjoy drinking and serving. An easy calculation will help us determine the quantity of wines we will need to store. That equation is as follows:

# of bottles drank/wk + # of special occasion wines x 2 = total # of wines to store.

Of these, an average of 20% will be consumed after 2 yrs, 50% after 5 years and 30% after 10 years.

The general recommendations for varieties that benefit from longer cellar storage are such wines as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Barolo, some Rieslings, Semillon and most fortified wines. Your unlimited budget will allow us to make some wise wine investments, buy at auctions or speculate in wine futures. As your tastes may change over time, I recommend that we consider only purchasing six bottles of a particular wine and that before each large purchase, you should taste a bottle. Remember, what the seller and I recommend may not be wines you prefer.

I would then place a hygro-thermometer in the proposed cellar location to monitor the humidity and temperature so we could determine what additional modifications may need to be made to our selected location. We may need to install additional cooling units or insulate to insure proper temperature control.

We can then determine the materials you prefer for racking your collection. Both metal and wood can be used but each rack should be divided into separate sections for the different types of wines we are storing. I recommend single depth racking with slots for individual bottles. Our goal is to support the bottles securely in the preferred horizontal position, in a dense arrangement to reduce temperature fluctuations, while avoiding disturbance of the surrounding bottles upon removal of your selection and to provide you with access to easily monitor your collection.

Since budget is not a consideration, I suggest that we attach a barcode to each bottle and maintain a database using a computerized tracking system. There are many software options that will guide us as to how long the wines we purchased should be held, the age they should peak or the year that they should be consumed. As you add or remove a bottle from your collection, this software will need to be updated. By keeping a balance in your cellar, you will always have the right wine for every occasion, you will open it at the proper time and the wine will not get misplaced and become undrinkable.

I look forward to meeting with you to begin this project

Yoga and Wine

Yoga is a practice for connecting the mind, body and spirit . It teaches you focus, balance, strength and stress relief. It elevates your mood, creates energy and provides relaxation, all at the same time.

Sounds like similar qualities I have discovered in learning and writing about wine.

(I bow to the divine in you. )

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bite The Bullet or Have a Glass

Back in the old West, before painkillers, they used to give you a shot of whiskey and have you bite a bullet before causing you pain. Today, at the first twinge of pain, there are numerous options from homeopathic to hallucinogenic.

Medicinal properties of alcohol date back to Egypt and most civilizations have fermented some type of beverage as it was often safer to drink than their water. The antibacterial activity of red and white wine helps explain wine's legendary reputation as a digestive aid. Alcohol was also known to be an effective analgesic.

The relationship between alcohol and health was not fully researched until 1926 when Dr. Raymond Pearl published a book called Alcohol and Longevity, in which he reported his finding that drinking alcohol in moderation was associated with greater longevity than either abstaining or drinking heavily. Alcohol increases the good cholesterol or HDL and decreases blood clotting, increases insulin activity and reduces the risk of Alzheimer's Disease.

Moderate consumption is defined as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. So, for whatever pains you are feeling or just for a longer, healthier life, raise your glass!

Cheers, Salud, Prost, Santé, Skål, L'Chaim, Cin cin !