Wine, Food, And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

3 Ways To Hold A Wine Glass: The Right Way, The Wrong Way, And The Way You're Doing It

Keep you hands on the stem
where I can see them!

One of the comic and frustrating things about the wine world is trying to figure out if you're doing it right or not. People wonder if they're hurting their wine by not letting it breathe. Wine lovers know they're being judged by what they like and don't like - the wine world is not alone in doing this - and if they're drinking the right wine or not.

Most of the time, no matter what you do, you're left feeling like you're doing it wrong. Even something as simple as holding a wine glass.

Since I essentially hold a wine glass while talking for a living, this glass handling question comes up a lot, and it's fair to say I am pretty familiar with all the different ways our species has developed to get wine into our mouths.

The main question is, should you touch the glass or only handle the glass by the stem? And doesn't it warm the wine up when you touch the glass and mess up its otherwise perfect temperature?
Much maligned, much smudging

There's no question, you could warm up a glass of wine by cupping the wine in your hands and conducting your body temperature through the glass. I'm not sure a lot of this happens when you just pick a wine glass up normally, but one thing that does happen is smudging and smearing. If you're a visually oriented person, this can mess up your whole visual field.

If there is a good technical reason for handling the wine glass only by the stem, this is it, to preserve the clarity of the glass. And if my wife didn't hold her glass this way, how would I be able to tell our wine glasses apart?

The Claw - pompous, unbearable,
I do this sometimes
Finally - and most off-putting of all the ways to hold a wine glass - The Claw, where you clasp the glass firmly by the base and hold on for dear life.

I have to confess, I do tend to fall into The Claw from time to time. Maybe it's my rheumatism acting up, but I need some variety after an hour or so, and I find myself clamped down like this sometimes, and I apologize to everyone who's had to witness it.

I know you're wondering, can that really be how I'm supposed to hold my wine glass? As always, the answer is, try all the different ways and do what works best for you.

Besides, what do you do when you confront a stemless wine glass?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is It OK To Love Blended Wines?

Blending in
Sometimes a question that comes up in wine class is just a question.

What's the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet?  Where is Rioja located in Spain?  What makes red wine red?  These sorts of fact-based or detail questions can be relatively easy to answer, or at least easy to look up in The Big Book Of Answers (also know as The Oxford Companion To Wine), which we do any time we need to.

Now and then, wine class questions can get a little more complicated.  Saturday night during Wine 101: How To Taste Wine And Why, the conversation turned to blended wines, and someone asked, "Is it OK to love blended wine?" and the question surprised me a little.  Embedded within this question is the idea that somehow it's not OK to love blended wine, so I asked: what's wrong with blended wine?

You do the math
I learned - in no uncertain terms - that the majority of these wine lovers, even at the beginning of their wine educations, had picked up the notion.that blended wines are cheaper, lower quality, just generally not as good as wines that are made from one grape.  Truth is, some of the planet's most famous, most expensive, most sought-after wines - Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and more - are blended wines, and have been for a long time.

The short answer is that it is OK - more than OK, really - to love blended wines.  Your taste is never wrong, and whatever wine you love, that's exactly what you're supposed to be doing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

3 Top Things You Need To Know About Every Bottle Of Wine You Drink

There are a thousand different things to know about a bottle of wine. Like atomic particles, each little bit of information has its own weight. In approximately this order, once you know these three things about a wine, you can go forward in good conscience.

Most important info on back!
#1 - The Place
Sometimes you look, and you've never heard of it; sometimes you look, and you say, "La Mancha? Like Don Quixote?" And that's why you look.

#2 - The Grape
Even if the grape name is completely unknown to you, you can at least ask someone in a wine shop, "Murfatlar - how much like Pinot Grigio is that?" and start a conversation.

#3 - The Year
My general rule is to drink white wine overwhelmingly young. My habit is that when it comes to red wine, almost anything goes. Except for the price, this is the only number you need to know going into a bottle of wine.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

5 Best New Wines You've Never Heard Of

First off, let's talk about this word "new" and what it means in the wine world.  Like so many wine words, it can mean whatever you want it to, whether historically new, stylistically new, or just never heard of it before, which is what we're talking about most of the time.

White wine for red wine lovers
All of the wines we use in class for "The Best New Wines You've Never Heard Of" are new in different ways.  The grapes are not necessarily new on the timeline of history.  A couple of them are new to where they're grown, but the others have been in place hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

2011 Destinos "Cruzados" Macabeo (La Mancha, south-central Spain, about $10)
Like many other grapes, Macabeo is working to enunciate itself as a grape and a wine, moving wishfully toward a time when we might say gimme a Macabeo, as if it were Pinot Grigio or something.  This delicious zesty white wine made me think of pears, and although it's very zippy and citrusy, the flavor overall is deep and dense, and some of the experience reminded me of red wine.  There's more than one thing going on in this wine, a condition wine lovers sometimes call complex.

2011 J. Lohr "Wildflower" Valdiguié (Monterey, California, USA, about $13)
This unique French transplant has a color so beautiful and an aroma so exotic that I feel like I could just spend the whole day looking at it and smelling it and almost never having to drink it, although that's not going to happen.  For once, the name the wine is marketed under - Wildflower - is accurate in every way and tells you everything you need to know about what to expect from Valdiguié: smells like dried flowers, tastes like raspberry juice, very very soft texture.

Rebound red from Argentina
2011 Tilia Bonarda (Mendoza, Argentina, about $11)
One of the challenges to selling a wine as new is that there's always something new to take your place: first came Aussie Shiraz, now supplanted unthinkably by Malbec from Argentina.  But what happens when we grow weary of Malbec?  I know it sounds impossible right now because we're so in love, but there are more red wines in Argentina, and Bonarda is positioned to be there so we have some arms to fall into and wine to drink when we break up.  If you like Malbec, you'll like Bonarda.

2011 Enotria "Ciró" Gaglioppo (Campania, southern Italy, about $15)
Ancient Greeks planted wine grapes in southern Italy first, about 1000 BCE or before.  This juicy red grape probably came from Turkey or at least got its name from Galipoli long ago, but it's only within the last few years that the world has started paying attention to unfamous red grapes abundant in Italy: Nero d'Avola, Frappato, Grillo, Aglianico, Catarratto, to name just a couple, and now Gaglioppo (golly-O-po).  This wine is pretty light bodied on the one hand but forward and full of berry juice flavors on the other.  Great with food, anything from spicy seafood to pasta and grilled light meats: chicken, pork, sausages, and the like.

Only $20, but I taste money
2011 Bodegas Ordoñez "Tineta" Tempranillo (Ribera del Duero, western Spain, about $20)
The Duero River runs south of the much more famous and important Rioja wine region then west into Portugal, becomes the Douro (home of port), and then the sea.  Cool upper eastern valleys in Spain grow Tempranillo too, the main grape of Rioja, which is exactly what this wine tastes like, only a much much more expensive Rioja.  There's a nice dose of toasty oak in this Tineta red, which I fantasize about drinking and eating with something grilled or even roasted on a spit.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Twilight Of The Wine Bottles

Just the other day at a wine party, we fell into another fevered conversation about cork versus screwcap versus synthetic cork versus whatever.

But isn't cork better? Isn't screwcap better? Even if screwcap really is better, doesn't cork do a better job of saying you care, on a date at least? If I was still young and good-looking and trying to meet women, I would definitely wait until the seventh date to break out the screwcap wine, but that's just me.

No bottle, no cork, no screwcap, no problem!
Right in the middle of this meeting of the slightly intoxicated minds, I showed off a sample someone had sent me just that day — Stack Wines "Charisma" — four glasses of wine in four stemless plastic wine glasses stacked one on top of the other. The conversation changed utterly.

What were we talking about again? Nothing, because if the bottle goes away, the irresistible but false dichotomy of cork versus screwcap goes away too.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just Around The Corner: In Love With White Wine

The history of wine is the history of people saying it will never work.

Just 25 years ago, California wine was OK but not thought by a lot of people to be "real" wine. Sure, you could drink it, but if it was a special occasion, you'd always go with the Euro option until well into the 80s.

Washington State and Oregon have been an adventure until the last decade or so. And at this very moment, as I write that North Carolina and Virginia are going to be big like Oregon and Washington in the not too distant future, someone somewhere is saying, out loud probably, "North Carolina wine? Never happen!" Let's not even talk about China.

It's worth remembering that the ancient Romans said exactly the same thing about France. Granted, it took a thousand years, but they were still wrong, just like we are wrong today when we kind of by default look sideways at local wine. We love everything else local, but we appear trapped by a perfect negative fusion of snobbery and America's Euro-inferiority complex that makes it impossible to perceive - at first anyway - how good our local wines are too.

Quality and emotional quality
Marco Montez makes some of the best wine in the Atlantic northeast just down the road in New Bedford, originally an old whaling town turned Portuguese - American power center. Travessia in English means traverse: more than a trip, a journey that covers a vast dramatic physical and emotional territory, something that could be called, at the end, great.

The distance traversed by these wines - Vidal Blanc (an unsung local white wine hero), Chardonnay, Riesling, and a fantastic pink Pinot Noir - is one step over the line into competing with new world-wide whites like Gruener Veltliner, Savatiano, Albarino, and others.  Except 200 cases at a time, not a million.

Join the wine club at for ordering info.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wine and Water

2007 Le Fiacre du Pape Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Four grape blend, still mostly water.
One of the questions that comes up in wine class over and over again is why wine is so very hard for a lot of people to describe.  After we get past the first obvious exclamations like "love it" and "hate it" or "damn, that's yummy" and "why are you doing this to me," many wine lovers get bogged down trying to say more.

There are about as many reasons for this as there are wine lovers, but most folks start out blaming themselves.  If only they were smarter, or born rich and classy, or had better palates — whatever that means — talking about wine would be so much easier.  Sometimes the intimidation factor reaches such a fever pitch that they conclude, not without some pretty good reasons, that wine tasting is just a gigantic load of crap whipped up by wine snobs to make the rest of the world feel small and stupid. (See "Wine tasting is bullshit. Here's why." for a romping overview of this world view.)

Truth is, wine is a challenge to describe because wine is overwhelmingly water — odorless, colorless, and flavorless.  In general, dry white wine is about 12 percent alcohol, plus less than 1 percent acidity and another 1 or 2 percent other compounds.  That makes it around 85 percent water, the flavor equivalent of nothing.

Think of it this way: if wine were another kind of art — a painting, for example — it would be more than three-quarters blank canvas and just a tiny bit of paint.