Wine, Food, And The Pursuit Of Happiness

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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wine As An Entertainment Industry

We've all read multiple articles about entertaining with wine -- how to do it, when to do it, how to make it work -- I've even written a couple of dozen of these articles over the years, each time almost hitting but inevitably missing the core point: wine connects specially with entertainment because wine itself is entertainment.

For the true wine lover, nothing's more entertaining than a bottle of wine.  What the wine maker does is always interesting - oak or no oak, ripe style or lean zippy style, sell now or age a year in the bottle? What the wine does on its own, creating and re-creating new flavors and aromas as the bottle ages, is obviously creative.  Finally, when you open the wine, pour it into a tall glass, and shine a spotlight on it, folks that's entertainment.

Wine, food, and the Fifty Shades of Grey soft core series (soon to be a major motion picture although Stanley Kubrick isn't around to direct it) were linked first in print and now forever in fact after last month's "Fifty Shades of Gris" tasting class.  Grey the character has narrow, kid-like tastes -- mainstream Champagne, lemony Sauvignon Blanc -- plus he has a gigantic bag of money, youth, and good looks, which I guess is what makes it fiction.

We tasted a trio of literally gray wines -- Pinot Gris / Grigio translates as the gray Pinot because the grapes are somewhere between white and red / black in color -- that illustrated the wide range of styles one grape can achieve in two different parts of the world.

2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris (Oregon, about $15)
If you can't remember how to pronounce it, just remember this happy little rhyme: "It's Willamette, dammit!" Oregon is already making supremely successful Pinot Noir, so it's no surprise other members of the Pinot family are going to feel at home.  I loved the texture of this wine: not quite buttery, but rich and round and nicely oily in a way the word oily just doesn't communicate.

2011 King Estate Pinot Gris (Oregon, about $17)
Even if your family name happens to be King, you're making a statement when you use it on a wine label.  The name promises much, and the wine has been delivering for decades.  Their Pinot Noir is deservedly famous and kind of hard to find here in the northeast.  This Pinot Gris is crisp and balanced with great concentrated white fruit juice flavors like melon and pear.  Delicious with all kinds of seafood.

2011 Case Sugan Pinot Grigio (Friuli, northeast Italy, about $18)
One of the challenges about Pinot Grigio -- Italian Pinot Grigio especially -- is that it comes in so many different styles.  On the one hand, you can have stereotypic  lean, crisp, almost watery Pinot Grigio.  On the other hand, you can have this Pinot Grigio that's full of flavor and good texture and elaborate flavors.  Friuli in northeast Italy specializes in white wine, and Case Sugan is a prime example of the best this grape can be, all for under $20 a bottle.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gris With Envy

Words explain everything
You don't have to speak a dozen different languages to find your way around wine, but if you did, it sure would come in handy.

Start counting the different languages represented in the typical wine shop: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Flemish, Czech, Lebanese, Georgian, and more.  Let's stop before we even got to the Celtic / Gaelic labels in the whiskey section or start debating whether American English is even the same thing as Australian English.

Take last night's favorite Italian white, 2011 Colterenzio "Schreckbichl" Pinot Grigio (about $15), with its Italian / German front label and Italian / English back label, for instance.

Colterenzio -- col means hill, and Terenzio / Terrence is someone's name -- would be called Terrence Hill Winery in the USA.  And Schreckbichl -- the name of the vineyard that provides the grapes -- translates roughly Shrieking Point, a tribute to the treacherous steep valleys and twisting roads in northern Alpine Italy.  We might call a vineyard like this Dangerville or Geronimo Drop.  On the back label, one sentence in English explains the wine, mentioning sun-blessed hills, the Ice Age, and great finesse.

In spite of themselves, wine labels are giving us a lot of information -- so much sometimes they have to use three languages at once -- if only we can find some way to understand them.

SPECIAL OFFER: Register for Fifty Shades Of Gris (Class + Small Plates) Wed. Jan. 23 6:30-8:30pm with promo code alltiedup and take $25 off.

We'll taste a range of wines in this class derived from the soft-core soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture trilogy, from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume - tart and tangy Sauvignon Blanc-based whites from northern France - to Pinot Gris from Oregon and finally Barossa Shiraz.  Somewhere in the line-up, I'm going to work in a "vin gris" which we call rose; in the wine world, grey wine is actually pink.

Teacher: Jonathon Alsop

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Fine Print - Q.P.R. - Quality Price Ratio

Last night's Q.P.R. class - essentially an opportunity for me to spend the evening with all my favorite wines around $10 - confirmed something we've known for a long time: you have to read the fine print. On the front of the bottle, this tasty 2011 Cocobon "Red" (about $8 at Trader Joe's) doesn't really give you too much.  The "coco" part of the name promises yummy chocolate, and "bon" must mean it's good, so the label marketing message is tight, if a little general.

But flip the bottle around, and that's where you learn what makes this smooth rich red so fragrant and flavorful.  Beneath a wine maker's message in teeny tiny type is the signature of Georgetta Dane, former perfumist, now Big House wine maker, and the taste and talent behind a couple of my favorite reds from Concannon Vineyard.

WINE SHOPPING TIP: You've got a smart phone, so let it do the work.  Download a UPC / QR code scanner app to get instant info, but remember to Google the wine maker's name, if available.