Monday, August 30, 2010

Take Time to Smell The Bouquet

I took some time away from this blog and other writing adventures to smell the bouquet. Sometimes in life we never volitize our own esters and things get tight, closed in and over oaked in our personal lives.

Today, however, the kids all started back to school. I have one in each level of education now, Jr. HS, HS, and College. As if to mark the beginning of a new season, I am writing again and offering whatever wine advice to my blog readers, wine and food columns and snooth reviews. It is all very hazy, this last time off. We needed to take care of the cluttered garage and basement, get one kid off to college with supplies to cover 120 days, get 2 other kids into their fall sports programs and tend to a dried up garden and yard that was beaten down by a hot and dry July.

The end result being that the vacation was nothing more than home work, working on the home and never going away to the mountains or the beach or an island or a foreign destination like say New York City. No time for baseball games, no time for county carnivals either although my kids and my spouse seem to have gotten past the need or want to go to these places. The family events were focused on the individual rather than the group and this truly marks a turning of pages in life.

These things recognized and set aside, one thing was accomplished on a personal note; I started a new health program for myself and took time every day to spend time on me for an hour. This was my personal "ester swirl" as it were and it helped to open up my closed in self. I removed myself from wine, wine making, grape growing, wine tweeting, wine FB-ing, wine snoothing, wine searching, wine accessing, all of it stopped for thirty days. It was tough at first but really great as I return to the printed word on this subject and a bit of renewed energy.

I, for the time being, will not refer to this as the grind, and with a renewed sense of wonder delve into odd varietals, the place wine has in a healthy diet, all things less hedonistic and more focused on the improvement of life. After all wasn't this the reason wine was first made? It wasn't safe to drink the water and the milk wasn't pasteurized, so fermented grape juice helped life become livable, if not down-right safe. Now we seem to be surrounded with focus on scores, medals, ego, competition, with thousands of wine makers touting their wines as the greatest but nobody really listening. Ultimately nobody is swirling their esters to open up the full bouquet life is offering.

For me, for the time being, this is all I care to do. Cheers

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Rant Against Beaurocracy in the American Wine Industry

Have been away for a break. It's good for every writer / wine advocate / person to take some time away from their passionate discipline. Refreshed and encouraged by the rain that we have needed, I find myself perplexed and somewhat enraged over recent government actions towards wine commerce in the U.S.

First there is this business with HR5034 and wholesalers attempt to re-write the U.S. Constitution to benefit their monopolies. Now the PA PLCB has introduced kiosks that sell wine in grocery stores. OK why don't these people "get it"? It is a tough economy and what little pleasure we can afford is being taxed and controlled to keep us safe? more like controlled.

In an article this week in the Orlando Sentinel, free market wine shops nation wide are slashing prices, offering coupons, becoming more accessible, offering classes, doing what it takes to encourage commerce. Independent producers as well are texting, facebooking, tweeting about specials, discounts, events all tied towards benefiting customers to encourage commerce.

BUT in Pennsylvania, the answer by political bureaucrats that are paid by taxes, is to raise taxes to get a pay raise? which in a bad economy is doing nothing but chasing commerce towards the open markets of New York, Delaware and New Jersey.

The PLCB introduced Kiosks that automatically dispense wine after scanning your drivers license and your breath, (because the government doesn't trust you to be sober). If this works then the next step is to add a $1 convenience fee to the already 30% to 50% higher bottle prices of "their" selection of wine in the machine. There are no wine stewards to discuss the wines, help with selection or offer food pairings so if these "Sentinels of fascism" grow, PLCB clerk jobs and possibly entire locations will be eliminated.

Let's see, machines and taxes to replace people and jobs to make the state more money and control the freedom of selection and competition.

What are they not getting? These things will chase me and an entire host of PA consumers to NY, NJ, and DE for our liquor supplies. We will gladly spend millions outside our commonwealth in deference to higher taxes, smaller selection and high market prices. This reaction will lead to more lay-offs, raising of prices and an anti-commerce posturing if left unchecked.

In a bad economy consumers shop price and availability. If you raise prices and lower selection then you chase away customers. Business 101 teaches this. Still our law makers are not stirred by these fundamental rules of trade because they are paid by the taxes we generate.

PA! If you want change, greater selection, lower taxes and a free form of commerce which will supply more jobs, increased industry, and prosperity then YOU will have to support a candidate that will change the system. You have to remove the Harrisburg politicians that are hurting our commerce and making us a laughing stock in a country that understands socialism doesn't work as well as a free market society.

OR keep spending your money in another state that "gets it".

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pennsylvania Viticulture

"I could make twice as much wine if I didn't have to grow the grapes." August Sebastiani

It is not word for word, but the quote is close to the though expressed by one of California's founding wine-fathers. The sentiment expresses how much time and attention wine grapes take and if left to another, then more time could be spent buying grapes and making more gallons.

Funny thing is, the quote was by a California vintner. Given the ease of growing conditions in CA. one has to wonder what it's like for everyone else. Well let me tell you that PA is the perfect place for Amish and other non-drinkers.

Today marks the eighth year to the date that I started growing wine grapes in PA and it ain't easy. Experimentation with root stock, varietal, clonal selection, certified, non-certified. No wonder viticulture gave way to beer brewing in the colonies. Too many other crops are better suited for a farmers needs.

If all I had to do was make wine...I now understand fully what Mr Sebastiani was saying. Started and failed are Grenache, Zinfandel, Viogonier, Syrah; still struggling are Traminette, Corot Noir, Noiret all hybryd grapes that were supposed to make it in this area. Root stocks varied: 3309, St. George, native..nothing seems to work in this heavy, red iron filled, rocky soil.

One jewel though, Seyval Blanc, seems to be the one. I planted it because it has many options as a wine; sparkling, dry, late harvest. I ran out of space in my test plot so I had to container plant the last 2 vines. Boy was I surprised. Every vine produced grapes the first year. Ya have to clip them or the vine becomes strained. The container vines are very strong as well.

It may be that this hybrid wine grape, which grows well in Northern England as well as Wales, is the perfect PA grape after all. Now I have to develop a style. I was hoping to tap into my German/Irish roots and make a Kabinet wine using Traminette as a blend component. This grape is struggling. I'm gonna need to get help, but it may be that PA is a perfect New World Rhine Region and like our old world brothers, we need to focus on our whites; Pinot Blanc, & Gris, and Riesling, Gewurztraminer-esc type grapes.

Might take me another eight years, but all good wine, is worth the time.

Every vine produced berries

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Current Events in Wine

This Just In!

Corporate chain restaurant P.F. Changs announced today the release of Vineyard 518, a "green" approach to wine production made by Mendocino based Wattle Creek Winery. There are two flavors presently being produced for the restaurant, a Sauvignon Blanc & Syrah. The wine is organically grown and packaged in recycled materials to reduce the carbon footprint.

The interesting thing here is that while this is a great idea, one has to wonder why the PF Changs chain has no national corporate recycle plan for its stores. Most of these spent packages will be tossed out in the general garage along with all their glass and cans. It kinda makes the attempt at being eco-friendly somewhat hypocritical.

In other News...

Seems odd that a professional soccer team would agree to a sponsorship from a winery? If beer can do it with the NBA, NFL, MLB & NHL; then why not a winery and a UK based soccer team?
Manchester United has agreed to accept Concho Y Toro, based in Chile, to be their sole wine sponsor. That's the curious part, a British Soccer team and a Chilean wine company. Makes you go hmmmmm. Aren't English wines on the rise and in need of exposure and don't the Chileans have a soccer team? Must be the money.

Also on the new front;

Decanter Magazine has announced a series of wine classes under the title Decanter Education. The classes have gathered several well versed and knowledgeable wine educators to lecture on some very noted wine regions.

Yet this seems a bit incestuous.

The classes are announced as "comprehensive" and "masterclasses"; but not a single new world wine region is listed in the course selection? An over sight? Maybe, but one would guess they either couldn't get a new world wine authority to lecture or more probably, didn't want the Euro wine courses to be out sold by more popular wine regions.

of particular note...

It was announced this week that the Chinese will be the biggest investors of 2009 Bordeaux futures and not Chinese consumers but speculators. So I wonder, where did the communist based Chinese speculator come from? How is this investor able to spend for 09 Bordeaux futures when they don't pay current living wages to their population? How is there such a thing as a wealthy communist?

Since scandals in recent years by the Chinese in tainted dog food, sub-par dry wall and toxic jewelery; one has to wonder if these "speculators" will re-release the 09's in say 2030 as gray market knock-offs. makes a Bordeaux Lover mighty nervous.

more to come....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wine Food & Flavor

Often during wine seminars I am asked “the” question about flavor in wine. It usually comes as a sincere quest for knowledge and understanding. The question is usually centered on the difficulty many have in describing, in defined terms, the flavors one is experiencing. In every wine seminar I encourage the audience to describe what they are tasting in specific terms. Most can not get past the general adjectives of fruity, sweet or dry and many are unwilling or unable to take a stab at pinpointing these general terms with specifics. It is safe ground for people to rest on simple answers that when “I” say a wine tastes like fruit, it does; or know that if “I” say it tastes dry, it is; yet this is not enough.

If you really want the experience of tasting wine to count, in my opinion, then we all have to dive off the deep end. We need to put our flavor experiences regarding food to work in order to better understand what we taste, why it pairs with specific food groups better than others, and how this will develop our wine & food knowledge past the novice stage. All of this has its beginnings in food. We became a nation of food inhalers and chose the drive-through over sitting at the table. When this happened flavor ceased being important and we lost our ability to describe what was in our mouths. This shows up very often in my wine classes as the inability to discuss texture, aroma and flavor. Should I put any guest on the spot the “deer in the headlights” look comes over them with horrifying facial expressions. It is my belief that every wine event should begin with a descriptive hour where every person attending has to specifically pinpoint 1-3 flavors in a wine. I use these numbers because wine has three parts that make up the finished product. Follow along and use this method the next time you taste any wine. It may help you understand what you are sipping.

The first part to wine is fruit. Red or white, depending on the color and within that set the wine will mimic the fruit flavors of its color. In white wine one may taste anything from citrus to stone fruit, lemons, oranges, apples of every variety, and pears all the way up to the tropical sets of papaya, mango and passion fruit. In red wine the flavors encompass all the red fruit varieties from cherry, blueberry, blackberry, plum, to fig and prune. The best of the tasters will not only suggest wine “X” has a cherry note, but involve Bing or Queen Anne cherry by name. When one gets really good at this you can begin to see types of fruit within wine sets. Gala apples, Meyer lemons for example and when one tastes enough wine, the layers of fruit flavor become more easily revealed. You must practice somewhat to eventually “get it”.

The second part to wine is spice and this is harder to grasp because we do not as a population spend any time around oak forests to see subtle nuances. Coco, chocolate, vanilla, caramel, clove, anise, black tea, coffee, tobacco are the flavor spectrum the barrel imparts. The toast grade and wood type will leave these flavor imprints in a wine depending on the maturation time in the barrel, the newness of the oak, oak type and barrel cleanliness. When no wood is used these nuances will be somewhat absent from the wine experience, although wine has a spice nature to it, the flavor spectrum will be overshadowed by the fruit and yeast.

Lastly there is a dairy component in wine. One will taste a creamy nature and may detect oiliness; butter, cheese, olive oil, and sweet cream. This is what the yeast will impart in the wine. The longer the contact through malolactic or secondary fermentation, extended lees contact and stirring of the lees the more a pronounced dairy note will exist in the wine. This is most evident in new world wines with low acidity and high alcohol. When a California Chardonnay, as an example, is noted as being buttery, this happens through extended yeast contact and possible lees stirring which helps break down harsh tannins and acid. The result is a wine with pronounced butter or cream notes in the mouth layered with ripe fruit flavors and an absence of any finishing acid which makes a wine seem more silken or velvety.

When you can place these three components together you will have a complete wine experience. Now practice discussing these attributes with friends. Allow your food experiences discover the definitive flavors and you are on your way. This last part is the tricky issue. We become unsure of our own palate and opinions. We then begin to lean towards an “authority” to tell us what we taste. I say LET GO! The basic high school education should be enough to describe what flavors you smell and taste and only practice will make you perfect. Food and temperature will change flavors in the mouth as you taste and either open or close off multiple layers of wine flavor as you eat and taste. It is important to experiment with as many combinations as you and your friends can create. The ultimate goal is to open your mind and let your vocabulary loose as you discover flavors. Do not be shy or concerned with another’s opinion as no answer is wrong. It is all subjective to you and your palate. There are two new books recently released which will help direct you towards these definitive tasting skills.

They are: Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking – by Michael Gelb (Running Press Publishers), and Daring Pairings – by Evan Goldstein (University of California Press).

Both publications will lead you towards wine & food flavor pairing and the practice of using an expanded vocabulary that will be definitive and help you pinpoint what you taste and how you express it. The next step is for you to stage a tasting group and practice what you read. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lunch in Hell and 20%

I stopped at a casual place for a quick lunch this week. It was a very well known national chain that is easy to get to has plenty of parking and reasonable prices. My job doesn't often take me to places like this. Working in the wine business I often grab lunch in a place that is independently owned with a better focus on food, wine and over-all "culture" for lack of a better word.

My choice couldn't have been worse this day. I was looking for easy, and got the opposite. Serves me right, I guess, as there are many very good places that I could have stopped into this day. I live in a place where the growth of the National Chain Restaurant is rising and the Independent Operator is disappearing. The issue for me is that I have to travel farther between accounts to make appointments and present wine or give wine seminars or develop new accounts. The distance doesn't always lend itself to easy options for lunch and since I am doing everything to stay away from the drive through and sit in a place for a civilized and healthy meal, my choices can be limited.
When I entered I immediately was greeted by a cheerful hostess and mentioned I was going too eat in the bar for a quicker experience. That was when I should have turned around. I sat at the end of the large oval shaped bar and began searching for a bartender and a menu. There were 2 bartenders at the far end of the bar with their backs turned to me. They were engaged in a game of Wii Bowling. I went immediately to my blackberry to respond to e-mails that I received and got through 3 complete responses before I noticed the bar-tenders were gone. "Hmmm, not even a hello."
There was only 1 other person at the bar and there were 4 guests seated at booths around the bar so between 2 people how hard could it be to notice a new customer and say hello? I went back to my texts and finished 3 more before someone greeted me. I asked for a glass of wine and a menu. Upon receipt of the items, which happened quickly, we both noticed there were food crumbs in front of me on the bar from a previous diner. She brushed the crumbs away with her hand towards me and left! What?
I took a sip, found my lunch item and waited through 2 more e-mails before being asked for my order by the second bar-tender. I placed my order, sat in my crumbs and finished my work. When the food arrived more crumbs were moved aside and I was left to enjoy my meal while the Wii Bowling game was replaced by Wii Golf and two more servers were now engaged with the bartenders in the fun. I finished, waited for the check, didn't get asked for coffee, dessert or anything more. I paid, gave a 20% tip and left without a goodbye. $32!
Now I should mention that I spent over 20 years in restaurants and that presently my spouse works for one of these upscale national chains as well. I am not biased, because attentive service is just that no matter where one goes. I am a stickler for patron interaction, awareness of surroundings and attention to details. If the place is making money on the interactive games, I understand its place in the bar. If the economy is slow and it's hard to get workers on slow shifts to show up for work, then I understand. I even forgive certain lax liberties given by management too, like poor uniform attire, eating and drinking on shift liberties, etc.
What I have issues with is the belief by today's servers that 20% is a given no matter what type of service you give and anything less gets you crucified on every web site sounding board. The word is gratuity and by definition is given for courteous, kind and attentive service. I could've done 100 other things at the moment I got my check but my schedule was tight and I had to go. Yet I left wondering if corporate knows that when it's slow the manager is sitting in the back office at the desk and the employees are more worried about their Wii score than the condition of the seating area or the needs of the guests.
I can say I won't go back to this place any time soon, and I will be leery of any large chain that treats me as if I am a nuisance and not a patron. While it is my right to hold back the tip, times are tough and the $6 does go a long way. Yet when will the restaurant industry get it? When will these places take an active part in training competent help? When will they get their heads out of their frozen food business long enough to recognize they are losing money for things that can be fixed by simply taking the remote out of the bartenders hand?
Maybe, probably, when its too late.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wine in Dog Years

This week I turned 50. Never thought twice about the moment. Spent many younger years thinking age was only a number and not a barrier to life. Still think this way.
Age in wine is not always a good thing. There is an old adage that says, "it is a far greater crime to drink a wine too old than too young." This speaks about missed opportunity and hope lost. So as a consuming society we do this more than ever before. We consume our wine, sometimes far too young, but what are we waiting for anyway. Life is to be tasted, not shelved in anticipation of things to come! Yet, every now and again I think about lost opportunity and getting a "do-over". Wine allows this to happen when we get the right vintage, producer, vineyard and varietal all in the same bottle. These things are fleeting, but are available to us every year. When they are made available to us, we can set them aside and wait for the right moment to open them. Moments like anniversaries, birthdays, reunions.
Sometimes the effort is worth the wait, sometimes not. Wine ages in dog years. One year to a wine may be like 7 to a human. Upon first release they are like so many new puppies, playful, awkward, fun. As they age they become intelligent, thoughtful, engaging. At extreme age (10+ years) they are slower yet held in higher esteem, more respected for their longevity.
I found a border collie sitting in my cellar this week. A 1992 Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. At 17 years it was energetic, elegant with a shiny coat and seamless intelligence all still intact. These are singular things that come along rarely and it made me think of turning 32 not 50. I may not cellar my wine as much as I would like anymore, but I am glad I did this time.
Thinkin' that in the future I am going to refer to wines in dog types to better prepare myself for the way they may age. Buying a poodle? A German Shepherd? A Golden Retriever? I hope to find more Border Collies, the energy they seem to always have will hold memories for me and my kids for years to come. Cheers!