Thursday, May 20, 2010
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....
Posted by George Parkinson at 5:22 AM
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
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.
Posted by George Parkinson at 4:15 AM
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
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.
Posted by George Parkinson at 3:27 PM
Thursday, May 6, 2010
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!
Posted by George Parkinson at 6:42 AM