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This turkey attempted to attack the car shortly after this photo was taken.

By now, on this day before the most gluttonous of all American holidays (Save the Super Bowl) known as Thanksgiving, you have probably seen a fair number of blogs and magazine articles about what wines you should bring to the table.  Oddly enough, you’ll probably also notice that no two articles agree on which wines to bring to the table even though they all declare their picks to be the best.  Well they’re all wrong…or perhaps all right depending on if you’re a wine glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.

The safest option for you would be to acquire ALL of the wines that have been recommended.  However, I understand that some of you have a limited budget and that may not be an option.  Even if you could, there’s the issue of finding the wines in the first place.  I would hope if you’re reading an article by a local wine expert that they at least listed which shops to find the wines at and how much they’re priced at, but this sadly isn’t always the case.  Most will leave you scouring the internet to hunt down these bottles and if you’ve waiting until now to do this, you’re going to be out of luck to get them by tomorrow.  The majority of seasonal wine recommendations that are given by actual wine experts are for wines that aren’t distributed to all 50 states.  At most, you have a moderate chance at finding them if you’re in a major city.  If you’re in the suburbs or beyond, don’t bother hoping your wine shop will carry them.

Given this, what wines should you go buy?  First, if you have a wine shop you like to go to, ask the “wine person” there.  Regardless of how much of an “expert” this person is, they’re the ones buying the wine for the store you like and they’ve tasted these wines so you can trust their recommendations.  If you don’t even have this, just buy some wines that you like to drink and don’t worry too much about how well they pair with the odd assortment of dishes on your table. Even pairings that seem off won’t make you unlike a wine.

For those that want to get a little more technical, here are some base recommendations that you can ask your wine shop about:

If you want to bring out any of those traditional Thanksgiving baking spices, especially clove, go for a red wine that has been aged in oak.  The aromatic compound, eugenol comes from toasted oak, and it’s the same compound in clove.

If you want to bring out the butter in your croissants and everything you are slathering with butter, get a Chardonnay that has been through the Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) process.

If your dishes are all carb/fat/savory/make-you-want-to-sleep-forever get a wine with some acid in it (usually from cooler climates) to brighten up your dishes and perhaps bring out their flavor a little more.

If you want a wine with dessert get a sweet wine (bonus points if you follow the baking spices recommendation above too).  If the wine isn’t as sweet as the dessert, you’ll notice.

Regardless of what wines you get this Thanksgiving, feel free to make fun of the person that brought their pumpkin-spiced beer.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!!

 

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catbookwine

There has been an increasing amount of discussion over the past few years over what a ‘Fact’ is which is interesting in itself, because the word has a definition as all words do and that is a fact.  However, in this era of truthiness, an aspect of that definition that is more and more frequently being warped is the process of turning experience into fact. This insistence that things that are not actually facts are in fact facts is something that the wine world has been dealing with for quite some time.  Perhaps it correlates with the invention of the wine snob, but I can’t verify that as a fact.

If an experience happens; that’s a fact.  The fact that the experience happens though doesn’t mean that the experience was perceived accurately or that the experience is reflective of some larger truth.  As one example let’s say Person A believes, based on their experience, that all people with the name Aaron are horrible people.  Person B doesn’t believe this because they’ve had quite a few pleasant experiences with people named Aaron.  Additionally, some research has been performed which defines what a horrible person is and there has been a reasonable evaluation of a sampling of Aarons and that sample didn’t meet the definition of  horrible people.  However, neither Person A or Person B is fully aware of this.  In this case the facts are this:

  1. Person A believes people named Aaron are all horrible people based on some bad experiences.
  2. Person B believes people named Aaron are generally decent people based on some positive experiences.
  3. Research shows that people named Aaron cannot generally be defined as horrible people.

If someone bothered to look into the issue (and they really should;  highly critical issue here), we could see that while it is a fact that Person A and Person B believe different things based on their experiences, there is evidence that Person B’s belief is more in line with the larger truth.    Therefore, if Person A went around telling everyone that it’s a fact people named Aaron are jerks, they would in fact, be wrong.  No matter how many times they said it.  Even if Person A said: well, it’s their opinion and they have a right to voice it, they are still, in fact, wrong and should be encouraged to not purport their opinions and/or beliefs as facts. Even if Person C comes in to the conversation and says they agree with Person A, they are still, in fact, wrong.

Unfortunately in the wine world, there are a lot of Person As running around and have been for quite some time.  It seems that it is almost the standard rate of currency in wine knowledge that the more opinions/beliefs stated, the more knowledge that is held.  The sad part is that there is now quite a lot of research and evidence that people can reference to check these opinions/beliefs against.  People don’t generally question a statement coming from an “expert”, and usually take a statement expressed as fact at face value.  There have been a number of times that I personally have made statements regarding wine that I believed to be true and purported them to be facts. Why? Because I was told they were facts by experts.  I tend to be more careful about that since my younger days.

I would love to have an exhaustive list of all the mis-truths paraded around as facts in the wine world, but that would most likely be impossible and if it is, it would be better presented in an encyclopedia format.  Therefore, I’ll just address the major categories that seem to contain all of the issues and what to look for.

What Wine Professionals Learn in Class

I went through the International Sommelier Guild for my “official” wine training.  Through conversations and demonstrations of knowledge with people who have gone through other wine schools (International Wine School, Wine and Spirit Education Trust, etc. ), my impression is that the curricula are roughly the same.  While the breadth of knowledge should certainly be viewed as impressive for anyone coming out of this education, it should be emphasized that the main focus as you reach higher levels of the education is on the memorization of wine regions, what wines they produce, and what appears to be unique about the wines from those regions.

  • A historical overview of wine’s role in society.
  • The very rough basics of how wine is made and the various styles it can be made into.  Anyone attending these classes does not actually make wine as part of the course.
  • A high-level look at viticulture and the common ailments grapevines can face.
  • The wine regions, which grape varietals are most commonly grown in those regions, what styles of wine are generally made from those grapes, and what laws govern wine production including the legal descriptions of what “Quality” wine is in wine producing countries.
  • Sensory training to identify and describe acidity, astringency, sweetness, alcohol content, and basic aroma descriptions (see more on aroma descriptors below).
  • Traditions and expectations around wine service at restaurants including wine storage.
  • Traditions of pairing wines to various foods and a collection of “rules” to follow when creating pairings.
  • Cursory overviews of beer, spirits, and cigars.

It should be noted that little to no actual science is included in this education.  Wine schools are geared toward preparing students to work as Sommeliers, be in wine sales, and writing articles entitled “The Top 5 Wines You Should Be Drinking NOW!!!”…which it seems a lot of people forget, is still wine sales.   I always compare wine to fashion; if you are a fashion “expert” generally you’re just promoting certain brands and talking about trends and styles, but that doesn’t make you an expert on how the clothes are constructed, production costs, labor issues, the science behind dyes and fabric production, etc.  Most wine “experts” I know and come across still haven’t even bothered to make a single batch of wine and therefore when they talk about the subject, it’s really from an armchair perspective.  If you like sports commentary, maybe that’s your thing.  A wine’s legs or tears (the drips down the inside of the glass after you swirl it) is an aesthetic that is sometimes evaluated in wines, but it means nothing in terms of quality despite the opinions of some.  Therefore, it’s appropriate to question whether what is being related is a fact, or just this person’s opinion especially when it comes to statements as to what makes something better than something else.  It is also appropriate to question sensory assessments, but more on that later.

Wine and Food Pairing

There are a lot of facts about how we interact with wine from a physiological and psychological standpoint.  I address a number of these in my wine sensory experience series that starts here.  When it comes to wine and food pairing advice though, these are all matters of opinion and not fact. Most current wine and food pairing advice can be boiled down to one of two things: 1) What grows together goes together (Traditional pairings), or 2) Flavor matching, or putting wines that have certain flavor characteristics with foods that share those characteristics.  There’s a lot of talk about “perfect” pairings, but given that the designation is wholly subjective, as in, not based on anything objective or measurable whatsoever, we can throw out the idea that people are using any metric besides their preference to declare what wines go better with what foods.  This is why we spent at least decades with the thinking that white wines can only go with fish and chicken and red wines can only go with beef and, depending on some cultures or who you’re trying to impress, Cabernet Sauvignon should be ordered with absolutely everything.  Therefore, saying you had a certain wine paired with a certain dish and you enjoyed it is a fact.  Saying a certain wine pairs better with a certain dish than all other wines is a matter of opinion and given that the person probably didn’t taste test all of the wines in the world with that dish, it is perhaps an uninformed opinion regardless of who they claim to be.

Wine Aromas

If there’s one thing all wine buyers are constantly exposed to it’s tasting notes.  They’re on the bottle, they’re posted in reviews on-line, they’re heralded as the highest art form in the wine world.  People who are respected by other wine drinkers are said to have a “Good nose” or a “Good palette”, and what the hell does that even mean?!?! Are these people quantitatively more in tune with their senses than the rest of us?  Are the physically and mentally superior?  Usually, the answer is no, they’re just better at bullshitting (Important life skill kids.  Don’t say ‘bullshit’ though).  Now, there is a way to see if someone was actually superior to someone else at identifying various aromatic compounds and it is a skill that can be developed. In a nutshell, we teach ourselves to match up the aromas we are smelling with the “image” of an aroma in our memory banks, but that process can be conflicted and conflated by a wide number of different things.

Let’s face it, most people in this world aren’t that great at describing what we smell.  It’s not our fault, we just don’t have the words for it. Yet it’s the central focus in the world of wine.  To alleviate this, various lexicons of aromas have been developed.  Most notably is Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel which is a great way to have a discussion that compares and contrasts various wines.  But the aromas listed on that wheel were taken from looking over tasting notes, which as mentioned above, aren’t really a scientific analysis of the actual volatile aromatic compounds in the wines.  They are people’s perceptions or opinions of what they smell.  Therefore, if someone says “There are lilac and peach aromas in this wine.” the fact that they are meaning to convey is “I smell aromas that remind me of lilacs and peaches in this wine.”  You may very well smell something different.  This isn’t to say that there are no “correct” or “wrong” answers.

Regardless of what we interpret as the smell, one could chemically analyze the wine and compare it to the 40+ million fragrant molecules that have been identified that our noses can sniff.  And each varietal of wine has it’s own aromatic spectrum or range based on its genetic code of things it could possibly smell like…not to mention the addition of aromas that come from wine making practices, but we don’t have a definitive index yet of which fragrant molecules are absolutely found in certain wines based on terroir, or some might say, phenotype.

If someone tells you they smell cinnamon in a wine, you can wonder if someone else could interpret it as clove, anise, Thai basil, wild basil, malted barley, fresh mangoes, apricots, pineapple, strawberries, rosemary, potatoes, cooked asparagus, mozzarella cheese, or grilled beef.  Why?  Because all of those descriptions of aromas contain the aromatic compound eugenol.  But if someone said that the chemical analysis of this wine reveals that there are molecules of eugenol, estragole, s-carvone, apigenin, r-carvone, menthol, and anethole.  One could assume that an anise aroma could be found and one could also assume that someone wouldn’t interpret the aromas as butter (that’s primarily diacetyl).

But no one says that, and it’s highly improbable that you’re going to chemically analyze the wine you’re drinking. Let’s just say that when it comes to a wine expert describing a wine to someone it’s more of a performance and exercise in creativity than anything.The same goes with blind tasting.  But since I’m not writing a novel on the subject right now, I’ll just say this: while training does help with identifying a typical variety of wine from a particular place, a wine of a different variety from a different place can be made to taste the same way.  Education in wine builds the skill of identifying typicity, and that’s good for two things: recognizing when something is either atypical or typical of what it is supposed to be, and a neat party trick to impress your friends and potential mates.  Actually, there’s a third thing: verifying the server brought you the correct glass of wine.  Perhaps the best use of the skill, I’ve had to make corrections only a couple of times, but that was when I ordered a wine that I really, really knew.  I’ve probably been served the wrong wine multiple times, but it was similar enough I didn’t notice.  Mistakes in restaurant service happen and it’s ok.

The list of chemical compounds and aromas was taken from the book Taste Buds and Molecules and is the result of the chemical analysis of a large, but obviously not complete sample of wines.

To top it all off, there are a lot of “facts” floating around out there that have been disproven that are still in popular circulation: our tongues have certain areas that only perceive certain tastes (false), steak goes with tannic wines because the fat softens the tannins (false), sweet wines are always lower quality than dry wines (false), or even that people who prefer to drink red wines are more superior or somehow better educated than those who drink whites (false…in case you were wondering).  Therefore, it’s acceptable and encouraged to question anything being presented as fact in the wine world until you can have it proven for yourself.  You can prove that the more acid a wine has, the more saliva will rush into your mouth.  You can prove that wines made in typical styles from different locations are different from each other.  You can prove that when wines have certain characteristics, you tend to enjoy them better.  But if something being said seems ungraspable, unreachable, untenable, there’s a good chance it is.  While demonstrated experts should certainly be trusted, wine is not a magical beverage no matter how much we claim it to be so it’s best to also be skeptical.

 

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dd-bard

Picture selected based on the artist’s misunderstanding of when the USA was founded and when bards and swashbuckling pirates existed. 

Recently, I had a birthday dinner at a local restaurant here in Minneapolis.  It was French.  It was delightful. It was serene.  The most wonderful part of it though was the fact that this restaurant was offering half-glasses of wine (2.5oz instead of 5oz) on their menu of any wine they poured by the glass.  Even better, the price of that half-glass was exactly half the price of the full glass.  It was brilliant.  I was inspired.  I wrote a ballad about it:

 

The Ballad of the Half-Glass Pour

As I sat down at the restaurant,
Menu soon in hand,
I was craving bubbles from a Francophonic land.

But as my eyes danced merrily,
From savory small plate to sweet,
My wine desires multiplied, how would my cravings be complete?

But what was this? Could it be true?
I spied in the margin,
Half a pour for half the price? A fair and even bargain.

How else could I sample them all?
Mix and match as I pleased,
This restaurant was offering half glasses of wine, it seemed like such a tease.

Unlike the up-marked volume sales of the airport,
Where they offer you 6 ounces or 9,
I’ll take variety so 2.5 will be fine.

In the end a similar volume
Will probably be consumed,
But who can choose just one flower, when the entire field is in bloom?

Bubbles to start
Then I selected a Cab Franc rosé
Could have gone on to a red, but I’d already had a glass that day.

For dessert, I had the Byrrh,
A digestif to settle all that food.
Having only just half glasses had put me in the mood.

Satiated, satisfied,
I sat back in my chair with a delighted sigh.
It felt as though Utopia had finally drawn in nigh.

If you chance upon a restaurant
Whose menu begets a paradox of choice
You’d best hope they have the half-glass pour, and if they do rejoice.

For the wine flight is constructed
Meant for comparing and not completing
The option for the half-glass pour however, is certainly worth repeating.

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Taken in Lyon, France…not the bottle I drank from the night of the half-glass pours. 

 

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Total Wine

Unrelated image

I had an unfortunate experience a couple of months back and I’ve finally gotten up the courage to write my thoughts down about this horrific event.  Therefore, be warned, you may cry as I relate this to you.

It was a normal winter day in Minneapolis which means I was going about my innocent business of getting work done, deciding if it was too cold or not to go for a run around the lake, and determining what delicious dish I wanted to grace my kitchen with for the evening.  Naturally, my mind will wander to wine when food is involved and it is a wonderful coincidence that my go-to wine shop is directly across the street from one of the grocery stores I go to.  As an aside, yes it’s the plural “grocery stores”, because a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.  Anyway, in a rare occurrence, I had my heart set on a particular Shiraz/Viognier blend and as I approached the door, I had already mentally mapped my path through the wine store as to where this particular bottle would be procured.  I would head to the back left corner where Australian wines could be found and find it located on the middle shelf which roughly denotes its price point.  As I opened the door, I was greeted by the familiarity of Italian wines directly in front of me, but something was amiss.  Between steps two and three into the store, which also include a slight pivot so I wouldn’t blast through Barolo, it hit me deep in the gut:  The shop was in mid-transition from a layout organization that made sense to some degree to one that now, quite frankly, I’m not sure if I can get over.  Disaster.  You can cry now.

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For those of the unimpassioned variety, let me explain:  There are two general philosophies when it comes to how wines, primarily focused on still wines here, are organized and displayed in a wine shop.  The first is by varietal which means you’d see signs for “Chardonnay”, “Cabernet Sauvignon”, etc. smattered across the store.  One big flaw in this philosophy is when you get to wines that are blended from multiple varietals.  The other major flaw is that there are thousands of grape varietals that are used to make wine.  Hopefully, they are listed alphabetically…

The opposing philosophy then is to organize by wine regions.  Italian wines, French wines, Chilean (or “Chilian” as I saw in a wine shop once) wines all get their section of the store and then their respective wine regions and appellations are gathered together within.  The flaw in this philosophy generally comes from American wine.

Unlike, what we term “Old World” wine regions, aka European countries, American wines can go ahead and put the wine region on a bottle (e.g. Napa) regardless of what kind of grapes go into that wine as long as those grapes were grown in the region*.  However, in a wine region such as Burgundy, Rioja, or Chianti, they legally cannot put the name of the region on the bottle unless it is only made from certain grape varietals which all had to be grown within that region.  Therefore, if your wine store is laid out by region, the pristine organization kind of falls apart when you hit America.

Obviously, the correct answer, or at least the answer to appease the most number of people is somewhere in between those extreme philosophies.  Even then though, sides are chosen.  Some wine shops opt for a primarily regional-based layout and then elect for varietal labeling for domestic wines and generally also include a miscellaneous reds and whites section for the odd-balls.  Others go for varietal labeling as the primary, then sprinkle some regions haphazardly in between and top everything off with a poorly named red blends and white blends section. I say poorly, because if they have specific regional sections, those are going to be blends too. Additionally, the flavor profile of wines in the blends sections are all over the place so it’s kind of like a random grab bag.  Personally, I am biased towards the former instead of the latter, but that is most likely because I have a general sense of what kinds of grapes are in a bottle that is only labelled with the region it is from.  But imagine my dismay upon walking into a wine shop that is switching from a primarily region-based layout, to one that is primarily varietal-based.  It’s horrible.

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Interestingly, smaller wine shops are generally regionally focused while the big, discount wine shops are going to be varietal focused.  This generally has to do with the kinds of people that the wine shop attracts.  Ironically though, the typical shopper going to the smaller wine shop is probably going to be purchasing a wider variety of wines over time than the typical shopper going to the big store.  The larger stores just attract a barrel-load (wine term) more people who are generally more concerned about the price of the bottle and less interested in going on a virtual world tour.

Back to why my preferences are better.  When I walk into a wine shop in search of something interesting, which can be defined as:

  • a varietal of grape not usually found in a particular region
  • a unique blend
  • a wine from a lesser-known wine region

…I’m generally not going to find it in a store that has a primarily varietal layout.  Let’s say I’m looking for, or even want the possibility of coming across, a dry wine from Hungary.  Which section would you search for it in each type of wine shop?  In the wine shop that is primarily region-focused, they might have a Hungarian, or perhaps eastern European section if they want to throw in places like Croatia too.  Probably not, but I can dream, can’t I?!  More likely, they would throw it in to the Miscellaneous White section, because dry, regional wines from Hungary are made from single varietals of grapes like Tokaji Furmint and Tokaji Hárslevelű.  How about in the varietal heavy layout?  First, we can guarantee that they don’t have a Furmint or Hárslevelű section, because it would only be stocked with 1 or 2 wines.  Second, it probably wouldn’t be under its own region header because those are reserved for the most popular wine regions.  Third, it’s not a blend of different grapes, so it doesn’t really fall under that White Blends category either.  Therefore, you could probably wander around the shop for hours and not find it before you finally give up and choose whatever is on-sale near the door (which is what they really want you to do anyway).

This isn’t entirely a random example, by the way.  After my wine shop reorganized, I later was looking for some Tokaji Furmint, which I knew they had previously, but couldn’t find anymore.  The employees didn’t know where it was either until we finally tracked it down as being found tucked in between the Sauvignon Blanc and the Chenin Blanc, because when you switch to a varietal-focused organization and still have interesting wines, you’re forced to throw them in random places.

So is there an ideal layout?  For me there is.  I want the region-focused layout where domestic wine is somewhat broken down by varietal and if they really want to get me, they’ll have a section in the middle with a handmade sign that says, “Cool and interesting shit here.” and then there would be an arrow pointing to a curated collection of obscure wines.

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If you use a wine pun in the sign I will cut you.

I get that most wine is purchased by people who don’t know or don’t care what grapes are grown where and I’m not saying everyone needs to only enjoy regional-specific wine.  I do think a region-based approach creates the most certainty for wine consumers though.  If you know which grapes you like, you can buy a wine from a region that uses those grapes with some degree of confidence that you’ll like it in addition to only buying wines with those grapes on the label.  How tough would it be for a wine shop to throw up a small map of a country and its major wine regions listing the major grapes found in those wines?  Sure you could, you know, talk to people, but I’m an introvert and generally avoid talking to strangers, so maps would be better.  Whatever the map situation, just tell my wine shop to switch things back please.

 

 

*“New World” wine countries like America, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and all the other non-European countries don’t have laws that dictate what grape varietals can or cannot be included in a region-specific wine.  The only relevant law in place is that if the wine is claiming to be a varietal, like Cabernet Sauvignon, it needs to mostly be Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  Percentages defining “mostly” vary by country, but most are >= 80%.  Why you generally don’t see a plethora of varieties from “New World” countries in your wine shop is primarily due to the filtering process of condensing a whole country of wine down to a 5ft expanse in the wine shop.  Yes, more than Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir is grown and made into wine in Marlborough, New Zealand, but chances are, you’ll only see those two.  If you walked into a supermarket or wine shop in a different country, you might think that only Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in Napa and only Pinot Noir is grown in Willamette Valley.  Of course, if you find yourself in a Chilean supermarket, you won’t find any foreign wines at all…

P.S. There is a 3rd “Philosophy” that some wine shops are trying and that is to organize the wines by flavor profile.  You’ll see signs that say stupid things like “Big and Saucy” or “Light and Airy”.  The idea is to attract people who know nothing about wine, but know what sounds tasty to them.  It’s not inherently a bad idea, but in practice it doesn’t work in a shop that has more than say, 50 wines to sell.

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GiftGuide

There are a lot of gift guides for wine lovers that come out around this time of year and while I know each and every one of you, dear readers, were planning on getting me a gift, please refrain from using said lists.  There certainly are a number of wine lovers, let’s call them snobs, that appreciate any over-indulgent wine-themed gift that they deem worthy.   This appreciation is of course impossible to achieve unless the gift was known to be picked out by a bigger wine snob.  But what about the wine lover that doesn’t like things and abhors clutter?  What about the wine lover that prefers experiences with friends and loved ones instead of bragging to others about how wine-experienced they are? And what about the wine lover’s family and friends who can’t or won’t spend tons of money on someone who doesn’t have the cheapest hobby out there?

Why is it that every single list I can find assumes that gifts must cost hundreds of dollars in order to be worthy of a wine lover?  The only non-$100+ (and coincidentally, the only considerable) item on this horrible list from last year was a book.  Wine books are potential gifts for the minimalist wine lover, but you have to be very careful because it has to be a book that the wine lover was already wanting to read anyway.  Many times, when buying a gift for a minimalist, you must read their mind ahead of time to calculate how they will value various potential gifts.  What’s that? You can’t read minds?  Well, you are in luck.  I’ve created this list, just for you.

1. Wine

Do you know who is going to turn down a free bottle of wine?  No one.  Unless they’re a jerk.   I know you have confidence issues when it comes to buying a wine lover a bottle of wine, but here are a few tricks you can use when you walk into the wine shop:  First, if you’re in a respectable wine shop (e.g. you’re not at a gas station or place that only sells jug and boxed wine) ask someone who works there what their most interesting bottle of wine is.  The minimalist wine lover will enjoy trying something unusual and/or new.  Don’t want to talk to people?  Go ahead and find a bottle of wine that gives you the most specific information about where it is from.  This may limit you to the ones in English that you can read, but if you want to go out on a limb you can find a bottle of German writing that has the most writing on it and you’ll probably do pretty well.  Buying wine like this is a low-risk venture because you’re tapping in to built-in quality controls in wine laws.  Last, don’t worry about getting a really old bottle of wine or spending a lot of money.  While it’s a lot of fun to drink 20+ year old bottles of wine and occasionally the results are divine, a lot of the time, it’s a bit of a letdown in the taste department.  Also, a bottle of wine that sells between $10-$30 is probably going to be enjoyable.  Keep in mind, that for really old bottles, the increase in price is usually related to how much rent has accrued for that bottle sitting in the cellar for however many years.  Now, if you can afford it, go ahead a buy a bottle over that, but only if your minimalist wine lover has expressed interest in trying that particular wine.

Cost: $10-$30/bottle

2. A Corkscrew

There are countless gadgets that are available for the sole purpose of opening a bottle of wine.  There’s only one though that’s worth getting: The waiter’s corkscrew.  It costs, like $5, and sometimes you can get one for free.  Here’s mine:

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I will venture to say that the double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew is the most advanced wine opening tool in existence.  It cuts foil, and delivers an extracted cork with a 99% success rate unless for some reason you go on a rampage of opening a slew of bottles with old and brittle corks.  As a side, note, if for some reason, you have that rampage opportunity, please invite me.  So unless you have a physical handicap, the waiter’s corkscrew is not only the most bang for your buck, but it is also the most user-friendly assistive device, self-contained tool, one-stop-shop gadget.  It is the cat’s pajamas.  If you want to add a touch of indulgence, you can spring for a personalized one, or one made from exotic materials (Please, no ivory), but definitely stick with the double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew.

Cost: Like $5

3. A Wine Experience

This gift always requires a bit of discretion by the giver since preferences can vary widely.  For instance,  I stopped enjoying winery tours after about 10 of them.  They’re mostly all the same and unless they’re doing something unique it starts to feel like you’re an accountant checking out someone else’s cubicle.  Having a conversation with the winery owner or winemaker, on the other hand, can be a great time for me though.  However, I understand that some people like being herded around wineries, so if that’s their thing, go take them on a winery tour.  For me, I’d rather  take a trip down a road in wine country.  One road only, because, let’s be honest, you’re not spitting out that wine.  Tasting the differences between the same grape variety grown a number of meters apart can be fascinating and it also really gives you a sense of what the wine is like in that specifc area.  Tastings at wineries can vary, but are usually between $5-$10.  Unless they’re willing to shine your shoes too, I wouldn’t pay more than that.

Another option is to do a wine tasting at a restaurant or wine shop.  Most of these, unfortunately, are merely set up by wine distributors or importers to push their wine on you, but occasionally you can get a fun one that does something like a vertical tasting (tasting the same wine from the same producer across different vintages) in which you’d have an opportunity to taste some old wines without paying a hefty price for the bottle.  This way, if it turns out the wine was a dud, you’re only out the price of the tasting instead of the exhorbant price of the bottle itself.  Of course, it always help if the person leading the tasting has some fun stories to tell about the wine, but please take any universal truthisms they spout off with a grain of salt and a skeptical ear.

Of course, another fine option (probably the best) would be to contact me for a private wine lesson for them and their friends.  They’d think that was pretty awesome.

And last, if money and time are no objects, take them on a world tour of wine countries.  They will love you forever.

Cost: $5-$10/tasting, $35-$65/class, approx. $5-$20 million for a proper world wine tour

4. Wine Accessories

Here is the list of appropriate wine accessories for the minimalist wine lover:

  • A wine glass.  Maybe a few more in case friends are over.
  • A decanter.  Also see: milk frother or blender.

Cost: $5-$30. Let’s not get too crazy.

5. A Wine “Cellar”

One of the greatest gifts to give to a minimalist wine lover is a place to put their wine.  Now you could build them a bat cave for wine, or you can follow this amazing post on how to set up your own DIY Wine Cellar, which apparently is massively popular on Pinterest.  A minimalist is not prone to clutter, but wine bottles do take up space.  Therefore, at a minimum, you can point to a spot in your domicle, and say: “I gift you this spot here to put your wine.”  If the spot is next to a radiator or above the microwave, you’ve just insulted them, but if it’s in an out-of-the-way place that’s got a steady temperature to it, you will be thanked.

Cost: $0-$40.  A Wayne Inheritence would be required for the bat wine cave.

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Every year as the holidays start to roll in, it seems that every wine and/or food related outlet is ready to let you know which wines you should buy in order to have the perfect experience.  I always am particularly amused by the interviews with wine “experts” bemoaning how difficult it is to pair wines with a traditional Thanksgiving meal (Revelation: It’s not).  It is also interesting to note how the “perfect” wine pairings for various holiday meals changes from year to year.  Apparently perfection is now something that can be outdone, which makes me want to start a hyperbolic series listing the More-Perfect wine and food pairings so I won’t be outdone by the likes of everyone else!  However, the idea of the perfect wine pairing extends beyond the holidays and into general food and wine snob culture.  The question I have for these people purporting perfect pairings is this: Can you define what a perfect pairing is?

Take this infographic for instance by someone at Vinepair.com.  I won’t show the image here, because it’s ridiculous, but I could probably switch every single wine/beer/liquor pairing around on their chart and no one would complain.  It’s clearly not based on anything except someone’s [unique] preferences.  Fortunately, they posted another article shortly thereafter, giving some good advice even though it was supposedly only for “Geeks”.  So, sorry casual wine drinkers, you’re going to have to stick to imperfection again this year.  (However, here’s another good article that doesn’t appear to be for geeks that may help.)

Whenever someone (expert status or not) claims a match is a perfect pairing and you really press them on why they think it’s perfect, the answer always boils down to: “Well, I liked it.”  There isn’t a metric being used that will be universally true for everyone and that’s really the crux of the issue here.  Not only do people have their own individual preferences, but the variety of what is being served at various holiday meals should negate the relevenace of any broad holiday wine and food pairing advice.  Yes, even Thanksgiving.  But I do understand the point of giving this advice; it’s to make it easier for the casual drinker to pick out some wines at the store that they can bring to dinner.  However, this is why I find it puzzling that many of these articles list specific wines down to the producer and vintage.

There are a stunning amount of wine producers in the world; so stunning that there is not a single person in the world who has tasted the offerings from them all.  If you were to pop in to a different wine store in each state and make a Venn Diagram listing all of the wines each store had, the amount of overlap would actually be quite small.  On the severely cheap end is where you find the most commonalities, because the business model of producers like Yellow Tail, Franzia, and Charles Shaw is to mass produce their product.  Region-specific wine producers though, by their very nature, can’t produce enough wine to make it available in the majority of wine shops across America (let alone the rest of the world).  So while it is great advertising for a wine producer when a wine writer from Napa or New York City annoints them as a perfect pairing for whatever holiday meal, it actually provides little to no value to a reader in Fly-Over Country (Where, surprisingly, most Americans still live) that won’t be able to pick up a bottle of that wine because their wine shop doesn’t carry it.

Therefore, if you’re a wine writer, let’s go ahead and stop the “Perfect Pairing” nonsense.  I bet I could find at least 50 other wines that would be just as good to various people.  If you’re the wine drinker though and you’re wondering what to bring to dinner this Thursday though, I will offer this:

Buy some wines you like of varying colors, bubbles, and sweetness.  The more specific they are on the label about where it comes from, generally the safer the bet.  As long as no one shows up halfway through the meal with a selection of wines that everyone unanimously prefers over the ones you brought, yours really will be perfect pairings.

Cheers.  And for those still looking for meal ideas, you can just have what I had last year.

 

 

 

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Call me strange, but I’m not one of those people who seeks out history lessons when I travel to interesting places.  I don’t mean to admonish those who do; in fact I enjoy a good literary romp through history in book form or lecture, but I try to keep those sorts of things before or after a visit because I’m much too busy trying to not look too much like a tourist*.  Perhaps the notion of not sticking out is somewhat vain, but I do prefer to linger in a spot, watch people, and perhaps find a good story.  One particular story, which I picked up in Lyon, France just recently I will share with you as it is rather short.  If it helps your imagination, you can picture a grizzled old Frenchman orating over a bottle of wine as he tells you the story of the Pot Lyonnais.

For reference, it will help to know that a standard wine bottle is 750ml or 75cl.

As we all know, wine has been part of French culture for some time.  France has also historically declared that the other two pillars of civilization in conjunction with wine are silk and olives (mostly for oil).  So while many Americans think France just wasn’t up to snuff to being the kings of the new world, the French might contend that since America failed to reliably produce any of these three items in the century following initial European settlement, they really didn’t want it anyway.  The Pot Lyonnais came about because of two of these luxury goods: wine and silk.

The Pot Lyonnais

The Pot Lyonnais

Much before the 19th century, Lyon had established itself as the dominant silk producer of the world, but our story is more concerned with the 19th century.  While the French would later cede production of silk cocoon harvesting to China and Inda, they were and perhaps still are the undisputed masters of making fine silk fabrics.  As with every prosperous industry there was a need for a lot of skilled labor to create these fabrics since robots had not yet been invented.  In a fashion that can perhaps only be described as French, the “Canuts” or weavers as the workers were called were entitled to receive 50cl of wine every week paid for by their employer.  The workers received their 50cl of wine in a glass bottle which was poured from a 1 liter bulk container and became known as the Pot Lyonnais.  However, as we have all experienced with airlines, all “free” things must slowly be taken away from you.

Heavily bottomed to prevent drunk people from knocking them over.

Heavily bottomed to prevent drunk people from knocking them over.

The employers, perhaps a bit miffed at not being able to write off their own personal wine comsumption as a business expense, decided to trim that 50cl of wine down to 46cl.  [Looking at the pot, you’ll see the thick glass at the bottom taking up 4cl of volume.]  Therefore, they’d be able to keep 16cl or just over 5oz (which is what we consider a normal glass of wine today) for every 4 Pots they poured out.  Of course, their glasses were about half the size of ours today so really a glass for the boss came every 2 pots.

And that is why you will find your wine being served in the Pot Lyonnais at most of the Bouchons (cafe/restaurants) in Lyon.

 

*There are exceptions as always.  The silk museum/tour in Lyon was especially fascinating.

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