Feb 292012
 

California Wine RegionsIn my wines of California class last night we tasted wines from the Sierra Foothills, and Sauvignon Blancs, and dang, those students were impressed.  Among the favorites were a Montevina Barbara for under $10, and a Scott Harvey Barbera for under $15. Both lovely wines and great values.  And in the SB category, we had a real rogues gallery of great wines:  Cakebread, St. Supery, Grgich Hills, Frogs Leap, Ferrari-Carano…superb wines that were elegant, balanced,  and beautiful.  And special kudos also went to Shannon Ridge at on $9.

Here’s the wine list, just in case you are interested…all samples pulled from the inventory of a local retailer:

Wines of California: Sauvignon Blanc

Mason Napa Valley $15

Gainey Vineyard Santa Ynez $13

Serafina Amador County $15

Shannon Ridge Lake County $9

Ferrari-Carano Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County $15

St. Supery Napa Valley $17

Dry Creek Fume Blanc $11

Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc Sonoma County $9

Frogs Leap Rutherford $14

Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley $24

Cakebread Napa Valley $26

Grgich Hills Napa Valley $27

 

Sierra Foothills

Montevina Barbera  Amador County$8

Scott Harvey Barbera Amador County $15

Sarefina Barbera Amador Country $19

Portalupi Barbera Amador County $32

Fiddletown Zinfandel Sierra Foothills Zinfandel $18

Four Vine Maverick Zinfandel, Amador County $18

Vineyard 1869 (Scott Harvey) Amador County $31

It’s a lot of fun to teach this class, because it gives me the chance to expose the students to a wide range of wine styles and origins.  And they do get excited.  It’s a bit like watching someone learn how to ride a bicycle.  They’re nervous at first, and hesitant to trust their palate.  And I do force them to taste new wines and try new things.  And before you know it they are pedaling away, with big smiles on their faces and the wind blowing in their hair.    Wheeee!

Feb 272012
 
dusty bottles

Photo Credit: Vineyard Brands

I answer a ton of questions about wine for Allexperts.com.  I do it for two reasons.  The first one is that I like the idea of making wine a little friendlier to people who want to know more.

The second reason is that I love to know what consumers are thinking, and worrying about.

And right now, I am worrying about consumers.

About ninety percent of the questions I get are from people who have old bottles of wine or spirits, hoping that they have a rare and valuable treasure.

They don’t.

I don’t know if it’s because of the plethora of Antiques Roadshow imitators on television, but suddenly the world is filled with bottles that were never worth much to begin with, and aren’t any better after thirty years under somebody’s sink.

But hope springs eternal, and the questions keep coming.

So just to clarify:  if it’s old and distilled, the alcohol level is so high that it hasn’t changed–in character or value.

And if it’s wine, it’s almost certain that you should have opened it up within a few years of when you bought it.

Keep those emails coming!

Feb 242012
 

MuscatWe’ve watched the Muscat varietal creep up the ladder of popularity for some time now, and it has just made a big move.  Wines & Vines magazine reported this week that Muscat has officially ousted Sauvignon Blanc as the third most popular white wine varietal in America.

Nothing so far has displaced king-of-the-mountain Chardonnay which is the best-selling wine—never mind red or white– in the U.S. And Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) is holding at second place.

Who knew that Muscat—all sweetness and orange blossoms– was a prowress at heart.  A study by Symphony IRI shows sales of Muscat grew 70% compared to Sauvignon blanc’s 7% from January of 2011 to January 2012.

The wine is often labeled Moscato (its Spanish and Portuguese name) in the U.S. but goes by a large variety of names around the world.  It has enough synonyms to make your head spin. But one thing is clear:  this grape varietal is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, on the planet.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion says Muscat was likely the first grape farmed in France. It was wide spread in Roussillon in the 14th century. It is also Italy’s oldest varietal, where it flourished in Piemonte, land of the grand Barolos. Sorry, Nebbiolo, you weren’t always first!

But anyway, we digress when really this should just be about opening a bottle or two of this rising star and seeing what the hubbub is all about.

Feb 232012
 
Dallas Morning News Wine Competition

Photo Credit: Tim Gaiser MS

Whenever I tell someone I’m traveling to judge a wine competition their response is inevitably, “oh how lucky you are to get to taste all those wines.” And I think, “Yeah right.”  Funny how the very thought of tasting over a hundred wines in a day sounds like big fun to most people but in reality it’s usually about as much fun as chasing parked cars.  There are certainly good times to be had if you get placed on the right panel with people who are colleagues and friends–and the group works well together.  Mind you judging on the wrong panel with stubborn or dysfunctional people can be like being banned to an outpost at the edge of the universe.  Regardless, the task at hand involves working through dozens of flights of wines, many of which are not only far from medal-worthy, but either flawed or imminently regrettable.  Such was the case last weekend in Dallas where I helped judge the Dallas Morning News Competition at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort, a gorgeous property.  Fortunately, the wine competition gods smiled on me this time and I was able to chair a great panel consisting of friends and fellow MS’ Wayne Belding and Laura Williamson.  My former editor at Fine Cooking Magazine and dear friend Amy Albert rounded out the team.

Our mission on day one was to work through 115 wines from Sonoma County.  We started with a flight of Pinots (several very good ones) then Merlots (also several good wines), before moving on to flights of Cabernets, Zinfandels, Syrahs and finally Cab blends.  It was somewhere Between Barstow and the end of the Cabernets that our team became concerned for our olfactory health.  Many of the wines seemed to have the vinous hygiene of a high school 4-H Club.  We dubbed one remarkably bretty and tannic Cabernet the “angry cow.”  And it more than delivered.  After lunch day one concluded with two flights of Chardonnays, all pretty good, none stellar and many almost exactly alike.  Visions of Hello Kitty, Britney Spears and an endless landscape of microwave popcorn danced in my head.

What makes a good wine–a medal wine, you might ask?  Easy answer: it should be clean and well-made; it should smell and taste like the grape variety it’s made from; and above all it should be balanced, appealing and drinkable.  Score one in each of those columns and your wine gets a medal.  Really do a good job and the wine will get a gold medal or silver at least.  Trust me, when we came across one of these top wines the quality was obvious to everyone on the team—like a blinding light being turned on in a dark space.

Day two dawned bright and sunny despite the copious amount of Negronis and Fernet Branca consumed by some of the judges the night before.  It was Riesling day, something our team had talked about all along.  After tasting through an initial flight of Greek wines (some excellent reds) our task of the day was to work through the better part of 90 Rieslings from Europe, Australia and the U.S.  We were, needless to say, dangerously excited.  The first flight of German wines yielded two outstanding entries that garnered top honors.  From there a very good flight of Alsace Rieslings followed by two flights of Australian Rieslings from Clare and Eden Valley.  The latter turned out to be the best grouping of the two days.  Several gold medals here with more than a few silver medals.  Although Aussie Riesling is well known among the sommelier community it’s not exactly a household name.  It’s one of the most concentrated, intense and mineral-driven white wines made anywhere and definitely one of the paradigms for the Riesling grape.  Monikers such as “liquid light saber” or “liquid piano wire” come to mind.  Needless to say, the wines are also remarkably ageworthy.

We took a break after the Aussie wines and then dug into multiple flights of California, Washington and America appellations Rieslings.  It was here that everything pretty much went south.  Although there were a few good wines here and there what followed was a primer in the misuse of SO2 and acidulation.  Aside from the sulfur and baby aspirin texture of some of the wines, many others were oxidized and still others were alarmingly flawed with sulfide or mercaptan issues.  It was here, faithful reader, where we earned our keep, where the rubber met the road.  Oddly enough, some of the wines actually did smell like rubber.  But that’s another story.  In the end we handed in our paperwork, took a team photo and finished up with lunch.  It was a great two days and I thought our team did an excellent job of working together to find the best wines presented.  And it was almost too much fun.

Feb 222012
 
Culinary Institute of America

Photo Credit: Wine Country This Week

Thoughts from teaching classes at the CIA and Napa College yesterday:

1.  People take wine way too seriously.  Which makes them really appreciative of even a tiny bit of humor about it.  For someone who was the smart aleck at the back of the class, it sure is fun!  And it’s fun to see the students start to relax once we get rolling…

2.  Tasting wine isn’t hard.  My students had no trouble identifying wines that they had tasted earlier in the evening–about 90% of them got it right.  But they did worry about it.  And while tasting the wines was easy, describing them was a whole ‘nother question.  Words are sacrier than wines!

3.  Teaching a class at 7 p.m. is a bit of a challenge when it comes to food and wine pairings.  Lots of people didn’t get to eat much dinner–and a few tasty suggestions had them groaning in their seats.

Next time:  a buffet!