Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good Read: Bordeaux

If you are a Bordeaux fanatic, you will want to check out the latest book on France’s illustrious wine region, What Price Bordeaux? By Benjamin Lewin. Bordeaux is steeped in history and tradition, and Lewin presents the salient facts of its past and present in a straight-forward yet interesting way. He also poses and answers many provocative questions about the area. One of these: Are the huge price increases of the last decade for Bordeaux’s first growths the boom before the bust? With climate change, tougher worldwide competition and the long-lasting reduced spending habits that may result from our current economic setback, it’s a good question, one with significant implications for Bordeaux’s future.

Recommended: What Price Bordeaux? By Benjamin Lewin. $34.95. Vendage Press, Dover, 2009. Available through the Wine Appreciation Guild, www.wineappreciation.com

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tea is for Terrior

Even though wine and tea are my two favorite drinks, I never thought about what the two had in common. Tea was certainly closer to coffee than wine, wasn’t it? So I was a little surprised to learn, while researching and writing a story on tea for Wine Enthusiast magazine, that there are so many commonalities between these two beverages.

Wine and tea are alike in many ways: growing tea bushes and grapevines in the right climates and conditions is crucial, and there’s an art to blending both for a final sublime product. Tea connoisseurs even taste tea similarly to the way wine aficionados sample wine. Both wine and tea can be variously described using many of the same terms, including “well-rounded” and “full-bodied,” and both can pair well with certain dishes while clashing with others. Like top wines, some of the finest teas even come in packages that list varietal of tea tree, harvest date, and where the leaves were grown ---- because appellation is as important in the world of tea as it is with wine. There are even “tea sommeliers” at several top class hotels like the Boston Park Plaza.

Most surprising to me is that, according to Joshua Kaiser of Rishi Tea in Milwaukee, under some pretty precise and unpredictable conditions, tea can act as a stimulant in a similar way to alcohol. For more on this topic, including recipes, see my story in the October issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, out now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kudos to Combier

The world’s first “triple sec” -- the super-premium Combier Liqueur D’Orange from France is now available in California, where I live. It’s made from all-natural ingredients: hand-selected orange peels from the West Indies, sugar beets from Normandy and a secret ingredient from the Loire Valley.

What does this have to do with wine? Though many sangria recipes call for the orange liqueur Cointreau, I usually use triple sec. As in any recipe for food or drink, the final product is only as good as the ingredients you use. So I’m looking forward to my next batch of sangria made with a good red wine and this fragrant, delicious liqueur, which I sampled straight, over ice.

Recommended: Combier Liqueur D’Orange, a triple distilled all-natural liqueur. $39.99 (750 ml. bottle).
Labels: orange liqueur, Combier, sangria, Cointreau.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Enjoy What You Enjoy

I once gave a friend a case of Napa Valley red wines, all priced from $25 to $40 a bottle. After she'd had the wines for some time, I asked her how she was enjoying them. She seemed a little reluctant to talk about it and I discovered after a little prodding that she, her husband and some neighbors who enjoyed drinking wine together had conducted a blind tasting of some of the wines I had given her plus the infamous "Two Buck Chuck." The winner? You guessed it.

I would suspect that most wine experts/professionals/writers would roll their eyes at anyone preferring Two Buck Chuck, but I thought, if a $2 bottle of Central Valley wine satisfied them more than a $40 Napa Valley Zinfandel, more power to them (and to the producers of Two Buck Chuck) – think about how much more money they would have for vacations, flat screen TVs or whatever brings them bliss. It wouldn’t be my choice, but if it works for them…

I also knew that my friend -- like someone who graduates from a thin, soggy McDonald's hamburger to a made-to-order restaurant burger of quality beef and real cheese -- would taste her way through my case of quality wines and probably have a greater feel for the nuances and layers of flavor in such wines as well as some curiosity about what other wines taste like. She might actually trade up after the experience. Someone who graduates from McDonald's to a better burger might never try the $30 foie gras-stuffed burger at the pinnacle of hamburger cuisine, and my friend may never ascend to Bordeaux First Growths or Burgundy Grand Crus, but she would probably appreciate wines beyond Two Buck Chuck someday.

And even if that’s not true, she’s enjoying the wine she and her friends like -- that’s what important. Sometimes I wish my tastes would be satisfied by a $2 bottle -- it would make my life easier and my wine drinking habit much less expensive.

What do I think of Two Buck Chuck? It’s like a McDonald’s hamburger: a quick, easy way to sate your hunger, but you’re not exactly left yearning for that next bite… or bottle. But if I needed an inexpensive wine to serve at a fundraiser, I’d be buying it by the case.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why Write a Blog?

Someone asked me recently why I wanted to start a blog. I have enough to write about with magazine stories and other assignments as well as enough to do in my life outside of wine, food and travel writing, but I told them that I wanted to do something a bit different.

For instance, I’m tired of the predictable seasonal cycle of wine stories: I’m talking about the inevitable stories on rosé in the spring, Pinot Noir at Thanksgiving, Cabernet with chocolate on Valentine’s Day, and Zinfandel at summer barbecues. I think drinking good wines should be championed all year round instead of following this rigid – and unoriginal -- system that so many publications seem to embrace.

I also cringe at the thought that so many people follow a handful of wine critics. If a certain magazine or newsletter awards 90 to 100 points for a wine, there’s a stampede of customers into the local wine shop with a crumpled copy of that publication under their arms. At least that’s the way it used to be. I understand it’s changing and I hope so, because in wine, as in life, it’s important to think for yourself. Readers should be encouraged to experiment and discover their perfect wines instead of looking for gold medals or scooping up 95-point wines preferred by a critic who might be 20 years older or younger, or who possesses a completely different palate.

Quality is important, but a well-made wine may not be to your liking just because it's well-crafted and backed by a healthy promotional budget. A heavy, unctuous, 16% alcohol wine that you could stand a spoon up in may win a gold medal at some wine competition but it is not going to appeal to me most of the time, no matter who tells me it’s good. And I know I’m not alone.

As a wine writer, I believe it’s important to empower consumers to choose what they like --- from Two Buck Chuck to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – whatever fits their tastes, their budgets and their comfort levels.

So I won’t numerically rate wines, but describe them in terms people can understand. I will not stick to predictable schedules of wine admiration but write about wines as I encounter them – a good wine is a good wine all year round, isn’t it? I will write about issues in the wine world and stories behind the wine as much as I describe what’s in the glass because I believe those stories give a fuller appreciation of the wine than what we call “tasting notes” -- those often obtuse wine descriptions that, while they may be technically legitimate, may also be meaningless to the untrained wine drinker -- which is to say most wine drinkers