There are four key pieces of legislation moving their way through the Virginia legislature that impact the Commonwealth’s wineries. They are briefly detailed below, and for what it is worth, all of this information is available through the Virginia Legislative Information System which can be accessed here.
HB2606. This bill would have have permitted further regulation of farm wineries operating under so-called urban county governance. Interestingly, there is only one such county in Virginia: Fairfax County. Even more interesting, is the long, tortured history involving the single winery trying to open its doors in Fairfax County. That winery’s fate is still uncertain, but this legislation was part of this drama as you can read here. There has been strong opposition to this bill in Virginia, arising from concerns of legislative/regulatory creep. Fortunately, for the Virginia wine industry, the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee voted to pass the bill by indefinitely on a voice vote Wednesday morning. And apparently, much credit must be given to Delegates Chris Saxman (R-Staunton) and Bobby Orrock (R-Caroline) who worked hard to support the Virginia wine industry. The full text of HB 2606 can be accessed here.
SB 1445. This one is my personal favorite. Sponsored by Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) it would permit wineries to solicit wine club memberships at wine festivals and events. The Virginia ABC apparently concluded that such solicitations were not permitted under present law (see second and third entries). If passed, this legislation would permit “wine of the month club” operators to solicit memberships at any location for which a permit to consume alcohol has been issued, including restaurants. This is great — and fair — legislation that provides equal marketing opportunities for both in-state and out-of-state wineries. The full text of SB 1445 can be accessed here.
As this and other legislation moves through the halls of Richmond, we will keep you updated.
I had just finished writing my tasting note. Giving the remaining wine in my glass a good swirl, I took a deep, pensive whiff, and reread what I had written. Strawberry sorbet, cherries, cilantro, green pepper and cabbage – yes, they were all there. But then I thought, “Who is going to buy a wine that combines strawberry sorbet and cabbage?” While it made total sense in my glass, I can’t see Dairy Queen making this its flavour of the month.
The wine in question was a red from France’s Loire Valley, made entirely with cabernet franc. While this is one of the wine world’s most important grapes – in that it is the sixth-most grown grape in France and plays a part in some of the world’s greatest wines – more so than any other, people tend to love it or hate it.
This goes beyond the traditional New World vs. Old World schism. Yes, Robert Parker rarely reviews wines that are made entirely with cabernet franc, and its herbaceous quality is off-putting to many of you “fruit-forward” types. But I also know a number of sommeliers and wine freaks with very classic, European tastes who simply don’t like cabernet franc.
I think it gets a raw deal. Many of the best examples are relatively inexpensive, complex and flavourful wines.
While it can make some fantastic wines, cabernet franc’s most important contribution may be the grape that it helped parent: cabernet sauvignon. Recent DNA profiling has shown that one of the world’s most illustrious varietals is in fact a cross of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc.
Cabernet franc is vinified on its own, most notably in France’s Loire Valley and other cooler climates, such as right here in Canada. Its major role, however, is in blending, especially alongside cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Depending on where you are in Bordeaux, for example, it can make up to 75 per cent of the final wine. On the left bank, in such hallowed communes as Pauillac and St. Estèphe, it is used by winemakers in small doses to “soften” cabernet sauvignon, as it adds both red fruits as well as signature aromatics – tobacco, flowers and its herbaceous quality.
On Bordeaux’s cooler right bank, cabernet franc plays an even more important role. Many of the most celebrated wines of Pomerol and St. Emilion have significant proportions of cabernet franc in the blend. The most famous of these is the legendary Cheval Blanc, the St. Emilion Grand Cru whose recipe is generally two-thirds cabernet franc, one-third merlot.
Even you Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon fanatics may have been unwittingly drinking some cabernet franc. Many of California’s top cabs have small amounts of cabernet franc in the blend, and more and more acreage is being devoted to growing the grape. These plantings are generally limited to cooler growing areas like Napa and Sonoma, where it can be positively juicy – showing sweet red fruits like raspberry and strawberry, and floral notes like violets.
But the controversial wines I am talking about here are those from the Loire. They come from such appellations as Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil and Anjou Villages. The styles can vary, from light and delicate summery wines to bigger wines that can age with grace and elegance, particularly those of Chinon and Saumur-Champigny.
Now back to strawberry and cabbage sorbet in my glass, which I have refilled since starting to write this. There is no doubt that herbaceousness is a quality in wine that is derided by a number of popular mags and their writers. It is definitely not fashionable. While I would agree that a wine with excessive herbaceous notes can be disagreeable, I really appreciate the subtle notes of peppers and other greenery found in this style of wine when it is done right. Aside from the flavour, I love its uniqueness.
This Anjou Villages in my glass is great. It was served slightly chilled, as an apéritif. Dinner was classic Greek: chicken brochettes, lots of oregano, basil and garlic, feta cheese. The wine never took control; its vegetal notes just supported the oregano and basil that perfumed our plate, the fruit and acidity refreshing the palate, cutting through the garlic and feta. It drank with ease.
The world of wine is incredibly diverse, and we are fortunate to live in a place where we have so much choice, where it is so easily accessible. Yves Saint Laurent said that “fashions fade, style is eternal”; let’s hope the future of wine remains more style than fashion.
I wrote about this topic last year, and despite the unhappy ending, I am glad to see that our neighbor to the North is once again taking a shot at changing its direct wine shipping laws (for the better). Senator Jamie Raskin (my old law school professor) introduced the bill, S 388.
Among other things, the bill (Adobe required) would establish a direct wine shipper’s license issued by the State of Maryland. In addition to permitting self distribution by in state wineries, it establishes a permit process for out of state wineries to ship into Maryland. You can read more information about the bill here, including sponsors and legislative history.
I became aware of this legislation after receiving an e-mail from these folks — the Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws. I seem to recall these guys were around last year, and I wish them the best of luck in helping to get this legislation passed. We will keep you posted.
We’re proud to announce World Class Wines has teamed with the legendary wines of Boisset America!
These are dynamic additions to our portfolio, and will help to round out our American and French selections. Bouchard has a stellar reputation as one of the top ‘major’ producers of Burgundy. Louis Bernard brings us value oriented wines from the Southern Rhone Valley. DeLoach has been on a tremendous roll the last couple of years, reducing production levels to 30% of what they were years ago. In other words, less wine and far more quality (they still have many of the best landholdings in the Russian River Valley). And Lyeth needs little to no introduction … in these times of customers looking for value and huge bang for the buck, Lyeth is on the top of everybody’s lists!
We look forward to a long and healthy relationship with our new friends, and we hope you will too. Expolore more information about Boisset at their website.
Posted in California, France, New arrivals, Sonoma
Soave 2007, Classico, Inama, Italy white. There is such beauty in restraint. Subtle notes of peach, browning apples, maybe a touch of a bay-leaf type herb. But this is about drinkability- creamy, expansive, fresh and mineral. One of those wines that can be drunk with almost anything, at any time, and you never realize how much you liked it until after you reach for the bottle to refill your glass, only to find it empty. Drink now-2011.
Veneto Igt 2004, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marion, Italy red. Marion is the junior member of the Freaks of Veneto club led by Dal Forno and Quintarelli. This is Amarone meets Napa Valley cab, and most probably unlike any wine that you will have tasted. Massive, and lacking anything close to nuance for the moment, but you can sense that it is coming. Wait a while for this to come around. Drink 2011- 2017.
Can’t beat the odds! (Maybe it was the prize, or the fact that I haven’t posted in a while) Whatever the reason, the odds were in your favor if you entered Winexpression’s latest giveaway. The winner of the beautiful wine tube is:
Congratulations Donna! The Wine Tube will surely be a nice addition to your home. […]
A few days back, I wrote about keeping an eye on the horizon for gathering storms. Since I am a big believer in lighting a candle as opposed to cursing the darkness, I thought it might be helpful to identify ten easy ways to set up your own weather radar for governmental developments that could create stormy weather.
10. Stay in touch with other wineries. The easiest way to stay abreast of possible developments is talking across the fence to wineries in your area. I have found that — at least in our neck of the woods — other wineries are eager to get the word out about legislative developments, especially at the local and state level.
9. Utilize Association Information. Whether just visiting their websites, or signing up for full membership, associations are a tremendous resource. From a membership perspective, Wine America in particular has been a great resource for our winery to stay abreast of developments (the Wine America members section has a legislation tracking tool for each state, and fantastic label approval tools). Of course, for you California wineries you have the Wine Institute, which is chock full of handy resources, including their state distribution webpage.
8. Join your State Association. While I have not checked all fifty states, I know that Virginia (such as here and here) and several others have winery associations that keep their eyes on what is happening in State capitals. Coupled with the benefits of membership in a National association, these resources let you stay on top of developments at the State and Federal level.
7. Join — or form — a Regional Association. All politics is local, and there are a number of regional winery associations out there. Even if the organizations are not advocacy based, they can still be a great resource for wineries.
6. Read the paper. I know newspapers are falling on hard times, but I have found they are great resources for getting information. My hometown paper, the Washington Post has a number of weekly sections where this information often turns up. In particular, I am a huge fan of the Monday “Regulators” section, which has covered TTB initiatives on several occasions (including developments on the changes to nutritional labeling, here and here
5. Sign up for Google News Alerts. Google has a great tool for receiving notices on a particular topic that hits the news. They can even be used to track what people are saying online about your winery. It is a great tool for staying on top of developments in wine law.
4. Read Blogs. There are just too many good ones to choose from. The information is always free and the folks who write these are incredibly informed. In no particular order, some of my favorites are the Fermentation Wine Blog by the great Tom Wark; Wine Without Borders; and the REthink Wine Blog.
3. Keep Tabs on your Legislature. Virginia has a pretty decent main page for tracking all sorts of information. They even have a free service for tracking the status of up to five specific bills, or, if you want to drop some coin, you can even track an unlimited number of bills with a wider range of customer service support. They even have an index by subject, dating back to 1995. Most states have similar tools. Once you receive information on a particular bill, it is a great resource for getting the latest developments, without having to go back to the website to check.
2. Sign up for TTB’s Newsletters. TTB has a number of newsletters that companies can sign up for. The best type of information is that which comes from the source. You can sign up here.
1. Get Free Information from . . . Attorneys! Believe it or not, many law firms have free newsletters that address specific industry topics. For example, McDermott, Will and Emery has separate newsletters for both Agribusiness and Food and Beverage issues, while Stoel Rives has a newsletter for Wineries and Vineyard. Both are free.
Using all of these informative resources can go a long way to keep you appraised of the weather. And in 2009 I hope it is clear skies and sunny . . . but you never know.
This past Saturday, we held a blind Cabernet Franc tasting at one of my favorite Loudoun County wineries, Corcoran Vineyards. This tasting pitted several Virginia Cabernet Franc varietal wines, against Cabernet Franc wines from New York, California, and the grape variety’s homeland, France. In total, we selected 11 wines for this tasting.
Bottles dressed in the best brown bags money could buy!
While Cabernet Franc is a minor blending grape in France and just about everywhere else it is grown, it has been known to salvage some Bordeaux vintages during years when Cabernet Sauvignon was less than average due to unfavorable weather conditions. On the other hand, or shall we say vine, in wine producing regions like New York, and here in Virginia, Cabernet Franc is made into a varietal wine and is usually the leading grape in most red wine blends. This is because Cabernet Franc grows well in cooler climates and ripens early, which bodes well for east coast growers.
Evaluating the Wines
Evaluating these wines, was a great cast of palates, ranging from sommeliers, Virginia winemakers and grape growers, winery owners, and wine enthusiasts like myself. One common bond amongst this tasting group, was that they all have an appreciation and enthusiasm for Virginia wine, and are all avid Virginia Cabernet Franc drinkers – you may be able to recognize a few in the pictures. Well, enough of my rambling; check out the rankings and enjoy the pictures below: (Scores based on a 100 point system)
10. Score 58, Domaine des Corbillieres CF 2006, (Touraine, FR)
11. Score 55, Dom Semellerie CF 2007, (Chinon, FR)
Hard to believe that the wine that came in last place was the same wine that came in first place at a blind Cabernet Franc tasting I held in 2006. It was the Dom Semellerie 2005, which was a good overall vintage for the Loire Valley; whereas, 2007 was not. Vintage matters! So, do you notice any trends or surprises amongst the rankings? For me it would have to be the French wines. I enjoy Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, especially the fruit driven Chinon examples, so I was somewhat surprised to see these wines positioned near the bottom. I knew the Virginia examples would do fairly well, not only because the tasters are Virginia wine lovers (smirk), but because these were some very good Cabernet Franc wines. I would like to thank Lori and Jim for hosting this tasting at their winery, and everyone for taking the first half of their Saturday to come out and do a little wine tasting homework. Check back, we look forward to setting up another blind tasting sometime soon – perhaps a blind horizontal tasting since 2007 was a good vintage year for Virginia.
With a few short weeks away from Valentine’s Day, we’re excited to be able to share our take on the classic V-Day tokens of affection with you: wine, chocolate and poetry.
For a limited time only we are offering a 2 bottle Valentine’s Day gift set of Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, featuring a 4 piece varietal box from San Francisco’s renowned boutique chocolatier Recchiuti.
This special gift pack features a bottle of our 2007 Wentzel Pinot Noir and an exclusive pre-release of our 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir (due to be released in late March). The set comes packaged in a custom-shipping box with a hand-selected poem inside. With amazing Pinot Noir, chocolate and poetry, you’ll have all the makings of a romantic evening.
The Recchiuti varietal box includes four chocolates offering different tastes from cocoa grown in Madagascar, Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador and is gift-wrapped for the occasion.
TOTAL: Valentine’s Day Special price for both wines and the chocolate gift box: $97.99 + shipping and tax
To purchase, visit the purchase section of our website.
In order to ensure your gift arrives by Valentine’s Day, please follow these deadlines for GROUND shipping:
East Coast: Order needs to be placed by 2/4
Mid West: Order needs to be placed by 2/6
West Coast: Order needs to be placed by 2/9
Waits-Mast hand-selects romantic poems to include in its Valentine's Day gift pack
We also offer 2- and 3-day air shipping. For sub-freezing climate customers,we recommend that you ship via air to ensure the safety of the wine. We currently have a hold on wines being shipped via ground to the Midwest, for example, to avoid any wines being frozen/damaged.
Customers in the San Francisco Bay Area can save on shipping costs by choosing “local pickup” from the shipping options. You can then pick up the wine at the Crushpad shipping and logistics center in San Francisco. Call (415) 558-9181 to schedule your pickup.
Perhaps it’s because winter has decided to get nasty that I am feeling rambunctious. I will not take this lying down, Old Winter Man! Throw your ten feet of snow at me, let the thermometer outside my window drop 2 feet below the freezing line. I don’t care. I will still play outside, I will turn your snowy evenings into romantic couch and fireplace parties, and I will, despite you, continue to drink white wine.
I am a fanatical white wine drinker and I while I’ll admit that I do tend to drink more red in the winter, for me that means it is an even split- half red, half white. But I am rare, and I feel marginalized.
Many wine drinkers seem to look upon drinking white wine as a chore. When I work as a sommelier, I can’t tell you the number of times that I have pleaded with clients to at least give white wine a try. “It’s a scallop, sir, they taste of nothing,” I would say as I tried to explain why his adoration of Australian shiraz does not necessarily make it the right wine for this occasion. I could understand if it were chicken, or veal. There you have options, you could go either way. But scallops and other seafood require a different approach, something a red wine simply wasn’t made to do. I mean, both hammers and screwdrivers are useful tools, but hardly interchangeable. It’s the same thing for wine.
And I guess that’s my point. I look at wines as if they were tools, accessories to what’s sitting on your plate. While I have a penchant for white wine, I have no problem drinking red. I don’t really care. I am non-partisan, every wine has it’s time. The only thing I can say in favour of whites over reds is that most of my most memorable bottles have been white wines. And when I have served people in a restaurant, it’s often the pairings with white wines that have turned people on the most. Am I better working with white wines? Maybe, but a white wine’s subtler flavours combined with it’s higher acidity tends to integrate better with foods, and allows for more of the nuances of a well constructed recipe to show themselves.
But why am I talking about white wine now? I can hear some of you murmuring out there, “take a look outside Bill, aren’t things already white enough for you!” Exactly my point. If having to coerce people into drinking white wine by guilting them into some sort of obligation to the wine and food pairing gods- if that bums me out- then listening to people relegate them to cocktail parties and pool-sides on hot summer days pushes me over the edge. White wines can be more, so much more.
You can’t hate what you don’t know
A couple of summer’s ago, I put together two tasting menus at the restaurant where I was working as a sommelier. The clients had a choice- 5 different glasses of white or 5 reds. There was no substitution, no mix and matching. Well, despite that the split in wine consumption in Quebec is roughly 70-30 in favour of red wines, more than 60% of the clients chose the white menu.
While a few mentioned that they chose white because it was summer, the number one reason was that most people said that they simply don’t know white wines, and it had been years since they had drunk them. My theory is that most people started drinking wine with whites, and usually cheap bottles. We all remember those head-ache inducing, sweet, depanneur-purchased Liefraumilch. But as they started to buy more expensive bottles, for some reason they went red and all that most people remember about white wines are the headaches. Even the most experienced wine drinkers, who can speak volumes about their favourite reds, often have a tough time talking about white.
I can tell you that putting together that white menu was far easier than the red. Why? The range in styles in white wines is far greater than reds. While red wines move between less tannic to more tannic, less fruity to more fruity, white wines can be so many different things. From high acid to rich and buttery, delicate and floral to nutty and spicey, completely dry to very sweet, still to bubbly.
This translates into more options at the dinner table. Aside from certain meats, either strongly flavoured game or very fatty cuts, there is always a white wine for the job. Seafood and most fish are obviously the domain of whites. Even the most subtle red tends to overpower these delicately flavoured dishes. And in terms of the type of flavours to harmonize with seafood, think of what almost always accompanies these plates – a wedge of lemon. Red wines are built along darker fruits or earthy notes, while white wines often have citrus flavours.
Buy beyond the seafood stuff, which even the most hardened red wine drinker will agree to drink a white wine, there are many other dishes which work as well, or better with white. Last week I talked about cheese, and how the salt in cheese can turn red wines bitter will amplifying the fruit in white. I know many people who are cooking more and more with Asian spices. Coriander, mint, cumin – all these spices work better with the more aromatic whites. And with mouth burning chile peppers? A slightly sweet wine will appease the nastiest habanero that you can find.
Then there are the white meats. When I choose a wine, I look at the sauce. Darker sauces will mean that I will choose a red, but if I am cooking with herbs, cheeses or cream sauces, I like white. A classic pork roast, served with apple compote is a natural with a rich chardonnay that often has the same apple flavours. Guinea Hen, and other slightly stronger tasting fowl is a natural mix with the nutty whites of the Jura.
And it doesn’t stop there. One of my favourite pairing tricks is white wine and steak tartar – nothing matches up like a honey-textured white. Great tartar is rich, spicy but subdued. White wines made with grapes like roussanne, grenache blanc or an aged chenin blanc combine richness with freshness, and display certain fruit overtures like browning apples and figs that seems to add more to the dish than a red, and make a better harmony in terms of texture.
Breaking down the prejudice
Now I am not suggesting that you should stop drinking red in favour of whites. All I am asking is that you give white a chance. When they are obviously the appropriate choice, drink white rather than red. Get to know and understand them, much like many of you gleefully explore the world of red wines. So as a start, let’s break down certain misguided myths about white wines.
myth: White wine should be served cold. reality: Most whites should be served between 8C-12C to maximize its flavour and texture. myth: White wines are wimpy, tasteless wines that are only good as a pre-dinner drink. reality: White wines can be as complex, and at times more powerful than reds. myth: White wines are acid and give you heartburn. reality: While whites do have a touch more acidity, if you are sensitive to acidity there are a whole host of whites that have less total acidity than red wines. myth: White wines don’t age reality: My cellar is packed with white wines. While they tend to age faster than red wines, to fully appreciate most whites requires that they, like reds, spend a little time in a cool dark place. myth: White wines give you headaches. reality: While white wines usually have more sulphites than red wines, unless you are part of the under 1% of the population that is sensitive to sulphites, you have more of a chance to get a headache from the histamines in red wines.
Dezel is willing to bet that you too have had some Touriga in your glass – you just may not have known it. Touriga Nacional, as I have been told, does rather well here in Virginia. It can be found in a number of blended wines with fanciful names such as Ruby (Hillsborough), Sojourn (Grayhaven), and Stone Castle Red (Horton). It’s also added to some varietal wines to add complexity and zest. Additionally, a number of local Port style wines typically have a significant amount of Touriga Nacional in the blend. (I’m sure you have heard of the popular Port styled wine Snort, produced by Winery at La Grange.)
Touriga Nacional Grapes
Touriga Nacional has been a staple in Portuguese viticulture for ages, and is the principal grape used in making Port wines. In the best Vintage Port wines, Touriga Nacional plays an expanded role. Touriga Nacional is said to be the most popular and best grape variety for making quality wines in Portugal. Not only does it serve its purpose in Port production, but it is used in (dry) red wine blends that are readily accessible and satisfying. Touriga berries are small and dark and have a high skin to pulp ratio which lends itself to intense succulent wines in good vintage years. Typically, wines produced from Touriga Nacional are deeply colored, concentrated, and fruit-filled with ripe to firm tannins. Any of these additions may fit nicely into a wine lacking one or more of these qualities, thus it is a favorable option for blending. Luckily, I have a few bottles of varietal Touriga wines to sample to get a hint of what Portugal’s finest red wine grape variety can accomplish here in Virginia.
Keswick Vineyards Touriga 2006
The wine I have just uncorked as I type this blog entry is the Keswick Vineyards Touriga 2006. Unlike the 2005 (87%), this is 100% Touriga Nacional. This wine is a nice dark ruby color with a red fruit, spice, and herbal nose. It is medium bodied with soft fruit flavors and some rustic and earthy charms about it. It’s a smooth wine, an easy drinker, an everyday wine with good acidity that sips well on its own, or try pairing it with red sauce dishes (spaghetti), pizza, light cheeses, etc. Be sure to check your local wine shop for something from the Douro and Dão regions of Portugal and add this one to your alternative red wine list. And let’s not forget Virginia; while there are fewer varietal wines out there, you can find this in a number of blends along the wine trail. Happy hunting, friends!
Hope everyone’s 2009 is off to a great start !!! Stay tuned …more to come !!!
If you have any interest in wine, food, Italy, or travel then this is the book for you. In 1999, Esposito founded Italian Wine Merchants in New York City. And as one of the directors of IWMH, Esposito continues to lead the store in raising the profile of Italian wine in this country and influencing both colleagues and collectors with cutting-edge selections and services. With more than 20 years of experience in the world of Italian wine, Sergio Esposito is recognized by industry insiders as the premier Italian wine consultant in the United States.
The book takes us through the authors childhood in Naples. His family moving to Albany NY. His lifestyle change between the two countries. His obsession with acquiring knowledge about food and wine…whether it was when he was a waiter, sommelier, or becoming an owner of Italian Wine Merchants.
Sergio takes you on a tour through the beautiful wine making regions of Italy, with up close and personal visits with some of the premier Italian wine makers in the world. You feel as if you are visiting with him…the way the author describes every detail…as if you were part of their family. You’ll visit their wineries, meet their families and partake in meals the author shared with the wine makers. Together they discuss the importance of food and wine pairing, and how, when done well, enhance each other and represent one of the essential aspects of an enjoyable and elevated quality of life.
The book is funny and at times charming. When you open this book and begin to read, it is much like a bottle of fine wine that develops and evolves over time. Overall the book is a great read. It has a little for each of us. Those interested in how wine is made…those interested in Italian food…family…travel..think of it as part travel guide, part wine guide,and part reality show. In 1999, Esposito founded Italian Wine Merchants in New York City. And as one of the directors of IWMH, Esposito continues to lead the store in raising the profile of Italian wine in this country and influencing both colleagues and collectors with cutting-edge selections and services.
So buy the book at Amazon, open a bottle of Barolo or your favorite Italian wine and enjoy reading Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito.
Yesterday, I was remembering the very first time I had a glass of wine. It was in Williamstown, Mass. It was cold, the dead of winter, with 10º snowy blasts of air cutting under my coat as I walked across the campus to the home of my French professor, Prof. P., who wanted us all to call him by his first name. Who was hosting a dinner for the French club. We’d all help, and I was to prepare the stuffed mushrooms.
He poured me a glass of white Burgundy and set it beside me as I hunkered down over the mushrooms, stuffing them just so with the farce I had prepared from various finely chopped ingredients, and then painstakingly basting the tops with melted butter.
He came over to me and said, “Look at you basting those! You’re like an artist trying to get just the right touch.”
I was something of a laughing stock for the rest of the evening.
So I turned my attention to the wine. First that white Burgundy, which came on, to my young American palate, like something that was going to be lush and sweet, but… it just wasn’t sweet; it had a hard angularity to it that was unlike other things I’d had to drink. Some kind of tannins, some kind of minerality. So odd. I didn’t like it, but I was intrigued by it and could only mark it in my mind as something I would have to learn more about.
A lush and fruity red was then poured as the guests laughed and chatted in broken, heavily accented French and ate the various bites we had prepared. This wine I understood more. There was no hard spine to break over my palate, just soft fruit.
“Don’t worry,” said Prof. P. in French, coming back around. “Last fall, you didn’t know how to use the passé simple. Now you’re reading Flaubert.”
He wasn’t wrong. A couple of years later, I would find myself in Ligré, quaffing rustic Chinon.
Do you enjoy Virginia wine? Of course you do if you are reading this on my blog, right? Well, on February 7th (11am-6pm) and 8th (11am – 5pm), the Virginia Wine Showcase is back for the first big Virginia wine event of the year. While it’s cold outside, enjoy the warmth of the Dulles Expo Center and indulge in unlimited wine tastings from over 40 of Virginia’s top wineries. That translates into approximately 300 different Virginia wines to sample. Up for the challenge? Sounds like fun, huh? Wait, there is more – enjoy educational and fun-filled wine seminars, local arts and crafts, fine nibbles, entertainment, and much more! CLICK HERE to get your tickets online and save $10 off the price at the door. This is going to be an exciting event, so start 2009 off right by grabbing a glass and sampling some of the fine wines produced right in your backyard. And don’t forget, swirl, sniff, and sip – every time! By the way, if you find a “favorite” wine, be sure to email me and let me know.
Let’s take a look at Syrah, or shall we say Shiraz? Are they the same, or are they different? Well, just recently a friend asked me what was the difference between Syrah and Shiraz, so I thought I would blog about it since this one can be a little tricky at first glance. We will keep it short and simple – and the simple answer is location. Locality in this case, lends itself to the style of the wine, and that is where we will find our differences. Read on, as we chat a little more about Syrah, and of course, Shiraz.
First the name, or shall we say names, Syrah and Shiraz. Legend has it that the name Shiraz is the name of an ancient city in Persia (now Iran), where guess what? You guessed it, Syrah was grown. The grape variety eventually found its way to the Rhone Valley in France, where it has thrived for a very long time – and I mean, a very long time. The French call it Syrah, and the Australians call it by what they perceive to be its native land, Shiraz; which rhymes with pizzazz, which helps in remembering the correct pronunciation of the Aussie’s workhorse grape. Now, all of this is said to be folklore, but it makes for a nice story, right? What is not folklore though, is that Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape variety, but are typically stylistically different, and while the grape has been in Australia since the mid 19th century, it has been grown in the Rhone Valley since the Roman period.
Syrah / Shiraz Grapes
The Australians call it Shiraz, and quite proud of it, as it is their most popular, best selling, and widely planted variety. While there are some pricey examples, most consumers clamor to the moderately priced Shiraz wines that are full bodied and rife with rich, ripe, and intense fruit flavors (plum, blackberry, cherry, etc) and hints of spice. These fruit driven wines are usually made in an easy drinking style and are good everyday wines. Names like Yellow Tail, Lindeman, and Gumdale, have quite the following at $7 per bottle, and while not overly complex or elegant, it’s difficult to complain given the quality to price ratio of these wines. Shiraz to me reflects a certain style; even some California producers are calling their Syrah wines Shiraz, to hint to the consumer that their wine is made in the New World fruit-forward style. Generally, only the Australians call their wines Shiraz, but non-Australian producers are using the name to define the style, as well as marketability- the name is pretty catchy, right? Remember, pizzazz, Shiraz, pizzazz, Shiraz.
On the other-hand, Syrah plays a big role in the Rhone Valley, its home, where it flourishes and produces wines that are generally (slightly)leaner than the Aussie style, yet more complex (spice, cherry, tar, smoke, cassis, plum, etc), earthy, lively (more acidity), tannic, and typically capable of short to long term bottle aging. Syrah dominates the Northern Rhone, and wine producing regions such as Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Côte Rôtie, are great places to look for tasty Syrah wines. The name Syrah is generally used for all other Syrah wines in the wine producing world, and as you can see in the picture, I enjoyed a Keswick Vineyards Syrah 2006, so Syrah can readily be found here in Virginia.
Shiraz and a Virginia Syrah
In closing, if you are looking for a medium to full bodied, bold and spicy wine, give Syrah or Shiraz a try. Yes, they are same grape, but two different styles of wines. Syrah and Shiraz wines generally pair well with beef, lamb, game, venison, and red sauce pasta dishes, etc., and can be just as satisfying on their own. Both Syrah and Shiraz are made in a wide range of styles, from fresh fruit and easy drinking, to highly concentrated and intense. If you find an example that really wows you, send me an email about it so I can be wowed too.
Ever on the outer limits of testing my palate, last weekend I dove into the Gironde, through the largesse of neighbor and friend Guy, and was able to whet my palate with two superb clarets.
I’d never had a Château Margaux before, and I found the 1989 ripe, mature, with a bit of a grainy texture coming on with age, with the kind of length on the palate that makes you go, “Woah, ho, ho…” as it draws on and teases out and does not finish but rather comes romping back to say “hi” again before flaring out in a splash of aftertastes.
I had been told to expect something special, so that confirmation was, while impressive, not a surprise.
What did surprise me, however, was the 1996 Ducru-Beaucaillou we drank that evening, too. Upon opening, it was a bit tannic and even green about the gills. But after a couple of hours’ air on the mantelpiece, it had softened up. As we sipped it with the cheeses (nice raw-milk stuff), it made me feel happy, warm, and good.
I got to thinking that that is what I like most about wine. The sense it imparts of unexpected comfort when it is at the right age, poured at the right time.
This would happen again a week later, two nights ago, with a 2000 Allemand Cornas “Reynard.” Wine for swooning, when you least expect it.
Trying to sell some stuff? Many merchandisers are picking up the hottest endorsement around. And unlike Tiger, Lance or Tom, this star is not being compensated for his endorsements.
There have been a number of articles about how many businesses and sidewalk entrepreneurs are using Barack Obama to sell their products. The New York Times reported that businesses are selling everything from soap to ‘romantic items’ bearing the next President’s likeness. Similarly, the Washington Post’s food section reported on how brewers are even getting in on the act, rolling out beers under the names “Barack Bock” and “Obamagang” in advance of the inaugural (the latter denied by TTB). Along these lines, the Bevlaw blog has some other great examples including “Ale to the Chief“, “Obama Beer” and even “Lipstick on a Pig.”
So what are a lot of these reports missing? How about Intellectual Property issues? At least one reporter had an item on this specific issue in a piece buried this week in the back of the Washington Post. It appears that President-elect Obama’s White House Counsel, Gregory Craig, will likely not take too kindly to this profiteering.
Intellectual Property laws are remarkably specific and violations can cost a company a lot of money in the long run. Damages, attorney’s fees and — in the case of wineries — relabeling could run up the costs very quickly. The bottom line, hope and change may be a great thing, but be careful about putting it on a wine bottle.
No, this is not an opportunity for another New Jersey joke (what exit?!). As a Jersey native, I was thrilled to read this morning that my home state is considering a change to their direct to consumer shipment laws. As some of you reading this blog may be aware, New Jersey is one of the few states that still prohibits direct to consumer shipments of wine.
While thrilled to read about this development, I was nevertheless upset to see the same tired arguments trotted out by opponents to this legislation: underage drinkers will have access to wine over the Internet! The mob is bound to get involved!
Of course such arguments are coming from the likes of Fred Barnes, of the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association. Mr. Barnes is quoted in the article as saying “There are really no regulations to it. You don’t know who’s getting the wine, whether it’s underage children or what. All they need is their parents credit cards to get it . . . It’s like calling up for a pizza.”
No regulations? Not exactly. Just some of Virginia’s regulations, rules and policies governing the sale and distribution of wine to consumers can be read here, here, here, here, here, here and here). And those are just some of the requirements for intrastate wine shipments to consumers.
And finally, the process is hardly like “calling up for a pizza.” Dominoes, Pizza Hut and (my personal favorite) Church Street Pizzeria don’t card me when they deliver a pizza to my door — fortunately for wineries shipping wine to other states, FedEx does. Of course,Mr. Barnes’ true colors are revealed later in the article when he says, ”Direct shipping would be just another knock at our industry.” It’s all about the Benjamins.
While Fred’s statement is typical, what is unfortunate is that policy makers in New Jersey — including the state’s Attorney General Anne Milgram — are parroting the exact same arguments. Hopefully, the New Jersey legislature won’t give us another reason to laugh at the state’s expense.