Beer Wine?

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Not since Reeses got chocolate in someone’s peanut butter have I been this confused over a food product.  This week’s Wednesday edition of Griffy on Wine is going to look into the burgeoning world of beer wine.
 
Beer and wine have much of the same history, although beer might be older as it dates back to around 9500 B.C.E.  Beer and wine grew up in the same neighborhood, the “fertile crescent,” which extended from the Nile in Egypt along the Mediterranean cost over to the Persian Gulf.  This area is also called, “the cradle of civilization,” and there is reason to believe that both beer and wine might have had a big hand in civilization first developing.  I guess drunks can’t walk too well, so humans had to either give up being nomads or give up drinking; well the rest is Western Civilization! 
 
Beer and wine served as cornerstones for the development of classic civilizations, like those in Egypt and Mesopotamia, because they provided a clean way to ingest water.  It appears that sanitation developed much later in the course of human history, and having a bunch of humans around staying in one spot tended to ruin the water supply.  The common wisdom was never drink the water–drink beer or wine instead.  Both beverages were common in antiquity and, by modern standards, both were also pretty lousy!  Around 1600 C.E., beer was the beverage of choice in Europe: it was safe, it was better quality, it cost less, and didn’t spoil as fast.  What’s not to like?  It took wine another 150 years to catch up.
 
Wine was always elevated over beer, certainly not for its quality, but more for its link to divinity.  Beer is linked to humans but wine was of the gods.  Now beer did have a godliness of it’s own–Osiris in Egypt and Silenus in Greek and Roman times–but in the case of the latter, he was always a buddy to Dionysus, who was the man!  Wine was upper crust, beer common folks, even though artifacts clearly show that the royalty drank both.  Beer and Wine traveled parallel courses of development, never really intersecting until now.
 
According to a story in Wine Spectator magazine, some craft brewers a few years ago began experimenting with adding grapes and wine juice to their beers.  Today the practice is becoming more wide spread.  Hey, if we have hybrid cars, why not hybrid beer and wine?
 
The process involves adding the crushed grape or wine juice to the beer mash before fermentation, so the grape sugars and malt grains ferment together.  My favorite is called Noble Rot, from Dogfish Head brewery based in Milton, DE.  The brew comes in both red and white.  I’ve only tried the red, it’s a Belgian style witbier brewed with Pinot Noir juice.
 
Piedmont, Italy, the land of Barolo, is becoming the epicenter of Italy’s eclectic beer scene.  Here, beer makers are experimenting with utilizing wine-making techniques in their brewing.  One good example is barrel aging in oak barrels for beer.  Several young brewers are learning to balance brewing and wine making in one of Italia’s most noble wine producing areas.
 
The trades are taking notice.  Food magazines are now “pairing” beer, wine, or wine-beer to foods.  Check out Food and Wine magazine.  There are now Grape Hop tours across Italy and Spain, where you tour both breweries and vineyards. Several micro-breweries, one I visited in New Hampshire are also becoming micro-vineyards, making wine from purchased wine juice.  I have not heard of any vineyards making beer.
 
Is this a trend?  Is it a fad?  Or is it young people doing what they do best: breaking the rules and experimenting to find their own creative voice?  To be honest, I haven’t a clue, but it’s exciting to watch.  Not being a big fan of beer I don’t think you have to worry about Griffy on Wine changing course any time soon.  But what the hell, try it, you might like it!

Bila-Haut Pays D’Oc

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Bila-Haut Pays D’Oc
 
Okay, I think I need to call a meeting of the rules committee.  I did not include rose wines in our Great White Wine Hunt, however, I want you to go out and buy this wine!  Yeah, I think it’s that good.
 
We have met Michel Chapoutier before with his Bila-Haut Les Vignes Cotes Du Rossillion (Griffy on Wine Aug 23, 2012; wow I’ve been doing this long enough that I can now site myself as a reference!)  This guy makes great value-priced wines.  It was rated a Wine Spectator’s best buy under $15 at the beginning of June.  I’d bet this wine could make the Wine Spectators top 100 wines for 2013.
 
I never gave rose wines a second thought, too girly, but recently I was looking at wines and was attracted to a whole front end display of roses.  I thought “shiny, pretty…must buy something,” so I did: two bottles of rose of which this was one.
 
The D’Oc is a blend of Grenache and Cinsault, pressed gently together with good skin contact and fermented in stainless steel to produce a pale salmon pink crisp cool berry concoction that just begs you to drink.  And I did, like a starving mosquito in a nudist colony.  If you are a Rhone Ranger this is you summer time alternative to enjoy with your seafood and salads.
 
The rules committee has decided that we cannot add this to the Great White Wine Hunt for 2013, but have determined that you’d be foolish not to include this wine on your summer wine drinking agenda. 

“Adversity is a testament of God, but the confidence to believe in yourself defines the reason for Living.” In Memory of John D’Amico 1927 to 2013

Griffy on Corks

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Folks, I love getting e-mails so please keep them coming!  I got this one this week:
 
“So I was sitting at my desk today, eating Abeeeez frozen yogurt for lunch, cleaning up email from the last few weeks. Saw yours and read a bunch of your stories.  The I came across this quote you put in.
‘Sometimes you have to stop and sniff the corks!’ -Arna Dan Isacsson
It made me think about a guy I used to know who was a waiter in a very nice French restaurant.  In one of my many conversations with him we got talking about wine, restaurant mark ups, waiters’ corkscrews, glasses, and idiots who order wine.
He told me that good waiters know that the customer is a moron when after being presented with the cork they pick it up and sniff it.  He says that they actually will laugh behind your back.
Another thing he mentioned was to remember the year of the wine you ordered.  They often switch and bring you another year. Most people don’t notice.
I love wine corks.  I have hundreds of them.  I often save the cork, date it, write on it where we drank it and who we were with.  Kind of becomes a diary of sorts.
I hate screw top bottles.  There is some good stuff now in screw top but I am a traditionalist.  No cork….no buy.
So maybe a Griffy on corks?”
 
Ask and ye shall receive, here we go with Griffy on corks!
 
The waiter is half right about corks, sniffing a cork will not tell you how the wine is going to taste.  However, the cork is a very good indicator of the condition of the wine, as well as how the wine has been stored and cared for.
 
I always stop and smell the corks.  Maybe because I’m a moron–I’m told that I am a couple times a day–but in this case I don’t think so.  About 7% of wine goes bad in the bottle due to, you guessed it, bad corks.  So by smelling the cork and detecting a wet dog or wet cardboard smell, you can reject that bottle of wine, its bad.  The term for this is “corked” or “cork taint.”
 
A “Corked” wine is a wine that has been bottled with a cork that is contaminated with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). TCA contamination usually comes from corks but can also come from barrels, other cooperage, or apparently even from wood within the cellar, including walls or beams.  The term “corked wine” is applied to all wines with TCA contamination because corks are the source of most of the problems.  The wine industry estimates that as many as 3% to 7% of all wines have TCA contamination at levels that can be detected by consumers.  Because most people are not trained to recognize the smell and taste of TCA, only a very small fraction of these bad bottles are ever returned to stores or sent back at a restaurant.
 
So, if you get a corked wine, you should return it to the store from which it was purchased or refuse it at the restaurant.  Most wineries completely stand behind their wines and will work to ensure customer satisfaction.  Do make sure that you check the wine when it is opened and before it is poured around the table.  Wineries and stores are less likely to accept the return of an empty or nearly empty bottle with your claim that it was bad.  The “sniffing” ritual of a freshly opened bottle of wine developed over the years to allow the host to check and make sure that bad wine was not poured for guests.
 
Looking at the cork can tell you about the care and treatment of your wine.  A wine should be stored on its side, hence the term “laying down the wine.”  Generally, this term refers to the aging of wine–“fathers buy the wines their son’s will drink”–but if you look in a good wine shop few of the bottles, with the exception of the factory wines on the end-caps of the big cardboard mountains, are stored upright.
 
So, when you are presented a cork, sniff and squeeze, the cork should be moist and pliable.  If it’s not, then the wine was not stored properly, and if at a restaurant I would reject that bottle of wine.  The end of the cork normally should be wet and if you ordered a red wine it should have a tint of red.
 
The year switch is something you might be able to detect from the color of the wine.  I wrote about this recently in the July 4th post, “Red, White, and Hue.”  Look at the label, they should present you the bottle, but if they put a fastball past you here’s some hints: when checking color don’t hold the wine up to the light, that will not tell you a thing.  Most restaurants have white linen table cloths, hold the wine away from you and look down at the wine at the while surface.  The center of the glass, “the heart,” should have the deepest color.  The top of the oval or the “Lip” will give you the best hue.  In a red wine the hue should be blue or purple, brick color if you ordered an older wine or the pricier wine from Piedmont Italy.  If you order a wine that’s 10 years or older, wow your rich!  But if the hue is blue or purple check your label, your being gipped!  If 5 years or younger and its brown then check the label, they are giving you an old bottle that they found behind the cabinet.  I don’t know what it is about wine that promotes fraud, but it’s been that way throughout its history. 
 
On corks, I like the romance and nothing makes me smile like the pop when you open a bottle.  I must say I prefer screw tops, mainly because they seal the unused portion of the wine for better storage.  I know it’s hard to believe but most bottles I open last two or three days.  I actually do this on purpose because I want to taste the wine after the air as had a day or two to soften the tannins.  It also allows me to have two bottles of wine going at the same time.
 
I save corks too.  I’ve made key chains, trivets, refrigerator magnets and a cork board.  To all my “green” friends, see I recycle!  I save many of the bottles too because they are interesting and some have great art work on the label.
 
This email reminds me of another quote.  “What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?”  W. Clement Stone

19 Crimes

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Sometimes the wine picks itself!  So it is this time with the selection of 19 Crimes. 

In England from 1610 to 1868, if you were incarcerated on your 19th criminal offense and they needed to clear the jails, you found yourself in a long procession to the docks where you were put on a ship and away you went.  Originally, convicts were bound for the “Colonies” of the Americas, where you got a job for no wage for 10 years and then you were free.  This was known as “punishment by transportation”. 

The American Revolution put an end to this forced immigration program to our fair land, but it opened the vast area of Australia.  The first ships started to arrive in Australia on January 26th 1788, which is now celebrated as Australia Day.  These criminals-turned-pioneers built new lives for themselves and new countries in the process.  And, they were FREE!

The wine 19 crimes attempt’s to capture the sprit and culture that these folks forged. The first thing you’ll notice about this wine is the black matte-frosted bottle that gives the look and feel of a bottle from 1700’s.  Now this wine has a fantastic marketing program going for it: there are three different labels with the mug shots of three different criminals, and you can go to the wine’s website to find the stories behind the criminals.  Each cork has the name of the one of the 19 crimes that could get you on the boat.  This is a very well-thought out marketing plan. Here’s the information on face that graces my bottle John Boyle O’Reilly http://www.19crimes.com/wine_oreilly.html 

 Onto the wine, it’s a red blend of Shiraz and Durif, which is a varietal I had not heard of before.  It’s grown in Australia, the United States, and Israel.  In the U.S. and Israel it is called Petite Sirah.  The color is a youthful plumb red, and the nose is powerful– which as you know I like–with red fruit and berries.  I enjoyed the aroma almost as much as I enjoyed drinking the wine.  When opened, 19 Crimes had a bitter taste, which I am sure the wine maker was shooting for.  One of the characteristics of both Shiraz and, in particular the Petite Sirah, is strong tannins.  The bitterness remained throughout but greatly diminished as the wine was open with the air.  Some might be put off by this, but the licorice and fruit flavor is worth the slight mouth puckering, and the ride is worth the trip with a nice red berry finish.  All in all, a very nice bottle of wine one that inspires both the palate and the mind.

 Punishment by Transportation officially ended in 1868.  However, with what I see today, I wonder if it isn’t still going on.  Where you can have a person charged with a crime–not even convicted and in some cases found not guilty–but their situation is so far gone that they have to leave their home and go somewhere else to find peace and freedom.  Are we a nation of laws, or an ignorant mob, blindly following where our passions lead us? Something I shall ponder over my next glass of 19 Crimes. Something we all should ponder.

 

“Bring the pure wine of
love and freedom.
But sir, a tornado is coming.
More wine, we’ll teach this storm
A thing or two about whirling.”

Rumi

Confessions of a Wine Lover

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I remember a quote I heard when I first started traveling, “Life is like a book, if you don’t travel, you live on just one page.”  The same is true of wine: if you only drink wine of one grape, from one manufacture, what have you learned about wine; how many pages are in your book?  To put it simply, are you a wine drinker, or a wine lover?

 

The difference begins at about $4,000 to $6,000 a year depending on your disposable income level.  Wine drinkers were once rare in the United States, though not anymore, but wine Lovers are still rare creatures indeed.  See if any of this sounds familiar to you.

 

Do your adventures in liquor stores never get passed the big cardboard end cap isles where they keep the factory wine of the week, or do you roam the isles?  Can you tell the difference between a Boudreaux, a Burgundy or Beaujolais–do you even want to?  I’ll admit, I can’t tell one wine from another by taste, but I know there is a difference and I want to learn what that is.

 

How about specialty stores, have you visited any?  I have a store for Italian wine, Center Street Wine & Spirits, 382 Center Street, Wallingford, CT 06492, another who knows a ton about Australian and New Zealand wines Madison Wine Exchange, 188 Boston Post Road, Madison CT 06443, my French wine guy Mount Carmel Wine & Spirits, 2977 Whitney Ave, Hamden, CT 06578, Spanish and Portuguese wine guy Gran Vin, 28 East Grand Ave, New Haven CT 06513, and Napa Valley wine guy Gillette Ridge Wine & Spirits, 860 Cottage Grove Road, Bloomfield, CT.  I bet I’ll have Chilean, Argentine, and South African wine guys too before long.

 

To be a wine lover takes effort, like going to the supermarket and buying some fruit.  When was the last time you purchased and ate cherries, blackberries, raspberries, or boysenberries?  I’ve never eaten a boysenberry in my life.  So how would I ever know a wine taste likes boysenberries?  Maybe our wine experience needs to start in the produce isle.  And as a quick aside, if you say a wine tastes like dog doo, my first thought is “how do you know the flavor of dog doo?”  I like a good adventure, but that sounds like a gustatory experience I can live without.  I’ll just take your word for it and skip that bottle.

  

To be a wine lover might mean making a trip to the library, to pick up some vocabulary and basic understanding of the process and the history of wine.  This might actually help you to enjoy wine more.  I don’t like most wine speak: “firm skeleton,” “old bones,” and “nervy” do nothing to improve my wine drinking experience, not nearly as much as eating a raspberry.  But learning what to look for in color, what to expect from the wines nose, and how to taste a wine will help you better understand what you are doing.  You’re already reading this wine blog; check out some others to gain a deeper perspective.  Two I really enjoy are The Buddha in Your Glass, and Red Wine Lovers.

 

Now I know some of you are probably thinking that wine is just for drinking, and all these extras are just Griffy being a wine snob!  To that I’ll answer no, I’m a wine lover; love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong-doing and seeks the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.  Love never dies.  Be a wine lover!

 

‘Phylloxera’ by Christy Campbell The air is like a draught of wine. … Who does not love wine, women, and song remains a fool his whole life long.

 

 

Columna Albarno

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Next up to bat in the Great White Wine Hunt if 2013 is Columna Albarno, and it hits a solid single!
 
This wine is from the Galicia area in the northwest part of Spain, one of the Celtic regions of the Iberian Peninsula.
 
The Columna Albarno is a clean, crisp white with flavors of pineapple and peaches.  It tastes very much like a Riesling without that syrupy effect.  In fact, the Cluny monks who are credited for bring the Albarino grape to Spain called the grape “Alba-Rino” or “the white wine from the Rhine,” though remarkably the Albarino predates the Riesling grape by three hundred years.  The Albarino can be found in texts from the 12th century, and we don’t see any records of the Riesling until the 15th Century.  Historians think this grape may be more closely related to the French grape Petti Manseng.
 
What I miss most with white wines vs. reds is the nose.  Maybe my nose is worn out and I just can’t smell the fragrance that’s there, but I rarely fine a nose with a white wine, and unfortunately the Columna was no exception.
 
What I did get was an excellent refreshing wine that pairs well with grilled salmon and chicken.  It was equally enjoyable with water melon sherbet for dessert.
 
I would encourage you to give the Albarino grape, especially the Columna wine, a try.  This wine is made by Rodri Mendez who is Raul Perez’s right hand man.  If you remember, Raul Perez is the maker of “Sketch,” which is the white wine aged 60 feet down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Hell if you’ve got an extra $70. Give Sketch a try.  Columna retails for about $15.

Embrace the Grape

It’s the glass!

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Recently I enjoyed a bottle of wine with my friend and wine mentor, Mario…for educational purposes only of course.  We talked about our grandchildren and the zip-line he built for them, about his most recent trip to Italy, and then his next trip to Italy.  Somehow the subject turned to wine glasses.  Whimsically I asked why wine always tastes better here.  “It’s the glass,” Mario responded without missing a beat.
 
Now, I had read at one point that the glass used to drink your wine can affect the way it tastes.  I didn’t know how at the time, but I now know for certain it does.  Mario agrees; “Quality and shape really do make a difference to the tasting experience.”
So I asked, how do you know which glasses are best for taste and which are just for show?
 
Mario said to get the most bang for the buck it’s Riedel brand.  When the Riedel range is compared to any other glass, they stand head and shoulders above them, for a number of reasons. The most obvious one – especially when you have seen them – is their look and feel.  Obvious care and expertise has gone into the way they’ve been made.
 
Claus Riedel was the person responsible for the finer design and development of today’s modern wine glass styles.  He made Riedel into the finest producer of wine glassware in the world.  With his son Maximillian, they recognized the importance of the design of the wine glass and its relation to the style and type of wine being tasted.
 
Wine can be consumed from any sort of vessel, but Mario challenged me to drink from my wide, thick-rimmed average-style glass, and compare it with a Riedel glass–the Riedel Nebbiolo to be precise–to see if I noticed a difference in the whole wine tasting experience.
 
I did.  For the test I compared two wines, the Monna Nerra 2007 and the Ghost Pines Zinfandel.  First was the Monna Nerra, and let me tell you this was just an awesome wine: 50 percent Sangiovese, 20 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Canaiolo.  A great tasting wine no matter what glass I used, but to be honest the Riedel did make the wine taste better.  The Ghost Pines Zinfandel by Louis M. Martini was a beautiful Zin, and I’m a man who drinks a lot of Zinfandel, but once again the Riedel glass made it taste even better.
 
When it comes to actually tasting a wine, the shape of the glass is important.  Professional tasters have to be able to assess the wine accurately in order to portray their findings to us via tasting notes.  It’s the same from an amateur’s point of view.  Before we sip the wine, we want to find out a bit more about it via its smell, or nose, as it’s called when tasting.
 
To be able to extract so much information from a sniff when the wine is swirled in the glass, the design of the bowl helps a lot. The ideal design in a Riedel wine glass allows the aromas to be neatly collected at the rim, ready for the taster to inhale and assess the wines’ quality prior to drinking it.  However, the design of conventional wine glasses are unable to concentrate the nuances in the same way.
 
Max Riedel – 11th Riedel generation – has developed bespoke wine glasses for different varieties of wine.  For example, if you are partial to a delicate wine like a Pinot Noir, then the ideal glass for this is one with a wide-rimmed bowl.  Conversely, with a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc the glass shape is taller and thinner, enabling the capture of the youthful freshness and acidity which would be lost in the Pinot Noir glass.
 
Some may say, why be so persnickety over the shape of a glass?  The answer is that wine has often been connected to pretentiousness and even snobbery.  So drinking out of “the right” glass to many does make a difference – you don’t have to be pretentious or a snob to want to appreciate wine.
 
There is no need to be overwhelmed if you are concerned at the cost of replacing an entire set of glassware, just go for the ones you use regularly.  Here are some simple guidelines when selecting glasses:
 
White wines:
  • Use a wine glass with a narrow bowl to retain subtle flavors and nuances. This ensures that the surface area of exposed wine to oxygen is reduced.
  • The wine will remain cooler for longer, therefore retaining its bouquet.
  • A younger, fresher wine is best in a slightly taller, thinner glass.  This is why champagne is always served in a tall, fluted glass: it contains the bubbles and slowly directs them gently upwards towards your nose.
  • A fuller, fatter wine like a mature Chardonnay is best out of a slightly shorter, wider rimmed glass.  As there is an abundance of flavor already in the wine, it is beneficial to have a wider surface area in your glass. A Chardonnay does not require so much chilling, unless of course it is very young and high in acidity.
 
Red wines:
  • Use a glass with a wider bowl, increasing the surface area, enabling the wine to breathe.
  • Exposure to oxygen will soften the tannins and allow the stronger flavors in the wine to show through.
  • The wine will be served at room temperature, therefore it is easier to warm a wider glass than a tall, narrow one as you hold it in your hand, which in turn releases more aromas.
 
I’ll leave you today with a few quick tips.  First, when pouring your wine only fill glasses one-third full.  This helps to leave room in the glass to swirl the wine around, so you are able to enjoy the aromas as they are released.  Next, when washing good quality wine glasses use very hot water only, without detergent.  The buildup of soap in your glasses may interfere with the taste of wine.  Mario will also tell you to keep an inexpensive white wine to “rinse” you glass with, as the white wine will eliminate unwanted flavors.  I keep an inexpensive white for Josephine to cook with, so I rinse with it too.  Don’t worry, I do drink it.  Wastes not, want not!  Finally, invest in the best wine glass collection you can.  It can be a big decision, but I promise you when it comes to tasting wine, size and shape do matter.