Friday, November 28, 2014

Somtimes it is About More Than What is in the Glass

It was December 1998. My father had recently passed away and my mother was having a hard time dealing with his loss.    She was one of the most charismatic happy people on earth who always had a glow about her, and it was difficult seeing her in such a funk.  She was in her early 80’s  was feeling her age and let me know that in addition to the loss of her husband she was having a hard time dealing with the fact that she would never see her brothers/sister nieces/nephews again.  We could not bring my dad back but we could do something about having her see her family.  Along with my wife and two sons, who had never met their Sicilian family, my mother and I traveled to Sicily the for Easter 1999.  

When they heard about our visit our 60 or so aunts/uncles/cousins could not agree on who would host us for Easter dinner (they all WANTED to host us not the other way around).  Their solution was that they would rent out a banquet room at a local restaurant and they would all host us!

When we arrived at the banquet hall, we, along with my mothers brothers and sisters, were seated at the head table.  We were served a number of seafood dishes, couscous in a seafood broth, and other local favorites.  I remember looking at my momma, surrounded by her brothers,  sisters, nieces and nephew, with a huge smile on her face.  The glow that had been missing for several months had finally returned and stayed with her for the rest of her life.  There are very few moments in my life that can compete with that one.   

Along with the meal they served a local Sicilian white wine with a very unique taste.  I don’t know for certain what it was but the wines I have found that come closest to what I remember are wines consisting of primarily a grape called Grillo or include it as part of the blend.  

Every time I open a bottle and take a sip that unique taste transports me back to that day and I get to relive one of the happiest moments of my life.  I also know in my heart that mamma is looking down from heaven enjoying a glass with me.  

Do you have a wine that brings back special memories?  Please share that moment in the comments section.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Restaurant Wine Ritual and Getting What You Want

You have been obsessing all week on how you were going to get her to say yes.    

You decided you were going to go into classic mode and impress her with a great dinner a fine bottle of wine and then pop the question.  

You take her to her favorite french restaurant.  The waiter comes over and asks if you would like some wine.  You ask to see the wine list and let him know that you would like a bottle of wine but are going to wait until you know what you are going to eat before ordering.  She glances at you with that “ooh this guy knows what he’s doing” look in her eye.  A great start.  You think a 2009 Chateau La Ponte Pomerol is the perfect choice for the braised beef she is ordering so you order a bottle.

The waiter arrives with the bottle and shows you the label before opening the wine  It is a Chateau La Ponte alright, but a 2011.  This has happened to you before where a restaurant will by mistake or by design will switch a vintage on you hoping you won’t notice.  2011 was a great year but still a little young and not nearly as drinkable so you send it back reminding the waiter you ordered the 2009. You glance over at her and she has an expression that tells you she likes a man who knows what he wants.  Your plan is working to perfection.  

The waiter comes back with a 2009, apologizes for his mistake, and after you inspect the label to make sure it has the right vintage you give the OK to open the bottle.  After pulling out the cork the waiter hands it to you for your inspection.  You confidently take the cork in your hand and you only need to check for a couple of things but to make the process more impressive so you do the full monty and check for three things.  The first thing you do is make sure the producer name on the cork matches the name on the label.  In the past unscrupulous restaurants would put inferior wine in used bottles, re-cork them, and resell them. By making sure the name on the cork matches the name on the label customers were assured they were getting what they paid for.  In this day and age the practice of switching wine is all but nonexistent and this is not necessary but you sure do look good going through the process so go ahead and do it. The next thing to do is to look at the bottom of the cork to see if there are any wine solids stuck to the bottom of the cork.  If you see some it does not mean there is anything wrong with the wine it just means there is some naturally occurring sediment in the wine and you want to make sure that you decant the wine so that any sediment falls to the bottom of the decanter and not in your, or more importantly, her, wine glass.  The third thing you want to do is make sure there are no red streak of color going all the way up the side of the cork.  It is OK to have a streak go up part way but if it goes from top to bottom it means that the seal on the cork was not tight enough to keep air out and that the wine is probably spoiled and you should reject the bottle.  Fortunately you saw no issues with the cork and you give the waiter the O.K. to pour a little of the wine in your glass to taste.  You take a quick peek at her and are almost blinded by the gleam coming back at you.  Oh what a night this is going to be.  

Just because the bottle passed the cork eye test does not mean your work is done.  You may have a bottle of “Corked” wine on your hands.  Some cork contains a small amount of a substance called TCA.  Prolonged contact of a cork containing TCA with wine will make that wine taste like wet, smelly cardboard.  You certainly don’t want the taste of  wet smelly cardboard to pass over her angelic lips, and splash onto that perfect tongue. You take a sip and after tasting the wine and making sure it has met your expectations and is worthy of her you instruct the waiter to pour some in her glass.  The almost imperceptible “oh” you hear her sigh as she takes her first sip lets you know that victory is close at hand.  

The food arrives you tell the waiter to pour more wine. The moment feels right so you pop the question;  “Say honey, you know the weekend that you wanted to go see you mom for her birthday, Mike has organized a golf trip to Tahoe you won’t mind if I do that instead do you?”.  

There is a proper way to signal a waiter to get red wine stain out of your shirt but that is a topic for another day.     

Thursday, October 23, 2014

So you don’t like red wine huh?

You are one of those “I hate red wine, I only drink white” kind of people?
It’s fine.  This is America you are free to be who you want to be.  But that doesn’t mean you are right.   
I would bet that the reason you don’t like red wine is because you probably have gone about it all wrong.  
You are probably used to drinking fruit wine, sweet wines (click here to find out if it is wrong to drink sweet wine), or even chardonnay.  Someone once probably served you a two year old red Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and your face puckered up like an old guy who forgot to put in his dentures, and you probably e spit it out thinking to yourself “who the heck can drink this crap”.  Starting out with a young Cabernet Sauvignon is like learning to ski on an Olympic downhill course instead of the bunny hill.  You simply started with the wrong red wine.  You went too fast too soon.  
The reason your mouth puckered up and you did not enjoy the experience is because Cabernet Sauvignon has lots of  tannins.  If you want to know what tannins are find a black tea bag and suck on it.  That sounds like it would be terrible and it is. Tannins are introduced to wine through extended contact with stems, seeds, new oak barrels, but mostly grape skins (especially grapes with thick skins) during the fermentation process.  The reason you want tannins in the wine is because the tannins allow the wine to age longer and the fact that those tannins soften over time and if you wait long enough you will have a unique, complex, and  interesting wine.  
Most white wine is processed in such a way to minimize tannins.  Many red wines are as well.  But because when you think of red wine you immediately flash back to that traumatic Cabernet Sauvignon encounter you refuse to try any red wine.      
Another reason you don’t like red wine is because you try to drink it alone, without food.  Wine, especially red wine, transforms the taste of food, and food transforms the taste of the wine.  Some red wine is just not meant to be alone.
So, with that as background, I would view it as a personal favor it you would try the following step program that will help you lose your fear of and learn to love all red wine.  
Step 1 – Try a Dry Rose
I consider Rose to be a gateway red. Wine gets its color not from its juice but from contact with grape skins during the fermentation process. Rose wine is made from red skin grapes but only has a short period of content with the skin so its color is lighter and because wine gets much of its tannins from skin contact it is not very tannic.  
When many people when they think of Rose think of White Zinfandel which is a sweet wine. That is not what I am talking about.  Most Rose is not sweet.  I would suggest you start out with a light red or salmon color Rose from the Provence region of France.  The lighter the color the closer it is to white wine.  If you like that I would then try a rose from the Tavel (my personal favorite) or Bordeaux regions of France. The color in Rose from those regions is a little darker and the flavor is a little more intense then Rose from Provence but it is still very close to a white wine.  Rose should be enjoyed young and does not require any aging.  Another reason that white wine drinkers should try a dry rose is because they are served cold, like most white wines are.  California and other parts of the world make great Rose as well but the styles vary greatly and are not as consistent as wines from these French regions are.  I like to drink dry Rose alone but I also enjoy it with salmon and other heavier seafood.  
Step 2 – Try Gamay/Beaujolais
Now that you have started to enjoy dry Rose it is time to take the next step, a real red wine!  Fear not you do not have to drink a dreaded tannic Cabernet.  There are several wines to try before you have to make that leap.  There are many wines that are made from grapes with thinner less tannic skins and are not aged in new oak barrels and in some cases are not fermented with their skins and seeds.  In many cases these wines are made from grapes that have a fruitier flavor.   
The first real red wine I would try is Gamay which is used to make Beaujolais.  It is light, not tannic at all, and unlike other red wine can be served cold, a comfort to most white wine zealots.  Gamay would be a great wine to enjoy alone or with salad or with some lighter pork dishes.  It also should be enjoyed young as it does not improve much with age.  
Step 3 – Try a light bodied red.  
After you have tried Gamey and found that not only did you not break out into hives but actually enjoyed the experience it is time to take the next step trying some fuller bodied but still lighter red. A wine like Pinot Noir, Grenache, Barbara, or Sangiovese.  These wines should not be fully chilled but, like most red wines, should be served below room temperature at around 60 degrees. Red wines that are too warm mask a lot of their character and exaggerate the impact of any tannins in the wine .  Of these the only one I would drink alone would be the Pinot Noir as the others are better with food like pasta, pizza, and pork roasts, and heavier fowl dishes like Turkey. I would make sure that these wines have aged at least two years (from the year on the bottle) before drinking.
Step 3 – Try a medium body red.    
If this is as far as your red wine journey takes you then so be it.  Many people consider those light bodied red wines, especially the Pinot Noir, to be among the finest in the world.  But if you have enjoyed the ride so far and are ready to go a bit farther then it is time to try some medium bodied reds like Sarah, Malbec, Red Zinfandel and Merlot.  These wines are more tannic than the others we have discussed and should be at least 4 years old before drinking.  Red Zinfandel would be my favorite to drink alone and they all would taste great with roasts, beef stews, and Mexican food (I think Red Zin and Mexican food is a match made in heaven.)      
Step 4 – Try a Heavyweight red.
Admit it, my advice has opened up a whole new world for you.  Hey you made it this far and have not turned back so let’s go all the way!  It’s time to learn how to enjoy the heaviest and most tannic red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, and Bordeaux.  First and foremost, and this will upset many red wine zealots, I would not drink any of them without food.  They are infinitely better when paired with grilled fatty red meat like steak or ribs.  They also taste incredible when paired with chocolate. Key to your enjoyment will be choose wine that is at least a minimum of 6 years old in order to give the tannins a chance to mellow out.   If stored properly these heavyweight reds can last 20 years or more.  Trying one of these wines, properly aged, and matched  with the right foods could very well make you regret all the time you spent refusing to try red wines.  But don’t feel bad you have the rest of your life ahead of you to make up for lost time.
Agree? Disagree? Have a question? Let me know by leaving a comment.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Further Proof of the Heath Benefits of Red Wine

Amare Stoudemire takes baths in red wine to help him with his rehab and rejuvenate his body.  Click here to read the ESPN article and to see the video.  

I wonder if a fine Bordeaux has more healing power then two buck chuck?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

** Wine Deal Alert **

Drop what you are doing and immediately go to Costco and by as many bottles of Acrobat 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir $9.99.  It compares favorably to wines costing $30.00 or more.  Don’t know if your Costco carry’s it but if it does you should buy as much as possible before they run out.  I got some at the Costco on Hayden in Scottsdale. It is spicy, smooth, has a wonderful floral aroma, and has the right balance between earthiness and fruit.  Unless you are having major surgery or giving birth you have no excuse for not taking my advice and buying some. 

Go now, try some and let me know what you think.   

Quit reading this and go already. 

What are you still doing reading this?  Go!!!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What is the difference between a horizontal and vertical wine tasting?

Joe Cillo of Cleveland Ohio asks “what is the difference between a horizontal and a vertical wine tasting?”. 

Well Joe I know that for someone like you a horizontal tasting is the portion of a tasting after you have had too much to taste. But for others a horizontal tasting compares wines from the same year but from multiple producers. For example at a horizontal tasting you may taste nothing but 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bogle, Kunde, BV, Grgich Hills, and Joel Gott.  That way, in comparing the wines, you get a better understanding of the wine style of that particular producer, and you can then decide which producers match your taste.   
A vertical tasting involves wine from the same producer but from different years.  For example a vertical tasting may consist Ravenswood Zinfandel from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.  That way you get a better understanding of the each vintage in order to better understand the vintage that best fits your taste.

So Joe, hope that answers your question and helps you in better understanding wines that you will enjoy most. 

If you have a question or would like more information please post a comment or send an email to

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wine You Should Drink But Probably Don’t – Dolcetto

Dolcetto is a wine from Piedmont region of Italy that has a confusing name.  Translated into English it means “sweet little one”, an odd name for a wine that is not sweet.  Dolcetto is a dry, fruity, slightly tannic (the characteristic of wine that makes your mouth pucker) wine with low acidity (the characteristic of wine that makes your mouth water). 

It is made to drunk young so look for a vintage that is 3 years old or less. It pairs well with simple meals like Italian sausage, pasta with meat sauce, and pizza with meat toppings.  You might also enjoy it on a summer day when you are grilling steaks and it’s just too hot for a Cabernet or other big red wine. 

Like the simple food that it pairs with it commands a simple price.  You can good a good bottle of Dolcetto for around $15 or less.   

Give it a try and let me know what you think.