Thursday, April 26, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
There was never a time when the hangover didn’t hurt, but lately, I’ve been more sensitive to it. Or maybe “good-sensed” to it. Hangovers always hurt, but being mid-30’s, they hurt more.
One new urban legend which came to me from a doctor-friend (a toxicologist, nonetheless) was to drink half a 5 hr energy drink before getting after it. No kidding, it helps a little.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Friday, April 20, 2012
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Sondra, Cushing ME
This interview with me is by Tom Wark at Fermentation.com:
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
How is climate change affecting vineyards? Will growers have to go north and Kamloops, Canada, become the next Napa? Well, it so happens that, for the first time, scientists are documenting a direct effect of climate warming on vineyards. Using decades of records in Australian vineyards, scientists are able to show that early ripening of wine grapes is directly linked to a heating climate and the consequent decline of water content. The records show that, in turn, is causing lower yields. The study, just published in Nature Climate Change, was done by climatologists and viticulturists at University of Melbourne. It concludes that in southern Australia: “. . . grape maturation dates have advanced about eight days per decade. . . impacting wine grape quality.” So, Kamloops, here they come.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
A reader asks how I got interested in wine, a common question often followed by: “Isn’t wine-tasting a marvelous excuse for getting smashed?… Isn’t the wine world glamorous?… And isn’t your real ambition to own a winery?”
And the answers are, in order: No, yes, and no.
I got interested in wine by drinking Gallo Paisano out of a gallon jug with a screw-off cap, a long time ago in California. I was living on the proceeds of a writing fellowship at Stanford, where my future wife and I also discovered the joys of eating in the company of this beverage - not just sourdough bread and pizza, but also such daring culinary leaps as lamb chops garnished with rosemary.
Next came New Orleans, where I worked for The Times-Picayune as a reporter and discovered that wine came in smaller bottles, with corks. Paisano was not to be despised with po’ boys, oyster loaves and steamed crabs, but even better was Wente’s “gray Riesling” with poached fish and crawfish tails.
Then we lived in Rome, where I worked for another newspaper. Our Italian whites were limited to Frascati, often drunk with huge mushrooms from the Alban hills that sautéed in olive oil and served like steaks. There is no food like Italian food, period, and the wines accommodated it in some mystical way. They were cheap and abundant; although we had little Chianti classico and no brunello or barolo, whatever the reds they were firm and memorable in their ways.
In Switzerland, where we lived on the top floor of a farmhouse and spent the winter skiing – believe it or not, that was once affordable – and those crisp Swiss wines live well in memory, served by our landlady with fondue and a slide show about the family’s cows. There was also cheese melted under electric heat and spread on little baked potatoes eaten with gherkins and spritzy white.
My first sip of burgundy came in Switzerland, too, from the Cote de Beaune. I can’t remember the village or the producer but I sure remember the taste. A French friend served it at a dinner party with veal in cream, on a very cold night, after placing the open bottles on the hearth.
After that, Penny and I made forays into France to smuggle lesser burgundies and Rhone wines back into Switzerland. Then, while working in Paris, we drank Bordeaux superieur, and inexpensive blends from the south - muscadet and, yes, lesser chardormay from Chablis, reasonably priced then and a great, steely wine for seafood and omelets.
In London, we moved up the wine list. “Hock" - West German wine in England - inevitably accompanied the first course. Then we got into the crus bourgeois bordeauxs and an occasional first-growth, and better burgundies. We were introduced to port and the ritual of the port decanter. (Don’t pass but slide the decanter, and if you do pass it you won’t be invited back.) Port with Stilton and walnuts was one of our great discoveries.
Finally, in Washington, I pored over Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine and began a long process of reading broadly about it and attending tastings. The subject appealed to me as a kind of index of the world, a small mirror of history and social values, as well as fun. I worked for a time for the Washington Post and ended up writing the wine column between writing profiles for the very politically and culturally engaged section Style then was, and in a few years tasted more wines than I ever knew existed.
Exactly how much I learned is another question, but I certainly learned a lot about human nature. Writing about wine isn’t a profession, really, it’s just an avocation that got slightly out of hand.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Another voice clearly heard from Paso Robles: Austin Hope Winery, 20 miles from the Pacific in the Templeton Gap, offers a worthy antiphonal response to the power of the Rhone in its 2010 Grenache. Bright garnet, spicy nose, good up-front fruit and a lush, peppery finish suited to robust food.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
I painted the horse and my dear friend, graphic designer, Harrison Goldberg, painted the hawk. We were inspired by ancient cave renderings of animals in motion. I see the hawk and horse on our wine label as being in a sort of synchronized flight. We like to leave the arguments to the attorneys! Cheers!
Tracey Hawkins, co-manager
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Friday, April 6, 2012
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but what about wine?
Does cabernet present the same bouquet to every nose? More exactly, does it ring the same sensory bells in all of us? Anyone who has sniffed and sipped in company knows that cabernet can elicit associations as disparate as black tea and raspberries from knowledgeable people, and both can be right.
Many people taste wine the way they look at abstract art, making their own associations in what is a highly personal relationship. That's hooey, say the experts. Aromas in wine are the direct result of natural substances and their interaction and can be cataloged more or less like groceries. Recognition lies not in the ephemeral imagination but in knowledge of the actual, and in memory. Chardonnay that has undergone secondary fermentation contains some of the same substance that’s in milk: hence, it can accurately be described as "buttery."
While smell is a basic sensory perception, it’s also a tender and mysterious subject. Simply biting into a madeleine called forth the complex childhood of Marcel Proust reflected in Remembrance of Things Past. Such are the powers, and potential magic, of our fully-employed individual olfactories. It’s offensive, therefore, to tell someone they’re a kind of personal computer that requires only the proper statistical in-put to spread butter on their chardonnay.
Part of the problem is wine evaluators – and wine writers - who freely associate and then put forth a blizzard of descriptors. Such wanton nosing should be controlled, say the same experts. One of them, Ann Noble, who taught sensory evaluation at University of California at Davis, invented the Aroma Wheel which presented the one hundred most common aromas in groups making them easier to identify.
In on-going efforts to define terms, winemakers try to pin down the exact - that is, classifiable - smells and tastes in their wines to use as marketing tools. Years ago a group of Napa and Sonoma wineries adopted, after considerable research, strawberry, cherry and spice as flavors that distinguish their pinot noirs from the rest of the world's.
Regardless of the accuracy or the consistency of your nose, knowing some basics is important to your enjoyment of wine. One common confusion involves the distinction between sweetness and fruitiness. Many people reject riesling, for instance, as being sweet when in fact it displays the floral aromas and tastes of that grape but can have a crisp, dry finish.
Even without descriptors, you may detect a lot about quality just by swirling the wine up the side of the glass (to increase evaporation), and taking a few short sniffs (rather than a major inhalation), and concentrating. Initial impressions are the most revealing, so try to articulate and remember them. Then take a sip and move the wine around inside your mouth, but don't swallow it. Draw some air in through your lips and over the wine, close your lips and exhale through your nose. Finally, swallow.
Sounds tricky - and maybe silly - but you'll find that it enhances flavor. Finally, relax and enjoy the conversation - which is now probably about your bizarre behavior.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
In this the season of the Supreme Court’s least memorable performance I bring you… David Boies. You remember: he successfully argued for the landmark decision upholding the constitutional right of same-sex marriage, with his old adversary Ted Olsen.
Now Boies is a vintner as well as a lawyer and apparently knows something about grape, as well as jury, selection. The address on the label of Hawk and Horse Vineyards is St. Helena, Napa Valley, but he has vineyards of volcanic soil up in Lake County from which have evolved a big, deeply-hued cabernet and an elegant dessert wine – Latigo - in half bottles, also made with cab, that’s intensely flavorful and gallops on after you’ve swallowed it.
As you might have guessed, these wines aren’t cheap - $65 and $45. The hawk and horse on the label are either racing, or arguing, I’m not sure which, but definitely on the move.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
We’re in the era of product enhancement, in case you haven’t noticed, including the pretentious punt. That's the indentation in the bottom of a wine bottle that gives the glass added strength which it rarely needs these days. Bottles with shallow punts cost less and often indicate inferior wine, whereas deep punts used to indicate quality. Often they still do, but nowadays a bottle of over-priced, over-oaked, alcoholic drek, too, can come in a Fort Knox of a bottle with a three-inch punt.
A wine bottle’s generally considered a means to an end, the world concerned only with its contents. But the bottle will outlast the wine and ends up on the kitchen table the next morning, or in the trash, to mock the reveler. The evolution of wine bottles is closely tied up with the history of wine, and questions of bottle size and shape are still subjects of debate.
Wine was first stored in amphorae that had been sealed with pitch, and then in barrels. Bottles were used only to serve wine until about 1700, when corks started appearing in bottles to keep out air and allowing wine to age and improve. But corks also dry out unless the bottles are turned on their sides, so as a result wine-bottle shapes evolved from pot-like containers to cylinders that could lie flat and be easily stacked. Presto, the wine cellar!
Over the years wine producers developed standard shapes and sizes of bottles that vary according to the origin and expected shelf life of a wine. The most common bottle size is 750 milliliters or 26 fluid ounces, but because good wine ages better in larger bottles many wines come in 1.5-liter magnums, which hold two bottles in one. Bordeaux also comes in double magnums, and in imperials, which hold about eight regular bottles. Champagne has its magnums, double magnums, jeroboams (four bottles), methuselahs (eight bottles) and salmanazars (twelve bottles).
For many, the choice of bottle size pivots more on consumption than storage considerations. Around our house standard bottles usually have wine left in them, which means putting in a rubber stopper and evacuating the air with a plastic pump. Some people consider this tacky, or ineffectual, but they’re wrong, at least on the second point. If you do it immediately after pouring, the wine – particularly reds – will be fine for a day or two.
If you abhor tackiness and the effort required to pump, a smaller bottle would save you some money from otherwise wasted wine, but half-liter bottles are proportionately more expensive and, from a producer/seller’s point of view, a pain. But half-bottles take up less storage space. And, because wine ages faster in them, some cabernets and other reds not yet ready in full-sized bottles can be drunk earlier in the smaller bottles.
Many half-bottles have the screw-on caps discussed earlier, which don't affect the taste of the wine and are cheaper and more efficient than corks. But they, like half-bottles, wine in boxes - and honest punts - lack of sex appeal.