Friday, December 31, 2010

Free wine!

Most things that sound too good to be true usually are. However, if you know where to look, free isn't so hard to come by. One such opportunity that most people have is to attend free in-store wine tastings (though not all states allow this activity). These events are a good way to get to know a wide variety of wines and perhaps wines that you might not normally drink. Educating your palate is a good way for wine shops to help you buy more and more expensive wines in the future! The best way to find out about these tastings is to sign up for your local wine shop's newsletter or visit LocalWineEvents.com to see a calendar of events near you.

With today being the last day of 2010 and many people celebrating with bottles of bubbly, Incredible Wine and Spirits in Denver offered a special tasting of sparkling wines. As if free wine needs a hook, the headline for today's tasting was Free Dom Pérignon! Who can pass up free Dom? So, while I was out running errands today, I stopped by to have a few tastes.

On the counter at the tasting bar, four bottles looked at the customers with a sparkle in their eyes hoping to be a part of someone's New Year's Eve celebration; two from California and two from France. I tasted a Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé, Domaine Chandon Extra Dry Riche, Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label and a 2002 Dom Pérignon. While all were tasty, I left without bringing any of the suitors home. Tonight, I am bringing two Cavas to ring in the New Year.

Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé
This bright pink sparkler provides fruity flavors of strawberry and watermelon; almost like a not-so-sweet strawberry cupcake. Sample $22. Good (tasted 12/31/10)

Domaine Chandon Extra Dry Riche
The extra sugar is apparent in this bottle. Honey and stone fruit aromas entice my nose. This one tastes just like an apricot cupcake with vanilla cream cheese frosting. Sample $22. Very Good (tasted 12/31/10)

Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label
Much toastier than the previous two, this wine is nice while being nothing special at the same time. Stick with Grower Champagne for this price. Sample $43. Good (tasted 12/31/10)

2002 Dom Pérignon
This is the biggest and most yet the most precise of the bunch. Biscuits, lemon, and crisp pear filled my mouth. While this wine is eight years old already, it will need another ten years to begin showing what it really can do. It is very nice, but there are many other sparkling wines I would rather have for what this one costs. Sample $150. Very Good (tasted 12/31/10)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drink Indigenous

One of the problems with drinking locally is the distribution system in the U.S. Our three-tier distribution system requires producers to sell to distributors and these distributors to sell alcoholic beverages to retail stores and restaurants. This system is supposed to promote competition and provide a professional to find the best beverages for the consumer. What this really does is add costs and limit choices for the consumer. Some states allow self distribution by producers (like Colorado) but often times producers do not have the resources to fully distribute to meet demand.

On the other hand, some producers choose to not be widely distributed. A brewer from my home state of Wisconsin supports this system. New Glarus Brewing Company is a small brewery run by Dan and Deb Carey in the little Swiss hamlet of New Glarus, WI. New Glarus is a cult producer in the beer industry. I've had the pleasure of touring the new brewing facilities in Wisconsin, but even more exciting was pouring beer with Dan at the Great American Beer Festival two years ago. New Glarus is the one brewery that all the other brewers line up to taste before the doors are open to the general public. The entire 4-hour session consisted of a line of people vying for a taste of Dan's brews.

Apart from the quality, people line up to taste these beers because they can be had nowhere else besides Wisconsin. Beer lovers in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota all have to drive across the border into Wisconsin just to be able to buy these sought-after beers. If you don't live near the Wisconsin border, good luck finding yourself some! During the holidays, I am lucky enough to usually travel back to Wisconsin and indulge in my New Glarus fix. This year, however, my family drove to Colorado from Wisconsin and were kind enough to bring some recent New Glarus brews with them. For the past week I have been enjoying (and will be enjoying for a some time in the future) a sampling of what is taken for granted in the Land of Cheeseheads (Go Pack Go!). Just as it says on the side of their cases, Drink Indigenous!

New Glarus Brewing Company, Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale

This Nut Brown Ale pours a reddish copper color with little to no head. It has a nutty and roasted malt aroma. Not reminiscent of squirrel, but it does have flavors of nuts, sweet hops and maple syrup. 5.8% abv Purchased $8.49/6-pack. Very Good

New Glarus Brewing Company, Back Forty Wisconsin Bock

This strong lager is a hazy amber color with a medium off-white head. Aromas of caramel and malts are dominant. Unfortunately, the flavor is mostly watery with a hint of caramel and roasted malts. 5.5% abv Purchased $8.49/6-pack. Good

New Glarus Brewing Company, Coffee Stout

This hearty stout is dark brown/black with a tan head. It smells like well-roasted coffee beans with a hint of smoke. Creamy dark chocolate and coffee go a long way on the palate. It is not as strong as most coffee stouts, but it is a tasty brew. 6.3% abv Purchased $8.49/6-pack. Very Good

*Images from www.newglarusbrewing.com*

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grade inflation

In addition to my wildly successful wine writing career (ha!), I am an adjunct environmental science/geography instructor at area universities. One thing that my students often complain to me about is that I am tough grader.  I am a firm believer that most people are average (myself included). A smaller percentage are above average and a select few are exceptional. Much to the chagrin of my students, this philosophy is reflected in my grading. In a way, I am glad that our American society has taught us to think that we are the best of the best, but only when we strive to achieve excellence instead of simply expecting it. So many students expect to receive "A" grades. It is sad when a "B" is now considered a subpar grade. When did above average become a bad thing? A "C" is the kiss of death to one's GPA.

I am seeing the same grade inflation when it comes to wine scores. Maybe I'm just a grade inflation curmudgeon but I can't stand how many 90+ scores are out there! Now, I am not a believer in points, though I will admit I am intrigued and perhaps easily departed with my money when I see a high (94+) score. For this reason, amongst others, I prefer the terms flawed, average, good, very good, exceptional (and perhaps if ever review a transcendental wine I will have to add a new term) instead of numerical ratings. Saying that a wine is good sounds so much better than giving a wine 83 points. I know most people only publish the highest scores so as to not bruise the delicate winery ego by saying, "I'm 74 points on that" (there is nothing wrong with being average, unless you think that you are making amazing wines or you're a salesperson!). I think more lower scores need to be published because you can find a 90+ score for almost any wine (ahem, J. Newman). Perhaps if the public sees lots of low 80s scores for XYZ Winery and only one 93 by Joe Schmoe they might actually be better informed consumers. You don't see school teachers only count and return A-worthy assignments to students! Unfortunately, giving A grades is easier than dealing with the consequences (such as only 77% of students pass the military's enlistment exam).

I think that a big part of the score/James Suckling debate that has picked up in recent weeks (e.g., here, here and here) goes hand in hand with the grade inflation epidemic that has swept through the industry. Such is the power that democratic sites like CellarTracker/GrapeStories offer against the reigning wine dictators. So many people are peeved when Jay Bob Pucklingchuk gives a wine 96 points, but it doesn't match their palate. Perhaps if people read the prose that accompanied the score they might have determined that they in fact don't like blackberry liqueur and vanilla cherry cola in their Riedel. Also, comments on why a grade was earned is much better feedback than just a simple numerical grade. In school, you can figure out which teachers are easy graders and which are the tough ones. While it is nice to get a good grade without working hard, do you actually improve yourself (or I have I been misinformed that is the purpose of education)? I argue that we should seek out those tough graders so that we can actually improve our wine education.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What to pair with Thai food?

Pairing wine with food is probably one of the most vexing issues that consumers face when deciding what to drink. Unless it is steak, people often worry about pairing the wrong wine with their meal. Red wine with meat and white wine with fish are popularly held parings. However, this steadfast rule often falls apart; Chardonnay can complement pork and Pinot Noir often goes well with tuna. When the food selections starts to get complex, the perfect wine becomes less clear. Thai food often has a plethora of flavors that seem to present problems when planning what to pour. Jalapeno, coconut, cilantro, peanuts, shrimp and fish sauce were all ingredients in a tasty Thai curry that we made. A variety of different wines could be able to complement all of those flavors. A good choice when eating Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.) is one of the aromatic Germanic varietals: Riesling or Gewürztraminer. The high acidity and moderate residual sugar that these wines are often made with balance the sweetness and spiciness of these foods.

The best pairing advice, however, is to drink what you like. If you happen to like a big brooding Cabernet Sauvignon with a salad and a biting Sauvignon Blanc with barbecue beef, then by all means go for it. Don't ever let anyone tell you that what you enjoy drinking is the wrong thing to drink. There are some classic pairings, but if they aren't your cup tea don't sweat it. The best pairing is matching your palate to the wines and food rather than simply matching the wine to the food.

2009 Guy Drew Vineyards Gewürztraminer, Colorado

In a slightly unusual twist, this Gewürztraminer soaked on its skins for two days. While it is common for Gewürztraminers to see more skin contact than any other white wines, most winemakers only allow 4-24 hours before pressing. This skin contact allows for extracting the typical spicy flavors for which Gewürztraminer is known. This Colorado Gewürztraminer is a pale pink-tinted golden color. The pink tint is so slight that you might think you are seeing things, but I assure you that it is there. This wine is very aromatic with lychees, peaches, pie spices and floral notes emanating from the glass. It is fun to just swirl and smell without even taking a sip. Lemon peel, nutmeg and allspice dominate the palate. The 1.2% sugar is barely noticeable and complements the spiciness nicely. The wine could use a bit more acidity and is a bit woody (probably from the extended skin contact). Overall, this is a nice varietally correct Gewürztraminer that went well with the hot and sweet Thai curry. 13% abv Purchased $16. Good (tasted 12/17/10)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lesser-known grape varieties

When most people think of wine they think of the the noble grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are the grapes traditionally associated with fine wine. Slowly, varieties such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Malbec, Viognier, Torrontes, and Semillon are slowly entering the everyday wine lexicon. With hundreds of grape varieties, the wine world has a diverse range of flavors and stories. All wine-producing countries have lesser-known grape varieties that receive little recognition due to unfair preconceptions or a simple lack of lack of knowledge. The U.S. has Norton and Vidal Blanc, Spain has Godello and Mencia, Greece has Assyrtiko and Xinomavro and Italy has hundreds of indigenous grapes of which most people outside of Italy have never heard. This list could continue ad infinitum.

Much of the problem with these little-known varieties is the public's ability to pronounce their names. One such variety probably comes as a surprise to most people. Austria and Germany are known for world-class white wines, and few people realize that they also produce high-quality red wines. One one of these lesser-known varieties is Blaufränkisch, also known as Lemberger. Blaufränkisch is a cold-hardy grape that is naturally high in tannin and acidity. If you haven't had the chance to experience a Blaufränkisch or Lemberger I recommend finding some!

2004 Weingut Hans Igler, Vulcano, Burgenland, Austria

This red wine is dominated by Blaufrankish (55%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Zweigelt (15%) and Merlot (10%) completing the blend. It is a beautiful garnet color. Cherries, wood and spices are the first aromas present but as the wine opens up in the glass after a few hours it becomes more aromatic and reminiscent of a Pinot Noir. Tart cherry, cedar, toasted oak, spices and pomegranate flavors fill your mouth along with tart acidity and smooth tannins. This is a well-balanced wine that only gets better in the glass. 13.5% abv Purchased ($19). Very Good (tasted 12/4/10)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Jefferson Cup win for Colorado!

A Colorado winery took home a coveted Jefferson Cup award only one year after the state won its first at the Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition. Doug Frost, one of only three people in the world to earn both the titles Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, hosts the competition in Missouri. The competition honors "the best of the best among wineries from all of America’s wine regions." Over six hundred wines, from twenty-one states, were invited to take part in the 11th annual competition. Seventy of these award-winning wines were nominated for the top honors of which only twenty were finally awarded.

A year after Boulder Creek Winery won Colorado's very first Jefferson Cup, Bookcliff Vineyards took home top honors in 2010 for their 2009 Petite Sirah. In addition to Bookcliff Vineyards, four other Colorado wineries were honored at the competition. The results of Colorado's winners are:

Bookcliff Vineyards
Jefferson Cup Winner, 2009 Petite Sirah
Jefferson Cup Nominee, 2008 Ensemble
Great, 2009 Reserve Syrah
Great, 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc
Merit, 2009 Tempranillo

Boulder Creek Winery
Great, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Canyon Wind Cellars
Great, 2007 Petit Verdot
Merit, 2007 IV
Merit, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

Reeder Mesa Vineyards
Merit, 2008 Land's End Red
Merit, 2008 Merlot
Merit, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey
Jefferson Cup Nominee, 2008 Divinity
Jefferson Cup Nominee, 2008 Syrah
Jefferson Cup Nominee, NV Riesling
Great, 2008 Reserve Merlot
Great, 2007 Revelation
Merit, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
Merit, 2008 Reserve Syrah
Merit, 2008 Merlot
Merit, 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Merit, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
Merit, NV Vineyard Sunset

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé! (two weeks ago)

The third Thursday of November every year is a wine marketer's dream. The brainchild of négociant Georges Duboeuf, this is the day that the new vintage of Beaujolais are released worldwide. Originally designed as simple wine to celebrate the harvest and to hold over locals until the better-quality wines from the region and more famous villages within were ready in the spring, these wines are now distributed global with much fanfare. Whole-berry fermented and not seeing any oak aging, Beaujolais nouveau is intended for consumption within weeks of its release. While I have not bought any the past few years, I couldn't help myself when I went to pick up some beer at a local shop.

2010 Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau, France

As is typical with Beaujolais nouveau, this wine is dark fuschia, yet translucent in color. It has a very floral and fruity bouquet. Violets and roses are matched in intensity by fresh cranberries and red raspberries with the ever-so-slight hint of bananas. On the palate, the fresh fruit gives way to tart cranberries and unripe strawberries. A slight note of chocolate is also present causing an almost banana split-like aftertaste. This is a simple, gulpable wine that I could drink once a year. 13.5% abv Purchased $11. Average (tasted 11/27/10)