A few times lately I have come across blog posts talking about too many wines on the shelves of the stores and poor consumers being intimidated and having troubles to find what they want. Quite honestly, I find this annoying – I believe convincing consumers that they should be intimidated is the wrong thing to do. Why am I annoyed with this? Very simple. Today, you need a very few things to navigate the world of wine and feel comfortable. One is desire to learn (if someone doesn’t want to learn, it makes no sense to complain that one can not). Learning about wines simply means trying them and making an effort to remember what you like and what you don’t. Another helpful thing – finding a good wine store.
There are quite a few good wine stores where I live – I do plan to write a separate blog post (or may be a few) covering some of those in more detail. One of such good wine stores is Stew Leonard’s Wines in Norwalk, CT. What makes the wine store “good”? It is easy to navigate, it has helpful and knowledgeable personnel, and it is helping you to learn about wines. You got all of that at Stew Leonard’s Wines – easy to navigate, helpful staff and great education. What do I mean by education? When it comes to wines, education consist of learning about wines and tasting them. One of the ultimate forms of “education” then is when you can learn from the best and taste excellent wine – and did I mention that it is usually free? Yep, it is free and available, almost every Friday and Saturday, again, thanks to the folks at Stew Leonard’s Wines. Every Friday and and Saturday, you can come to the store for the wine tasting, and if you are lucky – you will also learn from the winemaker, as it was the case last Friday, September 24th , when Chester Osborn, winemaker of the famed Australian winery, d’Arenberg, was presenting his wines.
d’Arenberg produces quite a few different wines in the McLaren Vale region in the South Australia, of course with Shiraz being a star grape. Five different wines were presented at the tasting. First, Lightly Oaked Chardonnay – it is actually very nice and simple, with clear fruit and light oak expression. Then comes The Stump Jump 2008, which is also should be known at GSM. GSM stands for Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre, and it is a blend modeled after wines from Southern Rhone. It is also interesting to note that Friday, September 24th was the First International Grenache Day which was proudly stressed by Chester holding up the bottle of GSM. Stump Jump is a very nice and approachable wine with great and powerful fruit expression. The next wine was classic The Footbolt Shiraz 2007 (Footbolt actually was the name of the horse), nicely showing spicy bouquet of MacLaren Vale’s shiraz (need my rack of lamb wit that one). And then the flagship Dead Arm Shiraz 2006 – great wine which will need another 15-20 years to be enjoyed fully, very earthy and dense, drinkable now, but boy, will it evolve! In case anyone wonders, the Dead Arm has nothing to do with human body parts – the name is related to the grapevine disease, which can kill part of the plant, producing “dead arm”, or a “dead branch” – in this case the grapes on the surviving part have very high flavor concentration.
And last wine presented was Sticky Chardonnay – beautiful desert wine, made from Chardonnay grapes, exhibiting honey and white peaches notes, all with nice minerals, acidity and green apple bite. At $9.99, the wine of such quality is a pure steal. All in all, it was a pleasure meetings Chester d’Arenberg Osborn, learning from him and experiencing his wines.
To complete the story, I would like to include a picture of the great folks from Stew Leonard’s Wines, including Stew Leonard Jr. himself:
Going back to where we started – it is not difficult to learn about wines today – all you have to do is make an effort. As one of my teachers was saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will come…
Can wine tasting be double-blind? You think this is a misnomer, right? Let me explain myself. The basic premise of the “blind” wine tasting is that the taster has no idea what is he or she is dealing with, and by using swirling, sniffing, gargling and any other techniques should identify grape (or grapes), the place where the wine was made, and ideally the producer and the year. For the example of amazing blind tasting I have to refer you to the movie Bottle Shock (if you are into wines, definitely worth watching).
In general, tasting wines 100% blind is rare. What I mean is that even in the case of the blind tasting, there are some limiting factors which help you to identify the wine. For instance, when the wines are tasted blind for Wine Spectator ratings, usually the territory and a year and well known (and the goal of the tasting is simply to rate the wines as good and bad, not to identify grapes and producer). Even when I was tasting the wines for the Certified Sommelier exam (for more info – see About section), it was known that there will be no Pinot Grigio in the glass and grape choices would be really limited.
So what would I call a double-blind wine tasting? I was asked to taste home made wine and provide my opinion. I was asked a number of times and couldn’t refuse. I do call this double-blind – all I know is that the wine is made at home of someone leaving in Connecticut, and I don’t even know if it is made out of grapes or may be berries? Of course the whole purpose of this exercise was only to say whether I like the wine or not (no need to identify producer and the year ), but who doesn’t want to play detective in such a case? Yes, I want to guess the grapes, and I want to guess it right!
While sharing my detailed tasting notes is really useless, as absolute majority of my readers will never taste this wine, I would like to still share a short summary. First and foremost, I did like it! I honestly don’t classify myself as a wine snob – I would gladly drink two buck chuck, as long as it tastes good. But I had a lot of home-made wines before – they are all sweet concoctions, mostly made out of fruit with addition of powerful alcohols – so they really have nothing to do with actual grape wines. This wine actually looked, smelled and tasted good, so here my notes, for what it worth:
Color: dark garnet.
Nose: wine opened with freshly squeezed berries, like raspberries and blueberries, complemented by lime zest.
Palate: very nice fruit (again raspberries, blueberries, ripe plums, some tropical fruit – very unusual for red wine), complemented with vibrant acidity and good tannins.
As you can see, it is a description of a very nice wine – and it was very nice indeed. So was it perfect? Well, it took me some time to realize what this wine was lacking. It was lacking place. There was no notion of terroir, no earth and no minerals. This wine can be from anywhere (and being made in Connecticut, it definitely is). Again, the wine was very drinkable, and a lot of commercially made wine have no notion of place whatsoever – but I think this is something to note when tasting the wine, so here it is.
What would you put as a grape(s) under such description? My top guess is Zinfandel, and if not, my next guess is Syrah. I don’t know the right answer, and I promise to share it – once I will find out.
And as I mentioned before – blind tasting is fun! Get your friends together and play the wine detectives game – I guarantee you a great time!
Don’t worry, this will not be a story about apple wine. At the minimum, it will be about food and wine. So the weather was beautiful, and the apple picking trip (almost an annual tradition in the fall) was inevitable, especially considering free weekend day. Our favorite place to pick apples is Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut. This place never disappoints – apples are good and abundant, and getting them of the trees is a lot of fun.So once you have a lot of apples, what do you do? No, not wine. And for me – not an apple pie either. I don’t really like liquidy pies, so my personal preference is an apple cake. How do you make an apple cake? Actually, quite easy. Here is the recipe:
4 apples (Granny Smith is the best as they usually sour enough to stand against sweet dough)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
Cinnamon ( by the taste).
Core and peel the apples, and slice them thin. Making a dough: blend eggs first, then add sugar, and then flour. Make sure you end up with liquid and consistent dough. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 425F.
Grease pan with butter stick and cover with bread crumbs. Bread crumbs should cover bottom and walls of the pan. Remove excess of the bread crumbs. Your pan should look like this:
The dough goes on top:
And then pan goes in the oven:
Bake it first for 15 minutes on 425F, then reduce the heat to 375F. DO NOT OPEN oven until the end – you have to let the cake to rise. In the end of the process, you end up with this:
And this is the look inside:
Yep – Yummy!
So you think this post is about food only? No, of course not. Yes, you can have this cake with ice cream, coffee and/or tea. But this blog is about wine, so how about it? I’m glad to report that Bartenura Malvasia Salento IGT 2009 from Italy, a sweet, lightly fizzed wine worked quite well with that apple cake, complementing each other.
So here we are – great and very simple cake ( takes about an hour from start to finish) and simple easy wine – all together equal to great and enjoyable evening.
P.S. By the way, what would you pair the apple cake with?
So far I had being talking about wine and food in this blog. As this blog’s short description puts it, it is about “Wine, food and life”. Of course food and wine are definitely part of our daily lives, so the blog’s promise on “life” is fulfilled, more or less by itself. However, after I read a very interesting article sent to me by Kfir Pravda, it really stroke the chord, so here comes the blog post. A life prospective through the glass, if you will.
The article is called “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” (I really encourage everyone reading this blog to read the article – it definitely worth it). Money? Don’t worry – this blog is not changing into a financial publication. I don’t plan to give any financial advice, and I don’t know where the money tree is growing (if you know – can you please, please share with the rest of us?). The article itself is not talking about money or finances, it rather talks about happiness, and then looks at money as one of the popular means of achieving it (or not). Still don’t see a connection, with wine or with life? Just continue reading, please.
One of the first points of the article is “Buy experiences instead of things”. There is a great explanation on why it makes a lot of sense from point of view of achieving “happy” state and keeping it for longer. That concerns pretty much anything in life (two weeks trip through French country side will probably keep you happy much longer than having one tiny original French painting on your wall). Now, I hope you expect me to connect this to the wine. Quick question – can you experience Chateaux Margaux 2000 ($1000/bottle, try to find it), Vega Sicilia Unico 1968 ( about $1200/bottle, again good luck finding it), Krug Vintage 1996 ($300+, same good luck wish applies) and about hundred other wines, all without emptying your 401K ( like it’s not empty already)? If you said “yes”, you are correct. PJ Wine Grand Tasting in New York in the Fall of 2009 had all of those ( and many more) wines available for all the wine lovers. Ticket price – $144 per person. Paraphrasing MasterCard commercials, having long-lasting memory of tasting freshly made bread in the Krug or tremendous luscious layers of complexity in Chateaux Margaux – priceless. Yes, it is great to have that special bottle of wine in your own cellar. Considering realities of life and cost of college education ( sorry, personal pain point), it is not easy to have all the wines you want in the cellar – however, you can always find a solution. Going after experience can bring a lot more long-lasting happiness, especially comparing with owning THAT bottle of wine and having regrets about money spent as the main feeling every time you think about it. Or at least that what I think – and I would love to hear your opinion.
Another key point of the article, “Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones” also can be perfectly illustrated in the wine world. What would you rather have in your cellar? One bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006 at about $160 to $200, or 4-5 bottles of Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006 at about $40? I chose the pair for the simple reason – tasted both a week ago, and with all due respect to Insignia, having more bottles of Ladera Cabernet will provide for quite a bit more happy occasions. But when it comes to wine, this is definitely a very important point – there is a lot of choices, and you can use your money wisely and “stretch the happiness” quite a bit simply by finding the right value wines which will bring you a lot of pleasure and happy memories.
Last point from the article I want to touch on is stated as “Pay now and consume later”. The point is simple. When you own things which you can enjoy later, you get a lot of happy feelings all the way until you actually get to use whatever it is. Who can attest to this better than wine lover, whether you own a cellar or keep your wines in the closet? I’m not talking about collectible wines here, this is a category in its own. I’m talking about putting your wines aside and waiting for them to improve, or waiting for just the right moment to drink them. Just a thought about having particular wine in the future gives you a lot of pleasure, isn’t it? This is all which we are trying to achieve – to be in the happy state for longer, and I would say that wine lovers are the ultimate group which has almost an unfair advantage here – we can wait and be happy about it at the same time. I’m not sure that buying the new car and waiting for 3-4 years to drive it will put someone in the happy state of mind – but buying the few bottles of wine and giving it time to evolve is definitely great and pleasant experience.
As a conclusion, again, I would definitely encourage everyone to read the article – it really provides great analysis of our “state of happiness” and suggests a few tricks for achieving it. And while you will be reading this article, have a glass of wine – and experience happiness at the fullest. Cheers!
I remember that about 10 years ago, if anyone would be talking “Kosher wines”, 9 out 10, if not more often, the only Kosher wine available in US would be Manishewitz, barely drinkable fruit juice. Today situation is soooo different. Israel produces tremendous number of great wines (absolute majority are Kosher) from various mainstream grapes, such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and more. Today Israel has its own boutique wineries, which have status similar to the California cult wineries, such as Screaming Eagle, Colgin and others – if not yet in price, definitely in availability. Try to find wines from the wineries such as Flam, Domaine du Castel, Yatir or Vitkin - and if you will succeed, make sure you will taste them as you will be very thankful you did. But even the mainstream Israeli wines, coming from the wineries such a Dalton, Galil Mountain, Benyamina, Tishbi, Yarden and many others (Israel has more than 200 wineries at this point), which are readily available in your neighbourhood wine store, will make a great addition to any table.
So what wine will be on your table tomorrow? If you didn’t decide yet, make an effort, find one of the Israeli wines and let me know how did you like it. If you plan to have any other wine, I’m still eager to know what will it be. And even if Rosh Hashanah is not your holiday, get your friends together, share the bottle ( wine meant to be shared!) and raise the glass to life.