Thursday, January 20, 2022

2121 Recap

 Business woman hand writing on a notepad with a pen and using laptop in the office. Web banner stock photo

Every year at about this time, columnists and contributing writers like to look back at the past year and recall major events, or what they liked and disliked on the world scene.  "Best" and "Worse" lists abound, often including things readers had completely forgotten. 

Wine articles and blogs are no different.  This blog, however, will not bore you with yet another screed about the hated three-tier system, the stupidity of some state laws regarding direct shipping of wine or whether some of the nation's sommeliers are misbehaving.

What follows, then, is a look back at the topics covered in "Gerald D Boyd On Wine" in 2021.  They are offered here as an indexed guide of what you read (or missed) throughout the past year; topics that will help increase and improve your knowledge of wine, while giving you more power to make better wine purchases. 

By my count, this space carried 31 blogs plus 14 "My Life in Wine" entries in 2021, which doesn't come to 52 weeks, but then a few things happened, like illness and an unrelanting pandemic. 

To make it easy for you, the reader, the blogs are grouped alphabetical by country, with a separate section for "My Life in Wine."

Australia: Australian Shiraz (18 Nov 2021). I thought I had written more than just one blog on this popular red last year.  Look for more background on Australian wine in the coming year.

California: Sierra Foothills (8 July), Napa Valley (19 Aug), Beyond Napa (26 Aug). Yikes!  Only three blogs on the most popular U.S. wines; I'll have to do better in 2022, with more on lesser known California wines.

Chile: Wine from this narrow country in South America continues to appeal to American wine drinkers.  An overview of Chilean wines is in the (23 Dec) blog.  In 2022, I'll write about the appeal of Chilean red wine.

France: Loire wines Part 1 (30 Jan), Loire wines Part 2 (9 Feb), Chablis (29 Apr), wines of the Cote de Beaune (6 May), Champagne (29 Jul), Cabernet Franc (5 Aug), Viognier (9 Sep), Grenache (16 Sep), wines from south of Beaune, (11 Nov).  Clearly, I had a preference for French wines in 2021.  This blog focused on French wines more than any other region or country.  Alsace and the affordable wines of southwest France will be featured later this year.

Israel: There is more to Israeli wines than kosher, as presented in a (7 Oct)  update.

Italy: Nebbiolo (10 Jan), Pinot Grigio & Pinot Bianco (8 Apr), Barbera & Dolcetto (15 Apr), Soave (21 May), Sicily (15 Jul).  I admit, Italian wines are favorites for their variety and overal high quality, so there will be more on Italian wine in 2022.

Miscellaneous: Covid Watch (24 Feb), "How did you get into wine?" (1 Apr), Summer Roses (24 Jun), The impact of climate change in the vineyard (30 Sep), "When did wine change?" (28 Oct), Light Reds (2 Dec), Holiday Wine (9 Dec).

Oregon: Oregon Red Wine (21 Oct).  There is more going on with wine in Oregon than I wrote about last year, so look for more Oregon coverage.

Portugal: Portuguese Reds (6 Mar), Madeira (25 Mar).  I could write volumes about Portugal, its wines and its people and will do so (although not volumes) in 2022.

MLIW: The remaining 14 blogs in 2021, Episode 10 thru Episode 23, were entitled "My Life in Wine," a running account of my experiences with wine, as a writer, wine judge and wine teacher.  

In Episode 10, while still in Colorado, I got an offer to join the Wine Spectator; and then my experiences as a writer and editor at the Spectator continued through Episode 16, when I resigned and returned to free lance wine writing.  

The ups and downs of free lancing, including contributing to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and my exposure to electronic writing for Wine Review Online, plus a moment in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake emptied my wine rack, are all in Episodes 17 to 21.

Episode 22 was about Scotland's "wine" and the year ended with an account of wine judging in Australia. 

Life is busy today and sometimes you need a little help with the answer to such questions as what wine to buy?  The above index of 2021 blogs on "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" provides a guide to some of the many wines available today and 2022 promises to include many of the wines not covered last year. 

There is so much more to write about...and I'd like to hear from you what wines or wine regions you'd enjoy reading about.  Use the Comments option below or email me at boydvino707@gmail.com.

 

Next blog: Tempting Tempranillo



Thursday, January 13, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 24

In Episode 23, The U.S Air Force had decided to temporarily transfer me from the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian chain, where wine options were limited, to another tropical island, where wine didn't exist. I made due with lots of cold beer.  Then, I retired from the Air Force and got into wine, where I applied my tasting acumen at a major wine show in Australia and later, learned how to spit from an expert.  

This is an abbreviated story of a winemaker in training, who was bored with odd jobs, signed on as a winegrape harvest intern in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, discovered he liked wine production and eventually settled in Washington state as the winemaker and owner of his own winery.   

The making of a winemaker tells how one person endured the rigors of winery cellar work, being the new guy and an outsider.  It's not my story, although I started the story as the facilitator and later as an observer, in what became the latest episode of "My Life in Wine."

With three sons, you would think that at least one of them would follow in the old man's footsteps.  Admittedly, my footsteps - Air Force and wine - didn't make it easy for them. 

But then my oldest son, Kevin, entered the Air Force and the succession began to look promising.  Until, that is, when Kevin's brother, Mark, strayed from the path and joined the Navy.  At least the Boyd's were building a military tradition. 

A few years past and in 1991, Kevin and Mark's younger brother, Sean, said to his mother and me: "Dad, do you remember telling me about working a wine vintage somewhere?"  Janet looked puzzled, not sure it was Sean she heard, while I stalled for time, rummaging through my memory and not wanting to blow this opportunity to see Sean have a wine adventure. 

                              

"Yeah, I did mention a contact who told me that Penfolds in Australia, had a couple of intern positions open every vintage.  Are you interested in checking it out?" 

The move began to take shape and once the internship was confirmed at Penfolds, Sean showed us the air ticket on Qantas, he bought, with a stop in Fiji.  "Fiji!" I yelled.  Here was a guy we couldn't hardly pry out of his room and now he's going to Fiji for a few days on the way to work in Australia.

A brief pause here to explain what motivates a person to become a winemaker. You either have a love or develop a love for making wine or for selling wine.   Some people are born into the family business, others discover wine while working in another field and some arrive at wine making after laboring in winery cellars.  Sean happened into winemaking by way of the latter path.

Things began to fall into place as we were with Sean and some of his friends at departures in San Francisco International.  Sean was nervously pacing back and forth, when suddenly, he said his goodbyes and passed through security.  Patience be dammed, there were places to go and people to see, so it was time to get on with this new adventure.

The next we heard from Sean, he was in Nuriootpa, South Australia working at Penfolds main winery, pulling hoses and cleaning tanks and barrels, on the midnight shift. 

At the end of a shift, his cellar mates wanted to knock back a few beers, but Sean was ready for sleep.  On the way to the room he was renting from a young couple, Sean stopped to pick up some photos from his vacation in Fiji. Back in the room he began sorting through the stack of snapshots, when he stopped short. There was a snap of Sean lying on the beach asleep, with his head resting on his day bag.  

"How could that be?" Sean thought.  Later, he decided that his camera had slipped out of the top of the day bag and someone walking by picked up the camera, took a photo of a sleeping Sean, then returned the camera with Sean none the wiser. 

Harvest was coming to an end and the three months experience at Penfolds was enough to hook Sean on winemaking as a way to make a living.  He had also been bitten by the travel bug, so he roamed around Australia and then New Zealand, finally returning to California.  Two years later, Sean was off to Spain and a harvest job at Torres, in the Catalan region.

Between harvests, looking to round out his knowledge of wine, Sean worked at retail sales at BevMo and Plump Jack in San Francisco.  Selling wine provided him with insight about people's wine likes and dislikes, but making wine was his main interest, so in 1994, Sean returned to Australia for harvest at Rosemount in the Hunter Valley. 

Then, it was back to California, but he soon grew restless, so in 1995 with bags  re-packed, Sean was off to Portugal and a harvest job at Ramos Pinto's Quinta Bom Retiro in the Douro Valley and a position testing wine samples in Ramos Pinto's laboratory in Vila Nova de Gaia.  From there, it was back to Australia and another harvest job, this time at McGuigan Wines, in the Hunter Valley.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to see new places, and knowing that harvest in cooler New Zealand was usually a few weeks behind Australia, Sean left the Hunter Valley for Morton Estate in Marlborough.

Seattle and Mt. Raineer

Finally, back in California, Sean applied for cellar work at various wineries in Sonoma County, but nothing was open, so he moved to Seattle, worked in wine retail, then assistant winemaker at the former Woodinville Wine Cellars and eventually, he and his wife opened Sightglass Cellars in Woodinville. 

There is a saying in the wine industry that university classes form a good foundation, but you don't learn how to make wine until you get to the winery.  In the classroom you learn the chemistry, the science of wine, but the cellar is where you learn how to apply that science.  Sean's path to winemaker was OJT "On the Job Training" and it has served him well.


Next blog: Recapping 2021 Blogs

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com


 

 

         


Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Emotional Stirrings of Wine & Music

 

                      Music, Notes, Symbols, Compose, Composition, Tunes

When Americans first "discovered" wine in the 1970s, some enterprising dreamers imagined that certain classical musical compositions had a symbiotic relationship with a type of wine: red Burgundy with a romantic Tchaikovsky symphony, or a Rhine Riesling with Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.

The pairings were viewed by some as highly subjective and fanciful.  In many cases, the only positive thing to come from one of the marriages was good wine and great music, shared with friends. 

Trends come and go, but I wonder is there a connection between wine and music, something tangible, even practical?  A possible answer (well, at least a theory) occurred to me recently while listening to one of the lectures in The Great Courses on "The Concerto."

Professor Robert Greenberg, music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances, was moving from one composer to another, then as he entered the 20th Century, Greenberg offered an energetic support for the "modern music" of Bela Bartok, Arnold Schonberg, Alban Berg, Elliott Carter and others.  

According to Greenberg, this is "music of contrast and contest, not the classical form of clear lines and balanced form."  And, I might add, the music is based on 12-tone scales, a revolutionary approach to music composition that you either find appealing or boring. 

Such is the association of wine and the practices used to make it.  Chardonnay, with or without oak?  Zinfandel, American oak or French oak? Champagne, fresh and vital or aged and caramelized?

Wine and music are both experiences that stimulate the senses.  Music appeals to our sense of hearing and the relationship that it has with listeners emotions.  Wine is a more synergistic blending of taste and emotions.  At the base level, both wine and music stir the emotions.  

A while back, "Wine Enthusiast" magazine ran an article about wine and music, suggesting Bordeaux is best with classical music, Oregon Pinot Noir with jazz and country music rolls along nicely with a glass of Zinfandel.

                                     Yin Yang, Karma, Music, Words, Speaks, Buddhism, Yang

As a classical music listener, I was checking the play list of WFMT Chicago and noticed an article quoting Enrique Mazzola, music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago and an ambassador of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Tuscan red made  from Sangiovese.  Mazzola offered three wine and music matches and his personal comments:

Music: "Finch'han dal vino," from Wolfgang Mozart's "Don Giovanni."  Wine: Vino Nobile di Montepulcino. "Don Giovanni sings this crazy aria in a very fast tempo, which represents the excitement of sipping a good Vino Mobile di Montepulciano."

Music:  Allegro from Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major.  Wine: Eichberg Grand Cru Alsace Riesling.  "When you listen to this music, you have a stream of notes that introduces one to a simple and refreshing melody that makes you smile, just like a Riesling."

Music: "Un bal" from Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."  Wine: Saint-Emilion, a Bordeaux red wine based on Merlot.  Mazzola says "The opening of the third movement becomes more exciting, just like when you drink your glass of Saint-Emilion."

While the maestro's comments may be more emotional than descriptive, there is an underlying encouragement for the listener and taster to suss out their own conclusions.  It's an easy and pleasureable exercise and the possibilities are unlimited. 

After trying a few exercises, my curiosity was still stimulated, so I did what anyone else nowadays would do, I asked Charlie Google about wine and music.  What I found was not only surprising for the number of items there are on the subject, but also the deep dive that some folks have taken, exploring the depths of the subject.  Here is just one of the more comprehensive and serious theories I found. 

In 2013, Clark Smith, California winemaker, chemist and wine industry shaker, published "Postmodern Winemaking," an intriguing book that takes a serious whack at "traditional" wine making, while laying out Smith's "new vision of the winemaker's craft."  

"Postmodern" is not a how-to book but rather a series of essays based on Smith's experiences as a wine maker and industry observer.  Browsing through the internet, I found an interview with Smith by Drew Hendricks on his "Legends Behind he Craft" blog, about Smith's theory on wine and music. 

During the interview, Smith mentions "Liquid Music," in the last chapter of "Postmodern," that delves into the depths of the relationship between music and wine.  I dug Smith's book out of my library and read the chapter. 

Smith recounts a discussion he had with Don Blackburn, founding winemaker for Bernardus in California's Carmel Valley and a man who is serious about the affect music has on wine.  He maintains that wine's attributes are "innately subjective...  but modern enology has held back the lack of interest in exploring the subjectivity."

My experience with Blackburn was during a visit to Bernardus. Besides liking Blackburn's wines, the subtext of my conversation with him is that "Blackburn's Rule" meant no other music but classical in the winery. 

 

At the end of my visit to Bernardus, I pulled a cellar worker aside and asked him about Blackburn's prohibition. Without hesitation, he said that the first thing the crew did when Blackburn left was to change the music to rock and crank up the volume. 

If you decide that the whole wine and music thing is a lot of precious bunk, so be it, but look at all the great music and wine you enjoyed during the research.

End Note:  I'd like to hear from readers, if you think there is a link between wine and music (any music, not just classical) and if so, what are your favorite pairings.  If I get enough, it will be the subject of a future blog.


Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 24

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com

 




Friday, December 31, 2021

No Blog This Week

 Dear Subscribers,

You've probably noticed that there was no blog in your inbox this week.  I could blame the problem on Covid (it is blamed for everything else) but the truth is that a broken computer and a heavy buildup of snow, were really the culprits. 

Computer is running once again and thanks to my son, the snow has been shoveled. 

Look for the next blog, "Wine and Music" in your inbox, Januray 7, 2022.

Happy New Year!

 Gerald D. Boyd

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Wine from a Narrow Country

Back in the Dark Ages of wine interest, that would be the 1960s or thereabout, the only Chilean wine I remember seeing in stores was a Riesling from Vina Undurraga, from the Maipo region.

                        

What attracted my attention then was the unique bottle that stood out for its shape from all the others on the shelf.  The folks at Undurraga must have thought their Riesling was similar to the distinctive wines of Germany's Franken region, so they put their wine in a Bocksbeutel, a special bottle in the shape of a flattened flask.  

The bottle shape was a standout, especially alongside tall and slim German wine bottles. What I remember about the Undurraga wine was that it lacked the pale color and fresh fruit salad aroma and flavors of a Franken wine, which then might have been made from Sylvaner and not Riesling. 

Since then, I don't recall many sightings of Undurraga wines, at least on the West Coast, even though the Chilean winery began exporting to the United States in 1903. 

Today, Chile is a major player in the international wine market.  In 2013, Chilean wine production stood at 317 million gallons, with more than 75% of that exported. It has been said that one of the differences between the neighboring wine-producing countries of Chile and Argentina, is that Chile exports most of its wine, while the Argentines drink most of their wine; about 326 million gallons.

Chile is 2,670 miles long, from the Atacama desert in the north to Patagonia in the south, but only 217 miles wide at the widest point. It is this shape that makes Chile unique, especially for viticulture. The Pacific ocean is not far from many vineyards nor is the towering snow-capped Andes mountains that forms the spine of this long and narrow country.

Chile's fortune grew in the late 19th century when Spanish rule ended, a number of rich Basque families entered the wine business and the country's growing viticulture business dodged a bullet -- namely phylloxera.

phylloxera | SommWine
Phylloxera infestation

Phylloxera vastatrix (the devastator), a small yellow aphid, was destroying the vineyards of Europe, but it never entered Chile, because of the country's natural barriers: desert in the north, mountains in the east, cold temperatures and snow in the south and an ocean in the west.

By the mid-20th century, Chilean grape growing and wine making had moved forward, thanks to the infusion of foreign capital and European know-how. As the industry grew, these initial wine regions became Chile's most important.

Aconcagua: Traditionally, the northern most fine wine region, that in recent years has been joined by more northern and smaller Choapa, Limari and Elqui.  Coastal breezes help to keep temperatures cool enough for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  Vina Errazuriz is the best known name.

Casablanca: Situated between Valparaiso and Santiago, Casablanca is known for its cool climate whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc.  A short distance from the Pacific ocean, the area and neighboring San Antonio Valley produce some of Chile's best sparkling wines.  

Central Valley: The heart of Chile's wine production is in the region called the "Central Valley."  Although not an actual named wine zone, the Central Valley includes such noted sub regions as Maipo, Maule, Curico, Rapel and Colchagua. Red wines predominate, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Also important are Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc.  Among the best known names from this large region are Las Vascos, Vina Montes, Casa Lapostelle and Santa Rita.

Premium Photo | Yerba mate in gourd calabash with bombilla
Yerba mate leaves, with mate calabash and straw

Before fine table wines, there was pisco and mate.  In fact, both drinks are still popular in Chile and Peru.

Pisco is a colorless high spirit brandy, distilled to about 40% abv and made from a variety of grapes, including Muscat, Torrontel and Pedro Jimenez.  Peru and Chile have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over the origin of pisco.  There is a long list of cocktails made with pisco, but the Pisco Sour one of the most popular. 

Mate, or Yerba Mate, is a tea-like drink, made by soaking yerba mate leaves in hot water.  The drink, said to have a mild calming affect, is served in a calabash gourd with a metal straw.  ADD 


Next blog: Wine and Music

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com

 



Thursday, December 16, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 23

In Episode 22 of this personal journey, the narrative veered off the wine trail for a brief look at single malt Scotch whisky, a drink I think of as the "wine" of Scotland.  We're back on the wine trail in this episode, with a few remembrances from Australia, a fascinating place for its scenery, people and wine and about as far from Scotland as you can get. 

 Sydney, Port, Cruise Ship, Sydney Harbor

When I was station in Hawaii in the U.S. Air Force, word got around that the Air Force had a comm station in Townsville, Queensland,Australia.  Wine was not big on my list then, but diving was.  So, when I discovered that Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef were in Queensland, I volunteered for temporary duty (TDY) in Townsville. 

Someone beat me to it, but the Air Force, in all its unexplained wisdom, decided that, instead of Australia, I would be sent TDY ( Temporary Duty) to Johnston Island, a two-mile long sand spit that also happens to be surrounded by one of the best untouched snorkeling sites in the Pacific. 

Aside:  Johnston island, or "JI" as it was known, is an atoll, about 700 miles from Hawaii.  Johnston Atoll consists of five islands, but only JI and Sand Island, are used.  When I was there, the Air Force was tasked with monitoring missiles being launched into the Pacific by the Soviets.  The Soviets had a fleet of what they claimed were fishing boats, but the antenna arrays on the ships told a different story. 

JI is a small narrow island, less than two miles long and about a quarter of a mile wide, yet it housed the Air Force, an Army detachment running a top secret operation, a small detachment of Marines flying helicopters, supposedly as air rescue and a few Coastguards men operating a navigation aids site on nearby Sand Island.  

The whole thing was farcical since all we did was go to work, eat, snorkel and fish, eat, sleep, eat and drink cold beer at the small island club.  The Marines were especially bored so they flew their choppers over the Soviet ("fishing") ships, bristling with antennae, and dumped rolls of toilet paper on the ship to create a nuisance, while the ship's crew ran around giving the TPers the finger.

Anyway, I started going to Australia on wine trips in the late 1980s and after a few years and a few trips, I was invited to return as an international wine judge at one of the major state wine shows (show is the name the Aussies use for wine competition).

Wine shows are serious business in Australia.  All of the states with a wine industry have a major royal wine show; last time I checked, Victoria state had the largest show in terms of entries.  There is also a national show in the nation's capital in Canberra.  

And the Australian system provides for training future judges. Interested wine people enter the associate program and judge the wines alongside the regular judges, participate in the discussions at the panel table, but do not get to vote on medals. U.S. wine competitions have nothing similar, but in my opinion, a similar program should be adopted.

I had been judging wine in California, so the judging process wasn't completely new to me. But I wasn't prepared for how different the Australian system was.  In California, panels of four or five judges are seated at a table and wines are delivered to each judge, usually in flights of 10 or 12. The number of entries determined the number of panels.

My first wine show in Australia was New South Wales, staged at the 2000 Summer Olympics site outside Sydney.  Every morning for a week, we left the quay in a  boat cab and sailed out to the site as the sun hung brightly over the Harbour Bridge, known by Sydneysiders as the "Coat Hanger."  

Panels are used loosely by the Aussies since each judge samples the wines independently, standing at a waist-high trestle table.  The table tops are painted white, with a matrix of three parallel rows of squares running down the length of the table. The glasses of wine are placed in the center row and as the judge works their way through the wines, a glass can be moved up a square to retain the wine for another look, or down a square to reject the wine from further consideration.

The numbers of entries in Australian state shows is daunting, often in the thousands and only Australian wine. Somehow, the judges get through all of the wines, with fewer judges than would be in a U.S. wine competition.  

My most challenging time came later in the week when my panel was given 89 Shiraz, most of them from the most recently released vintage.  Standing at my tasting table,  I stared down the long red line, with a clipboard loaded with scoresheets and a plastic tub with an inch or so of sawdust, on the floor.

As the days slipped by, I learned to handle the daunting number of wines, the speed of Aussie tasters, the majority of whom are winemakers, and how to kick the spit tub around without toppling it onto the floor.  

Aside:  Spitting is considered a crude habit by many people, but it is an essential tool for the winemaker and wine taster.  The sad truth, though, is there are a lot of wine folks who haven't learned how to hit the bucket without spraying wine everywhere. 

Wine people, especially those who travel a lot, know of legendary spitters. I may have told about this anecdote before, but it's worth repeating. 

Len Evans

The Australian wine legend, Len Evans, was one of those wine persons known for the accuracy and distance of his spitted projectile.  I was in Evans' office in Sydney when he was asked to show the visiting wine writer his prowess as a spitter.  Hanging on the wall opposite his desk was a holy water font (he collected relics from decommissioned churches).  

Evans took a generous sip from his glass, swished the wine around in his mouth, faced the font and let loose with a tight glob of wine that arced out, landing perfectly, with not a drop hitting the floor.  Not believing what I just saw, Evans' assistant said "Do it again, Len." And he did.  That was years ago and I've tried many times to duplicate that feat, and though I became a respectable spitter; I've never matched Len Evans.

Once every judge tastes all of the wines, the panel sits together and discusses each wine, led by the panel chair, usually a senior judge.  Those wines awarded a gold medal by the panel majority are presented to the chief judge, who could veto the decision of the panel, although that rarely happened, especially after a spirited discussion and multiple re-tastings.

Discussions weighing the merits or lack of a specific wine, can get heated, with disagreement coming from the differing sensitivities of the judges.  Perceptive levels of such things as sulfur, alcohol and yeast spoilage are different for different tasters.

As the international judge, I was expected to know what I was tasting, such as the differences in Shiraz from Barossa, Margaret River, Victoria, Tasmania and Canberra.  And I was expected to defend my ratings and opinions.  Although I had a good handle on Australian wine, I knew enough to keep my mouth shut when it was obvious to everyone on the panel that this was an American tasting Australian wine in Australia with Aussies and the occasional Kiwi.

It was a priceless experience that I happily repeated at other state shows.  Eventually, I felt comfortable tasting through the very broad range of Australian wine and being able to pass that knowledge along to my readers.  I had many opportunities to brush up on my spitting skills and at the end of the show, there were only a few red spots on the floor by my tasting table.


Next blog: Wine From a Narrow Country

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com

 

 


Thursday, December 9, 2021

Holiday Wine

Holy holly!  It's that time of year again and we're all trying not to look at the calendar.  

It won't work. Christmas will be here in just 15 days. 

                   Family Having a Christmas Dinner Together               

That means, of course, that along with all the other things on your to-do list, there is that nagging recurring question: Which wine or wines to have with the holiday dinner? 

You could take the easy way out and give in to the old adage of "white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat."  That's a neat and pain free way to approach the question, but before you surrender, consider these few helpful hints to make your decision easier.  

How important is it for you to make the right wine choice?  Christmas dinner should be a time of celebration, a time to join with family and friends.  Worrying if the wine will be perfect can throw a wet blanket on the celebration. 

Will the meal be simple or complex?  One size doesn't fit all for many holiday meals. A groaning table laden with two or three meat choices, a variety of side dishes, both sweet and savory and a long list of accompanying condiments, requires more than one type of wine, so everyone can make their own wine choice.                

For a simple traditional meal of roast turkey and one or two sides, Pinot Noir or other light reds will be just right. In this space, on December 3, was the  suggestion to pass on (for a change) heavier reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, in favor of lighter-bodied reds from France, Spain, Italy and California. Beaujolais, Spanish clairette, Italian Pinot Noir from Trentino and a California Gamay, might be the wine to go with the holiday bird.

                

What is the color of the meal you plan to serve?  Odd question, I know, but turkey is a two-tone bird with both light and dark meat.  Go with a dry white of your choice, like unoaked Chardonnay or a Riesling with a hint of sweetness and a light red or one wine that will handle light and dark meat, such as Pinot Noir. 

And, of course, you'll need different wines for red beef (get out your big red) or pink ham (a substantial rose from Spain or Provence).  

More important than the color is the preparation. A simple standing rib roast is a good match with Pinot Noir, Cru Classe Beaujolais or a northern Italian Cabernet Franc, while a sturdier Rhone, Zinfandel or California Cabernet Sauvignon is a better choice with a beef roast, seasoned with a special rub. 

If you've read this far, you noticed that I am a big fan of Pinot Noir.  It's one of the best all-purpose red wines I know and in recent years, winemakers around the world have been making better and better pinots.

Family favorites, especially all those covered dishes brought by quests, are hidden mines waiting to destroy the most astute wine choices.  What do you do with Aunt Jane's sweet potato casserole, the one with the marshmallows?  Or, Uncle Ned's "famous" spicy three bean dish with a thick topping of pepper jack cheese?  Yield to pressure from Uncle Ned and Aunt Jane and offer chilled beer!  

Controversy has been swirling for years about whether the holiday dinner is the time to break out your best bottle, or opt for something not as old and not as expensive. 

There are too many flavors and textures in a traditional turkey meal with all the trimmings to chance an aged Bordeaux/Cabernet or Rhone/Syrah; save them for a meal centered around red meat like beef or lamb.  Instead, go with one of the no-worries wines mentioned above.

vegducken
Vegducken

Finally, there has been a noticeable rise in interest for meatless meals.  Call it vegetarian, plant based, vegan, whatever, the idea is to build a tasty meal around dishes with no meat or fish, and if you're vegan, then no dairy or animal products, like honey.  Sounds complicated, but it needn't be.

As for wine choices with a vegetarian holiday meal, the options are about the same. Except seasoning plays a bigger role with meatless dishes, as do the types of grains and nuts and veggies used.  The internet is loaded with recipes for tasty meatless dishes that will satisfy everyone at your table.   Cheers!


Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 23

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Light Reds

 Wine area north east of Switzerland.

Holiday wine buying is coming up fast, so the time is right to think of easy-drinking alternative red wines.

And that would be light red wines.  Consumers gravitate to big reds like Cabernet and Syrah, while ignoring adaptable and tasty light reds.

At the top of the list of light reds is Gamay (aka Beaujolais) and red wines from southern France and northern Italy and parts of Spain. There is a constantly moving line between a rose and a full-on red wine that keeps shifting, never to be found in  the same place twice. 

Spain 

With Spanish wine, the shifting line is steadier since the Spanish have a category of wine called clarette that is neither pink nor red.  And they conveniently, use the term tinto to identify red wines. Even though the pink-red line moves at times, with Spanish wines, at least, you know if the winemaker thinks his wine is a rose or a red wine.

Aside:  Label terms relating to the color of a wine can be confusing: clarete, Clairet, claret, Clairette.  Clarette is explained above. claret is the English term for Bordeaux red wine. Clairet is a dark pink Bordeaux wine. Clarette is the name for a southern France white grape.

France

The best known example of French light red wines is Beaujolais, available in a range from complex and structured Cru Beaujolais to fresh and fruity Nouveau Beaujolais.  Most nouveau is made by carbonic maceration, a technique that converts the sugar in uncrushed grapes without the use of yeasts.  In California, the technique is known as whole-berry fermentation.

The levels of Beaujolais, in ascending order of complexity are: Beaujolais Nouveau (or Primeur), Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, Beaujolais Cru.  There are ten wines in the Cru (or village) category, with such noted names as Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon and Chenas. 

Gamay Noir au Jus Blanc

Beaujolais is made from Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc, a red grape with pale or "white" juiceThe Gamay of Beaujolais is not the same as Gamay, a red grape with red juice, part of a small group of grapes known as teinturiers

Nouveau is traditionally released the third Thursday of November, just a few weeks after harvest, and is considered over the hill by the next release.

In export markets, like the United States, grapy Beaujolais is a popular wine, but the French consider the wine a commodity.  The reason goes back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Beaujolais vintners bought into the international craze for nouveau, a move that almost destroyed Beaujolais. 

Beaujolais is located between the Cote de Beaune in Burgundy and the northern Rhone Valley.  Although the terroir is different from Burgundy, Beaujolais Cru wines are now made in a more concentrated style, similar to the Pinot Noirs of the Cote de Beaune.

Elsewhere in France, light red wines are made from a range of varieties, with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Merlot the most commonly used in the southern regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence.  To keep the wines light and fruity, winemakers use carbonic maceration.

Italy

Light red wines are common in the northern tier regions of Italy, mostly from Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli, Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. 

The list of popular easy-drinking reds from northern Italy is long.  Lombardy alone produces a wide range from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Lambrusco, the immensely popular but scorned wine by some, made from the grape of the same name.  

Bunch of grapes of Lambrusco Grasparossa during autumn 2020 foliage Foliage in Lambrusco Grasparossa vineyard with color contrast between red leaves and the dark bunch of grapes lambrusco stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Lambrusco grape cluster

Lambrusco has been compared to Beaujolais Nouveau, for its grapy fizzy character, although during the nouveau craze, some Italian wineries released a nouveau-style red. 

Besides Lombardy, Emilia Romagna is also home to some Lambrusco, although the central Italian region has been making more complex red wines, without the use of oak, from Pinot Noir and both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (known locally as Cabernet).  

Tracking the home of a red wine in this part of the country can be difficult, because of the over-lapping from region to region.  Oltrepo Pavese is a good example as the extensive area covers multiple DOCs, producing Oltrepo Rosso from Pinot Noir, Barbera and blends. 

Most of the red wine from Friuli and Alto Adige is made from such international varieties as Cabernet and Merlot.  Rarely seen in U.S. wine shops are unique wines like Lagrein, a red variety indigenous to Alto Adige and Trentino, and the undistinguished Schiava, native mainly to Trentino and Alto Adige...and Japan!

There are occasions when a lighter-bodied red wine is a better choice. The range of light reds is wide and open to experimentation. 


Next blog: Which Wine for Christmas?

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com


   


Thursday, November 25, 2021

My Life in Scotland's "Wine" Episode 22

 
Cutting the peat

When I was much younger, my adult beverage of choice was Bourbon.  Then, I discovered wine.  My wine epiphany probably happened in Germany in the early 1950s, when I accidentally found there was more to drink than beer. 

With this new discovery, my interest in Bourbon began to fade as I started to find and taste German and French wine. The unspoken rule, among my new wine friends held that if you were a wine person, you didn't drink any of the hard stuff.  

Wine was for savoring and appreciating, they said, while Bourbon whiskey and other spirits were for getting a buzz on. Of course, that may have been true in the '50s, but today, Bourbon is a more interesting and varied tipple.

At the time, I considered myself to be the luckiest man alive.  I was  stationed in Bavaria, where some of the best beer in the world was brewed.  So naturally I continued to enjoy the occasional beer, but exploring German white wine proved to be more interesting. 

Eventually, I wondered if I had graduated to wine or was I just fooling myself?  The move to wine sounded about right, so Bourbon was set aside.  

Then, I discovered single malt Scotch whisky and the whole no spirits thing was resurrected.  Back in my Bourbon days, Scotch did not have the same appeal as Bourbon whiskey, but my occasional dram was blended Scotch; single malts were just starting to make a comeback in Scottish distilling. 

Sidebar:  There is a slight difference in the spelling: The spirit distilled in Scotland and Canada is spelled "whisky," while the United States and Ireland prefer "whiskey."

Single malt whisky is different from blended Scotch, as different as a Bordeaux wine is from Burgundy.  Blended Scotch (think Dewars, Johnnie Walker) is a base spirit and a selection of various single malts, blended to create a house style.   A single malt is the product of a single distillery and may sometimes be used in a blend.  

Blended Scotch has a sameness, while each single malt shows a different personality that come through in its layered flavors.  The nuanced differences I found in a Highland single malt compared, for example, to a peaty Islay malt was a revelation.

It was this personality that I found much closer to wine than it was to any other spirit.                              

View of copper whiskey stills in a distillery Large whiskey distills in a whiskey distilery in Scotland. scotland distillery stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Swan necks on copper pot stills

I wanted to know more, like why Lowland single malts are lighter than Highland malts (it has to do with climate and terroir differences), why the source of the water used to ferment the barley is so important (distillers claim the mineral content and whether the water is soft or not, influence the flavor) and why the shape and age of the still defines the character of the whisky (that's a long explanation that is part science and part local whisky lore). 

The more I learned about single malt whisky, the more I realized there are numerous parallels between whisky and wine.  Here are a few examples:

* Legend and lore play a big role in the story of both wine and whisky.  As  mentioned above, back in the day, the shape, style and maintenance of the pot stills used to distill single malt whisky was based on lore. Today science explains why the shape of a still is important to the desired character of the spirit. If a copper panel wears thin, because of the continuous high heat in the still and must be replaced, the exact duplicate of the panel, including any dents in the old panel, is hammered into the replacement part.  

* Both are made from a single natural crop: barley into whisky; grapes into wine.

* The environment (terroir) where grapes are grown defines the character of the wine.  With whisky, the variety of barley and where it is grown, plus the source of the water used in the fermentation of the barley is the "terroir" of whisky making.  

The malting floors at the Glendronach distillery
Classic malting floor

* Malting is a process where the barley is infused with smoke from a peat fire. The length of time the barley is malted depends on the style preferred by the distillery and the style of the region (i.e., island malts versus Highland malts).  In general, Islay single malts are "peatier" than most other malts, but individual distillers may prefer more or less of the smoky character.  As a process, malting is similar to the way grapes are processed in preparation for fermentation.

* The use of oak is an integral part of single malts as well as red wine and some white wines.  The difference being that single malts are aged mainly in American oak, while red wine may be aged in a variety of oaks, including American.  (This "oak rule" is changing as some whisky distilleries are experimenting with French oak.)

* Finally, there is a symbiotic relationship between single malt Scotch and wine. In recent years, single malt distillers began maturing their whiskies in barrels used previously to age wine.  The Highland distillery Macallan has for years used ex-Sherry casks to age single malt; the Macallan 12-Year-Old, matured in Sherry wood, is a classic example of this practice.  

Other single malt distilleries opted for barrels that previously held Port, Madeira, Sauternes, Bordeaux, Marsala and other oaks.  Glenmorangie, a popular Highland malt whisky, offers a line of single malts aged in various ex-wine barrels, plus a selection of other aged single malts.

The trend to find a unique whisky and wine marriage has taken on many variations. The Dalmore Highland "Cigar Malt" starts the wood aging in American oak, then into former oloroso Sherry casks and is finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.  Auchentoshan "Three Wood" Lowland malt is aged in a mixture of Bourbon, oloroso Sherry and PX Sherry woods.  

This brief essay has just scratched the surface of the pleasures of single malt  whisky, Scotland's "wine."   


Next blog: Light Reds

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com

 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Shiraz Comeback

Shiraz, aka Syrah, is making a comeback and it is about time!

Grape Bunches on Old Vine in Vineyard Large bunches of grapes on a gnarled old vine in French vineyard. L'Hermitage area of the Côtes du Rhône region of France. syrah grape stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Old vine Shiraz

Syrah, the big red with loads of personality, from the northern Rhone, never attained the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.  But as Shiraz, the Australian name, Syrah became a favorite of consumers who preferred their red wine big and bold.  

According to the latest market trends, Australian Shiraz is making a comeback and the Aussies couldn't be happier.  Over the last two years  exports have been down, a problem exacerbated by rising prices for Aussie wine, at least in the U.S. Market.

In the American market, thanks, in large part, to a group of California winemakers that created the Rhone Rangers, the popularity of Syrah and other Rhone varieties, took off in the late 1980 and into the '90s.  

Wine drinkers were looking for red wine alternatives to Cabernet  and Syrah filled the bill and California Pinot Noir had yet to attract a lot of attention. Conveniently, Syrah was midway between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir: Cabernet strength and structure supporting layers of ripe-berry Pinot fruit.  

 Australian Shiraz

If you were to fly across Australia, the first thing you would notice is how barren and arid it looks, mile after mile.  Unlike the interior of the United States, mostly covered with cities and towns and large green farms, Australia appears from the air to be vacant and uninhabitable. 

For that reason, most of Australia's 25 million people live along the coasts.  Few of country's wine regions are beyond the reach of coastal influence.  Australia is such an ancient worn-down continent that there is little elevation, so growers must reply on the cooling benefits of ocean air to counter the heat.  But the marine influence is not as noticeable in Australia as it is in California.

Sidebar:  In 1985, a handful of American wine writers was invited by the Australian government to come down under and see what their wineries were doing.  I had always wanted to see Australia so this was my chance, even though the trip turned into a forced march: Sydney, Hunter Valley, Perth, Margaret River, Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Canberra, and Sydney.

We saw a lot of wineries and vineyards, but what we saw most was wine, wine and more wine, everywhere we went.  At a Sunday luncheon at one of Sydney's famous harbor side seafood restaurants, there was at least one bottle of wine on every table in the sprawling two-story restaurant.  

Easing my lower jaw back into place, I thought, why are we not doing this in America? 

Shiraz is grown just about everywhere in Australia, save for a wide hot corridor in the north that spans the vast continent.  Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, both in South Australia, are generally considered to be the best examples of "big and bold."  

More tempered fruit focused Shiraz comes from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales; Margaret River, Western Australia; Tasmania and in various parts of Victoria, like Heathcote and Yarra Valley.

Large basket press in a traditional winery of the Barossa Valley of South Australia Large basket press used to press red wine grapes in a traditional winery of the Barossa Valley of South Australia Barossa Valley stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Basket press in Barossa winery

Australian Shiraz has a reputation for being big and full-blooded, but there are other styles of Aussie Shiraz worth looking at.  These are the main regions for Shiraz: 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Barossa Valley:  The Barossa style is full and dark with layers of cherry and raspberry, hints of dark chocolate and mint or eucalypt.  Penfolds Grange is the premier Barossa Shiraz, but there are scores of others including St. Hallett, Grant Burge, Yalumba and Peter Lehmann.

Sidebar:  People often confuse "mint" and "eucalyptus" when smelling and tasting certain red wines.  The two are not related but their aromatics bear some similarities. Tasters describe eucalyptus as "minty and faintly medicinal," while mint is a clean clearly defined component.  The mint-to-eucalpytus spectrum includes peppermint, spearmint, basil, menthol and eucalptyus. 

Eden Valley:  Near the Barossa but at a higher elevation, Eden Valley Shiraz shows more plum and black cherry, than black pepper.  Henschke's Hill of Grace ranks second only to the Grange.  There's also Heggies and Pewsey Vale.  

McLaren Vale:  The McLaren Vale style is lighter and smoother, with a rich velvety texture and a focus on fruit and good acidity.

VICTORIA

Yarra Valley:  Not far from Melbourne, this cool verdant valley is known more for white wines than big reds.  Yarra Shiraz is deeply colored, with hints of spice and pepper and cherry.  Look for De Bortoli and Yarra Yering.

BENDIGO

Heathcote:  This is big mint country and Shiraz shows it in spades, whether its peppermint or eucalyptus.  Heathcote Shiraz has strength and longevity.  Notable are Balgownie and Jasper Hill.

NEW SOUTH WALES

Lower Hunter Valley: Hunter Shiraz is legendary in Australia, even thought it has been eclipsed by the Barossa in recent years.  Hunter Shiraz are angular when young, but become smooth and supple with bottle age.  Look for Rothbury Estate, Brokenwood, Mount Pleasant.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Margaret River: Wild and beautiful, Margaret River is Cabernet country, but there are parts of the scenic country making distinctive Shiraz, such as great Southern (Plantagenet) and Geographe (Capel Vale).

Of course, there are other areas in Australia were Shiraz stands out.  Join the crowd and re-discover, or discover for the first time the pleasures of Australian Shiraz. 


Next blog: My Life in Scottish "Wine" Episode 22

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com

 

 


Thursday, November 11, 2021

South of Beaune

One of the unfortunate things, for the wine consumer, is as wine popularity grows, so too does demand and price for coveted wines.  And no where is this more noticeable than in Burgundy. 

White Burgundy, made from Chardonnay (and if you go back far enough a little Aligote), has always been a popular white wine, but that fame took on a new dimension in the 1990s, when Chardonnay surged ahead to become the most popular white wine in history. 

Upstart Chardonnays from new world regions like California were stylistically different from French Burgundy and they were less expensive. The standout feature in California Chardonnay was the use of oak. For Burgundies like Le Corton or Beaune Greves, the oak was an integrated component; there but not too noticeable.  For California Chardonnay, a list with too many brands to mention, the oak presence was often ripe and pungent; more in your face than subtle. 

                                           

Burgundians continued to use oak with an even hand, but It would be years before California dialed back the use of oak; a handful of wineries went so far as to release no-oak Chardonnays.  

What to do, then, if you wanted reasonably priced Chardonnay with a level of oak that didn't mask the bright mineral character of the wine?  Head south of Beaune to the regions of Maconnais and the Cote Chalonnais, known  primarily for producing moderately-priced Chardonnay, that has some of the same character as its more expensive neighbors to the north. 

For help in sorting through the complexities of Burgundy wine, consult the official classification.  Not as well known as the Bordeaux Classification of Medoc and Grave of 1855, the Burgundy system rates top white and red Burgundy, listed as Grand Cru (Great Growths) and Premier Cru (First Growths). 

Sidebar:  Following the evaluation of the terroir of each estate vineyard, plus wine making philosophy and how conscientious estate owners were of the operation and maintenance of their property, there was the politics, in determining what place on the hierarchy the property would rest.  

Every decade or so, a small group, usually of dissatisfied estate owners (Burgundy uses the term "estate," the equivalent of "chateau" in Bordeaux) would lobby to have the official classification changed, with hopefully the elevation of their property.  Few challenges succeeded, although Baron Rothschild's tireless efforts in 1973 resulted in the elevation of his Ch. Mouton-Rothschild from a Second Growth to a First Growth, in the 1855 Classification. 

While not a gauge of wine quality, the classification is an account of history and performance of those estates that have maintained a consistent high level of quality.

Cote Chalonnais 

A "cote," in French, is a slope or a hill and that aptly describes the lay of the land throughout the Chalonnais, although the slope is not continuous as it is to the north in the Cote d'Or.  Still, the limestone-based soils are similar and it is this sameness that lifts Chalonnais Chardonnay closer to those of the Cote de Beaune. 

There are five village appellations that usually stand on their own: Only Montagny produces solely white wine; Rully makes both white and red wine, plus small quantities of sparkling wine in the style of Champagne; Mercurey, arguably the best of the Chalonnais, and Givry are both known mainly for red wine, but also produce whites from Chardonnay; finally there is Bouzeron, a small area known for white wine made from Aligote, not often seen in the United States.

There are no Grand Cru vineyards in the Chalonnais, but a range of Premier Crus including in Mercurey, Rully and Montagny.

A small quantity of Pinot Noir is grown in the Chalonnais.  A Mercurey rouge, made from Pinot Noir is sometimes mistaken for a more famous Cote d'Or red.

Maconnais

There was a time when Americans went nuts for Macon Chardonnay, a wine with Burgundy character but at half the price.  Then, the cost of a decent Macon rose  to a level where consumers opted instead for California Chardonnay at half the price.

Large quantities of Chardonnay are bottled as Macon or Macon-Villages.  A few of these better known villages make white wine under their own names, like Pouilly-Fuisse and St. Veran.  

Pouilly-Fuisse, sometimes referred to as the "poor man's Cote de Beaune," is the richest and fullest Maconnais white, often commanding high prices.  

St. Veran gained its appellation in 1971 and picked up vineyards that were previously Beaujolais Blanc.  St. Veran Chardonnays are stylistically bigger and richer than Macon-Village, often representing good value. 

The output of the Maconnais is approximately three to four times that of the Cote Chalonnais.  There are no Grand Cru vineyards in the Maconnais.

Small quantities of red Macon are made from the Gamay grape, drawing comparisons with nearby Beaujolais.  Bottled as Macon or Macon-Villages, the reds are scarce in U.S. markets.  

 

Next blog: Rise of Shiraz 

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com


Correction:  In "My Life in Wine Episode 21," the date of the Loma Prieta Earthquake was incorrect.  It should have been 1989 not 1979.

   


 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 21

After the Wine Spectator, my life in wine alternated between free lancing, an editorial run with a small struggling Australian-owned wine magazine and then back to free lance, including a long and satisfying time as a columnist with Wine Review Online. 

                     seismograph showing earthquake activity - earthquake stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

This is not, thankfully, another story about Covid.  Rather, this is my attempt to connect this MLIW episode with one of the unforeseen side issues of the pandemic lock downs.  Namely, how thousands of people found themselves coping with the oddities of working at home and how that relates to wine writing.

There are a few dozen full time wine writers who work at a magazine or newspaper. But the majority of wine writers do their thing from an alcove or special area in their home, or if they're lucky (as am I) from a home office.

For the free lancer being able to work at home means no commute, no need to shave and you can pound your computer keyboard in your PJs or even your underwear; really, who's going to see you? 

If that sounds like an ideal work environment, it isn't, unless you're disciplined and can keep to a set routine and not be distracted.  Unfortunately, that didn't always work for me. in 1979.  

In 1979, I was just finishing writing an opus on California Chardonnay when the San Francisco earthquake struck and everything in my office began to jump and shake.  It was like a giant had our townhouse in its grip and was giving the building a good shake.  

Books fell off the shelves over my desk and wines rattled out of a wine rack.  It was temporary chaos, with bottles crashing to the floor on top of a mound of books.  Miraculously, only two bottles broke and, of course, one of them was an expensive white Burgundy.

The free lance environment can be as quiet as a monastery cell or as noisy as an earthquake environment. Some writers need the quiet, while others, like myself, think and write better with a little music in the background. Classical music  stimulates my thinking and concentration, except for those times when it's disrupted by a daily outside distraction.

My office in the townhouse faced a tiny fenced entry courtyard.  Our mail carrier, a man who was passed his time to retire, worked hard at finding ways not to exert himself, like getting you to help with his mail delivery. 

One day, while typing a wine note, I heard Don coming up our short walk.  "Hey, Jer!" he yelled until I came to the front gate and took the mail.  If I wasn't home or didn't come outside, Don would leave the mail on top of the gate, annoying to say the least since our mail box was just inside the gate.

On one occasion, the antics of Don the Mailman broke my chain of thought about a visit to Bordeaux where the winemaker demonstrated an innovative way to get wine from a barrel.  The trick involved a special hammer with a long pointed sharp prong where the claw would be on a standard hammer. 

Using the pointed end of his tool, the winemaker swung hard whacking the head of the barrel, opening a small hole.  Fortunately, the barrel was tightly bunged creating enough internal pressure, so the wine didn't leak out. 

Then, he hooked the pointed end of the hammer behind the head brace and pulled down on the handle. The light pressure against the head caused a narrow stream of bright red wine to spurt out of the barrel into a waiting wine glass.  After dispensing wine into four glasses, the winemaker inserted a small wooden plug into the hole and hammered it home.  

It was all a bit of winery theater, performed by a French winemaker and his Portuguese assistant, for the amused visiting wine writer and his wife

Of course, you don't need to travel to Bordeaux or any other world wine region to sample the wine, but you'll understand and appreciate wine a lot more if you go to where it is made.  In the next few episodes, I do a bit of traveling, starting in Scotland where a spirit is distilled that comes as close to wine, for style and variety, as anything I've tasted.  

 

Next blog: South of the Cote de Beaune

Contact me at boydvino707@gmail.com