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

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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

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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.


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

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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. 


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.


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.


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?

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