American wine under $15 is a difficult category. And domestic pinot can be downright dicey. And charity wines often sacrifice quality for the good of the cause.
So it was with skepticism that I tried the Grochau Cellars, “Commuter Cuvee” 2010 recently. Sold in Portland at $14.99 with a portion of the proceeds going to a bicycle safety non-profit. It’s actually a gulpable pinot noir with good acidity and the bing cherry note often found in Oregon pinots. It glides in at 12.5% alcohol; if there’s a better pinot noir available in the US under $15, I have yet to try it.
I spoke with John Grochau about how he could offer a 100% pinot noir for a reasonable price. Grochau has cycled at a high level for about 20 years (he even won a race last year) but into the front-of-house in the restaurant business, which led him to make his own wine label, sourcing fruit from various sites around the state and making the wines in Portland. In 2010 he found a vineyard site with 22-year-old vines whose owner was suddenly looking to sell 20 tons of fruit. It was a cooler vintage, which John prefers, but enough for good ripeness (the grapes were 22 Brix). He made this wine in actual barrels, which is decidedly rare for pinots at this price point. He also added some of the wines that he selected out of his higher-end pinots. It’s a low-margin wine, he admits, but he’s doing it again: The 2011, also from a cool vintage, will be released soon.
Thanks to site reader Gabe for pointing out this wine in the comments of a previous post. A perfect wine for National Bike Month!
It’s no secret that the US Postal Service is in dismal financial shape. Last week the Senate passed a bill to take steps to right the sinking ship. One of the unusual steps in the bill is good news: allowing the USPS to ship beer and wine.
This is a great idea for several reasons. First, as more bills and checks get sent electronically, you still can’t download wine and beer through your computer (despite some attempts) so it is a defensible category for the USPS. Second, it will provide more competition to UPS and FedEx, which may bring prices down. Although wine is unavoidably heavy, the USPS is already working on 2-, 4- and 6-bottle flat rate shippers. Third, it gets the discussion of wine shipments in the news so that more people can realize how silly it is that retailers can only ship to 14 states legally. Fourth, if the USPS revenue stream gets hooked on booze, then the liberalization of wine shipments will have gained a powerful ally in Washington–and in every state. Fifth, it would demonstrate what a red herring the underage issue is. Sixth, wine in the mail–how fun is that?
Timothy Egan has a piece up on the Opinionator column of the NYT with a provocative thesis on the correlation between teetotalism and presidential leadership: “The nondrinkers, at least over the last century or so, were terrible presidents.” Our country has a history of both binging on alcohol and abstaining so it is in an interesting lens for looking at leadership. However, it’s not perfect since Nixon liked wine but his presidency undeniably ended in disgrace and even Herbert Hoover apparently once had a large wine cellar. (For a timely, overseas example on whom voters have yet to render final judgment, President Sarkozy is also a teetotaler.)
But in gazing at the drink preference of Mt. Rushmore’s faces, George Washington liked Madeira and became a whiskey distiller after leaving office, Jefferson, of course, was the best friend wine geeks ever had in the White House, Lincoln once had a liquor retail license and later owned a tavern and Teddy Roosevelt apparently had a nightcap from time to time.
Clearly defining good and bad presidencies skates a little close to partisan coloring for this blog. But Lincoln had a good perspective: “The problem with alcohol, he said, was not that it was a bad thing, but a good thing abused by bad people.”
“When Did Young People Start Spending 25% of Their Paychecks on Pickled Lamb’s Tongues?” Such is the headline of a New York magazine article about young foodies. Or, rather, one young foodie, the 27-year-old Dine Chang. While the story tried to make larger points about the millennial generation’s love of food, casting the story in the light of this one character bogged it down with her quirks (detailed here).
Still, a few items stand out: her oversized spending on food, her curiosity to try various types of food, her iPhone fixation, her proud ignorance if not disdain for most critics, her reliance on the internet and word of mouth for information about where to go, and the shift of culinary excitement away from an older, moneyed crowd to a younger, hipper set. That last point is worth underscoring, as the author writes, “An abiding interest in food was something for old people or snobs, like golf or opera.”
It’s too bad the story didn’t at least mention what Chang drinks along with her dining; if she got into wine, she could easily double the portion of paycheck devoted to dining. There are lots of parallels with young people getting into wine these days. In my classes at NYU, there are mostly twenty and thirty somethings who feel that wine is an integral part of coming of age. Moreover, it’s cool and knowing about it boosts social capital. If millennials are driving wine consumption as survey data show, then I can’t wait for the NY mag article profiling a budding wino, posting pics of Jura labels to Instagram.
Even though the White House is no longer printing the names of the wines on the menu nor releasing them after the fact, it turns out that we had our own “deep throat” at the event: none other than the wine person of the last decade, founder of Cellertracker, Eric Levine.
Sure enough, Eric posted the wines served, complete with tasting notes. For the full menu (pdf), click here. And, on a related note, what Michelle Obama has done with the organic garden at the White House is terrific.
Eric says there were a range of options at the bar and he opted for the Thibaut-Janisson Brut NV (limited availability; about $29). USA, Virginia, Central Region, Monticello. This seems to be a staple at the White House since it was on the menu (back when the wines were on the menu) for Prime Minister Singh.
Halibut course and salad course
2009 Peter Michael Chardonnay Ma Belle-Fille (about $80) USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
Eric describes the wine as “Prototypical Cali Chard.” Peter Michael also has appeared before at state dinners. In fact, the Bush White House served the Peter Michael “Les Pavots” 2003 (about $275) to none other than Queen Elizabeth when she visited in 2007.
Second course: bison Wellington
2008 Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley (about $65) USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Eric has a lot of experience with the producer but laments how young it is, saying while it worked with the food, the wine is “not so civilized yet at this stage.”
Dessert: steamed lemon pudding atop a bed of apples
2007 Iron Horse Vineyards Russian Cuvée (about $30) USA, California, Sonoma County, Green Valley
The White House usher has frequently poured sparkling wines with dessert; as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the idea as I think the dessert’s sweetness is likely to leave the wine tasting too tart, even in this case. Just let dessert be the dessert. Eric says “a nice idea but a tough pairing to really appreciate.” Iron Horse has also been poured numerous times at the White House; this wine, which has a higher dosage (the amount of residual sugar is unspecified), was developed for the Reagan-Gorbachev summits.
I’m still puzzled by the White House not listing the wines on the menu. If there was too much negative reaction to the wines served at the Hu dinner, which seems to have prompted this bizarre cork and dagger policy of not listing the wines, why not list these wines since none was over $100?
And why not be more original and creative? It’s not about simply spending more (as Bush did on the $600 Shafer Hillside select), it’s about being creative, even if you have a (artificially) tight budget. There’s a lot of excitement in American wine. Find it. Serve it. Otherwise, to paraphrase George W. Bush, it’s as if the White House usher is saying “Message: I don’t care.”
Remember the state dinner when the White House served green curry shrimp with a 15.6% alcohol grenache for the Indian premier? (and the typos!) Or a “Carlos Santana” brut sparkling wine with dessert for the Mexican president? Oh how we howled at those selections wondering if the White House wine steward was trying to derail diplomacy single-handedly.
Then, with the open-air state dinner for Angela Merkel, the White House stopped publishing the names of the wines served. Thanks to your contributions, we were able to determine two of the wines.
Was it the slings and arrows of the blogosphere that prompted the new policy? Probably not. It’s more likely that the White House doesn’t want to take the heat at this point in the economic recovery for pouring expensive wines: After the White House served a wine selling worth about $400 a bottle to President Hu of China, Stephen Colbert joked that it “should have been a sweatpants-potluck with box wine and a sleeve of Oreos.” Somehow, I doubt Colbert will ever be the White House usher.
The new policy of vinous non-disclosure prompted Bloomberg political reporter Margaret Talev to investigate. But she didn’t get a substantive response from either the usher or the First Lady’s office explaining the new policy.
This week, David Cameron will be in DC for a state dinner. Without knowing the menu, I think the White House should look to repay the courtesy of the Queen when the President visited London and underscore the “special relationship” between the two countries. After highlighting some up-and-coming producers, it would be appropriate to uncork some California cabernet with age, such as a top wine from the 1991 vintage, or reaching even further back to one of the gems from the 1970s. Subtle, elegant, distinguished and generous–it’s hard to argue with those qualities at the highest level of hospitality.
What do you think the White House should pour for Cameron? And do you think they should return to printing the wines on the menu or otherwise disclose the names of the actual wines poured?
One of the most exciting drink stories in America is the craft beer revolution and its related rise in home brewing. An article on Slate details that policy held back the hops: banned after Prohibition, it wasn’t until President Carter signed legislation in 1979 that allowed households to brew up to 200 gallons a year. Unregulated by laws such as Germany’s famous beer purity law of 1516, American home brewers experimented (as had the Belgians who were similarly unfettered by regulations) and today we have arrived at the point where the US is seen as the most innovative craft beer market in the world. Indeed, Belgian breweries are even buying American hops.
In the piece, the author says there are 27,000 home brewers who pay $38 a year to be members of the American Home Brewers’ Association. Home brewing is wildly popular, even among wine geeks. Josiah Baldivino, sommelier at Michael Mina is so confident in his brewing skillz that he whipped up an IPA to serve at his wedding. Jim Clarke, somm at Giorgio Armani restaurant had a couple of brews going when I spoke with him recently. The Slate author suggests the motivations of home brewers include “self-reliance, community-building, autonomy, independence from monopolies, an alternative to rampant consumerism, innate curiosity, and the desire to make something cool.”
So here’s my question: given how popular home brewing is, why is home winemaking not more popular, particularly with younger wine hipsters? Wine is certainly popular and would be cool to make. And we wine geeks like both community and autonomy (an odd mix) and are just as self-reliant as home brewers. Home winemaking is popular as judged by the fact that three of the regular, top-selling wine titles on Amazon have to do with home winemaking. Even though some outfits such as Crushpad and City Winery have altered the demographic somewhat, it appears me, anecdotally and generally speaking, that the demographic is older and people who are more into drinking rather than sipping. Even though I have made neither at home, it seems that it would be much harder to make good wine than it would be to make good beer because it is hard to get good grapes, especially if you live some distance from a vineyard. And most home-made wines that I’ve tasted have gotten 99 points for effort and decidedly fewer for what’s in the glass. Whereas, I’ve had some quite good homebrews.
In your experience, who makes wine at home? Will urban hipsters be making wine any day soon?
The French have a wine term that doesn’t translate. No, it’s not terroir. It’s vin de soif. A wine that’s thirst-quenching is a fun drink that accompanies food or a moment but doesn’t dominate them. It’s lowish in alcohol and in price. While the concept translates, the category comes up frustratingly empty when looking for American answers (for red, at least).
I put the question to my tweeps the other day “What’s in your glass when you want a thirst-quenching, domestic red wine?” The replies were telling. Bruce Schoenfeld,”Something domestic to a different country.” Mike Steinberger said “Um, Beaujolais.” Michael Kortrady replied ” (uh, gosh, umm, well, ya know…I’m sure I’ve had one).”
There may be hope. Chambers Street Wines recently offered the wines of Chris Brockway’s Broc Cellars calling them “Californian vin de soif,” including his 11.9% alcohol cabernet franc. Hirsch Vineyards has the ebullient, crackling Bohan Dillon 2009, a 13.1% pinot noir. Sommelier Raj Parr is teaming up with Arnot-Roberts to make a gamay. The trouble with the first two examples is that they are north of $25, so there’s only so much thirst one can quench. We have discussed California’s value challenge before several times.
Do you lament the dearth of American thirst-quenching reds or do you find some good examples?