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Wine apps: finding the best

Jay Jacobs took my NYU class this past semester. He’s getting into wine and is a techie so he was interested in the latest wine apps. He ended up downloading a few–including one in beta–and test driving them so I invited him to write up his findings here.

By Jason Jacobs

“Just tell me the app that shows me the best wines and how to buy them.” I hear you. But as you might guess, all apps are unique, and there is usually no one app that’s perfect. So what I’d like to explore is an overview of four of the biggest wine apps on the market today, and why each of them might be worth your time—or not.

A quick bit about me – I work on the mobile team at a startup in NYC as the product manager for our app. And while I live in the world of apps, I am just recently getting into wine. Hopefully this gives me a unique perspective that allows me to work through a series of wine-related apps and figure out which is the right one for you.

What I’m looking for:
1) Easy to Use and Understand
2) Easy to Buy Wines
3) Helps Me Discover New Wines

The four apps I’ve chosen to review here are two dominant ones that help log and select wines, Delectable and Vivino, as well as two new wine apps, Banquet and Wine Ring. The three concepts are what I’ll be keeping in mind as I’m using these apps since I assume these are the major goals for the people downloading them. One of the apps stands out above the rest and earns a “thumbs up” from me. The others are either solid or emergent, and the fourth still has some way to go. Read more…

Mayacamas Vineyards – tasting notes and more, from John Gilman

John Gilman, author of the newsletter A View from the Cellar, weighs in today with his thoughts on Mayacamas Vineyards. There is some duplication with Evan Dawson’s travel post from yesterday but there is also much new, including John’s tasting notes from Mayacamas Cabernet 2003, 1991, 1985, 1974, & 1968. Let’s turn the floor over to John for his views from the cellar…

Mayacamas Vineyards is one of the greatest cabernet sauvignon producers in the history of California. Read more…

Visiting Mayacamas Vineyards, Napa Valley [guest post]

Evan Dawson, who writes about Finger Lakes wines for the New York Cork Report (and who we last saw here), recently tweeted that he was in Napa. I asked him if he wanted to contribute a post from his travels and he suggested his stop at Mayacamas Vineyards. Today we have his thoughts. Tomorrow, John Gilman offers his tasting notes on several decades’ of Mayacamas wines.

By Evan Dawson

Whither Napa Cabernet? The economy dealt a blow to the iconic American wine as consumers started reaching for less expensive bottles. Now, a growing number of critics and consumers, including those in California, are openly wondering if the Napa Cabernet train has come off the rails: commentator Dan Berger, for one, last week dismissed California Cabernet as “little more than a parody of itself.”

High up the side of Mount Veeder one sunny but cool, midwinter morning a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help wondering if the way back might offer ideas for Napa’s way forward. After all, the Cabernets of the 1970s helped put Napa on the world wine map, so it seemed reasonable to wonder if in wine, as in fashion, the past could provide inspiration.

To find one answer to this question, I had ventured to the Maycamas Vineyards. Celebrated in the 1970s as a leading producer of Cabernet, I was curious if the once-hot style would seem as out of place as bell bottoms or as appealing as Mad Men. After all, not much had changed there. Read more…

Drinking wine in India


This postcard from India is by Dini Rao, formerly in the wine department at Christie’s, and currently finishing her MBA at Harvard Business School.

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My wine experience during my stay in India was eye-opening. If you told me five years ago that Indians would put down their bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label for a glass of Shiraz, I would laugh. After spending the first portion of my trip in the southern city of Chennai (formerly Madras), my concept of an Indian wine shop was bleak: a wine stand (see the first photo above) with men standing around in lungis all day, taking shots of “wine” i.e. liquor or port.

Then I arrived in Mumbai where swank hotels and restaurants serve Veuve yellow label for Rs. 2000 or $50 a glass. Top wineries attract Indians eager for tours with beautiful tasting rooms (see the second photo). As if welcoming me to the city, the current issue of Time Out Mumbai featured “Wine: Why we’re all drinking it,” a 12 page spread about wine bars, producers and sommeliers around town. According to a Newsweek International online article, Bollywood, which just graduated to showing its first scandalous on screen kiss on the lips, features stars sipping wine in recent movies.

Wine, while trendy, also seems to have serious takers. A friend publishes the wine magazine Sommelier India that circulates to India’s growing wine enthusiasts. When invited to witness a Wine Society of India tasting, I quickly dropped my previous plans to see Stephen Spurrier speak to 500 assembled Indian guests (see photo).

India’s wine future seems bright. Euromonitor predicts 100% growth from the 9 million bottles currently consumed in India over the next five years. Consumption per capita is low in the billion-person country, but concentrated, as Mumbai drinks 40% of wine by value and will continue as one of the highest growing markets. No wonder the WTO, led by the EU and US, pressures India to change the import duties on foreign wines which currently reach up to 550%.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of India’s wine culture is its own wine production. More on this in Wine in India, Part 2.

Guest post: test-driving Gen Y wine shops

Are Gen Y wine shops all they’re cracked up to be? Since I’m Gen X (and a wine geek) I had to find a Gen Y person, relatively new to wine to tell me. I posted about this mission and from the replies, I selected Grace Nguyen (whom I have never met) to take the challenge and report back to us.

The mission: go to two “new wave wine shops,” with a menu in mind, and see what they suggest. Then take home the staff picks and see how they go with the meal.

Our agent: Grace Nguyen, 27….Studied Environmental Economics and Policy at Berkeley….Then became a line cook and pastry cook for five years…Now studying for a Master’s in NYU’s Food Studies program…She wants to learn more about wine…And now, over to Grace, with notes from the field.

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They’re calling them Gen Y wine shops because they have one thing in common; they cater to the neophytes of wine drinkers. Customers will no longer have to suffer wine-shop inferiority. A smaller wine selection, wine descriptors by flavor, and printable tasting notes, are some of the recent trends. These shops have taken a new angle and have figured out the reasons why the average person drinks wine: for taste and for dinner.

So let’s see what these shops have to offer. My wine price range: $10-$15. My dinner: chicken with mustard. The recommendation: a 2005 Verdicchio and a 1990 Vouvray from Moore Brothers Wine Company (map it). And a 2004 Corbieres from Bottlerocket Wine and Spirits. Although both shops were eager to help me find that perfect wine to complement my dinner, they offered conflicting recommendations.

“You’ll want something earthy with a little acidity. You don’t want too much fruit, especially with mustard.” The clerk at Moore Brothers suggested the Vouvray Aigle Blanc 1990 at $25, and although apologetic for suggesting a more expensive bottle, he couldn’t stop praising it (find this wine). “It’s earthy, with hints of mushrooms, slight fruit, and just enough acidity. It’ll go very nicely with chicken and mustard.” It sounded sincere enough.
Read more…

Gallo invents valleys, defines state-wide terroir

On an October trip to Germany, I visited a number of supermarkets, and inevitably I found myself browsing the wine department. Out of chauvinist curiosity — or perhaps Schadenfreude — I always made sure to look for the wine offerings from the United States.

In nearly every supermarket I visited, including some smaller shops outside of city centers, there were two predominant Californian wine brands available. Gallo and, secondarily, Fetzer. (Interestingly, Chilean and South African brands are more prominent and varied on store shelves.)

But one wine in particular caught my eye. I noticed a Gallo wine that was called “Gallo Sierra Valley Merlot.” I thought, “Sierra Valley? Where the heck is that?!”

Visitors to California looking for Sierra Valley will be disappointed. I looked closer at the bottle, to find a tiny “(tm)” after the name. Indeed, there is no Sierra Valley — it’s an “appellation” invented by Gallo’s marketing department for sending bulk-produced wines to Europe with fancier labels.

The company’s website for the Sierra Valley brand offers this description:

Let us introduce you to California. The grapes for our Ernest & Julio Gallo Sierra Valley are sourced from our sun-drenched vineyards throughout California. By balancing Old World heritage with New World innovation, we harness the potential of the California terroir and bring it to you in the bottle.

“Vineyards throughout California” allow them to “harness the potential of the California terroir“??! One terroir for an entire state? Obtained by blending wines from the Central Valley? Who wrote this?

Sadly, it turns out that “Sierra Valley” and its broad notion of terroir are not limited to Germany, or even Europe. The brand is sold to Canada and Japan as well. For many people, sadly, this bulk wine with the phony-baloney appellation is the only exposure to Californian wine they can readily receive.

— Mark Ashley, Upgrade: Travel Better

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A wine, after its time


By Judith Hausman

After a blind tasting or a big party, every host has wondered what to do with those bottle ends. If you are as frugal as I am, you just can’t bring yourself pour out that last glass of Laughing Magpie or Macon Lugny especially when it’s so easy to put it to good use. Got leftovers? Think opportunity.

Obviously you can cook with it. Add that gulp of red to a barbecue marinade, a stew or spaghetti sauce. Or salt it and refrigerate it until that cooking opportunity presents itself, reducing the salt in your recipe. Deglaze a pan with it, along with a little grainy Dijon mustard and a splash of cream, to make a classic sauce for sauteed boneless chicken, salmon filets or veal medallions.

Or combine red or white wine with orange slices, strawberries, grapes and some seltzer for an impromptu sangria. Stir even Champagne into a Scandinavian-style, cold berry soup. Whir a mix of berries, the wine and additional water or fruit juice in a blender, sweeten (or not) to taste and serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

To transform the wine further and keep it longer, bring the leftovers to mother…a vinegar mother, as the starter is called. The word “vinegar” comes from the French “vin aigre,” or “sour wine.” Formulas vary but essentially, you will mix roughly 2/3 the quantity of any wine with 1/3 the quantity of white or cider vinegar in a clean jar, bottle or crock… and wait.

Depending on temperatures, alcohol content and acidity, you will have wine vinegar in about two to four weeks. Once a filmy substance forms at the bottom of your container, you have a mother. Some recipes suggest putting the container in the dark and covering it lightly. Some suggest keeping it in a warm spot to speed the process.You can then carefully decant it into another bottle. Or use the vinegar above the mother and then continue to add a new supply of wine to it, waiting after each addition for the vinegar to develop.

Once you have transferred the vinegar to another container, you can spike it with herbs, spices, citrus peel, berries or garlic. Steep sprigs of classic tarragon with lemon peel, a combination of basil leaves, garlic cloves and a few peppercorns or slender chili peppers, dried or fresh. In a decorative bottle, these vinegars are beautifully sparkly gifts too. Attach a tag with a reliable vinaigrette recipe.

Here’s a last and favorite way to use up that red. You may have seen artfully wrapped Italian wine biscuits in specialty stores but they are not difficult to make at home. Elegant and not too sweet, the plump, crunchy biscuits pair well with a dry, assertive cheese, such as Parmegiano Reggiano or Asiago, before a meal or with coffee afterwards.

Wine biscuits
Adapted from They Called it Macaroni, Nancy Verde Barr (Knopf, 1990)

4/12 c. white flour
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. baking powder
3/4 to 1 c. vegetable oil, a combination of sunflower, olive oil or other
1 c. red wine

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Put racks on the upper third of the oven.
Sift the dry ingredients and then mix in oil and wine, kneading well to make a soft dough that does not stick, or using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. If the dough is dry, the biscuits will crack.

Divide dough into 40 pieces and roll each gently into a 5” “snake,” which you can then shape into rings or figure 8’s.

Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet 2’ apart and bake for 20 min. at 350 in the top third of the oven. Then lower the temperature to 300 and bake for 15-20 min. more or until golden.

Cool on a rack and store in a closed tin. Serve with aperitives and cheese or as dessert with coffee.

Image credit: Ha-Vi

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Guest blogger

Mark Ashley, who has served as our Senior Free Wine Correspondent, will be guest blogging for a few days while I am offline. Mark is a consumer advocate, lover of value vino, and travel hound who will elucidate us with a few posts.

Over to Mark, reporting live from the Chicago bureau….


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