We’re back with Part Deux of our interview with John Gilman, author of the newsletter A View from the Cellar (part one is here). John has offered a free issue from his backlist to any Dr. Vino reader so surf on over to his site and check it out. In this part of the Q&A, I had intended John to give a quick thumbs up or thumbs down on a number of hot-button issues in the wine world today as well as some things that I’ve heard him express unusual views about. In case you thought you were done gorging during the holidays, you can now feast on John’s 7,000+ words in this second part. So buckle up and get ready to hear his thoughts on what’s wrong with Riesling from Austria and Australia, screwcaps and their problems, the Loire, California cab then and now, indigenous yeasts, roto-fermenters, small oak barrels, wines over 14% alcohol and why he uses scores!
To my mind this is clearly the most singularly misunderstood and underappreciated region for great wines in the world. Read more…
This is my first ever posting from the Apple Store. Sadly, I’ve just stopped by the Genius Bar and the diagnosis for my hard drive was fatal. Sad news to be sure, but it’s still under warranty. Let’s have three cheers for Time Machine backups!
Speaking of cheers and Apple, have you seen the iBeer application in the new App Store? If not, check out the video above for a demo of the #11 most downloaded app to the iPhone.
I’m still waiting for the wine equivalent! (Let’s just hope it’s not corked.)
“I bet this wine is sixty-two degrees,” I confidently proclaimed. Seconds later, I used the Nuvo Vino infrared wine thermometer to check by pointing it at the surface of the wine and pushing a button. The instant reading was sixty-one degrees. Close.
The company sent me their $37 device for testing recently. I started testing the temperature of red and white wine in my glass at the table. But quickly that got tiresome and I found my son’s hand was eighty-three degrees. His ice water, thirty-three degrees. The next morning, my coffee was 149 degrees.
Is it necessary to know the exact serving temperature of your wine? No. But it is true that many whites are served too cold (fridge temp) and many reds served too hot (room temp). I don’t think you need a $37 thermometer to tell you that a wine is colder than room temp or warmer than the fridge. On their site, they have a detailed chart for recommended serving temperatures, which generally good (I particularly like their advice “cheap sparkling wine is best served quite cold.”). The excessive detail of the chart and the suggestion that there are yet more rules to follow for wine consumption though, I fear, risk confusing the average consumer who is just warming up to the fact that it’s OK to have pinot noir with salmon.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a gift to give the wine lover who has everything, has a hankering for James Bond-style gadgets, likes wonking out with experiments in wine service, and wants to annoy everyone with repeated temperature readings, then throw it in your shopping cart.
Did you know you can store your wine label images in a separate folder on your iPhone? When you are stumped in front of a sea of bottles at your wine store, you can flick through and see ones that you’ve enjoyed before. Or, if you can’t remember which wine you had with dinner last night (ahem), just snap a pic and store it for jogging the memory later. You could even download label images as a wish list!
Scroll through for a brief photo tutorial. I’m sure you can get something similar to work on other phones too, if you have to. How do you store your label images? Read more…
Darrell Corti has banned the sale of high alcohol wines in his food and wine emporium in Sacramento, CA according to a story on AppellationAmerica.com. Corti says:
At our store, after a tasting on the 29th of March, I put on top of the Zinfandel section, “This is the last tasting Corti Brothers will do for over 14.5 percent Zinfandels. These wines will no longer be sold at Corti Brothers. There will be no exceptions…They (high alcohol wines) make you very tired. My idea of a really good bottle of wine is that two people finish the bottle and wish there was just a little bit more. Some of these wines with high levels of alcohol — you can’t finish the bottle. You don’t want to finish the bottle.”
What do you say? Is Corti a hero or a villain?
poll now closed
You know that caricature of someone in a vat, crushing grapes by foot to start the fermentation process? You know, the image long-ago phased out in practice for wine? Well, it turns out that nothing beats the foot in Portugal for making port.
Only two percent of all port is still foot-crushed and it is mostly the best ports available, vintage ports. Despite some negative associations, feet are especially good at crushing the skin without crushing the seed–filled with bitter tannins–as well.
Electricity came late to the upper Douro Valley. When it did, in the 1980s, labor prices were high so producers rushed to adopt automated crushing and stainless steel closed-top fermenters. Quality fell. There was just something about those feet. Or oxygen.
The traditional lagares are made of granite and are wide, open-top vats or troughs. Somehow the exposure to oxygen provided a slight degree of oxidation that was more appealing in port, a fortified wine. David Fonseca Guimaraens told me today that his company, the Fladgate Partnership, was among the first in the region to develop mechanized foot-like pistons in open-top stainless steel vats. I didn’t ask if the pistons had toes. But Guimaraens did say that the added labor of foot crushing made it twice as expensive as mechanization.
The last one was quite hollow in the middle with elevated, aggressive tannins. The piston-pressed one was much more complete, with a beginning a middle and an end with good freshness. But it was the lagar sample that had the most layers of complexity. Then there was a blind sample just to see if I was paying attention. Fortunately I got it right (the odds were good though).
In the ongoing discussion about wine and technology, it’s a cute story of the advantages of simplicity. But technology is on the march. Guimaraens says in five years, the pistons could catch the feet. They’d better keep running.
Five years ago, Randall Grahm staged a funeral for the cork. The great marketer and label designer behind Big House Red and Ca del Solo among other brands staged a processional for his last cork at Grand Central Station of all places. From then on, all of his wines have been bottled “en screw.”
Since enjoying wine is in many ways a race against time (and oxygen), how a bottle of wine gets sealed is of utmost importance. Corks have their detractors since they can introduce the noxious chemical TCA that makes wines “corked.” Further, the pieces of tree bark can lose their elasticity as they age letting in wine’s nemesis, oxygen.
Screwcaps, by contrast, can provide such a tight seal that no oxygen gets in and there is no problem with TCA. Many proponents of screwcaps (or Stelvin closures, if you must) might suggest that the only thing standing between them and domination of the wine world is consumer resistance since wines bottled “en screw” have typically been seen as more downmarket. And what would you do with your $100 corkscrew if you only had to twist the cap off?
Screwcaps appear to be so controversial with their partisans for and against, you might think it impossible to find a producer who goes both ways. Fortunately the Wine Media Guild was able to find several examples of the same wines bottled under both closures for the March tasting.
Michel Laroche attended the tasting as speaker to share his experiences as well as several of his wines bottled under both closures. Laroche is a fifth generation winemaker from Chablis who has run his family firm since 1967 and now also makes wine in the Languedoc, Chile and South Africa.
For Laroche the transition to screwcaps started in 2001 when an unacceptably large amount of his wine was sold unknowingly with TCA that came through corks. Placing the estimate at 10 percent of his production that year, he expressed frustration because he said that consumers never complained so he didn’t know if they thought that flawed wine was actually his style.
So in 2002 he took action. He set up an alternative bottling line and bottled three percent of his production under screwcaps. He bottled the same day and from the same vats. He brought four of his wines that run the gamut of his line for us to taste, with a bottle under each closure.
The difference was shocking. Read more…
The fact that the enomatic, a $10,000 machine that spits out wine pours, has landed in New York is not news (unlike in Fairfax, VA): Union Square Wines installed six of the machines when they moved to their new location (map it) last summer. What’s news is that it is the only store in New York to do so. Why?
You can largely thank New York’s confusing laws on wine retailing, which prevent charging for wine samples among other things. In states with more permissive laws on tasting, enomatic machines can be spotted in wine shops that charge for samples. But in New York, charging anything for drinking on premises requires a different license. Thus it’s hard to make for a retailer to make economically viable the expensive piece of burnished stainless steel that is the enomatic. (But it does mean a lot of free wine for consumers around town.)
But Union Square Wines took the plunge and I decided to put them to the test. I strode in last weekend and asked for a card. Not so easy, it turns out. You have to be an existing customer–it’s structured as a “reward” system. Well, I’ve bought wine at the store before, I replied. “But do you have the card?” Ah, no. A purchase is required and each dollar spent accumulates 5 points, which can be deducted from the card at the enomatics.
So seeing that 40 points could get me a couple of tastes, I splurged on an $8 wine. Then I had to take my receipt to another desk across the store (no plans for streamlining this at one register) where a staffer mercifully took pity on me and gave me 200 points instead of the 40 I was due.
Then I hit the machines. The pours were SMALL. But they were FRESH. It only took me a shot of riesling, gewurztraminer, some rustic French red, and a bonarda from Argentina to realize that the number of points deducted was the equivalent to the price in dollars of the whole bottle. Too bad I didn’t have enough for the 225 point Barolo in the front room. Net-net the enomatic is a way to get fresh, free wine served on demand. Just, for the sake of the NY regulators, don’t think of it as a bar!
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On a related note, the WSJ had a story yesterday about the potential demise of the bar car on Metro-North trains. Installing enomatics on the trains could be an excellent use of the machine that substitutes capital for labor.