Musing

Malbec from India?

Yep!

A two and a half-hour drive outside of Mumbai lies more than a half dozen wineries in Nashik producing fermented deliciousness made from 25 grape varieties including Malbec!

According to a New York Times article published this week, the wine region sprouted up more than a decade ago when Sula Vineyards, the first one there, took root. Rajeev Samant, the owner of Sula Vineyards, originally planned to grow mangoes on his family’s land in Nashik, but he decided on wine grapes instead. Good choice! Although I do love mangoes!

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Sula Vineyards has grown substantially over the years, attracting 150,000 visitors last years, up from 5,000 when it first opened. Samant has added a large tasting room, a resort with an infinity pool and a spa. Now there are a handful of other wineries nearby, too.

What are some other off-the-beaten-path wine destinations? Let me know in the comments!

So which came first, wine or beer?

Turns out nobody knows.

Bummer.

I was at a bar with friends on Sunday having a lovely evening sipping beers when a friend questioned: which came first, wine or beer? Surprisingly, that launched us into chatting about civilization, happy accidents, travel, culture and city planning. We got way off track and ended the evening without knowing the answer.

When I got home and Googled it, I was no closer, still.

We know that both beer and wine existed during the Stone Age. We know that first batches of both alcohols likely occurred by accident and we know that many communities across the globe made their own versions of the two.

Now, Quora.com and Yahoo Answers are saying beer came first, but the respondents’ deductions are based on cavemen drinking beer and the earliest writings about wine coming from the bible, which came after cavemen. I think that logic is pretty thin and I’m not sure the bible contains the earliest writings about wine, and even if it did, isn’t the bible about supposed events that happened way before it was published?

According to Cambridge World History of Food, no one has dated the exact origin of beer, however some archaeologists believe brewing began about 8,000 years ago. The earliest archaeological evidence of wine dates back to about 7,400 years ago. Yet what if there was evidence that has since been destroyed or has yet to be found?

Just last week archaeologists found one of the world’s oldest wine cellars in Israel, dating back to 1700 B.C.

Paso Robles Man: The most interesting man in the world?

I know I’m late to the gushfest, but I can’t help but share this amazing video of the Paso Wine Man. He gives us the lowdown on vino variety, and let me tell you: it’s amazing. Come on, he compares shitty Chardonnay to a bleached out blonde beauty queens and the real deal to a true California beauty, stripped of the fake tan. What about Pinot Noir? It’s “earthy” and “ephemeral,” just like him. And real men? They’re not afraid of a pink rose. They’re afraid of the road not taken. And clowns. He even looks kind of like a blonde Kevin Spacey and he has the “House of Cards” narrator style down. In my book, he definitely beats Mr. Dos Equis. My favorite part: when he jumps out of an explosion, describing Cabernet Sauvignon as “brooding” and a “summer blockbuster.” What’s your favorite?

No hangover wines: Do they really exist?

The Daily Beast posted a story this week that claims to have found the holy grail: wine that won’t give you a hangover.

The writer, Jordan Salcito of Momofuku, talks about drinking three bottles of wine at dinner with a friend and waking up the next morning without feeling icky. In fact, both diners felt so great one dominated at a tennis match the next morning and the other at a spin class.

I know what it’s like to exercise the morning after a couple bottles of wine and for me, it’s hard enough to get out of bed, let alone actually move my body around to burn calories. I kind of look like #hangovercat.

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Salcito says that his secret is natural wines, ones “made from ripe grapes and not much else.”

With that in mind, I decided to ask a nutritionist why that would be the case.

Roger Clemens, an adjunct professor of Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical Science at University of Southern California and a nutrition expert, said there is no scientific evidence to back up the claim that there will be a difference in hangover impact if you grab a bottle of natural wine rather than a conventional one.

None of the elements of conventional wine Salcito mentions in his article–supplementary sugar,sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, tartaric and malic acid, oak essence, etc–has been directly linked to hangovers, Clemens said, adding:

Hangovers, other than over indulgence, reflect the body’s response to excess alcohol (the liver is rate-limiting in alcohol metabolism) and possibly minor compounds often referred to as congeners. Congeners are natural products of fermentation and distillation. Even those who study the pathology of alcohol hangover suggest that other factors may subject vulnerable individuals to hangovers. Some of those factors include degree of hydration, immune status, health status, genetics and ultimately, individual variations.

Now, Salcito admits that his belief is based on anecdotes and not science and he warns not all natural wines are just dandy:

While natural wines have a host of merits, some can be a game of Russian Roulette if you aren’t familiar with labels. The term, which is nebulous and unregulated, can apply to any wine made without very few winery manipulations.  Some wines that fall under the natural wine umbrella are lambasted for trying to pawn off technically flawed wines. Some of them have the tannic composition of splintering plywood, and others have the aromatic make-up of fermenting dill pickles, nail polish remover, and unwashed feet.  Plenty of wines seem to get a free-pass on wine lists and retail shelves simply because they are “natural.” But like all wines, some are good, some are bad, and some are truly extraordinary.

So what did Salcito drink that magical night that led to a magical morning sans hangover? Eric Pfifferling’s l’Anglore Tavel rosé and two others of similar style. He also recommends:

  • Stella di Campalto, Tuscany, Italy
  • Arnot-Roberts, Sonoma, CA
  • Van Volxem, Mosel, Germany

Check out the article for more about natural wines and other recommendations. Buyer beware, though, most of those recommendations will cost you a pretty penny. I checked wine-searcher.com for prices and most are over $30.

Thanksgiving Wine

When Wine Library, a discount wine retailer, asked its followers on Twitter which wines they were picking up for Thanksgiving, it got me thinking: which wines should I pick up for Thanksgiving?

One follower said she was eyeing a 2012 Pascal Pibaleau Rouge L’heritage D’aziaum. When I read that I had to shake my head and refocus my eyes a bit because of the long string of words, so I’ll be patient as you re-read it.

And, we’re back.

So what’s the deal with the Pascal Pibaleau Rouge L’heritage D’aziaum? It’s a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Sounds yummy.

According to Wine Library, it is:

“With lots of bright red fruit, hints of earthiness, and a nice amount of acidity, the Pibaleau L’Heritage D’Aziaum is a versatile food wine, that will pair with chicken, pork, vegetable, and fish dishes.”

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Malbec, in general, can draw in pepper, licorice, coffee and black fruit flavors, while Cabernet France, can exude plum, blackberry or vegetable-like aromas, depending on ripeness.

At $16.98, it’s a stretch, but not a budget-buster.

Another tweep said she was grabbing Brunello di Montalcino. That wine is made from Sangiovese grapes that are grown in Montalcino, a hilltop town in Italy.  According to wine-searcher.com, the $19 wine is “known for its brilliant garnet hue and its bouquet of berries with underlying vanilla and spice. A hint of earthiness brings balance to the finest examples.”

With these suggestions in mind, I’m still thinking about going another direction: Beaujolais. Beaujolais wines can be easy-drinking, fruity and graciously play a supporting role without stealing the spotlight from the star of Thanksgiving: the turkey.

I’d recommend Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages. It’s a good value (last time I bought it, it was $10, but wine-searcher has it ranging from $10-$14). It’s light, fruity (think raspberry and plum) and I think it’ll please guests varying tastes.

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Here are some more Thanksgiving wine suggestions from the all-knowing internet:

What are your Thanksgiving wine suggestions?

Wine 101: Spit!

When I asked Jonathon Alsop, founder of Boston Wine School, what’s the first thing you teach new students, I was surprised by his response.

The first lesson in Wine 101 is how to spit, he said.

How to spit!?

Not what kind of grape makes what color wine or why some wines taste like tropical fruit and other wines are smoky. Nope.

That's Jonathon Alsop grinning because he's got wine in his grasp. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

That’s Jonathon Alsop grinning because he’s got wine in his grasp. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

I asked him to explain more, and this is what he said: Spit happens.

His reasoning: when you’re drinking wine at dinner, you swallow it, but when you’re learning to taste wine you don’t.

“Spitting out the wine you just tasted is the first step in getting ready to taste another wine.  Swallowing the wine you just tasted is the first step in getting hammered,” said Alsop, author of The Wine Lover’s Devotional: 365 Days of Knowledge, Advice & Lore for the Ardent Aficionado.

Jonathon Alsop operates the Boston Wine School, but also frequently writes about wine. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

Jonathon Alsop operates the Boston Wine School, but also frequently writes about wine. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

I’ve been wine-tasting many times and I don’t think I ever spit out my wine. I’ve definitely dumped a glass and grabbed a handful of oyster crackers to scrub away a bad taste, but spitting in front of someone who just poured me a glass, I couldn’t imagine myself doing that. But maybe I should start.

“If you went to a wine festival and just drank wine, you’d probably taste a couple of different wines at first, but eventually, as you grew immobile, you’d only be drinking wines you could stagger to,” Alsop said. “By having good spit discipline, you can keep your wits about you and taste 100 wines, and even remember a lot of them.”

At the Boston Wine School, they take alliteration seriously. Here are his seven steps for tasting wine:  See. Sniff. Swirl. Smell. Sip. Swish. Spit.

Alsop said he teaches in a “100% snob-free zone” where any level of wino can learn.

If you were going to take a Wine 101 class, what would you want to learn? If you had to teach a Wine 101 class, what would be the first thing you taught? I’m really curious. Tell me in the comments!

What Millenials Want

Did you know 29% of the 39 million regular wine drinkers in the U.S. are under 34?

Wine insiders have been saying for the past few years that Millenials–those 21-34 year-olds like myself– are shaking up the wine industry and smart wineries should take note.

So what should wineries do to please this fickle demographic?

1) Get online, duh.


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In Napa, where a quarter of vineyard visitors are 24-35, the some wineries are leaning on social media to tap folks like me. The Napa Valley Vintners Assn. hosts Taste and Tweet events that attract a younger crowd, said Patsy McGaughy. It’s true, I do find out a lot about wine through Twitter, and the internet in general, so I can see this working. The Association also encouraged visitors this summer to share their photos on Instagram with a pre-defined hashtag to win a prize. I’d also recommend posting on reddit, a Q & A style forum where users can “upvote” the best posts. I see a lot of wine enthusiasts on there, but few actual wine brands joining into the community.

2) Study says: Millenials are shallow


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Yes, many of us care about labels. We probably shouldn’t, but sorry that’s not going to change.

We’re the generation that doesn’t just pay attention to other brands, we brand ourselves. We curate our lives on Facebook and Instagram (#mylifeisperfect), so we tend to pick up a bottle of wine if it looks cool, especially since we’re probably going to bring it to a party.

According to a 2012 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo study, Millenials prefer wine labels that are “brightly colored, less traditional and more graphically focused.”

But trying to cater to us can go wrong. I would never buy TXT Cellars’ OMG!!! Chardonnay or WTF!!! Pinot Noir. It’s trying too hard. They’re wines my dad would buy me–if he bought me wine, which he doesn’t– because it would be something he thinks I would think is cool. It’s like seeing your parents on Facebook. If looks weird.

3) Be different


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According to the Wine Market Council, 89% of 26 to 34 year-olds frequently purchase wine from an unknown brand. That’s because many of us, including myself, like to try new things.

“Millennials have reached legal drinking age at a time when more wines from more countries are available than ever before. So it’s not surprising that their tastes are adventurous as they explore and form their own preferences,” said David McIntyre, in a Washington Post food column this week about a 27-year-old and a 25-year-old who set up a pop-up wine bar in a parking lot in DC. 

Peter Eastlake at Vintage Berkeley is benefitting from that trend at his wine store near University of California Berkeley. He’s been buying and selling wine for a long time and he’s noticed that rather than going for the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, his customers want something different. They’re willing to explore, he said.

For example, I bought a fizzy wine from Slovenia described as weird, but great, at his store.

Blends are good, too. I picked two up at Area 5.1 Winery when I was in Santa Barbara because they were delicious and unique and I knew I’d never find them again unless I went back.

4) $$$$$


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Price matters.

When I was in college it was $2 buck chuck all the time. Now, I try to mostly keep my wine purchases under $20. Many of my friends though won’t buy a bottle of wine over $10.  If I’m at a boutique winery, I bump it up to around $20-$25 because I know I’m paying for the small-scale production, the experience of being at the winery, etc.

Wineries take note: I cringe when I see $15 tastings. Even with $10 tastings, my friends and I will share a glass to split the price. Drop your tastings to $5 and you’ll make up for the reduction in price with an increase in traffic. And if you can’t drop your tasting price all the time, make it an event, a happy hour of sorts, and reduce it during certain times. 

Old Vine Zinfandel vs. Zinfandel

If I was blindfolded and you put an Old Vine Zinfandel in front of me and a non-Old Vine Zinfandel, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

So I started asking around: what separates the two, flavor-wise?

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I had this Zin in my wine collection

Ondine Chattan, winemaker at XYZin Wines told me Old Vine Zinfandels tend to brighten the characteristics of the Zinfandel grape: producing a jammy and spicy wine. They’re “typically full-bodied, spicy, fruit-driven and accented by oak with robust alcohol,” she said.

Chris Smith, winemaking director of Bogle Winery, said Old Vine Zinfandels can have a superior quality of taste because the older grapevines are, the less vigor they have, which means they produce fewer grapes. Fewer grapes=more flavor.

“The Sex Appeal of Old Vine Zinfandel can be distilled down to smaller yields and more intensity of flavor. In general but not always true,” he pointed out.

There are different types of Zinfandel grapes and some old vines can’t be duplicated elsewhere, Chris said, leading to a unique wine taste.

So that’s that on the flavor profiles, but how old is old?

It depends who you ask. There’s no regulatory definition of “old vine.”

A winemaker can slap an old vine label on their bottles, even if their vines are only five years old and be “breaking no laws,” Chris said. Conversely, a winemaker with 100-year-old vines doesn’t have to define her Zinfandel as old vine on the bottle.

“So a consumer may frequently be drinking wines from Old Vines without any indication or may enjoy a wine from a blend of younger and older vines,” Ondine remarked adding that some consider 25-year-old vines old.

Ondine Chattan; credit xyzin.com

Ondine Chattan; credit xyzin.com

Not Chris. For him, more than 40 is old.

While other grape vines make it to around 25 years old with quality reducing as they age, Zinfandels have longer lifespans and increasing quality. One hundred year old Zinfandel vines are few and far between, but 60 to 70-year-old ones are common, Chris said.

Chris Smith; credit boglewinery.com

Chris Smith; credit boglewinery.com

If you want to get overwhelmed by Zinfandel info, check out this resource guide by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers.

Wine for cats!

A Japanese pet supply company has released wine for cats. Yes, you read that right.

The drink is a mix of Cabernet grapes, Vitamin C and catnip, which sounds similar to frat party jungle juice to me.

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Courtesy kotaku.com

It’s non-alcoholic and sells for $4. It’s called Nyan Nyan Nouveau, a play on the Japanese version of meow and the fancy English (with French roots) word for modern.

I think the whole idea of wine for cats is absurd. I can’t wait to hear what their sales are like. Any vets out there think this is a bad thing?