20071030

How to wash the wine glasses you most cherish (One man's story of tough love turned ghastly)

Holy busted blind Riedels, Batman!


Hallowe'en won't be the same without my trusty pair of "trick or treat" stemless blind tasting glasses to raise my spirits.

Luckily I still have one glass left to drink with but as my friend Johanna, who brought these Riedels back from Austria for me, said: what's the point of tasting with only one blind tasting glass? You need at least two to generate intrigue. Just like you need more than one guest at a masquerade.



Even in shambles, my blind Riedel showed its beauty, its charm, its form and its function. No matter how I reconstructed the crime scene, this was one tough wine glass to read: The dark, nearly-black-but-kind-of-purplish glass masked its contents so well that's practically impossible to photograph the inside of its bowl, even with great lighting shining directly into it.

The black hole is such an apt metaphor for wine appreciation in my house.

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

Pose it and repose it as I may, the actual events leading up to my Riedel's demise confound me. I know fully well what happened but I have a hard time admitting it actually came to pass. The glass died in my own hands as a result of my own tough love -- harsh, abrasive and spotlessly clean.

Yes, I broke this glass washing it, something I hadn't done to a wine glass since my Spiegelau Spätburgunder glass bit the dust several years ago.

The problem is that washing stemware has a learning curve. Until you master it, you're on shaky ground. Once you master it, you're laughing. Laughing until stemless glasses come out and shake things up. Then you've got to rethink your whole approach.

HOW TO WASH YOUR FINE CRYSTAL (WITH STEMS ONLY)

The way I see it, stems are the easiest part of the glass to break yet the most integral part of the glass to prevent breakage, especially when washing up. Here's what I mean:

The trick when washing is to grasp the bowl of the glass with your two forefingers and your thumb. This way you do not to apply any direct or twisting pressure to the fragile stem. If you do, the image at left reveals the results (as you can see a wine glass with a snapped stem offers a unique opportunity to introduce a fancy candle snuffer/one heck of an expensive dust cover to you household, so it's not all bad).

But there's more! Grasping the bowl is sometimes not enough. Sudsy water can be slippery so I always hook my baby finger around the stem loosely. A good finger curl anchors the delicate process of washing (and drying too) and secures the glass should the bowl ever slip from your busy fingers and thumb.

Obviously, stemless glasses do not allow this. They lack this kind of forgiving component. Since there's no stem, more pressure ends up being applied to the bowl and rim to garner that same sense of kitchen-sink security, or in my case, my over-protective nature and...

Snap! Oh the irony!

Lesson 1: Don't smother the things you love so that the fear of losing them is what ultimately drives them away.

Lesson 2: [insert instructions on how to wash stemless glasses here]

20071029

There's no caffeine in Muscadet

The way I start out my day seldom changes, yet for some reason this morning it suddenly seemed blogworthy.

I make coffee. Here it comes...


An unassuming enough of a start to one's day, you'd think. But actually, really really blogworthy...

Organic vs conventional! Fair trade vs direct trade! Caffeinated vs decaf! Espresso in a shot vs espresso in a cup!? Just pick your talking point.

To make my espresso-based latte-macchiato hybrid that I drink, I use these beans. They are made by Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, a coffee importer.



I have other coffee in my cupboard ... this one... this one... and I even forgot I had this one.



I usually bypass them unless I've run out of freshly roasted Intelligentsia. But today I realize that all these coffee labels remind me a lot of wine labels. They're less a manufacturer's smacked-on trademark and more a tribute to the grapes and beans that go into it.

And while overly processed bread, dairy and fruit preserves drive me nuts, I don't seem to mind consuming processed foodstuffs when it comes to wine and coffee. Maybe that's because each one undergoes a substantial transformation -- they require significant craftmanship and some exact science before they can become acceptably drinkable. So it's the non-transformative processed food I avoid: industrial fish sticks and other frozen dinners and prepared foods that are overpackaged conveniences -- which really only seem to replicate the easier kitchen tasks I can perform without much effort, and usually, with better results.

I suppose I could try roasting my own coffee. A couple of years ago I made the leap to grinding my own coffee beans (even though it's only a blade, not a mill, grinder) and that paid off nicely for me, including this morning, as you can see.



I'm nowhere near taking on winemaking.

ORGANIC VERSUS CONVENTIONAL AGRICULTURE

I feel the first talking point coming on.... Another reason I don't mind consuming processed items like wine and coffee is because they are both involved in a positive labeling endeavour. During WLW 1 (Wine Label Week), I saw that labels don't need to be obscure sources of information once you know what you are looking at. And new label designations based on environmental certifications for organic or biodynamic farming -- Terra Vitis, Eco-Cert, Demeter, etc -- are generally being conveyed clearly to the consumer. These are good developments.

Coffee is similar to wine on being green and accountable to drinkers in how it obtains standards from a group called Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, which sets rules on farming techniques, pesticides and recycling practices. The organization even has a program to encourage children of farmers to stay enrolled in school, so the initiative is obviously based on more than how food is cultivated but on equity practices too, which are primarily concerned with the condition of the farmer and his laborers.

Like wine, coffee is certified through visits to farmers to verify that they are meeting the criteria that bar, among other things, the use of child labor and harmful chemicals.

FAIR VERSUS DIRECT TRADING

So, like wine, some coffees can carry the organic label. On the whole, also like wine, most are still not certified. At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, sometimes you can rely on and trust in the brand name you endorse. Intelligentsia is that trusted brand name that appears on the label. Even when no official green certification is there, I buy Intelligentsia. Because while they are actually not a "fairtrade" certified company, they are a reputable "direct" trader.

That's because Intelligentsia has spoken out. They have said that fair trade coffee is as exploitive as the conventional kind, especially in countries that produce the highest-quality beans -- like Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala.

"Fair trade farmers there are barely paid more than their counterparts in Brazil, though their crops become gourmet brands, selling for a hefty markup, said Geoff Watts, vice president for coffee at Intelligentsia."

Full details in this business article in the New York Times.

CAFFEINATED VERSUS DECAFFEINATED COFFEES

Speaking of the New York Times, a Yahoo! feature on caffeine pointed to a NYT blog post which in turn pointed to my blog via one of the comments I left. As a result, my hits went absolutely through the roof -- more than a hundred visitors were on my site at once and 800 visits for the day total. I could post these record-setting charts and stats but I myself was going through the roof at the time too, so I'd rather talk about that.

Basically, coffee is a broad term and the coffee I drink and the coffee Tara Parker-Pope writes about in her NYT blog called Well about are not the same thing. She reported on drip coffee caffeine levels and then ran a photo of an espresso-based coffee. These are not the same types of coffee, especially when it comes to caffeine level.

In her Well blog, Parker-Pope acknowledged my issue with this in saying that "You are correct that per serving, espresso (which is served in shots rather than cups) typically does have less caffeine than drip coffee."

ESPRESSO IN A SHOT VERSUS ESPRESSO IN A CUP!?

But espresso is espresso is espresso. It doesn't matter if an espresso shot is served in a cup with milk as a cappuccino, or if it's served solo in a shot. It's still a single espresso, and it'll have the same level of caffeine no matter where it is.

There is a reason I am making a point about how different espresso is. The image attached to this caffeine story as it made the rounds through the media is clearly a an espresso-based beverage -- a cappuccino or similar artisanal coffee from the looks of its latte art on the top. Cappuccinos and other artisanal coffees like macchiatos and lattes, are the combination of a shot of espresso and varying amounts of warmed milk. Cappuccinos therefore have the same low level of caffeine as the espresso shot it is made with. But most importantly, cappuccinos by their very definition are not drip coffees, which are brewed and which are more heavily caffeinated. Yet a drip coffee is not the image chosen for this damning report on some drip coffees -- specifically the problematic levels of caffeine in drip decaf.

Why place an illustration of a non-drip coffee beverage under the headline? And why a beverage that uses a single shot of espresso which has LESS caffeine (as low as 30 mg) than a cup of Dunkin' Donuts drip decaf (as high as 32 mg)? Clearly, it's because image sells and a pretty one will draw more interest than brown, watery and lifeless decaf. Those readers who don't care about caffeine will visit just to see the dazzling latte art. Those readers who do care about caffeine levels will visit to analyze their coffee intake. In both cases, readers leave with an false association of artisanal coffee and high caffeine.

I think this is shoddy journalism by the New York Times and they should be more upfront about the photos they choose to run.

Cappuccino, which when made by a real barista, looks better, tastes better and actually is better for you on the caffeine front than the unattractive brews festering in decaf coffee pots. But based on the warning-alert nature of the headline and its accompanying image, it's the attractive espresso-based coffee that undeservingly receives the black mark, not the black decaf, the ugly fast-food swill that is actually the problem.

And once again, the media circus health report sets out on the wrong foot and potentially does more harm than good.

20071025

Muscadet madness continues! Chateau de la Ragotière, SAQ tasting and complimentary oysters

This is my fourth consecutive Muscadet post and it still might not be the last.

Now that months with Rs are gearing up to full speed, oysters are increasingly in season. And where there are good oysters, there are of course Muscadets to be had, including at this event, which is tomorrow (Friday).



These two wines are both worth checking out and scooping up. We're talking seriously good values. My buddy Bill's got the word on the Ragotière Muscadet (looking forward to trying it myself for the first time) and I had the Vin de pays Ragotière Chardonnay this afternoon. It's a lovely varietal with real character and a light deft touch. Very soft and elegantly enticing with finesse not common for a VdP varietal at the $13 pricepoint.

Ragotière is welcome addition to my list of strong value wines from unheralded French designations. You can see blog labels like Unoaked European Wine, Organic Wine/Food, or many of the appellations found in the sidebar for more great values. Or search this site for "vin de pays" for an overall view of VdP bargains.

20071024

A Muscadet made sur lie has never been a muscadet that's made me this surly

Where I live there are eight different producers of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine on the market. I've tried six of them -- seven by tomorrow -- and, by virtue of this turning into an unofficial Muscadet week around here, I'm on track to tasting all eight by the weekend. Yet I'm already prepared to say that there is only one Muscadet to avoid in the province. And it's a tricky shapeshifting Muscadet. It can look like this (left) or like this (right):












Being a shapeshifter is what makes this wine not so hot.

I posted about three good Muscadet Sur Lie bottles on Monday. All of them -- Donatien Bahuaud's 2003 Le Master, Sauvion's 2005 Château du Cléray and Chéreau Carré's 2006 Réserve Numerotée -- are great values and representative of the AOC Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine mark. Add to Monday's proceedings the bottle above, a masked Muscadet: the dreaded Remy Pannier Muscadet, issued, I now discover, by the Remy Pannier Ackerman conglomerate. They suggested it was aged on lees on some 2006 bottles (at right, with Sur Lie etched in the glass), but not Sur Lie on others (left, a cuvée they decide to anoint as Vallée des Jardins 2006).

The bottles and their labels look nothing alike. You can click on the images to enlarge them and see. It took a bar code scanner and some assistance from an SAQ employee to figure out that these seemingly different bottles held exactly the same wine. Whether that wine is sur lie or not is anybody's guess.

Whether a wine is "sur lie" and aged on its lees is not required wine label information. But it does determine where the vintner must bottle his wine: that place is exactly where the wine was made. Yet Remy Pannier's Sur Lie is bottled nowhere near Sévre et Maine in Loire Atlantique, the place that the Muscadet appellation specifies that all grapes must come from. The bottle factory is some two hours down a highway into the centre of France, almost as far away from the sea as you can get and still be in France. Here's a potential route the grapes unnecessarily take inland (1 hr, 49 min):


View Larger Map

View Larger Map

So once the Melon de Bourgogne grapes from Loire Altantique arrive in St-Florent -- the land of Chenin and Sauvignon -- Remy Pannier's winemaking process begins several French départements east of Muscadet's homeland, which is centred around the city of Nantes.

Perhaps I'm being a bit romantic in my disapproval of Remy Pannier. It's true I make no exception for industrial wine and avoid it the best I can. Overly processed foodstuffs not only increase carbon footprints, but they generally are not wise buys either. As it happened, my Remy Pannier -- Remy Pannier Vallée des Jardins Val de Loire Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2006 -- features tasting notes that were neutrally written up because I took them down before I knew this wine was bottled so far from where its grape were grown:
No varietal character, like the strangely generic Burgundy bottle might suggest. It lacks a saline component and has little minerality, mostly thin sour edges reminiscent of slightly oxidized Sauvignon. I can hardly believe this is the Melon grape.

Today I returned this wine, not only because its contents were substandard but also because the label information, though confusing and contradictory to its alter ego Sur Lie bottle, reveals itself as an inferior industrially manufactured wine product.

Furthermore, consumers should know that this is the only Muscadet sold at the SAQ that is not produced in the Nantais region. You don't buy Chianti from Capri, why would you buy Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine from Saumur Champigny?

Here is the concept of quality behind Muscadet Sur Lie winemaking -- a concept that clearly holds sense of place at its centre, which is what Remy Pannier Ackerman is missing:
Bottling wine Sur Lie is an ancient bottling technique used in the Nantais. After fermentation, the Muscadet wine remains on its lees (expired yeast cells) for at least the winter and is bottled straight from the vat where it was fermented... This process gives the wine more freshness and there is often a slight prickle of carbon dioxide which helps protect the wine from oxidation. Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie has more flavour as contact with the lees adds to the richness of the wine and enables it to be aged longer. By law, Sur Lie wine may only be bottled in the cellar where it was made, protecting and ensuring the quality of the wine.

St-Hilaire St-Florent, France. 11.5%.

20071023

For the wino who ever thought he might be too pretentious, someone's always got a bigger party tube

Today my wineblog got its first complimentary copy. It came to my office in a yellow padded envelope and I pulled it out on the bus that took me home tonight.

It made me happy to suddenly have a book to look at because it had been a long day with unforeseen public transit delays. And since I was supposed to be researching an unresolved wine tasting issue mentioned in my last post, I was thrilled to have this book in my fidgeting hands, a book all about wine no less.

So I open Wine & Philosophy, original essays edited by Fritz Allhoff and subtitled as a Symposium on EatingThinking and Drinking. Okay, now I get it. Cerebral. Abstract. Yesterday's Muscadet tasting notes which concluded with a "sur lie" conundrum -- a puzzle over what its presence on a bottle means and what it doesn't mean -- was clearly not going to be resolved by this book.

Nevertheless after flipping through quickly, I dive into the sturdy softcover by paging to the Muscadet reference listed in the index. It's in chapter thirteen, which as if by a stroke of bad luck, started with this sentence: "In the popular mind, wine tasting has often been thought of as a subjective, idiosyncratic experience, masquerading behind a false façade of expertise."

What? ...masquerading behind a false façade of expertise? That's ornery. But what made me stop short should have done to the copy editor. A false façade? The word façade in this sense is by its very definition "a deceptive or articifial face," so couldn't we say façades are always false?

Soon the essay had moved on to Kant and I began to glance around the bus furtively. Was anyone reading over my shoulder? Were passengers looking askance? I could picture them, students mostly, snickering at such a grandiose evaluation of the elitist and trendy pastime, one that I have a hand in -- with verbose writing to boot!

I'll concede that I panic easily and don't read (or ride buses) often. In any case, my worry of being ostracized proved entirely needless. A student in black jeans and Chuck Taylor Allstars had just sat down beside me with a Riedel Party Tube set of four wine glasses -- one of those long capped cylinders used to sell and transport fine crystal -- also stylishly swaddled in black. Exactly this if you need a picture. I'm assuming it still had the prohibitively expensive glasses inside and he hadn't re-purposed it for his architecture homework.

I think I stared too longingly at his Riedels too long and he caught me looking. All of a sudden, I was the plebe on this wine appreciation bus.

And realizing that, I went back to my book, and the writing got much, much better. I was really getting into the well-constructed arguments but then my stop was next. I flipped directly to the page with the Muscadet reference, page 218.

Because of the way a wine of a particular style registers on the palate as one proceeds through the ingesting stages, one can prescribe how one should taste the wine. For example, a white wine like a Muscadet from France's western Loire presents itself as a light crisp taste that is followed by a middle range of mineral qualities. It is a wonderful wine with shellfish because it cleanses the palate without dominating the subtle tastes of the seafood. Food and wine complement each other. To taste the wine expecting great complexity and a long evolving finish would be to misperceive the wine's functional character.
That's a juicy paragraph. It's the second from last in the essay, which is by Kevin W. Sweeney and is titled "Is There Coffee or Blackberry in My Wine?" and I promise I will finish it as well as the rest of the book so that I can it give a proper review. Soon.

But next I've got to get to the bottom of the sur lie situation.

20071022

Sur lie or not sur lie? Le Master de Donatien 2003, Château du Cléray Haute Culture Réserve 2005 & 2006, Chéreau Carré 2006, Remy Pannier 2006

    
Three things you ought to know about Muscadets: they are a style of white wine made in the Atlantic Loire region and not the name of a grape variety; they are never allowed to be more than 12% alc./vol; they are at their best when designated as a "Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine sur lie" (and beware: since Muscadets come in all manner of packaging with bottles running a gamut of silly shapes and sizes, and even featuring mesh netting that cling to Muscadets like the wicker that encases those Old World wine jugs, pay extra attention to the label designation rather than being swayed by appearances).

And, oh yeah, they are very refreshing.

Yesterday we picnicked in the unusual 23-degree warmth, extending what seems to be an Indian Summer for Montreal. Today's high is 24 degrees and while I won't be reaching for a Muscadet (I've had my fill of them recently), I can recommend ways to separate the good from the bad should you be in the mood for this distinctive type of wine tonight.

TOP THREE MUSCADETS UNDER $15

Starting from the left, the first wine of five different bottles tasted is the most aged (and most expensive) wine. It's the Le Master de Donatien Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2003. Click on the bottle for full product details. As a special note, I've seen this item reduced in price at many SAQ locations -- in fact I don't think I've ever purchased this wine at full price!

Even at its regular retail price, I consider Donatien a good buy. Characteristic Muscadet flavours with something extra, softer, and a markedly creamy aspect to its fruit component. "Sur lie" means the wine has been aged on its lees -- a process that lets the wine's flavours deepen to an often heightened level of creaminess or savouriness. It's not always remarkable in sur lie wines, but I find it in this one. Sur lie is appropriate for a 2003 Muscadet. The 2003 vintage is about as old as you get for most retailers and "sur lie" ageing is favourable for extending the cellar life of a wine.

But what's characteristic Muscadet? Next are two names that provide useful examples. Moving in order to the right are the Château du Cléray Haute Culture Réserve Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005 (yes Muscadet names can get quite lengthy -- I didn't even include the maker name, which is Sauvion, in the title) followed by the Chéreau Carré Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2006.

These two wines instantly place you in Muscadetland. In particular, the nose of Chéreau Carré transported me. It smells of the sea. Briny but fresh on the nose and on the palate there's wet stone and flowers with diesely tones. It's marked by a clean, crisp finish that lesser Muscadets lack.

The Château du Cléray is linear and firm, mineral and steely. It's the perfect accompaniment to oysters and fresh seafood platters. Both of these carry across the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety well (the grape of Muscadet is actually a cousin of Chardonnay). They are expressive, slightly bitter but not sour, and fairly complex, perhaps because of each one's commitment to bottle their wine after ageing on lees.

TASTING BANANAS

Unfortunately, something went awry for Château du Cléray Haute Culture Réserve Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2006, the current vintage. It delivers a strong tinge of banana when you drink it. The 2005, if you can still find it on store shelves, is much better. The 2007s won't appear to replace the 2006s until next spring, at the earliest.

At first I thought the banana aroma would eventually waft away and was just a lingering remnant of the lees. I waited to see if it would blow off with some time. It didn't. Even tasting it against the 2005 on the following night, I could still isolate the 2006 as the banana notes were quite still pronounced. I had brought the 2006 back out of the fridge for tasting and uncorked the 2005 version, poured them both and then went at them blind to keep me honest. Verdict: I only got banana off one and it was revealed as the 2006.

To me, this determined a few things. My palate wasn't just acting up on a particular evening, but also that the a banana aroma is not a sulphuric attribute of the wine that can lift away. Also, favouring the 2005 lends credence to the idea that some Muscadets, especially when made "sur lie," are drunk much quicker than they need to be.

But where does the so-called banana aroma come from? This reminded me of what Eric Asimov wrote recently, equally as inconclusive, on the topic of Beaujolais:

...It was the product of a selected yeast, the notorious 71B, that was widely used in the heyday of Beaujolais nouveau's popularity. But some vignerons say the banana smell comes from carbonic maceration rather than a particular strain of yeast. And one told me it was simply a characteristic of the gamay grape regardless of the yeast used. I don't smell it very often, but it's striking when I do notice it.

HITTING ROCK'S BOTTOM

Finally, last, and in this case, least is the Remy Pannier Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2006. I bought this wine because I thought it was sur lie. Was I losing my mind? Click on this bottle image to see that this bottle is listed as a "sur lie" at the SAQ.

I suppose I wouldn't care that this wine is not made on its lees had it been any good. Is wasn't. It lacked the freshness and the typical refreshing attack. No stony grip, no mineral sparkle. Was it oxidized? I am taking this one back to where I bought it for an explanation because it really isn't up to snuff. But maybe there is more to this story. [There is: my updated investigation and tasting notes are now up.]

Until I get to the bottom of this, check out these tasting notes for Remy Pannier Muscadet that I found online. These notes are what is written on the back label of the 2006 bottle, verbatim!

It turns out that the owner of the above wineblog is a professional tasting writer. Neat! Even though she wrote about the 2003 vintage (which by the way doesn't exactly sound like a knock-your-socks-off bottle either based on her rating system) the legacy lives on for the successive vintages. Immortalized wino!

Donatien Bahuaud, La Chapelle-Heulin; La Seigneurie du Cléray - Sauvion, "Éolie," Vallet; Bernard Chéreau, Chasseloir, Saint-Fiacre | Loire-Atlantique, France. 12%.

(Full details on the Remy Pannier to come next...)

20071019

Indian Summer: Revisiting San Quirico 2005 (Saint Quinine or "San Chinino")


Indian Summer is beginning in Montreal. Temperatures went up to 18 degrees yesterday and promise to hit 23 degrees today. The weekend and Monday should reach 20 degrees - 10 degrees above normal. When the temps climb so abnormally this late in the year, it's called Indian Summer.

Indian Summers makes me want to drink white wine and I've actually got a more notes on them than the reds lately. I clearly need to clear out from the passing season. First though, another look at San Quirico Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2005 which was my favourite drink of summer.

It's no wonder I wanted to take a long summer Vernaccia when there's wine as refreshing and regenerative as this. In fact, this bottle I got while on vacation in New York over July and August, which explains the label being different from the previous one. It's the same vintage and still is the same wine inside -- that magic combination of fennel and flat ginger ale with a citrus twist.

This wine is usually low in alcohol with a bitterness that only acts to further mask any kind of heat. Very minerally, very wet stone, which I love, but really not vinous at all, which a lot of winos might not like much. It's practically a lemon lime seltzer, but it'd be the most exquisite soda you've had -- something that only New York City seltzer can seem to offer. (How appropriate the NYC connection is because Quebec only sells one single bottle of Vernaccia -- the more inhibited Rocca Delle Macie... I think I've come to associate this wine with New York for its supply as well as the seltzer standpoint.)

In revisiting this wine I deciphered another one of its interesting elements, a characteristic I can only link to quinine, that essential bitter ingredient in tonic water. (I called this wine regenerative -- it's no wonder it's like a tonic!) It kind of makes the sides of your mouth get all dry and pucker in the same way a bitter tannin would. Yet there's no tannins in this wine, and it's not even barreled in wood. So does this wine contain quinine? I can only think of quinine having a similar effect when there's no tannin or wood involved.

But wait! Quinine, it turns out, is actually a little bit of both. But first a bit of history...

Quinine was part of a refreshing beverage that was born of another kind of Indian summer -- summers in India at a time when fighting malaria had a enjoyable treatment and prevention method. Of course I'm talking about gin and tonics. It was the quinine in tonic water that was the effective medicine against malaria then and the story goes that the British and the Indians added gin to their quinine-filled water to reduce quinine's bitterness, hence the birth of the gin and tonic.

Even after other anti-malaria medicine were developed in the 1920s, India kept drinking, becoming the first place where people enjoyed the unique properties of quinine in a non-medicinal way.

So what's the tannic/wood connection to quinine, and perhaps to this wine? Well, although the Indian summer might have been where perfect quinine refreshment was discovered, it was during an Incan summer way back in Peru of 1817 when French scientists harvested bark of the Cinchoa tree in Peru to discover the alkaline organic substance which was known as Quina-Quina by locals. It came to be called quinine, taking the name from what the Incans named the bark -- "holy bark" -- and rightly so because the stuff was a medicinal wonder, though very bitter-tasting. Quinine is tannin. Quinine is wood! Or least a part thereof.

And I find it every bit the perfect coincidence that before quinine was successfully harvested from trees in South America it was originally used as a tonic. This was way back in 1600s where it was found in the swamps around Rome -- not far from San Gimignano, the indigenous home and virtually sole growing area for the vernaccia grape. Hmmm... is this how vernaccia gets its quinine-like profile? In Italy today quinine is known as "Chinino" (and if I want to stretch the connection, this wine is known as "Quirico," a placename that quite similar-sounding, though I have almost zero knowledge of Italian).

But back to the real Quirico here: There's something about the quinine-like edge and lack of vinousness in this wine that makes it special, whatever the chemistry might be.

For instance, this wine is the perfect -- scratch that -- the only wine that can be paired with a salad dressed in vinaigrette. Try Vernaccia with a salad like this and you'll be amazed as I was. It's a match! (Most wine isn't supposed to be paired with any vinegar-based accompaniments, ever.)

recipe for vinaigrette


four teaspoons olive oil
three teaspoons rice vinegar
one teaspoon amontillado sherry or other dry sherry
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and stir rapidly until emulsified. Pour on washed, spun-dry lettuce or mustard greens in a large salad bowl. Mix to coat thoroughtly using your hands (also washed, but not spun-dry).

20071017

SAQ.com online vendor knows I'm making a wine mistake before I can even buy that bottle

en panne saq.com saq vin site de web ne functionne pas down

Does someone know something I don't?

Ever since the SAQ launched its crisp newly redesigned site that now permits user accounts, I seem to be persona non grata. I am always making invalid requests. Bad, bad requests. Like beyond Baby Duck, like the other side of YellowTail.

Is this profiling? Can't be. I don't even have an account on their site.

Still I make error after error, though I'm told and I should try again. Hmmm... It started when I was querying white wine in a cute travel-sized minibottle from Celliers des Dauphins. Blank stares. Did the SAQ dump that wine out so the dépanneurs could carry it? How about another Rhône that I know they sell. Perrin Réserve. Still nothing.

OK. Michel Juillot Mercurey... Nope. Allegrini Valpolicella? No. A Château Meunier St-Louis? Not that either. How about the Torus Madiran from Alain Brumont... I just bought it from the SAQ last week so it must be there... please? Denied.

OFFING A FAUX-PAS WINE BEFORE A WINE FAUX-PAS IS IN THE OFFING

This is particularly unfortunate for me because every wine I've reviewed on this site is currently linking to a bad request -- even the great value wines and wines of the year, not just prickly young Portuguese reds that I'd advise are wines to avoid until the next vintages appear.

Furthermore, I've recently redoubled my efforts to link to products from the SAQ online catalogue since the redesign by recoding all my URLs. They previously pointed to bottle listings within the SAQ.com database but when SAQ.com 2.0 was laucnched none of the old links continued to navigate to the right place. I'd like my readers to get to right place, and the new SAQ.com database listing, when you can actually get there is quite a swell place to peruse wine.

But for the third time in the last week, it seems the entire SAQ.com catalogue brings errors, making me think that I may have made more than a few of my own.

If someone knows something about this, let me know now before I finish recoding all my clickable bottle images that are featured in each Weingolb review.

20071015

The glass with red wine holds the answer to a mystery

red wine decoder trick fingerprints on a wine glass thomas hawk bay area photographer san fransisco images permission to right-click to copy and save as for personal useHere's a fun wine decoder trick you can try. I found it buried in the bottom of my inbox during a recent email clean-up en masse.

This handy tip was sent to me from a coworker I used to work with. I had no idea he ever drank wine, never mind that he could appreciate wine with such versatility and creativity, and at the same time demonstrate the practical nature that keeps the best wine drinkers from extinction, i.e. budget-mindedness.

Though it's an old message, I doubt the techniques he describes below will ever cease to solve the puzzle in question here. No, it's a not the common puzzle of how to decode a wine label with all its various and often highly obscure information -- for that please take a look at last month's Wine Label Week.

Nevertheless the trick below may enlighten more than a few winos out there.

(By the way, check the enterprising last line that my ex-coworker writes -- you've got to love it. Who hasn't wanted to make a little profit from whatever kind of oenological specialty or secret wine knowledge you have come to wield as a wino?)

It is summer and I am in high spirits so I am sending you a message that might save you some money.

Everybody probably has those Ultramar coupons that give you secret discounts. The trouble is how can you tell which ones are a dollar and which ones are 75 cents. Obviously you would like to use the dollar ones before you lose them.

Here comes the red wine. If you look through the open end of the glass through the red wine at the coupon, the red of the wine will filter out the red covering on the blue writing. Furthermore looking through the wine glass will magnify your secret discount denomination also.

If you don't drink, send me a bottle of wine and I will be happy to read them for you.

20071012

SNAKSHOT: Filet of fish and Quinta de Cabriz Reserva 2003 meet for dinner





This was a fantastic meal prepared by my sister and her boyfriend on April 2, 2007, already a half-year ago but still strongly etched in my mind.

It wasn't Easter dinner but it was a very sophisticated dinner, yet stunningly simple in execution. Lucky me -- I got to watch, and point my camera.

When I arrived for dinner, the strong smell of soy sauce met my nose. In the kitchen, fish fillets were marinating in a baking dish. The aroma was pungent and I got the idea of offering a pairing by way of one the Portuguese wines I brought with me.

The final dinner preparations were made as I nibbled and shared a Cheverny aperatif that I knew would be just my sister's style of wine and it was. I was more apprehensive when it came to selling a sturdy Portuguese Reserva with such a very white fish. But in the end, my Quinta de Cabriz Reserva Dão 2003 made perfect sense since the Portuguese diet is replete with heavily flavoured fish dishes, be they charred, smoked, grilled or broiled.

Our fish went into the salamander under the oven and was cooked to perfection. You can see this in the photo above, and how the tasty marinade worked its way into the fish flesh, generating a big flavour punch to the palate. A punch that my wine could stand up to and flatter as an accompaniment. And yes, even a blood orange garnish wasn't enough to throw off this wine, though you wouldn't except much from pairing a red with some citrus. Yet the signature profile of spice and orange confit in many good Portuguese wines permits this match too.

There was a gasoline-y note in this wine that some might call tarry or mineral. It coats the tongue in a certain way. You know it was you taste it. The assertive treatment for the fish penetrated this effect of the wine and then proceeded to dazzle the tongue with its own "umami" seasoning -- something I don't think my more restrained and elegant wine from WBW 38 would have allowed the food do as well because it is so much softer.

The Cabriz Reserva, which is composed of Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz indigenous grape varieties also offered strong berry fruit with palpable acidity to cozy up to the creamy pasta side and make some nice contrasts. But all I can really say is that we lucked out, because this was not only the first time I uncorked this bottle, but the first time I had ever seen it. I bought it at the LCBO moments before I walked through their door.

I love Portuguese wine.

Thanks to those who inspired this post: Ryan and Gabrielle of Catavino who hosted WBW 38 on such a great and ripe topic; Sonadora whose compliments on my dinner photos got me to go over a long-neglected food photo album; BrooklynGuy whose interest in deciphering these red blends put me into a pairing-analysis mood; and finally to Kristen and to John for their totally memorable dinner. It was a treat! Cheers.

20071010

WBW #38 Portuguese table wines: Quinta dos Roques Reserva 2003


Note on the terminology of WBW 38. "Table wine," in its broadest and most international sense, is wine of average alcoholic strength rather than those strengthened by the addition of alcohol, like fortified wines. But throughout most of the EU, "table wine" is a category of wine that has no official classification. For these wines, a vintage and a designation (like the Dão D.O.C. designation from Portugal that we see below) are not included in the labeling information. Furthermore, in Portugal, "table wine" might be construed as an "IPR" or Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada, which is a designation secondary to the top-tier D.O.C. system. WBW 38 is clearly focused on Portuguese wine other than Port wine or, in other words, those specified by the international definition of table wines -- simply the wines you'd find at the dinner table, and in that sense it is "table wine." Nevertheless, on these web pages, table wine is regularly used to indicate the EU/French definition. On these pages, WBW 38 wines would not be referred to instead as "table wine," and SAQ.com suggests that they be called "meal wine" which is a suitable name because Portuguese wines are fantastic for pairing with food.


Big ups to Ryan and Gabriella at Catavino for organizing a Portuguese WBW. It definitely seems about time. These two bloggers are doing some serious justice to these wine regions by hosting a ton of great resources on their site and by inspiring winos everywhere to get out and taste the indigenous grapes of Portugal. Their web pages are very much worth checking out. They allowed me to get my hands on a definitive list of Denominations of Origin or Denominações de Origem -- the 25 wine designations that Portuguese wine carry as a seal of quality.

I didn't realize that there were that many D.O.C. designations in Portugal. While I am no stranger to wines that reach beyond the Douro -- the Ribatejo, the Alentejo, the Estremadura, Vinho Verde, Palmela and Dão -- it now appears obvious to me that the first country I would visit for its wine regions would be Portugal, hands down. I look forward to reading more WBW 38 entries on these wines of Portugal, that at their best are both tenacious and lovely.

My entry to this month's theme is a bottle I've been meaning to try for a long time. I wrote a bit about why I've been wanting to taste it here. See the notes below for what it actually tasted like. Overall I was surprised, no doubt because I don't recall ever opening a Portuguese wine at this pricepoint. ($30 is definitely what I would call the upper register of the range of my value wines, though a wine bargain can surely come with any price tag attached to it -- it just depends on what's inside.)

Quinta do Roques Reserva Dão 2003

Eyes: This looks like one of those unwieldy and heavy glass bottles -- yup, it is. I keep staring the bottle down but still note that the wine is not as darkly pigmented as I would expect. Somewhat mellowed red hues and no bright purplish tinge I was expecting. A silky smooth consistency.

Nose: Yum... This is typical. A spice box with notes of cooked bell pepper. When Portuguese wines carry Loire Cab Franc aromas, I know I'm in for something good. Some diesel comes through too. Over time, the nose on this wine gets warmer, more embracing yet complex. Subtle and not at all intense. This is some absolutely elegant nose perfume.

Mouth: Zesty orange rind and fruit compote flavours up front. Some characteristic attributes are present -- chocolate, cinnamon and gasoline -- and arranged in elegant proportions. Animal too? This is Portuguese elegance. Softly moves through to a nice middle and a lovely finish. Luscious medium body is unique and interesting, but somehow makes the length seem shorter. Acidity is a little less than lively, but present, which offers this wine a tremendous arc built around a reliable (but thoroughly integrated) tannic grip.

Stomach: Don't deny the stomach -- this is table wine or meal wine or whatever you want to call it, so bring on the bouffe. All of my tasting notes came alongside a simple dinner, pictured in this post. Without food, this wine was coming off unnecessarily vegetal and cold, strangely lacking intensity. Food makes it less austere and adds an attractive element of synergy.

With food of all types -- salty, savoury, bitter and sweet -- Quinta do Roques Reserva Dão 2003 makes your dining experience so much more than the sum of its parts. Try it with the sweetness of Grelot potatoes sliced and then boiled in chicken stock, served with a sprinkling of pickled olives and the saltiness they provide. Or have it with the mild flavours of pork cutlets broiled with thyme and lavender served on a savoury bed of caramelized onion with rosemary. Even the pungent and slightly bitter arugula salad tossed with dry-cooked mushrooms for added richness is heightened by a red wine like this.

Mangualde, Portugal. 13.5%.

20071008

Wine Label Week wrap-up, plus a 1945 Korbel and a 2003-2005 Brandolini

No WLW is complete without a wrap-up, so this post includes a summary of the proceedings of the last week of September, the very first Wine Label Week aka WBW 1.

See bulleted items below for how wine labels are implemented (correctly, and unfortunately, incorrectly). But rather than ending WLW on a cynical note, I'd like to emphasize the comments and emails I received. Many visitors left insightful comments, which is great -- I appreciate them and give thanks for them. One visitor even sent me a photo of his most prized label from 1945, which is cool because I was waiting for a reason to run my favourite label. (Thanks Joe!)

NEW SAQ ENABLES THE LABELS

People are interested in wine labels. I think there's a new trend toward valuing data like what is presented on the wine label. In fact, the SAQ -- the state-run wine distributor in Quebec -- has just redesigned its website to allow for a greater focus on wine labeling information. This means expanded information on current vintages of the bottles detailed on saq.com profile pages. And they increasingly include images of bottles and their labels.

I applaud this -- though the SAQ redesign means the hyperlinks on my site which used to navigate to inidividual wine profiles at saq.com no longer work. I will have re-code them one by one. Please bear with me as I redirect links to the spiffy new SAQ listings. At the very least, this tedious process will allow me to start pointing to the English pages at saq.com, something I was unable to do before, but as demonstrated below, can now do!

Here are a couple of favourite wine labels from WLW 1 -- a personal fave of mine and Joe's favourite label, which attaches to the oldest bottle he owns, a 1945 Korbel Brut! Click on each label image to be linked into the brand new SAQ profile pages for even more labeling information for these wines.




Whoops, actually the SAQ carries neither of these wines. Too bad.

A SUMMARY OF WINE LABEL WEEK

Wine labels exist to convey important information about bottle contents, not the least of which is a wine's designation, critically acting as a kind of quality assurance system

  • A breakdown and analysis of label information was introduced on Monday

Labels, which allow a winemakers to market their wares better than almost anything else, can actually be an expensive undertaking and considering their cost, they are surprisingly not always perfect
  • In investigating labels on Tuesday and Wednesday, we saw mistakes or incorrect information, namely alcohol by volume (abv) discrepencies on the label that indicated levels beyond tolerance:
In terms of discrepancies between the actual abv of the liquid and that stated on the label, in Europe the abv on the label must rounded up or down to a whole or half percent. So if the wine is 13.1%, the producer can choose to label it as 13% or 13.5%. In the EU, a label that states the more exact 13.1% would be illegal, presumably for some bizarre bureaucratic reason. The tolerance for sparkling wine is 0.8% in the EU. NB these tolerances are lower than in many other countries, including South Africa, Australia and the US (for wines produced and sold in those countries).
    - Julia Harding, from the forum at JancisRobinson.com, where participants noted that the label expense often encourage winemakers to use labels from previous vintages with crucial updates made to the information that deviates from year to year, but these changes are corrected on the label with varying degrees of success.

The promotional elements of a label may be nice to look at or read, and they can affect your perception of a wine but ultimately judging a wine by its label can be a very difficult task
  • On Thursday, label details and especially prettied-up labels were acknowledged to influence shoppers and even evaluators, which is one reason blind tastings exist.

You can glean other things from the tradition and customs involved in labeling
  • The absence of a vintage label on Friday led to interesting assumptions about a wine's origin.

All in all, wine label information is serious business. Virtually all New World wines are labeled by grape variety but it's illegal to label a wine with a certain variety when it is actually another. Equally Old World wines can be fraudulent for falsely appropriating a wine designation and this has been in the news recently for misrepresentation.

And if you're wondering why my favourite wine label -- it's the one with the heart -- seems to be misrepresenting by neither specifying a wine designation, a grape variety or a vintage year, it's because the wine has none of those things: A blend of three grapes harvested over three years (hence the name "Treanni") by a winemaker that needs no designation. Friuli's Conte Brandolini d'Adda is the future of wine labeling because its singular and artful approach is all you need to know to buy its wines. Now if only I could find myself a bottle with this label. Here's a lead.

20071004

Moving beyond the label: Domaine Renucci Calvi 2005

And what it means to buy the wine enthusiast a good wine gift

renuci red wine corse-calvi sciaccarellu
When this site's Wine Label Week 1 ended last week, I had to go into overdrive at work. I neglected to post anything, but of course that would change when today my boss gifted me a bottle of wine -- Greek and white and made of grapes that I had never tried or even heard of before.

It's not obvious that a wineblogger would find it nice to be gifted wine at work.

Work is not a place I associate with wine or with winos. In my current office the closest I came to having a real wine conversion was several weeks ago with my boss who, reading about my interest in wine on the pages the Montreal Gazette, said: "I just like the wines that have those pretty crests embossed into the glass."

Luckily, my wine gift was not one with an insignia melded into the glass between the shoulders and the neck of the bottle.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. I do like plenty of those Loire and Rhône examples that my boss was referring to, but for different reasons. Regardless, it's very clear that the association between wine and its worthiness in your mind might not extend to the person you're buying for. This becomes the crucial idea in any exemplary act of gift-giving. You buy for the recipient, not for yourself. So, strange as it seems, wine has actually become the hardest of gifts for me to give.

Today's gift had none of that wine-bestowing awkwardness. And that's because I suspect my boss turned to one wino for advice on what to give to another. That's smart. I don't think any wine enthusiast wouldn't be thrilled to receive an inexpensive "discovery" bottle that's hard-to-find, unique, and from a new region and producer, which describes the Greek wine I received.

Since I haven't yet had the chance to look into my Greek bottle, I'm presenting to you here an equally unique wine that's from Corsica, which is a burgeoning wine region -- but still hard-to-find in your wine shop -- and an inexpensive way to discover new grapes (Sciaccarello!) and new producers. This is the Domaine Renucci Corse Calvi 2005 (click on the bottle shown at top for product details).

Oh, and just check out how that glass bottle upstages the wine label...

koriska brothers moorish wine
Indeed! In honour of today's gift-giver, this Domaine Renucci red wine comes with some nifty relief: an embossed band encircling the bottle and featuring the emblem of Corsica (the profile of a Moor's head, pictured above). And, what's more, turn around the bottle to find a rendering of the island of Corsica, which is just off the south of France in the Mediterranean Sea (look for the outlined island at the centre of the below photograph, which, since the wine was so inviting, I was able to shoot from the front of the emptying bottle... Dear Corsicans: sorry my reproduction ends up inverting the image of your homeland).

shape of the island of corsicaEyes: A nice bright red colour with fuschia hues.

NB: This unfiltered wine is pas collé ou filtré but you notice that more in the mouth than to the eye. Mine didn't throw a lot of sediment.

Nose: Aroma is promising, not quite feisty but suggesting both fruit and mineral, spices and leather. A bit like an effervescent cream soda.

Mouth: Tantalizes the palate with freshness and some very nice tannins in a medium-bodied wine with a strong finish. This is by all means a lively wine, brambly and fun with a lot of mouthfeel. The flavour profile at first seems quite deep -- earthy tones coalescing into a root beer notes, black cherry with cream, hitting some fleeting high notes of caramelization, then it goes typical of the regional grape varieties of Corsica and delivers grenadine. Actually with the Renucci it's practically grenadine syrup. It's extracted, but expressive and still young. It may lack in acidity, and its candy flavours, though surely developing, are not too complex at this stage, and could become cloying as a result... I can't wait to try this wine when I reopen the leftovers.

Stomach: Since it's a 2005 wine and I guess that the caramel notes that are hinted at could blossom with time, you might want to eventually serve this with something exotic like a Cornish hen with a flavourful herb stuffing that highlights cumin or other earthy spices. It is current state, I'd play it lighter: have it with roast chicken in a mild peppercorn sauce, couscous and some root vegetables.

Berard Renucci, Feliceto, Corse, France. 13.5%.

Next post: A proper wrap-up of WLW 1