Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wine Tip of the Week - To Open or Not to Open (that Gift Wine)?

One of your very thoughtful gifts has arrived at your house with a bottle of wine as a gift.  These are good friends to have!  A gracious "Thank You!" is a given,... but then what? Does an uncomfortable feeling come over you as you try to figure out - do I open this now?
The definitive answer is...maybe. Well, you say - that's no help!

OK then, here's the scoop:

  • If you asked someone to bring a wine for the dinner - then you should open it. Either before, during or after the meal, wherever you believe the wine will best pair.
  • If they ask you to open it.  A really good wino friend would not put you in this spot, and it can be difficult if you've have carefully planned the wines for the evening. But you can always open one more bottle, and point it out to your other guests as a treat provided by the bearer of the gift.
  • But... if the wine is truly a gift, then treat it like one. Say thanks, ask a question or two about it, then put it away to enjoy later. If the gift was a box of chocolates, you would not be expected to tear into them right away or if the gift was a set of beautiful Moroccan spices you would not be expected to douse your dinner with them. Much the same for a true gift of wine - for you to enjoy when and where (and with who) you choose.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Be Adventurous and Try New Wines - Nine Things I'm Glad I Tried

In a world full of countless choices when it come to wine, sometimes it's easy to just sit back and enjoy the comfort of your favorites over and over. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach to your wine selection (after all they are called favorites for a reason) it does rob you of the excitement of searching for and discovering great new things. Over the years my favorite wines have changed regularly as my tastes have changed, and as I've tried new wines. In some cases I think my tastes have evolved as I've learned more about wine, and tried more wine - but also some favorites have been de-throned by new favorites.  With trying new wines you may find something that you find delicious, or you many find something that is just cool or interesting - something with which to impress your wino (or wannabe wino) friends.  

I can't tell you exactly what to try - because I have no idea what you've tried or haven't tried, but I can tell you about some of the things I'm glad I tried. Many times these were types of wines where I had read or heard negative wine snob comments.  Instead of taking these negative comments as my default opinion, if something I read or heard piqued my interest, I would go ahead and give it a try.  Not all experiments will be a success, but in my case quite a few were!

1. Pinotage. Pinotage is South Africa's signature red grape, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. In the past I had read how some examples of this wine when not handled properly by the winemaker can develop aromas of paint fumes or nail polish.  

I first tried Pinotage as part of my International Sommelier Guild classes when we studied South Africa. The wine we tried was not nearly as horrible as I feared, and it actually had a distinctive aroma of ...Band-Aids.  That's right - the smell of a freshly opened old school plastic Band Aid brand.  Ever since I tried - it has forever been the "Band Aid" wine in my mind, and every one I've tried has been a good value, and typically have some very interesting aromas.  My favorite wine - no way, but very interesting, and a conversation piece to serve to friends and let them try and name that aroma!

...Cuz Band Aid Stuck on Me!

2. Good Spanish Sherry - Dry and Sweet. When many people hear "Sherry" they think of some cheap, sickly sweet gunk their grandmothers drink, or an even worse concoction sold as "Cooking Sherry."  On a cruise we took some years ago that included stops in Spain, one spot we hit was Jerez de la Frontera, where we toured the Tio Pepe winery and learned all about GOOD Sherry (or Jerez in Spanish).  Sherries are all fortified wines which means additional alcohol is added to the wine, but the process to make them is very unique.  Part of the process of certain style of Sherry relies on formation of a "flor" or a film of yeast on the surface of the liquid that allows the incredible flavors and aromas to develop underneath.
A View of the "Flor" of a Barrel of Sherry

Sherry is also made with a Solera blending process involving mixing different vintages through a series of levels of barrels, where no barrels are ever fully emptied, just filled in from barrels above.
Solera Process

Sherry comes in dry styles including light and delicate Fino and Manzanilla, slight darker Amontillado, and darker richer Oloroso. Sherry made from Pedro Ximénez grapes is typically made from sun dried grapes into a delicious, super sweet dessert wine (definitely not gramma's Cream Sherry!)

The flavors can be strong, and may take some getting used to as they are unique - but I have grown more fond of Sherry each time I have it.

A Traditional Way to Pour Sherry from a Cup Dipped in a Barrel

3. Rosé. Way back when - probably in the late 80's, I admit I joined in the White Zinfandel craze for a short time.  I'm not sure how it became so popular, but Sutter Home probably sold like a billion bottles of the stuff.  White Zin is typically semi-sweet, and not made to be anything special.  As I tried more wine, I found that there are many many things much more delicious and interesting than White Zin. However - there are also tons of Rosé wine that is nothing like White Zinfandel, and should not be foregone because of any wine snobbery against wines like White Zinfandel.  Most countries that make wine will make some type of Rosé, but California, Washington State, and France are home to some of my favs. 

Don't be afraid to drink pink!

4. Chardonnay and Merlot.  Another wine that became the go to for a ton of people was Chardonnay.  In some wine circles, the acronym "ABC" stands for "Anything But Chardonnay" as wine snob shunned the grapes popularity.  Chardonnays can be made in a big oak aged style, which is not my favorite, but can also be quite delicate and even made unoaked.  Try Chablis or other white Burgundy from France for a different take on the grape. Looking for an ultimate wine pairing for Chardonnay? Try raw oysters and Chablis.

Got Oysters? Try Chablis

Also, in the red wine world the  movie Sideways singlehandedly increased the sales of Pinot Noir and lowered the sales of Merlot. While the impacts were not earth shattering, they were definitely noticeable in the wine world.  Pinot is awesome no doubt about it, but Merlot is also a great wine when you are looking for something a little less huge and tannic than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Also, Merlots can produce some great value wines from places like South America.  In interviews after the movie, the director said there was no malice toward Merlot - it just made a great line for the movie.

Miles Says That Would be A Big Negative on the Whole Merlot Thing!

5. Orange Wine. When I first heard this term I figured I would try this right after Pineapple or Elderberry wine - which could be never. However, Orange wine has nothing to do with the fruit, and everything to do with a different way to make white wine. The term Orange wine refers to a white wine made more like a red wine, where the juice is left in contact with the grape's skins. Deeper color and deeper flavors are the result - and I like it!

Orange Wine, but not.. you know "Orange" Wine

The first one of these I tried was at a dinner at Grant Achatz's Next Restaurant in Chicago - and I absolutely loved it.  I really need to check out my wine store and find some other versions of this to try.

6. French WIne.  Remember the days of Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast when France was on the shit list for not going along with the invasion of Iraq?  Well couple that with very hard to understand wine labels and a reputation for some of the snootiest people in the world - and who would want to try French wine? During the call for a boycott of French wine, some estimate it cost the French wine industry over $100 Million. 

My exposure to French wine came mostly at my International Sommelier Guild (ISG) classes - and some I liked and some not so much.  French wines are typically very "old world" in style, that is made with fruit that is not as big and ripe and oaky as much of the "new world" wine.   They can be different, but from the place where winemaking started to some degree, there is much to be missed if you bypass the world of French Wine. To this day, one of my most memorable wines was at my ISG class when we were studying Rhone wines. We tried a Crozes Hermitage which is a Syrah based wine from the northern Rhone valley.  Syrah can develop some smokey attributes - but this particular bottle was unmistakably filled with the aroma of raw bacon. This was one of the moments when I realized I was starting to get the hang of the whole aroma identification thing.  To me, a good French Rhone Syrah will always be called the "bacon wine."
Mmmm... Bacon

7. Screw Top Wines. Another subject of much wine snobbery is the screw top wine.  However as more and more wineries move to the easy opening caps that eliminate the danger of cork taint in the wine - it's getting harder and harder to ignore the trend. For me, some of my go-to favorites are among the screw top crowd including Charles Smith Kung Fu Riesling, Charles and Charles Rosé, and Shoofly Syrah. 

You Can Unscrew Without Getting Screwed!

8. Wine Club with a Waiting List. Sometimes the best things are worth waiting for - even for years or more. When you hear about a wine you want to try, have some at a friends house or restaurant, but it turns out to be a wine available only through a wine club with a waiting list - don't give up. I was on a waiting list for Kosta Browne and Kanzler Pinot Noir for around two years, but now my patience has paid off with a few wonderful bottles of each to enjoy every year. Another winery, Carlisle is one that I have been very excited to try for a long time. I literally found out two weeks ago that my number has come up - and my shipment will arrive in December!  Wine clubs can be a great way to get wine at a discount, and in some cases are the only way to get anything from some limited production wineries.

The UPS Man is Like my Santa Claus!

9. Wines from Up and Coming Wine Regions. One of my latest interests are wines made from Mencia grapes in Bierzo, Spain.  It is not a new wine region, but some great winemakers have become interested in the area - and now it is producing some really good wine. The great thing about trying wines from up and coming regions is that you don't have to pay the premium for a big name region, or be subjected to the law of supply and demand as bottles of wine from popular areas are bought up by those following the latest trend. It's easy - find out what people will be drinking in the next year or two - and drink it first! How do you find out about new regions... read, read, read! Wine Spectator, Wine and Spirits, wine blogs, articles - whatever you can find. If you find yourself reading several write-ups of the same area, it may be worth looking into.
Donde Está Bierzo? (Number 6)

Please join me in the on-going fight to stay out of a wine rut - set yourself a goal to try something new at least once a month - and let us know about your wine revelations from being an adventurous wino!