Monthly Archives: July 2013

Wine trouble – my first of many. A Monthly Wine Challenge Post.

This is my attempt at meeting the Monthly Wine Challenge #2. In June, The Drunken Cyclist started a contest challenging other bloggers to write about a topic connected to wine, his was “transportation”. I wrote about the monorack trains in the Mosel vineyards back then. The Armchair Sommelier’s entry was rightly voted the most entertaining post, so Kirsten got to decide on a new topic. She chose, quite ominously, “trouble” (please find the original post if hers here: .

Also, this post was typed on a tablet somewhere in Cambodia with shaky internet connection. Please forgive typos, it’s a bitch to publish anything from a tablet…

If you’ve bothered reading my About page, you might have seen my casual mention that I had my first conscious sip of wine when I was around 8. What I didn’t mention there: it got me in trouble…the story is as close or as far from the truth as any story that has been retold many, many times, so take it with a grain of salt. I don’t remember too much actively.

Imagine growing up in a village that has around 20 wineries, part timers and full timers, surrounded by vineyards, cuddling up to the Rhine. My grandma went grape harvesting as long as her rheumatic bones permitted, and longer. For me and my brother, she would always bring grapes to eat and I ate so many that I usually got diarrhea, but they were so good…

Imagine the smell of crushed grapes, wet fall air, and the early smells of fermentation hovering over this village, every September/October. Imagine a boy, scared of forests, but very comfortable in the rows and rows of vines, orderly planted. That boy imagined these rows were his legions, as the zipped past the window of his dad’s car on the way to the city.

The highlight, at least for the adults, was, and still is, the annual wine festival, or “Weinfest” in German. It is held every last July weekend. It is a chance for winemakers to sell their wines, emptying their cellars for the next harvest to come. They set up booths or open their big, heavy estate gates and put up wooden benches and sell wine, steaks and regional favorites such as rolls with raw sausage meat on it, dipped in fresh onions. Divine.

It wasn’t just for adults, we kids were always allowed to go and stay up late. Watching the fire works on Friday night, using pocket money for sweets and treats, chasing other kids, riding the merry go round. There was always plenty of action. We were mostly let loose, just had to check in with our parents once in a while, who, as the evening progressed, became happier and happier…

But now to my trouble: My dad had a ritual. Every evening of the wine festival, as he prepared to go home, he would stop at my mom’s cousin’s winery, possibly to eat one last of those raw sausage rolls (without the onions for him) but definitely to have his final drink of the night. It was usually an Auslese or Beerenauslese, sometimes a glass of ice wine or even Trockenbeerenauslese. All of these wines are sweet wines, and a TBA or Eiswein would command a price of up to 5 Deutsche Mark per glass (an astonishing $3, which was a lot when you consider that whole bottles of Spaetlese or Kabinett usually sold for less). But it was my dad’s ritual.

I had been told to meet him at the winery and as I ran up to him, he had just received the glass. He tried a tiny bit, smiled, and then handed the glass to me. He said: “Try it, it tastes like grape juice.”

The wines I had had before that failed toimpress me. They were weird, alcoholic. Just strange. But I did like grape juice, especially fresh from the wineries. So I tried a tiny bit. And oh my gosh was this good: like grape juice and honey. I didn’t think, and I downed the whole glass…only to see my dad’s face change. He was shocked, and became mad. It was an expensive glass, and I had just downed it. He was not going to buy another one. As he started scolding me, and I realized I was in trouble, things got very blurry and next thing I knew, I woke up in bed the next morning. Feeling a bit weird. I remembered the trouble I was in, but upon seeing my dad, he just smiled and my story was told to his friends that night. It caused laughter…

For me, this trouble has lead, eventually, to a blessing, my love and appreciation for wine. I have had it easy, growing up in these surroundings, to fall in love with wine and its culture. It got me into trouble many more times, but those are different stories…

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Erica Vitkin: Is Ignorance Bliss?

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

This is the seventh installment in my guest blogger series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. For this post, I asked the lovely and talented (gave that right back!) Erica Vitkin to contribute something. I had to make a trade with her (yes, she is that kind of a person), so the bread rant I wrote in June was directly attributable to her. Erica’s blog, Now Entering Flavor Country, is an awesome resource for interesting recipes, often with a twist (she published a recipe for zucchini jam the other day!), and general tomfoolery. I love her writing style, which is easy to read, entertaining and doesn’t shy away from making fun of herself. But most of all, I am super glad that I have had the chance to meet Erica and spend time with her in person. She is as awesome as her blog. Thank you, Erica!

Is Ignorance Bliss?

I have a high opinion of myself when it comes to the indulgent arts of food and beer. I have a lot of knowledge, and I have a lot of enjoyment. However, does this knowledge hinder me from other enjoyments? Let me back up…

I was talking with a friend and fellow blogger, Lindsay from The Daily Sampler, and the topic of Sommeliers came up. Obviously if you’ve achieved the title of Sommelier you have spent lots of time (years!) studying and learning about the intricacies, subtleties, ins and outs, and culture of wine. She said “I wonder if all that knowledge would make you enjoy wine less” and that statement has been haunting me ever since. Even the other night, my boyfriend and I were sharing a bottle of red wine, and upon my first few sips I affirmed my enjoyment of our selection. He just replied “yeah, I like this too, but I don’t know if this is ‘good’ wine”, which of course just took me right back to Lindsay’s comment.

I began my study of the alcoholic arts as a wine gal. The more I learned about the fermented grape juice, the more excited I got. Oak aged? Buttery notes emerge. Hard frost? Wonderful ice wines. Swirl the glass? Awake the esters and take in the aromatics! Even the pageantry of wine service at a restaurant: I. Loved. It. All.

A similar thing happened to me a few years ago with beer, and now I (unfortunately) cannot deny I am a total beer snob. Just the other day I bailed on friends I had plans with because the bar they were at had a crappy tap line up and I didn’t want to drink swill (ughhh do you hate me yet? That statement just made me hate myself).

So what does all this mean?

Many people take on knowledge of food, beer, wine, whiskey, cheese, or any other foodie-esque topic much like a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, does this wealth of knowledge tip the scales too far to allow oneself to just “let go” and enjoy what’s in front of you.

Years ago there was a delightful show called Penn & Teller: Bullshit where they would devote an entire episode looking into modern-day “bullshit topics” such as lie detectors, circumcision or astrology. One of my all-time favorite episodes featured organic food. There is a segment where they do a blind taste test at a Farmer’s Market to see if people could taste the difference between organic and non-organic produce. Check out the clip here and fast forward to 11:20 (or feel free to watch the whole thing, it’s super entertaining).

Notice how disgusted the guinea pigs are when they find out they chose the non-organic tomato as the tastier option. Why, their palates have been trained and tweaked to the utmost superiority to know the difference between a pure virgin tomato and a filthy pesticide-pumped harlot (sidenote: I always thought it was spelled “harlett”…who knew).

If we all think back to the first time we tried beer or wine or coffee or even cigarettes (c’mon, it’s a college right of passage), they were T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. So total ignorance isn’t the answer.

What I love about all this food/drink culture is the knowledge, the history, the traditions, and the science behind it. All those little tricks to keep your produce lasting longer (always take your tomatoes out of plastic bags immediately!) I truly enjoy learning about. However, I can’t help but cringe when I’m eating a sandwich topped with sliced tomatoes purchased at Kroger in August, when I know a much MUCH superior product was waiting for me in the aisles of the Farmer’s Market. The truth? They might taste just the same—the Kroger tomato may even be better—but I’ve been trained in such a way that I’ll always have those thoughts.

I know that you should never drink beer from a “chilled” glass because micro ice crystals form on the sides, and they create extra friction when the beer is poured, yielding a too-frothy head. It also chills the brew down so much that you can’t really taste anything (but I suppose if you’re drinking Labatt or Coors there’s not much to taste to begin with, ba-zing). When I see a bartender grabbing a glass out of a freezer, I practically jump over the bar to say “no please! Just a normal glass or the bottle will do!” I then proceed to judge the establishment for the remainder of my stay, and everyone around me who is sipping their sub-zero sauce. Damn you brain, why must you ruin another evening out!

So what is the answer? Does a magical equilibrium of just enough knowledge actually exist to allow for the utmost enjoyment of your culinary/boozy bounty? Maybe it’s rooted in the person, and not the knowledge. Perhaps if I didn’t start off as such a blowhard I wouldn’t be as inclined to judge the lesser products so harshly.

But then again, we’re all hypocrites, aren’t we? If I could afford to shop at the Farmer’s Market for everything I would, but I’m at least 1 more educational degree away from that reality. No matter what, I love a glass of Ben Marco Malbec or a pint of Brewery Vivant Zaison, but nothing beats an ice-cold can of Bud Light Lime when you’re drinkin’ outside…

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Stefano Crosio: Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

This is the sixth installment in my guest blogger series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. For this post, I asked the photograph, certified sommelier, jack of all trades and good friend Stefano Crosio to contribute. Stefano started a blog with his wife Francesca at Flora’s Table, a gorgeous Italian food blog, to which he supplied photos and wine recommendations. A while ago, he spun off his own photography and wine blog at Clicks and Corks. Stefano keeps blowing me away with his skill in photography and his informative posts about wines. He takes a structured approach to tasting which has enriched my own tasting experience. But most of all, he provides the right mix of information and fun which I enjoy. I am extremely proud to be featuring him in this series. Thank you, Stefano!

Wine Review: Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Cloudy Bay (Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Ever since Oliver was kind enough to ask me to contribute a guest post to his excellent blog, I have been really excited about the idea. Since the theme was “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” and the post was going to be published in the summertime, I thought reviewing one of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs would just be the way to go: definitely “somewhere beyond the sea” pretty much from anywhere you look at it (unless of course you are a Kiwi!) and a refreshing Summer wine. So there we go.

About the Grape

A few interesting notions about the origins of Sauvignon Blanc: recent DNA analysis has identified a parent-offspring relationship between Savagnin (an old white-berried variety that is common in the Jura region of France) and Sauvignon Blanc and, there being much earlier documents mentioning Savagnin than Sauvignon Blanc, the former is believed to be the parent of the latter. DNA results also support the thesis that, contrary to common belief, Sauvignon Blanc did not originate from the Bordeaux area, but rather from the Loire Valley in France, where documental evidence dates back to 1534 (compared to 1710 in Bordeaux). However, it is interesting to note that, when Sauvignon Blanc was grown in the Bordeaux area, it spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.

In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in the 1970s and soon became the most widely grown variety in the country, especially in the Marlborough region.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

About the Estate

Cloudy Bay‘s vineyards are located in different subzones of the premium wine region of Marlborough at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, alongside the Wairau River. Cloudy Bay also sources part of the grapes used for making their wines from a few independent Wairau Valley growers with whom they have established a long-term business relationship.

Our Review

Let’s now get to the actual review of Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012, which in the US retails for about $30.

The wine has 13.5% ABV and was made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes sourced from estate and grower vineyards located in the Rapaura, Fairhall, Renwick and Brancott subzones of the Wairau Valley. Fermentation was primarily carried out in stainless steel, except for a small percentage that was fermented in old French oak barriques.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post on my blog: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine poured crystal clear, a beautiful straw yellow in color, and thick with narrow arches and slow dripping tears.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant, Summer-y aromas of lime, grapefruit, citrus, green apple and herbs (nettle, mint).

In the mouth, it was dry, quite warm, quite smooth; fresh, quite tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and balanced, despite its freshness (i.e., acidity) being the dominating component – but that is in most cases a desirable feature in a dry white wine and in our case it also helped make the quite muscular ABV of the wine not so evident in the mouth, which is a good thing, so it did not change our assessment that the wine was balanced. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with pleasant, refreshing notes of lime, grapefruit, citrus and herbs. The wine’s finish was quite long and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning ready to be enjoyed now, with additional cellaring not likely to benefit the wine.

Overall, a very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc in the “Down Under” style: intense, concentrated fruit and herb aromas, lively acidity and citrus-centric flavors. So very refreshing and summery that I would keep drinking it all Summer long… if budget permitted!  ;-)

Rating: Very Good and recommended.

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