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It’s Cork Season

I have discovered lately that when I am about to open a bottle of wine and discover that it is a screw cap, I’m a little gleeful at the lack of effort required to get the wine into my glass. I admit to a slight prejudice against screw caps, so it is incredibly ironic that suddenly the laziness afforded by a screw cap makes me smile.

Why the preference for a real cork? I can’t say for sure.  I do like to keep my corks. What is it that makes people want to hoard their spent corks? To date, I have not seen anyone collect their screw caps, so what is so appealing about the little cork plug?

It turns out that cork is actually pretty special. Pliny the Elder thought cork trees to be divine, and at one time the bark could only be harvested by Priests. Is it possible maybe we somehow sense some sort of subliminal positive energy? You think I’m crazy don’t you? Read on, let me convince you.

What is Cork?

Cork comes from the cork oak tree and farms are referred to as cork forests.  The ialente001p4Iberian Peninsula is the world’s largest producer of cork, however, cork is also produced in Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France and even, in limited quantity Russia and the United States.

A cork oak cannot be harvested for the first time until around 25 years. After the initial harvest, trees can be harvested approximately once acork oak harvest decade, 8-12 years, depending on the location of the tree. Harvesting occurs between May and August, during the trees growth cycle which makes removal of the bark, which must be done by hand, easier. The tree is not harmed in the removal of the bark and requires hand harvesting – machines cannot be used.

Hold on to your glass for this: the first harvest at 25 years does not produce cork worthy of making wine stoppers. No, this first harvest is used to make other cork products – flooring, etc. The 2nd harvest does not produce stopper worthy bark either and is again used for other things. It is not until the third harvest that the bark quality is suitable for use in making wine stoppers. So, if you want to get into cork farming, you better hope your offspring want to as well because that’s 50+ years before you get quality bark.

Cork is impermeable to gas and liquid, it is buoyant and does not rot. Trees are not felled in order to harvest, but the bark is required to be removed in order for the tree to maintain healthy growth. Trees can live to be 300 years old, although the average lifespan is around 150 years.

History of Cork

The first references to use of cork were in 3000 BC in Egypt and Persia, for use in fishing gear. Not long after, there are references to using cork to construct parts of boats and ships, in building structures and also for footwear! It’s leaves were consecrated to the Greek Gods Olympus and Jupiter and their branches were once used to crown victorious athletes.

Although an amphora containing wine from the 1st century BC was found in Ephesus and also amphorae were found in Pompeii sealed with a cork, somewhere along the way, oil soaked hemp became the norm for sealing wine bottles. Legendary Champagne producer Dom Perignon is credited with making cork stoppers the norm in wine production sometime in the late 17th century. It is said that it he got the idea to use cork to seal his champagne after seeing Spanish travelers use cork bark to plug their water gourds. True or not, we may never know, but it is from about the late 17th century that cork begins to replace oil soaked hemp as the bottle sealer of choice for wine. By the early 18th century cork forests are cultivated for the main purpose of creating wine stoppers.

The Cork Industry

Today cork forests are thriving and cork is used to produce too many products and materials to mention. The majority of cork forests can be found in Portugal, however, there are approximately 6.6 million acres of Mediterranean cork forest that span across Europe and north Africa. The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance (website) states that there is enough cork in Portugal and Spain alone to last 100 years. I found reference to cork forests in the United States but I could not locate any in my research. I found several cork producers, but it appeared that all receive their cork from Portugal. The cork oak will grow in the United States in Zones 9 & 10, with southern California being an idea climate. Something Americans haven’t capitalized on – how can that be?

Perhaps it is the long term commitment required and the decade long waiting period between harvests? Aside from that, following hand harvesting, the cork must be cured for 6 months, then boiled, then stabilize for 3 weeks and the undergo a second boiling. Cork is then sorted by quality with the highest quality corks selling for more than a Euro each.

About decade or so ago, the cork industry felt the impact of screw cap closures for wine. New Zealand and Australia use screw caps for 90% of their wine production. Chile and South Africa do as well. The plastic cork stopper also became a viable option for sealing wine. Aside from being able to be produced on demand and being cheaper, these bottle sealing options also eradicated any chance of cork taint. In response to this the cork industry invested heavily in research to detect cork taint and it seems to be working as cork is gaining market share once again.

China’s emerging wine market is playing a role in the cork industry. Some think that the Chinese will prefer cork, due to tradition. Other’s think that just like everywhere else in the world, young drinkers and other value seekers will not care if their wine is sealed with a screw cap or a cork.

Sustainability and Environmental Impact

Cork industry proponents believe that cork is the most environmentally responsible way to seal a bottle. They point out that the trees are not felled, the bark is harvested by hand and processed by air and boiling water. Cork is completely natural, recyclable and biodegradable. Plastic corks and aluminium screw caps are none of these things.

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Cork Forest Conversation Alliance

The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a recycle program called Cork ReHarvest. The corks cannot be recycled into new wine corks, but they are recycled and used for a number of different things, including cork bobbers for fishermen (throw back to 3,000 BC). Find a Cork ReHarvest box near you here.  The boxes are picked up at locations and brought back to regional distributions centers in trucks that would otherwise return empty, so no additional carbon footprint is made in the transportation of the recycle boxes.

Final Thoughts

So you see, cork truly is a pretty special natural resource. Just like some grape vines, cork oaks also, were planted and tended by people who may no longer be among us here on Earth. There is a belief I once heard that when humans use their hands to produce something, a part of their spirit lives in on in that thing. I think I heard that story in relation to slaves that made bricks and built buildings in coastal Georgia. I tend to believe this sort of thing. So maybe we do subconsciously sense something special in each cork. A human energy that is lacking in the production of most things in this modern era?

I can absolutely appreciate a screw cap and have enjoyed many quality wines this way, but I think I am going to agree with Pliny the Elder and believe that cork is divine.

Cheers!

Sources:  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-portugal-corks-analysis-idUSKBN18512B; http://www.corkforest.org/cork-facts/; http://www.corkinstitute.com/harvest.html; http://www.amorimcork.com/en/natural-cork/raw-material-and-production-process/

 

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An Event: Wines You Can’t Afford to Miss

Wines You Can’t Afford to Miss is an event through the Atlanta Wine Meet Up with such an absolutely brilliant concept that I had to write about it. Occurring on a roughly monthly basis, the concept is this: Everyone brings a wine of a least $50 in value for whatever varietal or region is the “topic” of that night. The event is limited to 20 people and so you get to taste 20 wines that retail north of $50 in value.

I attended my first WYCAM last month and the belle of the ball was Cabernet Sauvignon. It could be from anywhere, but had to be 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Since I used to have what I lovingly refer to as “obsessive cab disorder” I was more than a little excited to attend this event.

There ended up being 18 wines to taste, talk about, and score. Each person in attendance gave some information about their wine — some were intimately familiar with the wineries they chose, while others (like my husband and myself) brought wines they had not ever tried but that where highly recommended and fit the $50+ criteria.

The hosts of this event, a lovely gentlemen named Roger who graciously opens his beautiful home, and Orson Hall, the man behind the Atlanta Wine Meet Up are what truly make this evening special. Roger takes the time to compile a spreadsheet with everyone’s wine so that they can be scored (there are prizes!). Orson then numbers each bottle as it arrives to correspond with Roger’s list. They even take the time to compile this lovely graph, showing that scores got higher as the night went on …. hmmmm…. proving that wine makes everything better!

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Of the 18 bottles brought to the event, only 2 were from outside of Napa Valley, one from Washington and one from Santa Cruz. My favorite of the evening was the 2009 Coupe de Foudre that came in 3rd overall.

My husband and I brought a 2014 Barnett Vineyards Spring Mountain and a 2013 Corley State Lane Vineyard which ranked 11th and 16th respectively. Of the 18 wines, 2 had faults so technically only 16 wines were ranked. One of the faulted wines was a 1992 Beringer Private Reserve that I was so excited to try – but, sadly, its prime had passed. The other was a 2008 Gabrielle Collection Juxtaposition that was corked.

On a completely personal note, identifying flavors and aromas of wine is incredibly challenging to me and I’m not very good at it yet. As mentioned above, I used to drink Cabernet Sauvignon nearly exclusively and was one of those people that said “I don’t really care for white wine.” But, as I discussed recently (click here), I’ve been rather obsessed with trying anything and everything white and Rosé. I was shocked to realized that apparently my palette has started to appreciate more subtle flavors and nuances found in lighter reds, white and rose wines. While I still cannot describe this to you as well as I would like, the one thing I was able to taste in nearly every single Cabernet Sauvignon was alcohol. Well no shit, its wine right? But seriously, nearly all of them had that “hot” sensation on my tongue, which to my own personal preferences makes a wine seem a little out of balance. I have a hard time believing $50+ wines are out of balance, so it has to be that my palette has maybe become a little more sensitive?  Don’t worry, it’s not like I spit any of them out or anything;)

Personal epiphany’s aside, I can’t think of another way, other than to spend $1,000 over the course of several weeks, that I would be able to sample so many quality wines. Not to mention, a group of other wine enthusiasts to discuss and compare with just adds to enhance the experience even further. I will attend this event every chance I get, which luckily will be again this month! The wines will be red Burgundies. Stay tuned.

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Book Review: A Drinker With a Writing Problem…..

I just finished A Drinker With a Writing Problem by John Turi. This was an Amazon “one-click” purchase because, well, the title …..

John Turi is a self taught wine reviewer. He writes reviews at Y 9 Review and a monthly column for an online literary publication, Connotation Press, see his latest post here. He is an avid collector of rare books and wine, with an extensive cellar. In addition to his writing, and collecting, he is Senior Marketing Manager for one the largest adult sex toy companies in the world. If nothing else, these are certainly interesting pieces to the puzzle.

The very first wine reviewed is Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1966. Be still my heart — not that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing this $800 bottle of wine, but because of the long history and devotion this producer has to beautiful labels (see my previous blog post here). At this point I heart the book and John Turi. Luckily there is an ever so slight undercurrent of touting one’s own horn that keeps my enthusiasm tempered.  I must admit to a few hard eye rolls — rare books, a classic 1984 Porsche 911, exclusive wine, and monogamous sex that never gets old because of an endless supply of sex toys – blah, blah, blah.

I had to go and read a few of Mr. Turi’s Y9 reviews to get a better appreciation for both his writing and his demeanor. It turns out he does, occasionally, experience life like a commoner — see his review of  box wines.

The book contains 12 reviews that are also more like journal posts. Each review contains a picture of the bottle, a numerical rating and John’s tasting notes, including price, serving temperature, pairing recommendations and when to drink. Each review also contains a story of how the wine was acquired and when or where it was drank and some information on the winery or wine maker — sometimes through personal account and sometimes through Wikipedia….really? Wikipedia?

I’m pretty sure what I’m supposed to love most about this book is John Turi himself. But, what I actually loved about this book, other than the title, was that aside from the Mouton Rothschild, there are two other reviews that reference the importance of the label to the winemaker – as noted above, this subject is near and dear to my heart.

Harlan Estates, The Maiden, Proprietary Red, 1997:

William Harlan said of his label, whose design was overseen by a retired U.S. Treasury engraver, “It was a label designed for a bottle that would sit on a table in candlelight, not on a store shelf.” The detail and care that goes in to their labels is not lost on me and is undeniable in it’s classiness. This is one time you can certainly judge a bottle by its label.

Turi’s opinion of “undeniable in its classiness” somehow induces an hard eye roll, but the winemaker’s reference to the label being meant to sit on a candlelit table….now that makes my heart go pitter-patter.

Charles Smith K “Ovide”, Red Blend 2009:

His passion is not just in the wine, but in the design of the label ….  The designs are very modern, in black line pen and ink style. Even in a crowded wine cellar, Smith’s labels are quite distinctive.

 This particular label does nothing for me, but then again, the quote above is Turi’s, not Charles Smith’s. Go figure.

All in all, it was a quick easy read with some interesting information. I think in the future I will follow John’s reviews at the websites referenced above, because I find the every day to be just as interesting as the rare finds, but that’s just me. I’ll leave you with a quote from his review of Kosta Browne, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009, where Mr. Turi redeems himself  by summing things up beautifully:

We celebrate weddings, anniversaries, holidays and funerals with alcohol. For thousands of years, beer, wine and spirits have played an important part in the rituals of civilization. Ships are christened with champagne, Irish whiskey is poured on the graves at Irish burials, and beer festivals cheered every October.  This is who we are as people; we raise our glasses and hail the occasion and, with merriment, we rejoice. And sometimes, more solemnly, we toast someone’s passing. In good times and bad we pay honor with booze.

Cheers to that Mr. Turi. Cheers to that.

 

 

 

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A Funny Thing Happened….

On the way to the wine store? On the way home from the wine store? While perusing the wine aisles at the wine store? I guess I’m not sure exactly when or how, but I have developed a passion for white wine. And Rosé.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that will ever comfort me like a beautiful big bad cab with big aromas and perfectly balanced tannins. However, it seems I cannot come home from any wine store visit these days without at least one bottle of white and a bottle of Rosé.

In fact, I recently ran out to buy white wine even though I had some very good red options in my cupboard. On that particular trip I came home with Rombauer Chardonnay. If I had a dime for every time I’ve witnessed someone wax poetic about Rombauer Chardonnay, I’d have ALOT of dimes. I figured if I was going to make a special trip for some white wine, I might as well splurge a little. I’m now in the Rombauer fan club.

Another recent impulse purchase was a Vouvray. I believe it was off-dry, but I have a very limited frame of reference when it comes to white wine. While I do believe it had a touch of sweetness, the very high acidity made it seem very well balanced. It was like a Lay’s potato chip in that I couldn’t resist another sip even though this will probably never become a “go to” wine for me.

Then there was this white Bordeaux…. If I have had a life changing wine moment to date, it would be while standing in a grocery store in Cleveland, OH. The store, Heinen’s, had a very nice selection of wines to taste in those pneumatic dispensing machines that allow you to purchase 1 oz pours so you can try a lot of wines. I tried a white Bordeaux and I loved it. Not liked, loved. It had great mouth feel and was creamy and delicious. Fruity, yet somehow buttery. It knocked my socks off. The wine was Domaine de Chavalier Pessac-Leognan Grand Cru Classe de Graves Blanc 2008. Leave it to me to have the first white wine I fall in love with be a Bordeaux that retailed for more than $100! I pretty much appreciated the moment and blocked it from conscious.

I’ve been trying hard to get to know Sauvignon Blanc. I seem to gravitate to New Zealand on this which makes me really curious about California, Oregon and Loire Valley producers of Sauvignon Blancs and so anytime I see a bottle by a producer I have not tried for less than $15, it is not even a question, it is coming home with me.

Rosés are an entire world unto themselves. I can’t decide if I really like Rosé for the actual taste or if I am in love with the color and appearance of the wines and therefore just biased based on appearance. There are so many beautiful shades of pink! And they look so beautiful in a glass against a blue sky or water. My most recent Rosé purchase was Notorious Pink. Notorious Pink – Please tell me why everyone thinks the French don’t have a sense of humor? This bottle is so beautiful. I love the stopper — not cork, not corkscrew — but a little glass plug. J’adore. (Special shout out to my oldest daughter for my amazing Cleveland wine glass that happens to look prettiest with Rosé in it).

This new found sense of adventure in wine drinking is not only fun, it’s liberating! For reasons I could not begin to explain, it feels like I’ve just died my hair a different color – or cut it off!  There are over 10,000 grape varieties out there…and I’m pretty sure I’d like to try them all.

 

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What Would Jesus Drink?

I recently was at a tasting that included D’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture. This red wine is made with 100% Aglianico (ah-YAH-nee-koe)  grapes. During the tasting it was mentioned that Aglianico is one of the grapes that is on a short list of wines that may have been served at the Last Supper! If there is anything I love more than the wine itself, it is the stories about them — and that’s a pretty good story!

I bought a bottle of the wine and started doing a little research to see what I could find out about this Last Supper theory. It didn’t take long to learn that there is no way to get a definitive answer to what was in Jesus’ cup. Nevertheless, what I did learn is some absolutely fascinating wine history.

ItalyAglianico  grapes are grown in the same regions today as they were then — the Basilicata region of Italy where the wine is known as Aglianico Del Vulture because they grow on the slopes of the Vulture volcano, and also in Campania, where they are identified by the sub-region and called Taurasi, which is a DOCG. Taurasi is near Pompeii — it seems these grapes love volcanic ash soil. The wines are hearty, tannic reds that, like many of Italy’s red grapes, age extremely well.

So how did an Italian grape get on the short list for wine served at the Last Supper — keeping in mind that this event took place in Israel? Well, it was around 30 A.D., so about 57 years into the reign of the Roman Empire.  Aglianico was one of three grapes that were used in Falerian wine. Falerian wine was the best of the best in these ancient times, considered to be the “first growth” or top quality wines of the Roman Empire. If you were dining with King Herod or King David, it is a safe bet that Falerian wine would be served. I can see the logic in thinking that an event as important as the Last Supper, hosted by the King of Kings, would include the finest wine. But would a humble carpenter, who associated with the poor and wayward, really have served the Bordeaux of the day at the Last Supper?

Interesting to me also, is the fact that Falerian wine was white. My personal assumption is that the wine at the Last Supper would have been red, but there is no proof that it was and white wine was just as common as red wine during this time in history.  A little side research revealed that white wines are in fact used in Christian sacraments, so thinking that the wine was red is nothing more than my own personal bias. So, I guess it is certainly possible that this was the Last Supper wine, but I just don’t think it was.

So, if not Aglianico, then what? While researching for this article, it seemed that all wine history begins and ends with the Roman Empire. Now, I’m not arguing the importance and influence of the Roman Empire on the history of wine, BUT, wine making in the Middle East is well documented and pre-date’s the Roman Empire. The region is literally the cradle of early viticulture. There is conflicting information regarding the oldest documented grape pips — one source says they were found in in Georgia dating back to 6,000 B.C. — another says they were found in modern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon and date back to the Stone Age (circa 8000 B.C.). It is estimated Noah’s vineyard was planted near Turkey in 3000 BC. although some scholars think it was much earlier than that. Regardless, it was from this region wine making is first documented — from here it travelled to Phoenicia and Egypt which were eventually invaded and conquered by Rome.

So, this has me thinking, even though the Romans had already conquered Jerusalem at this point, there is a really good possibility that the wine served at the Last Supper was just a common, locally made wine. Afterall, Jesus lived and died in Israel.

I once heard someone say that it was Sangria that is most likely the closest thing to the wine at the Last Supper. There is some basis in fact for this line of reasoning. Local wine making processes were not very evolved, often involving crushing with feet and inclusion of pips and stems. The resulting wine was a bit harsh and things like tree resin, spices, honey, herbs and fruit were added to offset the tannic properties. Wines were also watered down to dilute the harshness. Diluted wine with fruit –  sounds like Sangria right?

Another possibility is a wine called Passum. Passum is a type of wine made from dried grapes.  Ancient jars have been unearthed in Judah that were inscribed with the words “wine made from black raisins.”   Although Passum is said to have originated in Carthage and spread to Italy with no mention of Israel, raisin wine was a common wine not only in the Roman Empire, but apparently it is a common wine to include in Seder meals during Passover. The Last Supper was  a Seder meal so this makes sense. There is definitive evidence that this wine was in Judah, which really is the best documented evidence available.  Here is an ancient Passum Recipe from Carthage on how to make the wine.

The hills and moutains surrounding Judea have a long history of wine making, well before the night of the Last Supper. In fact, the Judean Hills is a modern day Israeli wine region. Israel-wine-mapHere is a map of modern Israel wine regions and some viticulture data. Amazingly, Israel is considered a New World wine region which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I assume it is because modern day wine production did not begin until the late 19th century when French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild, developed an interest in the region. He is said to have imported vines of French grape varieties and wine making knowledge to the region. In 1882, he helped establish the Carmel Winery  the largest wine producer in Israel — fascinating!

Simg_0162o, while I will certainly still enjoy my Aglianico, I decided to add a bottle of Isreali wine to Easter dinner — maybe I’ll even make Sangria with it! I really wanted to find a wine from the Judean Hills, but they are harder to find. Apparently Galilee is where its at.

I think it is safe to say we will never know for sure what wine was served at the Last Supper, but we do know that wine was served, which is really all that matters!

Cheers! Shalom! Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

Peace and Love.

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What’s In a Label?

When talking about wine, there is quite a lot in, or on, a label. But I’m not talking about the legalities of compliance. I’m talking about the art. I like to believe that the label creates an unspoken connection between the winemaker and the consumer.

I am a recovering obsessive cab disorder person. On the road to recovery, I have found that I like to wander around wine shops and look for something new to try. Sometimes I am looking for something specific, but sometimes, I’m just wandering — I may be looking for a new varietal but don’t have a specific producer, or even a region, in mind. When this happens, I am choosing my wine by the label that speaks to me.

I truly believe there is some magical, cosmic process that occurs when a wine label forces you to notice it, and I recently came upon a book that champions the wine label and affirms my own beliefs that there is some magical thing that happens. The book is The Art of  the Wine Label, and authors Jeffrey Caldeway and Chuck House  cover the business, the history and the design of the wine label with such poetic prose that it was easy for me to feel affirmed in my belief that there is in deed a magic to it all. Here is an excerpt from the book that sums up how I feel about a wine bottle label much more eloquently than I ever could:

A successful label beckons from a distance, then invites personal discovery the closer you get. Like revealing clues in a detective novel, the message on a bottle must engage the reader, skillfully maintain the suspense, and be compelling enough to lead you to the mystery inside.

…. the package provides the only sensory clues about what lies within….

I think most people will agree, there are a number of factors that all come together to create any particular experience.  The reason that wines can be so fantastic while sipping them on the patio of  a Tuscan villa overlooking the beautiful hills and then not seem nearly as good when we are sipping the same wine in our living room is because the combined factors of the experience are different. I think a label and the story behind it, can also have an enhancing effect on our perception of the wine we are drinking.

I recently had the incredibly awesome experience of being a guest on the podcast Wine Two Five with Co-Hosts Valerie Caruso and Stephanie Davis. Proof that I can talk nonstop about wine labels, here’s a link to the show notes where you can also access the podcast. Valerie Caruso dug up some cool info on wine found in King Tut’s tomb. The jars of wine contained information on the location and proprietorship of the vineyard and name of the winemaker. So, labeling for identification’s sake has been around since the beginning. But when did artistic license begin to play a part?

img_9973One of the earliest attempts at art on the label that I could document was in Bordeaux in 1924. Chateau Mouton Rothschild commissioned graphic designer, Jean Carlu, to create an artistic label.

The concept was considered to be ahead of it’s time and Mouton Rothschild would not put art on the label again until 1945 in tribute to the Allied victory in WWII. This label was a huge success, and from 1945 on, the art has been an important part of the Mouton Rothschild brand. Art from artists such as Warhol, Kadinsky, Picasso, Dali and Chagall just to name a few have graced the labels. Interestingly, Prince Charles had the honor of painting a label in 2004 in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the France/England agreement to be allies in WWI.

It would stand to reason that the image would be the visual manifestation of the what the bottle contains, or the story behind it, but that doesn’t seem to always be the case. At Mouton Rothschild, the artists have complete freedom, although many of them seem to have been inspired by the wine and created visuals relating to the vine or to the Ram which is the icon of the brand. See all of the Mouton Rothschild labels here.

The most interesting story I discovered while researching this article was from  Santa Barbara producer Sine Qua Non. The winemaker, Manfred Krankl, designs his own labels which are known for being somewhat risqué. One of his labels was actually rejecting by the TTB — it apparently was for a wine called The Good Girl and featured a nude man with his face in the lap of a nun. It would seem that this is another case of the label not necessarily being related to the wine. I would really love to interview Mr. Krankl someday and hear the stories of his labels.

The Hussy is one that caused him some trouble with the TTB, but eventually was approved.

The bottom line is that ALL labels become the documented history of the wine and its producer. A label is what makes the wine and the brand recognizable.  Branding is in large part the color, the font, the positioning of the name or maybe even the shape of the label. Sometimes the artwork is simply a rendition of the property, but then there are the ones where the artwork surely seems to be something more than branding.  Unique and special. It is an expression, a story.

“A successful wine package is a sculpture of the moment, an authentic expression of time and place. At its best, it transcends the past and the present with a vision of the future that is uniquely its own.” — Chuck House

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                                                                                                                              I am a sucker for birds on the label. Not long ago I was walking through my local grocery store and this label stopped me in my tracks.  I can’t explain why, but the owl’s face  just grabbed me. I was unfamiliar with this wine but it was around $12 so it was a no brainer to take the owl home with me and see what it had to say. It turns out this brand is co-owned by Zac Brown. I’m a fan of The Zac Brown Band so this was a fun little discovery and $12 very well spent.

Here a few more of my choices that include a bird:

I’m going to leave you with another excerpt from Icon:

“Inherently theatrical, wine packages are entertainers that come alive in front of an audience.….Maybe we designers are only stagehands, make-up artists, or set decorators, whose job it is to enable the winemaker to capture the audience’s heart. “ ….
“Whether it be a comedy, a drama, or perhaps a farce, everyday existence is heightened and dramatized by the presence of wine, which sets the stage for magic possibilities. The label is the overture, as well as the finale, and the human drama is richer for it.

Admittedly a very dramatic summation, but a drama I will happily play my part in.

Does the label ever play a role in choosing you wine?

P.S. For an excellent book on the legalities and compliance requirements for wine labeling, The Inside Story of a Wine Label, by Ann Reynolds is an excellent source of information.

 

 

 

 

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Tempranillo Blanco?

Even though I have gained my CSW credential, I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to wine. To be honest, I  think  I will always feel this way and therein lies part of the allure for me.

I attended a tasting this past weekend with Domaine Wine Distributors of Georgia at Savi Provisions. All of the wines were unique in that they are not produced in large quantities and therefore not sold through large outlets. There were a few that got my attention, but none more than the Bodegas de Mateos Temperanillo Blanco. Say what? I did not know white Temperanillo existed.  The wine kept me busy all day Sunday googling, researching and reading.

Here’s what I learned.

Tempranillo Blanco

The white grape variety is the result of a mutation of the red Temperanillo grape. This is not unusual, there a many mutations that are very well known varietals — Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc are all mutations of the same variety. It turns out this white Tempranillo grape was only just discovered in Rioja in 1988 and  is only grown in the Rioja region. The Consejo Regulador approved the grape for use in Rioja wines in 2007.

The wine I tasted was 100% Tempranillo Blanco, so this got me thinking because I had been under the impression that a white Rioja had to be produced with at least 51% Virua grapes. I went back to my Certified Specialist of Wine course book, my notes and one of my  favorite sources, Wine Folly. My coursework confirmed that any white Rioja wine had to be produced with a minimum of 51% Viura grapes. Wine Folly even went so far as to say that Tempranillo Blanco is used in blends from Rioja containing 51% Viura. I visited the Consejo Regulador for Rioja wine website which listed each type of grape approved, but I could not find mention of percentage requirements. Finally, I googled images of 100% Tempranillo Blanco wines so I could inspect the label. There definitely are Tempranillo Blanco blends out there, but there are also 100% Termpranillo Blanco wines and it sure does appear that they can be labeled with the Rioja DOCa.  If anyone reading this can elaborate further, please enlighten me! These are the kinds of things I love to let me drive nuts;)


My palette is in the development stages, but should you come across a Tempranillo Blanco you might find notes of citrus and green apples with minerality and grassy notes as well. The wine I tasted was young and un-oaked. I would love try an oak aged version.

I tend to gravitate towards reds so I can’t say this was my favorite wine of the evening,  but it surely was my favorite discovery. I will try a Temperanillo Blanco any time the opportunity presents itself.

Have you ever experienced one? Please comment with your thoughts and impressions if you have.

 

 

Posted in wine

Wine & Chocolate

I recently attended an event called Wine Loves Chocolate and wanted to share the yumminess with you.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my palette is literally in its infancy but I am working hard at developing my tasting skills. Once, a few years back I had attended an in home tasting and I remember that we tasted a young big bold red, had a piece of dark chocolate truffle and then tasted the wine again. The result was that the wine tasted much smoother and it seemed to be a good pairing to me. Recently, in my CSW prep course the topic came up and it apparently can be a controversial topic with some people being dead set against the pairing and others having experienced good wine/chocolate pairings.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed each pairing I experienced at this event, but, as you will soon see, this was no ordinary chocolate and the chocolatier had pre-tasted the wines and created the confections to be paired with each wine. Not the kind of pairing we get to experience everyday to be sure.

Il Falchetto Arnies 2014, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy.

This dry white wine is 100% Arneis grapes. This grape apparently almost became extinct but is currently enjoying somewhat of a revival.

The producer’s tasting notes say that the wine has intense mineral and fruity notes and is fresh, warm and persistent on the palate, strengthened by a fair acid vein. For those of you who enjoy the geek information as much as I do, the vines are grown in sandy soil on the left bank of the Tanaro river.

The chocolate for this wine:  Mandarin and organic honey milk chocolate ganache, blood orange olive oil, white chocolate shell.

Azienda Agricola Cavazza Tai Rosso, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy

 This wine is a rose and the color dazzled me from the get go. It was such a deep rose color, just beautiful. The grape variety is 100% Tcocai Rosso and is indigenous to the Berici Hills. The producer’s notes say that the color is ruby red, that it is medium bodied with a pleasantly slight bitter taste in the finish. The vines are grown in iron-rich sandstone outcrops and karsified limestone. Since it is a rose it is interesting to note that the wine was allowed to ferment on the skins for 6-8 days in stainless steel.

The chocolate for this wine: raspberry chocolate ganache, infused with flowers and espelette pepper.

Veglio Michelno & Figlio Baric, Vino Da Tavola Rosso, Italy

This wine is classified as a basic red table wine and the name Baric is taken from the vineyard where the grapes are grown, which is in Serralunga D’Alba, also in the Piedmont region.  It is a blend with 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Dolcetto grapes. The grapes are soft pressed and fermented for 4-5 days. It is aged for 6 months in Slavonia oak. I couldn’t fine tasting notes from the producer, but I thought this was light bodied and dry. Being a table wine, I like to think this is something I would experience locally if I were traveling in Italy.

The chocolate for this wine: tart cherry chocolate ganache with wild mushroom olive oil in dark chocolate.

2009 Bodegas Carrau Tannat De Reserva, Las Violetas, Urguguay

This wine is 100% Tannat. Tannat is not indigenous to Uruguay but is considered the national grape. Uruguay has a reputation for being the best at making great wine from the variety. The Carrau family has been making wine for more than 250 years and appears to be an industry leader in DNA research on the tannat grape. They are also regional leaders in biodynamic and sustainable farming practices. Their website tells me that these vines are 25 years old and are grown in heavy clay soil. It is aged in French oak for 18 months, bottled with minimal handling and aged another 16 months. This wine has cedar and violet on the nose — how can you not love that in a wine that comes from Las Violetas? Plums are evident on the palate with very smooth tannins.

The chocolate for this wine: blackberry dark chocolate ganache, plum jam, a hint of violet infused with crushed white peppercorn.

2011 Sterling Vineyards Anniversary Blend Limited Edition, Napa Valley, California

This wine celebrates Sterling Vineyards 50 year anniversary. The grape blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petit Syrah. Tasting notes indicate raspberry jam, rhubarb cobbler (seriously?) and fresh black cherries with hints of licorice, cocoa powder and mocha.

The chocolate for this wine was raspberry pate de fruit, candied licorice infused blueberry ganache with cocoa-coffee dust.

This was the first in show for me — I gravitate to the big bold red. This wine was my favorite of the 6 and so was the chocolate. The licorice was so subtle and it worked so well — licorice and chocolate? Trust me on this one. We purchased a few of these chocolates and a bottle of this wine to enjoy at home.

Cantine Francesco Montagna Sangue Di Guidua Sparkling Sweet Red Wine, Italy.

This was sparkling — so fun! The grape blend includes: 45% Croatina, 45% Barbera, 5% Ughetta and 5% Uva Rara. It is produced in the southwest portion of Lombardy from the Oltrepo Pavese DOC. The producer’s notes tell me that these grapes are carefully analyzed for sugar levels and hand harvested by vine according to their ripeness. It is sweet but also has good acidity for a nice balance. Best paired with fruit tarts, almond desserts and fine pastries.

The chocolate for this wine:  almond marzipan, blackberry ganache, a reduction of this wine infused into it and stone fruits.

All in all, there is not one of these pairings that I would not be glad to have again. I think when it comes to wine and chocolate pairings I am a fan!

 

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I Won! I Won!

My favorite wine podcast — and I listen to a few — is Wine Two Five! It is hosted by Valerie Caruso and Stephanie Davis and these ladies are the queens of wine “edutainment.” Each episode teaches me something new in the most entertaining way.

The Wine Two Five podcast has a quarterly contest for people who  participate in the #W25Challenge by using this hashtag when they are trying a new wine (or cocktail) and I had the good fortune of winning this contest for the last quarter of 2016!

Being a huge fan, I can’t tell how you exciting this was for me!  Even though I am clearly a bit nervous as I seem to be very giggly during this entire episode, I hope you will listen and enjoy enough to become a regular listener.

http://winetwofive.libsyn.com/episode-95-a-little-wine-label-bottle-babble-with-side-hustle-wino

No automatic alt text available.

Cheers!

Posted in wine

Aldehyde, Acetaldehyde, Mutage, Remuage and AVAs, DOCGs, AOCs and Don’t Forget the Subregions!

I am less than one week way from taking my Certified Specialist of Wine exam. I’ve done a lot of things in life that have required licensing and/or testing: real estate, aesthetician and mortgage originator. All of these these tests were required in order to do the work I was looking to do at the time.  Fast forward to 2016 and I VOLUNTARILY sign up for the Society of Wine Educator’s prep course and the CSW examination. Have I ever worked in the wine industry? Nope.  Did I have a lot of wine knowledge and feel that I needed to take it to the next level — uh, no. In fact, quite the opposite is true! In other words, I put the cart before the horse to be sure.

Although, I had (have) an “obsessive cab” disorder, something had happened after watching one too many wine documentaries. I developed a desire to really learn more about wine. I found a club called the Century Club and the only goal was to document the tasting of 100 different grape varieties. I wanted to do that! It seems the club is somewhat defunct. I couldn’t find any recent activity and emails went unanswered. I had a hard time finding friends that wanted to be adventurous in their wine tasting. So, a little research for options to expand my knowledge landed me at the Society of Wine Educators. I considered WSET, International Wine Guild and even some sort of Sommelier route, but in the end, I decided the CSW was the best option for me.

My prep class began on September 10th and was an on-line, live format that lasted for 12 sessions. The actual time frame was longer than 12 weeks due to holidays, etc.  and ended in mid-December. Each class lasted approximately 1.5 hours and included a drink-a-long wine of the week. Jane Nickels, the Director of Education for the SWE was the live instructor and she was wildly entertaining. I had seriously considered taking this course through the Atlanta Wine School, which offered the class a couple of times a year. The format at AWS was 5 Sundays, from 9-5. I couldn’t find 5 Sundays in a row that I could commit so I ended up taking the online class. Although I constantly wonder if the in-person learning style is better for me, I have to say I don’t know how I would have absorbed all of this information in 5 weeks.

I have a sneaking suspicion that had I not been so clueless about wine to begin with, I wouldn’t be so nervous right now. I’m a good test taker. I passed all of the above-mentioned tests on the first try. In fact, I took the mortgage licensing one because it was newly required by the industry and no one could pass it.  Loan Originators were dropping like flies. I was a processor and the company I was working for actually had the audacity to ask me to take the test so the LOs who had flunked it could still work. The idea being that the LOs who didn’t pass their exams would still make thousands on each loan, originated under my licensed name, and they would give me a $100 a file, in addition to my processing file fee. Ummmm…..no.  But that’s a whole different story.

I was at a store this weekend that had the pneumatic dispensing systems and had about 2 dozen wines to try. They had a really nice selection. I was able to taste a Gewurztraminer from Alsace, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a Saint-Julien Bordeaux, a white Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux, a Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend, an Asti, a Burgundy from Chambertin and a 20 year Tawny Port. I had never tasted a Port before so that was fun. I have to say, that my newly obtained knowledge made this experience a whole lot more fun. It also made me realize that I have been doing a lot of studying and not a lot of drinking and enjoying!

So, I am going to keep studying my flashcards, my self-drawn maps,  the worksheets, the weekly quizzes. At this point I still miss Acetaldehyde, Aldehyde, Rumuage, Mutage and nearly every subregion of any important wine area that exists. Every time.

If you are not doing anything on January 28th at 3:00 p.m., please raise a glass, say a prayer, send well wishes. Once I pass the test (and I hope it will be on the first try), I am going to really enjoy having fun adding some practical knowledge to my book learning! Cheers! 🍷

P.S. Just in case you wanted to know: