Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Vote for Pewsey Vale

Jeremy Parzen, often known as Do Bianchi, writes the Wine Time column for the Houston Press food blog "Eating...Our Words."  Today he posted "Toasting the Turkey: Seven Top Wines for a Perfect Thanksgiving 2013."  

One of the wines he recommends is the Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling I wrote about last week.  It's really tasty and a great price - I hope you try some!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ideas for Thanksgiving

Here are some thoughts to help you select a wine (or wines) for Thanksgiving.

I've never seen a recommendation to serve Vouvray, but I think it would be excellent with Thanksgiving dinner.  Vouvrays come from the Loire Valley in France and are made from the Chenin Blanc grape.  They vary in sweetness, but all combine strong fruit character with earthy/mineral qualities and plenty of acid, which makes them a good match for a variety of foods.  I can recommend 2 that are available at our local Bay Area Spec's:  Sauvion, which is on the drier side ($11), and Chateau Moncontour, which is a "demi-sec" or medium-sweet ($14).

Reds and Rosés:
Pinot Noirs are the classic recommendation for reds, but last year I wrote about some good options from the southern Rhone Valley in France, here.  I mention rosés in that post as well, but I'll add that any rosé from Provence is a good choice.

The Two-Minute Guide to Bubbles should help you get a fast idea of what you're looking for.  If you decide on Champagne, you may want to read Champagne 101, which includes a guide to the French terms that indicate levels of sweetness.

What am I serving this year?  Much as I hate to admit it, for the first year ever, I may compromise among the various family preferences and end up serving . . . Belgian ale.  I take comfort in the fact that it is the wine of beers.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The IRF Sweetness Scale & Cheap Dry Riesling

Riesling can be a problematic wine, because it can range from fully dry to fully sweet, and it's not always obvious from the label where on the spectrum a particular wine will fall.  Almost a year ago I wrote about a simple way to use the German labeling system and the alcohol content to make a good guess at the sweetness level (more on that here).  And shortly afterward I posted about a sweetness scale that the International Riesling Foundation is encouraging Riesling producers to use on their labels, so that we know for sure what we're buying (more on that here).  The sweetness scale is great for people like me who are more interested in dry Rieslings, which are in the minority.

I've seen the sweetness scale on a few bottles so far.  One is the Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling from Australia's Eden Valley.  It says "dry" on the front, but also includes the sweetness scale on the back.  It has a medium body, high acid, and the lemony apricot flavors you'd expect from this grape.  It also has that nice minerality that many of us want from our Riesling.  At $12 it's a good value.  I found it at Costco.


It's a common belief among consumers that all Rieslings are sweet, and Riesling producers are aware of that, so those that make a dry Riesling are often the first to label their bottles that way.  Chateau Ste. Michelle puts "Dry Riesling" on its front label, although I don't believe it uses the IRF sweetness scale on the back.  Incidentally, that wine is also a great value if you're looking for an inexpensive dry Riesling, at less than $8 at Spec's.

I'm looking forward to seeing the scale used more often.  I think it's a great thing - a big help to consumers that I'm sure will ultimately increase sales for the producers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wine Infographic: Chianti Cheat Sheet

This is an older version of the Chianti Cheat Sheet.  The new and improved version is here.


I've been reading up on Chianti this week, and for me, part of studying anything is always making a 1-page cheat sheet of all the most important information.  It helps me learn and remember things better, and also makes a good reference for the future.  Here's the Chianti Cheat Sheet:
(clicking on it should give you a larger view)

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Great Video on Wine "Legs" or "Tears"

This YouTube video does a great job of explaining the phenomenon of wine "legs" or "tears" - the drops of wine that run down the side of the glass after you swirl.  Hint:  surface tension can get a bit complicated!

While this video explains the effect, remember that the quality of the "legs" has very little to do with wine quality.  More pronounced legs usually just indicate higher levels of alcohol or sugar, which may be good or bad, depending on the wine!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mead 101 and the Dancing Bee Winery

Mead:  more than just what you drink at the Renaissance Festival!

You’ve probably heard of mead (honey wine) before, or maybe tried it at the Ren Fest, but did you know there are different kinds?  I didn’t until I visited the Walker Honey Farm and Dancing Bee Winery, roughly 80 miles north-east of Austin.  The honey farm produces the honey, and Dancing Bee produces a selection of meads and wines.  (It is officially called a “meadery,” and if you say this word out loud everyone will think you’re saying “meatery” and imagine a butcher shop.)

Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage, dating to around 7000 BC, made with honey, water, and yeast.  In the same way that the type of grape impacts the flavor of wine, the variety of honey impacts the flavor of mead.  Bees produce different flavors of honey based on the types of flowers where they gather pollen.  So mead made from clover honey will taste different from wildflower honey, or buckwheat honey, etc.  If you’ve tried mead before, you probably remember it being very sweet.  Just like wine, mead can range from sweet to dry, though it is usually at least a little sweet. 

If the honey is fermented along with any other fruits, herbs, or spices, it becomes a different type of mead.
Here’s a summary of the types:

I made some tasting notes on the meads we sampled at Dancing Bee.  We didn’t taste any wines, other than the one mixed with mead.  We were totally mead-focused!

I took home a bottle of the Texas Two Step and The Beerded One.  Both were completely unlike anything I had ever tasted – in a good way!  Spec’s carries a few of the Dancing Bee meads, which range from $14 to $18 dollars.  If you’re hosting (or attending) a holiday party in the next few months, mead is a festive thing to serve.  It’s something a little out of the ordinary, and it will satisfy the sweet wine drinkers.  Better yet, pour the bottle of mead into a sauce pan on the stove, throw in a package of mulling spices, and let it warm for a while.  It will taste delicious, and your house will smell like Christmas.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Visiting Los Pinos in the Piney Woods

Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards is part of the Texas Piney Woods Wine Trail, which covers a large area east of Dallas, roughly centered around Tyler.  Los Pinos is out in the middle of nowhere (as are many of the Piney Woods wineries), but is worth searching out.  The wines are good, the food is good, and the view is great.

I wish I had taken a picture of the main building.  I’m going to borrow one from their website, and hopefully they won’t mind.

There is a restaurant with a large patio, where you can order food and any wines you’d like to taste.  The food was great (we had a pizza), and the flights were brought to the table with a tasting sheet for making notes.  I have grown to appreciate a good tasting sheet – one with a complete list of the wines, a description of each, and sufficient space to write notes.  

They bring out the flights in a nifty, test-tube-like contraption.  (Picture from their website.)

Los Pinos grows Cynthiana (also called Norton), Blanc du Bois, and Black Spanish (also called Lenoir) grapes.  They also use grapes that are purchased from other parts of Texas, and other states.

Here are the tasting notes I made when we visited: