Friday, February 28, 2014

Looking Behind the Label

Did you know that every word you see on a wine label is regulated?  The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (aka TTB), a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, manages wine label requirements.

These regulations govern issues such as:
  • what percentage of the wine has to be from the same grape variety for that grape's name to be allowed on the label?
  • what percentage of the wine has to be from a particular place for that place name to be allowed on the label?
  • when must the percentage of alcohol be listed on the label and when not?
The TTB provides a handy reference guide (you know how I feel about those) to inform us of these issues, so that when we look at a wine label, we'll understand better what it means.  I've included snapshots below, but you can view, download, or print the pdf file of the brochure from the TTB website.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Win a Trip to the Texas Hill Country

Wine Enthusiast Magazine is partnering with Texas Tourism to offer the chance to win a trip to the Texas Hill Country.

The prize is:

  • Round-trip flights and transportation for 2 to Texas
  • Up to 8-night accommodations at local B&Bs and winery accommodations in the Texas Hill Country
  • Guaranteed visits at up to 12 wineries
  • Multi-course wine-and-food dinners

Enter the contest here:

Good luck!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lillet (because you need good aperitifs in your life)

I've been meaning to try Lillet for ages.  I finally did, and I'm mad at myself for not doing it sooner.  Lillet (or Lillet Blanc) is a French aperitif wine (meaning it's traditionally drunk before a meal) from Bordeaux, France.  It's blended from 85% Bordeaux wine and 15% sweet liqueur made with orange peels.  The wine portion is made from the traditional white Bordeaux grapes - Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle.  (There's also a Lillet Rouge made from red grapes and a Lillet Rose, but the white or blanc is the traditional version.)

Lillet is not as sweet as dessert wine.  You won't find the sweetness overpowering or cloying, because it has plenty of acid for balance.  It tastes much like a white Bordeaux, with the citrusy, grassy, herbal notes of the Sauvignon Blanc, the honeyed-peach qualities of Semillon, and the grapey-ness of Muscadelle.  Then imagine adding more orange flavors, more sweetness, and more alcohol (up to 17% abv).  A standard 750 ml bottle is $20, so Lillet is not cheap.  But as you drink a few ounces over ice in the traditional French way, you will find it money well spent.  In America Lillet is more commonly used as a cocktail or dessert ingredient.  Here are more ways to drink (or eat) Lillet.

I tested nearly all the Lillet cocktail recipes I could find and wrote down my impressions.  My favorites were the ones that played off the flavors already present in the Lillet - citrus, peach/apricot, and herbs - and the one with the lavender syrup, because I'm a lavender freak.  These cocktails should be shaken and/or served over ice.

Vesper - James Bond ordered this drink in Casino Royale.  If you like martinis, you'll like this.
  • 3 oz gin
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Lillet

Incognito - I like this.  It has the flavors of apricot and Lillet, made stronger by the brandy.  Sweet but not overly so.
  • 1 oz brandy
  • 2 oz Lillet
  • 1/3 oz (2 tsp) apricot brandy
  • dash of bitters

Twentieth Century - Gin, Lillet, and citrus combine beautifully, but I don’t like the chocolate here.  That’s a personal preference - chocolate + herbal + citrus isn't my thing.  If you like orange flavored chocolates, you’ll like this more than I do.  Sweet, but not like candy, quite tart.
  • 1 2/3 oz gin
  • 2/3 oz Lillet
  • 2/3 oz white creme de cacao
  • 1/3 oz fresh lemon juice

Hoopla - Good, lots of citrus and not too sweet.
  • 1 oz brandy
  • 2/3 oz (4 tsp) Cointreau
  • 2/3 oz Lillet
  • 2/3 oz fresh lemon juice

Corpse Reviver #2 - I haven't tried this one yet, but I'm sure I would like it.  As I mentioned above, gin + citrus + Lillet is a great combination.  The licorice flavor of the absinthe would complement the herbal notes in the Lillet.
  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce Cointreau (or triple sec)
  • 3/4 ounce Lillet
  • 1 dash absinthe

Old Etonian - Very nice, but strong, and you'd better like gin.  I went a tad heavy on the crème de noyaux because I like it.
  • 1.5 oz. gin
  • 1.5 oz. Lillet
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 2 dashes crème de noyaux

The Wheesky - Tastes mostly like whisky, but the Lillet adds a nice fruitiness and a touch of sweetness.  You need to be a whiskey fan for this one.
  • 1 part Lillet 
  • 2 parts Irish whiskey
  • dash or 2 of lemon juice

Gin-Lillet-Lemonade - The names describes this well.  Like strong lemonade with gin and Lillet.  I'm tempted to play with the proportions and try a version with slightly less gin and lemon.
  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 0.5 oz Lillet 
  • 0.5 oz lemon juice 
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • 2-3 drops of citrus bitters

Lavender Lemonade with Lillet (from Design Sponge) - The night I tried to make this I happened to be out of both vodka and my first-choice substitute, which would have been gin.  I was really annoyed too, because I had made lavender syrup specially for this.  Not to be deterred, I tried a version with whiskey, which was delicious.  All the flavors balanced into sweet, flowery, citrus, whiskey yumminess.  I still want to try it with vodka some time.  I'm certain it would be delicious.
  • 1.5 oz vodka 
  • 1.5 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 1 oz lavender syrup **
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 2 oz chilled soda water
** There's a recipe for lavender syrup at the link above.  If you love the flavor of lavender like I do, consider doubling the amount of lavender in the recipe.


Lillet Buttermilk Shake (from
  • 2 cups / 1 pint vanilla ice cream (or creme fraiche ice cream)
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml Lillet
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml buttermilk
Martha Stewart's Peach-Raspberry Clafouti
Recipe at the link above.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Come chat on Twitter!

Clear Lake Wine Tasting is now on Twitter!  Follow @ClearLakeWine for more wine and beer conversations and to make sure you never miss a new post.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wine Infographic: Australian Wine Cheat Sheet

This wine cheat sheet has been updated. See the new and improved Australian Wine Cheat Sheet here.
As regular readers know, I’m on a quest to make one-page cheat sheets for the world’s major grapes and wine regions.  (See the full collection here.)  This week we go to Australia!  

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.”     

Sponsored Note:  I have recently corresponded with the nice people at D’Vine Wine Tours, a new venture which offers wine tours, day trips, private charters, and corporate event planning in the Swan Valley region near Perth.  They combine their expertise in tourism and wine to create a fun and educational atmosphere with something for everyone.  Give them a call if you’re in the area!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

NASA, Space, and Wine

As you may have noticed on my profile, I work full time as a contractor at NASA's Johnson Space Center.  I write and edit reports that support human spaceflight safety.  So of course, I'm always interested in intersections between wine and space.  Recently I've come across a few articles with a NASA-wine connection, and though some of them are pretty old, they still have interesting information to share.

Sucking Sherry From a Bag in Space - February 2, 2014
In the 1960s and 70s, NASA scientists tried to make the prospect of long-duration space flights more comfortable by packing wine for the trip.  (I should add that today alcohol is officially not allowed on the International Space Station...though sometimes there are rumors.)

Monitoring Vodka Production from Space - June 14, 2012
Russian authorities use satellite images to catch producers of illegal vodka.

Space Wine: The Next Frontier - November 20, 2012
Ardbeg has claimed a spot for some of its scotch on the International Space Station, to find out how the aging process differs in a micro-gravity environment.  They're calling it Galileo.  Wine may be next.

Flying High for Fine Wine:  NASA and Robert Mondavi Use Airborne Cameras to Improve California Vineyards - June 26, 2000
This one is VERY old, but it shares some fascinating information about how aerial photos and sensors can be used to assess the health of the vines in different areas of a vineyard.

One more fun NASA-and-wine fact:  The North American Sommelier Association also uses the acronym NASA.  I find that a strange and confusing choice, but hey, they didn't ask me.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lenoir and the Georgetown Winery

I recently visited the Georgetown Winery, which is north of Austin on the San Gabriel Wine Trail.  It has a quaint storefront on the beautiful downtown square in Georgetown, Texas, and it's a comfortable place to stop and taste.  

The most interesting wine I tasted there was Lenoir.  Lenoir is a grape, also known as Black Spanish or Jaquez, which is native to the U.S. and grows well in Texas due to its natural resistance to phylloxera and Pierce's disease.  It is a hybrid of two other grapes - one from the species Vitis aestivalis and one from Vitis vinifera (the species of most international wine grapes).  Many Texas wineries produce wine from Lenoir, to varying degrees of success.

I enjoyed Georgetown Winery's take on Lenoir.  The wine has a medium ruby color, with aromas of blackberry, cranberry, spice, herbs, earth, and vanilla.  It's initially fruity on the palate, but then develops a slightly tart, bitter edge, which balances the fruit.  It reminded me of the vegetal/green pepper notes that Cabernet Sauvignon sometimes has.  This Lenoir has moderate tannin and moderate-to-high acid.

Georgetown sources over 65% of its grapes from Texas and about 35% from other places, primarily California.  Here are my notes on the other wines I tasted.  (When I make tasting notes, I use a 4-star scale for how much I liked the wine.)  
  • Tempranillo – Dry red with full body, aromas of red and black fruits, spice, potting soil, and vanilla. (***1/2)
  • Cowboy Red – Dry red with full body, aromas of red and black fruits, blended from 75% Malbec (from California) and 25% Tempranillo. (***1/2)
  • Super Big Texan – Dry red with aromas of blackberry, cranberry, and vanilla.  Tart on the palate, with moderate-to-high acid, moderate tannin, and high alcohol.  Blended from 70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. (***)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Dry red with full body, aromas of black currant, black pepper, tobacco, and cloves.  Blended from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Shiraz. (***)
  • Portejas – A sweet red Port-style wine, fortified with brandy, and made from Red Zinfandel grapes.  It's very strong at 21% alcohol, but fruity and smooth. (***)
  • Chocolate Cherry Port – In the style of a ruby Port with chocolate flavoring added. (***)
  • Texas Twister – A dry white that tasted mostly like apple juice with some vegetal characteristics and moderate-to-high acid. (**)
Georgetown Winery makes more wines than I tasted.  Here's the full list with prices.  Locally, I believe we can only buy the blueberry and peach wines.  But Georgetown makes an easy day trip from Houston, so I encourage you to visit and taste for yourself.  Also keep your eyes peeled for Lenoir/Black Spanish from other Texas wineries.  It's an interesting grape with a lot of potential.