Friday, March 28, 2014

Can you get decent wine on an airplane (in economy)?

Ordering a glass of wine in an economy seat on an airplane can be risky if you care about what you drink.  While First Class and Business Class passengers often have a good list to choose from, the main cabin is usually offered “red or white” and you have to take your chances.

On a recent United Airlines flight from Houston to San Diego, I took my chances and was pleasantly surprised.  When I chose “white” I expected an over-oaked, overly-alcoholic Chardonnay fruit bomb.  But actually got a French IGT-level Sauvignon Blanc.  Les Deux Pins Sauvignon Blanc (2012) from the Pays d'Oc region was crisp with a good balance between fruity flavors and minerality.  It had floral and citrus notes (lemon with a bit of orange peel), and a hint of the usual vegetal aromas, but less herbal/grassy impression than the typical New Zealand style.  I'm sure it was chosen for this middle-of-the-road character to please the widest possible audience, which makes sense, and I think the wine achieves this goal.  It's expensive at $8 per glass, but we are talking airplane prices, so maybe not terribly outrageous.

On the flight home I picked “red” with reasonable success.  This time there were 2 different French Cabernet Sauvignons available, both from Pays d'Oc (the same region as the Sauvignon Blanc), and both from 2012. I wasn’t familiar with either of the producers, so I picked at random and got Jean Belmont Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was fairly light and tart for a Cab, though it had typically dark fruit aromas, and moderate acid and tannin.  Again, I assume it was intended to strike a compromise among different red wine tastes, and I think it succeeded.  I poured half the little bottle at a time into my glass plastic cup, and the wine improved as it breathed.  The Cab was also $8.

Though neither of these wines was spectacular, they were perfectly fine and much better than I anticipated. United’s website tells me that Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, selects United's wines. The list of wines available for First and BusinessFirst passengers is available here, but for Economy I believe the “red or white” selections are unspecified and may change periodically.  I can’t guarantee you’ll have these same choices on your flight, but this has given me hope that an economy class “house” wine can be a pleasant experience!

P.S.  Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson selects wines for Delta’s Business Elite class, but I’m not sure whether she selects the wines for the cheap seats.

P.P.S.  It annoys me that United no longer offers ANY free snacks.  Not even a small bag of pretzels on a 3+ hour flight leaving at lunchtime.  I’m happy to report that Delta has not yet sunk to this level of savagery, and still gives out cookies or pretzels.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wine Infographic: Sherry Cheat Sheet

Sherry is a fortified wine that has been produced in Spain since around 1100 BC and was extremely popular throughout the 19th century.  It's currently experiencing a resurgence of popularity, so I thought we needed a cheat sheet to remind us of the key Sherry facts.

Sherry has been frequently mentioned in literature, including several of Shakespeare's plays (usually as "sack").  My favorite literary reference to Sherry is in Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The Cask of Amontillado."  The full text is here, and it only takes about 10 minutes to read the whole story.  Without giving away the plot, I can say that I love the association of wine cellars with burial and crypts.  As you'll see in the cheat sheet, Amontillado is a type of Sherry that develops flor (a film of yeast on top of the wine), but then the flor dies or is killed.  Poe cleverly uses Amontillado (and flor) as a metaphor for...well, what happens at the end...  This story might also have the best opening line of any short story ever.

To see the full collection of wine cheat sheets, click 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.”   

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whole Foods Market Twitter Tasting

Tonight from 7 - 8pm people from all over the country will be tasting Italian wines from Whole Foods and tweeting about them using #WFMwine.

Come join the conversation with me @ClearLakeWine!  These are the wines we'll be talking about:

They all cost less than $16.  I've included the descriptions provided by Whole Foods below.  Come see what the Twitterverse thinks tonight!

Ruffino Orvieto Classico – Fresh flowers and citrus on the nose are followed by ripe green
apple up front, sassy acidity and a characteristic touch of mineral. The finish is long and
fragrant with almond notes.

Pairings: Piave, shrimp scampi, egg dishes, and Mango Quinoa Salad

Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi – Vivid aromas of pineapple and tangy green apple are on the
nose, and there is a lovely balancing act between juicy ripe pear notes and bright acidity with a
clean, delicate finish.

Pairings: Robusto, spicy jerk chicken, garlic scallops, and Pineapple-Chicken Kabobs with

Donnafugata Sed├ára – Fresh cherry and strawberry aromas give way to cascading notes of sun-
dried cranberries, then black olive then peppercorn. The finish is rich, deep, and rustic.

Pairings: Sottocenere, lamb, mushroom risotto, crusty artisan breads, and Smoky Mushroom

Gran Passione Rosso – Ripe blackberry and chocolate-covered cherries distinguish this
delicious aroma. This rich red is juicy with notes of black fruit and a satisfyingly long, dense

Pairings: Taleggio, dry-aged steaks, shepherd’s pie, chocolate covered strawberries, and Lamb
Stew with Spring Vegetables

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thanks Houston Chronicle, for a Great Profile!

NASA Writer's Hobby in Bottles, Not Rockets

Texas Kneecaps (with Bonus Lesson on Semi-Generic Labeling!)

I recently came across a cocktail recipe for a “Kneecap” at The Kitchn, one of my favorite cooking sites.  The drink is simple: equal parts bourbon and ruby Port, shaken over ice.  Lately my go-to bourbon is Lone Star 1835 Texas Bourbon (available from Spec’s for $27 per 750 ml bottle).  I picked up the Haak Texas Port to go with it ($18 per 750 ml bottle), so I could make a 100% Texan Kneecap!  

The Texas Kneecap is definitely a drink for bourbon (or whiskey) fans, and it's strong.  The Port adds sweetness and fruitiness which combines well with the caramel notes in the bourbon.  I threw in an ice cube because I was too lazy to shake it properly.  I am obviously not a cocktail purist. 

But, you may ask, doesn’t bourbon come from Kentucky?  And doesn’t Port come from Portugal?  And for that matter, why are some bottles labeled “California Champagne” when Champagne is in France?  I’m glad you asked!  The answer, in a (hyphenated) word, is “semi-generic.”  We’re about to traverse some dry, legal territory, so I recommend you pour yourself a Texas Kneecap before proceeding.  

U.S. wine label regulations divide geographical names into 3 categories:  generic, semi-generic, and non-generic:  

  • Generic means that in the past the name referred to a place, but now refers to a style of wine.  A generic name can refer to any wine of that style, no matter where the wine is from.  (Vermouth is one of these.)
  • Semi-generic means the name refers to a specific place, but the name is so closely associated with a particular style of wine that producers from anywhere are allowed to use the name to refer to the style.  However, if the wine doesn’t come from the place the name refers to, another regional name MUST be placed in front of the semi-generic name.  (Hence Port comes from Portugal, but we can have a “Texas Port.”  This is also how we get “California Champagne.”)
  • Non-generic means that the name can ONLY be used to refer to wine from that place, and does not refer to a wine style.  (Bordeaux wine can only come from the Bordeaux region of France.)

Here are some examples:

* The U.S., per European Union request, has agreed to work to change the status of EU semi-generic names to non-generic.  If/when the law is changed, new labels will only be able to use these names in reference to these specific wine regions.  However, producers outside these regions who used the names (legally) as semi-generic on their labels prior to a certain date would be “grandfathered” and able to continue using the name, providing that no other wording on the label changed.

Clear as mud?  If you're a masochist and want to read the full law, click here.  These regulations apply to wine.  Bourbon has its own set of regulations, but for now let’s stick to the 2 most important ones:  1)  it must come from the U.S. and 2)  the grain used to make it must be at least 51% corn.

Now you understand the basics of generic vs. semi-generic geographical names on wine labels!  I think you deserve another Texas Kneecap.