Monday, 13 June 2011
France is full of cheese and take that as you want. But I speak of the actual curdled, pressed milk. Like wine, cheese has it's foothold in French culture with designated areas, rules and regulations, and cultural leanings. It's so huge...actually let me explain that bit. We don't think of France as being a big country, but it is--it's about the size of Texas. As they say, everything is bigger in Texas, because Texas is HUGE. Imagine that every county (look up the county sizes in Texas, it's ridiculous and goes against their 'bigger' motto) in Texas had it's own unique cheese. That's France (almost, but fits my analogy).
There have been claims that France produces 650 different kinds of cheeses. The real number probably lies somewhere between 350 and 400. Being a cheese maker myself, I understand there are hundreds of different ways to make cheese--essentially the same process every time but little nuances that could make each batch taste entirely different. However, I have a hard time wrapping my head around 650 different cheeses. There are a lot of cheeses (Camembert and brie for example) that are the same cheese, but made in different regions and therefore packaged different--and called different.
And, like anything, with so much information to wade through, it's more than a tad overwhelming to try to tackle 'french cheeses', besides picking up some suggestions from a cheese monger, friend, or random stranger. So what to try? There are three basics, in my mind, and good foothold into the fantastic french cheese world. I would suggest serving these three cheese in a 'tray form' with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and your favorite crackers and breads. I'll end with my wine choices for the group.
1. Comté (cone-tay)
This is the blue collar worker of France. They make 40,000 tones of the stuff, yearly. And while that much is made, there are very specific rules (only one type of cow is allowed to produce the milk for example) in this region for this cheese and how that pays off for the consumer? Hard to find a bad piece of Comté. I just had some from Costco; Entremont Comté that was around $10.99/lb. Great price. Great cheese. Comté is a semi-hard cheese with nutty, tangy characteristics.
2. Explorateur or Délice de Bourgone
You should be able to find one of these--Costco (again) has been carrying Délice de Bourgone quite regularly for the past couple of years in my neck of the woods. Explorateur can be found at most major stores with a good cheese selection (Whole Foods, Trader Joes)--and I bet your favorite cheese seller would have one of these, if not both--or if neither, ask for a french Triple Cream cheese. Triple cream isn't as exciting as it sounds--it however does mean that in it's 'dry' form the cheese is more than 75% butterfat--making it similar to 'cream'. France is littered with these kind of cheeses, but we mostly get brie and Camembert when we get a soft cheese from France. These triple cream's are the movie stars of France--beautiful, elegant and highly sought.
We have the worker, star and now we have the undeniable King of France--this beautiful blue cheese. It's also highly regulated (only certain kinds of sheep can be used) and there is no cheese in the world that is as flavorful or complex as Roquefort. Can't find a bad one. And unlike most cheese it actually makes wine taste good.
Wines to Serve:
cheese trays are a fun way to have an informal dinner with some friends; don't be shy and spend a bit on good cheese and serve it as your meal. You can accompany it with a lentil salad or fresh green salad. And also experiment with the wines. For this particular tray I'd serve three. Firstly, I'd choose a crisp, clean white wine; easy to find would be pinto gris (grigio), sauvignon blanc or an off-dry riesling. You could get really specific and do grenache blancs and verdehlo blends, but keep the wine portion easy. This will go nice with the comté. For the red, think fruity and simple--this means something like a grenache or tempranillo, a light style malbec, merlot, or even cabernet--but don't do anything too 'big' (too much fruit, tannins and alcohol). This will over-power the wine and something light and fruity will be great with the triple cream. Finally, for the roquefort, get a late harvest white--riesling or semillon preferably. The pairing will astound you.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
The other Rachel likes to request wine blogs for the holidays. She forgot to remind me this year, and here I am writing the Thanksgiving blog literally a few days away from Thanksgiving. The last couple of days I've been snowed in and listening to NPR nonstop and all the programs have featured chefs sharing their turkey day tips, which reminded me of the wine blog I usually do. This year? A tad different--a few wine tips as well as my turkey tip.
this is repetitive if you've read my blogs before, especially about the holidays; but some things don't change. Our holiday meals--no matter what your protein choice is (turkey, salmon, lamb, ham, prime rib, tofurkey)--are sweet. We have more fruit on the table than we tend to--cranberry relish/jelly, dried fruits in our stuffing (dressing) or salads. The vegetables served are sweet to taste--roasted squash, pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Even the non-sweet dishes have a sweetness to them because they're so saturated in butter and cream--mashed potatoes, creamed green beans. And of course the deserts--pecan pie, pumpkin pie, roasted apples--even tend to be more sweet than say rich, chocolate based desserts. Obviously, not everyone has a traditional turkey dinner on thanksgiving--lots of people step outside the box choosing an ethnic theme (indian, chinese, thai). But even when this is done it seems our thanksgiving meals, no matter what we do, still tends to be richer and sweeter than a normal family dinner. Besides, while some people do vere away from the traditional, most do not. My family likes to do all kinds of crazy things for Christmas (last year we had a soup buffet--pots of different soup, freshly made bread and salad)...but thanksgiving we don't mess with. We all like turkey once a year. We LOVE cranberries in any form. Most of us like sweet potatoes (not in the marshmallow mess--but the kids LOVE the marshmallow mess), green beans (not creamed style, just steamed with butter)...rolls, gravy...etc. Our dinner doesn't tend to be as sweet as the traditional thanksgiving meal, but it's still sweet. And rich. And lots of food.
I just took time to write an entire paragraph about how Thanksgiving meals are indeed sweet and rich. Why? Because when I worked in wine shops I would mention this fact and people would shake their heads 'no' saying that their thanksgiving meal wasn't sweet--they hated marshmallows with sweet potatoes. OR made a cranberry relish with very little sugar...or what have you. Once we started to talk in depth about their meal they would slowly come to the realization that the meal is sweet and rich. There's the anti-sugar, healthy movement so we don't want to admit that this meal is indeed unhealthy, sweet and rich. So get over it, and realize your meal is all of the above.
So why is this fact so important? Because if you think about all these sides--which really makes the meal more than whatever your protein source is--would you want to serve a big tannic red with it? If you answered yes, well then stop reading--buy your over-the-top wine and enjoy.
If you answered no, then we're on the same track.
Try to have both reds and whites. Both will be good with the meal at different parts. And these meals tend to involve many people--some will prefer red, some will prefer white and it's nice to have options.
Off-dry would probably be best with this meal. This means that the wines have a touch of residual sugar. This won't conflict with the sweetness of the meal--whereas really dry whites will have a sour affect on a meal of this nature. Wines that are typically off dry--the Germans; Riesling, siegerrebe (relative to gewurztraminer), gewurztraminer, and Muller-Thurgau. These wines would all be great with your meal and the needn't come from Germany. There are great Rieslings, siegerrebe, gewurztraminers and Muller-Thurgaus produced, here in the US. What's nice about all these is that they should go as well with your main meal as with your desserts.
Low tannic wines--so we'll go spanish; granacha, tempranillo, monastrell. I would recommend looking in the Spanish section of your favorite wine shop/grocery store. No need to spend a lot of money on your thanksgiving wines--and spanish wines offer a great value, as well as the right flavor profile. However garnacha (grenache) from france, australia or domestic (that means the US) would all fit the bill. Grenache is probably thanksgiving's perfect wine--mellow, fruity, smooth. Of course, Pinot Noir is another great thanksgiving wine for similar qualities, but expect to pay more. If you're a traditionalist and only like to look--or can only find--the big three red wines (for us here in the USA)--think light merlot and syrah over cabernet sauvignon.
PINK! Pink wine is great for thanksgiving--not talking white zin, although you can do worse for thanksgiving is that's a favorite. But more along the lines of dry rose's. Might have to look in the french section for such things, especially from Rhone or Provence--but there are a lot more pink wines out there then there used to be. Some really nice ones from Argentina, Australia, South Africa and here in the US. The really great thing about rose`is that it's really under appreciated still so you're looking at $8-$13 for a really fantastic bottle of wine.
SPARKLING! I love bubbles and I think they go great with food--so serve them with your meal. But if that's too off the wall for you (or what happens to me is I'm the ONLY one who thinks it's okay to drink sparkling WITH the meal so I end up drinking an entire bottle by myself...), sparkling is a great way to begin your meal--whether to start with a toast to Thanksgiving, or just to serve with appetizers it's very festive. There are a lot of domestic sparkling under $20 that are quite good--Domain St. Michelle from WA state, Gloria Ferrer from CA, and Gruet from New Mexico (yes, new mexico and yes it's fantastic). Otherwise look again towards the spanish--cava's that range in the $8-$15 and are wonderful, or Sparklings from Burgundy or Loire--a lot cheaper than champagne, but quite good.
BEER! yes, beer. Beer's great with Thanksgiving dinner, but go outside the box. Get some growlers from a local brewery (and ask for their suggestions). This is a good time of year to pick up some fun beers as winter specialty brews tend to make their appearance now. My local breweries have their spiced whit style beers out as well as barley wine. There are also lots of speciality brews--chocolate stouts and what not that would be great for your dessert rather than your main course. OR, splurge. Buy some large format beer bottles from speciality brewers like Rogue, Stone Brewing Co, Northcoast Brewing CO, and Dogfish Head. I mention these as I feel their distribution is widely available. Think of them like bottles of wine and purchase a few different styles to try with your meal. Finally look towards THE beer country--Belgium. Many grocery stores/bottle shops carry large bottles of belgium brews. People have mixed feelings about the belgiums, I've noticed. They are high in alcohol and tend to be sweeter tasting--more malty and the use of sugar beet sugar to increase the alcohol content is widely used in that country. with food, though, there are few beers that go better--especially with a rich, sweet meal like thanksgiving. If you go this route, which i suggest highly, see if you can get someone to help you with the available belgium beers at your local store--rather than trying to guess what might be available to you.
My turkey tip
I don't think I've done this before, but i have to admit that I roast the best turkey in the west. I really do. In college I roasted a few turkeys and had college friends tell me I needed to teach their mother's how to roast a turkey--which was the highest praise because as well all known when in college there are no fonder memories than your mother's cooking. I've brought roasted turkey to parties where people exclaimed that they actually liked THAT turkey--normally a meat they don't care for because it's dry. And whenever it's my year to roast the turkey for thanksgving or christmas, there are exclamations of how juicy and good the turkey is.
So what do I do?
And I mean that. When I was in college roasting turkeys and everyone was exclaiming how good it was--i knew they liked them (and I'll add here that the reason why I roasted multiple turkeys in college was that a local grocery store would sell them for like five cents a pound after thanksgiving so we'd stock up and roast them at various time throughout the year for parties/sandwiches), and were giving me the highest praise--I just figured they were starving college students. It took me years to realize I did actually have a knack for roasting birds--especially the biggest bird of all.
I roasted one for a party in which a few world class chefs attended and they told me it was the best turkey they had ever had. What'd I do?
But what does that mean, they asked. And it made me think as well. So here's what I do.
Turkey--I honestly don't think it matters one bit if the turkey is organic, free-range, frozen, fresh, full of hormones--for taste. All the 'free-range' chickens/turkeys i've had from the store still don't taste free range to me and i question what the labels means to the producer. A true free range chicken/turkey (which I have had) is going to be tough because they're actually using their legs and have a fairly strong taste. And if you're getting one of those kinds of turkeys--i'd cook it completely different just like I roast those chickens completely different. But this is an extreme rarity these days. If you want to buy a fresh, organic turkey--more power to you. But if you're looking for a bargain like our $5 turkeys in college, I obviously was able to impress people of the quality regardless of the price.
Follow the directions. Seriously. Look on the turkey packaging and see what they say for length of cooking time, temperature. I tend to roast the majority of my meats at 350º (I like it fast and hot), so that's my go-to temperature. However, I've just followed the directions on the packaging before and had great success.
Meat thermometer--get one. A good one. Especially when concerning chicken/turkeys. We're really scared of raw turkey, and there's a good reason for it. But this means that people always over-cook their poultry which makes it dry and uninteresting. 165º is the goal. This means you can actually take your turkey out of the oven at 155º or 160º (breast meat temp)--cover it with foil and let it rest--that large of a meat will continue to cook.
Season--don't stuff. I love stuffing as much as the next person. And the stuffing that's in the bird does taste the best. But....BUT...there's always very little of that stuffing and while i love it, it always seems to be really gummy and ugly compared to the stuffing that's baked in the oven separate. And while i like it, I'd rather have moist turkey to gummy stuffing.
So in greater detail, this is what I do.
Get a turkey--thaw it if needed. I clean it out--meaning pull the fun goodies out of the body cavity (do whatever you like with those, i do boil them, but separately. Hearts and liver get boiled for the dogs and the neck gets boiled for a broth to add to the drippings to make a gravy because I do not like turkey liver/heart). I rinse the entire bird really well and then pat it dry with several paper towels.
Next I smother the entire bird with butter. If there is left over butter I throw it in the middle of the bird. I then put some veggies in the cavity--onions, celery, carrots, garlic, maybe lemons. Sometimes I use herbs like rosemary and thyme. I do not stuff, however. Then I salt, pepper and drizzle olive oil over the entire bird.
Bird goes in my preheated oven (350º--or whatever the package recommends). I put the bird in a roasting pan, breast side up--but I know some people swear by breast side down--whatever pleases you. And I roast away. I don't check on it for at least an hour and a half--but more likely I leave it alone completely for two hours. if you've got an oven with a glass front and a light--that's perfect for you to peek on your bird without opening the oven. For those first two hours my only concern is that the breast could be getting too brown--or more likely, too hot. If that happens I put a piece of foil lightly over the breast--but leave the legs exposed.
After two hours, i check the breast temperature. I always look for 155º, because i feel confident the bird is cooked at that heat, properly. When the breast is close to that I turn up the oven to 425 and let it cook at that high heat for 15minutes to half hour (and yes, sometimes I leave the foil over the breast for this period of time because the goal at this point is to get those legs nice and cooked, but keep the breast protected. This will help brown the skin to a crispy brown. Then I take the bird out--put the foil over it and let it rest.
To me the two keys are 1) I don't over cook it by 'under-cooking' it to some people's opinion. 2) I give it a hearty coating of fat with the olive oil and butter in the beginning and let it be the rest of the cooking time. The more consistent the cooking temperature (ie don't keep opening the oven) and the less poking and prodding you do of the bird, the less juice will be released.
This is also ideal as I've managed to cook turkeys in two hours. The whole four hour/all day long turkey thing is a total myth--especially if done in this fashion. But please make sure it's cooked fully.
As for brining--sure go ahead, but I don't think it makes any difference with poultry and just takes more of your time. But that's just my own theory on this.
Good luck and happy thanksgiving
Sunday, 19 September 2010
SO HOW TO VOTE?
I don’t have a clear answer to this, and obviously everyone should decide for himself or herself how they feel about these initiatives. I’m torn, and it may take me until November to decide. I am slightly worried both will pass—but should that happen the issue would go to the state legislature where it would decide to adopt both (which would be a cluster-fuck, excuse the French), or choose to adopt one and reject the other. I have a feeling that the backers of 1105 wrote their initiative in such a way that they’re hoping both will pass and the legislature would prefer theirs over 1100.
Privatization of alcohol is something I’ve always been in favor of and will continue to be whether these pass or not. Prohibition didn’t work; I don’t like the idea of regulations on such things (pro-legalization of marijuana, dudes). I AM jealous of the deals my Californian friends get on their alcohol and I dislike the inconvenience of having to FIND a liquor store when the want arises for a gin and tonic.
I don’t like the wholesaler monopoly system—in fact I tend to dislike distributors in general. And unlike a lot of my comrades in this business, I’m not terribly worried about the pay to play issue. It will happen, that I’m sure of…but I also know it ALREADY happens, just a lot more covertly. But customer demand always will remain the key issue in determining what sits on shelves.
My two biggest concerns are the odd wording in 1100 (not written so well) that allows for so much deregulation. While I’m all for change, this would be almost like creating a failed state—the basic ideas aren’t bad but it’d leave a giant void in a system that was so heavily regulated, would we (meaning the people of Washington) be able to deal with it ok? But, mostly, I’m worried about state revenue. While I do tend to consider myself fiscally conservative, I’m in favor of state taxes at the moment since we’re in the hole and state funded programs (like education) are suffering. I do not like the idea of sin taxes—but they work in that they create revenue, as people are willing to pay more for hard alcohol and cigarettes if they need to. Both initiatives try to guarantee that the revenue would be the same or greater, in their wording, but they leave it up to the legislature to determine taxation rates and don’t have a clear answer on how much money would be generated under the new system. In addition to that, if Tim Eyman’s (I'm sure I spelled that wrong, but I can't be bothered to look up how to spell his name, correctly) newest initiative also passes—well…taxation in the state of Washington could turn very, very interesting.
I suppose 1105 remains as a good middle-ground option. It’d privatize hard alcohol sales and opens up the debate for the taxation on liquor sales. I have a hard time believing the figures that have been presented on the loss of revenue, considering taxation rates could change (increase) and now that there is no over-head for the state to concern itself with paying for its liquor stores…I would think revenue could stay about the same. I guess the larger question is—will our legislature work well enough together to answer these questions?
UNDERSTANDING THE INITIATIVES
No. 1100, AKA “THE COSTCO ONE”
Costco supports measure 1100, as it would really be advantageous to retailers, especially larger retailers. Safeway and a few other grocery stores have also backed this measure, investing money into its campaign. More than 1105, this initiative is more about deregulating. Not only would it disband the current WSLCB set up (no liquor stores, no regulation on what alcohol is allowed in the state, etc) it would regulate the WSLCB role solely to ‘education and enforcement to protect the health, welfare, and safety of the citizens’. Section 6 of the measure specifically states that “the board [WSLCB] will have the power to make regulations in accordance with the provisions of the administrative procedure …regulations adopted by the board must be to enforce the licensing requirements of this title, collection of the tax on liquor, the prevention of underage drinking of liquor and alcohol abuse, and managing the board…” This is a far cry from the current regulations the WSLCB enforces.
In addition to this, the measure would allow licensed stores/restaurants to purchase directly from producers, rather than going through an agent or a wholesaler who’s importing alcohol across state/country lines.
Finally, to address lost revenue issues; retailers who apply for a license to sell alcohol will pay $1,000 annually for said license. Distributors will pay an annual fee of $2,000; wineries, breweries and distilleries may now operate as their own distributors (pay same fee). The ‘mark-up’ for liquor will be eliminated, but a tax on alcohol would remain and it’d be up to the legislature to determine that tax.
No. 1105, AKA “THE OTHER ONE”
1100 has gotten more play recently as it has some big name backers, as well as plenty of money and since it is about deregulation, many people are speaking out against it, more so than 1105—I’ll get to specific arguments for and against, later. But because of this, 1105 is just kind of ‘the other’ initiative.
It’s much simpler (and better written/easier to read—although probably more vague); basically it’s disbanding state run liquor stores and opening up other retailers to sell liquor. It keeps the board intact more so than 1100 suggests, and states ‘the people direct the liquor control board to present a report to the legislature by January 1, 2011on a recommended rate of taxation, to be calculated at a per-liter basis and to be paid by spirits distributors, on all spirits sold to spirits distributors within the state. The liquor control board is directed to recommend a rate of taxation that, along with other spirits-related revenue sources, would project to generate at least the same annual revenue for the state and local jurisdictions as under the current state control system.” Much of the measure is written in this way in that there should be recommendations from the WSLCB on how to move into privatization of the booze peddling business—with help from the legislature.
Most people are for both of these initiatives, or either one. I’ve heard a lot of people say “I’m backing the Costco one”, probably because they’ve heard (like I have) from my Californian friends on what a great deal they got on Grey Goose at Costco. A lot of people like the convenience of being able to buy hard alcohol along with their Christmas ham and are irked that the government controls what they have a choice in drinking. If you’ve been watching any political news lately, you’ll notice there’s a huge anti-government, pro-privatization movement right now, period. 1100 falls in line with that as well.
As mentioned earlier large retailers are in favor of 1100 knowing that they could by-pass wholesalers and buy directly from the producer if they so wish. This would disband the established, or fair-pricing, system in that if Costco wished to purchase 5,000 cases of wine from Winery X for $2/bottle when it normally sells at wholesale price for $10/bottle if Winery X is willing to make that cut for a Costco sell, they can do that. By taking out the middle man, it’d make things more affordable, usually—as it works now wineries typically sale their products to wholesalers at less 50% and wholesalers add back 20% to sell to retailers who then mark it up 30% to reach the posted price of what the winery retails it for (although price posting has gone out the window lately because of state cutbacks). If wineries continue to sell at 50%, retailers could potentially make 50% profit—but that’s assuming there’s some form of regulation on this which, under 1100, there would be none.
Wineries and breweries-in state-are unabashedly against 1100. I think for some there’s the issue that they’re worried if vodka is sitting on the shelf next to a six back of beer, some consumers might start picking up the vodka (especially if the price drops drastically on hard liquor because of the deregulation). But more of the resistance comes from the fact that most are worried about the ‘pay to play’ policy that has come up in some states with less regulations on how alcohol (or, really any product) is sold to retailers. Because restrictions would be deregulated, many are worried that retailers will start charging for shelf space—either in the form of substantial discounts or perks. Large breweries/wineries/wholesalers could give gifts (including cash prizes) to influence stores to provide more shelf space for their products. Obviously, little self-run guys would have a hard time competing in that kind of environment.
There’s also a worry that because the liquor tax/mark up (on hard alcohol) would go away, there would be a widespread increase in taxes already paid heavily by beer and wine producers—making a more level playing field for booze prices. If vodka is the same price as that six pack of aforementioned beer, would the beer still sell? And anyone (ok, blanket statement, there could be some WSLCB employees in favor of this) who works for the WSLCB is against either of these measures; as it would surely mean job losses. Many newspapers are in support of neither, siting worries about the loss of state revenue during such poor times for our state’s budget.
Finally, advocacy groups concerned with liquor consumption are worried about this, thinking it will make liquor more available to underage drinkers and increase the amount of alcoholism and fatalities due to alcohol.
1100 VS 1105
I kind of glossed over 1105, primarily because it’s less of a HUGE change. Still, a big change in that the selling of liquor would be privatized, but it wouldn’t deregulate so many of the current rules about fair pricing, wholesalers and gifting.
Who backs 1105? Why, wholesalers, of course. A couple of their biggest backers are distributors—one based out of California. They’re worried about loosing their position in that retailers can buy direct from producers. So to counteract this movement they wrote their own initiative that would privatize, but wouldn’t deregulate nearly as much. Their measure is also written in a way that would require more interaction from the current WSLCB and legislature in establishing revenue and existing regulations so that it’s a smoother transition (potentially).
This measure isn’t getting as much play time because most producers feel so-so about this. They don’t like the idea of backing a measure that’s supported by wholesales (while we need them, we don’t like THEIR monopoly on the game), but they also feel better that it wouldn’t deregulate the system so much that they would be worried about the ‘pay to play’ type system that might occur should 1100 be approved.
I live in Washington (the state) and we will have two initiatives on the ballot this coming November that are strikingly similar; 1100 and 1105. Both would change the way the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) operates, drastically. So…what’s the deal?
Currently, the WSLCB has what people like to term ‘prohibition era’ control. The state decides which liquors can be sold within the state; liquor being distilled hard alcohol for consumption. Only state-sanction (or owned/run) liquor stores can sell such products. Wine and beer is similar, although licensed stores (such as grocery and small markets) are allowed to sell unfortified wines (some sticky—ports and the like are allowed), beers (excepting most strong beers), and various malt liquors (yum…). In addition, the WSLCB has very strict rules on wholesalers (distributors) as well as producers. Many states operate in similar ways, although it has been said that the control the WSLCB has is more far reaching than most states—given the variety of rules the WSLCB dictates.
Some of these rules are really post prohibition. Others have come up because of horrible accidents involving a drunk driver or other ways in which alcohol was a factor in fatalities. And, wholesalers have had their say over time—some rules are written in such a way that many people believe they’re protecting consumers from the evils of alcohol, but in reality they’re rules which allow wholesalers to have a monopoly in certain areas—pushing out producers from selling direct to stores as well as establishing ‘fair pricing’ so that bigger stores who are willing to buy in quantity can’t receive bulk pricing.
Finally because the WSLCB operates all, owns most, of the liquor stores in the state (there are some ‘private’ liquor stores, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m fuzzy on how those are ran, as they’re fairly new), they receive all the revenue that comes from liquor sales and any wine/beer sells from such liquor stores. The WSLCB also has various licensing and taxation rules that apply to producers and beer/wine wholesalers that account for their revenue as well.
Both of the initiatives, as stated earlier, concern the WSLCB directly. Here is the short description that will be used for each of the initiative on the ballot in November:
Statement of Subject: Initiative Measure No. 1100 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits).
Concise Description: This measure would close state liquor stores; authorize sale, distribution, and importation of spirits by private parties; and repeal certain requirements that govern the business operations of beer and wine distributers and producers.
Statement of Subject: Initiative Measure No. 1105 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits).
Concise Description: This measure would close all state liquor stores and license private parties to sell or distribute spirits. It would revise laws concerning regulation, taxation and government revenues from distribution and sale of spirits.
So now that that’s perfectly clear…
Ok, maybe it’s not clear at all. Wasn’t to me. In fact, until yesterday I was completely ignorant on these initiatives, as I wasn’t really paying attention and figured I’d read my voters pamphlet nearer to voting day. But as November is just around the corner I’ve been hearing more and more wine and beer industry folks (industry I work in) speak out against these initiatives, particularly 1100. This surprised me a bit, as many of us feel like we’re constantly battling the restrictive rules patrolled by the WSLCB. It would seem that any imitative that loosens the enforcements of the WSLCB would be met with enthusiasm by most producers. Plus, who doesn’t want to buy “Safeway Select” whiskey? A coworker asked what I thought about the initiatives and we got in a debate about them, before we realized neither of us really had a clue what they were getting at. She printed the filed initiative measures off for me to read, and since then I’ve done a bit more research, and in Part 2, I’ll explain the initiatives.
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
By Steve Earle
see relatedI've been saying this for the last five years, and perhaps it's finally, actually happening--or I'm living in a dream land...But after the wine snobbery of the late 90's early 00's, I was sure there would be a backlash. And not the kind of horrible black-lash of people consuming massive quantities of Thunderbird and Maddog, but the kind of backlash where value-wines are sought and appreciated. Good wine is known from bad and there's no bickering over having the 'right' wine glass.
So while some of this is true, I still feel like there are lot of overly snobby people. As well as people not really understanding 'good' wine from 'bad' wine. To me it's flawed wine vs unflawed wine--and anything else just falls under the 'subjective category'.
This comes to me as summer has literally hit with a bang here in my neck of the woods. We'd had a horribly cold, windy and rainy spring and just the past week the temperature has soared into the upper 90's making the crows and sheep pant with the sudden heat.
I've been dealing with a Seattle wine shop in procuring some wine and they referred to a wine I was looking for as mediocre. It kind of upset me. Not because they aren't correct--it is 'mediocre' wine, but if you have low expectations and just want something refreshing this wine is actually pretty fucking good wine.
What is it? I speak of Vinho Verde from Portugal.
I, oddly, first learned about Vinho Verde while living in Texas. There are two things Texans know better than anyone else, I'm convinced--besides the obvious over-patriotisim for their state. They know how to deal with heat (find a porch and just relax by cooking some slow bbq outside with a cold drink) and what to drink in the heat.
Some of my favorite summer time drinks came from Texas. Michelada--the weird concoction of domestic (or mexican) lager, hot sauce, lime and a splash of steak sauce. Mojitos--not texan by nature but served everywhere in varying ways. One of my favorite? Thai Basil and lime Mojito curtesy of a brazilian restaurant there...and of course the 'national beer of texas' would be a simple, yet satisfying, domestic lager--Lone Star. I learned to love lagers while in Texas, because there really is nothing that beats the heat like a cold lager.
Except for one thing and the rest of Texas was keen to it--but being new I had no idea. One day we got in two pallets of the same kind of wine. I was flabbergasted. Two pallets? Same wine? that's a shit ton of wine to try and sale. Plus the wine came in kelly green bottles (bad choice for a wine bottle--looks cheap and usually houses cheap wine) and had a freaking crab on it.
The wine was $5 a bottle. And we sold out by the next week. People came in and took cases away. Everyone asking for 'the crab wine'. It took me a while to figure out it was this crab animal wine they were looking for, not just 'any' wine that would go well with crab. Finally, I asked a customer what was so special about the wine. They said "It's hot here. Take it home, put it in your freezer, crack it open just as it's about to freeze--you got to drink it as cold as you can get it--and put in a slice of lime. There's nothing better on a hot day."
I took their advice and I was an immediate convert. The wine? Santola Vinho Verde.
Picture stolen from a texas blogger: Austin AgrodolceSince then I've come to realize Santola is probably not the first Vinho Verde one should try. Or maybe it should be the first, but it shouldn't be the last. As far as Vinho Verde's go...it's not that good. Which is funny because, yes, Vinho Verde's are mediocre wine.
It's wine made from a mash up of various white wine grapes in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. A region that is actually quite cool so the grapes don't get very ripe. Vinho Verde means green wine, as I'm sure many of you figured out--meaning it's young wine, not necessarily 'green'. So the producers of this region figured out to make something akin to champagne--harvest grapes with high acidity and make sure there's some secondary fermentation going in the bottle to give it a nice 'spritz'. not nearly as bubbly as champagne, nor as complicated. Nor as good.
But at $5 a bottle--maybe as high as $10--really freaking refreshing and good. The problem is that a lot of the producers have gotten lazy...or rather have looked at ways to increase their production. So rather than a natural secondary fermentation in the bottle the wines have co2 added to them to them that spritz. And because the wines are often served on the point of actually turning into giant ice blocks, the taste of the wine has been overlooked a bit.
What I'm getting at is that a lot of these wines really are mediocre. Still quench your thirst on a hot day? Hell yes, but try a few different ones to see what you prefer. And don't be afraid to add a slice of your favorite citrus fruit. Enjoy the fact you're drinking mediocre wine that calls for a slice of lemon.
My favorites:Quinta da Aveleda Fonte $8ish (purchased recently from trader joe's
A lot more interesting with a lot more fruity flavors than most vinho verde's--probably my over-all, available favorite one.
Quinta de Aveleda (yes same guys) Casal Garcia $8ish, also
The most widely distributed and sold vinho verde in the world. Means that it's also very clean. Have not had the rose'--I try to keep it pure. What I like about this particular one is that while most vinho verde's you need to indeed keep ice cold so that it doesn't start to taste off, this is clean enough it could be served at room temperature and still taste refreshing.
Not sure exactly the story here, but these guys (Sogrape) have managed to make some really freaking good wines at ridiculous prices, including this vinho verde. The price is always around the $5 mark, whereas even Santola--the crab wine--saw an opportunity to raise it's price and did so. Gazela quietly marches on with good, refreshing and the best value vinho verde.
End on a more pricey note for a vinho verde. I'm torn with this one. I like it. And I don't think it's bad for $10...but you could maybe find some other white wines for a similar price you'd like more. What I do like is the effort. The Broadbent line is trying to promote the more sophisticated side of vinho verde--indicating which grapes they use and making a point to ship the vinho in chilled shipping containers to retain the sparkle. and it does seem more spritzy than other's...but not sure it's truly worth the money. However if you find yourself loving the Vinho Verde's I do recommend trying this one at some point in time.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Tiptoe Through The Tulips/Resurrection
By Tiny Tim
see relatedNormally, I'm the last to preach or lecture upon proper etiquette--of any kind. However, a few weeks ago a couple of friends of mine--a youngish (I say they're young, but let's face it, we're getting old) married couple with a couple of young kids--asked me about an upcoming spring wine event in our valley.
Even though they were born, raised, and recently (a few years ago) returned to this area, they've never actually attended this event. There's a reason for that. It's 'tourist' weekend, meaning the majority of the people who turn out for this particular event are from out of the area. People tend to drink a lot, act foolish and crowd up the wineries. If you live in the area it's a much more pleasant experience to go wine tasting on any other weekend when it's not full of drunken tom-foolery.
Which brings me to this blog in general.
I hate these weekends. People act like idiots. It's Spring Break for over 21s who act like they're 16 (no offense to 16 year olds, although you shouldn't really be reading this blog anyhow).
We know the drill, those of us who work it, so we're used to it. And, perhaps surprisingly, this isn't so much a lecture of "try not to end up dancing on the table while doing a strip tease" or "if you have to throw up, make it to the toleit and don't throw up all over the bathroom".
So instead of listing 'the obvious', my friends posed a question that made me realize the general public may not realize what these wine tastings really are about these days. So here we go.
I'm generalizing as each wine region is different...but i think there are common issues here.
Most of these wine events started as a way to unify regions & get local wineries working together to promote the region as a whole. Who wouldn't want to come out during spring, enjoy the sunshine, chat with some local wine makers and taste wine direct from the barrel? Great advertising, eh?
And it was successful; events like this began to charge a ticket price ($10-$25) for people to attend these events so that these wine regions could start to pay for advertising and promotion of their region. Many regions began hiring marketing/association presidents & admin to put together fliers, posters and press releases. As soon as the internet 'happened', they began marketing the area on websites.
Now most associations have a hired person to update their website, run meetings, put together brochures promoting the region. And while wineries who would like to participate in this generally pay dues, events like this are another way for the region to raise money for additional advertising and support.
This particular event in our particular area has become quite successful. There was a shinning moment period in the late 90's to early 00's (and a few wineries may argue even just a few years ago), where the turn out was huge, people behaved themsleves fairly well, wineries made a lot of money....good times for almost everyone.
Then more people found out about. That's when ticket prices went up AND more wineries insisted patrons had the ticket (it's still not required at many wineries). Bus tours began organizing weekends around it so people would hop on a bus, told to bring a glass, and show up at the event without ever paying for the ticket thinking the bus company had included it in their fee...because people were carted around in various fashions they began to drink more. Thus the drunken episodes. And everyone stopped buying wine.
So what we have today is a huge mass of people arriving, drunk, angry that there are door fees if they don't have a ticket, upset at the ticket price (measly $25) when they know they could get free tasting on other days...and just over-all chaos (like tail-gating in parking lots and removing of clothing).
The question that made me write all this was "Our friends want to come for Spring Barrel Tasting and want to bring their kids...can they?"
No. I said.
My friends agreed with me. They had suggested they get a babysitter for all their kids so the adults could go to a few of the wineries in town, have a good time and not worry about the kids. More fun for everyone. The visiting parents disagreed stating that their kids probably won't do well with a 'new' babysitter.
Besides disagreeing with this, period (kids are ages 3-6, they'll survive), taking kids wine tasting at that age isn't the coolest thing to do. So here are a few things to keep in mind about large events involving multiple wineries.
- Don't bring the kiddos. I'm all for kids drinking wine, responsibliy, with thier parents at dinner. Or learning about the industry as a whole. I grew up that way and I think that if kids understand it more they may actually respect alcohol. I did. On the other hand, state laws do vary, but the majority of states cannot serve kids alcohol, period. Even if you're tasting a wine and want your underaged child to taste it--they cannot (I know this is allowed in Texas, but that's one of the few places it is). That right there takes the fun out of it. Wineries are boring to kids. And there are other adults there who may have left their kids behind for some 'adult' fun...dragging your kids along for the ride ruins that for them. AND on event weekends:
- It's not safe for the kids--lots of people, lots of drunk people
- They'll see and hear things they shouldn't
- It's not a good example of adults drinking responsibly because most of them are not.
- A lot of wineries make an 'under 21 not allowed' rule at the door to prevent underage drinking. These wineries are often playing cop on these days as people tend to come arrive over-served so rather than pouring wine all day it's 'who isn't wasted?' Worrying about underage folks is not something they want to deal with on those events. Therefore you can't actually bring your kids with you.
- Pay for the ticket, especially if it's reasonable. For this event, $25 to go to 50 wineries in a three day period? Tell me that's not a deal? You also receive a glass and many wineries not only have the barrel there with the wine maker, but they have bands playing, small food samples and really good discounts to ticket holders.
- Do drink responsibly, even if you have a driver. Winery staff are legally forbidden to serve folks who appear intoxicated. And if someone refuses to pour you some wine, please take it like an adult. Causing a scene doesn't make you appear less drunk.
- Buy something. The $25 ticket fee for this does help each individual winery by adding to the over-all advertising funding for this particular region, but that's it. Therefore they don't get extra money simply because you're stepping through their door with a ticket. If you love the wine, buy some eh? On that weekend. Lots of people say they'll be back--and quite often they do return--but they're disappointed the deal is gone (then try to talk the staff into getting the event pricing even if it's weeks after said event). Also, it encourages the winery to stay open for that event. A lot of wineries close up shop for this event, period, as they cannot justify dealing with the crowd control vs their income for the weekend. More wineries are following suit. So if you go, are having a wonderful time, want to come back again--support the wineries. Don't just treat it as a free drink ticket.
All that said, if you happen to be going to Spring Barrel Tasting in the Yakima Valley this year--I hope to see you. A few things that are wonderful about this event are that people are generally quite enthusiastic about wine that weekend & the weather is usually great.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Diesel and Dust
By Midnight Oil
see relatedI recently taught a class on Australian/New Zealand wines. I, also, recently returned from a trip to Australia.
I've been known to steer people away from wines from these countries. It's never because I dislike them (quite the opposite), I usually just want people to venture into the unknown a bit more. And New Zealand and Australia are quite known.
Bad grammar, but true.
Australia makes about 4% of the wine in the world, yet it's the 4th largest exporter of wine. That's HUGE. New Zealand exports around 80% of all their wine made. In the US it's not hard to find a relatively small producer from one of these countries. That's pretty cool, really. Not only is it foreign, but it's foreign and small production. Whereas a lot (not all) of other foreign wine tends to come from large production wineries/chateaus/bodegas or negociants.
Therefore when people say "I had this great Australian shiraz called _____ ....can you suggest another Aussie wine?" I can't help but roll my eyes, sometimes, and suggest they try a syrah from WA or CA or Rhone.
But, whenever I sit down and taste--and really taste--wines from Australia (and New Zealand) I recall why people love them and want more suggestions from these countries. They're solid wines in more than one way.
- AU and NZ take great pride in their modern winemaking and viticultural practices and avoid tainting their wines with anything. Therefore if you read my blog about bad wine--you usually don't find it in these countries. They avoid brett and have switched the large majority of their bottles to screw tops to avoid TCA problems.
- Really good climate for wine--mean temperatures in summer seem to be around 64 degrees (F). If you've ever been to Australia you know (sometimes miserably so) that it gets well above 64 in the heat of the day--this means that they have cool evenings and cool periods. This is needed to give the sugar making a rest in the grapes to get the acidity back up to balance.
- Government has their back--the wine industry is heavily subsidized and promoted in these countries. This means that their wines are extremely affordable AND both these nations are the goto learning places whether you want to intern as a wine maker at a winery or enroll in a wine marketing program at a university.
And, to top it off, the most expensive bottle was a $20 sparkler from Tasmania (had the pleasure of visiting this winery a few months ago); well worth the $20.
Some of our favorites:
First, the 'expensive' one.
Jansz NV Premium Brut $19.99--Australia
Blend of Chardonnay (58%), Pinot Noir (40%) and Pinot Meunier (2%) with great balance, nice acidity and clean citrus notes. It's no secret that I like the bubbles and I can be quite picky about what I like--these wines are great. I also like that I was able to find it here in the states; most of Tasmania's wine does not get exported far and wide.
2009 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc $19 (but easy enough to find in the $15 price range--I purchased mine for $13)--New Zealand
100% Sauvignon Blanc in 100% stainless steel. Great Kiwi SB; tropical fruit aromas matched perfectly with 'green' notes (think tomato plants). Palate is crisp, clean and the perfect amount of body and acidity. If you do purchase this, be aware that it's fuller bodied with more flavors than most Sauvignon Blancs--therefore you can pair it with rich dishes and sharper cheeses than you may expect.
Might be hard to find the '06, but if I did, you probably will be able to as well. However, I would champion any of their wines. It used to be one of my Aussie Shiraz 'goto' wines, when people were looking for a 'different' aussie shiraz in that price range. One problem that I have with shiraz from Australia is that they tend to be too juicy--too ripe tasting. I don't mind that, but I prefer balance and subtle complexity in my wine. I'm a fan of 'food wines' verses 'fruit bombs'. Australia seems to be a country of fruit bombs. But not this one. Don't get me wrong, there is fruit: lovely aromas of rich dark fruits (plums, dark cherries, blackberry) and subtle notes of spice. It's just not...in your face, so to speak. Way more elegant than other $10 aussie wines.
2008 Escarpment Over the Edge Pinot Noir $15--New Zealand (purchased mine for $13)
Another wine I tend to roll my eyes at are Pinots. Not because I don't like them--I do!--it's just that a lot of people want a fantastic pinot for under $20, which is really freaking hard to find. There are drinkable pinots in that price range, few that make you go 'wow, that's good wine'. Pinots can be unbalanced, lacking fruit and fairly uninteresting...and unfortunately a lot are--whether they're $10 or $50.
But this pinot? Huge exception to that rule. This is beautiful stuff...soft cherry aromas and flavors--with good ripeness. There's a slight smokey edge and a bit of floral nose as well (violets and roses). The palate is balanced, smooth and quaffing. Hard not to take a sip and then want to down the rest of your glass because it TASTES THAT GOOD. And for the steal of $13 that I found? Get it while you can find it--have a feeling a few people are going to catch onto this one and it'll be sold out in no time.
Monday, 12 April 2010
Shadows On The Sun
see relatedA friend of mine wrote a nice review of a new joint (by joint I mean place to eat) in Seattle. One of her links sent me to The Stranger where I read a nice interview with the owners. And then I started clicking around on various links within the Stranger's website--reading more interviews with other restaurant owners and other such related food articles.
An hour or two later I was pissed (which is often how I find myself after reading comments found on The Stranger).
Everybody's a critic (ahem, including me), but i think that most people forget that being a good critic means that you fully understand the items you're critiquing AND can offer insight, perhaps suggestions if unhappy with your experience.
Not saying that people shouldn't share their experiences; after all don't we all ask friends and family members for suggestions on new things to try--whether it be music or food and everything in between? So it's not so weird with the internet to begin to follow advice from random people.
But let's think before we go on super-negative tangents about some things. Because that's not being a good critic or reviewer.
What got my goat were some poor reviews (coupled with some really nice reviews) from average joes (meaning no professional critic) on a new restaurant in Seattle. What made me really look at this place more in depth than a few others was that upon reading the interview with the owner (and there was a lovely picture of said owner), a comment was "OMG. Honey, loose some weight".
Then I clicked on the restaurant in question and found the reviews. Before I read the reviews in length I looked at said restaurant's website. Found out that this place was attempting Northwest American Comfort Food--and that they wanted to use only seasonal, locally available produce for their items. Cool. I'm all for that--support your local farmers.
So then I read the reviews.
One reviewer complained about the 'lounge food' offered in the, wait for it, lounge. I don't know, but it seems a fairly common procedure to expect different food in a bar or lounge area of a restaurant. This particular lounge has board games and couches only--I wouldn't expect them to serve their full menu. The reviewer was under a different impression and then was mad at the servers for not asking if they'd like to wait for a table in the main room. This seemed to ruin their evening. They had two items--both of which sounded fine, but the reviewer in question found little things to pick over. Then this reviewer was dumbfounded that this place did not have decaf espresso beans on hand (they offered decaf drip), and began a tangent about late-night establishments needing to have decaf espresso beans if they want to be called a late night establishment.
Another reviewer ordered a burger that was plain and got...a plain burger. They wanted lettuce and tomatoes with their burger and were outraged to find that tomatoes are out of season (reviewer ranted about tomatoes being in-season in California). At this point I took a gander at the menu again--the reviewer described their burgers as the menu does...caramelized onions and cheese on a brioche bun with the meat. That's what they got (which sounds tasty to me).
The next 20 minutes, according to the reviewer, was an attempt to get condiments for their burgers, but it never happened. So they asked for the bill--which did not include their burgers--and left. Never trying their food and giving a bad review online.
My problem with these reviews? Their expectations are way too fucking high.
Wait staff is there to serve you, but not to read your mind--you don't like the lounge menu, ask to wait for a table--or maybe go somewhere else and try again another day. I also hate that when people don't see the wait staff--and only see a few patrons in the restaurant, they make the assumption the wait staff isn't busy. Sometimes the wait staff is also the dishwasher, or cashier, or host(ess), and they have to prioritize things--so if you've asked for tomatoes that they do not have, they might put ya at the bottom of their list of things to do.
And to dismiss food without actually trying it? Bad, bad, reviewers. Try the stinking drip decaf coffee--maybe the drip is as good as the espresso would've been? Try the burgers--maybe because they're using specially sourced beef and know they have to make up for lack of tomatoes the burgers are really freaking juicy and don't need the tomatoes.
And, for godsake, do a bit of research if you're going to complain about everything. I figured out quickly the concept of their lounge--without even going there, but just by looking at their website. And seasonally available food means LOCAL food...not from California.
Going to a restaurant is kind of like going to someone's home--you can't expect your every whim and desire to be fulfilled. This burger is quite different than Dick's. Try it, anyhow, it's what they serve there. They have lounge rules whereas Red Robin serves its full menu in its bar--well, those are the rules.
I have not been to this restaurant, but I can't help but stand up for them. Sure you're paying for your meal--but because you're eating out and someone else is doing the cooking, dishes, serving and paying for the electricity, water & sewer--your meal price is paying for that as well.
It's awesome to find places with great food, great service, and ambiance. But the chances of most places meeting your highest standards on all three fronts is rare, especially if you're going to be as picky as the above reviewers.
Going to a restaurant should be fun and relaxing. If you're concerned with every matter of your experience you won't have fun--and, yes, you should stay at home. I love going out to eat because someone else cooks AND does the dishes--heaven! Sure, I've had bad food at places, but rarely do I complain about it to other people, period. Nor do I automatically write the place off. Or if I had something bad, I'll point out I didn't enjoy what I had but what my dining companions had looked tasty--or that the service was great..or...something.
Basically...just keep the reviews 'real'. Let's not get so freaking critical about every aspect of a place that it looses appeal. I feel as those these reviewers have a very difficult time finding a place they like, period. Of course the whole drip vs espresso comment irks the hell out of me (get over the freaking espresso) as does complaining about food that you don't even TRY.
I hear a lot of people complaining about cities not having good restaurants or good, new restaurants. Well...if they're met with this kind of reaction; who IS going to be their champion to make them better? You want good food in your city? You've got to support the people making a go of it, which means, sure--offer criticism, but be constructive about it.
Of course this is all on my mind as I get ready to open the kitchen to another season of tourists. Let the fun begin!
Sunday, 04 April 2010
What makes a wine bad?
Or maybe what makes a wine good?
The answer is often "whether or not YOU like it". Which, is something I promote. Traditional wine critics are scoring wine towards their taste preferences; if you find a critic that you agree with then you can assume you have the same tastes. But just because Mr. FancyPantsCritic says a wine is good or bad, doesn't mean you'll find it good or bad.
That said....there is such a thing as good wine and bad wine. Good wine is clean wine--meaning there are no flaws and that it's well made; should "last" a significant time in the bottle (more on this).
I've been drinking a lot of 'bad' wines lately that are deemed good by critics--well known, well paid critics. And it's kind of pissing me off. I'm only going to talk about two flaws...there are many more out there, but start to get very specific and unless you can sit down and discuss these with examples, very boring to read about.
Before I continue I do want to reiterate that if you like it--good for you. Drink it. I know someone who loves oxidized wine...wine that's gone bad. If it's been open for days, great, she'll drink it! Her favorite winemaker in the area is someone who reuses REALLY old barrels--so all his wines are somewhat oxidized and noticeably flawed. She loves it.
Good for her. As I told her, that's great, but she's in the small percentage who actually like oxidized (bad) wines. And that it's important for her to understand the faults. She concurs.
Likewise, a lot of people like a little (or a lot) of brett in their wine (I'll explain), because of overtly earthy tones it gives. Again, great! But the importance in knowing what brett is, exactly, and what it does to wine is HUGE here as the wines with this flaw will not last. So you find a brett infested wine you love one week--buy a case of it--and the next month it's already showing signs of being bad and a year down the road it's complete trash.
So while liking flawed wine isn't wrong, it should be noted it's flawed and there should be praise for good, clean wine. Because it's hard to make wine with no flaws. It takes serious dedication, attention towards cleanliness, and good product management.
A common bad wine problem is 'corked' wine. This is a big problem in the industry as more wine is being produced, the quality of available, good, cork is being stretched. Corked wine is wine where the cork has been tainted--surprisingly in the cleaning process (TCA)--sometimes the actual cork is not so much at fault, but it could be a weak cork (porous) and TCA is passed through the cork. I've even had 'corked' synthetic cork wines. Corked wine smells like wet dog. Musty. Moldy. Bad. And while it doesn't hurt you--it sure makes the wine taste like crap. And that can be very disappointing.
But this is why understanding good vs bad wine is important. If you open a bottle of wine and it smells like wet dog, mold, wet newspaper--those kind of awful, musty smells...you can probably assume it is corked. The good thing about this is that you can return the bottle from its source (most places should accept a return) and get a new bottle. It also should mean that the next bottle of the exact same wine should be okay.
I've heard horror stories of wineries getting complete batches of tainted corks...but that's more rare than the 1 in 100 tainted corks (making this statistic up) that seem to be the case. It also means that if you see screw top wines you shouldn't turn up your nose--these are producers who are looking for an affordable alternative to poor quality cork, hoping to avoid cork taint.
Just as a side note, besides corks...other things can taint wine. I worked for a winery where the winemaker was very diligent, clean in his winemaking (and a good one at that) with an advanced science/lab background. Whole cases were tasting 'off'. Not as bad as corked--not musty, but the fruit was gone in these cases vs other cases that were fine. He did various lab tests to look at the various levels in the wine. The bad cases differed from the good cases.
What he concluded was that those cases were either from the top or the bottom of the tank after blending the wine for bottling. And that something happened--some sort of something (technical term, that) got into those cases, all of them, as a result, cases were bad. Extremely unfortunate.
Luckily not all the wine was bad--but if something goes wrong in one step of the wine making process it can ruin an entire batch of wine.
What is brett? Brettanomyces is a yeast that likes fruit. It's a problem not only in the wine industry, but it has also caused havoc in the beer industry as well.
Yeast is needed in winemaking, obviously, to create alcohol. And brett is a yeast that causes debate in the industry as well as out and out panic.
Because brett is a natural occurring yeast that is on the fruit to begin with, it's hard to always call it a flaw. Some people & winemakers (because we all know winemakers aren't people) like brett in their wine. In freshly bottled wines it can mellow the acids & tannins, give the wine a very earthy structural background (everything from mushroom to barnyard aromas) and tone down the fruit a bit so that you don't feel like you're drinking 'fresh' wine.
Not so bad eh? And, really, it's not. A lot of old-world wines get that descriptor because of the obvious presence of brett...this earthy, old, taste. Some wineries in these parts of the world do a very careful, good job of controlling their brett contamination so that it's 'just' right.
I, myself, like a little brett sometimes.
So what's the problem? Too much brett and the wine smells like a barnyard. It can be powerful stuff. It also seems to break down the wine very quickly--so in young wines it tones it down, but a few more years in the bottle and the stuff is overwhelming and you feel like you've just poured a dairy yard into your wine glass. Once you actually taste the wine (if you can get past the aroma), it can taste too sour and the tannins feel extremely dirty on your mouth because they're breaking down in the bottle quickly.
Most american winemakers consider brett a flaw, period. The reason is that it's really hard to control--entire wineries have been torn down and rebuilt because the yeast got everywhere. This has happened in the beer industry as well.
Brett is added to specific beers to give them a sour, unique taste (belgium lambics for example). But, again, too much goes too far and some breweries found their brett out of control, contaminating everything--and have had to start over.
It is, whether you like it or not, a spoilage yeast. This is my main problem with brett, personally.
Back to my opening paragraph. There are a lot of other problems with wine, but these are two that are pretty common--one being an obvious flaw (cork taint) and the other being a questionable flaw.
I purchased some $20 bottles of Southern French wine that Robert Parker had reviewed, giving it an 89 (good score from him), describing it as great wine. The reviewer (not sure it was Mr. Parker himself or not--I know he's hired a few helpers) said about the wine (a 2007) "this understated wine will not only offer highly versatile enjoyment over the next 3-4 years but should blossom further as well". Great I had it in 2009, should be good...maybe not at it's peak.
It was horrible. The brett was way over the top--the tannins were gritty and completely falling apart, the aftertaste was not only sewer-like, but had a touch of band-aid as well.
Not saying the reviewer is an idiot, or that his review of the wine was incorrect...AT THE TIME. Perhaps he had this wine upon it's release a year earlier than I had it. At the time it could've been quite pleasant. But this is where I get pissed at wine critics.
The wine is flawed...and it should've been noted. Even if at the time of the tasting the wine was quite good, a critic SHOULD be able to understand there was too much brett there. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be promoted--but the 3-4 years bullshit? No way. Drink it young and fresh.
As it was the two bottles of $20 wine felt like a complete waste of $40 on my end. Maybe that's why I'm really pissed...
Why I'm Here
Wine reviews done my way; which are hopefully informative and interesting. But I'm not making any bold promises here.