Tuesday, January 28, 2020

World Cup of Wine

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Posted by Burke Morton On June - 11 - 2010

What to drink during the World Cup.... Does soccer immediately suggest beer the way that baseball does (or football, or hockey for that matter)? Not really, though now that I think about it, I have noticed that in England there is much imbibing of beer during soccer matches. I suppose this is what usually leads to the tragic stampedes at stadia around the U.K. that we hear about every so often. Let's hope no one gets trampled, but I guess you can--to quote one of my rugby-loving friends--"give 'em a beer afterwards and they'll shake it off." Clearly beer and soccer do have a history, but what about all the cross promotion with wine that has been going on in South Africa? I've never seen anything like it. I don't remember it being such an important facet of the marketing blitz when it the World Cup was in Germany four years ago, and I was just as rabid a consumer of soccer then as now.

Clearly I'm going to be guided by a glass of wine as I negotiate the games of the World Cup (when work doesn't interfere, of course), so I already plan to have some fun. A plan for wine consumption occurred to me as I was drinking the marvelously delicious Ridge 2007 Zinfandel Carmichael (which BTW, makes an excellent pairing for Oreos with the green mint creme): each of the Groups, save one, have at least one major wine-producing country, so you could, were you so inclined, drink wines associated with each group. People often ask me how should they go about learning about wines from other countries, so here is a great way to get to know the wines of the world, and at a minimum, it would be lots of fun. So when you watch a game in Group play, you might drink a wine from one of the sources in that group. Here's the breakdown:

Group A
South Africa
Uruguay (a younger, usually forgotten sibling of its South American neighbors, Chile and Argentina)
Mexico (produces a fair amount of wine that makes it to the States, and even England)

Group B
Greece (Skip the Retsina...there are many other excellent Greek wines in the market--have fun with these)

Group C
United States of America

Group D

Group E
SAKÉ!!!! Japan's rice wine (I know, it's brewed like a beer, but has more in common with wine) that is not just for sushi, and it shouldn't be served hot. Or you could skip saké and get a beer--The Netherlands puts out plenty of it, as does Japan.

Group F
New Zealand

Group G
Portugal (There are plenty of table wines that you can drink besides the more famous Port, or you could open a bottle of port and call up your inner-Robin Leach and break out the cigars, Stilton cheese, and walnuts and pretend you're living someone else's dream)

Group H
Switzerland (Swiss wines are hard to find, but Chasselas is a great white alternative, if you can locate one)

I hope that you watch the World Cup, whether you drink any wine or not. I'll probably be drinking an obscene amount of rosé (stretched out over many days, not all at once...I hate being drunk), and that'll be as fun as the soccer.

Is it me, or does Wayne Rooney play like someone used his head for a soccer ball? One minute he's an incredible player, another he's doing things that'll get him arrested. I'd just as soon he wait until AFTER the match with the USA to get arrested, because I would prefer the U.S. to beat England WITH him, then I could really pour some high-acid Riesling in my Brit friends wounds....

Popularity: 11% [?]

Syrah v. Shiraz on the Radio

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 30 - 2009

The always provocative Randall Grahm, the mind behind Bonny Doon wines, who is also the king of the well-marketed wine (Big House Red, anyone?), was on The Splendid Table (listen to it above) a couple of weekends ago promoting his new book, Been Doon So Long. Not one to miss an opportunity like this one, he stirred the pot on Australian Shiraz, and poked a bit at the well-marketed ones, too.

He did acknowledge that not all Australian Shiraz are manufactured, overdeveloped swamp juice, but if one cares deeply about OZ Shiraz, the main point may have been irritating enough to cause them to miss that.

Too Easy to Get Into
His main position is that many too many a Shiraz from Australia is TOO EASY to drink, thus ruining the experience of (or making more difficult the transition to) balanced, carefully made Shiraz and Syrah from all over the world. "Shiraz" as a moniker has come to embody assembly-line wine with over-the-top, fat, roasted, syrupy qualities, and this is evidenced by estates in California using the name to indicate the nature of a Syrah (which is what it is usually called there). There are even some Australian wine makers who have taken to calling their Shiraz "Syrah" to indicate the style of the wine. Some folks feel that (the stereotypical) OZ Shiraz is the Avignon Papacy compared to the TRUE SYRAH found elsewhere. Nonsense. It is just that the empirically less-interesting--if quite delicious--wine happens to be extending the hand of friendship, while great Syrah often presents (if opened and drunk too young) a clinched fist.

A Problem Where There Shouldn't Be One
Why is it a bad thing that Shiraz should be too easy to drink? Well, nothing, per se, is wrong with that, any more than there is anything wrong with White Zinfandel. Despite some who hold out for White Zin's promise in the way that Sarah Palin thinks that elected officials should be no better than an average person, it really is not a true exposure to the best potential of the wine grape in question. Of White Zinfandel I used to say, "that's not wine." But it technically is, just as Yellow Tail, Little Penguin, Three Monkeys (or any other critter-named wine) are also--despite the purists' desire to deny it--wine.

An unadulterated Zinfandel is a RED WINE, bold, plump with berry fruit and in some regions has the potential for such high alcohol that one bottle alone can be a party. Syrah/Shiraz can and should be in that league too: the nature of Syrah is that it is at its best and most emotionally evocative when it tastes appropriately of fruit AND of herbs, rocks, and the undefinable mystery that only great wine grapes possess.

A Road Map for Peace
To my mind, Syrah should not be a front-line wine. Merlot? Of course! Malbec? Naturally! But well-made Syrah--even when it has a forward, friendly fruitiness--has an aloof quality...the vinous equivalent of a cool reception, which evaporates, however, the more time one spends with it. A great wine grape shouldn't be relegated to making one dimensional wine with such preponderance that its name suffers. Merlot has endured this affront at the hands of some irresponsible growers; Pinot Noir may have dodged it in the post-Sideways drift away from mass-consumption of the variety; let's help Syrah/Shiraz avoid it, too.

I applaud Shiraz if it's tasty (no matter the style) and deplore those that aren't (whether they are tarry and overripe, or so "elegant" that they are "dreadful"). Running alongside this is the assembly-line approach to many Shiraz from Australia, which turns me off: wine is not intended to be manufactured, but shepherded from the vineyards through the winery to the bottle. When most of the Shiraz in the world meets this kind of standard, the swamp juice will disappear, the schism between Shiraz and Syrah will heal, and we can raise a glass of the two together.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Wines for Thanksgiving

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 19 - 2009

Wild Turkey (photo: Alan_Vernon.)There is only a week remaining until one of the most important events on the food/wine pairing calendar! I have always looked forward to this time of year, and when I was a wine retailer it was especially invigorating, because sales were excellent and it was fun to get excited (and get customers excited) about wines for the holidays. Time to spread the joy once more!

Dealing with Thanksgiving Food
The flavors of the foods on the Thanksgiving table are so disjointed that one would almost be better off having a companion drink for each dish rather than a single libation. Or just have water (which is asinine unless alcoholism is a factor, so we'll set THAT idea aside). Back to the food and what's often on the table...turkey (relatively bland); stuffing (rich taste made all the more intense if sausage or oysters are added); green vegetables (green beans are the norm at my house, typically hard on wine); sweet potatoes (rich flavor and welcoming of many wines); cranberry sauce (exuberant flavor, not all that wine friendly); and these are just the basics! Obviously there are too many dishes to even consider multiple wine pairings, so let's look at this a bit more nonchalantly: if you want to taste your drink with your feast, you'll need something with bold flavor. If you want to taste your feast with your drink, you'll need something with some grace. My favorite wines with Thanksgiving are not-necessarily full-bodied, but are somewhat warming, even if normally served cold.

An Opening Consideration
Let's go ahead and eliminate big, fat, oaky wines (this means Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their typical guises). Heavy oak treatment generally inhibits a wine's utility with food. There are obviously some Chardonnays and Cabernets Sauvignon that would work fine with Thanksgiving fare, but these will be out of the ordinary. Wines with other stylistic extremes like those with high alcohol levels are fine (as long as they are not too much about themselves (i.e., like the overripe swamp juice out of Australia)), as are those with low alcohol (so long as they still have vivid character). Wines intended for the Thanksgiving table should also have enough zip to pull through the fats in the food, but not so much that your mouth puckers (nor should they be so devoid of "zip" that they seem flabby).

If any of the following suggestions make you think, "What is that wine?", "How can I find that?", or "Now I'm even more confused!", then you should talk to your local retailer. They can help you find the best option for you.

Here are some of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving:

How can you go wrong with rosé? The answer is, YOU CAN'T!!!! If you have any left over from summer, now is the time to drink it, and you'll be glad you did. I particularly like rosés made of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon (here's a good place for Cab Sauv!). Rosés from the Sancerre region of France's Loire Valley are exceptionally good, as are the famous rosés of the Rhone Valley's Tavel region. I just tried a rosé from Oregon--the Big Fire Rosé from R. Stuart that would be perfect.

The white wines I am particularly drawn to for Thanksgiving include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, but there are many others that I find just as scintillating. Gewürztraminer is a mighty, intensely aromatic wine and it can be like a warm blanket for your palate. In my retail days, I sold more Gewurz at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year because it is so wonderful with the feast. As for Riesling, if you choose off-dry, I prefer Spätlese or Auslese in ripeness, but there are many Kabinett-level wines that can have just as much depth (this is where you'd ask your retailer). If you want a dry Riesling, a big serious wine from a great growing site works best, and usually these wines get better and better with aeration, so if you don't finish it, drink the rest the next day (there's hardly a more soul-stirring experience than this). Grüner Veltliner is glorious here, and you'll be happy you tried it, because it has the staying power to work with the food (surprisingly seamlessly across the table), and is qualitatively superior to it's peers at a similar price point.

I'll also be drinking some Zinfandel. Skip the White Zinfandel, and go for Red. Some like to point out that this is "America's Grape" and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving? I like to point out that it is genetically identical to European grapes with names like Plavac Mali and Primitivo, so let's drink it for it's merit, shall we? And it has plenty of merit: this year I'll be drinking the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel, and I drank the 2002 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel last year and loved it. A well-made Red Zin has good balance of acidity and fruit and pulls so much of the food on your plate together that it is in the same league as the whites listed above for harmonious food:wine rapport. Another option--a sensational one at that--is Grenache. I like it in the form that is found in the Rhone Valley regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. These velvety wines are so gratifying and emotive that they'll make you think of home, and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving?

For some other suggestions, go to the Wine Pairing Search and look under "Turkey"

Popularity: 11% [?]

Zinzinnati–a misnomer!! Our Oktoberfest has no Zin!

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Posted by Burke Morton On September - 2 - 2009

A lederhosen lover...Oktoberfest is looming, and ours in Cincinnati, which is apparently the largest one this side of Munich, is called Zinzinnati. Or more accurately, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. My wife and I moved to Cincinnati in 2002, so the party that fall was my first exposure to our local Oktoberfest. Given its name, I figured that it was actually a well-advertised off-shoot of the real Oktoberfest, where, instead of drinking Märzen, it was a mega-party where everyone is slurping down an ocean of ZINFANDEL!!!!

But noooooooooooooo!

Instead, it's just proprietary name that, I suppose, accounts for the way a German says a 'z' (at "tz" sound, as you would find in Mozart)--therefore a crisply spoken "Cincinnati"....

No Zin? WTF?

I have a friend (L.R. Hunley, if you care to know.) who used to run the show at a restaurant in Cincinnati called Teller's (which is still housed in a building that was once a bank). The first time I went there, many years ago now, he had a "Zinzinnati" wine list that was populated entirely by, no shock here, Zinfandel. The list of Zins may have been available entirely by the glass...but I don't remember now: I met my wife there for lunch one day and she had to drive me home, because I had to try some of the Zins that I'd never seen before, and Zinfandel can be fairly high in alcohol....

I had a blast tasting all those Zins, and who wouldn't? Wine isn't a snobby thing, it's just the snobs who make it so. Ergo, it's a perfect drink to have at an Oktoberfest named ZinZinnati!

There's already a grassroots element in place: we have a local chapter of ZAP (unofficial, but still sanctioned by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) where 15-30 people get together once a month, each bringing a glass and a bottle of Zinfandel. An Oktoberfest could be the same thing, just on a larger scale (without the glassware though, or the BYO). Most people would love this, by the way. It would be a blast to have a booth of Zin providers Downtown, right there on Fountain Square--next to the booth that ought to be selling Paulaner Märzen (don't get me started on that) would be perfect.

Popularity: 7% [?]

Video Today

You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 83% [?]


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