What is natural wine?

As the organic food movement has picked up speed over the last few years, there is also a movement with organic, biodynamic and natural wine. Organic & biodynamic happen in the grape growing process, for them to be natural the process must continue in the wine making process. By not using or using the least amount possible any of the 200 approved additives permitted in wine, this also includes the technological manipulation(spinning cones, laboratory cultivated yeast,etc) that will take away what the individual terror & what mother nature has provided. This is the way wine has been made for centuries before technology was introduced.

The definition is similar to the German Law of Purity for beer, where only water, barley and hops are used. Natural wine is just grape juice and nothing else.

Some aspects to consider in natural wine…
Avoiding chemical herbicides.
Using indigenous yeasts.
Hand picked grapes.
Low to no filtering & sulfites.
No chaptilization.
No adding of powdered tannins.
Respecting of the grapes including rough handling,pumping or micro-oxygenation.

Natural winemaking represents the true expression of terroir and prevents wine varietals from all tasting the same.

The Psychology of Wine

As wine has become more mainstream in the last 15 years, it’s no doubt the wine industry now has a big spectrum from the small wineries who have a passion for wine making or the big bulk producer where it has become more about the dollars and cents of it all. Along with the growth has been the marketing of wine making it more or less a commodity in some circles. Marketers using psychology to get in your head and trying to get you to buy their wine. Whether it’s seeing a lot of the product making you think “there’s a lot so, it has to be good” mentality or just getting you to look at it and taking a mental note by using colored boxes, funky labels or sponsorships to catch your eye.

The wine media is just as guilty of getting in your head with its 100 point ratings system in some cases. Equating a number with the opinion of a few select people, who usually look for different things than the casual drinker will. You already know you like the wine before you pull the cork as you’ve subliminally told yourself based on the score or price for that matter. Not to mention you probably just looked at the score and didn’t even read the comments. If you did you would probably buy lesser scored wines as some sound really good.

The above is based on what’s outside the bottle, what about the wine itself? Manipulating it to make you like it with, added sugar (chaptalization) to drive up alcohol content, not to mention the big oak and fruit people seem to gravitate to. Having done plenty of R&D, large wine companies know how to market what is the best flavor profile to please the masses to be repeat customers.

Be assured there are things you can do to avoid letting the marketers get in your head and influence your decision making process. One way is by keeping an open mind, realizing everybody’s objective is to SELL. Whether it the actual winery and it’s packaging or the magazines, bloggers and it’s ratings system to sell magazines and ad space(Conflict of Interest??) or build traffic. Everybody has an agenda so take everything with a grain of salt..and a glass of wine.

The Macallan Single Malt Scotch Whiskey tasting

Having been invited to a Macallan Single Malt Scotch whiskey tasting recently, I thought it would make an interesting post. Like many wine & spirits, single malt whiskeys have an acquired taste and usually require multiple tastes to acclimate your palate. Different nuances splash your palate the same way wine would. The tasting was led by Macallan U.S. Ambassador Eden Algie, a Scotsman and proud of it. Eden walked us through a history of Scotland’s whiskey industry, the different regions & types of whiskey and what sets Macallan apart from the rest. All done in a very funny and informative manner. Macallan has been distilling whiskey since 1824 in the Highland region of Scotland and is the 3rd largest single malt whiskey distiller, producing over 500,000 cases a year.

Macallan is a single malt whiskey, which means that what’s in the bottle comes a “single” distillery & comes from only malted barley. Unlike blended whiskey’s that are not only blended from different distilleries, they can use malted barley but other cereals also. At Macallan they use sherry oak barrels barrels for the aging. We tasted 4 of the offerings including 10, 12, & 15 year old in sherry oak and a 15 year old in fine oak. All had very distinctive tastes, some were tasted neat(no ice or water) & some were tasted with a few drops of water to open it up a bit. There are no rules to how you drink your whiskey, whether you like it neat, over ice or with a splash of water. Enjoy it how you like it. That being said one should always try it by itself before you choose to add ice or water so that you may taste it in its truest form. I was surprised to learn that Macallan is owned by a charitable trust and that they do a lot for charity. They recently raised $460,000 for Charity Water w/ a 64 year old bottle in a crystal decanter called “Lalique: Cire Perdue”.

So as you expand your palate for new libations, one should give single malt whiskey a try and for that I like Macallan.

Wines of Paso Robles




On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Paradise Valley, Arizona over 30 of Paso Robles 200 wineries were in attendance showcasing their wines as part of the Paso Robles Winery Alliance Tour.

Paso Robles is situated half way between Los Angeles & San Francisco. Although it’s not far from the Pacific Ocean, Paso does not get the cooling oceans breezes that many other coastal areas get, therefore the days are hot & nights cool down. Those conditions make for some big, lush Cabernets Sauvignons, Syrahs & Zinfandels. Though those grapes are the main attraction from Paso Robles you also see Viognier, Chardonnay and other lesser planted varietals, can you say Touriga Nacional or Verdelho just to name a few. Still with a small town atmosphere Paso grower & producers work together, trading secrets, buying & selling of grapes for the over all good of promoting Paso as a wine destination for wine producing and visiting. The most commonly asked question in Paso is “Are you on the West side or East side” as Highway 101 runs right through the town and wineries and vineyards are each side and both sides have micro climates that will affect grape growing.

Many great wines were tasted and even greater people including several owners and wine makers were in attendance to talk about their passion for wine. Some delicious Chardonnay’s & Zins were present from Sextant Wines, Robert Hall was in the house pouring his line up of whites & reds as was brewer turned winemaker & winery owner Sherman Thatcher of his namesake winery. Thatcher Winery makes only 1,800-2,000 cases and does a great job with 2004 being his 1st vintage. Former Wild Horse owner & founder Kenneth Volk was talking up his his newest wines from his latest label(he sold Wild Horse a few years back). Halter Ranch Vineyards who grows grapes for a lot of Paso producers also makes some wine themselves and gets a little crazy with their Cotes de Paso blends using rarely drank Picpoul Blanc & Grenache Blanc in the whites & tiny bits of Counoise & Cinsault in the reds. It was good to re visit the wines of Eberle winery with Marcy & Gary Eberle as it was the 1st time since I spent a birthday at their winery tasting wine & toasting the sunset. One of my final stops was at Justin Winery’s table to taste some recent offerings and wonder if the wines will be the same now that Justin just sold the winery to the Fiji Water Co.

It was great to see some of the newbies of Paso Robles wine scene and some of the veterans who have blazed a trail to put Paso on the wine map. Big & bold wines seem to be the reputation for Paso wines, but I’m glad to report that there is also an elegant side to many of the wines tasted, showing some well balanced wines. Cheers! www.pasowine.com

Wine & Spirits Trends of 2011

As we enter 2011 here are some trends to look for in the coming year.

Malbecs from Argentina are still hot.

Carmenere from Chile will be one of the next grapes to see influx of. Brought from Bordeaux over 100 years ago, it’s no longer common in Bordeaux.

Root beer & cotton candy are next in the flavored vodka segment. Root beer floats to be a cocktail we will see.

Obscure varietals such as Ruche & Grignolino, etc. from Italy will make some head way.

Micro brewed beers are still gaining steam & fans.

New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs will continue to see their rise and the emergence of NZ pinot noirs may give other pinots a run for their money.

Some thoughts on organic wines…

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Organic wines have been available for quite some time and it’s only recently that people have become more aware of them. Organic wines need to be certified “organic” by USDA to be labeled organic. Organic in a nutshell means that the grapes used are not treated with pesticides, fertilizers. 100% Organic means ” that all grapes used are certified organic & no sulfites added”. Organic means “95% of ingredients are certified organic & may a little sufites added”. Made with organic grapes means “at least 70% of grapes are certified organic & may contain sulfites”. Some organic wines are even vegan. Organic is not be confused with Eco friendly(although most organic producers are) or sustainable. Eco friendly can be used when using recycled glass for bottle, paper for labels, no run off into streams that may hurt environment & solar power. Most retailers have organic wines but Whole Foods seems to have the best selection. Some names to look for when buying organic wines…..

CALIFORNIA
Lolonis
Bonterra
Frey
Organic Vinters (Vegan)

WASHINGTON
Badger Mountain

SOUTH AFRICA
Stellar Organics (Vegan)

CHILE
Nuevo Mondo

ARGENTINA
Vida Organica

Wines for the Holiday Season



As the holiday season starts one of the hardest decisions people are going to make is “What wine should we drink with…..”. This post will give you a quick ides of what to look for at your favorite wine retailer.

Pinot Noirs is a versatile grape that will go well with turkey, ham and and all the fixings. Oregon, California or the Burgundy region of France are the ones to look for. You’ll want a well balanced Pinot that can stand up to all you will be enjoying them with. Expect to pay about $20 for a good, solid Pinot Noir.

Beaujolais is another red wine that works well with holiday meals. Made from the Gamay grape from the Burgundy region of France, Beaujolais is lighter and fruitier than Pinot Noir. Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the 3rd Thursday of November and is from the most recent harvest and is a celebration of the harvest. Beaujolais should run less than $20 and Nouveau should be less than $12.

For the white wine drinkers at the table a Riesling works well. A Riesling from Australia, California or Germany would drink well. The crisp acidity & the mild fruit offer a great combination and should compliment your meal. Again find one that is well balanced. You can find a good Riesling for less than $18

Drinking, eating, events and other tidbits from my time on earth

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