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More recent writing, Part IV

15 May

In which I demystify legs, rosés, how long to keep a couple of Aussie wines, prosecco vs. Champagne.

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Bad procrastination technique: counting up all the wine in my house.

13 Feb

146. Plus three opened bottles at half capacity or less.

Ninety are in my hallway. Sixteen are for a Jura party I keep planning to have, but the winter hasn’t been cold enough for rillettes.

Four are from a half-case of white Bordeaux I adore and am saving for as long as possible.

Twenty are in my “blind tasting box” I put together so the Gin Savant could test me on my paperbag ID skills.

One is to test the progress of a three-case purchase of 2005 Bordeaux currently housed at chez parents who actually have a decent cellar. (Only one of those cases is mine. One each is for La Niece and El Neffy come 2021 2026, if they stay nice to me and don’t grow up all rednecky.)

One is a 1983 5 putt Tokaji. One’s a Corton Charlemagne. I lost count of the Rieslings, the Aussies, and the ones made from obscure grapes. One was made by a high school friend of mine. One’s from England. Only three cost me more than $90. Four are before 1999.

Ok, I’m still procrastinating. Gotta stop or I’ll catalogue everything.

My year in wine, the summary

27 Dec

So 2011 was a bit of an important year for me, wine-wise because I

• Joined the Boston Sommelier Society after a whole lot of trepidation about not working in the industry for reals
• Got a subscription to Wine Spectator and didn’t open a damn issue
• Took the Australian Wine Immersion Program course.
• Started working with a startup wine site (more about this at some later point when appropriate)
• Tried Penfolds Grange
• Tried Nicolas Joly
• Spent about $2800 on wine
• Met Jean-Luc Thunevin
• Housed 150 bottles in my apartment
• Passed the CSW exam.
• Checked out Virginia’s vineyards
• Got my own personalized wino tour of Austin
• Led about two dozen wine tours in Boston for my new part-time job with City Wine Tours
• Had a bunch of fun with Red White Boston
• Tasted over 400 wines.

All that kept me busy, for sure. So expect a bunch of back-filled posts one of these days.

My take on opportunities and challenges for the Australian wine industry (if anyone cares.)

20 Aug

A lot of you know Aussie wines were my first loves, so this subject is near to my liver, oops, heart. The Guild of Sommeliers held a essay competition for members for an Australian educational enrichment program. I didn’t get the trip, but hey, I got a blog post!
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The past few years have not been easy for the Australian wine industry in general. The success of mass-produced wine and status of Yellowtail as the number one imported wine in the US have given rise to a perception solely based on cheap, over-engineered bulk wine that even the recent years of drought cannot entirely erase—-or export in toto with success.

The Australian dollar’s parity with the U.S. dollar now negates Australia’s price-to-quality advantage even on higher-prestige names. The challenge lies in negotiating a middle path that keeps both extremes of the industry—-both small vineyards and large brands—-producing and profitable. By shifting the public’s awareness from $10 and under wines to higher $15 to $45 ranges, Americans will eventually realize that there is greater variety—-and reward—-to Brand Australia.

In addition, Australia’s flagship wines—-easy drinking yet bold Shiraz, heavily oaked Chardonnay—-are out of favor currently with American palates. Being able to point to a specific region can also lessen the challenge to educate consumers about the flavor profiles and nuances of critical but misunderstood or lower-profile wines such as Riesling and Semillon. The latter may be an easier sell then the former, given the unfortunate mark that budget European Riesling has left on American tastes over the decades.

It could be argued that Australia’s current perception problem has deeper roots than simply agricultural ones, stemming back to Australia’s worldwide pop culture juggernaut in the 1980s fueled by entertainment exports such as Men at Work, Air Supply, The Thorn Birds, and of course, Crocodile Dundee. Boomers and Gen Xers have indelible, iconic–and erroneous– ideas of Australia as a casual, beach-going, laid-back, bushwhacking, Foster’s Beer-swilling, Vegemite-snacking society where both the men and the women are tough and proficient in knife-throwing.

Millennial consumers have less need for “retraining” than their parents and grandparents. They have fewer touchstones and perceptions of larger-than-life Australian culture and personalities to set aside. And given this generation’s propensity to forge their own paths earlier in life and take more risks, the ability for the Australian wine industry to present them with images of younger winemaking stars such as Ben Glaetzer and Anna Pooley could resound very deeply.

Given that Americans are now more concerned than ever with where their food products come from, there may be potential for the Australian wine industry to position its wine as a complement to the locavore movement. Affluent consumers who are inclined to pay more for organic apples from New Zealand at Whole Foods Market, or shares of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, are more willing to pay premium prices for goods of higher perceived quality and benefits, as well as experiment and try both new varietals and wine regions. This may especially be effective in areas where local wine is sub-par or the viticulture industry nascent.

The strategy to demarcate regionally-specific wines can also assuage Americans’ aversion for surprise. The similarities between the two nations as former British colonies establish an instant kinship. Australia is on the other side of the world, but in many ways, it is as close as Canada. That Australia is also the most significant English-speaking wine producing nation after the U.S. would instill a level of high level of comfort in consumers who avoid the French wine sections of their purveyors because they confuse Cotes du Rhone with Cote de Beaune or think Chablis is an actual grape variety. This is where education engenders loyal consumers. When consumers feel empowered enough to confidently make purchases themselves based on regions they have begun to trust and appreciate, they will often stick to what they know and venture out slowly.

Those who tell stories for a living know the advice that “if you want to write about or depict the universal, you must be specific.” Put in other words, consumers will find something identifiable in organic or market-driven narratives if they themselves can recognize something in them about themselves.

Americans have a soft spot for underdogs. And Australia is home to some of the harshest, most difficult winemaking conditions on Earth. The story of winemaking there is an epic one of surviving and thriving against the immutable forces of nature and carving out beauty and bounty. The end of the story—the bottled, finished product—are in their own ways miraculous, poetically mad things: manifestations of devotion, sheer determination to succeed in harmony with (and often despite) nature.

For the American wine-consuming public, there are still epic stories for Australia to tell.

Words fail. Just thoughts.

2 May

On a certain day in 2001, a close friend called me to turn on the news. Tonight the Gin Savant had to call me to do the same. Thinking tonight of my college classmates and neighbors who were on doomed planes. How the nation rallied around a controversial president and how I hope we can do the same 10 years later. About a certain soldier I never knew but wish I had. About the guy who did know that soldier and would send him prayers to look after my brother-in-law on his second and third tours of duty. About that very same brother-in-law who was almost killed during the Baghdad invasion and has been dealing with issues ever since. For journalists like Daniel Pearl and the badassly brave Buffy Neuffer who died in pursuit of bringing the world the truth. For the soldiers and peaceful civilians who gave their lives for reasons and in ways that were not always clear-cut, fair, or just. About the curtailing forced upon us of our liberties.

I wanted to drink something from 2001 tonight. This Twelve Staves McLaren Vale Shiraz was the first thing I found. Calm, quiet, smooth, and comforting, with just a little unresolved, inconclusive, melancholy edge of bitterness and heat.

Pic coming soon. It was a late night watching the news and being on deadline for a client.

Back in the day circa 2003, I got this at Cambridge Discount Liquors for $24, down from $32. I haven’t seen much of Twelve Staves for sale in these parts since.

Craneford Barossa Valley Grenache 2002

31 Mar

Oldish and still goodish

A bunch of years ago, I bought two bottles of this because I was enchanted with the idea of 100% Grenache (I still am). The first bottle was long ago consumed, but I remember how it was one of the most spectacular wines I had ever had. So I hoarded that last bottle for as long as I could. Years. And I forgot about it. And how it was a screwtop. Sure, a lot of great wines come in screwtops, but most of them aren’t nine years old.

So when I decided to reheat a pot pie from KO Catering & Pies, I knew which wine I had to open with it, and hope for the best.

Still has some nice color. Plus the screwcap.

You know how Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Greta Garbo, and a bunch of other glamour girls still had that sparkle, that mystique after their heydays? How you were excited to see them, even after all these years (rehab and bloat aside)? That was this wine. Take a bunch of strawberries, black cherries, cassis and blackberries. Add tobacco and a little cedar, violet and anise. And voila. Probably not the bestest ever wine to put with meat pie but still managed to hold its own. There was still a little heat (alcohol) climbing out of the glass and ready to bitchslap me as I tilted the glass toward me, and a bit of tannin left. But mostly this was a red fruit lovefest, even with a little fridge time.

Cro-Magnon screwcap

I tried some after dinner, and it was still lovely and as hedonistic as Ava Gardner, but overwhelming and a little cloying without food. I had a second third third and a half glass anyhow.

Craneford Wines, point of purchase forgotten, probably around $25

Red White (Buzzed) Boston

5 Jan

Tonight was the first official meetup of the Red White Boston Tasting Crew, part of Red White Boston, a company that does a lot to promote local wine stores in the area. In addition to a wine-seeking mobile app, the founder, Cathy, started the Red White Tasting Crew to provide a band of wine evangelists in the area, and maybe even focus-group some bottles that are new to the Boston market, leveraging social media.

The meetup, at the Enormous Room in Cambridge, featured some of the portfolio of Panther Wines, a Connecticut distributor that’s now moved to Massachusetts. Their focus was mostly Australian, and one of the members even brought his own red-white blend he’s been developing at the Boston Winery in Dorchester to try out. It was about nine wines–even with me arriving late from work (damn Cantabrigian parking). I didn’t do a heck of a lot of networking–for me, business cards are what you drop into fishbowls for free lunches, heaven forbid actually using them to give to people.

You can read about the evening here; as I’m too tired right now to do it much justice. But hey, I got voted a best tweet for wine #3. Aw yeah.