Friday, October 5, 2018

Cline Vineyards, Cashmere Red Blend 2016

See here’s the thing I try to impart on anyone who will listen- wine doesn’t have to be “technically good” to be a favorite.  Wine critics wax on about high acidity and gentle tannins, the aging ability, depth of flavor…and all of those are wonderful things.  And wines that have excel in those categories can be amazing wine- but see wine isn’t just marking check boxes.  Wine is experiences, it's memories, it’s passion, it’s love.  More often than not someone’s favorite wine isn’t something that was graded high by some wine critic- its something that transports them to memory.  

I bought Cline Vineyard’s Cashmere blend while I was on a business trip to San Francisco probably about 8 years ago.  Long before I had studied anything about wine.  I had a meeting with our Asia teams later that evening and so I declined to go out with coworkers when our day wrapped up.  Instead I made my way to Fisherman’s wharf and bought dinner and a bottle of wine to bring back to the hotel.  This bottle of wine.  It was more expensive than what I normally drank, but I decided I deserved to splurge.  

I remember sitting in my room later that night relishing every sip of a wine that was so luxurious to me.  A blend of Mouvedre, Grenache, and Syrah- it was full of notes of chocolate and red fruits- I remember thinking that it felt like I was sipping the most wonderful cherry dipped in chocolate concoction I’d ever had.  There were little notes of spice to keep it savory.  It was perfect in my book.  

I spent years trying to find it after I returned to Boston.  I even emailed the vineyard for assistance.  They relayed the horrible news that their Cashmere wine was still unable to be shipped to Boston -something with labelling laws, but they were working on it.  Cut to tonight- when I found this bottle in my (very) local wine store.  

Simple label, limited colors- I felt excited about my purchase.  When I returned home I wondered- what are Cline’s practices when it comes to their wine? Are they cutting corners and finding shortcuts to getting the juice in the bottle or are they taking pride in their work.  I gotta say- Im not sure I’ve ever been so impressed with a companies website.  Every step of their winemaking process is outlined - from the sheep and goats they use to remove weeds harmful to the vines, to their commitment to keeping their wines clean throughout the fermentation process.  

The resulting wine, 2016 vintage: ruby red, but starting to lean towards garnet.  The nose is bright with red fruits- cherries and raspberries, but plums as well.  Spicy black pepper, hints of chocolate, a bit of eucalyptus, and a background of cola.  Dry, not bone dry, but definitely dry on the palette, high- acidity, as I’d anticipate from Sonoma.  Light body, and light tannins.  The flavors- strawberry was the first, then raspberries and cherries.  The black pepper stayed behind, and no trace of the eucalyptus on the tongue.  Cola for sure, and just hints of chocolate.  Despite the color of the wine hinting at aging, the wine itself presents with youth, and the ability to age.  

No matter what- remember that wine is more than just the description above.  Wine is the experience and the memory.  Now if you’ll excuse me- I’m going to go enjoy my wine and remember when I was a fresh faced 20 something, drinking wine in hotel rooms after meetings with Asia ;-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Drop that PSL!

I know - it's alllllllllmost Fall and we know that Pumpkin Spice Latte is sooooo tempting to welcome the season with but what if I told you to keep sipping that Rose wine instead??

Over the past couple of years marketing geniuses have blasted the market with Spring/Summer Rose wine ads basically equating your outdoor festivities with the pink drink.  Rose (which has been around since ancient times -some even think it predates red wine we know today) is the perfect drink right on through the fall.  Here's the skinny- rose wines are really just a lighter version of red wine.  Same grapes- less time on the skins.  Here's why that's important:  red wines have these beautiful deep flavors- red and black fruits, mocha and chocolate, and other savory components, paired with tannins, and often bigger body, they are typically perfect for winter.  However- a great bottle of rose can contain those great big beautiful flavors and even some weighty body that will pair with those heavier meals and chillier nights that fall welcomes.

So don't rush to put away those pink sippers, keep them around for another month or two and relish in those that have deeper pink tones and definitely those from warmer climates to truly get those fall feels.

And fine- have a pumpkin spice latte in the morning if you must

Monday, June 18, 2018

Gosset Champagne- What Wine Should Be

I recently had the opportunity to sit across the table from, and share a meal with Bertrand Verduzier, the International Business Director for Gosset Champagne.  The food was incredible, but the Champagnes they served were exquisite.  What truly got me that evening was the way Verduzier spoke about wine.

I've had incredible opportunities to speak with wine professionals- makers, somms, vineyard owners.  I've had the chance to learn about what inspires them, to hear how they've perfected their craft, to understand their joys and challenges.  Never before however has one embodied so closely everything I know and feel about wine.  

If you've ever sat down over glass of wine with me- either at a restaurant, or in a friends home, or on one of my City Wine Tours, you've heard me, sometimes ridiculously, talk about the story that wine tells.  It is truly the case however- just like any party guest- that your wine should regale you with tidbits from its life thus far.  It should wax on about the early days when the fruit was simply a dream to the bud, to when the yeast met the juice, to when you finally pull the cork. Every stage of its life influences its taste and attributes.  

Every wine you meet should tell you its life story.

Verduzier, speaking for Gosset Champagne, is of the same mindset.  Champagne, generally, is a funny wine- its often a blend of different vineyards for each house, and for that matter its a blend of years.  Where still wines showcase the year in which the grapes were grown, sparkling typically blends together several different years to provide a consistent product. Consistent- but lacking in story.  Consistent wines, showing the same flavors year after year, are lacking in personality.  Gosset knows this.  They limit the blending of years so that the majority of their wine is all from a single year.  That means that it weathered the same storms, sought shelter from hot days together, and ripened into perfect worthy fruit together.  

When you pop open a bottle of Gosset, you've popped open one of your most interesting party guests.  The tales of growing in same vineyards as their forefathers when Gosset began in 1584.  They speak to the time honored traditions passed down as the house transferred from making all still wines to adding bubbles.  Their fruit forward presence testifies to their growers commitment to not use malolactic fermentation.   Their flavors aren't manipulated but instead showcase the great and tough weather of its year along with the talent of their winemaker.    

Gosset Champagne is a true testament to what Champagne, and really all wines should be.  The fruit is the star and whatever it has to say- we're listening! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Rock Steady or as Balanced as a Sea Saw?

It is virtually impossible to listen to a wine discussion without hearing the words - "well balanced".  Every time you order a glass or a bottle at a restaurant the server always ends their description with "it's really well balanced", or even better- wine stores have an incredible habit of underlining the words multiple times on their description cards.  Honestly, more than any other wine term, I find that that phrase is the used the most, and somewhat haphazardly.  Based on how frequently we hear it, you might assume that it is the paramount facet of what makes wine great.  

Here's the thing- balance really just refers to how all of the other facets of the wine are working together.  If you've ever been in a wine discussion with me- I often comment that it really just means that all the kids are in the pool playing nicely with each other.  

We've spoken about sweetness, body, acidity, tannins and flavor.  When you're examining body- ask yourself - is anything WAY out in left field?  Is the body off the charts but body the sweetness, body and flavors don't match up?  Are the tannins crazy expressive but everything else playing back up?  

Now here's the thing- a balanced wine doesn't necessarily mean its a GOOD wine.  I'll say that again- balance DOES NOT indicate good quality. Let's take a look at the Nebbiolo grape for our example.  Nebbiolo is the grape found in Barbaresco, Barolo and Langhe wines.  Now these are some of the absolute best wines in the world.  A good vintage can often age for 20 - 30 (and beyond!) years.  Here's the thing though- a young Nebbiolo can be abrasive and tough to drink.  The tannins are off the charts- and though usually there's wonderful flavor and fine acidity and body- those tannins make it unbalanced.  However- let them age and everything comes into play and all is right with the world.  

Sometimes an unbalanced wine just needs time.  Sometimes however it is a poorly made wine.    Sometimes a balanced wine means that the winemaker manipulated their wine with sugar or other additives to make it that way. 

As you get more comfortable with different varietals and how they perform in your glass it will become much easier to tell the good from the bad based on balance.  Rule of thumb for now- if you trust your server or your wine store- you can trust their recommendations.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Case of the Aggressive Tannins

Every time I run a wine education seminar I find that tannins are the piece of wine that cause the most confusion.  People seem to love the word, but what they are and what they mean to wine remains a mystery.  

Tannins are a compound that live in the skins and stems of grapes.  That's really the simplest explanation.  They infiltrate your wine during the wine making process.  

Even more simply explained- when we make wine we crush grapes to get the juice out.  The fun fact is that whether we crush red grapes, black grapes or white grapes the juice is always clear.  If we're making white wine- we just push that juice through to fermentation, but if we're making a red wine we'll crush the grapes and then let the juice sit on the skins and stems to pull the red color from them.  I love that fact- that's how we make white wines from red grapes, and that's why rose wines are so lightly colored- we minimize the skin contact.  Pretty cool right?  

OK so back to tannins- when the juice is pulling color from the skins- they are also exposed to the tannins.  Now when tannin presents itself in wine it feels like a drying of the inside of the cheek- sort of like a cotton ball has been wiped down the inside.  The level of this expression can vary greatly- from hardly recognizable to abrasive.  This is determined by several factors but for our purpose here- the root of it comes from how thick the skin of the grape is.  The thicker the skin, the more tannin it can give to the wine.  This will also be a strong reason for the varied colors of red wine.  

Think of a Pinot Noir- the color is pretty light, you can usually see through the wine to a surface below. The tannins are very light.  Now think of a Cabernet Sauvignon- the color is much deeper and the tannins are far heavier.  

Tannins are pretty crucial when pairing wines with food.  If you're dealing with a wine with big aggressive tannins, than you'll want to pair that with a food high in fat.  Cheese, hamburgers, steak- anything with a fair amount of fat to it- the fat will coat your mouth and round out the tannins so they aren't as aggressive.  A lightly tannic wine however can be served with less fatty foods.  

I remember a few years ago the big news was the ability to drink red wine with seafood.  As most sea foods are so light, and limited in their fat content, this was noteworthy.  Of course the idea was to pair Pinot Noir with your fish- the light red wine does a wonderful job of complementing a big flavored fish- like the swordfish.

Tannins are nothing to be scared of, nor should they have an air of mystery.  Paired correctly (when they are present) they will simply enhance your experience and deepen the wine.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Do I Really Need a Real Estate Agent?

The other day I found myself in a conversation I was warned would happen when I started my  training to become a Real Estate Agent.  The dreaded: “why do I even need an agent?” conversation.  To be honest- I get it.  Prior to getting my license I looked at countless properties online, and watched all of the reality real estate TV I could – I figured- can’t I do this myself?

The answer is yes, you probably could, but why would you want to risk it.  As you start your home search, looking at all of the amazing listings on the various websites, sorting through the ones that are most appealing to you- you might start to wonder: how do I know how much I’m comfortable offering?  How much can I really afford?  Enter your Real Estate Agent.  Your agent is there from day one front loading the entire experience so you are prepared for the day that you purchase.  They are your go to resource for educating you on the paperwork and the market, matching you with a team of proven service providers, making your purchase seamless and protect you throughout the entire process. In a competitive market like Boston’s, being prepared is imperative.  An agent worth their salt knows at least a handful of great mortgage lenders who they can quickly, and with confidence refer you to help you find the number that best works for you.  

Once a lender is on board, and you feel confident in your search, then your agent can start helping you sort through all those listings you’ve been looking at.  Heading to open houses, making appointments, getting you in the front door of homes in your budget and in your desired area- that’s just the next step.  Then it happens- like a gift from above-  you’ve found that place that has won your heart.  It’s the place that you can see settling into for years to come.  Your agent is there to field all questions about the true value of the property.  They’ll be there to ensure that the place you’ve found works not only in your fiscal budget, but also into your lifestyle overall.  When you’re ready to make an offer,  we’ll comb through mountains of data to determine how the market is performing so we can best guide you on what your offer should be.  Are houses selling for over or under ask?  How much over or under?  How many other homes are on the market that are similar to the one you want?  Therefore- how desirable is this particular place?  These are chief pieces of information, and coupled with a few other items, an agent will be able to help you find the price that will win the negotiations.  

Oh and those negotiations.  We are bound to you, as our clients.  We have a responsibility to you to keep all of that confidential information that you’ve told us, confidential.  We aren’t going to and tell the listing agent- “psssst hey- my client can really spend $xxx they are just seeing how little they can get it for”.  Nope – we’re going to keep that between us.  We’re going to make sure that we get you the best deal on the place.  

And that’s the next piece- you’re offer has been accepted and while you want to celebrate that small victory- we’re not quite ready to celebrate yet, but we will be right there to give you a high five…and a phone number.  A phone number of a home inspector, one that we trust implicitly, who will thoroughly inspect your potential new home and let you know of any issues they may find.  After that step is complete- we’re may go back to the negotiation table.  We’re going to present the findings, if any, and see if the price needs to be adjusted.  

Next hurdle completed and it’s time for the Purchase and Sale agreement (or P&S).  This is a lovely legal document written by those jargon loving lawyers to make sure that you and the seller are entering into a sound agreement.  Obviously this isn’t something to be taken lightly, and reviewing the terms that the seller sets forth requires a keen eye for legaleze.  A practiced, accomplished Real Estate Attorney is the only way to go.  Your agent will know some fantastic attorneys.  This is who they work with every day.  

Once the final checks of the mortgage are completed, and that wonderful lender that your agent referred you to has dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s- it’s time for the lawyers to finish everything up and schedule the closing.  Your agent will be with you every step of the way to that final walkthrough on the day of closing to make sure that they left that washer and dryer you asked for among other things all the way to the closing itself to watch you receive those keys!

Buying a home is an incredibly exciting process.  It’s the space that will be your respite and your comfort for years to come, so it’s imperative that you have the real estate right team working with you to ensure that every moving piece falls into place, every date is met and no detail is missed.  Your Real Estate Agent is THE person to fill that role.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Let's Talk About Acid

Whenever I get to the part of a wine tasting where we need to look at the acidity levels I always start to imagine some cheesy movie out of the 1970's about the party culture- and then I giggle.  My tour participants must think Im nuts.  It's a fair assessment.  

After the giggles though- acidity in wine is a big deal.  How much or little acidity is a big influence on what will pair best with the wine.  Earlier we talked about the body of wine, and how that must match closely with the body of your food, here we follow the same principle- the acidity of your food and your wine must be close.  

How do you tell how much acid is in your wine?  This is one of the more challenging items to get right.  However, at its base, acid will present in wine as saliva congregating under your tongue.  So if you have a high acid wine you'll feel saliva pool under your tongue.  A lower acidity wine and you won't feel too much.  

We measure this amount by what we call "The Drip Test".  Sounds pretty awesome right?  It's actually insanely disgusting.  Basically the idea is that if your wine has a high acidity level then your mouth will continue to "water" after you've swallowed your sip - so much so that if you tip your head forward and open your mouth you may drool.  Yup- Drip Test.  My fellow classmates and I finally called enough on that one and learned to just pay careful attention to the area under our tongues.  Generally speaking if you feel that you need to swallow a second (or a third) time to clear the saliva from that area before talking- it's a high acid wine.  

Higher acidity wines are largely found in cooler climates.  Acid bakes out of grapes as they mature on the vines so the warmer the grapes grow in, the less acidity will be present in your wine.

So when you find yourself face to face with a highly acidic wine, don't pair it with your favorite cup of New England Clam Chowder.  Your mouth won't be able to adjust quickly enough and the intricate flavors of the chowder will be lost.  Instead- pair it with a food that has its own punch of acidity- lemon sauces, tomato sauces, vinaigrettes.  

Do your best to match acidity levels- wine to food and you'll find a pleasurable experience.  But please, don't feel the need to perform The Drip Test at your next dinner party- or if you do please leave me out of it ;-)  

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...