Thursday, June 30, 2016

10 questions to ask about any wine appellation

Last weekend I had an email from a longtime correspondent who asked, for unstated reasons of his own, what 10 important questions I would ask about any wine appellation, and what one question is unimportant.

My first response: now there's a blog post. Visiting appellations and trying to tell their stories is the second best part of writing about wine. (No. 1: drinking all the great wine.) But I had never codified exactly what I'm looking for. So here goes.

1. History

The key to the narrative in most good appellation stories.

2. Climate

Not only does it tell a significant part of the story, it's also an easy part of the story to retell. "Cool summer nights enable the grapes to retain their acidity," for example.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The Spirituality of Wine": a thoughtful, moving book

When Jesus performed his first miracle, he didn't multiply the loaves and fishes to feed 5000 hungry people. He didn't heal the sick or raise a man from the dead.

Jesus was at a wedding feast in Cana where the hosts ran out of wine. The guests must have been buzzed, as they'd consumed all the wine in the house already. Jesus could have just gone home and let the party break up. Instead, he transformed water into wine, and not just any old plonk, but excellent wine. "It was of such high quality that the sommelier responsible for wine at that that party commented to the groom about its quality -- completely astonished by it," writes Gisela H. Kreglinger, in her new book "The Spirituality of Wine."

Kreglinger returns repeatedly to the story of the feast of Cana in her thoughtful book, which I, an unbeliever, guzzled like a man thirsting for meaning. Kreglinger, a native of Germany's Franconia wine region, was raised in a family of vintners, holds a PhD in historical theology and taught Christian spirituality for four years. Her book weaves together many issues of the modern wine world, debates you will recognize, with the wisdom of the past.

I began reading it to learn more about wine in the Bible, but I ended up feeling inspired, thirsty for a glass of wine that represents a vintner's commitment to the land. (I slaked that with one of Grant Burge's single-vineyard Shirazes from Barossa Valley, proving that God does work in mysterious ways.)

What the miracle of Cana teaches us is the Bible's most important lesson about wine, yet one that too many American Christian sects have forgotten: wine is supposed to make us joyful. It is God's gift for our happiness. Kreglinger writes, "Wine is a gift from God and enhances our festive play before God. The accusation that Christians have no joy is a terrible one because joy should lie at the heart of the Christian life."


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Noncontroversial wine stories! (Unless you're Riedel)

Hey folks, would you give me a nickel? I promise I won't spend it on drugs.

I have written several columns for Wine Fix, a website for wine beginners. They're all outstanding examples of the dying use of words to say things (when am I going to learn to write a wine column in emoji?) And I get a nickel for every click.

Here are the links and some of the sentences you won't find when you read the columns:

A Crash Course in Dessert Wines

Whether you're trying to forcefeed a diabetic spouse you've tired of, or simply want a sweet ending to a meal, here's what you need to know!

How Many Types of Wine Glasses Do You Really Need?

Do you know how many pairs of eyeglasses I have? I know what you're thinking, punk, did he have six pairs of eyeglasses or only five. Well let me tell you I don't remember myself. But seeing as this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful gun in the world ... oh, sorry, wrong movie. You know those Riedel people? Fun is made of them here. I also use the word "Poppycock."

Screwcaps vs. Corks: What's the Deal?

The first comment on this post is very flattering. Have you written anything nice on a blog post lately? No? Well you don't have to on this one, because it's already there.

11 Expensive Wine Myths Debunked

Now that I look at the title, are these expensive myths, or myths about expensive wines? Either makes sense. If I could get this column in front of wine beginners I'd be really happy, but again, it's all written in words so nobody in the year 2050 will be able to read it. Unhappy face.

Click on all 4 and I get 20 cents! Tell your friends! My auto insurance payment is due. Thanks!

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Tasting Columbia Crest's Crowd Sourced Cabernet

You get a vote, and you get a vote ... photo courtesy KQED
I've only liked 4 of the last 12 highest-grossing films of the year. I have never owned the top selling album of any of the last 35 years. So I'm not a great candidate to enjoy a Crowd Sourced Cabernet.

But I was interested in Columbia Crest's crowd-sourced winemaking project: not only to write a story about it two years ago, but also to be a voter in the crowd.

A brief description: Columbia Crest devoted an acre of good Cabernet vines in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills and allowed ordinary people to vote on viticultural and winemaking decisions. It's a great way to get people to feel involved in the project. What voter wouldn't be curious about how the final product tastes? I went to a Kickstarter-funded movie last week and people in the audience cheered during the credits when they saw their name roll by, and they didn't even get to help make edits.

None of the wine votes that I took part in went my way, of course.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Sushi's essence understood at Ju-ni in San Francisco

My wife and I met when I lived in Tokyo. We don't eat out for Japanese food as much as we'd like to. I'm sure natives of most countries say something like this about reinterpretations of their country's cuisine, but as my wife likes to say, "vegan sushi is not sushi."

We have to give props to Ju-ni, a new sushi restaurant in San Francisco that has a good concept, well executed. "Ju-ni" means 12. The restaurant has only 12 counter seats, with three chefs who each serve four customers. There are only two seatings, at 6 pm and 8:30 pm. And it offers only one meal, a 12-course o-makase ("chef's choice") menu for $90.

If it weren't for these restrictions, I wouldn't post this, because we don't want to help make the place impossible to get into. But you, dear reader, should take the opportunity, because this is excellent sushi in a way that is very American while also respecting the essence of Japanese sushi.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How my wine knowledge led to sex (but not for me)

"Dial a wine snob. Your question please?"
"Blake, you gotta help me. I'm calling from ABC. I need a wine. I'm having dinner with (woman's name) and she likes Merlot."

The caller was a longtime friend who has never been an enophile and is now, I thought, exclusively a white wine drinker. But sex is a powerful motivator. My friend, recently separated, hasn't been in the dating game for a while, and consequently is ... well, you get the picture.

The first thing I said was, "Merlot? Are you sure you want to have sex with this woman?" He was. So I asked him to read me the labels of the wines in the Merlot aisle.

This made me feel like the wine snob I am. ABC is a chain store in Florida, and not a particularly good one for wine. I once stopped in an ABC in Apopka to get a bottle to go with pork ribs and was paralyzed by indecision for nearly 20 minutes because the whole store had nothing I wanted to drink. I ended up with a mass-produced Rioja crianza which was nearly flavorless but inoffensive. But I didn't need to get laid.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

How not to run a wine panel: Saying nothing at the International Chardonnay Symposium

"What was the question again?" Also, that's not actually Larry Hyde; it's his son Chris
I want to support the International Chardonnay Symposium. California has at least eight annual major Pinot Noir gatherings, but only this one on Chardonnay. Yet Chardonnay is California's most planted grape and its most sold wine, plus I think cool-climate Chardonnay is one of the most exciting wines being made here.

I want to support the Chardonnay symposium, but I'm going to get meta here: I attended two of the most worthless wine panels of my life.

This is not to say that there aren't, at every symposium, worthless panels. There's the ever-popular "pairing wine with cheese" panel, which is usually just an excuse to drink good wine and eat (hopefully) good cheese. That's fine; I'm not talking about that. And I'm not talking about weekend consumer-focused panels (great Russian River Zinfandels!) that the media has no business attending. I'm talking about weekday panels with an interesting-sounding topic that come off so poorly that you learn nothing at all.

Now, I've moderated some wine panels and people who were in the audience at those can jump in here if you like. But I like to think that when I run a panel, that panel will say something.

Here are the two panels I attended: "Wente Clone Comparative Tasting," and "Taste the Difference: Exploring California's Distinct Chardonnay Regions."

Both of those sound like they will provide information, right? Like, one could learn something about what the Wente clone tastes like, or how it is treated by different vintners. And that second one sounds like a surefire blog post at least: Santa Barbara County Chardonnay tastes like this, while Carneros Chardonnay tastes like that.

Instead, we were treated at each seminar to lecturing on how nobody can say anything definitive about either topic. In that case, what is the point of having a seminar?