Friday, April 18, 2014

How Algeria created Europe's appellation system

Check out that "Percentage of world exports"
Without Algeria, Europe might not have the appellation system it uses today.

It's an incredible story published this week by two researchers in Belgium, Giulia Meloni and Johan Swinnen, in the Journal of Wine Economics. The paper is very easy to read and I recommend reading the original in its entirety, but here is the Cliff Notes summary.

In the mid-1930s, Algeria was responsible for an astounding 67% of all wine exports worldwide.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ten things you didn't know about Freixenet

Driving to the heart of the story in Penedès
Freixenet might be the best-known wine in the world. The Spanish company makes more than 100 million bottles of Cava each year, with more than half of it in the familiar black bottle of Cordon Negro Brut.

Most wine companies of its size are corporate. But Freixenet -- which owns 17 other wineries worldwide -- is still owned by the Ferrer family and run as a family business. I recently visited the company headquarters in Penedès, Spain, but I'm not going to try to tell you the Freixenet story per se. I'm just going to share 10 things I found interesting.

1. In the 1930s, company president Pedro Ferrer was executed in the Spanish civil war by Republican forces. Like most industrialists, Ferrer sided with Franco; had he not, he risked having his property seized. Instead, his execution order was signed by the short-lived president of Catalunya, who was later executed himself.

Freixenet decides which grapes to plant by elevation
2. Freixenet uses only one type of yeast to ferment all of three of the Spanish white grapes (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello) that it uses for Cava. Freixenet F5 yeast was isolated in 1987, and has as much as anything to do with keeping 60 million bottles of Cordon Negro (which means "black ribbon") consistent every year.

3. "Cava" is, in my opinion, the worst-defined wine region in the world. It looks like an archipelago, or a rash, across far eastern Spain, with legal areas wherever big producers were making Cava when the name was passed in the 1980s. That happened because Spanish producers like Freixenet had been calling their wine "Champagne," but had to change when Spain joined the European Union in 1982. Producers eventually settled on the name "cava" because the wine is made in caves, but nobody wanted to tell existing big producers that they couldn't use the Cava designation for their wines from elsewhere. The great majority of Freixenet's wines come from Penedès, the main district of Cava, but they cannot use any subdesignation such as Cava-Penedès for political reasons.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A look at a European wine back label

If you think US wine label regulations are cumbersome, check out the back label info that must be used in the European Union.

After not buying into the anti-sulfite craze for decades, EU wine producers now have to write "contains sulfites" in every official EU language. How many languages do you recognize?

I like the "no pregnant woman" symbol above the sulfite warning. This is illegal in the US, apparently because the TTB fears Americans will believe it means wine will prevent pregnancy. Wouldn't that be great!

I'm not really sure what the three symbols to the right mean. Two of them appear to be recycling admonitions, which would seem like one too many. The symbol on the far right seems to indicate that if you have back pain, you should throw away the wine.

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Oakland Athletics create best sports stadium wine list ever

Food at the Oakland Coliseum is dreadful, and sewage overflows into the A's locker room when it rains. It is not a posh place.

But somebody has decided to take wine seriously, and right now the A's have better wines by the glass, er, plastic cup, than 90% of the restaurants in America.

The new wine stand is in the West Side Club, near a new stand selling decent brick oven pizza and microbrews. Other stadiums have good wines by the bottle in their private boxes, but this is Oakland -- the West Side Club is open to everyone, and you can take your cup of Chateau Montelena Cabernet to your seat in the right-field bleachers.

Here's a partial list of what was available at Saturday's game vs. Seattle. Forgive me for not having all the details on vintages and appellations; I was copying off a board onto the back of my ticket.

Monday, April 7, 2014

World's 100 Best Types of Wine: Group J

This is it! The 10th of 10 elections in our quest to decide the World's 100 Best Types of Wine.

You'll note I said "10th," not "last." When this week's election is done, we'll have 90 wines. At that point I'll list the winners and losers, and ask for comment on any candidates that didn't get a chance. We could just add the 10th place finisher from each week, but when I created this election, I left some leeway for unforeseen omissions. We'll get to that next week.

For now, please pick 9 of these 15 wines. Thanks for being a part of this for the past 10 weeks.

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

10 steps to a better gin and tonic

Learning to stir
Spain is mad for gin and tonics. It's ironic, Spain has some of the world's best wines and spirits, and yet this is easily the trendiest gourmet drink. Many cocktail bars have a separate gin and tonic menu.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a bartending school run by the Dry Martini chain of cocktail bars. I was there for a demonstration of Cava cocktails, but the bartender/teacher asked if there was anything I wanted to learn to make. Of course there was: I wanted the secrets to a top-quality Spanish-style gin and tonic.

The school director says the two main keys are the glass and the ice. For both, size matters. But there are a number of other steps I've never seen a US bartender take. It's not hard to make a better gin and tonic: here's how.

1) Use a big clear glass, big enough to hold 5 large cubes of ice (you will actually use 6).

2) Use the largest, clearest cubes of ice you can acquire.

3) Stir the ice around in the the glass to chill the glass. This is better than putting the glass in a freezer because the glass stays clear and gets no off flavors.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From a wine writer's mailbox

1) Dear W.:

Are you ready for National Pina Colada Day? Our brand ambassador has assembled a variety of recipes of the legendary classic cocktail, all of them containing 2 oz or more of our rum. Please be sure to include them in your coverage of the inaugural year of this important event.

2) Dear W.:

We have just released 2013 Strychnine Road Chardonnay! Winemaker Rod Harden calls 2013 "the greatest year I've ever dreamed of," leading to a wine that bursts from its pants with explosions of peach, wildflowers and hand-harvested Manuka honey. Images available on request.

3) Dear W.:

Smegma Winery is thrilled to announce that we received 91 points from Wine Authority magazine for 2012 Toxic Shock Cabernet Sauvignon!! Wine Authority critic Leonard Giardia says the wine "fills the glass with liquid at a more reasonable price than others in the same category." Images available on request.