Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Study finds pretty restaurants with bad service pour more local wines

Restaurants rated highly for decor are more likely to carry local wines, according to a surprising working paper for the American Association of Wine Economists. Conversely, wines rated highly for service carry fewer local wines.

The study authors*, from the school of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell, looked at the wine lists of 1401 restaurants in New York State, comparing them to Zagat ratings.

(* Congrats to Joseph M. Perla, Bradley J. Rickard and Todd M. Schmit for coming up with the word "locapours.")

Here are the main observations:

* Restaurants rated more highly for decor on Zagat carried more local wines

* Having higher Zagat service ratings meant restaurants were less likely to carry local wines

* Those with cuisine categorized as "New American," natural or organic, carried more local wines

Friday, July 26, 2013

What does gunflint taste like? The shared vocabulary of wine tasting notes

Earlier this week, my former colleague Jon Bonné published a story in the San Francisco Chronicle that included this sentence:
This narrow, cool slice of Napa engenders the dramatic flavors found in Kongsgaard wines - an intense sensation of preserved lemon and gunflint, and what Alex describes as a figgy character. 
I asked on Twitter, "Does anyone know what gunflint tastes like?" Sorry Jon, but I suppose I was mocking you, though obliquely and anonymously. I was surprised to learn that not only do some wine professionals claim to know what gunflint tastes like, they expected me to also.

Here's my favorite:

He wasn't alone.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drowned in Cognac: A beautiful death

Catherine Vallet with her husband Michel, left, and son Laurent
What's the best possible way to die? Nelson Rockefeller's exit would probably be top on my list, but Maurice Vallet can make a pretty good argument (from Heaven, of course.)

Maurice Vallet was the third-generation proprietor of Château de Montifaud, an artisanal producer of Cognac in the Petite Champagne region. As is often the case, the third generation was crucial.

Maurice began distilling with his father in 1904 and worked for 54 years. He survived two World Wars, expanded the vineyard holdings, and had three children to ensure the legacy of the house. Most of the great older eaux de vie used in Château de Montifaud's top bottlings were laid down by Maurice.

Maurice never retired. One day, at the age of 74, he went into the distillery, by himself, to check on a tank.

"He went up the ladder and the evaporation came up to him and he fell," says Catherine Vallet, wife of Maurice's grandson Michel. "And because there was nobody around ..."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Booze will NOT last indefinitely in an open bottle

For the last two weeks I've been cleaning out my liquor cabinet, drinking up the last sips of special bottles I had been saving.

I didn't realize that whisky, once opened, doesn't last forever. Maybe you did already, but I have to thank Belgian whisky writer François Monti for opening my horrified eyes.

Vodka, whisky, brandy, whatever, will not turn into vinegar like wine. It will never go bad in the sense that it will make you sick or be undrinkable if you just want to get buzzed. But it will lose its flavor and charm, and for me that's the point of drinking.

Most unopened bottles of liquor will last for years, possibly decades. Indefinitely, no. If you buy a museum-piece bottle of Calvados or Scotch from the 1950s, you might be disappointed, unless the liquor spent most of that time sleeping in barrels at the distillery. It's important to know when the booze was bottled.

The question is, how long will an open bottle of booze last before it goes downhill?

Friday, July 19, 2013

I might be the world's best wine blogger

I'm flattered today to announce that I made the shortlist for the Roederer Award for Online Wine Columnist/Blogger of the Year.

Not only that, two websites I write for -- Wine Searcher and Palate Press -- made the shortlist for International Wine Website of the Year. If you haven't visited them before, please check them out. I put a lot of my best writing on those sites and am glad to see them recognized.

The award is generally very UK-focused. I'm the only writer not based in the UK nominated in my category. My Palate Press colleague Evan Dawson is waving the Stars and Stripes in the Emerging Wine Writer category. Unlike the Wine Blog Awards, there is no public voting. As the judges are all in the UK, Evan and I should write a little more colourfully and keep our trousers on whilst we wait for the announcement in September.

I want to thank you for reading this site, because without readers I wouldn't be up for this award. Your participation is much appreciated.

The headline for this post doesn't reach the standard of humility I aspire to, but I had to take the SEO opportunity. I put the headline into gizoogle.net, the automatic gangsta translator, and this is what I came up with:

"The ghettoz dopest Cristal blogger."

Now that's a title worth having. Here's a promise: if I win, I will write that post, with that headline. Fo shizzle.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Does the terroir of Salta, Argentina have a unique taste?

Argentinian Malbec continues to sell well in the US basically as a cheap, big red wine. The danger for Argentina is that it will fall into the Yellow Tail trap, where nobody here respects the country for anything else, and wineries struggle to sell their products for more than the lowest supermarket price.

The US matters because not only are we the world's largest wine market; we are far and away Argentina's largest export market, and we are the only country likely to pay a premium for its products.

Argentine vintners understand this and will tell you that the challenges for the country's wine industry are 1) to introduce Americans to other grape varieties, and 2) to explain that terroir matters for Malbec.

The latter is tricky. Malbec is not the most interesting red grape in the world, even if it does thrive in the desert soils of Mendoza. Moreover, I'd be interested in a survey on why American drinkers choose Argentine Malbec. Are the customers people who will sometimes buy a $35 Pinot Noir and know the difference between Willamette Valley and Russian River Valley? If so, that's ideal, because if you could demonstrate that Malbec from one part of Argentina tastes different from Malbec from another part, you start creating a premium market for enophiles. But what if most Malbec customers just want a wine that tastes like red?

My friends at Vine Connections, an importer that oddly concentrates on Argentine wines and fine Japanese sakes, invited me to taste some wines from Salta, Argentina, as part of the general push toward proving that terroir matters in Argentine Malbec. I said, "Yeah, that's interesting."

Salta is in northern Argentina, and supposedly has the highest-elevation vineyards in the world, higher even than the deserts of Mendoza. The temperature can change 50 degrees in a day, which is great for maintaining acidity, but does complicate farming. It produces only about 1% of the wine in Argentina, much of it Torrontés, but its reds are well-respected by Argentine wine cognescenti.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Immigration story has a happy ending.

Johannes Reinhardt
Ready for a happy ending?

Three years ago I wrote about Johannes Reinhardt, a winemaker in New York who was denied a green card by the US government and might have been forced to go back to Germany. The post title was "USA to foreign winemaker: We don't need you."

But the US government changed its mind. Reinhardt got the green card.

"My wife and myself, we did two things: We prayed and we cried," Reinhardt said. "Our faith carried us through. Without it we would have given up."

Reinhardt is the winemaker, for now, at Anthony Road Wine Company in the Finger Lakes. In the next month, he expects to open his own winery, Kemmeter, about 500 meters down the road. Proving the value to our economy of legal immigration, he expects to hire two or three employees.

In 2010 Reinhardt was denied a green card by an unknown bureaucrat from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in Nebraska. The USCIS didn't see "winemaking" as a unique skill needed by US industry.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thieves walk out of Texas store with cases of Duckhorn -- and come back for more

The PR department at Duckhorn Vineyards sent me the news video below, and why not? What better praise for your product than two men risking jail time to heist it?

It's a really brazen crime -- they walk into the store, load up a cart with cases of Duckhorn Merlot, and walk out. Then, a couple days later, they come back for the Duckhorn Cabernet. Really guys, you ought to try the Sauvignon Blanc; that's my favorite Duckhorn wine lately. Perhaps there's not as much resale value, though. Hey, does anyone know how much Duckhorn Cab sells for on the street?

I guess Duckhorn is now the Ford F-250 of wines: Most Stolen in the United States. Congratulations!

Here's the official statement from Duckhorn:
Though we appreciate the brand loyalty, clearly good taste doesn’t mean good judgment (or morals). We hope you enjoy this short news clip, which has inspired our new company motto: Duckhorn Vineyards, “Not Just Any Type of Hooch!”
Our cellar recommendation--10 to 20 years!

View more videos at: http://nbcdfw.com.

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

What is Fine Champagne Cognac? The mystery explored

Maybe you knew this already, but I didn't. Every time I saw a bottle of booze labeled as "Fine Champagne Cognac," I wondered, what does that mean?

Also, why doesn't the Champagne Bureau complain about an infringement on their turf?

Here's the basic answer. There are six grape-growing regions in Cognac, and the two considered the best are called Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne. A Cognac called "Fine Champagne" is made from grapes from both regions, at least 50% from Grande Champagne.

Now, how did these regions come to be named that? Well, the answer people in Cognac give you is that "Champagne" comes from a French word for chalky soil, which makes sense.

However, there's a link missing in this history of the word. The Champagne region where the bubbly comes from was named by the Romans after Campania, south of Rome, because they thought the rolling hills looked similar. How the word got south to the Cognac region, I don't know.

It's worth noting that for most of their history, the Charente region that includes Cognac has been wealthier and better known worldwide than the original Champagne.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Unexpected find: A great Semillon from Amador County

Mark McKenna
Sometimes you taste a great wine and you need to know more about it. I had a delicious Semillon -- fresh, with green fruit and plenty of character -- from the place in California I least expected that grape: Amador County. Then I had it again at a group dinner full of wine experts and I found myself overfilling my glass until ... hey, where'd that wine go?

So I had to talk to Andis Wines winemaker Mark McKenna.

The Sierra Foothills are known for ripe Zinfandel, and that has plenty of fans. But McKenna, the winemaker at Andis Wines, says that Amador County is so much more than people realize.

What do you like best about Amador County terroir? 

We have the most diverse series of microclimates of anywhere in California. We have a lot of different soils. There isn't a flat plot of land in the entire area. Zinfandel is a large part of what we do, but it may not be the best thing here. That might be Barbera.

Would people plant Zin there now, if they were starting from scratch?

I don't think so. My take on Zinfandel is this. You can take a map of California and throw darts at it, and wherever that dart lands, you can grow Zinfandel.
Foothills Zinfandel is unique, but it's just different, it's not necessarily better.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Partida is where Tequila meets Jack Daniel's

José Valdez
Partida is popular Tequila for several reasons: It's well-marketed, production standards are impeccable -- and it tastes a bit like Jack Daniel's.

Partida master distiller José Valdez was in San Francisco recently, and he talked about the Jack Daniel's effect.

Partida's Reposado and Anejo versions are matured in once-used Jack Daniel's barrels. And to ensure the JD flavor, those barrels are used only once by Partida before they're sold to other Tequila distilleries.

"We did some tasting with Cognac barrels and other types of barrels," Valdez says. "We found that with the flavor of our product, Jack Daniel's is perfect."

Valdez, 32, is the youngest master distiller in Mexico, with clean-cut movie-star looks. He got into the profession in what seems like a very Mexican way: his brother knew a guy.

"I was an industrial engineer," says Valdez, who graduated from Pan American University. "I used to work in electronic engineering: cellphones, computers, servers. I didn't feel identified with any brand."

Partida founder Gary Shansby and his partner went to visit Guadalajara, where Valdez' brother works as a lawyer.

"They said, 'I'm looking for an engineer.' He said, 'My brother is an engineer'," Valdez said.

Monday, July 1, 2013

How I use Twitter: A 6-point manifesto

I love Twitter, but I'm not going to tell you how to use it. However, I do have a personal Twitter manifesto.

A lengthy war of words on Twitter last week between UK and US wine writers prompted me to write this. I don't want to recap it; suffice to say the crux of the argument was the nature of Twitter and of writing itself. Are Tweets unedited snapshots? Should writers strive to be interesting even at 140 characters?

Should anyone be able to define what Twitter is for everyone else?

I tried to mediate the fight because I really don't care how you or anyone else uses Twitter. I can only control what I do. About that, I care a great deal.

My Twitter manifesto:

1. Every tweet, even in the middle of a conversation, should be intelligible if it stands alone. I never send a tweet that says "@randomguy @smithandwesson @cylon6 Yeah, me too."

2. I try to be interesting, informative or funny. Every tweet. I may not succeed, but to me, tweeting is writing. It's a different medium from a blog or a novel or a screenplay, but it is writing, and the limitations are part of what I love about it.

3. You don't have to follow me, and I don't have to follow you. Moreover, the two are not connected.