Thursday, January 30, 2014

German Pinot Noir shines at sommeliers' blind tasting

German Pinots stand tall
German Pinot Noir did extremely well last week in a 4-vintage blind tasting against wines from Burgundy, California and Willamette Valley.

32 wines were tasted in San Francisco: 2 from each region from 2007, '08, '09 and '10. The tasters were 17 sommeliers, some well known, and two writers, Jordan Mackay and myself.

The Germans swept 2009, placing 1st and 2nd. In fact, 2009 Stadt Lahr Grosses Gewächs Kirchgasse Baden Spätburgunder had the highest average rating of all 32. (Buy it here.)

A German Pinot also tied for second in 2010. At the same time, two German wines came in last in their group, one in 2010 and one (tied) in 2007.

Still, it was an impressive performance for German Pinot Noir, aka Spätburgunder, that no doubt was the point of the organizers, Tom Elliot of the importer Northwest Wines and celebrity sommelier Raj Parr.

The contest wasn't rigged. Many wines were personal favorites provided by the sommeliers. From Burgundy, for example, there were four 1er Crus and a Grand Cru.

The non-German wines weren't cheap either, with a median price of $75. Germany also did well on value, with a median price of $57.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What are the world's 100 best types of wines?

UPDATE: We're voting on this now. Go to this post and get your vote in!

(Original post starts here.)

Alder Yarrow of Vinography was sitting at lunch, talking about wine, and he said, "Gemischter Satz is one of the 100 best wines in the world." I said, "No, we can name 100 wines better than that."

So we started naming them, and that's what this list is: a from-the-hip first draft of an interesting idea. What are the world's 100 best types of wine?

We didn't establish any firm ground rules, because regions are as small as Chablis (which we agree is significantly different from other Burgundy whites) and as large as Greece. We didn't reject many of each others' suggestions. This list is about 75% Alder's, because I was furiously taking notes. We came up with this list in about 5 minutes, while drinking wine from a region that's not on here (sorry!), so I'm sure there are significant omissions.

Now it's time to crowd-source some editing. In typing this up, I discovered we named only 91 wines. Great! What wine would you add? Please let me know. I can also use your suggestions for what to cut, in case we get too many additions.

So here it is, the first draft of The World's 100 Best Types of Wine:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The value of bloggers: Am I worth a gingerbread man?

Sometimes I get a news story out of the Fancy Food Show, and it's always worth going. This year, though, all I got was this anecdote.

The Fancy Food Show is where the food industry shows its wares to buyers. If your local grocery store starts selling grapefruit sage kombucha* or tuna-stuffed peppers from Indonesia, a buyer for the store may have tasted a sample at this annual event.

(* All food products mentioned in this post are real)

The event is divided into two halls, one mostly American and the other mostly imports. The contrast seemed greater than usual this year. All the new American food products are dried junk foods purported to be healthy: crunchy chocolate chickpeas, or sugar-free chocolate brownies sweetened with monk fruit.

As soon as I wandered to the import side, I walked into the Spain exhibit and a man handed me a piece of chorizo. "There's only four ingredients in that," he said, and he could name them.

Anyway, I was wandering around the American side, not seeing anything I wanted in my mouth -- no, wait, let me back up and tell you about my press badge.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

California outlaws good sushi, allows only industrial sushi

Illegal activity! Courtesy Your Kitchen Camera
In the past five years, California has outlawed foie gras, shark fins and eggs from caged chickens. Two common threads in all these were motive -- concern about animals -- and general public approval, despite occasional mockery by food lovers. The caged-animal law was approved by 63% of voters.

California's attack on good sushi is different. Nobody was calling for it. Nobody was talking about it.  Nobody expected it. Bureaucrats thought outlawing good sushi was a good idea and imposed a law.

Good sushi must be made by hand. The sushi chef uses his experience and skills, including his sense of touch, to create it. You won't find good sushi anywhere in the world made by chefs in plastic gloves.

But that's the only kind of sushi now legal in California: industrial kitchen sushi.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I Often Order Wine By the Glass

Profit-obsessed people have an interesting view of wine. I once worked at a lifestyle website where the content director, Donald, told me he'd bought a bottle of Grgich Hills Chardonnay for $20, and what did I think? My answer was vague and unsatisfying: If you like Chardonnay, if it goes with your dinner, etc. His response, "I heard it was a very good price."

I like Donald: he's smarter and more successful than me. He just cared less about wine than I do, and these two sentences may not be unconnected.

So I always try to understand the philosophy behind bullshit articles like "Why You Should Never Order Wine By the Glass," written by somebody from Zagat for Business Insider.

Here's the core message of this article: Wine is a commodity. Buying a commodity in bulk is better value. Restaurateurs will sucker you out of value if you let them.

And, in a somewhat bizarre diversion, a bottle of wine is a sanitary product like a toothbrush. You wouldn't use somebody else's toothbrush, would you? So why would you want to drink, as the article puts it, "somebody else's leftovers?" Ewwwwwwww!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Jacob's Creek "Wa": Surprisingly good wine just for Japan

On my recent scuba trip in Indonesia, the dive boat we were on (Dewi Nusantara) was fabulous in almost every way but one: the wine offered was Jacob's Creek, a Chardonnay and a Shiraz-based red blend.

The red was fine for the purpose of not offending international non-wine aficionados: innocuous, it tasted red. But the white wine was eccch (Parker version: Powerful overblast of artificial lemonade with hints of vanilla extract, children's aspirin marmalade and pain grillé. 87 points) That was all the table wine we had access to for 12 days, which was probably good for my liver, as I preferred the boat's slightly mildewy desalinated water.

We stopped over in Japan on the way home and had dinner at a friend's house, and the first bottle of wine somebody opened was a Jacob's Creek white. "Not again," I thought, wondering how far from Australia I needed to go to get away.

It turned out to be another important lesson in keeping an open mind. Jacob's Creek Wa, made only for the Japanese market, is surprisingly good.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bali's Hatten wines: What I drank on my vacation

There may be no better symbol of the increase in worldwide knowledge of viticulture and winemaking than the surprisingly decent table wines being made on the island of Bali.

Hatten Wines hasn't been making good wine long enough to build the reputation for quality that it deserves.

When I told expats in Indonesia that I really enjoyed the white wine -- I brought two bottles home -- and found the rosé delightful as well, they snorted. "Those wines?" It's hard to overcome preconceptions. I don't know what Hatten was making five years ago, but they've figured out how to make good wine in a challenging climate.

Hatten "Aga White" is made from Belgia grapes, which are not yet included in the massive reference tome "Wine Grapes"
that purports to include every commercially made wine grape in the world. As near as I can tell they are originally French table grapes, as are the Alphonse-Lavalée grapes from which Hatten makes both its red and rosé wines.

Founded by a company that makes arrack, a hard liquor distilled (in this case) from rice, Hatten started off in 1994 by making a rosé, which makes sense because the style is more forgiving. However, if you want a taste of how winemaking is different near the equator, consider this: the company says that it has produced more than 300 vintages of rosé in 17 years.

Jealous, winemakers? Imagine that: if you don't get the wine exactly the way you like it, you can have two more crops in the same year, from the same vines. No wonder the learning curve is steep.