Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The best 9, er, 4 current-release Tuscan white wines from San Gimignano

Random street, San Gimignano
It's tough to be a white wine in Tuscany. Red wines are king in this part of northern Italy, and no wonder, as Tuscany is home to the world's best Sangiovese. Unfortunately, the region's main white grape is nearly flavorless Trebbiano, which is why you don't see any Tuscan white wines on wine lists that are packed with the region's best reds, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.

One small pocket of Tuscany specializes in white wine: the beautiful walled medieval town of San Gimignano and its environs, where they grow Vernaccia.

Vernaccia was mentioned as a quality grape as far back as the year 1276, and the San Gimignano region was awarded Italy's first DOC, in 1966. Nobody doubts that Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the best white wine from Tuscany. But it does not achieve the greatness of the best Tuscan reds. Fortunately, it doesn't achieve the same prices either.

And greatness, in a white wine, is a mixed blessing. I don't know about you, but I can't drink two full glasses of some top-rated white wines from certain wine critics. What I'm looking for in a white wine is a tasty wine that goes well with dinner. I get the wine critics' dilemma, though, because if you say a wine's not awesome, who cares what you write about it?

So let's just say that the best 9 Vernaccias di San Gimignano are awesome enough. I picked them out of a blind tasting of all the region's current-release bottlings. Unfortunately they were so current when I tasted them that only one is in the US yet. And I had a bigger problem for blogging: 5 of the 9 wines I liked don't appear to be in the US at all. What to do?

Here are the 9, no, sorry, 4, best current releases of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tasting the world's rarest wine grape

Is the sun setting on Roussin de Morgex?
I hate this kind of wine story: I tasted something so rare that you can't have it. But in this case, it's not because the wine is super-expensive or highly rated or even sought after at all.

I tasted wine made from a northern Italian grape that is even more rare than a grape called "almost extinct" in José Vouillamoz's definitive tome Wine Grapes. Ian D'Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy, said, "This wine didn't exist. It still doesn't exist." But we tasted it.

The grape is called Roussin de Morgex. It's not actually related to the nearly extinct grape Roussin, which is cultivated in just one vineyard in Valle d'Aosta. That is one more vineyard than Roussin de Morgex, which is from the same region but is not cultivated at all.

"Not cultivated and extinct are not the same thing," D'Agata told me by email.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

US made much more whiskey last year, but bartenders still recommend the biggest brands

Bartenders' most recommended spirit
Here are two unrelated bits of whiskey news, one surprising and one kind of depressing.

First, the TTB, the federal agency that oversees alcohol, released its 2016 statistics last week. A number that jumped out at me is the amount of whiskey produced in the U.S.: 166 million gallons, compared to 147.9 million gallons last year, a 12% increase.

To give you an idea of how huge an 18.1 million gallon increase is, last year the U.S. produced only 6.6 million gallons of vodka, gin and rum combined.

Now, that's production and not bottling, which means most of this whiskey is not going to be on the market soon. In fact, the amount of whiskey bottled last year went down slightly from 2015, and was less than half of the amount of whiskey produced. This is good news; hopefully that huge new batch of 2016 whiskey will spend some years in barrels.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pairing wine with chicken

Chicken is one of the best foods to drink wine with. People often think of chicken as white-wine food, but it has enough meatiness to go well with red wines.

The only tricky thing about pairing wine is that chicken is a blank slate for chefs. A fried chicken sandwich with pickles and mayonnaise is entirely different from roast chicken with lemon and pepper. Sure, you can drink the same wine with both dishes, but the ideal wine for each would be very different.

Here are a few popular chicken dishes and some wine suggestions.

Fried chicken: Sparkling wine is a great pairing with fried food. If the fried chicken is spicy, try a slightly sweet sparkling wine.

Barbecue chicken
: Rosé goes well with most barbecue and chicken is no exception.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Social media doesn't sell much wine

Since the advent of social media, wineries have been wondering how important it is in wine sales.

According to a recent survey by Wine Opinions for the Italian Trade Agency, social media might not only be less important than 90+ point scores from critics: it seems less important than "wine is on sale for 10% off or more."

When you consider that the U.S. is a nation of bargain hunters, that makes social media recommendations seem pretty unimportant.

I say this as somebody who enjoys using Twitter, despite the company's coddling of abusive tweeters. But only 11% of high-frequency wine drinkers (people who drink wine several times a week) said they even visit Twitter once a month or more. Do they care about the bottle of Prosecco I just drank with herring? Not bloody likely.

The social media platform of most interest to wine lovers is Facebook, with 45% saying they visit it at least monthly. However, it's not clear that blurry cell phone photos of wine bottles on Facebook encourage anyone to buy wine, any more than the current barrage of angry political Facebook posts* is making anyone change their mind about how they should vote in the future.

(* I never thought I would miss Facebook photos of people's lunches, but I do.) 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith on his own visa rejection

Cocktails in the morning with Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith
Allen Smith has been with Mount Gay rum in Barbados for 26 years, but his career was nearly grounded by an overzealous immigration official.

Smith, 56, was born in the UK, but both of his parents are from Barbados, which should have given him citizenship in the country. Should.

His father moved to Jamaica shortly after his birth to work on the project of electrifying that island. The family spent most of his life through secondary school in Jamaica. When he was ready for university, he went to Reading, England, where after nearly a decade he earned a degree in biochemistry and microbiology.

In 1990, Smith had had enough of life in clammy old England and longed to return to the sunny Caribbean, so he bought a one-way ticket.

"I wanted to surprise my mum," Smith said. "But I traveled on a British passport. The immigration man said, 'You can't come in. You have to have a place to stay.' I said, 'I could stay with my mum, I could stay with my cousins, I could stay with some other cousins ...' He said, 'Don't get smart with me.' "