Category Archives: wine

Books, Books, Books: What to Buy for Whom, Pt. II (Coffee Table Eye-Candy Edition)

More books about beer and other stuff, and who to buy them for:

The Beer Ticker: In the spirit of his World’s Best Beers – to which, full disclosure, I contributed – Ben McFarland is back with Boutique Beers, a spirited romp around the world that highlights the beers beer nerds like to talk about. Having grouped over 500 such brews into nine convenient categories, McFarland goes on to describe each in considerable depth, adding pictures and mini-features and the occasional recipe or bar review along the way. Like most books from the English publisher Jacqui Small –it’s a Barron’s Educational book in North America – it is big, bold and well-designed, although I must admit that the frequent use of typewriter font gets to me a bit after a while. Other than that minor quibble, however, it is a lovely tome that will keep the diehard beer hunter occupied for many an hour. (Barron’s Educational Books; $29.99 US/$34.50 Canada)

The Drinker in Search of Something Different: Outside of my own new book, of course, my favourite new beverage book release this year is World’s Best Ciders by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw. Another Jacqui Small book – Sterling Epicure in the U.S. – it is not only wonderfully attractive and informative, but also strikes a great balance between hard info, considered opinion and illuminating reviews of ciders from all around the world. Since even most drinks-savvy folk don’t fully appreciate the true scope of the world of fermented apple juice, this is a book that is sure to intrigue just about any beverage aficionado on your list. (Sterling Epicure; $30 US/$33 Canada)

For the Turophile: Cheese aficionados – that’s what “turophile” means, apparently – have been blessed with a veritable bounty of books over the last few years, including the wonderful Cheese by Patricia Michelson and this year’s Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher. Although perhaps priced a little on the high side for a 106 page book, and not a very densely packed one, at that, there is plenty of great beer and cheese porn contained within the pages of this, the first beer-oriented book from prolific author Fletcher, and a fair bit of useful info, to boot. In my view, it could have been balanced a bit more to the cheese side, but it is nevertheless a page-turner and appetite inspirer. (Andrews McMeel; $24.99 US/$26.99 Canada)

For the Wino: I generally dislike books with titles that insult my intelligence, but John Szabo’s knowledge and writing style is such that he is able to overcome the limitations of the “Dummies” series of books and make Pairing Food & Wine for Dummies soar as one of the best food and beverage pairing books I’ve yet come across, perhaps the best. As per the title, Szabo keeps it simple, but avoids the trap of falling into simplistic, so that mere pages into the book you’ll find yourself hungering for some roast squab and pinot noir or escargots and dry rosé. What’s more, he explains in a fairly easy-to-comprehend way pairing principles that you can carry over to other beverages, beer and cider included. Possibly the best value in my collection of 2013 drinks books, even at the overinflated Canadian price point. (Wiley; $22.99 US/$27.99 Canada)    

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Beer is NOT the New Wine!

My late friend and colleague, Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter and Whisky Chaser, once stated, “People ask me if I also drink wine, as if beer is a prison rather than a playground.”

With that statement, Michael deftly summarized the problem with headlines like this one, which imply that people might or even should drink one thing over another to the point of exclusivity. Like Michael, I am fond of a glass of wine or whisky, or a pint of dry cider or a well-made cocktail. And even though I’ve written or co-written eight books on beer, I would balk at ever suggesting that ale or lager is categorically better than wine or spirits.

The point being that a multitude of different flavours exists in all three broad categories of alcoholic beverages – beer, wine and spirits, plus cider and saké – and still more flavours might be obtained when any of the above are mixed together into a cocktail. Each of these deserve exploration by curious imbibers, and if one or another proves not to be to your taste, then so be it.

Just don’t suggest to me that because of the size of shape of the bottle, or the trendiness of the advertising and marketing, than any one beverage is the “new” version of another, entirely different beverage. Beer is beer, wine is wine, and spirits are spirits. Period.

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Would the Aspen Food & Wine Classic Feature Yellow Tail in a Food & Wine Pairing?

I’ve never attended the celebrated foodie festival, but judging from a quick run-through of the wine seminar schedule – Showstopping Champagne, Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Bordeaux’s Extraordinary 2009 Vintage – I’m guessing the popular party wine might not be a featured pour.

So why are organizers of the Aspen Food & Wine Classic featuring Stella Artois, then?

When I received the press release, which you can read in its entirety here, I was stunned. Here is a well-respected, nationally recognized gastronomic festival featuring what is, by almost any standards, a profoundly ordinary lager in a showcase seminar, specifically “Stella Artois Presents: The Beauty of Pairing Belgian Beer and Food.”

If it were merely the sponsor beer being poured at the Welcome Reception and Publisher’s Party, which it is, I’d be able to give the event a pass. Sponsorships are a big deal for such festivals and I’m sure Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer and owner of the Stella brand, are paying for the privilege of being associated with Aspen Food & Wine. But to take it into the seminar level, featuring it in such credibility-defying partnerships as “Chocolate Panna Cotta, featuring endive foam, orange coulis and blue cheese” and an unnamed lamb dish is to undermine greatly the event’s claim as “the crème-de-la-crème of culinary festivals.”

Aspen Food & Wine, you disappoint me. Twenty or even ten years ago, it might have been okay to engage in such foolishness, but beer and food pairing has come a long way since then and people aren’t about to be fooled by such obvious pandering to a big money brand. In your actions you have done a great disservice to the multitude of Belgian beers that actually do pair well with complex dishes, not to mention the many domestic breweries who craft their own wonderfully food-friendly beers. (And by coincidence are featuring them this weekend at Savor in New York City.)

Most of all, however, you show your ignorance as to the state of craft beer around the world today. Maybe in the future you should just stick to food and wine.

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Zraly Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to Kevin Zraly, winner of this year’s James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes Zraly’s incredible achievements in wine education, including the authorship of his iconic and best-sellingWindows on the World Complete Wine Course.

The honour is well-deserved. Zraly and other Beard Award recipients will be feted May 9 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

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Wine For Pork? Try Beer Instead!

One of the organs for which I regularly toil, Nation’s Restaurant News, yesterday delivered to my in-box a story on wine pairings for pork as chosen by members of the Court of Master Sommeliers were featured.

(You may need to register to see the story, but it’s here.)

Now, I have nothing but respect for Master Sommeliers, and know quite a few of them personally. They’re smart individuals who work very hard to attain what is a most impressive credential. And I thoroughly enjoy wines of many different styles, qualities and price points, from summertime vinho verdes to status Bordeaux and Californians. But really, pork? That’s definitely beer territory.

The dishes cited range from spice-rubbed spare ribs with bourbon barbecue sauce – surely a potential disaster for even the best-case wine scenario – to pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon. And as I read through the list of their suggested pairings, one word resonated in the back of my brain: Bavaria!

It has been said – by me, and often – that the Bavarian brewer whose beers don’t pair well with pork won’t stay in business for long, and it’s something I firmly believe. Pig is close to a gastronomic religion in Germany’s south, so it stands to reason that its beers would find harmonies with pork dishes of all sorts. More so, I’m afraid, than wine. Much more.

For ribs, which is a bit outside of the Bavarian zone if familiarity, I’d pick a beer that is likewise not quite indigenous, such as pilsner, preferably of the Bohemian sort, with a greater malt content than its northern German kin, while grilled or roasted loin is a great fit with märzen or dunkel weizen.

But really, when you’re talking pork, you can pretty much safely reach for any Bavarian beer style, and for considerably less than the per case prices quoted by my MS compatriots.

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The Problem with Numbers

As a frequent reviewer of beers and spirits, I have often been asked why I don’t adopt the system, ever-so-popular in wine writing circles, of scoring brands on a one hundred points scale. Usually, I’ll explain that I don’t think taste is as cut-and-dried as one or two percentage point differences, or point out that most reviewers only use 40% or less of their full scale, opting to effectively confine their rankings to between 60 or 65 and 100. (And so why not just use a scale of 1 – 40 or 1 – 35? I have no idea.)

Every so often, however, something will come along that clearly illustrates the perils of a 100 points scoring system much more effectively than I ever could, like this pair of reviews:

Oliverhill Petite Sirah 2007 – McLaren Vale, Australia

93 Points — Wine Advocate

The opaque purple/black 2007 Petite Sirah, is aged for 17 months in 20% new American oak hogsheads. The nose gives up notes of earth, mineral, cedar, and assorted black fruits. Full-bodied on the palate, the wine is rich, layered, and contains a boatload of ripe tannin that will require 10-12 years of cellaring for the wine to blossom. When it does, it should be sublime in the manner of a well-aged Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah.

Jay Miller, #181 (Feb 2009) Price: $46.95

Illuminati “Riparosso” Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008 – Abruzzo, Italy

89 Points — Wine Advocate

The 2008 Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo Riparosso is a plump, juicy offering endowed with generous dark fruit and an inviting personality. There is a lovely richness and raciness to the fruit that flows effortlessly to the round finish. Readers in search of a delicious, entry-level Montepulciano will find much to admire. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2013.

Antonio Galloni, #189 (June 2010) Price: $12.95

So, on the basis of the numbers provided, I might deduce that for slightly more than one-quarter of the price of the high-rated bottle, I can enjoy a wine that is a mere 4% less worthy.

Is this an accurate interpretation of these two reviews? Likely not, but I can almost guarantee that won’t stop a lot of people from drawing the same conclusion, especially in these price sensitive times. Forget the differing characters of the wines, forget the growing conditions in the vineyards, forget supply and demand, forget every little element that goes into the production and pricing of a wine; 4% difference in quality is next to nothing , so why not buy the cheaper red?

And that’s why I don’t score by the numbers.

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Out of the Mouths of Winos…

Decanter magazine is offering up a batch of multi-discipline jewels this month, beginning with a reminder I posted over here about how much guidance the average consumer needs to sort through the miasma of the drinks world these days. (Don’t start with me! If you are about to comment that “the average consumer is fully able to choose a wine or beer or spirit for themselves,” well, you’re not an average consumer. Trust me on this.)

Then up comes this gem from another prominent wine guy, Jacques Lardière, head winemaker for the French winery, Louis Jadot. In discussing what I might be temnpted to call the pinot grigio-ification of modern wine, Lardière says:

”I’m not after technical perfection. I don’t have much time for the Australian approach, where the ideal wine is the most neutral.’

‘It’s easy to clean up a wine, but by removing faults, unless they’re truly detrimental, you also remove its life.’

‘I refuse to go along with it,’ he adds.

You could, and should, say the same thing about beer.

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