Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 Wine "Resolutions"

Since most of us cannot keep our New Year's resolutions, or we've 'resolved' NOT to have resolutions in the first place, I thought I'd throw together a more poignant list of what it is I'd like to achieve with my wine savviness. Now this does not mean that I will not concoct some personal list of things I'd like to achieve in 2008...I actually like resolutions in the form of goals...but I do want to separate my wine category as there is so much to learn. So as I've learned more of what I actually don't know, I feel it appropriate to fill the gaps in my wine repertoire. Here goes...

1. Learn more about food and wine combining. I still think this is a hugely under-rated subject and most can benefit from learning good combinations.
2. Explore Australian wines more. The volume and variety coming out of Australia these days is growing rapidly and they are making some VERY interesting wines.
3. Visit a region that I have not been to yet. The top two on the list would be Tuscany or Bordeaux.
4. Revamp my wine cellar and drink the ones ready to go. Problem here is that I believe I have more wine that needs drinking than I have either friends or time...OK, not such a big problem.
5. Work more directly with wineries in reaching the general public. There is a huge opportunity for people to discover lesser-known great wines.
6. Drink a lot more Riesling and learn more about this noble grape. It is one of the most food-friendly grapes around and I've only scratched the surface of its potential.
7. Discover more of the great wines and values of Spain and Portugal. I love all the indigenous varietals there and it is truly one of the great up-and-coming regions in the world.
8. Go to more wine tastings. Just in my area, there are several stores/shops conducting really nice tastings that are a great way to discover wines that you would not normally encounter.
9. Drink more Champagne (sparkling wines). There is so much good "sparkly" being made all over the world now that I'd be very remiss not to try it more often.
10. Have more home wine parties. I love to entertain and introduce my friends and family to interesting wine and food experiences.

Now that I have put this in 'black and white' for all to see, I feel very compelled to stick to the plans I've set out for my wine adventures. As opposed to my personal goals that I generally keep to myself and stress out to make happen, these might be easier to achieve. At least in looking at this list above, I think it is safe to say that I'll have a hell of a lot more fun sticking to my wine resolutions than my personal ones.

Hmmm, maybe we're on to something here...actually make your resolutions something you enjoy doing...? OK, personal resolution #1 duly noted...9 more to go.

Best wishes to all for a great 2008!

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later,
Chief Wino

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bring on the bubbles...tiny bubbles.

Well before the New Year even starts, I've already decided what my first (of many I presume) resolutions will be - Drink more Champagne! Like many resolutions, I've said this before and did not stick to it and I am in such a deficit now that my tombstone should read - "lover of good women (my wife), wine and song...but did not drink enough Champagne damnit!"

So what will make 2008 any different? For starters, I have a new appreciation for sparkling wine and food combinations. I really had no idea that sparkling wine could pair so well with so many foods...especially seafood which I love as well. Second, I've discovered all the other regions that produce very good sparkling wine at very reasonable prices. Cava, Sekt, Asti/Spumante, Prosecco, Cremant along with all the domestic brands that are doing a very good job with sparklers these days. Lastly, more convenient availability on hand. I am committed to always having a bottle chilled and ready to go. In the past, I would only purchase for special occasions and then chill it appropriately. A small separate cooler for this will do the trick. (hey Santa, wink, wink, are you listening...?)

Now, back to the food and sparkling wine thing. To begin with the basics, realize that Champagne is wine, only bubblier, and should be paired appropriately. True Champagne can only come from the Champagne region in Northern France and all others fall in to other 'sparkling wine' categories by country as mentioned earlier. The three main grapes used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. (other countries use various indigenous grape varietals...but that's a whole other story). Blanc de Blancs (lighter body) is derived solely from the white grapes and Blanc de Noir (more weight) is from the Pinot Noir (dark) grape. Rose Champagne (my personal favorite) is mostly from the Pinot Noir grape with a touch of skin color imparted. Sidenote: Brut is drier than "Extra Dry" on labels and 'Vintage' Champagne is labeled with a year only in the years worthy of giving it this designation.

Some of the keys to sparkling wine going so well with food is its light alcohol and is balanced acidity. As with any food and wine combinations, you should pair the weight of the food with the weight of wine. In this case, the weight of the sparkly. Cava and Prosecco are lighter, and Rose and Vintage Champagne are heavier.

Here are some suggestions to pair with Champagne (sparkling wine):

Lighter-body - Cava, Sekt, Prosecco, Blanc de Blancs
- Salads, shellfish (crab/lobster/shrimp), oysters, sushi/sashimi, caviar, ceviche, Goda/Feta cheese

Fuller-bodied - Brut, Vintage, Rose
- roasted lighter meats (duck/poultry or ham), smoked seafoods, salmon, seafood salads/cocktail

Sweeter Champagnes or sparkling reds
- Chocolate, cake, cheesecake

That should give you a good start just in time for the holidays. Or, like me, commit to drinking more sparkling wine altogether, alone or with food.

Cheers! To a happy holiday and a very prosperous 2008!!

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later,
Chief Wino

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Wall of Wines

Here in California, we are fortunate enough to have the convenience of purchasing wine and liquor at the local grocer along with doing our regular shopping. I lived in Colorado for several years and was not only disappointed that grocers cannot sell wine, but you cannot even buy wine or liquor (or cars) on Sundays at all! Sacre bleu!! A travesty...but like everything else, you adapt and plan appropriately. I digress...back to my point...the wall of wines at the wine store or grocer...

So, here I am at the local Vons store, and I needed to buy a wine on the fly for certain dish that night. Off to the wine isle. Now keep in mind, Vons is one of the largest retailers of wine in the country and they do a pretty good job of stocking, displaying, and carrying some decent brands at very good prices. They've even done a good job of remodeling some stores here that really focus on wine sales and kiosk displays. At least, as much as you can do without a wine expert at the ready. But here's the rub; as I turned down the 'wine isle', I was met with a true wall of wines from one end of the store to the other. I mean, a real wall top to bottom, front to back, and the deep view isle like something you'd see out of a Alfred Hitchcock movie (Veritgo comes to mind).

I stepped back and thought, "Wow, how does the average consumer make a choice here? Where to even start?" With no help anywhere in sight, I began to think of a better way along with trying to get in to the mind of the consumer and their view of this dilemma. Uh oh, sometimes I hate my entrepreneurial I'm really in trouble...ugh!

So, here I am, frozen, staring at this wall of wines, looking up and down, right and left, in front of me and behind, thinking, staring, watching, wondering what's next. Then, it occurred to me that most people that go to the grocery store and buying, what else, (eureka!) food. Hmmm, food, wine, convenience, price, all in one place. There's got to be an opportunity here somewhere.

Here's my pitch. When I win the lottery and money is no longer a concern, (clutching my tickets right now...7,16,18,29,46 & 6), I want to present all these grocers with food & wine pairing kiosks to sit right in the middle of the wall of wines. I want to take all of my internet wine experience and bundle it all together to create the perfect virtual wine helper...let's call him 'Johnny' (i.e. Johnny on the spot). With these kiosks, you'd be able to type in "tuna caserole" and get a list of wine options right next to you to buy that will go with that dish. Type in "Merlot" and see dishes you can create to go with your favorite wine. Or, you can type in a variety of requests that involve wine, liquor, food or entertaining and get volumes of info and suggestions along with carefully selected partners to assist in the process. You could also make 'Johnny' available from home so that people could leisurely spend time and/or print out materials to carry while they shop. Point is, you've got a very captive audience and the possibilities are endless.

On second thought, maybe if I present these grocers this idea now, it WILL be like winning the lottery, only better odds. Now if I just had the ultra deep pockets to execute this myself in the first place...chicken or the egg? All right, everyone hold hands and let's pray for the following - 7, 16, 18, 29, 46 & 6.

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino