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Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Live blogging from our DGS sparkling wine tasting [hehe, the couple in the background is our first Singapore DGS couple. Woot woot!]. First up: Dog Leg from South Australia. Small bubbles, nice fizz on tongue, but a little too sweet for my liking. Yujuan is giving us the lowdown of the four different methods to make sparklig wines.

We move to Spain next, and our bottle of the night is the popular Freixenet Brut Cava. Cava, by the way, is Spanish for caves. The wine is made the French method, though the bubbles are bigger than the Aussie. Very different nose. More rounded and nutty? I prefer this I think.

Third bottle: Adriano Adami dei Casel Prosecco. Fav so far!!! Nice and citrusy, bright green apples. Mmmm.

The fourth bottle is also from the same Adriano Adami vineyard, another prosecco but this is a 2007 vintage. Notes of sour apples, but it’s more restrained.

We move on to champagne: Le Drappier. People ate commenting that it is a much more complex wine. Not as fruit forward; very yeasty!!!! Interesting weight.

Last white wine of the evening: Pol Roger Champagne. Some of that yeasty nose, but much lighter and more floral on the finish. I think I would prefer the Drappier as it seems more exciting.

Last unique wine of the evening (we had a few repeat bottles) was a sparkling shiraz.

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Hey Winos,

For those that missed last night’s “Wines from Asia” event, the final opinions on Asia’s wines were very mixed, to say the least! The one thing we had consensus on is that we wouldn’t mind waiting a while for the next time we feature Asian wines.

Looking forward, let’s keep the theme of new themes. I threw out a couple new ideas below. Please share yours!

1. Classic Cocktails – Steve will take us on this interesting tangent sometime in March or April. More details to come from Steve…

2. Viognier – I don’t think we’ve explored this unique white varietal in depth and I think it’s among the most interesting yet least-hyped whites. I recently had a French Condrieu and a Napa Viongier and, as expected, they were vastly different. Let’s check out how they differ around the globe and hopefully convert some into Viongnier freaks like me.

3. Wino-lympics – Let’s have wines from around the world represent their home countries and compete in brackets based on our collective ratings on areas like taste, nose, structure and complexity. We’ll do a few things to keep the playing field level: keep it under $15/bottle, seperate out red from white and keep the judging blind (good idea, Zhen).

As a side idea to (3), Peishan’s back in the States in March/April and wants to enjoy a DGS while in town. She’s missed the variety of great American wines we take for granted here. In major league baseball form, we could have a “World Series” of American wines in the same format as the Wino-lympics.

Cheers,
Aaron

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So Janice and I might not have been the smartest when it came to picking a theme for the DGS – we could have made our lives a lot easier had we stuck with say, Shiraz, instead of Zinfandel. But on the whole, I have to say I was pretty pleased with our selection. :) And everyone definitely had enough to drink, for we had hot buttered rum to kick the evening off and capped it with some spiced wine. Ah, the hot buttered rum was nice and buttery in its sinful goodness, and made me all nostalgic for the Duke of Perth. It was only this time last year that I was sitting in there with Peiyun, downing such a mug and trying to keep warm. Good times… Aye.

But I think the Zinfandel Christmas theme went really well, no thanks to Janice and her delicious roast potatoes and carrots, and the turkey, stuffing, ham, and crispy pork that we ordered from Cold Storage. We also made some tiramisu to round off the evening with; mmm. If I say so myself. :)

Wine-wise, the Beringer turned out to be a hit! I quite liked it myself, for the subtle sweetness and delightfully light and playful bouquet it gave off. The Marr, a $74 bottle of Old Vine Zinfandel from Mendocino County, was a bit of a disappointment though. But the favorites of the night was the Irvine from Barossa Valley, The Curse which really softened out after a while but remained nice and spicy, and The Outpost from Howell Mountain. :)

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Having grown used to the bountiful selection of Zinfandels in the US, Janice and I were disappointed to find the striking scarcity of Zinfandel here in Singapore. A search of SEVEN, and I repeat, SEVEN wine stores turned up just six bottles of Zin. Most of the stores had just one label in stock, while a couple had two, and on average, the bottles cost around $70. Not cheap. :(

Perplexed at the paucity, I asked a sales clerk in one of the stores, who explained that Zinfandel hasn’t quite caught on with the local palate. To top it off, most stores stock very few labels from the US anyway, and the if they do, these are invariably the Cabernet Sauvignons. Which is a pity, because I’ve grown to become quite fond of Zinfandel over the years. When I started out drinking, I hated the metallic tinge that seemed to be associated with it, but then that was because I was mainly swilling down the likes of Yellow Tail, Beringer, and Sutter Homes. I think Mike first opened my eyes to good Zinfandel, when he brought a bottle of Burford and Brown Zinfandel 2003 to Wendy and my new year’s party three years ago (wow).

In the end, we did manage to scrounge up the number of bottles we needed, though we quite extended our budget in the process. Oh well. These wines better be exciting! We did include a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel, which Janice thought might be fun to try, and hey, it was the cheapest bottle we got!

The wines:
1. Beringer White Zinfandel 2007
2. Collage (a Kendall-Jackson brand) Zinfandel-Shiraz 2004
3. Marr Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino County 2005 (I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one; it was one of the few old vines we could find. We found the other, a St. Francis Zin selling for $70 after a 30% discount, only after we’d already bought the Mendocino one)
4. Outpost Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2004 (I’ve read good things about Outpost, and Wine Spectator has pretty rave reviews of this wine, so I’m quite excited about this)
5. The Curse, Tscharke, Zinfandel, Barossa 2006 (Which seems to have garnered strong reviews from RP as well… neat)
6. Irvine Zinfandel, Barossa 2005

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Here is the skinny on what we ate and drank. Please leave comments in terms of food and wine. My take on the whole event was a little skewed since I was knee deep in cheese and tomatoes for most of it. Comments on the wine would be much appreciated! Thanks to everyone who came. I hope you enjoyed it.

Our Menu

Nosh

Bruschettas

ricotta with sundried tomatoes

roasted garlic, basil, fresh tomatoes

roasted red pepper spread

Main

Assortment of Pizzas and Sausage

fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, ricotta, roasted garlic, basil

sausage, yellow and red peppers, feta cheese

mozzarella, feta cheese, ricotta, parmesan

sausage, sundried tomatoes, basil, fresh mozarella, roasted garlic

(one other combo I forgot…I made these up as I went)

Dessert

Pound cake two ways

with nutella and roasted bananas

with marsala wine soaked cherries and lemon curd

THE WINES!

Whites:
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2006 $24
- Damn Good
This Kerner is made in the northernmost part of Italy where the Italians speak mainly Austrian and the scenery is more reminiscent of Heidi than Under the Tuscan Sun. Light floral with a touch of minerality and a killer nose, this was definitely a good start to the evening for me.

De Falco Fiano di Avellino 2005- $22
- Pretty Good

This bottle had more minerality and was less fruity than the previous. Having a little bit of savoriness to it with citrus, it definitely paired well with the pizza. Light and refreshing I wouldn’t be opposed to cracking open another bottle for some seafood or sushi.

Santi Amarone dello Valpolicella 2003- $38
Damn Good
Mmmmmm….I liked this one. More old world in style, Amarone has a rich raisinyness (definitely not a word) and a velvety texture. The grapes are dried in the sun to intensify flavors in the processing. There were hints of spice and boldness to it that would please both old world and new world parties. (ie both peishan (new world) and I (old world) enjoyed it) I would love to eat this with lamb, or anything else meaty/gamey.

Prunotto Barbaresco 2004- $37 Not Bad
This Barbaresco did not wow me, but was good. It was the prototypical barbaresco with good fruit and depth, but for the price tag I feel I could get more bang for my buck elsewhere. Perhaps we opened it too early as it is just getting into its prime according the THE internet.

Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2005- $18
Pretty god

Light and fruity, this chianti actually started us off with reds. It had a delicate sweetness and was not too tanniny. With hints of berries, savory notes, this went well with the pizza. It definitely seemed to be one of the most versatile at pleasing people’s palates, but did not wow anyone.

Forteto della Luja Moscato d’ Asti 2007- $20 Orgasmic
Holy crap the nose was AWESOME on this one, like whiffing a bottle of sweet honeyed perfume. The taste was there to match. Good thing I bought two bottles of this which went as fast as lightening. I caught some peach flavors, apple, and a lot of floral. So very drinkable, bubbly, and sweet. I wish I had gotten more.

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Food for thought from NYTimes

May 7, 2008
The Pour
Wine’s Pleasures: Are They All in Your Head?
By ERIC ASIMOV
THE mind of the wine consumer is a woolly place, packed with odd and arcane information fascinating to few. Like the pants pocket of a 7-year-old boy, it’s full of bits of string, bottle caps and shiny rocks collected while making the daily rounds of wine shops, restaurants, periodicals and the wine-soaked back alleys of the Internet. It’s harmless stuff, really, except to those within earshot when a wine lover finds it necessary to elaborate on the nose, legs and body of a new infatuation.

Yet in recent months American wine drinkers have taken their turn as pop culture’s punching bags. In press accounts of two studies on wine psychology, consumers have been portrayed as dupes and twits, subject to the manipulations of marketers, critics and charlatan producers who have cloaked wine in mystique and sham sophistication in hopes of better separating the public from its money.

One of the studies was devised by Robin Goldstein, a food writer, to try to isolate consumers from outside influence so they could simply judge wine by what’s in the glass. He had 500 volunteers sample and rate 540 unidentified wines priced from $1.50 to $150 a bottle. The results are described in a new book, “The Wine Trials,” to be published this month by Fearless Critic Media.

The book wraps the results in a discussion of marketing manipulations and statistical validity, but a brief article in the April 7 issue of Newsweek magazine, naturally, seized on the book’s populist triumphs: a $10 bottle of bubbly from Washington state outscored Dom Pérignon, which sells for $150 a bottle, while Two-Buck Chuck, the cheap Charles Shaw California cabernet sauvignon, topped a $55 bottle of Napa Valley cabernet.

“Their results might rattle a few wine snobs, but the average oenophile can rejoice: 100 wines under $15 consistently outperformed their upscale cousins,” the article exulted.

Two caveats are in order here. First, it turns out that the results of the tastings are more nuanced than the Newsweek article let on. In fact, the book shows that what appeals to novice wine drinkers is significantly different from what appeals to wine experts, which the book defines as those who have had some sort of training or professional experience with wine. The experts, by the way, preferred the Dom Pérignon.

Second, there is, of course, no such thing as the “average oenophile,” as Newsweek put it. Most people in the wine trade understand that consumers have any number of reasons for their buying decisions, whatever their psychological and financial state. Some are reassured by easy-to-understand labels with friendly animals. Others want only naturally produced wines or bottles with a modest carbon footprint. Some are status-seekers and score-chasers, while others are contrarians, or only drink red wine.

But assuming for the moment that it’s true that most drinkers prefer the cheap stuff, why does anyone bother buying $55 cabernet? One answer is provided by a second experiment, in which presumably sober researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the Stanford Business School demonstrated that the more expensive consumers think a wine is, the more pleasure they are apt to take in it.

The researchers scanned the brains of 21 volunteer wine novices as they administered tiny tastes of wine, measuring sensations in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain where flavor responses apparently register. The subjects were told only the price of the wines. Without their knowledge, they tasted one wine twice, and were given two different prices for that wine. Invariably they preferred the one they thought was more expensive.

“Forget those blurbs about bouquets, body and berries,” one newspaper account crowed. “A meticulous new study found that the more people think a wine cost, the more they like it. And the less they think it cost, the less they like it.”

Big surprise. Sommeliers all over know that the hardest wine to sell in a restaurant is the cheapest bottle on the list. “Yeah, clients don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a date, so they don’t order the cheapest wines,” said Fred Dexheimer, the wine director of the BLT restaurant group. The fact is, the correlation between price and quality is so powerful that it affects not just our perception of wine but of all consumer goods.

“It’s not just about wine, it’s about everything!” said Prof. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” (HarperCollins, $25.95), which examines how people make all sorts of real life decisions. Regardless of the situation, Professor Ariely found, suggestion has a powerful effect on perception and belief.

In one experiment, volunteers who received mild electric shocks were given placebo pills to relieve the pain. They were told that the pills cost either 10 cents or $2.50. The participants believed that both kinds of pills helped relieve pain, but the seemingly more expensive pills had a much greater effect.

“If you expect not to get something as good, lo and behold, it’s not as good,” Professor Ariely said. “We think of it as an objective reality. We don’t see how much is created by our mind.”

Even so, wine drinkers tend to be the punch line. People are unlikely to be ridiculed for buying $300 jeans that are washed, bleached and beaten over rocks instead of $60 jeans that will last a decade. But wine buyers who prefer the $20 bottle over a $10 bottle? All that stuff about aromas and complexity? Forget it!

Are wine consumers really easily manipulated victims, the flip side of the stereotype of wine drinkers as pretentious snobs? What have they done to be singled out from other consumers who might equally be portrayed as knuckling under to hype and salesmanship, like connoisseurs of clothes, handbags or shoes, car aficionados or golf fanatics, food or film lovers?

The answer rests, I think, both in the insecure and uncomfortable attitudes that Americans hold toward wine and in the difficulty of bringing some sort of objective and universal criteria to the fleeting and obscure realms of aroma, taste and texture.

The consumption of wine has been growing steadily in the United States rising to 283 million cases in 2006 from almost 189 million cases in 1993, according to the Adams Wine Handbook, which tracks consumption.

Yet drinking more hasn’t made Americans more comfortable with wine. People with little interest in wine tend to see it as somehow foreign and threatening. Even among the curious, fears abound, of being embarrassed or appearing unsophisticated, of choosing the wrong wine, or of liking the wrong one. Every year books come out purporting to help the winephobic avoid embarrassment, impress their bosses or learn shortcuts to wine knowledge. But I sense no decrease in the number of people whose questions to me are prefaced by a sheepish, “I don’t know anything about wine, though I really should.”

Meanwhile, consumers face an impenetrable swamp of winespeak: Wine Spectator recently evaluated one Argentine red as, “Dark and rich, with lots of fig bread, mocha, ganache, prune and loam notes. Stays fine-grained on the finish, with lingering sage and toast hints.”

To hack through it all, consumers embrace scores, an easy shorthand that unfortunately requires that every wine be judged on the same seemingly objective scale, regardless of the subjective nature of taste. Anybody can understand that a wine rated 90 beats an 89, right?

Yet the rating system has bred an attitude toward wine that ignores context, which is perhaps more important a consideration to the enjoyment of wine than anything else. The proverbial little red wine, so delicious in a Tuscan village with your sweetie, never tastes the same back home in New Jersey. Meanwhile, the big California cabernet, which you enjoyed so much with your work buddies at a steakhouse, ties tucked between buttons, doesn’t have that triumphant lift with a bowl of spaghetti.

This is one problem with trying to judge wine in the sort of clinical vacuum sought by studies like the one in “The Wine Trials.” In the end, I don’t think you can ever eliminate context. The trick is to distinguish between the harmful or disingenuous — the marketing come-ons, the point chasing, what the guy next to you thinks — from the beneficial: the food, the company, the environment. Even in a blind tasting situation, wine is evaluated in the company of other wines, which is a different sort of context but a context nonetheless. Perhaps they’ve chosen the best wines to be sipped and spat out, but not the best wines for dinner.

Ultimately, context may be the most underrated aspect of enjoying wine. Tyler Colman, a wine writer and blogger (drvino.com), whose first book, “Wine Politics,” will shortly be published by the University of California Press, has a second book coming out this fall, “A Year of Wine” (Simon & Schuster), that focuses on context.

“The mood and the food and the context really matters,” he said. “It’s the neglected pairing.”

Just as understanding when to dress up and when to dress down is intuitive for many people, so, too, does it become instinctive over time for wine lovers to know which is the proper bottle to open. But that requires experience of many different wines. Eventually the novelty of great wines, or expensive wines, can wear off.

“Sometimes a great Beaujolais is a better choice than La Tâche,” said Nathan Vandergrift, a statistical researcher at the University of California at Irvine, who has seen the wine business as a retailer, an importer and distributor, and most recently as a blogger at the Vulgar Little Monkey Translucency Report. Mr. Vandergrift has had plenty of Beaujolais, and a fair amount of La Tâche, one of the most highly sought wines in the world.

Would that we all could achieve that sense of freedom and zen-like serenity, where we’ve had our fill of all else and can simply choose the right wine because it’s the right wine.

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DGS Spring Events

Hey,

A big thanks to Jeff for having painstakingly selected and shipped the wines back to Chicago from New York, and then organizing with Zhen and Rita a tasting for us. It was great fun as usual, and thanks to the new folks who came! Hope you guys had a good time as well and we look forward to having you back again.

Coming up, we have a tasting of wines from Argentina. It will be held on April 19th, Saturday, at WineStyles (830-11pm). Denise, Martin, and Jenel will help us put together a thoughtful selection of wine, and Jenel, who has a culinary degree, will pair the wines with tasty treats as well. And, as a bonus, we’ll be conducting a smell quiz with dozens of tiny little vials to test your sense of smell! Think a Chardonnay has popcorn notes? Well compare that against a vial with popcorn scent! Think a NZ Sauvignon Blanc has a cat pee scent? Well… Good times! We’ll send out another reminder closer to the date; in the meantime, if you don’t know already, WineStyles offers free tastings every Thursday. Stop by if you can; it’s a great opportunity to meet with the distributors and find out more about their wines!

Look out for our May tasting as well. Bruce and I will be hosting a “make your own wine” DGS, where everyone will get a chance to pit their wine blending skills against one another! More details on that to follow, but in the meantime, drink and be merry!

Cheers,

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