Monday, December 28, 2009

Twitter, Look Out

As you may have guessed by the title of this Blog, I have branched out in to Twitter. This may not be much of a surprise to many of you because I realize many people are on this networking site, but I decided to join to help stay connected.
Our username is CruWineGuys. I so far have no followers and am following nobody. Not really sure how the site works but I can image I am like the girl a prom who sat in the corner and nobody asked to dance. So humor me and become a Twitter follower for me.
Since there are only about 6 of you who read this I am really asking my short followers list to follow me where I have even less. Really pathetic if you ask me.
On a serious note we just recorded three different short videos for our website so hopefully we will have those up in the next couple of weeks and you can check out me trying to be a big shot.
That is all for my posting today. Thanks for reading and enjoy the new year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sorry For The Delay

To my Blog readers (all three of you) I am very sorry for the delay. It has been too long since I have been on my blog. My pre new years resolution is to blog once a week (thanks Jeremy for the kick in the butt).
Quick update on what I have been doing. In October I passed my Sommelier Certification through the Court of Masters. It was wild ride and I am so glad to be done. I am pursuing my Master Sommelier Degree but am not in a hurry. I have to wait a year from October before I can even apply so I am just hanging out right now. My goal to becoming a Master is to try to finish by the time I am 30. I have 4 years and plan on finishing around 2013ish.
Of course as many of you know I have started a new company Cru Wine Specialists. It has been a journey getting it off the ground and running. Things are going well, so well that I have stepped down from my day to day responsibilities with the Veranda as the General Manager and am now only updating their wine list and training their staff.
We have grown Cru from an idea to a successful business entity in 9 short months. We are gearing up for a lot of growth in 2010 and hope to have this company really cooking by next December.
Meredith, Jack and I are well. Jack is 17 months and can jump. Sure he has the vertical of a baby elephant, but it is cool to watch. Meredith is editing and taking care of making sure I don't make any Barthisms in my publications, it so far has been working.
I am spending a lot of time writing a book and studying as well as trying to hold down the fort and start up a new business. I wouldn't be happy if I wasn't stretched thin.
Everything else is just great. The holiday season is a time of giving and quite frankly I need some receiving. We have had a great December and are looking forward to some family time.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and I encourage you all to follow my blog in 2010. I promise I won't have 7 month lapses.
Thanks again for the support and feel free to call if you need a friend to drink with.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Service Temperature

This blog article is in response to a great question about why different wines drink better at different temperatures. Oddly enough it all comes back to our olfactory. Our sense of smell ultimately effects our taste buds. With out our sense of smell we would simply taste four sensations: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. If you want to see for yourself try plugging your nose the next time you eat a chocolate chip cookie, all you taste is sweetness.

What does this have to do with service temperature? Well our sense of smell is only susceptible to vapors. Red wines are generally less volatile or more aromatic than white wines. Red wines are served at room temperature in order to warm it to the point where its elements begin to vaporize. Optimal vaporization happens at a warmer temperature for big bold wines and cool temperatures for lighter wines.

Another reason that some wines drink better at different temperatures is tannins. Tannis are almost exclusively found in red wines. I describe them as the sensation that you experience when your mouth feels like it has been wallpapered in suede and velvet. Tannins are more obvious at lower temperatures. This is the reason a young tannic wine is served at warmer temperatures, like a Cab from Napa for example. Serving a highly tannic wine at a warmer temperature can also create the sense of maturity. As far as sweetness goes, cold is a necessity to counterbalance the richness of very sweet wines like that of Tokaji.

Service temperature as a whole tends to hot button. In my opinion Americans drink their red wines to warm and their white wines to cold. When a white wine is too cold it tends to be muted, all of the aromatics and flavors are lost. On the flip side if a red wine is served too warm it tends to display over cooked aromas or the wine may simply taste flabby.

I like to serve my reds at "French room temperature". I am commonly asked, "Is a French room colder than an American room?" I always tell them "yes, that is why the French wear turtlenecks." That was a joke. But in all seriousness yes, the term chambre refers to room temp. Traditionally a French dinning room was around 60 degrees F. So when we look at the expression room temp we have to consider the history.

To get your wines to the correct temperature I will give you a loose formula. Before you are to serve a white put it in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes, this will bring the wine to about 40 to 45 degrees F. If your white wine is in the fridge take it out about an hour before you serve it. Last, I do not recommend this solution, if you are in a pinch with your white wine stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. As for reds you want to put them in the fridge about 15 minutes before you serve them, this will bring your wine to about 60 to 65 degrees F.

To sum it up you want to serve your sparklers the coldest around 40 degrees F. Sweeter wines like Riesling or Gewurztraminer at about 45 degrees F. Fuller bodied whites like Chardonnay you want to be around 50 degrees F. On the red side you want to have your lighter bodied reds like Beaujolais and lighter Pinot Noir around 55 degrees F. Then your medium bodied reds like Chianti or Chilean reds around 60 degrees F. And your fat, chewy, big bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz around 65 degrees F.

If you stick to these general rules you will find success in your wine endeavors. Like I always say, if you have a terrible wine, stick it in the freezer for about and hour, just kidding. Thanks again for the question I hope I answered it and please keep them coming.

Nicholas Barth
Wine Director
Cru Wine Specialists

Earth Friendly Wines

Last night I hosted a wine tasting at my local wine bar The Veranda. In cooperation with the Good Earth Co-op we tasted organic and biodynamic wines. What a topic, I could have devoted a whole day to talking about the subject, but fortunately, for the patrons sake, I only had a couple of hours.

When I tasted my first organic wine about 5 years ago I thought it was awful. Not only was it expensive but it was reminiscent of dirt with hollow fruit and a flabby body. In addition many writers and critics have proclaimed the lack of quality organic and biodynamic producers. However last night I was blown away by the wines we tasted. Organic and Biodynamic wines have come a long way over the last 5 years and I am anxious to see where this road is going to lead.

The first wines we tried were organic. They were made by producers that practiced organic rituals in both their vineyards and wineries. This is usually a costly procedure for wineries to undergo. First, they can't use chemicals in their vineyards. This can lead to a loss of crops as well as under or over developed fruit. Second, they can't use chemicals in their winery. This can cause fermentation too go to quickly or to slowly. It can also lead to a fermentation stall leaving the wine low in alcohol and flavor. Lastly, being an organic certified producer requires a winery to get an independent source to come and inspect their operation and that is not cheap.

I was shocked when I learned there were around 240 chemicals used to adulterate wine. Whether it be in the vineyard or in the winery, many producers use these out of necessity to save their wine, or to give it what it didn't have. For example, say you have bad fruit, your wine will only be as good as your grapes, but you can add things to it to mask the flavor. Much like some jug wine producers (Yellowtail) of Australia do with their Chardonnay. They over use oak and malolactic fermentation to adulterate their wine. I do not know the exact chemicals used, but rest assured they are add to those producers wine.

The next series of wines we tasted were biodynamic. This is a whole books worth of information so I will give you the highlights. What separates biodynamic from organic is that organic wine are doing something good by not harming the earth when planting and growing. Whereas biodynamic wines are giving back to the earth, regrowing bacteria, habitats, and making the earth better than how they found it.

Biodynamic producers do more than just converting their tractors in to biodiesel machines. They go beyond not polluting the earth with insecticides, they give something back. For example, they will create a biodynamic compost that will promote growth but also stabilize nitrogen, and combat plant disease. They also use horn manure, burring this in the ground like a "tea" for the soil to promote micro life and beneficial bacteria. Through homeopathic sprays and herbal preparations the soils fertility is increased. This ensures that the vines will be protected from both diseases and pests.

Giving back to the earth is just one element of the Biodynamic philosophy. They are very conscious of the life cycle and more specifically the celestial cycle. They use cosmic forces to help ensure appropriate growth and eliminate their foot print. The Biodynamic cycle runs on five periods: Root, Fruit, Seed, Leaf and Flower. Each period signifies a cosmic rhythm that they follow. For example, only on root period days can they cultivate, or plant. But it goes one step further, Biodynamic producers and followers believe that they will have better taste sense s in some periods over others. Take the root period, the philosophy is that you will have little to no taste sensation, whereas on a fruit or seed day you will taste the best. Some wine personnel live by this and will not open a great bottle or more dramatically not taste wine at all on root days.

Biodynamic sustainable agriculture does not just have a loose set of guidelines. There is a strict regiment to their theory. For example the best root periods in June are on the 21st at 8pm through the 25th at 1pm. And the best fruit period in June is on the 19th at Midnight through the 21st at 4pm, but then there is an astis that states: avoid two hours before and after the Moon's lower nodal point at 4pm on the 20th. This theory while crazy to some people is said to be very effective.

Biodynamic wine making was described to me by one of my classmates as wine making for geeks. I can see where she is coming from. The amount of effort it takes to follow this lifestyle is pretty daunting. I have heard that when wine makers rip up their crop and replant using Biodynamic agriculture the first six years are a lot of work. They are require to make their own fertilizer (stinky) and convert all of their practices in both the vineyard and the winery. But it is told that after that six year window they will produces some great wines. More importantly they will be sustainable, cost essentially will go down and the quality of the product will go up.

Biodynamic and organic wines do not stop at just the viticulture, it is a part of the whole wine making process. The use of certified cork through the rain forest alliance as well as screw tops reduce our footprint on this earth. A lot of people do not realize that wine makers are not obligated to post on the label if they are using animal products to fine and clarify the wine before bottling. The use of egg whites for example to brighten a wine or gelatin to remove bitterness. Many biodynamic and organic wine producers are using a vegan friendly alternative like bentonite. Whatever the steps are that a producer uses it is important to ask questions. Call the winery or check them out online if you want to be certain.

In December of 2008 the bistro I consult for entered in to the cult following know as coffee. One of the hot tickets in coffee was organically grown beans. However a number of coffee producers also use fair trade ethics. This a new concept in the domestic wine market. Fair trade wine and coffee promotes competitive wages, a better work environment, and after last night I would say a quality product. The wine we tasted last night was a Malbec from Argentina. 19 small family growers took part in this wine. Each one owning less than a hectare (2.5 acres) of vines. The idea of fair trade to me use to mean that the price of the product is higher (which it does), but after last night I now believe that it ensures the quality as well. I would buy this wine again and again.

The debate between organic and biodynamic is minimal. They are both better for our bodies and mother nature. I believe it is much more difficult to make a quality wine with little intervention. And after the tasting last night I have a whole new insight in to organic and biodynamic quality. If someone where to ask me 5 years ago if I would put organic wines on my list I would have said no. But after last night I am contemplating revising my list to offer only organic and biodynamic wines. That way I can reduce my footprint simply by drinking.

Nicholas Barth
Wine Director
Cru Wine Specialsts

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cellar, you mean my box of wine over there?

Cellaring wine can be a daunting task. It begins with space and ends with money. If you are anything like me you want to save wine, but when your friends come over and drink all six of the bottles you purchased for the barbecue in the first hour of your party you are forced to go to the basement and select one of your crown jewels. Which by the way they are already intoxicated, you could give them swill and they would drink it.

Here are a few helpful tips that will assist you in creating and managing a cellar. The first is space, cellar conditions matter, especially if you have bottles that require 10 to 15+ years for aging. As a general rule people tend to drink their wines way to young, some wines need age to develope. Then again most wines produced today are meant to be consumed tomorrow. 85% of all wines produced today are meant to be consumed within three years of bottling. And for good reason, almost 90% of all wine purchased in a liquor store is consumed that weekend.

So if you are looking to build a or create a cellar in your living quarters here are some tips. Pick an area that is cool and dark. Wines ages best between the temperatures of 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything colder and the wines will not age appropriately, anything warmer and they will age prematurely. A room that is too warm can also cause wines to "cook". This may cause leakage, maderization (like Madera) or oxidation (like Fino Sherry). For these same reasons it is also important to create an environment with a constant constant temp. Putting a thermostat in the room will help you regulate the temp.

Humidity is another important variable. You want the humidity in your cellar to be around 80%. This is an important factor because if the cellar is too humid it can cause mold to form on the top of the bottle (some mold can be a good thing with older wines, it is a sign of appropriate aging). If the humidity in the cellar is too low this can lead to a contraction of the cork. This can cause the wine to be exposed to oxygen and ultimately turn in to a vinegar like state. Also, if the humidity is too low the cork can shrink and cause evaporation, and there is nothing worse than less wine.

It is also important to refrain from moving the bottles or having any vibration in your cellar. Movement can cause the wine to age prematurely and cause sediment to be disrupted. Also, it is nice to have a bottle rest for six months after you purchase it. Some times the ride over on the boat or plane or even the ride on the truck to the liquor store can cause a wine to be cloudy and unsettled. Letting it settle will ensure optimum drinkability.

Light is the last important factor in a cellar. You want to try not to use florescent lights. They cause the wine to prematurely age, especially in clear bottles. The light will literally chemically effect the bottle. Also light and sunlight in particular can cause heat, again affecting the wine. If you have a light in your cellar make sure you turn it off every time you leave. To sum it up you want your cellar to be a movement free, dark, damp, cool place. Which is why a basement is such a natural home.

There are a few ways to going about getting a cellar. One is to just put up some shelving in your basement and have a makeshift cellar with a humidifier and a heating and cooling unit. Make sure no matter what you do all of your bottles are laying on their side. This will allow the liquid from the bottle to help keep the cork moist which will leave less room for the bottle to be affected. The second option is to hire someone to come in and do it. There are some amazing manufacturers out there who do pretty great stuff, for a price. Usually to do this option right you must hire a professional. They will come in and look at your house, ask you how many bottles you plan to store, assess and give you a price. You can find a number of them in the back pages of the magazine The Wine Spectator. If you can afford it this is the most fool proof way to go.

The last option is the wine refrigerator. This option is a tricky one, because every one who makes a cooling unit has a product on the market that they have deemed a wine cooler. Here are the things to consider when looking in to buying one. Is there dual temperature control? You do not need this feature, if the purpose of you wine fridge is to cellar wine than it all needs to be at 55 degrees F. If you want your whites cooler throw them in the fridge for fifteen minutes before you open it. Also, most of these fridges do not have humidity controls and usually the ones that do are very costly. These fridges also limit the number of bottles you can purchase. This is not a problem for most of us right now. But ten years down the line when we have 100 bottles we need a new solution. The wine fridge can be a great thing to get you buy right now, but it is really not the optimal storage facility.

In my opinion your best bet is to monitor and area of your basement and set up shop there. Try to keep the conditions as close to the numbers as possible. If you are handy and ambitious they do make devices you can buy that allow you to cut a hole in your foundation and vent to the outside. These are fairly inexpensive considering what you would pay to get those conditions. There are a number of books on the market for do-it-yourselfers that you can pick up that walk you through the different steps of building your own cellar. Whatever you choose consider your time, money, and investment in wine.

Wine is an investment, especially in these rocky times with the market being so touchy. Wine bottles bought on futures from Bordeaux in 2005 for $100 are already selling for more than double that price. If you watch the market and do just a little reading you can find some great prices in great regions. Some regions however you will just have to pay the premium, but they will still continue to rise in value. I like to read Robert Parker's early Bordeaux predictions. The market tends to fluctuate upon his command. So if he says it is good, whether you agree or not, the market will usually drift that direction. Then in 15 years you can sell if for four times what you paid for it at Zachy's or Christies.

I always tell people who are getting in to wine cellaring to buy what you like. If you only buy wine for investment purposes you won't experience the fun and excitement of buying. Plus if you end up not being able to sell it you will have to drink a wine that you don't even like. Also when purchasing wine remember to inspect it before you buy it. There is absolutely nothing worse than paying $150 for a bottle, aging it for 10 years and then opening it to discover that there was a problem with leakage all along.

Inspect the label, does it look preserved or beaten up? Did it get tossed around on the loading dock? Look at the foil, do you see any wine, did it get cooked on the ship across the Atlantic? Take the time to look over the bottle, because on the flip side some bottles sell for less than others due to a label problem. Perhaps the label machine put them on upside down for 100 bottles before they caught it. These bottle still hold amazing juice, they just have an upside down label, and are half the price. Simple inspection can save you a lot of time and money. If you are weary about the bottle, don't buy it.

Also know who you buy it from. I am real weary of these internet sites you purchase wine from. Of course the ideal situation is to get it direct from the winery, but that is not often an option. So the next best thing is to find out where it came from. This can be a problem at liquor stores but sometimes the buyer can inform you why in 2008 they have a new shipment of 85' Dow Vintage Port. Perhaps an investor just sold their lot back to Dow and now Dow is putting it back in to the market. Some times a winery hold bottles that they plan to introduce at a later date for more money. No matter what the reason it is always good to ask, the worst they can say is "I don't know" and again you don't have to buy it.

One last thing you will want to do when cellaring wine is monitor your wine collection. You will buy bottles and not bring them out for ten to fifteen years, in this time you may forget you even have them. Create a simple Xcel spread sheet to put your wines on. Write the date you bought them, how much you paid, and when you expect to drink them. Some people just categorize them as Drink Now, Hold/Drink, Requires Aging. Whatever your system make sure you continually check out sources of people who are consuming those vintages and regions. This will help you consume it when it is just right, or sell it.

Cellaring wine can be a fun adventure and does not have to be expensive. Wait for the buy to come to you. Look through bin ends and different stores to see what gems you can find. Take the appropriate steps to create and environment for your treasures to age. It is important to remember that wine is as much of an investment as you IRA. Whatever you do make sure you always have a few bottles of "drink now" on hand, because it is a bad day when the seventh bottle of wine you share with your friends has to be a 2005 Puillac.

Nicholas Barth
Wine Director
Cru Wine Specialists

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's on top?

Many of you have probably noticed the use of cork to seal a bottle of wine is declining rapidly. More and more producers tend to lean towards the Stelvin closure (Stelvin is registered trademark of Alcan Packaging which is the largest manufacturer of screw tops) and other materials to seal the deal. From synthetic (basically plastic) cork to the Vino-Lok (a glass closure device) you never know what is going to be under the foil.

One of the main reasons we are seeing new methods for sealing a bottle of wine is cost, in a few different ways. The first is the price of cork. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree which mainly grows in places like Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Sardinia. Most of the cork we see here in American comes from Portugal. The first round of corks cannot be taken from the bark until the tree is twenty five years old. After the bark is taken off of the tree for the first time it cannot be taken again for about ten years, this can happen fifteen times until the tree is cut down and made in to Dunder-Mifflin Paper; sad. It is a labor intensive job to strip the bark and mold it in to the cork's appropriate shape. This process is time consuming and after all of that the bark has to dry for about year after it is taken from the tree before it can be cut in to corks used to seal wine.

In the mid 1900's cork was on the fritz until the Portuguese government took action and commissioned the restoration and replanting of the resource. With all of the efforts to keep up with the demand, unfortunately there is just not enough to go around. The number of wineries all over the world grows every day. To give you an idea of growth taking place, somewhere in the realm of 800 wineries occupied California in 1990, today there are over 2600. The demand domestically alone has contributed to a lack of corks, not to mention globally. So with these figures we see why it is important to develop new ways to seal a bottle.

The first and most criticized method is the screw top or more romantically the Stelvin closure. Today it does not have the same stigma as it did when it closed you favorite flavor of Boone's Farm in college. Some great wines use the Stelvin closure. Some regions have adopted it as their primary closure method. For example in 2000 a group of wineries in Clare Valley, Australia banded together to make it policy that they close their wines with the screw cap. This in turn lead to a number of producers to further investigate the screw top method. For example in 2001 in New Zealand only 1% of wine producers used a screw cap, but by 2008 more than 90% were using it. In addition more than 60% of all of the wine made in Australia uses the screw top closure.

The Stelvin method of closing wines was first developed in the late 1960's, it did not become fully commercialized until the 1970's when a French company, now Alcan, mass produced it. It was developed in 1964 by the Production Direct of Australia's Yalumba winery, Peter Wall. His prototype used a Stelcap/cork combination. He closed the wine with cork and then put a long skirted screw cap over the top. This patten was in turn sold and mass produced. Initially the cap did not have a very good coat to separate the wine from the aluminum leaving the product tasting metallic. The stigma and the ineffectiveness lead to the abandonment of the screw top in the 70's.

To test the longevity of the process the esteemed Haut-Brion (prestigious Bordeaux producer) sealed some of it's 1971/72 vintage with the Stelvin closure. In 1978 they opened it up and found it similar to the cork sealed wines. They found that the fruit was more vibrant and almost better preserved. Both a good and bad thing. The fruit being preserved is a good thing for wines produced today that are meant to be drank young when they are bright and colorful with sweet fruit flavors and youthful aromas. However trace amount of oxidation is appropriate for aging. The same cork that can be blamed for the cause of a wine going bad can be praised for making a wine better. The natural amount of trace and I mean trace oxygen that a cork can provide can add character and development to a wine.

Also, as you can imagine screw tops are less expensive, but that does not mean that the juice inside is. In 2005 one of Burgundy's best-known producers Jean-Claude Boisset closed some of their wines with a screw top, including a $125 bottle of Chambertin Grand Cru. In 2008 almost a third of their 200,000+ bottle production used screw caps.

Another advantage to the Stelvin closure is that it is idiot proof. What I mean by this is that the screw top has the ability to compensate for improper storage. A cork requires wine contact in order to keep the cork moist so it does not dry up and allow air to enter the bottle. This is the reason a bottle is traditionally stored on its side. A screw top on the other hand can be stored in a variety of position, upright for example, with out the fear of the wine being tainted. Also, a cork will expand and contract depending on the elements. For example, a cellar that does not have enough humidity can cause the cork to dry up and let air in to the bottle oxidizing the bottle (ultimately turning it in to vinegar).

Another popular closure method is the use of a synthetic cork. These are found on a number of bottles and are much more cost effective for the producer and, by result, the consumer. This gives that same pop sound as the cork without the faults. Cork can some times have a bacteria in it called trichloranisole (TCA). Don't worry, it is not going to kill you. It is found in two to five percent of all cork produced stoppers. It is a bacteria that through contact with the juice leaves the wine smelling of wet cardboard. This can be costly for the producer because usually this comes back to them and they have to replace it. However with the synthetic stopper the wine is not threatened by this. A synthetic cork also does not expand and contract like a cork made from bark does. However the synthetic closures are made from a plastic material that is not biodegradable and are seldom recycled. They are also sometimes a real pain in the side to get out of the bottle because they get stuck in there.

One of the new and exciting types of wine sealant is the Vino-Lok. Most commonly I see them in Rieslings from Germany and wines from Austria. It is a glass nipple looking device with a small rubber seal. They are mainly used in wines meant to be drank young and will not benefit from any form of trace oxygen. The Vino-Lok helps preserve the freshness and youthfulness of a wine. I really like these types of closure systems, although when I approach a table and peal back the foil I am usually surprised and I sometimes stumble through the service steps.

The last type of closure method you may see is Agglomerate cork. This is waste cork particles, basically the ones that didn't make it to "the show", that go through a secondary cork production process. The particles are washed and dried and then are sent through a grinder to break them up. They are then pressed and put in to a machine that heats them up to mold them in to a big sheet, from which the cork shape will later be cut. Often an adhesive is used to bind the particles together. This process is still fallible because there is a risk of TCA, also known as cork taint.

As we can see there is no perfect answer for how to seal a bottle. With screw tops, synthetics, and the Vino-Lok we eliminate the risk of cork taint and oxidation, but we loose the romance and positive aging capabilities that we have with a cork. The most important advice I can give you is do not turn your nose up at the screw top, it is great for the price of wine and does wonders for the environment. Of the seven billion or so wine bottles sealed every year the number using screw caps will reach close to three billion this year. I would guess that over the next five years we will see virtually all bottles under $12 retail move to a screw top. Then again don't count cork out, it is trying to make a come back. The retailer Whole Foods is placing cork recycling bins at the ends of some their aisles to encourage people to bring in their spent corks so they can be reused.

Whatever the case remember it is what on the inside that counts. I love the romance of the unknown with cork. I like the craft I must apply in removing a cork from a bottle of 1985 Dow Vintage Port. But I also appreciate screw tops because I never have to wonder when I get to a table if the wine has cork taint. And I like them because no matter where I am, I don't need my wine key to open the bottle.

Nicholas Barth
Wine Director
Cru Wine Specialists

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's hot this summer?

A lot of people have been asking me what is hot this summer. That is such a loaded question. I feel as though the market is being flooded with great juice and there is so little time to drink it all. I have heard people talking about "the next big region" and have often thought that I may have discovered it. Some of my classmates talk about some of the more obscure Eastern European wine regions like Bulgaria and Romania, but I don't think they are the next new popular wine producing region; yet.

Many wine distribution companies, and wine retailers for that matter put a lot of stock in South Africa a couple of years ago. It was unique to see some of these amazing French portfolios come across my desk and then at the end of the book they are loaded with obscure South African wine labels. I think that Australia made such an impact on the global market that people wanted that next big thing from south of the equator. Even major producers like Lindeman's set up shop in South Africa, but as trends seem to decline I would imagine that South Africa will soon be a small fraction of the market.

Last year the Wine Spectator came out with an article on Israeli wines, and more importantly kosher wines. Curious, I picked up a bottle and shared it with a couple of friends of mine. I thought that it screamed Pacific Northwest fruit. Coincidentally one of the friends that I was sharing it with was from the Pac Northwest and hated the wine. And don't get him started on Pac Northwest juice, he would argue that it is some of the best wine being produced domestically (so would I, but never to his face). I however knew that the region would have to be a hand sell on the wine list so I did not pick it up. I do not think that Israeli wines are the next major wine region, but it is fun to try and my friend Keith Stanhill appreciates the kosher part of the wine.

So that brings us to South America, they are producing some amazingly priced vino. A group of us deemed "The Grape Nuts" got together at my house last month and tried a dozen different labels. Chile and Argentina in particular have come a long way from the barnyard/earthy aromas that plagued their wine for many years. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of earthy wines being produced, especially when we look at the Carmenere grape. But I have noticed that they are really trying to cater to the American palate. On top of all of that water is free and labor is cheap so they are able to produce their wine rather inexpensively. All in all I would say that South America has come a long way and I have really seen the Argentinian Malbec's taking off in this market.

For those of you that enjoy the South American wines but like to drink cool refreshing whites in the summer you must try their Torrontes grape. It has gotten a lot of press lately and I have noticed a number of retails stocking up on several labels. The Torrontes is a white grape from Argentina. It is medium to full bodied and has a nice citrus finish. We had a gentleman bring a Torrontes at our South American tasting that he paired with a Ceviche he made. I was shocked at how well the Torrontes held up to the seafood dish. The Ceviche also had a little spicy kick to it and the Torrontes really calmed it down.

As the weather gets warmer for us in the Upper Midwest I find the trend usually shifts to white wines. Even the wine drinker with the palate for the most full bodied reds needs a refreshing drink in the mid-July heat. Most big red wine drinkers switch to a Chardonnay, and the ones that love tannins (that sensation when your mouth feels like it has been wallpapered with suede and velvet) tend to gravitate towards the oaky, California Chards.

As for me when the heat hits it is time to pull out the roses. That's right, think pink. I am not talking about Beringer White Zinfandel. Rather light pink roses from Provence, France or a Chiaretto from Northern Italy. Spain has a number of dry rose producers at really affordable prices. A lot of Americans do not realize that as the heat hits Europe they do not just go for the clean, crisp whites, but they tend to enjoy the rose wines. Again, I am not referring to the sweet pink wines, I am talking about beautifully crafted red grapes that have had minimal skin contact during fermentation that resulted in a pink symphony. With flavors and aromas ranging from raspberries and strawberries, to watermelon and cherries. Plus, rose wines go well with just about any summer dish, including food from the grill.

As the summer heat hits and the humidity rises I find myself sun bathing on the patio with a great book and sunglasses enjoying a clean crisp glass of Clare Valley dry Riesling, that is right, dry Riesling. The Clare Valley in Australia make an awesome dry Riesling that reflects the acid and structure of a Sauvignon Blanc with out all of the herbal notes. However Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has made quite an impact on the US. What began as a bunch of rich doctors, lawyers, and investors soon became a citrus packed phenomenon.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc really put New Zealand on the map. Cloud Bay began when a group of wealthy investors wanted to retire. They got together and bought a plot of land in New Zealand. Using money to pull out all of the stops they created a citrus explosion consisting of flavors and aromas of Grapefruit, Lemons, Limes, and Gooseberries. Then out of now where, boom, New Zealand was on the map. The prices have skyrocketed over the last 3 years with 90+ ratings for labels like Dog Point and Kim Crawford (who until last year I thought was a woman). These screw top phenomenons have made summer wine drinking a year round pleasure. I find myself still trying to find that great deal from New Zealand, as prices on Nobilo and their Icon label rise, I tend to drift more towards the New Harbor side of the scale. A good Sauvignon Blanc for a great price.

All in all I think you have to drink what makes you happy. If you like a sweet Riesling from the Mosel (which I absolutely love), drink Riesling. If you enjoy the overly buttery oaky Chardonnays of Napa (certainly a time and a place for my palate), drink Chard. I like to mix it up, there are so many great wines to taste, why stop with just one.

A rep once tried to sell me on the idea of drinking red in the summers and white in the winter. His argument was that we usually drink at home and there for our house tend to be colder in the summer due to the air conditioning, and warmer in the winter, due to the heater. I told him I don't drink in my house in the summer, I drink on the Veranda.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wine Literature

When people ask me "how do you know so much about wine?" I never know how to respond to the question. I have been very fortunate to acquire my knowledge from a number of sources. My first and most important was my year long stint in California. I had an affinity for the beach so I spent a lot of time traveling to the coast to go surfing on the weekends. Low on funds and of age I found that I could drink my way to the beach. Spending most of my time in the Central Coast (Paso Robles, Monterey County, Carmel) I was able to see first hand the wine making process. It also gave me insight to this amazing culture that I am now a part of.

When I relocated back to St. Cloud in May of 2005 to open the Veranda at Pioneer Place on Fifth I was taken under the wing of a local expert, Jeff Anderson. Jeff was an amazingly intelligent man when it came to wine, and he was able to teach me some of the basics about wine, but I was always lost trying to memorize terms and regions. Then I connected with another local expert Keith Stanhill. Keith grew up in California and was well read in all areas of wine. He was able to show me how much fun wine was while passing on a message that made sense.

After learning all I could from talking with those two, as much as I possibly could, I started reading trade magazines. The first subscription I bought was to the infamous Wine Spectator. This magazine is absolutely the industry standard, whether you care for it or not. It is a common place for us to come and find relief from all of the different wines that are destined to confuse us. The Spectator came up with a universal rating system and through tasting I was able to taste along with them, identifying what they deemed "quality wines". Since those days my palate and interests have changed but they are still a magnificent base for the consumer, novice and connoisseur alike.

I later subscribed to Decanter Magazine, a great industry magazine for people looking for some dynamite wines. I like Decanter for the unique wines that they seek and rate. Of course there is the ever famous Wine Advocate published by the great Robert Parker. I like Parker because I have found that he is able to taste a lot of wines that I may not have access to or the funds to purchase and I can sift through his rating system creating my own. For example if he gives the rating of 95 points to wine, I am destined not to like it. It will be big, full bodied, alcoholic and rugged (not all bad things). But I come to enjoy the well balanced finesse of some of his lower rated wines. If he gives a wine a lower rating of say 88 points I know it is still good quality, but has less of the giant characteristics he and quite frankly America has come to love.

Then comes my favorite wine magazine, Gourmet Traveller:Wine (that's right, two l's on Traveller), voted the world's best drink magazine, by who I don't know, but in the same breath I do not care. This magazine is written and published in Australia. It takes an in depth look at Australia, New Zealand and sometimes South Africa and France. The best part about this magazine is that it does not even acknowledge the United States. In the publication if they ever even mention America, which is rare, they usually find a way to poke at the American palate and degrade our wine styles. I am not saying I agree with, please don't misunderstand me, what I am saying is it is great to get a different perspective on the world of wine. Of all the wine producing regions in the world I would argue that Australia's over production of bulk wines has flooded the market and cause domestic producers to find a new angle, because the Jug wine market is cornered. Again do not assume that I do not care for Aussie wines either, to me there is nothing better than a Clare Valley Riesling on a hot day. Or maybe a Coonawarra Cab with my steak dinner. Or maybe a spicy McLaren Vale Shiraz to spice up my Thai dish (HOT!).

After reading more and more trade magazines I decided to jump in and get a bona fide wine book. But when I went to Barnes and Noble to pick one up I was overwhelmed by the number of titles available. How was I to know what I wanted to learn? So here are a few hints to help you with what you are looking for. The Oxford Companion by Jancis Robinson is a great reference for people looking for all of the facts including the history dating back to the settlement of that particular region. Great book to read at night if you are having trouble falling asleep. We use it in our Sommelier Degree Program as a great reference tool. Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson have created a book entitled the World Atlas of Wine. This book has great maps and when you are sitting down and enjoying a bottle it is fun to look through and see exactly where the winery or vineyard is in that particular sub region. Her text is perfect for an intro book, not too much information, and she has a great section about varietals.

I stay away from Joanna Simon, although people, especially novices, seem to like her. She is intelligent, I just have a tough time reading her books. However her book Wine and Food is unmatched in the industry. I really like Andrea Immer's Great Wine Made Simple, it was one of the first books I ever read about wine. She does a great job of providing practical applications and helping the reader create tasting groups, themes, and refining their palate.

The last book I will talk about is Karen McNeil's Wine Bible. This is a great reference tool as well as a good read. She writes like she speaks and she is easy to understand. I really enjoy her book and while not all of the information is perfect, it is really good. And no wine book for that matter will ever be perfect. With the ever changing wine laws and Spain's inability to stick with the same rules for more than a week, there is never an up to date book. However these books and magazines are some great insight in to wonderful world of wine. So there, that is how I learned so much about wine!

Nicholas Barth
Cru Wine Specialists
Wine Director

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What grape would you be?

I am attending classes to attain my Sommelier degree (wine degree) from the International Sommeliers Guild (ISG). The "If I were a grape" paper was an exercise that my class was assigned in order for my instructor to get to know us better. It also gave us an opportunity to explore the wild world of grapes.

There are roughly 5000 grapes that make some variation of the adult beverage known as wine (excluding synonyms). If you are interested in learning about the most important grapes you can check out one of Jancis Robinson's book. Jancis Robinson is know in the wine community as the "Varietal Queen" and for good reason. You can check out one of her books for more information. The most comprehensive being the Oxford Companion to Wine (more of a reference). One of her more consumer friendly books is The World Atlas of Wine, the book used for the introduction course to the Sommelier Diploma Program for the ISG. You could go one step further and check out her more in depth look at grapes in her book Vines, Grapes, and Wines.

This exercise was great for me, I had a lot of fun exploring, learning and relating. I wasn't the only person who had fun with this assignment, some of the other students in my class had unique answers. For example one of my classmates compared herself to Pinot Meuniot, one of the grapes used in making Champagne. She justified her choice by explaining that she blended well with others, because Champagne is made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meuniot. She also highlighted that she was bubbly, self explaining. Another classmate of mine shared that he most resembled Chardonnay because like the grape he had many faces, pending on where he was.

I posted my paper on what grape I am most like in order to inspire you. I had a good time exploring grapes and myself and now I want to know what grape you would be and why.

Nicholas Barth
Cru Wine Specialists
Wine Director

If I were a grape?

The grape that is the closest in resemblance to me would have to be Grenache. First, like me, the grape has many different pronunciations and names pending on where it is. For example with my friends I am Nick, this name is used in a place where I feel comfortable and warm. Much like the warmer Spain, where the atmosphere is a little more laid back and the grape is comfortable being called Garnacha. However in my business I am Nicholas, where I must remain professional and poised, as is the Grenache in the south of France where everything must “mean business.”

Like the grape I blend well with others. As a matter of fact some of my social groups may be perceived as elite, much like the extraordinary social group Grenache is in with the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region of France. While I prefer to be with others, and seem to do best under those circumstances, I can be very good on my own, much like Grenache. However some times I consume too much and tend to get a little heavy on the alcohol, similar to the grape.
Like Grenache I love food. I pair well with many dishes pending on the group I am in. And I too have a brother with the same name who could not be more opposite. However we come from the same roots and are found in the same general region.

I am able to adapt and form in to many different personalities. For example I am able to attend a rock concert and then go to live theatre. I am able to hang out in a dive bar, and can rub elbows with some of the finest at dinner parties. Much like Grenache, where it can morph in to an alcoholic rowdy single varietal South African wines, or is a light delight in Tavel. It can also make delicious dessert wines, or accompany lamb as a full-bodied dinner wine. In short we both have many different styles.

The most important characteristic Grenache and I have in common is that we both love to travel, but have a tough time making it out of our own Continent. However when we do, we love the sun and warmth. We are not as big of an influence when we are on the road but we have a good time and are generally liked by others, at least we think so. And most of all, we have a special place in our heart for France, a country that is deep in history and rich in tradition.

I would like to believe that the Grenache is good at heart, that it genuinely means well and wants to make things better, which is why it is able to be a team player in it’s home, the Rhone region of France. I would like to consider myself of the same attributes. All of these reasons make up the fact that if I were a grape, I would be Grenache.

Nicholas Barth
Cru Wine Specialaists
Wine Director