Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good Tequila Is Good, Bad Tequila is Bad

Two weeks ago my wife Meredith and I hosted a group of friends for a Tequila tasting. Our group tries to get together once a month for a tasting, usually wine. But because the previous owners of my house must have had a fascination for Mexican culture, a Tequila tasting was fitting. Now you may be asking yourself, why didn't you just change your kitchen? Maybe it is because we just moved in...not the case. It grew on us, like a mold. It has a entertaining shock value when our guests come over. Since we have lived in the house for the last three years most people assume either we decorated the kitchen to look like a Mexican fiesta, or we liked it enough to leave it. Well, in truth it was in good condition so we always just figured we could do it later, so there it sits at the bottom of our laundry list of tasks we want to accomplish.
Enough about our kitchen, on to Tequila. Each of the guests brought a bottle of Tequila bringing the total number of bottles to 7. I had doctored a store bought Margarita mix to taste more authentic. Usually when I make Margaritas I just squeeze a whole lime in a glass on top of Tequila. However limes were $.59 per and we had quite a bit of company coming over. So I squeezed about 10 limes in to a pitcher and filled the rest with about 4 ounces of orange juice, a dash of sweetened lime and the mix. The key to making this concoction, which everyone loved by the way, was I then diluted it with water, plain old tap water. It still had the sour kick but without all of the sugar.
There are basically three styles of Tequila available: Blanco, Reposado and Anejo. Blanco is clear, young and smooth, usually used for mixing. Reposado is aged between 1 and 2 years in wood. It is a good quality for the price and usually is a sipper but makes for a more sophisticated mixer. Finally there is Anejo which is usually aged 3 or more years. There is also Joven abocado which is Blanco (a younger style) but with caramel coloring but that tends to be lower quality. Anyway, we had the 'big 3' represented.
It was really great to try all of the styles together, it was even better that the tasting was at my house so I didn't have to drive later. But in all seriousness I found a new appreciation for Tequila. Spending most of my life thinking Cuervo was the standard I found out that it is really not good, and not good for you. The first time I had a party with Jose I ended up in an ocean in Mexico, I think it was the Pacific. The second time was as disastrous which lead me to the conclusion that I have a wonderful time when I drink Tequila, just no one else around me does. Then I met Cielo. Cielo is a 100% pure Agave Tequila from the village of Galisco (just west of Mexico city). In order to be a true Tequila it must come from this village everything else is Mezcal. Cielo was an Anejo, aged 4 years in wood. This beautifully golden spirit sparked a new found appreciation for Tequila with me. All night long I slowly sipped, savored and enjoyed. I had no idea that Tequila could be so complex. This is leaps and bounds above the 1800 I use to think was the quality standard.
Let me give a shout out to Patron however. In a mess of $100+ Tequilas it held its own. A great sipper or mixer. We also had the Reposado and Anejo by Milagro, outstanding stuff. I saw the bottle and was hooked, it looks like there was a lightning storm in the bottle. I really enjoyed the Anejo and found it to be one of the highest quality available in Central Minnesota. But yet I still am drawn back to my friend, Cielo. I have it in my kitchen, about have gone (or half full if you are the optimist). It sits, waiting for me to splurge. For me it was quality Scotch or some great VSOP Cognac, not Tequila. But there she sits, taunting me, calling my name. I never thought I would say this but I am now a fan of Tequila, and at the end of my meal I may think twice about ordering a fine Scotch or Cognac, perhaps Tequila is my new digestive. This led me to the conclusion, good Tequila is good, and bad Tequila is bad. Until next time, Hasta Luego!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

All Cognac is Brandy, but not all Cognac is created equal

Cru Wine Specialists hosted one of the most amazing tastings in our history last Tuesday, January 19th. Cru & the Veranda Lounge Wine Bar in downtown St. Cloud teamed up to bring Central Minnesota a unique and entertaining tasting event.
Aaron Davis a regional sales rep from J & M Heritage who imports the fabulous Bache-Gabrielsen (pronounced Bach-a like from the ending of Chewbacca) Cognac joined us at the Veranda for Spirits with a lot of spirit. Arron and I did a tandem tasting as we educated and entertained the audience with fabulous Cognac.
Okay, before we get too far in lets just clear up a couple of things. Cognac is simply Brandy from the Cognac region of France. Just like Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Brandy is made from wine. The grapes are picked, fermented and turned in to wine. The wine is then distilled, in Cognac's case in a more difficult and less predictable Pot Still, and aged in oak barrels to become the spirit we know as Cognac. It takes 9 liters of raw wine to make one bottle of Cognac.
Okay, now that you know what Cognac is lets talk about why I like Bache some much. When the representative from Bache first approached me I was utterly intrigued. As buyer for the Veranda Lounge I pride myself in finding quality, unique products at a fair price. Bache-Gabrielsen was all that and more. One of the first points that drew me to it was its position in the market. Bache is not owned by some large parent company. It is a fourth generation, family owned producer. It is next to impossible to find a product here in the US that is not under some large conglomerate umbrella. Courvoisier, Hennessy and Martell make up the majority of the Cognac market share in the US and are all owned by large spirit, beer & wine companies. Just go to your local liquor store and check out the shelves, those three will be the main Cognacs distributed. Bache on the other hand is less common in the market, but significantly more quality in some cases.
One of the main reasons that I really like Bache is that they adulterate their Cognacs less, and sometimes not at all. It is legal for Cognac producers to add Carmel Color to their product before they bottle it. Cognac (or all Brandy for that matter) comes out of the still as a clear liquid. It is after aging in oak barrel and or adding Carmel Coloring that the spirit turns brown. If you were to look at a Bache 3 Kors (also known as VS - Very Special) versus a Courvoisier VS you would see a remarkable difference. The Bache would be lighter in color, still brown but more tan or natural almond color. The Courvoisier on the other hand would be almost a roasted almond or dark tawny color.
When a spirit is a darker brown you can tell that it has either been aged for a long time, or there has been a lot of color added. There are different degrees of age requirements in the Cognac region of France (which do not apply to the Brandy produced in the US - be advised). You may have seen captial letters on the bottle and wondered what they meant. VS (Very Special) means the Cognac has been aged for a minimum of 2 years (the youngest spirit in the blend is 2 years old). VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) means that the spirit has been aged for a minimum of 4 years. Finally XO (Extra Old) means the spirit has been aged for a minimum of 6 years.
Going back to the VS or 3 Kors by Bache and the VS by Courvoisier, you can tell just by looking at them the Bache has had less coloring added. Bache also has a line of completely unadulterated Cognacs known at their Natur & Eleganse line. This is perfect for the Bourbon or Scotch drinkers who have never cared for Brandy or more importantly Cognac. Their VSOP really seemed to appeal to the Bourbon drinkers in the audience while the XO was what we described as a "Scotch Man's Cognac".
Beyond the fact that Bache is family owned and they use less adulteration I simply love the flavors. You can choose from their more traditional label (3 Kors, VSOP, XO Fine Champagne & XO Grand Champagne) or from their Natur & Eleganse line (VSOP & XO). Both have remarkable flavor and are aged longer than the required minimum. For example with there traditional XO Grand Champagne, the law states that it only needs to be aged for 6 years, yet they have aged theirs for 50. This is not just limited to their XO, their entire line is aged beyond the minimum. That is a commitment to quality if you ask me.
Bache is not available in many markets and for that I am sad. Go to your retailer and ask for it. When they say they have no idea what it is tell them it is imported by J & M Heritage (Click Here) out of the Midwest. Maybe that will provoke them enough to give the boys a call.
As you may know I take no money or am in no way affiliated with any of the wines or spirits I write or talk about. I firmly believe that this Cognac is outstanding and I would love to see it give the larger companies a run for their money. I am a gambler and I love the underdog, especially when it's better!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


In October I completed my Sommelier Certification through an organization called the Court of Masters. The Court is a wonderful group of highly educated wine experts and I am thankful to have completed their course. I aspire to continue with their education program eventually achieving the title of Master Sommelier. Currently there are 176 Master Sommeliers in the world, and I would love to be 177!

In my life I have been fortunate enough to attend a University system AND a trade education program. When I was in the University system I would get in to trouble for drinking. The school I attended was really strict due to the fact that it was a dry campus so drinking was discouraged.

After going to school for four years with no degree I learned about Sommelier school with the International Sommeliers Guild (ISG). The ISG is a state board certified wine education program. They rent space nation wide at venues like an Art Institute and then fly their instructors to the site to teach about wine. Now when I say I went to school to drink, I literally had to drink, it was part of my curriculum.

In all seriousness I am really fortunate to have been able to attend the ISG. I learned a lot and it was a great experience for me. What most people don't know about my degree is that I am classically trained in areas beyond wine. We were required to learn about Cheese, Cuisine, Beer, Spirits, Cigars and Tea. Yet no one ever wants to talk to me about tea. Many of the people I meet are too consumed with my wine & spirits knowledge to ask me about tea. Well here is my chance to shine. Let me give you a little run down about tea.

Tea, like many things, was accidently discovered in 2700ish BC. It is said that Emperor Shen Nung's servant was boiling water for the Emperor to drink. Some leaves from a near by tree dropped in to the boiling water. When the water was done boiling it was discolored. Curious, the Emperor tried it, liked it, and tea was born.

Today tea has become a major part of many cultures. Over the last roughly 4700 years it has been used for numerous purposes. From remedies to revolutions, tea is in some ways is as important to world history as wine.

In the last 5-10 years there has been increased attention in the US to the benefits of tea. Green tea, for example, has gained popularity due to its antioxidant qualities and its ability to cure many ailments. Black tea, the most popular tea in the world, is said to lower the risk of stroke. And White tea is said to possible be an anti-cancer agent.

There are a lot of benefits to tea. And more importantly there are many producers beyond commercial brands like Lipton. There are styles beyond Earl Grey and plenty of delicious examples on the market today. I have seen more and more coffee shops focusing on tea, carrying loose leaf and organic teas as opposed to bagged, big name brands.

So the next time you call me up, send me an email, write a comment on my blog or see me on the street would you do me a favor? Would you begin by asking me if I have had any good teas lately?
To all of you thanks for reading to my rediculous rants and thank you for all of your support.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Radio, Who Needs A Radio?

Well ladies and gentleman I have crossed in to the world of on air personalities. Last Wednesday at 12:30pm on KVSC 88.1fm I got to talk about wine and culture for a half hour. Hosted by Artistic and Cultural Heritage Producer Jeff Carmack he opened up my brain and wine information came pouring out.
It was an absolute riot being on the air and they were so welcoming. The KVSC gang is a tight knit group of fun loving professionals who made me feel like a part of their family. It was a real treat to be able to share my information with so many people at once.
It was a one time deal but maybe there is a future for me in radio. My wife says I have a attractive radio voice (she has to say that). I guess I bring a whole new meaning to the expression "you have a face for radio!"
I love the opportunity to share the secrets of my trade with people. I think one of the best parts of my job is getting people hooked on wine - does that make me a pusher? Wine is such an integral part of our culture and this recent wave of embracing the European tradition that wine extends far beyond the dinner table had been really fun to be a part of.
If you ever have any questions please feel free to shoot me an email at or just post a comment on my blog. You don't have to be a follower or member to ask a question.
Thank you again to everyone for their continued support of our business and our family. With love and regards, Salut.