Austrian Reds: Difficult to Pronounce, but Easy to Drink

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 05-26-2015

heinrich_salzbergAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I praise Austria’s red wines — and predict that they could soon take off.

Austrian Reds: Difficult to Pronounce, but Easy to Drink

Blaufrankisch. St. Laurent. Zweigelt.

The names of these Austrian red grape varieties do nothing to put consumers at ease. Wine is intimidating. And consumers have always been most comfortable talking about wine when the words roll off the tongue. Few struggle with grape names like Merlot and Malbec or regions like Bordeaux and Mendoza.

Across the country, though, boutique wine merchants and sommeliers are falling hard for Austrian reds. Regular consumers will undoubtedly follow suit.

“These last three days have shown me that I don’t need to explain these grape varieties and their styles,” explained wine educator Andreas Wickhoff, founder of a group called the “Premium Estates of Austria,” during a recent visit to the United States. “Several of the buyers I met have already been tasting these wines. And I think we are slowly gaining momentum, especially in the more premium segment.”

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

For Easy Summertime Drinking, Reach for Txakolina

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 05-12-2015

Uriondo vineyard in Zaratamo Spain. Source: De Maison Selections.

Uriondo vineyard in Zaratamo Spain. Source: De Maison Selections.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I explain why Txakolina — a slightly sparkling white wine from Spain — is the perfect wine for summertime drinking.

For Easy Summertime Drinking, Reach for Txakolina

With summer approaching, the frequency of poolside barbeques, lazy picnics, and late nights on the patio is rising just as quickly as the mercury. This means lots more time outside, and consequently, a different cocktail menu.

Summertime drinking is about simplicity. Easy drinking beers like Budweiser, Corona, and Pabst Blue Ribbon pair perfectly with hot dogs and hamburgers. Pitcher drinks like sangria are quick and always a hit. Premixed frozen cocktails like strawberry daiquiris and piña coladas eliminate prep time and transport guests to the tropics.

For wine enthusiasts, finding the perfect summertime match can be daunting. With wine, simple has become synonymous with cheap — and serious oenophiles steer clear of mass-produced plonk. For outdoor entertaining, though, the good stuff is typically too expensive — and too fussy. Just as no one sniffs and savors a PBR, it’s nice to enjoy a glass of wine every now and then without taking things too seriously.

This summer, I’ll be reaching for Txakolina. Also known as “Txakoli,” the wine is unpretentious and refreshing — and virtually every bottle is well under $20. While the spelling suggests a tongue twister, “Txakolina” actually rolls right off the tongue. Say it with me: “Cha-koh-lee-na.”

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Forget the Flute and Toss the Coupe

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 04-28-2015

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I explain why most wine enthusiasts have grown to loathe Champagne flutes.

Forget the Flute and Toss the Coupe

“Flutes?” asked Sebastian Zutant, a leading sommelier in Washington, D.C., with obvious disdain. “We’re adults; we use real wine glasses.”

Zutant was helping pour wines at a charity wine dinner when he caught word that one attendee had asked for Champagne flutes. Since guests had brought a variety of impressive wines — about 100 collectors attended the bring-your-own-bottle event — Zutant and the other sommeliers had fixed every place setting with five “universal” glasses.

Several attendees arrived with Champagne, but only one requested flutes. Zutant, who has been managing beverage programs at some of D.C.’s best restaurants for more than a decade, was having none of it. Like most wine enthusiasts, he loathes flutes.

The flute gained popularity around 50 years ago as the coupe — the sherbet-style glass supposedly molded from Marie Antoinette’s left breast — fell out of favor. But like the coupe, it’s a terrible vessel for enjoying Champagne. And finally, sommeliers, retailers, and wine educators are beginning to say so.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Stunning Wines on the Edge of American Viticulture

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 04-14-2015

finger_lakesAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I praise the wines of the Finger Lakes region in New York — and highlight the collaborative nature of the winemakers there.

Stunning Wines on the Edge of American Viticulture

Finger Lakes’ wine pioneer Hermann Wiemer released his first wine 35 years ago. While his wines helped the New York region gain critical acclaim, he never curried much favor with local winemakers. And he had little patience for collegiality. In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, he described most Finger Lakes wine as “rubber hose” quality.

Things have certainly changed. Today, consumers everywhere consider Finger Lakes Riesling to be on par with the best offerings from Germany and Austria. Serious oenophiles recognize that other wines from the region show tremendous potential. And ironically, the region’s winemakers credit the collaborative spirit Wiemer shunned for the surge in quality.

Indeed, it’s a struggle to get vintners there to talk about their own wines. Virtually every Finger Lakes winemaker is more interested in promoting the industry as a whole — and praising colleagues — than talking about himself.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Worry About Wine, Not Arsenic

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-31-2015

ArsenicAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I find some good news in the allegation that some of the nation’s top-selling low-cost wines contain unsafe levels of arsenic.

Worry About Wine, Not Arsenic

In late March, two couples filed a class action lawsuit in California alleging that some of the nation’s top-selling low-cost wines contain unsafe levels of arsenic. “Just a glass or two” of wine from producers like Cupcake, Charles Shaw, Franzia, Rex Goliath, and Korbel “could result in dangerous arsenic toxicity,” according to the suit.

Many media outlets jumped on the story. CNN asked, “Should you be worried about arsenic in California wine?” Local CBS affiliates terrified viewers with breathtaking stories about “high levels of deadly arsenic.” But the coverage was grossly overblown.

For starters, the plaintiff’s analysis considered the EPA’s standard for arsenic in drinking water. If your Franzia consumption rivals your water consumption, you have bigger concerns than arsenic. Plus, as the Wine Institute, a trade group representing California wineries, explained, “arsenic is prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water… [so] wines from throughout the world contain trace amounts.”

So consumers should rest easy; winemakers aren’t topping up their tanks with the toxin. But the collective freak-out demonstrates that consumers are starting to pay attention to what’s in their wine. That’s worth celebrating.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-17-2015

CC0 Public Domain.

CC0 Public Domain.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I explain why wine enthusiasts shouldn’t worry about academic studies that call baloney on oenophilia.

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

One glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was described as “powerful and heavy.” Another was described as “subtle and refined.”  The only difference? The music that was playing while people drank the wine.

A few years ago, Adrian North, a psychology professor at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, tested the impact of music on taste perception by pouring wine for 250 students. Some tasted the wine while listening to music identified by others as “powerful and heavy,” while others listened to music that was “subtle and refined,” “zingy and refreshing,” or “mellow and soft.” Other students drank without any music. After enjoying their wine for five minutes, the students were asked to rate how much the wine tasted like the musical descriptions.

The conclusion, as put simply in the British Journal of Psychology? “Background music influences the taste of wine.”

When North’s study came out, oenophiles were infuriated. Here was yet another academic calling wine appreciation into question.

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

Widespread derision of wine criticism began in 2001 when Frédéric Brochet, a University of Bordeaux psychologist, poured one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine for 54 oenology students — and then asked them to describe each wine in detail. Students described each wine with the laundry list of descriptors one would expect for reds and whites. What Brochet didn’t tell the students? Both wines were the same. The white in one glass was simply dyed red.

Ever since, the media has jumped at any opportunity to call baloney on oenophilia. But psychologists have long known that humans are easily tricked, especially when relying on taste buds.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

In Its Greatest Moments, Wine Provides an Idealized Reality

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-03-2015

IMG_20150228_140315As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I write about the best California wine I’ve ever had — and what it teaches us about great wine.

In Its Greatest Moments, Wine Provides an Idealized Reality

Fifteen years ago, Stephen Tanzer, one of the world’s leading wine critics, described the Cabernet Sauvignon from Ridge’s 1991 harvest in Monte Bello vineyard as “among the top dozen made in California during the last 20 years.”

So when I tasted the wine on January 16, 2012, my expectations were high. A few friends and I had gathered at a local steakhouse to explore some of California’s top wines from the 1990s; bottles from producers like Seavey, Dominus, Chappellet, and Dunn were on the table. And the Ridge outclassed everything. The wine, grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, exploded out of the glass with sweet, fleshy fruit, wild herbs, and graphite. It was concentrated but light on its feet. The finish lingered impressively.

The Ridge Monte Bello stopped us in our tracks. It was as if we had discovered the Holy Grail. Without question, it was the best California wine I’d ever had.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

BREAKING: Robert Parker Steps Back From Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 02-25-2015

Robert Parker, 2014 Wine Writers Symposium.

Robert Parker, 2014 Wine Writers Symposium.

Earlier today, Robert Parker announced (subscription required) that he’s taking a step back from his Bordeaux coverage. As Parker explains:

As just part of the planned coverage for this year, Neal will review the 2014 en primeur releases from Bordeaux. Meanwhile I plan to review the newly bottled 2012 vintage wines and produce a comprehensive 10 year retrospective on the incredible 2005 Bordeaux vintage.

Parker’s decision makes sense. He’s reviewed virtually every Bordeaux vintage for nearly four decades and could surely use a break. But winemakers in Bordeaux must be nervous. No critic will ever have Parker’s influence. And one must assume that he’s now done with en primeur — and will likely move away from all Bordeaux reviews in the near future.

A Conversation with Terry Theise

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 02-18-2015

Terry TheiseRegular readers know that over the past few years, I’ve become obsessed with Champagne. Last week, while thinking about how popular the region has become — and what a debt we’re all in to Terry Theise — I realized that I didn’t know why, exactly, Theise started importing Champagne.

So we connected by phone and the discussion inspired my most recent Grape Collective column. We covered all sorts of issues — from Theise’s seminal trip to Champagne to what the future of the region will look like. It was fascinating. Check out our conversation below!

David White: How’d you decide to start importing Champagne?

Terry Theise: I was already bringing in growers from Germany and Austria. So my entire mentality was based upon working with small, family producers. The background of my history with Champagne is that when I came together with Odessa Piper — then my girlfriend, now my wife — we were long distance for quite a while. She had a restaurant in Madison; I had a child in the D.C. area. So neither of us really could move.

So, as happens in long-distance relationships, you have a lot of misery and heartbreak when you’re apart. But when you come together, it’s a big celebration. So we quickly ran through all the grower Champagnes that were available in the U.S. market and I found myself thinking, “Is this really all? There have to be more good growers than this.”

So one year, in 1995 or 1996, we just made a detour to Champagne. I had a list of interesting growers from Michael Edward’s first book and other research I had done. So I thought we’d take four or five days and just check out some of these growers.

This was all personal. All I wanted to do was to buy some Champagne to ship back to myself so I’d have stuff in the cellar to open up with Odessa. So we visited a number of producers. And I came away with my mind expanded — I had not realized the profound degree to which Champagne was a wine of terroir, just like every other wine of Northern Europe.

As we’re driving back — fishtailing all over because the trunk is full of Champagne — I’m thinking about how interesting the region is. I must have even observed that out loud, because Odessa then says, “You really ought to do this professionally.”

I say, “Oh, come on, I’m already pushing a rock up a hill with German wine and now I’ve just strapped a safe to my back with Austrian wine. How much misery do you want to put me through?”

And she says, “Do you think these wines deserve an audience?”

I said, “No question about it, they do.”

And she says, “Do you think that someone will be successful with them at some point?”

And I say, “Yeah, I think so, I think the right kind of importer will be successful with these wines.”

So she says, “How will you feel if that person isn’t you — and you had the chance and walked away from it?”

The only proper response to a question like that is, “Yes, dear,” and the result is that I began to import small grower Champagnes.

Once that decision was made, I went back diligently looking to put a portfolio together — and I had a lot of assistance from the producers, because you can get a chain reaction going with growers. If you taste with somebody and you like his wines and you’re personally simpatico, you can easily ask for other addresses to visit. The growers are perfectly happy to be collegial, so I got a lot of references from certain people. So in the first year, I put a portfolio together consisting of nine growers. That’s expanded and has now reached what I imagine to be its apex of 16 growers.

There were just 33 grower Champagnes in the U.S. market at that point. There are around 250 today. Of those nine you brought in, were any already in the United States? I don’t want to ask if you stole them from other importers, but were any already in the market? Or were they all brand new?

A couple of them — one or two — were here with either small local importers or national importers who weren’t doing a very good job for them. And when I surveyed the landscape, I saw a lot of good importers had a Champagne producer in their portfolio, or maybe two, but that struck me as tokenism. As an importer, you wouldn’t claim to represent Burgundy if you only had one or two Burgundy growers in your portfolio. You want to be comprehensive. And you want to show all of the manifold expression possible from Burgundy or, as I came to learn, from Champagne. So if I was going to tell the story that I knew needed to be told, I had to have Champagnes representative of a wide range of terroirs. As I often say, I wasn’t the first one to do it, but I was the first one to overdo it. Read the rest of this entry »

Investing Our Hearts in Champagne

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 02-17-2015

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, by sharing a great love story, I explore why Champagne is such a special beverage.

Investing Our Hearts in Champagne

“Here you have this wonderful, miraculous thing, with hundreds of thousands of little tiny bubbles that are defeating gravity and exploding in this gentle fragrant foam on the lip of the glass. There is something beautiful — in a kind of giddy way — about just the sight of Champagne.”

It was slightly surprising to hear wine importer Terry Theise make this statement.

Since the dawn of global wine consumption, large producers like Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot have dominated the Champagne market. These companies purchase their grapes from thousands of growers across the region to deliver a consistent product each year — and spend millions trying to convince us that their wines are best enjoyed when celebrating.

Theise has spent the past twenty years urging Americans to ignore these companies and instead drink “farmer fizz,” or Champagne produced by the farmers who grow the grapes. And he’s worked harder than anyone to dispel the notion that Champagne should only be consumed on New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and other special occasions.

But Theise recognizes that Champagne carries an emotional charge. There is, to put it simply, something special about Champagne. As Theise writes in his most recent catalog, “we invest our hearts in it.”

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!