In August, Table Matters will be launching a series of digital wine guides called Planet of the Grapes by Jason Wilson, award-winning columnist and author of Boozehound. Stay tuned for updates via Twitter and Facebook, and sign up here for sneak peeks and our latest news.
In August, Table Matters will be launching a series of digital wine guides called Planet of the Grapes. Stay tuned for updates.
There are powerful wines and hedonistic wines. There are oaky wines and wines bursting with fruit. There are thrilling wines and profound wines. There are wines with beautifully-designed labels and wines with cute, easy-to-read labels. There are expensive wines and wines you keep in your cellar for decades.
Muscadet is absolutely none of these. MORE
I recently received a sample of a rather eye-catching bottle of wine. Included in the shipment was a news release. It invited me to celebrate the wine’s “bold new label,” which was “sure to grab attention at the next summer barbeque.” It also informed me that the wine was both “fun and unconventional” and that it “reflects the Wild West experimentation of the Paso Robles AVA.”
Few things are lovelier than ending a meal with a spot of cheese. The French have done it for years without any trauma to their collective girth, which suggests that indulging in a morsel or two of cheese after supper, instead of a brownie sundae, just might be better for all of us. In fact, eating cheese at the end of a meal is supposed to be good for your teeth. Thank you, food scientist Harold McGee, for that important dental insight.
For after-dinner inspiration, try ordering a cheese course for dessert next time you go out. The Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia is famous for its cheese cart, which is wheeled to each table like an elaborate pram; the Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan offers an impeccable assortment which sits, veiled, on a slate in its tavern dining room, so that’s it’s impossible not to steal furtive glances. Cheese after a meal should be so exquisite; it should arouse desire. MORE
“That just might be the girliest thing I’ve seen you drink all year,” said my friend as I sipped on a vibrant pink glass of rosé at a local wine bar recently. This friend of mine trained in the army, still wears her sturdy combat boots, and doesn’t own makeup — the least “girly” girl I know. When I suggested she try my wine, she refused to let go of the grip she had on her own full glass, which she had ordered from the “Sociable Reds” category on the wine list.
I didn’t understand her hesitation. If she were truly feeling sociable, she would have at least sampled a sip. After all, there’s nothing more friendly and approachable than a chilled glass of pink rosé on a sunny, spring day. “Come on, you’ll like it,” I said. “I promise, you won’t turn into Barbie if you try it.”
“But it looks like Arbor Mist!” she said with a laugh. “Too sweet for me.”
Yes, the Spanish 2011 Celler el Masroig Les Sorts Rosat in my glass was undeniably bright pink in color. And yes, it did look dainty and feminine and flirty. But it was also everything a serious rosé should be — youthful and vivacious, with ripe, bold berry flavors, juicy acidity, and a hint of spiciness. It made me feel good when I drank it — revived and refreshed — and it was far from being too sweet.
“Zut alors!” my host mother sighed, exasperated, as I admitted that afternoon’s encounter with her respected, renowned winemaking neighbor. In typical “who… me?” fashion, I had managed to achieve local infamy in less than five days.
At sixteen, I was as ignorant of their language as of their wine culture when I alighted upon the cherished terroir de la France. And, if life wasn’t already terrifying enough at that tender point, thanks to crippling isolation and loneliness, I almost got myself killed learning about “The Almighty French Grape.”
The first thing I wish I had known before I approached the car rental kiosk: Almost all cars in Europe are manual. The second: European car rental companies don’t really care about silly Americans like me that don’t know how to drive them.
Many young Americans are just like me. I learned how to drive in an automatic car. Five years have passed and I still cannot operate one with a manual transmission. At home, in my good old automatic, this is never an issue. But when I arrived in Europe last fall for a self-guided tour through wine regions in Spain, France, and Italy, my inability to manage a stick shift suddenly became a hindrance. Luckily, one rental company offered a solution to my problem: the Smart Car, which has an automated manual transmission and can be driven in either mode. It was extremely tiny, like a toy car — much smaller than any car I had ever driven. I wondered where exactly I was supposed to put my oversized suitcase. But while it wasn’t the most comfortable ride for a lengthy journey through wine country — certainly not very impressive to roll up to a winery in — the little car took me far.
I am not a patient person. My mother says I’ve been this way from day one — born several weeks early, not willing to wait another minute to be part of the world. During my eighth birthday party, she joked with my aunt about her “frustrated little girl who wished she was turning 28 instead.” And before I even started my freshman year of high school, I eagerly narrowed down which colleges I would apply to years in the future.
Not much has changed. So while it’s a bit disappointing, I’m not at all surprised that the only wine I have ever bought with the thought of aging in mind is already gone. My inability to wait for anything, of course, interfered with the plan.
“Oh no!” I heard my friend shriek from her kitchen. Had a mouse just run across her foot? Was an oven mitt on fire? Did someone put too much soap in the dishwasher? I couldn’t quite tell, but the loud slamming drawers and cabinet doors sounded rather serious.
“I can’t find it anywhere!” She came running back into the room, her hands full of various utensils. “What about a knife? Or maybe scissors?” she asked with a puzzled expression. “Do you know how to uncork a bottle with a fork?”
“This one smells earthy. Strong herbal and tobacco notes, too,” said the older woman sitting across from me in the winery’s tasting room. She stuck her nose deeper into her wine glass, gracefully swirled it around a few times, and then took a few generous sips. “With ripe berries and nice oak flavors. Now, this is my kind of wine.”
“Really?” asked her husband. “Because it smells very oaky to me,” he said with a look of disgust before dumping his entire glass. Oaky. He spat the word out as if it were a curse.
“Well, I really love it,” his wife said, a bit puzzled by his response. “I don’t understand what’s wrong with this wine.”
I’m a firm believer that size doesn’t actually matter. At 5-foot-9, I’m pretty tall for a woman, though I’ve never had a problem dating a shorter guy before. I’ve lived happily in apartments both tiny and large. And I don’t fear any size portion of food put in front of me.
The very same rule applies to my wine. I see nothing wrong with the powerful, dark fruity blasts of pleasure that complex red wines so generously offer. In fact, I often desire them. But with these big-bodied, bold-flavored deep reds, it’s not uncommon to also find heightened levels of alcohol, and not everybody loves punchier wines as much as I do. Others loathe them, running in the other direction when they hear the phrase “high-alcohol wines” being used.
When I was in high school, I realized an essential fact about myself. I am not a perfectionist. I am entirely satisfied with a job done to the point of being good enough. I like to work hard and derive a great deal of pleasure at a task done well, I just don’t like making myself crazy over the minutia.
A good example of my tendency to accept “perfectly good” over “aggressively perfect” is in my attitude towards the classic French dish, Coq au Vin. Truly, it is a marvel of a dish, requiring you to brown and then remove onto a plate a parade of ingredients. The Julia Child recipe even instructs you to blanch your bacon slivers before introducing them to the party, lest it bring too much smokiness to the table.
My version is far less work and still manages to taste quite spectacular (and it’s just perfect for this Whole Chicken Project of mine). It might not be a perfectly divine as the classic dish, but it is one-tenth of the work and that satisfies me down to the bone.
There’s no accessory I wear better than my pair of purple lips. You know the ones I’m talking about—the lips that barely hide the stained smile underneath. They’re a dead giveaway that I’ve been enjoying an intimate encounter with red wine, but that’s never a bad thing for me.
Others are eager to scrape their mouths clean of the evidence, though I don’t see why. Those stained lips are souvenirs of the tannins in sensational wines that should be worn with pride.
Chances are, you’ve already heard the talk about tannins. In the wine world, the word has gone viral and now appears almost everywhere—in wine reviews, on back labels, and as a part of tasting descriptions. Sometimes you see tannins identified as smooth and velvety, other times rich and lingering, or gripping and drying—but when it comes to wine what do those words all mean?
Recently, a lot of brewers have followed the same routine for new releases: Brew a big beer, throw it in a bourbon barrel for a few months, release limited quantities at a high price, and watch the beer lovers line up outside the bottle shops. At one point, this was an edgy, experimental way to alter a beer. Now with almost every major American craft brewery offering an example of this style, the true trendsetters have moved on to the next frontier in the world of spent oak: empty wine barrels. MORE
Despite the premise of this column, finding a white wine under $10 isn’t all that difficult. Honestly. Plenty of regions make cheap wines: Mass-produced bottles from California line the bottom shelves, there’s enough Italian pinot grigio and Australian chardonnay to last generations of ladies’ nights, and cheap sauvignon blanc is as plentiful as lemonade.
Yes, friends, most of the world’s white wine is inexpensive. Finding interesting white wines on the bargain shelves, however, is another story. It’s a struggle to find the combination together in any aisle, but nowhere is the dilemma more prevalent than in the South African wine section.