cranberries, despairagus, and other holiday challenges

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When planning your holiday entertaining, the addition of wine to the table is sure to liven up any occasion. Matching wine to food need not be a chore or a challenge. Ignore the complex formulas and books on the subject; they offer too much information and over-complicate matters.

The truth is, there are very few wine and food matches that can go horribly wrong. What is most important is to have enough wine, to have a varied assortment of wine and to stay within your wine budget.

Before getting down to specific choices, do some pre-party planning. How many guests are you expecting? As much as possible, try to determine who among them will want wine. I generally plan to open a bottle of wine for every two wine-drinking adults; more if there are serious imbibers among the guests.

Purchase the wine at least a day or two in advance, so it's not a last-minute dash-and-grab. Have a pitcher of drinking water for every bottle of wine consumed. And mix up your choices. It's much more fun to serve six different wines than six bottles of the same wine, and it also ensures that every guest will have at least one or two choices that they know and like.

pokes and jokes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some random news bits and stuff to ponder this wintry weekend.

A friend points out that just a decade or so ago, we could all enjoy the talents of Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Steve Jobs, and Bob Hope. And now, just a few years later, we have lost our cash, our jobs, and our hope. Let’s hang onto our pride.

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when zinfandel turns to chocolate

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

High alcohol is a fact of life for many wines these days, but nowhere is it so completely ridiculous as in the world of zinfandels.

Don’t get me wrong; I am (or at least was) a huge fan of the grape. For years I actually did an annual zinfandel review for Wine Enthusiast magazine. Somewhere around August of each year I’d receive 200 to 300 zins to review. I’d do an entire week of nothing but zinfandel tastings, organized by AVA. It was a ton of fun, and I always learned a lot from the experience.

Back then (about 12 – 15 years ago) zinfandels were still in what might be called the moderate range of alcohol. One of my favorites – Nalle – remained at 13.5% well into the 1990s. By the late ‘90s quite a few zin producers were topping 14%, but only a handful hit 15%. I remember a conversation with Paul Draper (founder of Ridge) at a zinfandel showcase in the Dry Creek valley around that time. He was pouring a Ridge Lytton Springs (as I recall) from the mid-1970s. It was 12.5% alcohol! And it was drinking very well at more than 20 years of age. I asked him why the new Lytton Springs were close to 14.5%. I’m not sure he had a good answer, other than that is how we now ripen the grapes.

my all-new wine rating scale!

Monday, November 14, 2011


How many blogs have been written about the 100 point rating scale? Probably hundreds. How would you rate them? On average, I’d give them an 85. The main arguments that make sense (if you dislike the system) are that 1) it really comes down to a 10 point scale and 2) the ratings tend to cluster around 87-88 for the vast majority of wines.

So what’s the point?

This is what has led me to devise an all-new rating scale that addresses these pressing issues and actually pinpoints, with amazing exactitude, what each number on the scale means!

I share it with you in the spirit of the holidays, at no charge. Your enduring gratitude is the only thanks I need. So, here goes....

Introducing, the 10 Point Bo Derek-inspired Wine Rating System.

barefoot sham-pagne?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The blogosphere lit up like a Christmas tree a few weeks back, as self-righteous post after self-righteous post attacked Sea Smoke for having the audacity to label its new releases “California Grand Cru”. Now you may agree with me that the winery miscalculated from a PR standpoint – facing not just the ensuing hubbub, but the lingering impression of having made an unseemly, or at least unearned boast. But Sea Smoke did nothing illegal, and as I see it, nothing especially different from labeling an $8 bottle of plonk “Winemaker’s Reserve” or some such frippery.

A far more annoying, though still technically legal, gambit is the (mis)use of the word Champagne on certain cheap and cheerful California bubbly. Korbel has been doing this for years, and seems unlikely to change, but their labels are modest compared to what showed up on my doorstep yesterday.

1183 passed – so now what?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I was up late last night on my Facebook page, which turned into a lively discussion forum following the announcement that Initiative 1183 – the so-called Costco Initiative – would pass. In a nutshell, it takes the state of Washington out of the business of buying and selling alcohol, while ramping up both enforcement rules and dollars.

The campaign was expensive and rife with misstatements and fear-based projections about the horrible consequences should the Initiative pass. Well, it passed, and with a solid 60% margin, so what happens next?

a glorious vertical tasting of beresan cabernets

Monday, November 07, 2011

It is almost always a good start for any winery when the principal owner is a time-tested vineyard manager. In the case of Beresan, vineyard owner/manager Tom Waliser and winemaker Tom Glase, celebrating their tenth anniversary and 11th harvest, have taken their collaboration well beyond its promising beginning. Beresan makes my short list of the most important, consistent, stylistically riveting small wineries in Washington. It is also among the state’s best value plays, along with such gems as Fielding Hills, Soos Creek and Nefarious.

In celebration of their 10-year partnership, the two Toms opened a vertical tasting of Beresan cabernets, spanning their first six vintages. Every bottle was a delight, and it was clear that the polish, elegance, balance and power that each of these wines showed when first released had in fact played out well over the intervening years.

Washington cabernet, from great vineyards, is a contender for my favorite of all this state’s wines, and tasting a flight such as this one of the great pleasures of my vocation. Here are my original notes, scores, and the suggested retail upon release, along with updated comments (and scores) from this recent tasting.

wine and food, food and wine, what’s the big deal?

Friday, November 04, 2011

My column last Sunday in the Seattle Times proposed that we toss out all the rules (and the books that pander to them) regarding matching food and wine.

Wine Adviser

Maybe I snapped, having written one too many “what to drink with turkey?” columns over the years (I know! How about geworstramoaner! We never have that!). In any event, my thesis was that a lot of unnecessary fussing and fretting could be avoided by treating the food as food, the wine as wine, and letting them work out their own relationships.

I did not simply abandon readers to their own devices, however. I suggested several tactics that would encourage experimentation, all things I have successfully tried in my own home.