Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wine vs Beer vs Cheese

What started off as a typical Saturday night in store sampling of wine and cheese turned into a quick lesson of what doesn't work well.  The wine we sampled tonight was a new Spanish white from the Ribeiro region of Galicia, most notable for the white wine Albariño.
The name of the mystery grape tonight was Treixadura, something unknown to me.  The producer blended this wine with a small percentage Albariño.  To me, it lightened the citrusy/minerally edge of Albariño.  Great on it's own, but I would go out on a limb and say that this would be GREAT with seafood when the weather around these parts get warmer.  The two cheeses we sampled out tonight were #1 both locally produced and #2 made from cow's milk.  If you're looking at the picture above, the cheese in your right is a raw Jersey cow's milk cheese from Beaver Brook Farms in Lyme, CT called Nehantic Abbey. The cheese itself was smooth, creamy but that tang I usually get from raw milk was a little muted.  Still a good noshing cheese, not bad with the vino.  The other cheese is called The Melville produced by the Mystic Cheese Company.  Soft, creamy, decadent, versatile as a noshing cheese and makes for a great melter.  The wine however, not a good match.  The butteriness of the Melville and the steely edge on the vino clashed producing some off flavors.  Nothing horrendous, but nothing memorable or enjoyable.  Maybe I'm being too pompous or anal about this.  It just didn't work for me.  I would go out on a limb to say that going by laws of terrior association that Spanish Garroxta aged goat cheese would've been much better with this wine.
 So with that we decided that experimentation would be the next best thing or as we like to call it "quality control" on Saturday nights.
How about a beer?  Great choice! The beer was the Hop Session IPA from White Birch Brewing of New Hampshire.  The beer itself had that mild citrusy bouquet I usually expect from a domestic IPA, but the hops were rather controlled without being over the top bitter. Onto the cheese...
The Melville...
The slight bitterness of the hops cut through the creaminess of the cheese and blending the flavors into something more like fresh floral notes. 
The Nehantic Abbey from Beaver Brook..
This is a firmer cheese, but still creamy being its made from the fatty Jersey Cow's milk.  Again, once the hops hit the fattiness of the cheese it backs off the bitterness and gets tamed down.  Very harmonious. Perfect pairing.  The Hop Session itself is about at the bitter limit of what and how I like my IPA's to be.  Very drinkable on its own and I get a sense of how this beer would be better with food.  What else can you think of that would pair with THIS beer if you've had it before.  Let me know as I would like to experiment.  Find me on the Twitter Box at Wine1011 or drop me an email to wineschool101@gmail.com.  I look forward and would love to hear from you all!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Blues

I shutter to have to come in on Mondays.  The thought of 20 sales people lined with with samples of the next great wine, the new Siracha flavored vodka, a new macro micro craft artisanal local beer.  It's endless.  Sounds like a tough job right? Who wouldn't want to sip booze all day?  Well if the samplings in question have a repeat track record of sucking donkey balls then you'd understand my disdain.  Today, my sales woman walks in with her new manager.  Manager, that word has literally no meaning anymore.  When I was in big box retail, I was a manager.  The ranking made me feel like a general.  Now it's just a label on a VistaPrint business card that gives you another number to call to get the same bull shit response, "I don't know, but I'll call the office to find out."  Anyway, my sales woman brought in a foursome of vino from the Iberian peninsula.  Well done Miss!  She's been sizing us up and feeling us out as to what we like and sell a lot of.  Even though my store is heavy with selections from Spain, what's one or two more right?
First up (working left to right) is a red blend from Jumilla, Spain.  The blend is Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet.  Smooth, velvety medium bodied with that  raspberry jammy finish.  My cost is $112 for a case of 12 bottles, you do the math.  EXCELLENT value to quality ratio, mass appeal with the fruit, easy sale.
Next up was the Haza from Ribera del Duero, a Tempranillo.  I haven't had this wine in years and forgotten how good it was.  Again smooth medium bodied with a touch of oak that was neither too aggressive or dominant.  You know he's there, but he's got he's using his manners today.  A little over $20 retail, so I'll pass on this one until the phobia of winter/holiday bills and tax season are over.  This should be a good one when grill season fires up.
Last in the line up, Graham's Six Grapes Port.  Do I need to tell you how much this rocked? Alright, it did kick ass for a Monday morning otherwise filled with rejects.
My gal Monday, it was a pleasure doing business with you.  Hopefully you're on to something good and continue with your intuition.  Let's see what crap the rest of the week brings.
This time of year is tough in retail being wedged in between holiday bills coming in and people nervous about paying taxes.  Super Bowl doesn't really generate tremendous wine sales as you can imagine.  In this business, I try to pay closer attention to price as I'm buying for shelf stock.  The marketing geniuses from these distributors don't look at the overall picture that the everyday consumer is tightening the belt.  Why in the fuckity fuck fuck world would you send in new item after new item after new item every week when you damn well know that no one has money including the retailer?  It's never ending and sometimes you have to pass and/or be blunt about not coming into the store with a box of new booze to try.  Again, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it.  I'm not complaining today. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Professor Wine

I don't like titles just because it holds you accountable for something more important.  But this title is funny to me. Not funny in a joking way, but funny how life's road twists and turns and then you find yourself as an adjunct professor at a local college teaching students about wine, beer, etc.  It's even funnier when my friends call me up during this holiday season and say, "so what's new? Still stocking wine bottles on shelves?"
"Yeah still stocking. Oh, I'm teaching at a local college.  They call me Professor.  And you're still doing what with your master's degree?"
That's funny...  Never underestimate us bottom feeders, right Teddy Boy?
Any event...it's always a learning experience at any and all stages in life.  My 10 year old who is only allowed to smell the wine can only relate it to so many things like say rootbeer, strawberries, oranges, blueberries, Cheerios etc.  My original WINE101 grads are all 30's and up to 60 year olds, think about what they can relate to in their worldly travels, experiences and tastes.   Now, take a group of 20 something college students and imagine what and how they can relate the smells and tastes of wine to.  It's all a learning experience.  The hardest part for me with this class is grading them.  How do you grade someone when wine is so subjective?  Needless to say its all about participation. If you come to class and at the very least engage in discussion about what you are smelling, tasting, etc then you're doing it right.  As we begin to wrap up this semester, some of my students were unhappy with their participation grade and requested extra credit work.  Here was my email response along with my extra credit suggestion...

"This goes out to everyone since someone made mention of it, so here's a freebie for those who want to take advantage of it.  In return, if the assignment meets my criteria and standards then I will give you a perfect "10" for class participation.
With Turkey Day around the corner, much preparations go into the holiday festivities including the beverage selections.  You all will be part of that since
you are all wine/beer aficionados.  You will demonstrate what you have learned in this class and put it to use.  Impress your family, friends and make your professor proud.
#1. Pick out a wine/craft beer either by yourself or with  family member.  YOU pick this item out, not your family member.  With what you learned in class, figure out what beverage will compliment your traditional holiday meal.
#2. Take a picture of the bottle on your holiday table next to the food.  This is just proof that you did not just copy and paste something from the internet.
#3. Write a brief description of the wine/craft beer which should include:
        A) name of wine/beer and style/varietal and vintage...some crAft beers have vintages on them 
        B) where it's from including regions,
AVA, DOCG, AOC, DO, ETC for wines....beer will just be where it's from
        C) very brief history of the brewery or vineyard
#4 tasting notes...break this down into 5 parts, in paragraph form NOT TASTING
NOTE FORMS! 4 "S" format
        A) SEE/SWIRL..when you pour into your glass what color, clarity, hazy, etc
        B) SMELL.....self explanatory
        C) SIP...take a sip and tell me what your tasting including the start and finish.  Take a second sip this time with food and describe how it              compliments what you are eating
        D) SAVOR....describe what the after taste is or what we call the finish
        E) FINAL THOUGHTS 
That's it...put what you learned in class into this.  Do NOT copy and paste some critics notes into this.  I read and review about 100 critics comments a week so I'll SMELL someone else's work a mile away.  This is all YOUR thoughts, ideas, suggestions and heart.  There's no right or wrong but there is garbage. To say, "I liked this wine/beer with my turkey and mashed potatoes because it went good and I liked it so I would drink more because it tasted good...." isn't going to go over well.
This is easy and fun.  Ask your family and guests what they liked about it and take mental notes.  You'll learn from their comments as well. Impress people with what you learned.  You'll surprise yourself with how much you know once you put that knowledge to practical use.
Remember, this shouldn't be or feel like work.  This should be fun.  Involve your family and friends."
Was that easy?  Was I too harsh?  I only wish my college work was like this although some of my classes were like this.
As of the Sunday after Thanksgiving, one student has taken advantage of this easy project.  She sent me a text with a picture if the beverages her family chose to accompany the Thanksgiving festivities and again let me reiterate that this job is a constant learning experience where sometimes teacher becomes student.
Here are her beverage choices, keep in mind that her family is not a wine drinking family, so she went the craft beer route...
Beer of choice for Thanksgiving...
Shipyard's Pumpkinhead Ale
Very fitting
Wine of choice
Rosé Sangria
Again, sometimes the teacher becomes the student and this pairing made me think on how it might actually fucking work!!  If you're pouring Beaujolais Noveau, Rieslings, etc then why not Sangria?  Sometimes the ridiculous is so obvious!  Fruit component, dry finish, light bodied...family FUN!! Winning!
Dessert Beverage
Fruit Punch Jell-O shots
????
I asked for an invitation to next year's Thanksgiving. She'll probably get an "A" for creativity, thinking outside of the box and effort.
The learning never ends!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Wine Picks, If we Must

 
It's that time of year where we frantically try to pair something with the bird.  And with all of that, inevitably some critic or wine snob has the be all to end all of wine pairings that will revolutionize the Turkey Day festivities.  Stop right there!  Mistake number one.  Unless turkey is all you eat on Thanksgiving, you have an entire array of other dishes to consider that go along with that.  Why just pigeon hole your wine selection to matching just the turkey? 
It's not rocket science, it's just wine.  My rule is drink what you enjoy instead of putting so much pressure on yourself to impress everyone else.  But, if we must have suggestions and recommendations then let's give it a whirl.  Again, whatever you enjoy then that's what you should pour, but for sake of argument these are my picks and my opinions.  I'm steering away from Pinot Noir just because that's the safety net everyone uses when they don't know or don't want to experiment.
Wine #1...Anna de Codorniu Rose Cava from Spain.
What? Sparkling wine from Spain is known as Cava which is made in similar fashion to French Champagne, but 50% of Champagne's price tag. This particular Cava is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay (same grapes used to make Champagne, shhh!)
Why?...BUBBLES!  Bubbles make flavors in food POP!  Not to mention this particular Rose Cava has a tiny fruit component that will compliment a dry turkey, cross over into the stuffing, match up the canned cranberry sauce and then tackle a cheese cake.  ONLY $10

 WINE #2...Ravines Dry Riesling
What?  The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is making killer Alsace/German style whites and fantastic French inspired Cabernet Franc.
Why?  Finger Lakes Riesling is a terrific balance of fruit (not sweet) and dry as opposed to that fruit cocktail syrupy juice found in California Rieslings which are too cloying for me and in my opinion and my opinion only are way overboard for Thanksgiving.  You want a fruit component with the festivities not a bone dry white.

WINE #3 Tilenus Mencia
What?  The region of Biezo, Spain is one of those hidden gems turning out great quality affordable wines.  Their main red grape is called Mencia which is similar to Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley of France.
Why? I'm going with this versatile red because yes there is a slight fruit character to it, but it has beautiful floral flavors of lilac, lavender that will balance with the savory flavors of stuffing, herb roasted chicken, etc.  It's not as terroir driven (there's a Jeopardy question there) as a Loire Cab Franc but in this case I'm not looking for minerality or earthy flavors.  ONLY $10


WINE #5 Cave Saint Desirat Cotes du Rhone Villages
What?  The Rhone Valley of France is home to a bevy of off the beaten path grapes such as Mourvedre, Syrah (not Shiraz), Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan to name just a few.  Spicy fruit with cinnamon and clove balanced off with just enough earth tones to not make them a jelly jar bomb, but not necessarily a barn yard forest floor.
Why? Again, let's go back to the concept that you should focus on the entire meal being served and not just the bird.  With that, you have an entire array of flavors so I give you a wine made up of several flavors that will match.  This particular red is coming from Cotes du Rhone Villages which is a notch up from a regular CDR and at $10 worth the try.

BEER#1 Sin Cider Newton Pippin Hard Cider
This maybe a new concept to some, but beer actually pairs very nice with food, again BUBBLES and low alcohol.  This year has seen an influx in hard ciders.  You may have had Woodchuck or Angry Orchards, but these are slightly different.  These ciders drink like wine as opposed to fizzy yellow beer (cider).  I'm going with this choice thinking that between stuffing, bird, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and such that this will play off those savory flavors.  This particular cider is not too sweet and finishes dry.  If you can find the cherry cider then that would be a terrifc match with the turkey and trimmings.  This isn't a strange concept if you think back to history.  The pilgrims drank beer and most likely fermented ciders.

Experimentation should be the name of the game.  Actually, enjoying the company of family, friends at the holiday dinner table should be the main focus.  All this worrying about being so particular and accurate with pairings is too much. Drink what you like.  If it's a jug of Paisano then so be it just give me a heads up so I can BYOB!
Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 8, 2013

F U 2 Cancer Benefit Wine Class 11/21

Last night's class was an absolute blast!  I get excited to hear enthusiastic questions, inquires from people that may have not have asked in a different setting.  Hey people, It's just wine.  Who's gonna tell YOU differently if that's what you're tasting or smelling.  I can't repeat that last sentences enough.  
Ok, let's start planning our next class to help our friend Mike who continues his battle with Stage 4 cancer.  The week before thanksgiving also happens to be the 9 year anniversary for our favorite wine shop in New Haven, Grand Vin Fine Wines.  So, to help them kick off the celebration we're going to have a Spanish cheese and wine class!! November 21st, class begins at 6:30pm and is limited to 10 people.  $30/person or $50/couple.  RSVP ME SOON! All proceeds from this and every November class goes to help Mike kick the hell outta this disease!  Wine brings people together for all sorts of reasons.  Know that you are doing something great for someone all while learning about wine.
See you at class!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Breckenridge Brewing Beer & Cheese Class

For the entire month of November, we will be donating all proceeds from each class to a friend of mine who is battling Stage 4 Cancer at the young age of 39 years old.  For more info on Mike follow this link
Each Thursday night in November we will be working with our friends at Grand Vin Fine Wines, http://www.grandvinonline.com/ , to bring people together through wine to help another human being and his family battle this.
I was starting to think about it and I felt that I was leaving some people out.  I've heard rumors, maybe myths and folklore that some people don't drink wine.  Imagine that.  Some people prefer the aromatic indulgence of hops, barley and malt.  Hey, I'm a beer guy also.  I'm not going to go out there and say I'm the biggest craft beer, hop head out on the scene since that would be insulting to those aficionados.  I DO NOT drink the fizzy yellow stuff.  I like anything with flavor and character.  Something that sets the mood for my taste buds and gets them talking.  A great farmhouse Saison with some triple creme brie, a nice Porter on a cold night ...HMMM!  That's what I go for and I know that there's many who also enjoy this.  I have many friends in the beer field.  Some brewers, sales people, brewery reps...all I consider my ambassadors, my Yoda's in the craft beer world. 
On November 30th, we're bringing in one of those guys, my friend and sales rep from Craft Beer Guild of CT Ryan.  He'll walk you through the brews of Breckenridge Brewery http://www.breckbrew.com/
While I try to nail the cheese pairings.  On a side note, if you've never paired cheese with beer you are truly missing out.  The bubbles combined with the cheese makes the flavors explode!
The class is $20/person, limited to 12 people due to size.  Class begins at 4PM at Grand Vin Fine Wines of New Haven 28 E. Grand Ave
 This also makes a great holiday gift to someone, so if you are thinking that you already know 10-12 people that would love the whole room to yourselves then contact me ASAP before 11/18.  Proceeds from this and every November class go directly to Mike and his family to offset the costs associated with his treatment especially since he can no longer work while undergoing treatment.
Let's face it, after Black Friday and the chaos of the malls everywhere it will be nice to sit, relax with some friends and have a sampling of some fine ass craft brews while knowing that you are helping out another human being.  
Bring some friends or make some new ones!
Email me at 
wineschool101@gmail.com
by 11/18.
I cannot accommodate walk ins due to room size. However, if you would like to plan a similar event, please contact me to discuss dates, topics and the endless possibilities we can do!
 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pumpkin Beer Time

I'm a little late with this post since its the end of September and stores already have their Christmas decorations and merchandise up.  Depressing!! So with that logic it must means that Fall and Pumpkin ales come out in 100 degree August to be sold out prior to Halloween in time for Spring ales right?  
Ok on to this pumpkin beer review while its still relevant.  Rosemary's Baby is a new pumpkin entry from a local Connecticut brewery out of Stratford called Two Roads, http://www.tworoadsbrewing.com/door.php?return=/&e=3600
The beer is aged in rum barrels which I'm assuming drives up the desire to acquire it that and a limited supply.  In any event, if you've had the Innis & Gunn Ale Aged in Rum Barrels than this will be very similar in taste.  Imagine taking a Newcastle Brown Ale, Innis&Gunn Rum and add a dash of Spice Island pumpkin spice and whammo you've got something close to the Rosemary's Baby.  I love this beer's easy drink ability, it's smooth transition and balance from mild hops to pumpkin spice.  The rum notes are faintly detectable.  Considering the timing of this beer's release so early in the season, it was not as heavy bodied as so many others in this category making for a nice session beer to drink as summer fades away.
Buy it if you can find it. Do yourself a favor and visit the brewery!  Gotta support the local guys!