Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food and wine is me

I'm only here to help people with food and wine questions, problems, insight or even if you're just curious. I have nothing to sell or make money on here so it's purely to help people on these topics. I've published three books on wine, an audio book and taught cooking and wine classes for 20 years. Father was a chef, grandmother was the personal baker to the last king of Italy in 1900.

Once in a while I'll post wines and foods tasted and recipes or techniques.

Let me know what you think.



  1. Welcome to blogging. It will be interesting to see what you do from here. I stumbled across your blog.

  2. Wine Rap

    Where is my Chardonnay?
    I like it a different way
    Makes me want to choke
    from all the oak
    and the fires that they stoke
    Is this a joke?
    All that smoke, creates the toast
    Why not let the tree fall and roast?
    Why use grapes at all?
    Pineapple and Snapple
    What soil, why grapple?

    Ever hear of Chablis?
    That’s more like me
    Tight like a rock instead of a sock
    No wood, what a shock
    And you don’t have to hock
    the farm
    Just disarm
    the cooper
    Put the oak in the pooper
    Feel the acid

    Where is my Pinot Noir?
    Don’t want it to taste like Syrah no more
    All that extraction
    is such a distraction
    Try some subtraction
    instead addition
    It’s called tradition
    Sometimes attrition
    But whatever the position
    it should taste like the grape
    not an ape
    makes me want to escape
    to Musigny or Vosne Romanee
    Then you’ll see

    Where is my Zinfandel?
    Not the white from Hell
    But the real one, do tell?
    Love the bramble and the berry
    The chaparral and the cherry
    The alcohol makes me wary
    and weary
    But the best of the West
    Pass the test
    And I’ll even do the rest
    Whether Primo or Plavic
    It’s a Mavrick

    Where oh
    Oh Verdicchio?
    Try Vernaccia
    We gotcha
    Vermentino an affair
    To remember
    Not to forget
    Yet, not a branch in site
    Harmony with a bite
    Just right

    Nebbiolo has no equal
    Barolo is the sequel
    Barbaresco makes you squeal too
    Only if you wait
    Which puts you in the state
    of Limbo
    Say no so
    But it is
    it’s own reward

    Chianti is the heart
    from the start
    Sangiovese the part
    that makes it all
    unless you have the gall
    to Cabernet

    Tempranillo is my hero
    From Rioja to the Duero
    It ages without fear
    Oh, how it pleases
    and Jesus, is it good

    Farewell my Cabernet
    From you I must stray
    You served me well
    when I couldn’t tell
    That you didn’t fit
    except when you hit
    the leather mitt
    and I was smitten
    by the taste
    and went in haste
    to the chateau of briand
    and fell again

    And finally my Riesling
    From the lakes of the Fingerling
    to the undulating Rhine
    the taste all mine
    Majestic to no fault
    Just pure, unadulterated
    never modulated
    always understated
    Acid for days
    at the top of the Mainz
    The Mosel screams
    Alsace streams
    Even Perth shows its worth
    It’s the grape, you fool
    You’re but a tool
    Just try it and you’ll
    like me

  3. The posts I sent in Safari don't seem to show up in Firefox.

  4. Just what we need -another aging white wine rapper!

  5. Ed, your poem was well constructed, but did it have to equal Paradise lost in length?

  6. I have heard that there are 30 or 40 wineries for sale in Napa and in Sonoma, it would be interesting for your blog, if you could get a ball park figure for Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara.

  7. They probably want too much money anyways. Haven't figured out we've been in a downward spiral for the last two years.

  8. If anyone has any wines they'd like to sell, let me know. I have a huge list of potential buyers.

  9. Been drinking a few 1985 Barbarescos and Barolos courtesy of my friend Bill Briggs to whom I sold a few of them back in the day. Gotta say they are as good as wine can get in the world. Absolsute perfection! I hope the new ones will last that long.

  10. Recently purchased some FRESH shrimp at the 99 Ranch Market in Cerritos for $20 a pound. $12 got us each three small shrimp and while the texture was good, not much flavor. Sauce was great, if I do say so. Shrimp stock made from the shells, soy sauce, Mirin, Sweet Chili Sauce and Yang Sing. Killer!

  11. How important is a vintage chart?

    In California, Washington and other parts of the New World like Australia, South Africa, South America and the like, it’s not as important as it is in the Old World like Europe. That’s because most Old World wine regions have weather patterns that are a lot more unpredictable than most of those in the New World. That being said, there are times when a universally not-good vintage in Europe, like 2002 has some exceptions like in Burgundy and Spain.

    And then there is the exceptional vintage like 1998 in Australia and the not-so-exceptional vintage like 1998 in the North Coast of California. Of course, just to make things complicated, 1998 in the Central Coast was quite good.

    Now do you see the dilemma?

    The most important thing to notice is whose name is on the bottle. Who made it? A great producer will not put out anything that isn’t up to his or her standards and those are the people whose wines you should buy even if then cost a bit more. But, in a bad vintage the producer can only do so much. The vintage always rules. If someone makes a really good wine in a bad vintage, chances are it won’t last long, There are exceptions, but why take a chance?

    The vintage is important when discussing specific areas. 2007 was great in most of Italy, not very good in Bordeaux, rather good in Burgundy, outrageously good in the Mosel, fabulous in Napa and so-so in Oregon.

    Best advice I can give you is ask the person who is selling you the wine and remember the basic tenet of all wine; there are no great wines, only great bottles.

  12. Corkiness

    The worldwide demand for corks has put a strain on the cork trade. As a result, corks have slipped in quality and incidences of a "corky" problem have increased tenfold. "Corkiness" is produced by a very small, yet incredibly powerful, bacteria who's presence can be detected in doses as small as 1 part per million!

    All manner of methods have been tried to ensure that the bacteria is eliminated, but none have worked with 100% accuracy. The real difficulty is for wineries who have no idea as to which corks are affected and which aren’t. When a consumer tastes a corked wine, they blame the winery, not the cork. Yet, wineries are powerless to fix the problem as are the cork manufacturers.

    If a wine is left on a defective cork for 2 months or longer, it picks up a damp cardboard smell and taste and is virtually ruined. It gets worse as the wine stays in the bottle and it cannot be removed. Estimates run from 3% to 6% of the wines being affected, making the demand for synthetic corks and screwcaps more vigorous than ever.

  13. Phylloxera

    Phylloxera attacks the root system of vines eating the vine from the root up. It lives benignly in American rootstock without doing much damage. Once, however, it was introduced to those succulent vines in Europe, it feasted on every vine it could find until there were no more vines to destroy. By the end of the nineteenth century, there was hardly a vine standing in all of Europe.

    The cure was a tough pill for the Europeans to swallow. That being they would have to plant American rootstock to which European vine stock would be grafted. Native American vines are resistant to phylloxera, but produces wine of lesser quality than European vines. Europe was slow to realize this cure or it would have recovered from phylloxera in less than five years. As it was, it took almost 50 years for the devastation to be controlled. Today, nearly all of the world's vines are a composite of American rootstock and European vine stock.

  14. Malolactic Fermentation

    Malolactic is referred to as a 2nd fermentation in wine, but quite different than the 1st one. Instead of yeast interacting with sugar and creating alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) by-products, a bacterial culture attacks the harsh malic acid in the wine (the same acid as on the inside of green apple skin) and converts it to lactic acid (the same as lactose in milk). This lowers the wine's overall acidity and makes it a little smoother and easier to taste. Malolactic (ML) can occur normally or can be induced with natural cultures.

    Almost all red wines go through malolactic. That’s because most red wines have a lot of Malic acid and it can be very penetrating, White wines are a different matter. Because white wines are chilled, the acid isn’t as strong in the mouth as it is with reds, some winemakers like to preserve that extra acid to give the wine more zip.

    Wines with higher acid tend to age better since acid is a natural preservative. White wines that don’t go through malolactic can be quite tart on the palate in their youth, but will age better.

  15. The Pinots and the Sauvignons. It's not the Monteques and the Capulets.

    The word pinot is derived from the French word pin which translates to pine and is used to denote a pine cone. It is used here because the shape of the grape clusters on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, aka Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Blanc resemble a pine cone. Back in the day, Chardonnay was called Pinot Chardonnay for the same reason. These grapes all have some ampelogical connection, meaning that even though one may be red and the other white, at some point they were the same and through centuries of mutation, morphed into something different.

    Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are also two grapes with a distant connection even though they look and taste quite different. Traminer and Gewurztraminer share many characteristics. As a matter of fact, one is just a slightly different version of the other. At one time the vine was called Traminer. Vintners noticed that some plants had grapes of a slightly different color to them and when vinified separately, produced a spicer version of the common Traminer. So, they named this version Gewurztraminer because gewurzt means “spicey” in German.

  16. Wine with Food.

    It’s a wonderful synergy. Here’s how it works Your tongue is made up of thousands of tiny taste buds that are shaped like a mushroom; a stem with a cap that overhangs on top. As you eat, your taste buds trap food between the stem and the cap, blotting out the bud's ability to taste. Your taste buds get overloaded and thus, the food seems to lose its flavor. Wine's naturally high acidity cleanses those taste buds better than anything else. Wines referred to as "food wines" tend to have a higher acidity, making them too tart to drink on their own. That acidity cleanses the palate and prepares it to accept the next bite of food.

    Acidity curls the tongue and induces you to salivate. The saliva is a natural digestive, helping to move the food through the body. Wine is the catalyst in not just enjoying the taste of food but helping to digest it as well. That's why wines with lower acids and/or a touch of sugar are sometimes referred to as "cocktail wines" as they can be consumed without food and not overload the taste buds with acid. Unfortunately, as noted above, this condition forces you to drink wine without the benefit of food, introducing alcohol into the bloodstream twice as fast as if you had had something to eat.

  17. Tasting and Spitting

    While some people think it’s not politically acceptable (those would mostly be women with white dresses on) we have no choice. We couldn’t possibly swallow that many wines and live through it. You can actually get physically sick from swallowing that many different wines. It’s not as much about the alcohol as your body trying to assimilate that many different things at once.

    Another important point is that 70% of what we taste is really derived from smell. Smelling a wine gives you more information than tasting it. There are times when a wine smells wonderful, but doesn’t live up to that promise in the mouth. That’s because, in most cases, it’s a young wine and is still developing. If you smell something you don’t taste that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s just not there yet!

    Conversely, if you don’t smell it in the glass, chances are you won’t taste it later.

  18. Planning how much wine for a party or wedding.

    The standard wine bottle, 750 ml, has 25.4 ounces of wine. A restaurant pour is usually 6 ounces, but for larger gatherings such as a wedding, 5-ounce pours are generally the rule. So, you can expect 5 glasses per bottle. Champagne bottles also have 25.4 ounces of juice in them, but for a toast, you need only fill about 60%, which is a little over half a glass so you could get 6–7 glasses per bottle.

    Don’t over pour for the toast; after the toast there are always dozens of barely touched glasses. People have a sip, set it down and go back to their other drink. There is a general rule for how much to buy: Expect 1.5 drinks per adult, per hour, and then split that up between all the drinks being served, i.e. beer, liquor, and wine. The trick is finding what your crowd will drink and how much. Are they beer people? Do they love wine? Offering one red and one white is perfect. If one meal is meat and the other chicken, you are covered. A standard mix for 140 guests would be one, maybe two, kegs of beer. Each keg serves 175 cups. Six cases of wine, three red and three white, two cases of ‘toasting’ bubbly and 4-5 bottles of ‘good’ sparkling wine, unless you have a budge for “real” Champagne. Stock the bar with standard liquor and mixes and maybe a ‘theme’ drink. If you are a wine lover, stash a few bottle of the “good stuff” by your table.

  19. Grape yields.

    Growing grapes is very much like growing any other agricultural product. The quality is dependent on the soil and climate. But, it is also dependent on the yield. Every plant has a root system that supplies nutrients to the branches where they are dispersed to the flowers which will eventually become grapes. The root system is finite, meaning there is just so much root the plant will have to bring up the needed water and nutrients. If the plant is allowed to grow wild, producing as many branches and thus grapes it is capable of they will not get the needed nutrients and water. That’s why vineyardists prune the vines vigorously. They only want so many clusters of grapes. If they allow too many the resultant grapes will be of a bland character. Pruning directly affects the yield. If allowed to grow wild, a vine could produce as much as 10 tons of grapes per acre. The resultant wine would not be very good. If it is restricted to 2-4 tons to the acre, the grapes have the potential for greatness assuming everything else is in line as well.

  20. Aging Wines

    Assuming that no outside demon interferes with the finished wine, i.e. faulty corks or bacteria in the bottle before it is filled, once a wine is bottled it enters into a different phase of its life. Because of the tumultuous act of plunging this liquid into the bottle at a very rapid rate, the wine "shuts down" in what is commonly referred to as bottle shock. Sometimes even a year or two must pass before it has the same fine flavors it had in the barrel before bottling.

    The benefit of aging a wine (on its side so that the cork is in full contact with the wine to avoid air getting in and wine getting out) is the coming together of all the components from discreet and separate flavors into one composite whole. The vineyard, vintage, type and length of time in oak, the acid and tannin levels, malolactic, etc. will be apparent when the wine is young. As the wine ages, these components meld together to present one united front of complex flavors with the whole being greater that the sum of its parts. Each component ages at a slightly different rate and each has its own dominance in the blend of flavors.

    The interaction of acids, tannins, coloring agents and other compounds interact with the oxygen and change both the color, smell and taste of the wine. In most cases this is a positive occurrence. Aging is not a panacea for mediocre wine. Everything has to be there going in or there won't be anything to get out. A wine which tastes awful in its youth will taste awful when it's old. The fact is, if a wine is out of balance, if the tannin levels are higher than the fruit levels, it will always be out of balance. Wines do not magically attain balance in the bottle. If the wine was too high or too low in acid to begin with, it will always be so.

  21. The importance of a vineyard's elevation.

    Like so many other factors, the elevation of a vineyard is an important aspect of its ability to produce great wine grapes. What’s interesting is that its importance varies based on where the vineyard is. For instance, in South America, which is close to the equator, if vines were planted at, or near, sea level, the temperature would be so hot and humid that the grapes could not produce anything even approaching great wine.

    The higher elevation, such as those found in Chile and Argentina, is the most critical factor in ameliorating the temperature. Heat collects at the bottom, but passes through at the top. Therefore, the heat summation in the higher elevations is not even close to that which is on the floor.

    In more temperate climates at sea level, elevation is important because that elevation was caused by a geological occurrence which forces rocks and limestone into the soil. That rock and limestone assure proper drainage and supply nutrients essential to a vines health and its ability to produce great grapes for making great wines.

  22. What is an AVA (American Viticultural Area)?

    An American Viticultural Area is a specific wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) The TTB defines AVAs at the request of wineries and other petitioners. There were 198 AVAs as of January, 2010. Prior to the installation of the AVA system, wine appellations of origin in the United States were designated based on state or county boundaries. All of these appellations were grandfathered into federal law and may appear on wine labels as designated places of origin, but these appellations are distinct from AVAs.

    American Viticultural Areas range in size from the Ohio River Valley AVA at 26,000 square miles across four states, to the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, California, at only 62 acres.

    Unlike most European wine appellations of origin, an AVA specifies only a geographical location from which at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must have been grown. The European appellation laws include vinification and grape make-up in order to qualify for bottling under that appellation. For instance, a wine labeled Bordeaux not only must come from the area of Bordeaux, but only five grapes may be used. The chateau must also adhere to maximum yields and alcohol content. American Viticultural Area designations do not limit the type of grapes grown, the method of vinification, or the crop yield.

  23. How far back can we trace grapegrowing and winemaking?

    Fossil vines, 60-million-years-old, are the earliest scientific evidence of grapes. The earliest written account of viticulture is in the Old Testament of the Bible which tells us that Noah planted a vineyard. An ancient fable credits a lady of the Persian court with the discovery of wine. This Princess, having lost favor with the King, attempted to poison herself by eating some table grapes that had spoiled in a jar. She became intoxicated and giddy and fell asleep. When she awoke, she found the stresses that had made her life intolerable had dispersed. She returned to the source of her relief and her subsequent conduct changed so remarkably that she returned to the King’s favor.

    It is certain that grape cultivation and wine drinking had started by about 4,000 BC. The first developments were around the Caspian Sea and in Mesopotamia, near present-day Iran. Texts from tombs in ancient Egypt prove that wine was in use there around 2700 to 2500 BC. Priests and royalty were using wine, while beer was drunk by the workers. Archeological excavations have uncovered many sites with sunken jars, so the effects of temperature on stored wine were probably known. Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad both contain excellent and detailed descriptions of wine.

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  25. Alcohol and wine.

    Fermentation takes place when the natural, or added, yeast cells convert the sugar in the grape to basically half carbon dioxide and half alcohol. These yeast cells can’t survive in an alcohol environment much above 16% although some of those hearty guys can make it up to 17% and even 18%. So, to answer the question, 18% is about the highest possible alcohol level a wine can achieve naturally. Now, ports and sherries are higher than that, but they are fortified, meaning that natural spirits were added to the wine to boost the alcohol levels. This is done primarily to preserve the sugar in the wine

    Are they better? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. Traditionally, most high alcohol wines, say over 14.5% don’t normally age very well because as the flavors subside, only alcohol is left and can give a slight bitterness to the wine. Many people like young, big alcohol wines because they are very strong and go with imposing dishes. Then again some higher alcohol wines age better than other, so as with most things, there are no absolutes.

  26. Got a question about wine? Just ask and I'll get an answer for you.

  27. The Sommelier

    It is an old French term meaning one who orders provisions and came from a derivative of the word meaning a pack animal driver. It has come to mean the keeper of the restaurant cellar and one who helps patrons decide on a wine that will best suit their taste, their meal and their budget. The French take this position very seriously, perhaps too seriously. They offer a rigorous examination over several weeks culminating in a final with sometimes over 100 entrants.

    There are also several organization in the US offering similar, but less strenuous exams. I find the entire proceedings silly. The fact is, this person is a salesman. They are not there to educate the customer about wine, otherwise they would be invited to join the dinner party and pay for own meal. All these examinations really have nothing to do with helping the customer decide what to order. Most people can’t even spell Jumilla, let alone want to hear about which grapes are grown there. They just want to know if they’ll like it with their meal. Basically, that’s all a sommelier should be able to do and it’s really not that difficult if they know the wines and the dishes they’re serving. And, that, they should know inside and out.

  28. Holidays 2010

    So, here we are. What seemed like a few months after last year’s letter and we’re doing it again. I learned a few things over the last year starting with not going out with any more emotional train wrecks, insisting on being treated well and how to transfer my records to my computer so I can play them on my iPod. The last one was a revelation.

    It wasn’t easy. I plugged in my son’s USB turntable and, of course, nothing happened. No sound, recorded nothing just laid there like a broken egg. Whoever invented the term “Plug & Play” should be electrocuted. It should be called “Plug and Plead” because that’s what you do. I finally got it to record, but I couldn’t hear it until I transferred it to iTunes. Drove me crazy. So, I called my son who told me you can’t monitor the sound when you’re recording. That’s ridiculous I opined. Well, he’d already done the due diligence and nobody could figure it out.

    I was determined and eventually figured it out. Wasn’t easy, but once I got used to the program that interprets the records, I could take out the pops and ticks, increase the dynamic range and basically make a pretty good sounding recording from my old records that weren’t available on CD. I had triumphed. Man over Plug & Play.

    Then I decided to plug my piano keyboard back into the computer and of course it wouldn’t play it because I had already told the computer to record off the turntable. I knew I had to now tell it to undo what I had told it to do before but that’s like trying to remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday. You know how stupid you feel when you keep telling the computer to do the same thing that doesn’t work in the hopes that it will finally get it? I finally remembered what I had for lunch last Tuesday and now the keyboard plays.

    Business has picked up to the point where I was able to bottle the first Peralta release in two years, a very nice Pinot Grigio from Washington. Next year will be our 10th anniversary which is longer than most of my marriages. I’ll have more coming out next year and at great prices.

  29. Had a few annoying health issues, specifically side effects to blood pressure medication which has taken most the year to sort out. I think the new regimen is working, but I thought the old one was too until it didn’t. Speaking of my marriages…

    Spent Thanksgiving with friends and looks like Christmas will be single as well and I’m surprisingly okay with that. It should be an easy choice. Being with someone you don’t want to be with (her) or being with someone you do want to be with (me) seems to elude most of us.

    In May I took a job as an Executive Chef at a local restaurant specializing in tapas. I figured it was my opportunity to prove to all my friends who thought I should cook in a restaurant wrong. Well, I didn’t. The response to my recipes was quite rewarding and there were parts I actually enjoyed. Didn’t even mind the 24/7 schedule. What I didn’t like was the owner hiring my assistant who couldn’t cook, couldn’t follow a recipe and was generally an ass hole. So, I gave the owner an ultimatum. He took the other guy and I went back to spending time making wine. The job was taking up 80% of my time and contributing 20% of my income. I didn’t need a calculator to figure out that it wasn’t a good deal. I may try it again, but under my terms.

    I got into the digital age with a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account. Can’t believe they call it “social marketing.” If anything , it’s anti social marketing. I just don’t think we were meant to stare at a screen reading what somebody we hardly know had for lunch last Tuesday or what new toothpaste they’re using or what weekend trip they took with the in laws. What’s more, I don’t give a shit. If this is the wave of the future, I’m glad I’ll be checking out of it soon.

    So, at the end of the year I find myself not particularly happy or particularly unhappy. Neither over or under whelmed. Just doing what I do with those I enjoy doing things with and not really giving a rats ass about anything else. I still have my house and most of my health, some of my faculties and all of my wit and sarcasm. What else is there?

    Happy whatever you want to celebrate.

  30. Just got a registry app from Digeus that seems to work pretty well. PC ran faster after using it. Probably worth it for the little they charge. Will try the suite next.

  31. Daily Breeze column on internet dating.

  32. Just got back from a quick 2 days in Paso leading a group of wine crazies. It's changed a bit since I worked for HMR back in the 80s.

    Tablas Creek is amazing. Great wines and the whole operation is impressive. Was lead on a fabulous tour with Jason Haas. They were the first to get into the Rhone varietals craze and now everybody is doing it. Mourvedre was the standout and the whites fantastic.

    My old buddy Tobin James is making the best wines of his life. Killer Petite Sirah and Zins and a classy Chardonnay from Monterey with no oak.

    Small wineries, Mitchella and Whalebone were exciting but don't ship down here.

    Only problem for me was that it seems that everybody is making the same varietals and blends and very few actually stand out. They ALL make too many wines and I think should concentrate on what they do best instead of trying to make everything for everybody.

    Case in point was Gary Eberle, who makes one of the best Cabernets in Paso, but too much other stuff that isn't in the same league.

  33. They finally printed it.