Tag Archives: wine

Wine education for the rest of 2016

penguinIf you’re looking to learn more about wines, winemaking, grape growing, sensory evaluation and a variety of related and semi-related topics. here’s your Field Correspondent’s schedule of classes for the balance of the year:

July 9 – Growing grapes and making wine: An inside look at the processes involved in viticulture and the art of making wine. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

July 23 – Wine and cheese: Learn about how and where cheese is made, as well as principles to follow when pairing wine with cheese. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-5 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Aug. 20 – Wine on a budget: Find out how to walk into anywhere that sells wine – including the drug store and the corner ice house – and pick out the best wine in the place. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Sept. 10 – Sparkling wines of the world: From Champagne to Spain, from Italy to who-knows-where, get a look at the remarkable world of wines with bubbles. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Sept. 24 – Bring your own bottle: Each participant in the class brings a bottle of red wine, learns principles of sensory evaluation, then takes part in a “blind” tasting to try and identify each wine. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-5 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Oct. 8 – Texas wines: Learn about the long history of Texas wine, the booming present and the optimistic future for the business – as well as taste some of the best examples around. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Nov. 5 – Thanksgiving and wines: Find out about food pairings, and how to match wines with the biggest meal of the year the easy way – by tasting. You’re So Crafty, Seguin, 3-6 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Nov. 12 – Port and cigars: Two of life’s luxuries, examined in detail, with examples. Come prepared to sit outside. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.

Dec. 10 – Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ll be taking at look at the global phenomenon that is the King of Red Wines, with a little look at history and a lot of tasting. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, New Braunfels, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.


In the land of wine and cheese

Cheese trayIn its simplest terms, cheese is made by converting liquid milk into a solid or semi-sold state.

Of course, nothing is simple in the world of fermented products like cheese – or wine or bread. Dozens of variables, from source materials to processing to aging, are involved. There are hundreds of types of cheeses produced around the world, many of them made with traditional methods handed down for hundreds or even thousands of years.

For most of those years, cheese has been paired with wine. Some of the world’s most-famous combinations are the result of that long history, and some of the best are the result of the overlap between winemaking and cheese-making regions around the world.

As in the case of most food-and-wine pairings, there are some that are train wrecks, there are some that work pretty well and there are some that will give you the fireworks-in-your-mouth effect that makes eating and drinking worthwhile.

We’ll be talking about cheesemaking, matching wines and cheeses, and showing off some amazing pairings on Saturday, July 23 at You’re So Crafty in downtown Seguin. Learn more and sign up at YoureSoCrafty.com.


A baker’s dozen tips for wine cheapskates

wine 4-10-16Let’s face it: For most of us, $20 is a lot of money for a bottle of wine. We may love the stuff, but we also have to do things like pay the electric bill and put gas in the car.

Honestly, a lot of wine in that “budget” price range isn’t good for anything but staining your teeth or cooking a tough old chicken. But with a few tips, there are ways to drink like a king on a cheapskate’s wine budget. And the best thing about it: Most of the great “cheapskate” wines are available just about anywhere you can buy wines, including convenience and drug stores.

1. The Island’s Specialty

One wine you can find just about anywhere, and at a reasonable price, is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. And much of it isn’t from just anywhere in New Zealand, but from what may be the best Sauvignon Blanc region in the world, Marlborough, on the northern tip of the country’s south island.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is what California Sauvs wish they could be. They are laden with tropical fruit character, with that herbal backbone and that edge of acidity that makes them so absolutely perfect with a variety of foods. And you can get a very, very good one for less than $15, and often it’s closer to $10.

2. The Portuguese Secret

Another regional specialty that isn’t nearly as famous as Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is Vinho Verde from Portugal. Vinho Verde, which means “green wine” in Portuguese, isn’t really green, unless you think of “green” as young and fresh. It’s made to be fruity, light, slightly fizzy and slightly sweet – a thoroughly refreshing white and sometimes even pink wine. The grapes they can grow in northern Portugal are ideal for it, and there’s lots of it – for $8 a bottle or less, in most cases.

3. Not Your Mother’s Liebfraumilch

A lot of people make a face about German wines, but it usually can be attributed to truly awful blended wines like Liebfraumilch (literally, “Milk of Our Lady”), a generic and sinfully sweet white. You won’t find a fine German wine in a bargain hunt, but you can use a couple of clues to snatch one that’s much more drinkable than its predecessors. Most importantly, find one that specifically says “Riesling” on the label, since that ensures it was made from that noble grape and not some generic blend. Also look on the label for the word “Qualitatswein.” Qualitatswein is a step up in the country’s strict labeling system from the cheap stuff, which is labeled as Tafelwein. Well-chilled, even a cheap German Riesling can be a delight, busting out of the bottle with fruit flavors and an edge of acidity that sets it apart from the sweet junk out there. How much will it put you back? About $8.

4. A Different Kind of Fizz

During the 19th century, some rather nasty plant epidemics put a lot of French winemakers out of work. A big chunk of the ones from the Champagne region wound up in northeastern Spain, and they brought their knowledge and skills for making bubbly with them. One thing they left behind, though – the high prices. A Spanish Cava, made using the same methods as French Champagne, with much of the same character, can go for $12-$15.

5. Tapas, Anyone?

Another specialty of Spain is Rioja, a lovely middle-weight red wine. It goes particularly well with a lot of Spanish tapas, the finger-food that seems to be everywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Don’t expect it to be big and Cabernet-like, because it isn’t – especially the lower-priced versions. But buy an inexpensive one and then use your savings on some Manchego cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk around the same parts of Spain as Rioja. Spend $10 on the wine and $5 on the cheese and have a feast.

6. It’s Not Just for Candles Anymore

Our friends in Italy used to export oceans of cheap wines to this country, with much of it not fit to throw in the ocean, much less drink. But the Italians are now the No. 1 wine producers and exporters in the world, and they don’t want you doing a spit-take when you sip the most-famous Italian wine, Chianti. Once again, remember it’s not supposed to be Cabernet. But having a simple Chianti with Tuscan-style Italian food is another cheap-food-and-wine experience that will make your eyes roll back in your head.

7. Oceans of Chardonnay

The oaked Chardonnay fad seems to be fading, but if you still love your Chard with that touch of oak character, you’re in luck – the biggest-selling imported Chardonnay in this country is available just about everywhere liquor is sold. Look for Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay – it’s Australian – the next time you’re buying gasoline, Fritos or Twinkies at the local convenience store, ice house or stop-and-rob. It’s lightly oaky and fruity like a typical Chardonnay, and just ridiculously cheap, sometimes less than $5 a bottle.

8. Chile, Anyone?

In grape-growing circles, Chile is known as one of the places on earth that has never been affected by phylloxera, the root-chewing louse that nearly wiped out world wine production during the 1900s. To drinkers, it’s known as the home of very good – and often well-priced – red wines. Just about any Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Carmenere is going to be drinkable, but if there’s a choice, look for regionally labeled wines, from the Maipo Valley or the Central Valley.

9. Just over the Andes

Across the high mountains from Chile is Argentina, where an orphaned grape from Bordeaux known as Malbec apparently loves the high, dry climate of Argentina’s winegrowing regions. If there’s a choice, the most-notable Argentine Malbecs are from the Mendoza growing region. They’re not as cheap as they used to be, but there still are big, bold, drinakable ones for $12.

10. One Word: France

You have to work pretty hard to find a bad French wine for less than $15. Why? First of all, they know what they’re doing when it comes to wines in France. There’s plenty of expertise, as well as plenty of grapes, to go around. And the French aren’t all that keen on losing any more of their share of the world wine market, so they’re especially dedicated to making really good value-priced wines in gigantic quantities. They may be from the second line of a famous producer, or they may be from the country’s biggest production regions, in the south of the country. But they’ll more than likely be good.

11. Buy Local

If you went to Europe and drank the table wine at a little bistro and came back raving about how good it was, it may be because you were at a scenic little bistro in Europe drinking wine on vacation. More likely, though, is the fact that the wine in that carafe, which probably came from a giant container in the back, was made nearby. Locally made wines, especially in the Old World, often match the local cuisine. They are crafted by people who know how to make wine in their local conditions. Sure, they might never put it in a bottle, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

In the United States, that kind of winemaking is growing in popularity every day, albeit without 500 to 1,000 years of winemaking history or the bulk containers (we seem a little freaked out by wine in 100-gallon tanks). More and more often, local wines are matching local foods, and making them affordable, too. From New Mexico to New York, local wines abound, and they’re finding a place next to local foods.

12. Look for Strays

Any wine cheapskate needs to have a sense of adventure. Most big wine retailers will have closeout sections, prime for the hunt. It’s where they sell wines that maybe they bought a few too many cases of, or wines that for one reason or another didn’t sell elsewhere in the store, or wines they picked up from another retailer on closeout. Don’t dismiss it immediately just because it’s $1.99. But do be careful: If a white looks orange or brown, or it’s four years or more past the vintage date on the bottle, move along. Reds can be a little older, but don’t be impressed by a 10-year-old vintage on sale. Even red wine made in this country is designed to take home and drink right away, not be aged.

Also, if there are signs of leakage around the cork, or the bottle leaks when you pick it up, or the display has signs of leakage, put the bottle down and step away.

13. See the Signs

Don’t be afraid to browse, pick up bottles and read the labels. Most of what’s on the back is pure malarkey, but sometimes there’s pertinent info on the front. Wines from a designated region (smaller than a state) can be good values. Most of the less-expensive California wines will simply have “California” as a location of origin in the label, which means it could have come from anywhere in the state. If the bottle has the name of a growing region on it, known as an American Viticultural Area, it’s likely to be a step up from state-designated wines.

The grape’s the thing: Why wine bottles are different shapes

One of the first things I wanted to know when I really got interested in wine was “Why are there different-shaped bottles?”

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had  such a question. It comes up a lot in my wine classes, and I make a point to show people examples every chance I get. The more you know, that kind of thing.

So, wamphora-32706_640hen wine was first discovered thousands of years ago, it was stored in large earthen jars — great for fermentation, but not so handy for grabbing a glass or two for dinner. (They’re called amphorae, and they looked like the thingy to the right.)

Containers became more sophisticated, as well as easier to use, through the years. And when modern bottle-making was developed in the 17th century, the familiar glass container became the vessel of choice.

But how did bottles wind up in all those different shapes? Turns out, it often was the wine inside that dictated the container.

wine-438945_640Bordeaux bottles (at right), with high shoulders and a pronounced neck, were developed because Bordeaux wines tended to throw sediment. Decanting the wine was the best way to separate solid from liquid, and the high-shoulders bottle was developed to make the process simpler.

With a bright light behind the bottle, the pourer could see the sediment as it shifted in the bottle. When it reached the shoulders, the pourer stopped, and the sediment stayed inside.

Port bottles developed in a similar shape for the same reason, sometimes when even-larger shoulders.

Both typically come with a punt, an indentation in the bottom of the bottle that is a remnant of the times when bottles were hand-blown. A punt can help identify the presence of sediment inside the bottle. (You can see the punt in this bottle.)

wine-360291_640Rhone and Burgundy wines, on the other hand, were much less likely to develop sediment, so the shoulders of both have a long slope (see right). There are slight differences between a Burgundy and a Rhone bottle; the latter tends to have a coat of arms embossed in the glass near the shoulders.

The Champagne bottle is shaped the way it is for one major reason — safety. It has the sloping shoulders like a Burgundy bottle, but it is significantly heavier. It also has a deep and heavy punt and a sturdier neck.

The reason: The secondary fermentation that occurs in a Champagne bottle develops six atmospheres of pressure, which can blow either the top or the bottom off a standard-size bottle. (Before the advent of the Champagne bottle, exploding bottles were common in the cellars where the wines were made, to the point of even chain reactions of shattering dozens of bottles at once.)

wine-839514_640 (1)Alsatian bottles (also known as hock bottles) are tall and slender, with little or no punt. The function of a taller bottle goes to the nature of the wine inside — typically white, which can be chilled more easily in a bottle with more surface area.

The German winemaking region of Franconia traditionally has used the short, squat bocksbeutel instead of the tall, slender style used elsewhere in the country. It also is more readily chilled, thanks to its surface area.

And though it has fallen out of favor because of its bulk and difficulty to package, the classic bottle for Chianti, the squat, straw-wrapped fiasco, was a traditional way to offer wine at the Tuscan table.

Marketing has become more of a factor in wine bottles in recent years, with wines coming in bottles shaped like cylinders, rectangles and cats designed to catch the eye.

Of course, it’s still what’s inside the bottle that matters…unless you’re decorating an Italian restaurant or putting up a bottle tree.

By the way, here’s a link to this year’s classes at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards: http://www.drycomalcreek.com/winery-u.


Looking to Recreate Some History

Alerting the media about the (Re)Judgment of Paris. Feel free to pass along…

Dry Comal Creek Vineyards to mark anniversary
of ‘Judgment of Paris’ wine tasting competition

Victory for California wines in 1976 changed wine world forever

Bottle shock flyerNEW BRAUNFELS — It has been called the event that democratized wine around the world. It inspired a best-selling book and a Hollywood movie. It turned little-known winemakers and wineries into superstars.

And now, Dry Comal Creek Vineyards is recreating that moment, as part of its Winery U wine education program.

On Saturday, May 10, the winery will sponsor “Bottle Shock: (Re)Judgment of Paris,” in commemoration of the Judgment of Paris wine competition that changed the world in May 1976.

Anyone who registers for the May Winery U session will be included on the distinguished panel of judges, which also will feature a number of guest judges from the wine world. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. at the winery, which is located at 1741 Herbelin Road, just outside New Braunfels.

The original competition matched California and French Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, judged by a panel of French experts. The tasting was “blind,” so the judges did not know which wines they were evaluating.

When the votes were tabulated, California wines won both categories. The lone journalist at the competition was Time magazine Paris correspondent George Taber, whose report in the June 1976 edition of the magazine helped launch a wine revolution that continues today.

“The Paris Tasting destroyed the myth of French supremacy and marked the democratization of the wine world,” noted wine critic Robert Parker wrote in 2001. “It was a watershed in the history of wine.”

Robert Mondavi, the man credited with leading the growth of California wines in the 1960s and ‘70s, said the competition put California “squarely on the world map of great wine-producing regions.”

Taber’s popular book, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine,” details the story, and the tasting was the basis for the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock.”

The (Re)Judgment of Paris will feature a turn-back-the-clock atmosphere and incorporate as many of the details of the original event as possible, including pouring some of the wines from the original producers.

Registration is available online at the Dry Comal Creek website.

The (Re) Judgment of Paris

Bottle shock flyerNote: The May edition of Winery U, our wine education classes at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, will be a recreation of the Judgment of Paris, the tasting competition that changed the world of wine.

Anyone who registers for the May Winery U will be included on the tasting panel, which will match California Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against French wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Here is the story of what happened that day in May, 1976:

Like many history-making events, the Judgment of Paris wasn’t intended to change anything.

Basically, it was a publicity stunt that, depending on your point of view, went very, very well or very, very badly.

In early 1975, a Paris-based British wine educator and merchant named Stephen Spurrier decided he wanted to organize a tasting competition between California and French wines, specifically Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. Spurrier was well-known in French wine circles; his shop, Les Caves de la Madeleine, carried French wines, and his Académie du Vin next door specialized in wine education – French wine education – for English speakers.

Book cover

The cover of George Taber’s book. ‘Judgment of Paris.’

Spurrier and his business partner, Patricia Gallagher, worked diligently to set up the California-vs.-France event. They both had been introduced to California’s growing wine industry, but they both had to travel to the state to learn the region and seek out the best it had to offer.

Events were not new to them, though. They staged tastings on a regular basis, and both the shop and the school had a reputation among the expatriates in Paris as the place to learn French wines. (In fact, it also had a reputation among French wine lovers; there was no French-speaking equivalent to the school in Paris at the time.)

They decided to stage the competition in 1976, during the U.S. Bicentennial, as a way to generate additional press. After deciding which California wines to feature, they made arrangements with the producers to have them shipped to Paris; Spurrier and Gallagher then chose the French counterparts.

The judges would all be French, wine experts from government agencies and the media and the best restaurants in Paris. The tasting would be “blind,” in which the judges would not know which wine was which, at least from looking at the label. Each flight would have six California wines and four from France. It would be the afternoon of May 24, at the Hotel InterContiental, and the promoters sent out news releases to the media well in advance.

Few journalists even bothered to respond, suspecting – as did Spurrier and Gallagher – that the so-called contest between California and France would be no contest at all. The little-known California wines would stand no chance against those made in the world’s premier regions, Burgundy and Bordeaux. By the day of the event, just one member of the media had confirmed his plans, and then only tentatively.

The judges were given a simple system, assigning each wine a score of between 1 and 20. Spurrier would collect the ballots, total the scores and then average them to choose a winner.

The tasting began at 3 p.m., and the judges went through the motions of examining color and clarity, swirling and sniffing, tasting and spitting. George Taber, the chief correspondent for Time magazine in Paris, the journalist who had told Gallagher he might show up – and, as it turned out, the only journalist who did – began to notice something almost immediately. Taber, whose book “Judgment of Paris” is the definitive recounting of that day, knew which wines were which, but he saw the judges were having a hard time telling the difference between them. More than one of them dismissed a Burgundy as a California, and they also mistook a California Chardonnay for one of their own.

Bottle Shock poster

A poster for ‘Bottle Shock,’ the movie based on the Judgment of Paris.

When the tasting was done, Spurrier collected the ballots. His original plan had been to announce the results at the end of the event, but he only had rented the room for three hours, so he changed course. He totaled numbers – then, supposedly, re-totaled them – before making the announcement that would change the world wine market forever.

The winner was from Chateau Montelena, a small producer in Napa Valley. A Burgundy, the Meursault Charmes, was second, but California wines were third, fourth and sixth. Every judge had rated a California as their top pick, and the Montelena was the No. 1 choice of six of the 10.

As might be expected, the French judges were aghast.

The tasting then moved to the Cabernets. As Taber recalled in his book, there was less chatter among the judges for the second tasting of the day. He also noted that the judges were more accurate in their observations about the wines, with many recognizing familiar ones like the famous Chateau Mouton Rothschild. They also were much tougher in their marks; many more judges scored wines in single digits. Whether they were doing it to make sure a French wine won is a matter for conjecture, but it didn’t matter. When Spurrier collected and tabulated the ballots, the winner by a close margin was the Stag’s Leap Cellars 1973 Cabernet, another California product.

More consternation followed.

Many of the judges were candid in their comments afterward, noting that they had been surprised by the quality of the wines from the United States, wines they had never tasted before May 24, 1976. Others were, in Taber’s words, “snippy” and dismissive.

But the Judgment of Paris could not be dismissed, not with a correspondent for Time magazine there. Taber’s report appeared in the June 7 edition, and it began to spread as quickly as a story could in the days before the Internet. Frank Prial, the New York Times wine writer and perhaps the country’s most-influential wine journalist, devoted two of his weekly columns to the event. Stories began to appear in newspapers across the country, the buzz grew, and demand for California wines skyrocketed.

Robert Mondavi, the most-influential voice of the California wine revival, noted the significance of the Judgment of Paris in “Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business,” his autobiography:

“The Paris tasting was an enormous event in the history of California wine making. It put us squarely on the world map of great wine-producing regions. I saw the impact everywhere I went. Suddenly people had a new respect for what we were doing. They saw we could make wines as good as the best in France.”

The movie “Bottle Shock” is a fictionalized version of the Judgment of Paris, but it carried the core truth of the event. In a final scene, Spurrier and an American friend are at Les Caves de Madeleine, having a glass after the fateful tasting, and they observe that, as Robert Mondavi did, that the world of wine would never be the same. Winemakers in South America and Australia and China and who-knows-where-else would begin to believe they could make great wines, too.

Which of course, is exactly what happened.

Click here to register for Winery U for May, “The (Re) Jugdment of Paris.”

Here is the official trailer for “Bottle Shock:”

Winery U for 2014: New and Old

Logo for Winery U at Dry Comal Crek VineyardsHere’s the lineup for Winery U at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards. Register online at the Dry Comal Creek website. New classes are in italics.

Jan. 11: Introduction to Wine: Learn the fundamentals of wine from grape to bottle, and gain some insight into the world of wines, in our introductory class. This was the first Winery U class we ever taught, and it’s one of the most popular, year in and year out.

Feb. 8: Wine on a Budget: One of the new classes for 2014 will show you how to how to find the best bottle in just about any store that sells wine. Call it the Cheapskate’s Guide to the Wine Galaxy. There’s no field trip, but there will be lots of tasting of economically priced wines, all purchased at unlikely venues.

March 8: Texas Wines: A look at the history and the future of the wine business in Texas, as it stretches from the Piney Woods to El Paso, and from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley. You’ll also be tasting some of the best wines the state has to offer from wineries large and small.

April 12: Sensory Evaluation: Use all five of your senses to appreciate wine — yes, even hearing — in a class that always comes up with enjoy wines in new ways. We’ll even work on enhancing those senses in some new ways.

May 10: Bottle Shock: We are going to recreate the famous “Decision of Paris” blind tastings that inspired the movie “Bottle Shock.” Everyone who registers for this class will be on the tasting panel, taking part in a blind tasting ans scoring of wines from France and California, alongside some wine experts from across Central Texas. Expect some flashbacks to the original date — 1976 — as well.

June 14: Food and Wine: Find out why peanut butter works so well with sweet sparkling wine, and why seafood and Sauvignon Blanc are a match made in heaven in a class that features a little bit of talking and a lot of eating.

July 12: Growing Grapes and Making Wine. Using all the resources of the winery but focusing on the home winemaker, this class explains principles for growing grapes and turning them into wine. We’ll also be sampling both commercially made and home-grown wines.

Aug. 16: The Black Spanish Grape. Find out about the grape that is becoming one of the signatures of the Texas wine business and its link to one of the country’s most-famous grape experts. This class includes tasting wines made from the Black Spanish from wineries across the state.

Sept. 11: Sparkling Wines: A look at the world of sparkling wines, with a focus on the finest French Champagne and its cousins in Spain, Italy and elsewhere. Learn about the fascinating process used to make wine with bubbles and taste examples from around the world.

Oct. 13: Wine and Cheese: This new class will include a primer on cheeses, including production and history on some of the world’s notable examples, as well as principles for pairing wine and cheese for ultimate satisfaction.

Nov. 8: Port, Sherry and Other Fortified Wines. Delve into the tradition-laden world of Old World fortified wines and learn everything from why all Portugal’s Port makers sound like they’re British to how the name of a region in Spain came to be known as Sherry.

Dec. 13: Cabernet Sauvignon: It isn’t called the King of Red Wines by accident — Cabernets have a well-deserved reputation for quality and longevity from France to Australia, Italy to California. This class’ tasting session will include Cabernet Sauvignon from around the world, available at affordable prices.