Saturday, June 19, 2010

Get The New Short Course in Wine for your 'phone or laptop!

Want to carry your wine smarts around with you? Would you like to have an expert advisor in your pocket when they hand you the wine list? You can get an e-book edition of The New Short Course in Wine in any of the popular formats for under five bucks.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tongue Maps and Wine Glasses

Occasionally, manufacturers of wine glasses try to promote their product by claiming that some particular design is better for wine because it delivers the wine to a different part of the mouth, thereby increasing one sensation (the one whose receptors are concentrated in that part of the the tongue).

You may have even seen a drawing of the tongue with different areas assigned to different taste sensations. Sweetness is on the front tip, bitterness along the sides in the back and so on. It's an interesting thought, it sounds like it could be useful, for anyone trying to amplify the experience of one taste or diminish another. Unfortunately, it's dead wrong.

Before we talk about it any more, it might be worth taking a second right now to touch, let’s say, a bit of salt to the front of your tongue where the sweet receptors are supposed to be. Taste salty? You bet it does. In general, we taste most tastes everywhere on the tongue. The story of how this particular weird idea has been passed down and accepted uncritically is a good cautionary tale.
The tongue map dates back to research by D.P. Hanig that was published in 1901. Hanig set out to measure the relative sensitivity on the tongue for the four known basic tastes that were then known in Europe. Based on his subjects’ reports, he concluded that sensitivity to the four tastes varied around the tongue, with sweet sensations peaking in the tip, etc.
In 1942, Edwin Boring took Hanig's data and graphed the levels of sensitivity. Boring’s graph made it seem like areas of lower sensitivity were areas of no sensitivity. The modern tongue-map was born as an artifact of the way the chart was presented.
In 1974, a scientist named Virginia Collings re-examined Hanig's work and agreed with his main point: There was some difference in sensitivity to the four basic tastes in different parts of the tongue, but the variations were too small to matter. Collings found that all five tastes (she included umami) can be detected on taste buds anywhere: all over the tongue, on the soft palate and in the flap that blocks food from the windpipe.

Later research has revealed that taste bud seems to contain 50 to 100 receptors for each taste. There’s still some uncertainty about the distribution of taste receptors, but the map itself is a pure myth.
In fact, there are enough stories like The Tongue Map that they have their own category: they're called fakelore. You may have heard that you can tenderize meat my marinating it or that browning ‘seals in juices’. Maybe you’ve put a spoon in a bottle of Champagne to conserve the sparkle. Or perhaps you believe the one about spices originally being used to conceal the taste of rotten meat. Beware of folks who want to sound smart by passing along the bull: watch out for the Tongue Mappers! (Oh, and try to be aware when you're being one yourself.)

For more on the taste of beer, check out:

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Toronto's Beer Bistro

Beer geeks tend to be fond of the worn and the comfortable. We like leather jackets with cracks at the elbows, jeans that look like they've been around and bars that look like long and loving use has polished them a bit. So the truly great beer bars in the world seem to exude patina. The décor- the wood, the leather, the mirrors, even the light itself tends to suggest that it’s all been there forever and that somehow, it wishes you could be too. In this respect as in several others, Toronto's Beer Bistro is radically different. It is a place that’s designed to challenge and change the way people think about beer
The main room is high-ceilinged with huge light-gathering windows and an air of shininess. In an architectural translation of the house style, the bar is separated from the dining room by no more than a line of banquettes.
The menu nods to some traditions, but it’s a brief nod indeed. Chef Brian Morin takes off on some inventions that explore the possibilities of beer as an ingredient in food as well as an accompaniment to it. The whole business is pulled off with exceedingly good humor and not a hint of pretension.
You can get the feel of the place by ordering the corn dog. For those of you who haven’t been to a state fair or a boardwalk lately, the corn dog is a hot dog dipped in corn meal batter, fried and then put on a stick to be eaten out of hand. At the Beer Bistro, the pair of corn dogs are made from molded duck leg confit and served with a pineapple mustard and a house-made cherry beer ketchup. Put aside the fact that pineapple is the lover that mustard has been waiting for all these years and that the ketchup begs to be eaten with a spoon. Concentrate on the richness of the duck and the crispness of the batter and the heightened sensitivity that these little condiments create in you mouth. Try to remember to breathe, sip your beer.
Salmon sliders are strips of salmon, house-cured in beer served on blinis with a capered cream cheese and micro-thin slices of red onion. The blinis are just firm enough to be a foil for the moist fish and the whole combination of taste and texture is just crying out for a beer to make it complete. The house suggests underchallenging them with a belgian wheat beer, you could just as easily confront the taste head-on with a pilsner.
Mussels are pretty much old-hat in a beer bar, but baked mussels florentine open up a whole new field. Without subverting the firm, oceanic character of the mussels, baking opens up a whole realm of possibility. In this case the shellfish are topped with cubes of beer-cured bacon, three cheeses, sauteed spinach, arugala, shallots, and garlic butter. The menu urges you to try Saison Dupont and that seems just about perfect.

You expect beer bar service to be friendly and casual-after all this is beer which even at its most elegant is somehow easy, effortless and available. At the Beer Bistro, you get that and a little more. Listen to manager Kathleen McGinn: “Our staff feels like teachers. We want customers to be confident that if they have questions, their server has answers.” The wait staff goes to regular on-premise beer school and they are more than just knowledgeable, they understand that the point of all that knowing is for you to end up drinking something wonderful.
Then there’s the matter of beer ice cream. (I'm having a hard time believing that I used those words together in a sentence.) You’ll just have to try the one made from Jamaican stout and chopped candy bar.
The owners of The Beer Bistro describe the place as worldly, casual and elegant, just like you and me. They also say that everything is made from scratch, no shortcuts, no premix. They bake their own bread, cure their own bacon and salmon, smoke their own short ribs. They are the first of their kind in this large, exciting city and unlike most pioneers, they seem to have found exactly the right path. It’s time for the rest of the city-and maybe the rest of the world- to play catch-up.

For more about beer, check out The Short Course in Beer at:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Luscious Cabernet, Low Price

They've done it again. Catena Zapata has packed a bundle of flavor into a reasonably-priced Cabernet Sauvignon. This 2006 Mendoza Cab is concentrated and luxurious in the mouth and shows off cassis, berry, cedar and woodsy notes in the nose. An absolutely charming finish leaves your mouth watering for grilled food and hearty stews.
The low price ($15. in South Jersey stores) makes this multi-dimensional wine an absolute bargain.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Angels, Thieves and Winemakers

Angels, Thieves and Winemakers

Joseph Mills

Winston-Salem: Press 53

86pp $12 (paper)

Everybody who enjoys wine often enough and long enough ends up being something of a poet. Winedrinkers just naturally seem to connect each facet of the splendor in the glass with everything in their universe. This is a reaction that’s only occasionally provoked by beer and not at all by spirits.
What’s up here? Is it the way wine focuses the attention as its flavors unfold? Is it wine’s curious ability to provoke the appetite as it quenches thirst? Is it the twelve per cent alcohol? Maybe it’s the way that winemaking has of reminding us of ourselves, of seasons and aging, hopes and rituals.
Given the poetifacient nature of wine it’s surprising that there’s not much wine poetry, at least not poetry on paper and without slightly slurred speech. Joseph Mills, who seems to have kindred spirits in Billy Collins and Robert Frost takes on the business of making the connections between wine and the rest of life and making the words sing in the process.
From the way microscopic debris in the champagne glass provides the birthplace of bubbles, Mills finds praise for our impurities, hoping that they make us sparkle. From the champagne flute molded from Marie Antoinette’s breast, he fantasizes drinking-each of us-from the shapes of our beloveds. In his tiny daughter’s mimicry of his behavior with a wine glass, he conjures the hundred fears that parents live with and reminds every parent of the fears they live with.
A few of these poems are startling, more tell truths that we may have forgotten. One or two, like The Ordinaries and Riddle are heartbreaking: some others like American Beaujolais are wry. It’s hard not to love his suggestion that a great first date activity is watching your date open a bottle of wine, praying for a broken cork or his reminder about a full wine rack:

A full wine rack
is a Saturday morning,
the first day of summer vacation
a tank of gas,
a promise of good dinners
and future celebrations.

Look, the shelves say,
There’s plenty,
Don’t worry.
You’re safe.

I know-you’ve had that feeling. Me too. But Joseph Mills had that feeling and wrote these poems and I think they’re worth a toast.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Big Wine Questions

Whenever I lead a wine tasting, it seems that the same questions always come up. Millions of people are falling in love with wine and most of them are intimidated by the enormous variety that they see in the wine shop. Here's an excerpt from The New Short Course in Wine that I hope will help.

Chapter 4 – Standing in the Wine Shop Trying to Make Sense of It All

When you finish this chapter, you will:
• Understand what makes one wine shop a better place to shop than another
• Understand the difference between red and white wine • Know when age helps a wine and when it hurts
• Appreciate the unique position of Beaujolais
• Know what makes sparkling wine sparkle
• Know how and when to best serve champagne
• Have a beginning of an idea about the appeal of fortified wine
• Appreciate why some sweet wines are so expensive even though most sweet wines are very cheap
• Understand why many great wines are very expensive

Now let’s turn from the sensual and pharmaceutical to the crassly commercial business of buying wine. You are standing, let’s say, in a well-stocked wine shop. You are staring at perhaps 8,000 different labels, and they seem, somehow, to be staring back at you. The whole thing is very intimidating. You know that wine is important, you know how to taste, and you are aware that alcohol, like fire, is a friend only if judiciously contained. None of that is the same as knowing what to bring home for dinner. Let’s reduce the confusion by sorting the wines out by type. [MN:
What should you look for in a wine shop? There are four things to keep in mind.
o Selection
Having thousands of bottles to choose from isn't the same thing as having a good selection. Many of the large discount stores simply pile in the wine, focussing on the labels that are most heavily advertised and the ones sold to them at the deepest discount. A good selection is one that's been carefully picked by a knowledgeable wine buyer. You're much better off choosing from a few hundred wines that have been tasted by someone in the store than from a few thousand that came in by the carload.

o Storage
Wine stored at temperatures over 80 degrees quickly loses its flavor.
That's why wines are often made and stored underground. It also explains why the bottle of wine that you left in the hot beach house doesn't taste as the one you drank right away. Shipboard containers, tractor trailers and uncooled warehouses do the same nasty thing. Look for a store where the temperature is around 60F/16C and the staff is wearing sweaters in summer, a sure sign that the place is well-cooled and the wine is happy. If there’s no cashmere in sight, ask where the wine that’s not on the shelves is stored and at what temperature that room is maintained. (Sometimes turnover on a sales floor can be so rapid that a slightly warmer front room doesn’t matter.)

o Information
A good wine store is a good source of information. Sometimes wine merchants have merchandise that they were forced to buy and they may want to dump it on you. It's a good idea to ask the wine guy to recommend a few bottles. If you like what you bought, if there are no more than one or two obvious losers, then you may want to keep doing business at that store.

o Price
Wine prices vary widely and I have never found one store that's consistently lower than all its competitors. Even the big discount shops are not reliable money savers. The best way to save money is to subscribe to the various newsletters that the shops mail out to their customers. Remember that the only real saving is a good price on a wine that you enjoy, and that there's nothing special about a 'special' on bad wine.

• • • •

You can find out more about The New Short Course in Wine by clicking here. Or you can get the first chapter of bang BANG-the exciting new novel about sex, guns and wine here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three 2007 Petite Sirah California

Petite Sirah is a grape many wineries treat as a condiment: the extra ingredient that spices the stew of their red wine blends. Every once in a while though, a bottle of 100% Petite Sirah wine escapes to the market. These are deep, passionate wines and they are also profoundly appetizing. They leave your mouth watering and your mind dreaming of meat and cheese and pasta. Petite Sirah is-if you don’t mind personality words used for wine-assertive, maybe even ill-mannered. The kind of wine that tells a dirty joke and then laughs a bit too loud. 100% Petite Sirahs are also very rare and for people who resent the macdonaldization of wine, very precious.

The Winery:

This wine exists thanks to the foresight of Matt Cline who has sought out these small, family-owned parcels. Cline was the winemaker of Cline Cellars, famous for delicious varietals at great prices. The Petite Sirah grape itself is the result of cross-breeding to find a grape that was resistant to another vineyard plague: downy mildew. These are tough old guys and we really like that in a vine.

Tasting notes: dark chocolate and red berries followed by a soft tannic grip. Later tasting emphasized a dry earthy character with a touch of red fruit and white pepper.
With Food: room temperature slices of dry cheese intercept the tannins in this baby and allow a dry, earthy palate to come through. Our favorite food combo was a ripe tomato sandwich on crusty bread with a slice of cheddar and some field greens.

For more about Petite Sirah and other varieties, check out The New Short Course in Wine.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Big Wine with Giant Shrimp

The easy call for wine to go with shrimp is a brightly acidic white. Since there are so many of those, it's particularly easy to come up with something novel to delight your customers or friends. The bright light whites work especially well if the shrimp are presented near-naked without much saucing and with a slightly fatty coating. Think sauteed in butter, or grilled with olive oil and understated herbs.
But if the cook is more ambitious, these wines start to get watery pretty quickly. Let's say the dish is shrimp with pasta, and let's say that the pasta is dressed with a sauce made from onion and guajillo peppers and a touch of cream. Suppose you're complicating things a bit more by sprinkling the pasta with little cubes of crispy sweet potato. What's a sommelier to do?
One of the easy choices is a great big Condrieu laden with peach and apricot and lying thick in the mouth. Unfortunately, Condrieu is-for most of us-hideously expensive. Other Viognier-based wines have a pretty normal price/quality curve too. You might try an Orange Muscat, but I wish you luck finding one, especially a dry version. So what's left? Most of us would move to a red, but are there any whites that are big enough and cheap enough? How about the Argentine specialty Torrontes? (torr-on-TES)
This grape seems to be related to white Malvasia, but there's a big gap between Malvasia in the eastern Mediterranean and Torrontes which grows only in South America. Whatever the history, this is a chewy-bodied wine with a load of peach blossom and apricot aromas and refreshing citrus in the mouth. The best news is that two of the best examples to be found in the Delaware Valley are reasonably priced. Look for Alamos, which is bringing in a bottle at around $8 and Alta Vista Reserve at about $12.

Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Now Mouthing Off at The Broad Street Review

In Philadelphia, a lot of people get their news from a single, out-of-town newspaper. Those folks often turn to blogs or radio for their sports news and to The Broad Street Review for news of the arts. I've always been disappointed that the premier arts source in this town disdained news of Food and Drink as beneath its dignity and while I sympathized with the prejudices and insecurities that prevent the culture-vultures from talking about The First Art, I felt it time to protest. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Editor,

Congratulations on the success of Broad Street Review. It's a brave and wonderful thing you're doing. There is a certain pleasure in connoisseurship, in thoughtful appreciation of the good things, in studying and knowing something well enough to get as much pleasure from your knowledge of it as you do from the thing itself.

There's also a bit of cultural and political statement involved. In an age when mass pleasures like TV grow more feeble and homogeneous, the very act of discrimination becomes a form of protest. And so I am a bit shocked a publication so fervently dedicated to refined appreciation and support of the arts shows such cultivated disdain for the culinary arts. ...

To read more of my diplomatic, persuavive and gentle plea: go to The Broad Street Review itself. For real inspiration on the topic, check out The New Short Course in Wine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cépage de Sake-try this at home

Why on earth would anyone talk about sake on a wine blog? Sake, as I'm sure you know, is a drink made from rice. The brewing process uses an starch-breaking enzyme in tandem with the fermenting yeast. It sounds like a beer-brewing process. In fact it is, but sake, by virtue of its alcohol content and the way it's integrated into drinking life, is a lot more like wine than beer. Cépage? A cépage is a blend- a mixture of two different wines to produce a more balanced or more complex drink. Wine drinkers tend to be a bit skittish about cépages: you will rarely find someone pouring a bit of sour white into a jammy, flabby red. We tend to have a great deal of respect for the original formulation of wines, even if the wines in question don't deserve it.

Personally, I think this is over-delicate. Anything that makes the stuff in your glass taste better is just fine. That said, we have to admit that most amendments to a wine don't work. A splash of 7-up is probably a bad idea, so's a shot of vodka or a spoonful of concentrated fruit juice. But a raisin or a leaf of sage in a decanter? Well, sometimes.

One of the ways we might all get over our wineolatry is to start with a beverage that's worth
thinking about and in which we don't have too much symbolic investment. Sake might be just the right place to start. It is already much easier to talk about the taste of sake than the taste of wine. There is a wonderfully direct seven-point profile that you can apply to an individual sake. The dimesions are: Fragrance, Impact, Sweetness, Acidity, Presence, Earthiness and Finish (Tail).

With this in mind, it's easy to see how a sake that was, let's say, a bit lacking in Acidity but a little overbearing in the Presence department could be made more to your taste with a dash of another, less assertive and more acidic drink. Of course, there are seven different dimensions here and blending would be a matter of careful selection.

There is one instance though, in which a simple blending of two different sakes can yield a useful and immediate result. If you're a sushi lover, you've probably floundered around trying to find a good wine to take to the sushi bar. Sauvignon Blanc should work, but sometimes the bouquet has components that don't work-citrus and gooseberry for instance. Woody Chardonnays are awful and most Gewürztraminer is too distracting. A Grüner Veltliner is fine, but the better ones can be overpowering.
Hmmm. Maybe the folks who invented sushi have a solution: perhaps the best wine for sushi isn't wine at all, but sake? Fair enough, but which of the many on the shelves should we buy? If you've already grabbed a big, cheap bottle and tried it out, you may have found it too dry and ethereal. Even in the gentle presence of toro, the flavor disappears.
It may be time to try the fuller body and fruity presence of unfiltered sake. It's called Nigori Sake and it looks like milk-creamy and white. There's a great one made in the U.S. by Takara. You take it home, chill it, shake it up and try it. Perhaps you find yourself saying things like 'yummy' and 'dee-lish'-both very unusual words for wine-tasting, but perfectly appropriate here. So you cart your bottle off to the sushi bar and by the second glass you are thoroughly disappointed. Everything about the sushi has accentuated both the sweetness and the texture of the Nigori Sake and it now seems like there's a lollipop competeing with the kampachi for your attention.

Now it's time for you first cépage. All you really need to do is reduce the impact of the Nigori with some relatively neutral sake. You might try SHO CHIKU BAI Classic from the same brewer as your Nigori. Start with about half as much of the classic as you have of Nigori. If that's still too sweet and heavy in the mouth, add a bit more classic. Be sure that your cépage is well-chilled and you will have, in my humble opinion, the perfect sushi bar accompaniment.

By the way, the really great news about all this is that the average price for both components will come out to be about $8 a liter! That's not a typo. Comparing that to wine, you come up with a drink that costs six bucks a bottle and is perfectly elegant. Because of sake's slightly higher alcohol content, one 750ml bottle should get two thirsty people through dinner.

As with wine, sake doesn't last long once it's been opened. Be sure to serve well-chilled and enjoy your sushi.

Lynn Hoffman, author of the delightfully unblended novel bang BANG and the entertaining The New Short Course in Wine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Portuguese for the dinner table

In the english-speaking world, Portuguese wine has two very well established faces. The first, and most esteemed is Port (Oporto) in all its variations. For richness and intensity of impact, for sheer ability to put a punctuation mark at the end of a meal there is nothing to match it. On the other end of the spectrum we have a host of rosés and vinhos verdes: light and refreshing and, for a generation of Americans, often the introduction to the pleasures of wine.

There have always been a handful of wines in the middle, luscious table wines-mostly from the same Duoro valley that produces port- that recalled the complexity of vintage port or the earthy intensity of a ripe bordeaux. Sadly, these wines are only occasionally available in the American market: Barca Velha is 'declared' like a port, reliable Quinta do Crasto is hard to find and yummies from other regions, Alentejo for instance only show up rarely.

So it's exciting to be able to report reliable supplies of two outstanding table wines from Cortes de Cima. The richer entry is the eponymous Cortes de Cima, ($15US) a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Trincadeira. The 2002 vintage showed generous portions of berries with a hint of evergreen, vanilla and raisins against an earthy, licorice background. The color is deep and bright and there's a healthy acidity and a sturdy 14.5% alcohol to keep the whole thing afloat. Serve with intensely flavored, firm textured food. We got the best results decanting several hours ahead of dinner and serving at a cool, cellar temperature.

In the days of increasingly internationalized wine, this one is unmistakably from Portugal and we should be glad of it. From the same vintner comes the softer, more cherry-like Chaminé ($8US), an easy-drinking fruit basket with lots of depth. There's lots of ripe fruit and spice on the nose and the 14% alcohol gives a generous mouth-feel. Except for one mis-match with tomato sauce, this was a delicious choice with dinner.

Both wines are wonderful and at these price points represent unusual values.

Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine and the spicy, generous novel bang BANG.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Burgundian Style at Lombardian Prices

When wine people talk about 'structure', they mean a feeling in the mouth, a sense of solidity, an almost-chewy character in a liquid medium. Wines with structure are the wines that make us think of wine as food. In general, structure is expensive-it's a product of low yields and high concentration- and cheap wines rarely have it. Red wines get most of their structure from tannin and grape solids and maybe a little bit from alcohols.
The greatest trick in white wine making is to produce a wine that has a semblance of structure. All those California vanilla-bombs are really attempts to introduce structure by adding organic chemicals from barrel-aging, and barrels are expensive too.
So it's remarkable to come across a white wine that has structure and elegant flavor and doesn't cost a fortune. Drinking it makes you feel like you're violating some traffic law of nature and (if you know the price tag when you taste it) you wait to hear the siren and see the flashing light as the wine police pull you over to the side of the road.

The violation in this case belongs to a wine from Lugana, an area in Lombardy just south of Lake Garda. It's from Tenuta Roveglia and the 2006 vintage is the one that's got me swooning.
Along with the beautiful, lush body, there's a deep herbal nose with sexy mineral overtones. If you've ever paid too much for a Riesling, this is a quiet rebuke. There is also a resounding earthy grapiness- the sort of taste that you may have chased with a white burgundy and missed.

The grape? Oh. It's Trebbiano, a grape that has earned its reputation as a lightweight. The price? Well, in the Philadelphia neighborhood known as South Jersey, it costs $12. Better stock up. I have.

Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine
and the very well-structured novel bang BANG.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Alois Kracher Dead at 48

Austria’s dynamic wine community is mourning the loss of one of its most
consistently successful producers with the death of Alois Kracher on December
5th from complications due to cancer.
In 1986, "Luis" Kracher, who was educated as a chemical engineer, went
to work at his father’s winery. Kracher was already known for its sweet wines
and the young chemist quickly added to the winery’s reputation. His timing was
as good as his winemaking skill: he became a leader of the Austrian wine renaissance
as well as its most recognizeable spokesman. Alois Kracher was named Winemaker
of the Year" by Wine Magazine in London six times. In addition to the national and international awards, his wines received high praise from some of the world's
most influential wine critics. All of this success and appreciation had turned Alois Kracher into Austrian wine's most globally-renowned luxury brand name.

Alois Kracher had worked tirelessly, not only for his own winery, but
for the reputation of Austrian wine overall. He opened the door to the
international markets for many of his fellow winemakers. His son,
Gerhard, with the support of the Kracher family, will carry on the work
of the great wine pioneer from Illmitz.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Notes from Saudi America

In Utah earlier this month, Liquor control commissioner Bobbie Coray asked her colleagues to rule that bottles of liquor displayed at restaurants be covered because the sight of them might offend some diners.
Current rules require a glass partition between bartenders and customers, but that may not be enough according to Coray.
The walls don't obscure the alcohol, Coray said, which makes the "atmosphere in a restaurant to more of a bar."(sic) She singled out a chain restaurant that opened on Nov. 1, because alcohol bottles are in plain view.
"We have a dual responsibility," the commissioner said. "We are to make alcohol available for those who want to consume it and at the same time not make anyone uncomfortable."
Of course, there are opportunities here. Enterprising Utahans will certainly come up with Bottle Burkhas in attractive designs that meet the requirements of the new regulation.
There is no word as yet on what other offensive matters may be subject to obligatiory covering in the state of Utah, but a delegation from Iran is expected to arrive in Salt Lake City shortly to begin consultation. Watch this site for further news.

(By the way, it’s also worth noting that, in spite of what your cardiologist and millions of grandmothers say, Utah law provides that publicity about wine “may not imply …..that consumption of the product will benefit the consumer's health…”)

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the novel bang BANG which appears in Utah wearing a conservative blue book cover.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Austrian Wine is All Sold Out!

Hmmm. Maybe I didn't get that headline right. What's sold out is the Austrian Wine Event on November 14th at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. If you're one of the lucky ones who has a ticket, you'll get to taste the wines of Weininger including the luscious Gemischte Satz. There's still lots of Austrian wine around, but if you don't hurry up and buy some, that may soon be all sold out too.

Lynn Hoffman--author of The New Short Course in Wine

Friday, September 14, 2007

Austrian Wine Goes Backward

Gemischte Satz- Necessity Becomes Delightful

For hundreds of years, Viennese have enjoyed the fruits of a special relationship between their city and the vineyards that surround it. Since tk the government has collected no taxes on smallholdings and has allowed suburban winegrowers to sell the current crop of wine in little house-based taverns called heurigen (HOY-rig-ghen). The practical consequence of this peculiar failure to tax has been that people in the city can jump on a tram and, in a few minuters, find themselves at a delightfully tacky country inn where the wine is local and very cheap.
These little spots have never been sophisticated. In fact, an overly sensitive outsider might add that they’ve never been very good either. The food was usually heavy and dull; the wines tended to have a lot of rough edges and not much center. They were, however, a great deal of fun.

But in the last few years, things have changed. Wines from the rest of Austria keep getting better and the Viennese learned to be more demanding. The heurigen faced stiff competition as wine bars in town served more polished wine from other parts of the country.. A bottle of tasty wine from Burgenland was often only a few blocks away and a few Euro more than the sour ball at the end of the tram line. Some wine bars, like the notable Unger & Klein or the sleek and friendly Wein&Co. outlets, offered an atmosphere that was more in tune with the young, urban crowd.

But in the last few years, the heurigen have struck back. With a few simple moves the wine has gotten better, the premises have become a little easier on the modern eye and even the food is showing signs of improvement.

One of the most interesting new products is one of the oldest. Most Vienna wineries have a bottom-end wine called simply ‘Gemischter Satz’. In English, we would probably call it
simply a ‘field blend’. All the vines from a particular holding are harvested together and fermented. Since a smart peasant winemaker would always plant many different varieties and clones as insurance against unlucky weather, the resultant wine always had an inherently mixed ancestry.
What used to be a necessity has become a virtue. Mixed varieties mean that every harvest has some grapes that are very ripe and others that retain a lot of acidity. The winegrower’s traditional worry about when to harvest becomes a lot less vexing. Wine making techniques have been cleaned up, but not overly modernized. Gravity and scrupulous cleanliness do what pumps and chemicals do elsewhere. Right now, all the wines labelled ‘Gemischter Satz’ are white and sell for about six Euro. Some wineries are offering an additional, premium old vines bottling.

How good are they? In the best wineries, they are making delicious, crisp, well-balanced whites. Recent tastings at Weinguts Christ and Wieninger and at the formidable Wein & Co left the tasters impressed with Vienna’s field blends and absolutely floored by the value they represent.
The sad news is that the wines are in short supply in the U.S. The good news is that you’ll have to travel to Vienna to learn all about them. Lucky you.

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the refreshingly crisp novel bang BANG. ISBN 9781601640005

Friday, September 07, 2007

Austrian Wine Bargains (pre-harvest 2007)

In spite of the growing number-and apparent profitability-of high-end wines from Austria, there are still genuine bargains to be found. At a pre-harvest tasting at Wein&Co in Vienna, a Viennese Grüner Veltliner from Phillip Zoll blew the crowd away.
Old Austrian wine hands probably think of Viennese wines as the lightly flavored little sourballs that make the summer days go by or the hearty heurigen food go down. They are bargains in the sense of not costing very much. But real bargains start when more refined qualities come in.
The Grüner from Zoll costs a mere 9.55 Euro. The nose is an intriguing blend of white pepper and herbs with a subtle floral hint. The lightly fruity flavors open up on the palate along with a bright and refreshing acidity and medium body. The finish is surpringly long and leaves a clean, appetizing sensation behind.
So what's going on here? Is this a fluke? Were the winemakers in Vienna's Weinviertel needlessly floundering? Is there a catch?
The short answer is that I don't know if this lovely wine signals a trend or if it's just a one-off.
Stay tuned.

-Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine
and the refreshing new novel, bang BANG

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wine and Cheese:Good Vouvray, Bargain Price

Back in the 1950's, the very few wine-lowers in the US could always rely on Barton & Guestier, a negociant who mostly bottled and labeled wines from Bordeaux. B&G Sauternes was a staple at my family's holiday dinners, their Graves popped out of the refrigerator whenever Mom put fish was on the table. Later, as more wines were available at the local wineshop, B&G had a reputation of being 'always good, never great' and I only bought their wines if I was stranded someplace.
So it's with a certain pleasant nostalgia (nostalgia is just a longing for home) that I tell you that a bottle of Vouvray from B&G snapped a lot of people's heads back at a recent tasting. It's even more fun to report that a cheese-Moliterno from Sardinia-went so well with it that even people who were new to this whole wine-and-cheese business were gabbing about it. The Moliterno has all the complications of a good Pecorino and a moist and tangy presence in the mouth.

B&G Vouvray, about $7 in New Jersey at Canal's Marlton
Moliterno is $14.99/lb. at DiBruno Brothers.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Toward Greater Wine Literacy

The Vintner’s Art by Hugh Johnson and James Halliday

There are four main sources of flavor in wine.
• The grape variety.
• The place where it is grown.
• The way in which it is grown
• The winemaking techniques used.

This valuable book is mostly about the last of these sources, although there is a brief nod to vineyard management at the beginning.

You could argue for any of these sources as the primary source of wine’s flavor and could easily produce pairs of wines that support your claim. Grape varieties, like apple varieties, have different flavors. These differences become accentuated when grape juice ferments into wine and produces or reveals its unique set of acids, esters, and other flavor chemicals.

Vineyards have their own flavors, too. Apart from obvious considerations like sun exposure and soil structure, we know depressingly little about how this works. People who own the vineyards that produce the best wines often make a great deal of the unique contribution of their particular patch of ground, and we can hardly blame them. ”Them” in this case is mostly the French, who use the word “terroir” to express this influence. Many of these winemakers consider their mission to be allowing their wine to ‘”express the nature of the terroir” Incidentally, all the possible jokes about “terroirists” have already been made.

The management of grape vines in order to optimize flavor has been a realm of extreme conservativism until recently. Peasant farmers are understandably reluctant to undertake experiments when tradition is recognizeably safe.

Winemaking techniques expand, contract, or radically alter the taste of wine. Some of these alterations – like prolonged contact between the freshly crushed juice and the grape skins or the choice of yeast – are in deliberate service to the flavors they produce. Others, like filtration and pasteurization, are driven by economic considerations and have secondary-and sometimes unfortunate-flavor consequences.

It's the discussion of this last area-a matter often hinted at in other publications-that this book does so well. Taking each of eight categories of wine, the book discusses the winemaking choices that go into producing the characteristic taste of that category. So we have chapters on:

Light-bodied Whites
Wooded and Full-bodied Whites
Light-bodied Reds
Medium-bodied Reds
Full-bodied Reds
Fortified Wines

There is a brief section on the rôle of barrel storage,
but it's far from complete.

The description of winemakers' choices in this book
is clear, extensive and beautifully presented. Delightful
reading for anyone who wants to know where all those
great tastes come from.

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the forthcoming novel bang BANG from Kunati Books.ISBN 9781601640005

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My Other Life

This is a review of my novel bang BANG which will be published by Kunati Books in April 2007.

BookList is the magazine of the American Library Association. This review was so good that I was almost embarrassed to show it to anyone. Almost.

Hoffman, Lynn. Bang Bang. Jan. 2007. 176p. Kunati, $19.95
When her close friend is shot in the street, the vehemently anti-gun
Paula Sherman has no idea what she's in store for. Interviewed by a
reporter at the scene, Paula later discovers that her grief-stricken
words, taken out of context, are being used by a shady senator and the
gun industry to promote the pro-firearm agenda. Suddenly finding
herself the unwitting-and very public-proponent of a political stance
she abhors, Paula embarks on a decidedly offbeat, one-woman vigilante
crusade to bring the gun trade to its knees, a crusade that involves
an air pistol and an awful lot of running around (which is OK, because
Paula, a waitress whose singing voice has yet to propel her to
stardom, could stand a lose a few pounds). Written in the present
tense, to give the story additional power, the book is filled with
anger and raw urgency. The characters are tough and believable, and
the dialogue positively sings. In many ways it's the literary
equivalent of a Tarantino movie: edgy, streetwise, and a little
arrogant (don't expect a balanced look at the subject of gun control),
with a strong and determined female protagonist. Brilliant might be
too big a word for this novel but not by much. -David Pitt

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Beer Bath

Last October, in Bavaria, I went to a spa that offered a beer bath. That's right, a big tub for two in which you soak in a nice hoppy wort while drinking a dark lager. There's an article about it in this month's (December) Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.
For the revealing, frothy photos, go here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Want to Simplify Your Holiday Shopping?

I know that some people really enjoy being crushed in holiday shopping crowds, carrying packages through crowded parking lots and listening to Christmas Muzak. But on the off-chance that you're not one of those people, here's a quick link to simplify all your shopping for your fellow food and wine lovers.Great Gifts for the Winelover

Can't Find The New Short Course in Bookstores?

Here's a link to buy it online. The New Short Course in Wine is the University-Approved, direct and simple approach to getting wise to the
world of wine.Buy the New Short Course Now
Like all the great wine experiences on this page, it costs less than twenty bucks.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Vina Borgia Campo de Borja 2005 $5

No, that's not a typo. Five bucks. A bottle.

I'll take another sip while you recover from your shock. This is a more-than-drinkable wine at a laughably low price. It's the kind of wine that could lead to a lot more people enjoying wine on a regular basis and increasing the overall Pleasure Quotient (PQ) in these United States. Here, here.
What you've got is a ripe fruit bouquet, berries and cherries with a hot spicy accent. The wine is medium to full-bodied in the mouth with a lightly tannic finish that has a bitter, appetite provoking snap that leaves your mouth watering. 100% Grenache and a spirited 14% alcohol, this bottle has a shelf life of three or four days if well-kept.
Brought to us by Jorge Ordonez and Tempranillo, Inc., this is rockin' good wine at a great price. Buy all you can and enjoy over the next year or two. Serve cool-62-65 F.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

La Spinetta 203 'Ca' di Pian' $16

The challenge was daunting. We needed a wine to go with grilled scallops and shrimp served on a bed of thick mussel soup with white beans and set off by a jalapeno scone. The surprising answer was this remarkable Barbera from La Spinetta. It has all the customary intense fruit of a good, ripe Barbera with enough acidity to give it perfect balance and make it an excellent accompaniment for this dish. The bouquet is slightly floral with very dark fruit and the tang of alcohol. The finish was long and developed hints of vanilla and smoke. I have yet to have anything but great wine from La Spinetta, and this bottling keeps that tradition alive. Extraordinary sophistication from a usually bumptious grape at a bargain price.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I'll Drink to That

I guess you've heard that every journalist is a frustrated novelist. Well, this one isn't frustrated anymore. My next book, bang-BANG, is on the spring list from Kunati Books.
It's a story about a woman who's the victim of gun violence and identity theft and who gets really angry. Her revenge on the people who are doing her wrong is sexy and original. If that sounds like your kind of story, you may also enjoy the guest appearances by '82 Chateau d'Yquem, '89 Haut-Brion, Oprah and Clint Eastwood. You can order a copy at your localbookstore or on Amazon.( ISBN 601640005) Find out more at:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Civilized Syrah: Liberty School 2004 $10

When winelovers talk about things other than wine, they sometimes use wine as a metaphor, as a way to take some ineffable experience and eff about it anyway. You can’t really blame them; when you’re smack up against how difficult the world can be to figure out, wine is both a good example and an excellent consolation. So when winos want to discuss the difference between power and finesse, between let’s say Ed Rendell and Mario Cuomo, they look for winey examples. On the power side, the first wines that come to mind are the ones made from the Syrah grape. These are wines that burst their way into your mouth with enormous flavors and leave your senses exhausted.

At their worst, they’re inky, over-ripe and overwhelming: Nicole Smith. At their best, they’re a voluptuous universe unto themselves: Sophia Loren. Some of the most famous Syrah-based wines are made in the northern Rhône Valley in France. The greatest of these are rare, expensive, special-occasion numbers like Hermitage and Côte Rotie. The northern Rhône also produces the more common but extremely variabLinkle Crozes-Hermitage.

More reliable Syrahs come from California and Australia. The Australians call the grape Shiraz. Down there Shiraz is the backbone of their greatest wines. In the New World, the winemakers’ struggle seems to involve getting some nuances of flavor into the thick, dark taste. You can find out more on p.77 of The New Short Course in Wine.

Given this background, it's surprising to come across a Syrah that was an attention-getter before dinner along with a bit of cheese and then a delightful accompaniment for a squid and lobster salad. The wine is from Liberty School, a California stalwart.
The bouquet included the predictable smoke and plums but also carried a wonderful floral note. The peppery flavors on the finish were backed up by a nice acidity and just the right touch of tannin.
Tasted at Bobby Flay's at the Borgata, Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Eccentric Chileans: Maquis Lien 2003 $10

Most wine lovers in the US have discovered the wines of Chile. The discovery may have involved stumbling on the great values of Los Vascos or picking up a bottle of the intensely fruity Carmenere at a low price.

There is another side to Chilean wine, a side that doesn't necessarily play to the crowd but that may be of interest to serious wineheads. In a world where regional identity is becoming scarce, where Italian Cabernets taste like French which in turn, increasingly resemble Napa, there seems to be a single target for which all wineries aim.

So it's good to taste something exciting that doesn't taste like anything else.The case in point is Maquis Lien 2003, an eccentric red with all the intrigue of the big, weird Chileans at just under ten bucks. The blend is 50% Syrah, 23% Carmenere, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, and 7% Malbec aged for 12 months in French oak.

The Rivadeniera-Hurtado family in Valle de Colchagua decided to make their own wine from grapes that they had been selling to other winemakers for over a hundred years. The aim was to make a “Super Chilean” blend. It's hard to tell whether they've hit on a model that's going to create a category -"super-chilean", but they have certainly created a landmark of fruitiness and concentration. This wine also has deep herbal undertones and a trace of the wonderful bitterness that makes italian reds so appetite-provoking.

Originally tasted at Canals Marlton's annual charity tasting, a subsequent bottle lit up a dinner of grilled vegetables and braised lamb shanks.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Three from Spain

Jumilla is a hot, dry little wine factory just inland from Spain's Mediterranean coast. Until recently, it was mostly known for powerful jug wines. After the phylloxera louse arrived in 1989, the area was largely replanted and reinvented. The emphasis is still on power and alcohol levels are high enough to make you laugh (even before you start drinking). But there are little bursts of refinement creeping through and prices are still quite low as winegrowers fight for market share. In the meantime, if there's a place at your holiday table for some extra-dense big boys, here are three to consider.

Panarroz Jumilla 2004- A thick cherry nose with a distracting streak of green pepper and raw alcohol. You'll want this wine around for the incredible density in the palate. Grown-ups will enjoy the way the tannins on the finish make it compatible with spicy and fatty foods. $8

Wrongo Dongo 2004- The name and the label are obviously intended for the post-modern American market. Its 14% alcohol is balanced by an abundance of super-ripe berry fruit and a whiff of earthiness. There are plums and berries in the mouth and some hints of chocolate as the flavors develop. This wine is remarkably smooth and so is a good choice to serve your wine novice friends. Unfortunately stoppered with one of those resin plugs, you may need a turbo-assist from your corkscrew to get the bottle open. At $7-8 a bottle, it's a great case purchase for entertaining.

Juan Gil 2003- This is 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) and a whopping 14.8% alcohol. The wine is made from 40 year-old vines. The intense cherry-berry nose has a touch of vanilla and earth. It is so round on the palate that it needs its moderate load of tannin and its hint of black pepper to stay in balance. The finish is persistent and sharp lasting longer than the typical super bowl half-time show. At $15 this is a rarity and a great bargain if you have a soft spot for really big wines.