Check out what happened over at the Blind Tasting League this week!
Check out my new article in Sophie Magazine!
Well the Asheville Wine & Food festival has come and gone again, and as always it was wonderful to attend! The Asheville School of Wine was there with blind tasting for both wine and beer. I was thrilled to be asked back to demonstrate the basics of deductive blind tasting not once, but twice to two seperate groups of people! Our resident beer expert Anita Riley showed a sold out crowd that blind tasting isn't just for wine, it can be done with Beer as well.
Thank you to everyone who was able to attend and especially to Sommelier Eric Crane who educated and entertained the crowd with me! If you missed the blind tastings at the Festival, fear not! Our Blind Tasting League meets twice a month at Metro Wines, the first wednesday is for Wine and the third wednesday is for Beer! Call ahead to make reservations or buy tickets online at www.blindtastingleague.com.
As summer is drawing to a close and the air is starting to cool, I reach less and less for my insubstantial Vinho Verdes and my summery Sauvignon Blancs, and look for something with a little more meat on it's bones! When I'm looking for a white wine, I reach for a bottle from Alsace.
Alsace is one of my favorite regions in the world, and one of the most unique and interesting in France, in my opinion. Sandwiched between France and Germany far to the North East, it has gone back and forth in ownership between these two countries. Because of that, it has a hybrid culture. Not quite German and not solely French.
The wines of the region reflect this cultural mish-mash, you will find classic German grapes like Riesling and Sylvaner grown and produced in a French style. For example, the Rieslings of Germany wrestle the line between fruit and acid. They will often leave their wines with residual sugar in your glass in order to balance out the searing acidity that is characteristic of the grape. The Alsatian Rieslings are made more like a good Sancerre; powerful, acidic, dry and with enough authority to stand up to fine French cuisine!
The climate in this area is very cool, it lies almost at the same latitude as Champagne! This encourages the grapes to develop high levels of natural acidity, a must have for a good food wine! The Vosges mountain range to the West creates a rain-shadow effect that keeps the region dry, making Alsace one of the coolest and driest wine growing areas in France. This causes the grapes to struggle and to reach their roots far down into the subsoil to find water, getting into the rich minerals that provide so much flavor to these wines.
When you are browsing the Alsatian section in your local wine shop, or perusing the wine list at a restaurant, don't be intimidated by the German names. Sylvaner makes terrific wine that can be light and tart, to somewhat rich and oily. Gewürztraminer is a bouquet of potpourri in a glass, full of orange blossom, rose petals, lychee and exotic spices. The Pinot Gris of Alsace are a far cry from the light Pinot Grigios of Northern Italy, these are full bodied and incredibly aromatic! But the real gem of the region is Riesling. This is not your cloyingly sweet Liebfraumilch from the grocery store, these are powerfully structured wines, full of minerality and bracing acidity, with a nose full of orange zest and honey. Have no fear if you dislike sweet wine, all of these wines are dry and frequently overlooked. It's time to give Riesling another chance!
Andy Hale of The Asheville School of Wine is going LIVE on WLOS Saturday Morning. He will be discussing some wines that are essential for summertime, and some food pairings for each of them. Tune in at 7:25am. If you miss it, you can view under the news tab by clicking on News13 This Morning.
MetroWines Honors "Dough" Gift Certificates
MetroWines will honor "Dough" Gift Certificates for classes redeemable for our "Wine Essentials Class" presented by Andy Hale of The Asheville School of Wine @MetroWines.
"We became aware of this situation through an article this morning in The Asheville Citizen Times," said John Kerr, co-owner of MetroWines. "We are here to help the community where we can."
Those with "Dough" Gift Certificates can call 828-575-9525 for the schedule and to reserve a seat.
Contact: Gina Trippi
Order a glass of Merlot in a wine bar and someone will surely quote the movie Sideways, "I'm not drinking anymore f-ing Merlot"! Yes, we've all heard that one and it hasn't gotten stale at all in the past 10 years or so.
So why does everyone hate on Merlot? Is it just a terrible grape that produces foul-tasting wine? I mean, the French grow more Merlot than any other grape, dont they? Didn't they know how to make wine at one point?
It all started with 60 Minutes. They ran an episode called the "French Paradox", where they questioned why the French eat buttery, salty, fatty food and smoke cigarettes all day but still out-live us. The answer, they said, lay in the glass of red wine that they consume with their meals, which is loaded with the antioxidant Resveratrol. This, according to the episode, extends their lives and allows them to eat as much escargot as they like!
The effect was almost immediate. All across America, people were looking to take up red wine for health reasons. They were looking for a wine that was approachable, fruity, easy to drink and relatively inexpensive. They found Merlot, with it's easy to pronounce name, it's willingness to ripen quickly and it's lack of an aging requirement, and it was an instant star!
The problem was, that the demand for a glass of Merlot for health reasons meant that people cared less about the quality of the wine they were getting. As demand increased, quality slipped more and more. You see, with X amount of land to grow grapes, you can make a little bit of great wine or a lot of mediocre wine depending on how many grapes you allow a vine to produce. If you cut down, say, half of the grape clusters that are starting to develop, the vine will put more energy into the remaining grapes and they will be richer and tastier. This is one of the reasons that "premium" wines are more expensive. Winemakers in the 90's started pumping out as much Merlot as their vineyards could make, and focused solely on the amount of bottles they were filling instead of the quality of the wine inside it. Why bother making a beautiful wine when people will buy it and drink it regardless?
Sideways called them out on it.
After Sideways, winemakers ripped out their Merlot and planted the grape that the movie had championed, Pinot Noir, and started over-producing it in the same way that they had with the Merlot. Which, by the way, to grow Pinot Noir properly, you have to treat it like a baby. It needs just the right amount of sunlight and moisture, the right soil composition and if you look at it wrong it will curl up and die, or at least make really watery, unpleasant wine. It's a bit of a diva, and a terrible grape to try to over-produce!
But thanks to Sideways, anyone who is still growing Merlot with it's horrible reputation, loves the grape and is really out to make an amazing wine. You could say that Sideways saved Merlot with its reality check. So thanks to the movie, not only is Merlot being made better than ever, it is also tremendously affordable since most people think it is a faux-pas to order it. This is good news for people who like to drink good wine, but don't want to spend a lot of money on it!
Oh, and remember that bottle of wine that Paul Giamatti's character was carrying around like a baby throughout the entire movie, waiting for the right time to open it, only to crack it open at the end of the movie and drink it with a burger and fries? That was Chateau Cheval Blanc, and it is mostly Merlot.
To see the saga of Merlot acted out by the winemakers of Gundlach Bundschu, watch this video! It plays out like the plot of Boogie Nights a little bit, but with less sex and more wine. Who knew that Merlot could be so dramatic!
It wasn't long ago that when you saw a glass of pink wine, you could be relatively sure that it would taste saccharin-sweet, with flavors of cotton candy, strawberry jelly and regret. I can assure you, this is not the case anymore! They are a must-have for your summertime pool-lounging, BBQing, and sitting out in the sunshine in general!
Modern, dry Rosés are crisp and tart, light and fresh, with just the slightest hint of tart Raspberry, under-ripe Strawberry, and even Lemon and Lime. They range from pale in color, delicate and light, to richer, more robust and flavorful. They come out every year in mid Spring, and are usually gone by Fall. Something to keep you cool during the summer before they are gone until next year.
I also find them to be phenomenally versatile wines to pair with food. They can be light and delicate enough to pair with shrimp and light fish, crisp enough to pair with pork chops, and I truly can't come up with a better wine to keep your grilled BBQ chicken company!
Rosés can be made by mixing red and white wine, but are usually made by a brief amount of contact between the juice and the skins of the grapes, which stains the wine pink. The longer you leave the skins on the juice, the darker the resulting Rosé. They can be made from virtually any red wine grape, and the wine will taste different depending on which grape is used.
In short, if you haven't tried Rosé wine in a while, you owe it to yourself to taste a few. They are a far cry from White Zinfandel or Mateus! After all, France drinks more Rosé than they drink white wine!
A great time to taste a variety of Rosés is this weekend at Metro Wines. We will be tasting through our Rosé wines this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (6/5/15-6/7/15) all day. Stop by and see why I'm so excited about these wines!
It's almost time for the second run of our wildly successful wine class for seniors, taught through UNC Asheville's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This 6 class series will start with the basics of wine and run up through some advanced wine knowledge. You will learn the basics of food and wine pairing, grape varietal characteristics, tips to help you get the most out of your wine, basic geography of wine regions, and even some secrets from wine industry insiders! All while tasting a flight of different wines with each class!
Sign up today at http://olliasheville.com/courses/30011-2. Space is very limited and we expect to sell out quickly! Dates of the class are June 15, 22, 29, July 6, 13, 20, 2015, from 2:00pm-4:00pm. The cost for the course is $72.
By popular demand, we are coming back to the Asheville Wine & Food Festival to bring some blind tasting fun! We will teach you the secrets of the Sommeliers, and show how to detect the grape varietal, country of origin and even the alcohol percentage of several different wines. Blind tasting is a Sommelier art where you learn to deduce where the wine is from and what grapes it is made out of, all by taste and smell alone. This is a serious part of the exam to become a Sommelier, but we teach the secrets in a fun, stress free atmosphere. In my opinion this is the best way to improve your senses and brush up on your wine tasting desriptors, so you can learn to talk like a pro while you dissect the wines! If you've seen the documentary "Somm", you have an idea of how challenging blind tasting can be. Now try the real thing for yourself!
For a video of last year's tasting, check out http://ashevillewineandfood.com/about-festival.
Buy tickets to the festival here http://ashevillewineandfood.com/purchase-tickets
In the latest issue of Capital at Play Magazine, the School's own John Kerr takes on wine case clubs! Read it here! http://www.capitalatplay.com/should-your-sommelier-also-be-your-journalist-or-airline/
Come out to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse this Saturday night, March the 7th at 6:00 for "A Taste of Charleston". Taste some Lowcountry favorites like She Crab Bisque and Fried Green Tomatoes, paired with wines by Sommelier Dan Collier of Ruth's Chris and Andy Hale of the Asheville School of Wine. Look at the menu here Taste-of-Charleston-Flyer.pdf.
The cost is $70. Call Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for reservations at (828) 398-6200.
Interview with Mike Merriman, owner of Merriman Wines. He joined us here @MetroWines in Asheville, North Carolina, for a tasting of Merriman Chenin Blanc, Cummins Road Pinot Noir 2012 and Merriman Estate Pinot Noir 2012. His beard was gone and he had new glasses. Here’s the rest of the story:
Thank you for pouring at MetroWines in Asheville, North Carolina. We are a neighborhood wine shop but also the home of The Asheville School of Wine and The Blind Tasting League.
Do you blind taste?
Mike: I love to blind taste.
What’s in this bottle?
Mike: Could be Eucalyptus but I’m going to say Frankincense.
Unbelievable. You must be one amazing blind taster!
Mike: Not really. Blind tasting is tough. A group of Oregon Winemakers get together periodically in Portland, sit around a table, and blind taste each other’s wines. Not one of us can self identify. One night, one of the winemakers described a wine as the most amateurish swill he had ever tasted. It was his wine.
Let’s talk about how a highly regarded winemaker like you got started. Did you go to U.C. Davis?
Mike: SMU in Dallas.
No way! Me too. I have a degree in Communications. What does a wine guy study at SMU? Botany? Punnett Squares? The Medici?
I see. But then you went to U.C. Davis?
Mike: No. Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
Wow. Is that what you would be doing if you were not making wine? Some kind of music?
Mike: Definitely. I am a composer. I would probably be a music theory teacher.
Without getting too technical, music theory, as I understand it, is the study of the elements of a composition all the way through to what constitutes music.
Mike: Pretty much.
And word is that you make your own music. They say that you play a mean piano. Besides your own compositions, whose work makes you turn up the volume?
Mike: John Adams. I like post minimalist work. More developed than minimalist pieces by composers like Philip Glass. Don’t get me wrong, I like Philip Glass. I just like Adams better.
But did you know that you can get a Philip Glass ringtone?
Mike: No. Adams wrote three operas. You have probably heard of “Nixon in China” about Nixon’s 1972 groundbreaking trip to the country or “Death of Klinghoffer,” the opera based on the hi-jacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro.
Me? I’m struggling to tell the difference in Mozart and Beethoven. But I trust you. Back to wine. So then you went to U.C. Davis?
Mike: No. I did income tax.
So, your economics degree came in handy after all.
Mike: Came in handy a couple of times. I had joined the “Beer Revolution” in Texas and began brewing. This took me to a Fermentation Science course at the University of Oregon in 1997. But, along about this time, beer industry revenues were trending down. I got lucky. On a class field trip, I met David Reilly there who owns Owen Roe. He took me to a harvest. I loved it. The rest is history.
Are you the winemaker?
Mike: One of two. I work with Eric Brasher, a trained oenologist and viticulturalist, who was the head winemaker at Owen Roe.
What do you want consumers to know about your wine?
Mike: The way the wines are made. The grapes are hand picked and hand sorted and the wine is made in small quantities. Even the wax on the bottle is hand dipped. We use only sustainable viticultural practices. And we are certified Salmon Safe which means our farming practices help to protect streams and rivers and control soil erosion.
Speaking of soil, some say your soil is what gives your Pinot Noir its distinct taste.
Mike: We have willakenzie soil which is sandy and rocky. You could say that the marine influences in willakenzie certainly contribute to deeper blue fruit but there are many factors in addition to soil that account for aromas and flavors.
Now that you are solidly a part of the wine making business, if you could, what would you like to change about the industry? For more information, check our website!
Mike: The three tiered system. I would like to sell directly. Give consumers more options.
Who would you like to know drinks Merriman Wines?
Mike: Sponge Bob. I like him.
Do you ever think about brewing again?
Mike: No, but I still love a good saison.
A good saison goes with what movie?
Mike: “Godfather Part One,” “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” or “Tommy Boy” with Chris Farley.
Your first wine received 90 points from Wine Spectator and the ratings and reviews have just gone up since then. Congratulations. Anything else we should know?
Mike: I never went to U.C. Davis.
Today we have Mike Merrimon, owner and winemaker of Merriman Wines coming by the School to answer questions about winemaking in Oregon, and yes, he will be pouring his wines as well. He is actually a former beer guy, who started growing wine in 1999. Since then he has had some pretty big winemakers buying his grapes, highly rated wine juggernaut Owen Roe produces a Merriman Vineyard Pinot Noir, but he keeps his best grapes for himself! This is a great opportunity to taste some tiny production cult wines from the North-West, that really don't make it to the South-East very often.
For more info on Mike and his wines, check out his website at http://www.merrimanwines.com.
With the "50 Shades of Grey" movie being released today, I figured that this would be a good time to talk about skin. Grape skins specifically. These are what contribute most of the color to the red wines that you enjoy, they are the main source of Resveratrol which is great for fighting heart disease, and they also act as a natural preservative and allow your wines to age without turning into vinegar.
Let's talk about Maceration. Now things are getting kinky! No, maceration is the process where the freshly pressed grape juice soaks with the grape skins and picks up color. If you have ever squeezed a red grape, you have seen that most grape juice is clear. The red pigment in the skin stains the juice. So, the longer the maceration, the more color the juice picks up. This is also where the wine gets its Tannin, that compound that dries your mouth out like you just chewed on a piece of leather or drank some over-brewed black Tea. Tannins are a crucial part of red wine, although they can make it taste a little bitter if the wine is too tannic. These are the wines that you want to age for a while in your cellar. Tannins are also natural palette cleansers, so they go very well with fatty, rich foods!
So what happens if you take red grapes, mash them and then opt for a very short maceration? You end up with rosé wine! The juice only has time to pick up a little color from the grape skins and so the color of the wine can vary from a pale Salmon to a rich pink depending on how long you let the skins soak. You can also make rosé by blending a little bit of red wine in with white wine, but most rosé's are made from a very short soak on the grape skins. Although I'm pretty sure White Zinfandel is made by pouring grenadine into white wine.
You may also have heard of a new type of wine being produced called "Orange Wine" which is very trendy right now in larger cities. This is not made from oranges, but is in fact made from white wine grapes that age on their skins like a red wine. This is almost never done with white wines. The result is a white wine that has a little bit of Tannin, and it takes on a distinctive orange color. It also has a very unique flavor! I enjoy an orange wine, but they are definitely not for everyone! They can be almost aggressively earthy and can take on a vegetal flavor that some find objectionable. They are also very hard to find and can be quite pricy! But if you find yourself in a wine bar and are offered a glass, try it out and see what you think! It will certainly not be boring, which for me is worse than drinking bad wine!
So the next time you are enjoying a sexy red wine, remember that showing skin in the wine industry is just as important as it is in the movies!
Awesome American-born winemaker Michele D'Aprix has sent us a few more snapshots of wine production at her winery in St. Emilion, Bordeaux. This time it's labeling the magnums (1.5 Liter bottles) and applying the wax seal. Just a little glimpse into what goes into making the wine that we love. For more photos from Michele, check out our earlier entries here: http://www.ashevilleschoolofwine.com/blog/entry/more-pics-from-bordeaux and videos of the 2014 harvest here: http://www.ashevilleschoolofwine.com/blog/entry/exclusive-video-footage-of-this-year-s-harvest-in-bordeaux, and by all means, if you haven't tasted Pentimento yet, definitely check it out!
In case you missed it in Capital at Play magazine, here is the School's own John Kerr with some Valentine's Day wine recommendations!
I'm on wine probabtion. A few months ago I went on a reckless wine-buying spree that left our checking account looking a little hollow, and my wife placed me on wine-probabtion. Because of that, I normally buy wines for everyday consumption that are in the $15 and under category, and usually much under! Valentine's Day will give me a brief reprieve, however, and I'll be able to get a much better bottle than I normally would without getting into trouble. I've already been thinking about what to get!
Setting the mood: Pink Bubbles
I think Valentine's Day is the perfect time to break open that bottle of Sparkling Rose, and before you say I don't drink Rose, they are all too sweet, keep in mind that most Rose's are very dry! The French drink more Rose wine than white wine after all! The sight of the wine in the glass is appealing and the flavor is perfect, just slightly fruity, but with excellent balance. It's light enough to enjoy on it's own, but crisp enough to accompany a meal or light hors d'oeuvre.
My current favorite comes from Willamette Valley, Oregon, the Argyle Brut Rose. It is comprised mostly of Pinot Noir, which Oregon is so famous for, and Pinot Meunier which is a close cousin. Both are traditionally used in Champagne production. I was lucky enough to be able to taste this wine with the winemaker, Rollin Soles, who is as cool as his name sounds. He reminded me of Sam Elliott, and if you are picturing him in your head right now, you really aren't that far off. Big handlebar mustache, folksy western mannerisms, the whole thing. The 2010 vintage is a bit older than you would normally age your summer-drinking,poolside-sitting Southern-French Rose, and it shows on the nose. Slightly dusty, with raspberry and crisp minerality when you taste. Incredibly complex and utterly enjoyable to drink.
The Main Course: Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Far to the south of the Rhone Valley in France, in a place so beautiful that a French Pope decided to live there rather than move to the Vatican, lies a small commune that is known for producing incredibly complex and smooth wines out of Grenache and up to 22 additional blending grapes. It is also one of my favorite places in the world for good wine. The wines are soft and comforting. Not too brash and tannic, or overly fruity. They are a good blend of flavors, red cherry and spice, potpourrie, slightly gamey and with just a kiss of acidity. It is a wine that you can sip by itself with your love or enjoy it with a romantic meal.
My current favorite has got to be Domaine de la Janasse. Although they have only been producing wine since 1967, they have been producing some tremendous wines in the past decades. It is also the favorite of the Wine Advocate's Robert Parker, who is known as an expert on the wines of the Rhone Valley. At $68, this wine isn't cheap, but still far less than paying for a even a mid-range Bordeaux or Burgundy!
If the idea of dropping $93 for a bottle of wine doesn't intimidate you, the single vineyard "Chaupin" from Janasse is also excellent. The grapes come from a cooler vineyard site to the north of Chateauneuf, and the wine is a little lighter, more elegant and a touch more crisp than the other.
Although, if you are like me in that bringing home even a $50 bottle of wine would have you sleeping on the couch instead of being romantic with your significant other, then I have a wine for you as well! Janasse owns a tract of land that technically extends past the boundaries of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and so it goes from having that prestigious (and unpronouncable) name to just "Cotes-du-Rhone", and it goes from costing $68 to just $19.49. The grapes are the same, the climate and terroir are the same, the winemakers are the same,it just doesn't have the name. It's a wine that makes me feel like I'm splurging without violating the terms of my probabtion! But which ever wine you decide to go with, have a happy Valentine's Day!