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Wine Makes Us Civil

Updated on March 8, 2013

Wine does it all and it is a food.

"Wine is the most civilized thing in the world."

Ernest Hemingway.

Looking at the impact of wine on our family, friends, associations, business relationships and ourselves.

"Making good wine is a skill. Fine wine is an art."

Robert Mondavi, "Harvests Of Joy,"

Laura DePasquale-Vice Chair-Court of Master Sommeliers
Laura DePasquale-Vice Chair-Court of Master Sommeliers

Master Sommeliers Are Not a Dime a Dozen

Only 200 in the whole World

Recently, I was at a restaurant with my wife for dinner. We ordered a glass of wine while we talked and decided on the food we wanted for dinner. A sommelier never came to our table to talk about a wine for our meal. Frankly, I had some questions concerning a French wine I had heard about. Anyway, the wine our server recommended was fine and we forgot about the sommelier discussion. After a fun and enjoyable dinner, as we were departing, I stopped and ask a member of the staff if the restaurant had a MS (Master Sommelier). With a moment of stammering the lady ask, what is a MS? In that brief response I realized the professional wine staff was likely performed by someone who had taken a few courses in wine appreciation.

The thought occurred to me; I wonder how many of us really understand just how unique or rare a person may be in the restaurant industry with a MS after their name? I have spent a lot of time with a Master Sommelier in Las Vegas, Kevin Vogt-MS. From him I acquired some knowledge of the absolute rigors encountered to have the title-Master Sommelier. By the way, a person will probably dedicate six years in the quest to become a Master Sommelier with the last two years being mostly full time, and God forbid you have to take the Level 4 exam multiple times. (Even the Vice Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers for the Americas, Laura DePasquale, sat for her Master Sommelier designation four times.)

To get some background facts about Master Sommelier’s I contacted Ms. Laura DePasquale who is the Vice President/General Manager with the firm, Stacole Fine Wines in Florida. Ms. DePasquale tells me there are slightly over 200 individuals in the World with the MS title. The vast majority of these are members of The Court of Master Sommeliers Americas. As the Vice Chairman of The Court of Master Sommeliers Americas Laura would know; she has been a Master Sommelier for 10 years.

What is The Court of Master Sommeliers and is the World a better place with Master Sommeliers? According to Laura, “The Court was founded to provide highly trained and respected professionals, with a deep understand of wine, for the restaurant industry. The focus is on all aspects of wine services. The examining process to be awarded the MS title was and is designed to focus on wine history, viticulture, and winemaking, tasting profiles relative to regions and varietals and wine pairings with food. All of this learning is to prepare the MS to interface professionally with restaurant customers.” It is even more impressive when one realizes that a Master Sommelier must plan, purchase and manage a restaurant’s wine department.

There are two highly respected organizations that award titles based upon very high standards of wine knowledge; Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. It is the Master Sommelier that focuses on wine service and the delicate relationship a restaurant has with its food and wine loving customers. “If you do not like working with people and counseling them on wine and wine pairings then the Master Sommelier Level 4 program is going to be a very tough course,” says Laura. “The final exam is about responding to inordinate stresses heaped on the candidate relative to wine knowledge, taste profiles and ultimately responding to customer induced stresses.” For example, how would you respond to a verbal argument while trying to do a wine service and defuse a difficult situation that impacts the whole restaurant?

There are two chapters within The Court: Court of Master Sommelier Americas and Court of Master Sommelier European Union. Each chapter of the Court works in conjunction and cooperation on overall exam standards at every level of the examination process (all 4 levels). Together they ensure the high standards for awarding the title of MS. And the task of ensuring their very high standards are in the hands of a volunteer Board of Directors; members of each chapter votes for the officers within their chapter. For example, in North America, the 129 Masters each vote for the Board of Directors for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas.

After talking to Ms. Laura DePasquale, it is apparent these are very serious people who are determined to maintain the prestige and the standards of the MS credential. “We want to maintain the standard so that wine lovers around the world know the true value of the experiences in receiving the MS title,” said Laura. “I want MS to stand for something that is above even exceptional.” The second part of the original question: …why does the world need Master Sommeliers? Laura explains it this way, “There is a segment within the category of wine lovers that go beyond being a wine aficionado/oenophile, and these are people described as¬¬¬¬¬ ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬über. These people love wine at a level that exceeds the most strident lover of wines. They demand detail about a wine, the varietal, region of origin and even historic vintage facts.” Herein lays the real value of a Master Sommelier.

A MS has credentials and tested knowledge of all things wine. So, what would a MS tell a restaurant guest to do when interfacing with a MS? For that answer we turn to Laura.

First, explain to the MS wines you do like. If you have a favorite label or vintage be sure to mention such. Then be prepared to explain in everyday language what you like about your favorite wines. A MS will never intimidate you or converse with you at a level above or below your knowledge of wine. The way you talk to him/her will set the stage for a great flow of information.

Second, even ask for assistance with a meal selection. Explain what your expectations are in the meal?

Third, establish if you plan a casual glass of wine before the meal and a more suitable type wine with the meal.

Fourth, never shy away from talking about the price you want to pay for the wine. Price may also be driven by the occasion. Explain if the meal is a special event. Also, talk about preferences for alcohol levels, acid and tannin profiles you prefer. For example, Old World wines tend to be less alcohol.

Fifth, engage the MS in a discussion on all matters of wine. This is a great opportunity to add to your knowledge of wine. The point is that a MS is there to make the meal a complete experience, so take advantage of the expertise before you.

What has changed in the last few years in the wine service industry? The obvious is weather impact of the grapes, expansion of land planted in vines, debate of screw caps versus cork, and aeration devices. Only 10 years ago part of the training for the MS involved knowing a great deal about cigars. Now that training is no more.

So, for 6 years of work and concentration and tasting a lot of wines and being able to pick out a 1980 Boudreaux versus a 1982, you may become a MS and be one of 200 in the whole world.


Fact or Confusion

A study from Europe now says that wine can increase the risk of breast cancer in women. They did not differentiate- white or red. Other study do not denote such a connection. I can remember reading a study that coffee was bad - now it is recommended 4 cups a day. Resveratrol is still good!

Try a nice Sip'in Wine-Petite Sirah is not a Syrah

So many wines and so little time.

Most people will stick with their tried-and-true wine's...we just know what we like and if it took awhile to get to that place then we stay on that path. In the evening I like a glass of sip'in wine. That for me is a cab or merlot. I like to relax and spend time sniff'in and tasting the wine.

The other day I was in a wine store and an employee noticed me purusing some tempranillo's and malbec's, his offer of help was welcomed. I pretty much told him I wanted a friendly red, with character, and something that would be a nice sip'in wine. His suggestion evoked a comment that showed my ignorance. A petite sirah is not a modified syrah. A petite sirah is a varietal that doesn't seem to have a pedigree or history that is commonly known. Obviously, (at least it is obvious now) petite sirah is not a Rhone varietal and is not even related. It started life as we know it, as a blending wine; kind of like how merlot is used in some cabs.

Folks, this is a wine that is dark, slightly heavy, a little chewy, has some nice pleasant aromas and is in the 13.5% abv range. Some petite sirah's have a lot of tannin's which means they probably do not stand alone as a sip'in wine. There are some that are not in the distinctly tannic type and those are the ones I am talking about here. The Bogle Vineyards, Concanon Vineyards, and The Bucaneer Winery (of which I can't find where they are located) do make my favorite petite sirah sip'in wines. But Turley, Parducci, Girard Wineries also make petite sirah wines. Seems that about 20 wineries in Northern California produce the wine.

As an aside, syrah grapes originated in Persia, made famous in the Rhone region, and today 50% of syrah plantings are still in France. Don't know where I got that last bit of information be there it is.

In my "Sip'in Category" I have found some are higher in tannins which are nice but not easy on the palate. Three I like are as follows: Bogle Vineyards which has about 1,500 acres in grapes (chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel primarily, and petite sirah) in the Sacramento area, referred to as the Delta region. Concannon Vineyards are in Livermore (a neighbor of Wente'). All of this is to point out that these are not in Sonoma and Napa. This is nothing bad or good. The reason, as it relates only to petite sirah, is that the petite sirah grape does really well in less stressful soil (substitute fertile), likes space and has a tendency to some rot in the clusters. Therefore it needs some dryness and a lot of tending-to. Tight clusters can also produce a relatively high yield per acre.

If you are willing to try the petite sirah realize that you can pay from $11 to $78 per bottle; most are in the $25 and less category. Turley Vineyards produces a $78 per bottle petite sirah and they are in Napa. I suggest a petite sirah with soft tannins. But realize soft tannins can be vintage specific.

By the way, I do not receive anything free or compensation for my comments. Never even had a free tasting when visiting some wineries so my comments are my own opinions and may be worth what you paid for them.

What makes a value wine?

Don't be a slave to wine ads and ratings.

Latitude Beverage Co. in Boston says that consumers are now looking for "value wines" and "cheap is now chic". This was reported in a newsletter from Shanken Comm. They go on to say that consumers don't need to spend $50-60 a bottle for good wine. So now the question I ask is: What makes a 'value' wine? Think about this a minute. Have you ever drank a $50-60 a bottle of wine and then (at the same time/event) tried a $10 bottle of wine? If yes, did you assign a 'value' ranking and what was the value ranking for the expensive wine compared to the cheap wine?

In the evening I do not often drink bottles of wine in the $60 + range. However when I do, sometimes I am disappointed in the experience while at the same time my wife finds the wine superior to my normal cheap $14 a bottle variety.

My point is: What makes a wine worth the asking price? Is the price commensurate with the individuals value proposition? My value proposition is often dependent on my attitude at the moment, my expectations, my prior experiences with a wine/vintage, the amount of time I am committing to the wine experience. Value is dependent on many factors, cheap may not be better as a general rule.

I Am A Contrarian Wine Drinker

Listen to all drummers, you will find one with your beat

I generally do not like being lead around mindlessly into a conforming opinion about a wine. Wineries try manipulating opinions at their tastings, they also do it with their descriptions of the wines on the back label. (And that is understandable because they are trying to market their product.) Wine publications do the same for all sorts of sundry reasons (remember, publications have advertisiers and sponsors for theirevents so they need to be accomodating), but nonetheless they lead the majority of wine drinkers through a maze of ratings and reviews. Wine stores also focus on 'favorites' to promote various selections. Bottomline, wine drinkers are manipulated and we often go in the direction suggested by the last wine expert (whatever the term "expert" means) we talked to or read. Let's say, I am mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.

All of this is to say: don't necessarily walk the walk and talk the talk that the self professed industry guru's tell us. Remember, in 1976 in Paris the guru's thought they were waxing eloquently about the French wines...boy were they wrong. Look for a contrarian position when tasting wine.

Moving on, let me confess to just how far afield I am willing to go to be a contrarian--I drink 99% red wines and I drink them to have a nice civil evening with my wife or by myself if she goes to bed early. With chicken, fish, hot dogs (yes, I eat hot dogs because I'm not a wine or restaurant reviewer); my go to wine is a red. Why? Because I like it and frankly I rarely find pairing suggestions worth the paper they are printed on. Red wine just simply blows my hair back...what little I have left. Here again, don't let the wine police intimidate you, unless the wine police is paying for your wine.

Next, I don't need to drink my wine from a specific style/shape of glass. Because I like to smell the wine; bigger is better for this purpose.

Lastly, before I pay $150 or more for a bottle I want to taste it first. The best way to do that is at the winery or at a fine wine wine bar. $25 for a nice taste can be worth it. Higher prices does not make it better. I found a $10 bottle of wine I like every bit as much as some $45.00 bottles I have consumed.

When I see someone going through a thespian antic with a glass of wine in public, it just reinforces my contrarian attitude. Being judgemental is wrong but it still frosts me.

Wine can bring civility to life; but realize it isn't a cure to incivility. If you enjoy wine's charater, color, aroma's and taste's it does bring civility to life. The real bonus comes when you also have met the winemaker.

Short story. A few months ago my son went to the Rafanelli Winery in Sonoma for a private tasting with his company. The family patriarch is Dave Rafanelli, a young 50 something year old. Mr. Rafanelli met them and said simply, "I am not going to tell you what you are going to experience with my wine, that is clearly your job and I am humbled that you want to experience the product of my labor." He went on to say, "so if you have any questions about my wines please ask and I will give you the best answer I know how to give. My wine is for your experiences and to make your dinners, events and even your private moments the best possible." I have met Dave on 3 ocassions and find him to be a very nice gentleman.

Enough, and now Cheers!

So You Think The Wine "Experts" Know Their Wines

It's all in the eye of the beholder.

In recent years there has been numerous commentaries on the issue of wine snobbery. A story I read recently written by Ms. Katie Kelly Bell on the Forbes website, talked about her recent experiences while traveling with a group of wine journalist doing tastings. What made this story funny and pathetic at the same time was how one winery owner poured-from bottles with labels hidden from view by paper bags-white wines for the journalists' tasting. The goal was for these acclaimed wine journalists to correctly identify the varietal of the wine they were tasting. Guess what? None of the wine journalist identified the varietal moniker correctly. The nasty truth about wine snobbery came to light: the wines tasted were actually the identical wine. The only difference was temperature of the same wine poured from different bottles.

The dirty little secret we all need to realize is our wine preferences are colored by a myriad of extraneous issues. Our positive and negative experience with wines; any specific wine for that matter, is influenced by over 100 occurrences and emotions that can be as innocuous as: our emotions at the time of consuming a wine, location, input from others, pairings, heightened senses such as olfactory, taste, and visual cues, and as mentioned by Ms. Kelly, the temperature of the wine.

How many times have you picked up your favorite wine publication; scouring the reviews on the latest wines they tasted and based upon those reviews, combined with the number score of a wine, decided to buy. Why do wine lovers fall into this trap? Some of the reasons are highlighted above, but sometimes we buy reviewed wines because we want to experience something new because we are addicted to the rating numbers. We even occasionally focus on the fact that a lot of the numbers and reviews may be driven by the magazine selling ads.

I am sure we have all tried the blind tasting with friends in the confines of our home at a social gathering. Invariably, without fail, we have the identical experience described by Ms. Kelly; the individuals' tasting notes and verbal expressions are not the descriptions found in reviews or on the label, not even close. The 1976 Paris Tasting even proved the volatility in arriving at consistent and precise opinions about wine from professed experts.

All of this having been said: in 1967 I went to the new Robert Mondavi Winery, on a casual drive through wine country-to which I had never been-and tasted one of their Chardonnay's. It was a warm day, vine's had tiny clusters showing, the winery was cool, the tasting room was makeshift (construction going on), and I smelled the wine they were pouring and will never forget that aroma. To this day, that aroma, when I smelled it, reminds me of that time with my beautiful new wife in a very idyllic setting in a time of fun and excitement. So, yes I am a believer that the enjoyment of any particular wine is probably based upon experiences relative to time and space, temperature, location, companions, attitude/aura, and what you have expected in the wine relative to color, aromas, and taste-and the list can go on and on.

One last story in an attempt to validate my view that wine snobs should be looked upon with at least a mild case of disdain. Jonah Lehrer published an article on April 26, 2011, titled: "Should We Buy Expensive Wine?". The article noted the research of Richard Wiseman that was designed to determine if 600 plus participants could distinguish expensive wines from "cheap" wines. The results were: "The 600 plus participants could only pick the more expensive wine 53 percent of the time, which is basically random chance," according to Wiseman. In statistical parlance, that is terrible as that number is actually below what normal distribution of chance is actually.

Wine snobs of the world, beware, the average wine drinker who really does enjoy the personal experience and journey with wine is onto your personal peccadillo. But, we still appreciate your enthusiasm.

Wine Cave Sonoma
Wine Cave Sonoma

Making Cheap Wine Civil

Still do not like high alcohol wines

I know I am I not the only person that simply finds the wine experience relaxing and civilizing? I enjoy sitting with a wine I know and spending 80% of the time smelling the aroma's, looking at the color, the feel of the glass on my lips and then the sensation of the flavors, tannins and acidity. But to go through all of this commotion the experience cannot be forced. So lately I have been experimenting with the $10.00 category of wine. A characteristic of these wines seem to be a very high alcohol content and that kind of full-bodied wine I do not like. First, the high alcohol levels of ethanol seems to need a very long time to fully open. Secondly, the ethanol vapor effect is extremely off-putting for me at a time when I just really want to enjoy the discovery process. Why can't winemakers get away from 15% alcohol wines and pull it down a notch, to say 12%. I know winemakers say they have to go for high alcohol to bring out the fruit and push it forward. But really?

I have now resorted to drastically chilling a red wine, expecially a zin, pouring it and then letting it warm slightly in the glass. I have found the ehtanol does not have the negative vapor blast to the nose. It seems to open sooner and I can then make a better decision whether I like it or not as a pure "sipping wine". Call me crazy like my son does for this approach.

At the other extreme I have a neighbor who only drinks wines in the $300/bottle kind. But, her feeling is like Brit Simon is too short to drink bad wine. So, her civilizing moment is limited to once a week with expectional wine.

Red Wine in the Aurora Aerating Glass
Red Wine in the Aurora Aerating Glass

Red Wine and Resveratrol

Give it a shot

From the lowly grape we continue to find great bits of information that adds dimensions to the enjoyment of wine. For example, the French Paradox Study (1990), debating benefits of resveratrol and even the drinking of wine. Last week we heard that red wine diminished the risk of breast cancer in women. By the way, in 2000 the National Institute of Health picked up on the impact of resveratrol on health. So the lowly wine grape has a lot of people and organizations weighing in.

There are more than 200 compounds in red wine; the biggies are anti-oxidants.

Studies about wine are ongoing in countries such as: U.S., France, Italy, and Finland. National Institute on Aging is doing a lot of the research in addition to Oregon State University.

A lot of research is available on-line at National Institute of Health. Ohio State University is doing many studies as well as a newly complete study release in 2010 by the National Institute of Health.

History has portrayed wine romantically in books and poems and reflective quotes. Oh, remember the movie "A Walk in the Clouds" and "Sideways." I prefer to believe God made wine for good reason-He wanted man to enjoy the benefits of wine.

I remember what Shakespeare said about over explanations-"The lady doth protest too much." So let me finish with a quick summary. Benefits of wine continue to be researched. They seem to substantiate that wine and derivatives of wine have benefits to humans.

Here's to your health with a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon!

Who are you going to believe? Resveratrol is good.

Dark chocolate and red wine have "positive components that are good for your heart", a new study has claimed. According to Susan Ofria from Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, red wine and dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 per cent or higher contain resveratrol, found to lower blood sugar.

Red Wine
Red Wine

The Good News Keeps on Keeping On-The Magic of Big Red

Someting to make a toast about.

Drinking red wine in moderation may reduce one of the risk factors for breast cancer, providing a natural weapon to combat a major cause of death among U.S. women, new research from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center shows.



Wine Reviews Seem to Lack Creativity and Usefulness

Mix it up a bit folks, we do read them after all.

For many years I have heard all manner of words and combination of words to define a wine. When I was in college and could only afford the less expensive wines, we would invent rather crass words to describe what we were drinking. Over the decades the indiscretions of youth have given way to exploring wines based more and more on the descriptors of the wine appearing in wine publications and on the labels. Most people generally look to descriptions of wine as a hint of what to expect in a wine's character. We also might use the reviews in making a decision to explore new wines.

A pet peeve of mine is wine reviewers that recycle the same set of words in describing a wine they are reviewing. How about over used words like: peppery, buttery, fruity, spicy, straw, or licorice. I have noticed there are a similarity of words and a repetition of words to describe wine. Over the years we now hear descriptors of wines such as leather, tobacco, earth, and yeast. And, I can say I have never smelled tobacco, so I will assume everybody but I know what tobacco smells like. The oak I have smelled as a boy is not the oak I smell in my wine. I grew up in Southern Missouri where the staves for wine barrels are made of American Oak. The oak I remember smelling when driving by the oak wood mills I do not smell in the wines I drink today. Point being, everyone brings to a wine a mental catalog of preconceived notions of taste and smells.

Now back to subject of how to describe wine. Most people will say that to fully enjoy wine a person needs to be patient and employ all of their senses. Even the sound/audio that comes from pouring a wine in the perfect glass is somewhat exciting. The sense of touch comes into the equation in feeling the stem of the glass, the cork and the punt. But I have come to the conclusion that I want to understand and appreciate the wine relative to my personal senses of smell/aroma, taste, and sight/appearance. So, the words defining a wine, need to be relatable and helpful for my enjoyment of the wine? I submit that most descriptors are overworked, meaningless and may actually be counterproductive to the average wine lover.

Doing research, I have found there are approximately 100 words used by wine reviewers to describe what the consumer should experience when consuming a wine. The art of describing wines started in the 1700's and has survived wars and depressions. Obviously, if someone has tried the wine before-same vintage and varietal and winery-expectations are in your memory bank; you don't need a review. It also seems apparent that regional flavors, aromas, cooking styles and heritage can dictate descriptions of wines for which people may not relate. Let's not forget wine reviewers bring a broad spectrum of wine experiences to the review. They also have developed palates that most of us dream of having. And, there is a whole industry built around a select few being paid to review wines.

I just took a bottle of Merlot out of the rack and here are the words on the label to inform the consumer on the attributes of this wine. "Cutting edge, classic fruit, medium-bodied, rich palate brimming with ripe cherries and raspberries and silky finish." But wait there is more; "luscious dark, rich chocolate". As a comparison, here is my summary of a wine review from magazine-- aromas of blackberries and raspberries, leather and spices. It leaves the palate clean while exhibiting 'flavors' of cranberries and roses. The finish is of flavors of vanilla and dark cherries. I have no idea what roses taste like. What has leather got to do with enjoying wine? And, of the thousands of spices what ones are they suggesting?

This discussion could go on and on, kind of like discussing the attributes of the point ratings system of wine--thank you Mr. Parker! That is a whole new discussion.

To make the description of wine, as written in wine magazines and on bottles, useful, viable, relevant, and educational follow some of these suggestions:

1. Become familiar with the men and women who write wine reviews. This is best done by reading their reviews religiously; look at the words they use to describe the wines they review-are they fresh and not the customary old descriptions?

2. Ask yourself: Can I relate to the description of the wine in making a buying decision?

3. Develop a tasting notes book that works for you. Cut out the reviews of the wines you decide to buy and place them in the tasting notes book. Focus on three things: Aroma's, Taste, and Appearance. These are the areas that cause us to buy and enjoy wine. Frankly, I have experienced wines I have consumed wines I almost hated to drink because the aromas were so refreshing.

4. Finally, enter your own tasting notes and compare your personal impressions against the comments of the professional reviewer. Use your own words to describe the wine. Make up your own words if that helps you explain your views of the wine, it isn't against the law. As Emeril Lagasse says, "There are no wine police." Remember, most wine reviews come from tastings where no food is involved.

In the final analysis the only reviews that matter are your own. This process will make you more informed as a wine purchaser. Wine makes us civil and sharing wine builds bonds with family and friends. All wine lovers have an opinion, so let everyone try and describe their impressions of a wine at your next party.

Wine is best described by your perceptions of: Taste, Aromas, and Appearance.

Balance the Wine With the Food

Tim Zagat helped with this

Food Paring made simple:

Weight-Robust wine (high in alcohol) will overpower lighter entrees-Food that is light, medium, or heavy, pair with similar wines.

Sauce Factor-Rich sauces need rich-flavored , creamy wines. Light sauces need lighter wines. Red wine based sauces pair with red wine, etc.

Opposites Attract-Sweet wines (Riesling) temper spicy food. Carry through the thought.

Back-to-Basics-Oysters/Chablis or Steak/Malbac. Forget about wine pairing with a soup.

Venture Out-Rose' with pork.

What is that bottle of wine or bubbly costing you in taxes in 2011

Every state is different so let's take a state where most wines originates-California.

To start with the tax is applied on a gallon basis and as a percent of alcohol. In that most wine today is 14% we will go with that; although the tax starts at <14%. OK, a gallon of wine is about 3,800 ML and the average bottle of wine is 750 ML. That means there are about 5 average bottles of wine per gallon (US). The tax on our 750 ML bottle of $20 wine is $0.31 per bottle. But wait there is more, The retail sales tax in CA is 8.20%, so the final tax on the $20 wine is $1.95. There is also a tax on the glass bottle and that could be $0.10. They call it a deposit, but who have you ever met that takes the cans or bottle back for the deposit? NO ONE is the answer.

Champagne is also about 750 ml and going throught the same math results in a tax of $3.28 plus the recycling bottle deposit of $0.10. This equation assumes a $40 bottle of sparkling wine. Sparkling wine has a higher tax. Go figure.

If you think your representatives aren't looking for money just look at your phone bill, gas bill, cost to sell or buy a home, death, parking receipt; folks there is a tax on everything. You do not miss a tax even when you go to meet your maker.

Wine, a drink I love to smell and taste and let it play with me, is taxed to the fullest. Ask yourself why?

100 Point wines from U.S. wineries

Here are the 100 pointer's from Napa/Sonoma: (not in any particular order)

Shafer 2002 Hillside Select

Sloan 2002 Red Wine (Cab Blend)

Screaming Eagle 1997 Cab

Bryant Family 1997 Cab

Abreu 2002 Thorevilos

Colgin 2002 Tychson Hill

Harlan Estate 2003 Proprietary Red

Paul Hobbs 2002 Beckstoffer to Kalon

Harlan Estate 2001 Proprietary Red

Harlan Estate 2002 Proprietary Red

Sine Qua Non 2002

Schrader Cellars 2006 CCS

Schrader Cellars 2006 Old Sparky

Prohibition-A bad time for wine

The only book about Prohibition and Wine Country.

"When the Rivers Ran Red"-Vivienne Sosnowski

14 Years that almost destroyed a farming based industry.

Most think Prohibition lasted about 1 year...Not


Toasting Should Not Be Taken For Granted

My first exposure to the seriousness of "toasting" came from my time in the US Navy. The protocol and etiquette of "toasting" is even written in manuals; everything from the hierarchy of what and whom to toast to when to stand and even how to pass the wine/port.

"Toasting" to this day is evident in most aspects of life: state dinners, military events, weddings, company events, and private dinner parties, just to name a few. Today we use the ritual of the "toast" with wine, champagne, or fortified drink. Even if you don't drink it is considered proper to participate in a toast by action without drinking the beverage.

The act of "toasting" has its roots in the 6th century BC. Historians agree that a piece of burnt bread (i.e. toast) was floated in a communal drink bowl to take the acid taste out of the wine/drink. Thus it became known as a toast. The Greek and Romans used the ritual of a "toast" to honor their deity. It became custom in later times to "toast" to health and happiness of friends and thus the word "cheers" was the shorthand word for best wishes. But, back to history.

Wine was also the beverage of choice to eliminate enemies, spouses or competition by poisoning. Poor quality wine made wine a convenient delivery system. To demonstrate that the wine was suitable for drinking the host would pour and drink the wine from the bottle being offered to guest to show that it was safe to drink.

A number of theories exist about clinking glasses with a toast. One theory, possibly stemming from that Greek habit, is that by clinking glasses, you could slosh the poison someone may have put into your wine back into theirs. Another theory is that the sound of clinking glasses was thought to drive the evil spirits out of the spirits, making it safe to drink. Clinking could also be a way to make contact since we no longer all drink from the same bowl. Theory is that a good glass of wine or champagne appeals to the senses of sight, touch, taste and smell and, by clinking, it also appeals to the sense of sound, making it an all-encompassing sensual experience. (Etiquette International)

Making the toast:

Be eloquent, whimsical, and witty.

Be simple. Keep your toast short and to the point and no big words.

Be who you are so make it from the heart.

Be brief. Less is more.

Be Prepared. A good toast is a speech in miniature. Even if you are at a function and do not expect to be called on to perform a toast. Plan for one anyway.

Be done. End on a positive note and clearly define the end and then "Cheers!"

Making the toast right:

-Unless you're having a small gathering, it is always better to stand up for the toast.

-At a gathering none should offer to toast the guest of honor until the host has done so.

-Guests may signal their approval of a toast with "hear hear".

-The person who is being honored should neither stand nor drink.

-Only after the toast is complete should he/she rise to thank everyone.

-Putting one's drink down midway implies that you don't agree with the toast.

-The same goes if you choose not to sip after the toast is complete.


Indiana Wine Country

Had to try something new to help stay grounded

The wineries as such, are spread far apart and the quality, as I assess it, is equally far apart...

Made some sales calls last week at wineries around Indianapolis. Impressed with 2-Mallow Run and Oliver. It is still hard to accept that blackberries and peaches are used to make what they defend as wine-in addition to grapes. Interestingly, most if not all the wineries I visited do import grapes from California and Washington State to make wine. (Oliver makes a nice Merlot.) There are some varietals they plant that do well in colder and very humid weather. But these are very small plantings.

Oliver Winery has a nice tasting room, knowledgeable staff, friendly and exhibit a great deal of pride in their products. Mallow Run is smaller, great staff, nice wines and also get a lot of grapes from California-Lodi.

For a different experience in wines, I would recommend a "pass through" of Indianapolis to get another perspective.

The grapes Olivers and Mallow Run buy from vineyards in California leave immediately after picking for Indianapolis in refrigerated trucks and get to their destination in approximately 1 day.

Worth the stop, but don't go out of your way.

Fun reading

Some great books about wine country.

A toast-"To Your Health"!

A few years ago I started looking at anti-aging products with the concept that one should work on not looking old. The concept was to address anti-aging from the perspective of- inside out and outside in. Simplistically the idea was to take raw materials used in supplements (such as Resveratrol) and see if they would work as a topical application for anti-aging.

After enticing some raw material manufacturers to explore the issue, I started focusing on a substance called Resveratrol, an ingredient with value to the cardio system and brain. That brought me to some research by a Frenchman named Dr. Jack Masquelier, who lived in Bordeaux. He was the guy that invented the health benefits of grape seed extracts in the 1950's as part of the anti-oxidant revolution. He also, suggested that wine and grape seed extracts were good for health and anti-aging. Guess what is most interesting about this (the Resveratrol polyphenol) anti-aging product? This is a substance that comes from grape seeds and red grape skins, not in the flesh of the grape. In 1991 "60 Minutes" reported this powerful anti-oxidant compound as part of a phenomenon called the "French Paradox". Robert Mondavi saw this as a great marketing tool for California wines and he promoted the health benefits of drinking red wine.

After the "60 Minutes" report red wine sales increased 40% in the U.S., instantly, all of which was attributed to the research highlighting the health benefits of drinking red wine. In a nutshell, the French Paradox explains that the incidence of coronary heart disease in France, despite high dietary intake of saturated fats, is very low.

The Gallo Winery group is the largest producers of reseveratrol/grape seed extract, used in supplements and topical applications. I guess if you have grape skins and seeds as a wine making by-product, then why not make resveratrol. Remember, it is good for your skin, heart health, sports recovery, and eye health. Look for Resveratrol in your supplements and in topical anti-aging products.

Wine is civil!

Kristi Sheppard
Kristi Sheppard

When in Napa...Go to the Museum or have them come to your event

Update on Kristie Sheppard

Well, we did a story some time ago about the Exec. Director of the Napa Historical Society. Now the update. Ms. Sheppard has moved on and has some great plans for the Napa Valley Museum.

In February 2011, Kristie was hired as Executive Director of Napa Valley Museum. Napa Valley Museum is a 30+ year old institution situated just outside of Yountville, across from the Lincoln Theater. Napa Valley Museum houses 3 gallery spaces-one featuring the history of Napa Valley and the other two are changing exhibition spaces. Kristie is most excited to have the opportunity to create new exhibitions that enrich the cultural fabric of wine country. The Museum also hosts a full calendar of programs and events. Throughout the year, they assist corporate events and group meeting with tailored programs to augment their visits to Wine Country.

Great source for your next Wine Tasting Party

I found a great book on Wine Tasting-Kind of a how-to

Author: Joanna Simons

Book: Published in 2003, Paperback-Amazon $14.00

"Discovering Wine" good ratings. Easy read.

Some great movies about and in wine country

My favorites, which are available on DVD's are:

"A Walk In The Clouds"-1995-Scenes at Charles Krug Winery

"Sideways"-2005-A little off beat but focus on the wine

"A Good Year"-2006-Fun viewing

"Bottle Shock"-2008-About the Paris Tasting of 1976

My favorite-"A Walk In The Clouds"!

Amazon Spotlight Personal Review

Discovering Wine
Discovering Wine

This is a complete discussion on entertaining with wine and wine tasting. This is not a wine blending how-to book but it sure is interesting and helps elevate your thinking with proper tasting and some food pairings. Simple, a nice read at bedtime or on a rainy day.

It gets 4 stars on Amazon.

Napa Vineyard
Napa Vineyard

More Good News

A new study on benefits of wine...

Source: Smart About

It has been proven that there are some health benefits to drinking wine in moderation. Some of those health benefits include prevention from cavities, Alzheimer’s, and prostate cancer. Wouldn’t it be great to know that wine could also help prevent skin cancer? According to a new study, drinking wine may protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation.

Observation, rant, toast


Wine is growing as a civil beverage...but, in Bourbon Country? Shanken News Daily is telling us about growingacceptance of wine as a beverage of choice at dinner time, or as they say in the South-Supper Time.

John Johnson launched The Wine Rack retail shop in Louisville, Kentucky eight years ago with the idea of converting whiskey drinkers to wine. It's working, as sales have risen every year since he opened. "Wine was very limited around Louisville 20 years ago," says Johnson. "People here drank beer and Bourbon. But things have completely changed. Twenty-somethings are drinking wine, as are older people. Restaurants are all doing wine dinners, and shops like ours stage tastings. Customers can't seem to get enough." (Shanken)

In Louiville, KY a upscale restaurant owner says that he hate's pomp and circumstance, as do most people in Louisville, so wine is served in a casual way here. Now isn't that refreshing.

Ever go to a restaurant for something relaxed with your bride (or friends) and get a sommelier trying to impress you or intimidate you with a wine list or selling you an expensive wine you don't want? Probably, 1% of American's eat dinner out every evening and demands $500/bottle Harlan Wine. I am in the 'vast majority' space of consumers. I drink wine most every evening, but it isn't even $40 / bottle wine every night. I have told more than 1 sommelier to "cut the BS" and help me find a paired wine for my mea,l in my price range.

Wine Being Civil is not the same as Wine Being Arrogant. When someone comes to our home and they tell us in advance they like a White Zin, then it is White Zin for them and I am delighted that they want to share a little of their time on Earth with us in our home.

Now, the most fun thing to do with wine (other than smell and taste the wine with and without food) os the ritual of a 'Toast'. There are rules about this exercise that make the participation memorable. But most fun isproposing a toast that it pertinent, timely, and sincere. Read up on this subject that makes drinking wine civil.

Benefits of wine on your health
Benefits of wine on your health

Wine makes us civil and more healthy

As reported by Sylvia Hubbard

Befefit of wine:

Moderate social drinking reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia by 23 percent, according to researchers at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

There are additional benefits of moderate alcohol use, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moderate drinking may:

Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease

Lower risk of dying from a heart attack

Reduce risk of strokes

Lower risk of diabetes

Reduce risk of gallstones

Another benefit of wine drinking

Moderation seems to always be the key

"Light-to-moderate alcohol intake, especially wine intake, may be more likely to protect against weight gain, whereas consumption of spirits has been positively associated with weight gain," says the paper by researchers at Navarro University in Spain, which has been reviewed by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research.

In fact, connoisseurs of less fattening drinks such as wine may even lose weight as well as being at lower risk of developing diabetes.

As reported by Martin Beckford

Sandra Davidge-U of A researcher
Sandra Davidge-U of A researcher

If your healthy your civil...

Red wine is part answer to Diabetes..

EDMONTON - Researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered that a powerful antioxidant found in red wine could prevent diabetes in offspring.

"Although this is an early-phase research discovery, if it holds true in humans, there might be a way to prevent at-risk humans from developing obesity later in life," said U of A researcher Jason Dyck, department of pediatrics and pharmacology.

The study, conducted on lab rats, shows that all offspring fed a high-fat diet will gain weight.

However, offspring that have trouble growing in the womb, gain weight specifically in the abdomen-area, making them more susceptible to obesity and diabetes later in life.

Results show that when offspring with inner-uterus growth problems were given the antioxident Resveratrol -- commonly found in red wine -- Type 2 diabetes was completely prevented because the natural compound targets abdominal fat.

"This is the bad fat, this is the fat that's going to lead toward cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes," said Sandra Davidge, U of A researcher, department of obstetrics and gynecology and physiology.

"If you feed the offspring Resveratrol, you can see that it prevents the increase in abdominal fat."

Resveratrol is commonly found in red wine, grapes, nuts and berries. The natural compound has been shown to extend the life span of many species.

Jasmine Franklin reported.

Keep it civil...the wine that is.

In ancient Greece, a dinner host would take the first sip of wine to ensure it was not poisoned, hence the phrase to “drink to one's health”.

Wine for thought

Research tells us there are more than 200 references to wine in the Bible. Some say there are 284, depending on definitions.

Being raised S. Baptist I can tell you these folks believe Biblical wine was unfermented. But, you and I know better...what without cooling. Tell me the first miracle...

Where does the US stand in wine consumption?

France (per capita) consumes 45 liters of wine a year. The US consumes 9 liters per year.

Acerage of grapes-France:1,927 million US: 943 million-Fr. double the US

New Hampshire consumes most wine per capita

The Vatican consumes-676 liters of wine per year per capita.

Dry Creek Passport Tasting
Dry Creek Passport Tasting

Tastings can be fun, civil and rewarding

Pick you experiences, there are a lot.

If you are a day tripper and have no set plans, you can drive up and down the lanes of Napa and Sonoma and stop by any winery "open to the public", slap down say $10 and taste their wines. The "By Appointment Only" wineries (in Napa) are the newer guys that weren't grandfathered when the County Commissionsers installed the new rules limiting open to the public tasting rooms in an attempt to control traffic congestion. Sonoma wineries, in general, have no such restrictions.

Personally, the "open to the public" tasting room experience is often about large crowds and are not overly personalized. Either way, visiting Napa or Sonoma, get your GPS ready and go for it.

However, there is a third alternative. These are the highly organized tasting/experiences organized by winegrower associations, AVA's, wineries (like a Mondavi) or even towns. These are generally in the spring and late fall (after harvest) and they generally encompass a weekend of events and tastings.

One of my favorites is the the weekend event in April sponsored by the Dry Creek Winegrowers Association. There are a total of about 60 wineries in the association and probably 50 participate in their Dry Creek AVA festival called "Dry Creek Wine Passport" They charge for the event but it is well worth it because it is well organized, the wineries really make you feel welcomed and the winery management and winemakers are on hand to answer any questions. The good thing is that the wineries serve various foods that complement a chosen theme. Most often the wines you can experience are not in retail distribution so you can really sample a lot of varitals, blends and techniques not found in your wine store.

From year to year you see some of the same participants; they love wine, love the ambience of wineries, and meeting new people of the same mind.

The Passport is a large event but not crowded. You will experience the lavish and elegant wineries to the more rustic. One of the more lavish Dry Creek wineries is Farrari-Carano Winery. The grounds and facilities are picture book perfect and serene. Nice. A more rustic and a favorite of mine is Frick Winery in Geyserville. The owner is Bill Frick and let me tell you, he is a real salt of the earth guy who makes very nice wines. You won't find them anywhere except at his very small tasting room at the end of a gravel road. He works his own vineyards and is the real deal.

Quick story: A few years ago I just happened to want to try wines from a one-man operation who was so far off the beaten path that you need to pack a lunch. My wife ended up at Frick's and we tried his wines and were immediately sold on his products. So I got to know him casually and would call him to order wines and we exchanged pleasantries. On one such call I proposed an idea I have always harbored-working in a winery just for the experience. I thought it would be fun to carve out a week and volunteer my time to work in his winery and vineyards, doing whatever he needed done. Without a millisecond of laspe time after I proposed my bright idea he said, "I don't let anybody near my vines, but if you want to paint my house come on by."

Pick any of the wine festivals that are sponsored by the growing regions in Napa or Sonoma and experience the civility of wine country.

Wine, Women and Song

Song makes a difference.

A new study reveals wine drinkers should also consider what's playing on the stereo or radio if they want the perfect wine. The study shows that people who drink wine while listening to music perceive the wine to have the same taste characteristics of the particular artist.

The research published in the British Journal of Psychology found that for the best earthy and full-bodied Merlot taste experience, drinkers should try listening to Tom Jones. Or to add a little zing to a glass of Pinot Grigio pull out the latest Lady Gaga album.

Professor Adrian North of Herriot-Watt University gave taste tests to 250 students - half male, half female - while playing music in the background.

They were given either Alpha 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon - a red wine - or Chilean Chardonnay and played one of four songs on loop for 15 minutes picked for their contrasting musical characteristics.

Some of the volunteers sampled their glass to the tune of Carmina Burana by Orff - a song identified by researchers as "powerful and heavy".

Others were played the "subtle and refined" Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.

Another group listened to the "zingy and refreshing" Just Can't Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague and the fourth group were played the "mellow and soft" Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook.

A fifth group drank the wine with no music.

After five minutes the volunteers were asked to rank how much they felt the wine tasted like the musical descriptions: powerful and heavy, subtle and refined, mellow and soft, zingy and refreshing.

The results showed the music the volunteers listened to consistently affected how they perceived the wine to taste.

For example both red and white wines were given the highest ratings for being powerful and heavy by those participants who drank them to the tune of Carmina Burana.

Those who listened to Michael Brook rated their wine as tasting mellow and soft consistently higher than other tastes.

The research reported here considers the possibility that the emotional connotations of music may be able to function as a symbol that influences perception of taste.

The results reported here indicate that independent groups' ratings of the taste of the wine reflected the emotional connotations of the background music played while they drank it.

Confirming what you already knew!

Yes, a setting is important as to how you enjoy wine.

Some wines do have a better bouquet and that depends on the blending and winemaking skills coalesing.

A slight chill on a red wine takes some of the 'heat' off of the wine is being served outdoors on a very hot evening. Heat is the alcohol vapor.

The top of Pine Mountain AVA-Sonoma CA
The top of Pine Mountain AVA-Sonoma CA

Sonoma County Has A New AVA-Benzinger Is There

Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA-a very unique terroir for wines

The latest designated AVA (American Viticulture Area) is named Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak. This new AVA designated in Sonoma County, CA became effective November 28, 2100 per the Tax and Trade Bureau in Washington DC. It was just last year when Calistoga received their AVA designation in Napa County. Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak is the 14th AVA designation in Sonoma. Napa has 15 AVA's and now Sonoma has 14 although Sonoma is twice the area of Napa and has half the wineries. These two area's represent the finest wine producers in the U.S. If you doubt that think back to 1976 and the Paris Tasting.

The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA encompasses 4,750 acres with 230 acres in vines. The Feds control how the name of the AVA can be used on wine labels. So, to invoke the AVA name on a wine label, 85% of the wine in the bottle must come from within that AVA. For this reason, wineries like to be very specific, when they can, in labeling a wine that comes from grapes grow in a specific AVA. This is especially true if a vineyard in an AVA has superior grapes that are or can be branded. Think about wines that are branded using their AVA's such as: Atlas Peak, Dry Creek, Alexander River or Howell Mountain. Consumers are very savvy in their varietal favorites and even pickier about the terroir/AVA of their favorite varietal.

Talked to Benziger/Imagery Wines about the impact of the new AVA on them and they said they are planning to introduce some varietals from their vineyards in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA. They will probably have a "Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA Malbec from next year's harvest. So, say by 2013 or 2014 you can get a Pine Mountain Malbec from Imagery Winery.

The defining characteristics about any AVA are the elevation, climate and soil. The filing to the TTB highlighted the unique topography of the boundaries of the AVA, climate, and soil. But it is the climate that makes this AVA unique. Nights are cool, set above the fog line of 1,600 feet elevation, and there is always a sea breeze. Yes, it does snow in the AVA in the winter. Because of the temperatures most fruit is picked later in the season. Due to thin soil conditions and weather the grapes have more flavor intensity, smaller size clusters which accounts for an average yield of 3.5 to 4.0 tons per acre. By comparison, on the valley floor you would see at least 6 tons and more per acre.

After five years in the making Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA vineyards and wineries should start turning out Pine Mountain AVA wines very soon. Look for and try varietals from different AVA's and see what you think of them.

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    • StevenLay profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @anonymous: I have a couple of blogs scattered all over the place. I am really into the human interest side of things.

      But try-- and go to the Blog and http://www.symtrekpartners and look for the tab on the right call- People.

    • StevenLay profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @anonymous: Symtrek Partners

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      So much to learn from this lens. Do you have a website that I could visit? We are planning a late summer trip to wine country.


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