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The Most-Viewed Photo Of All Time? It’s From Wine Country…

Vinted on July 24, 2012 under best of, wine books, wine news

If you’ve ever used a Microsoft Windows computer PC (which I’m guessing is a group that includes 99.999% of the people reading this, even the Mactards), chances are very good that you’ve seen this image.

It’s called Bliss and was taken by Napa “are we sick of hearing about this place yet” Valley resident and former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear, while he was taking a break during a drive through Napa Sonoma (corrected here as well as below, thanks to James Marshall Berry for pointing out the misinformation!) while on an assignment. O’Rear sold the image to Microsoft over ten years ago, and it has been one of the default background images for Microsoft Windows ever since (specifically, for Windows XP… yes, Mac-lovers, it was visible right before XP crashed into the Blue Screen Of Death… I admit that I’m just jealous of your computer’s stability and chic cool aesthetics, okay?).

Due to its default background-image status, according to the blog Morts Photography this photo is very likely now the single most viewed image of all time, having been seen by well over a billion people worldwide…

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Reports Of Australian Wine’s Death Hath Been Greatly Exaggerated, My Lords

Vinted on December 15, 2011 under crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, wine books

Australian wine has become the red-headed stepchild of the fine wine world. But the ginger brat is still alive and kicking, people.

I can hear the Aussie wine biz calling out from the cart, like the old man in the “Bring Out Your Dead” skit of Monty Python’s Holy Grail: “I’m not dead!… I think I’ll go for a walk… I feel haaaapy!!!”

[ Editor's note: speaking of Python, anyone remember their old "Aussie Table Wine" bit, based on the idea that fine wine being made in a place like Australia was so laughable that it could be used as premise for a comedy skit? Who's laughing now? ]

The general zeitgeist of the wine cognoscenti (at least lately) is that Aussie wine (particularly the much-maligned Shiraz) consists of overly-dense, brutish, syrupy, overblown, Port-without-the-charm and generally overpriced vino on the high end, and sugary, soda-pop-wannabe plonk on the low end.

Like most myths, Aussie wine’s death is based in some semblance of truth – but I am growing increasingly convinced that it is exactly that: a myth. Why? Because increasingly I am running into Aussie wines that are anything but plonk, and are a far cry from charmless saccharine plum-sauce.

Sure, Australia pumps out plonky, low-end crap by the Brobdingnag-esque tank-load (literally) – but name me one major wine-producing country that doesn’t do that. As for the high-end, the gems – the wines that truly speak of place and do have charm to spare – well, they are there, you just have to know where to look for them (just as you have to do in every other wine-producing card-carrying U.N. member country).

So what happened? Why are consumers and critics alike turning away from Aussie wine faster than a wombat would turn away after catching a whiff of a stark-raving-mad and starving dingo on the hunt? According to some, the stigma for Aussie wine is mostly Robert Parker’s fault; or, rather, the culpability rests with an industry that got too greedy and built production – and prices – up too fast after Parker anointed a few heady styles of Aussie low-production reds with near-perfect scores while at the apex of his influence in the 1990s. That’s the premise behind Campbell Mattinson’s excellent Thin Skins: Why The French Hate Australian Wine

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Tasting 40 Years Of A Tawny Port Icon

Vinted on November 10, 2011 under crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, wine books, wine review

“Billy C. is drinking Sandeman Port down at the old café
And the river goes by slowly, the river likes it that way.”

- The Knuckleball Suite, Peter Mulvey

In the world of wine, there are a few images that stand the test of time and can truly be described as iconic, instantly conjuring up the history not just of a long-standing producer, but also of the entire region that producer calls home. And when you’re iconic in the world of wine, with its long historical perspective… well, then you’re just f*cking iconic, period.

In America, we have such an icon: the Missionary-style tower at Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley has come to represent not only the history of fine winemaking at RMW, but the entire modern history of fine winemaking in all of Napa (and by extension all of the U.S.), by virtue of the man who just about singlehandedly started it all.

The world of Port in Portugal has such an icon, too: The Don – that tall, dark-cloaked stranger that stands so prominently on the Gaia side of the river Douro (and who’s a lot more Zoro than creepy-flasher), is instantly recognizable to anyone walking along the shoreline in Porto. George Massiot Brown’s poster design from the 1920s has come to represent not only the 200+ years of Port-producing history that began with Scotsman George Sandeman – to many, it represents Port, period.

So when you’re offered samples of the icon’s range of age-designated Tawny Ports (from 10 to 40 years old) for possible review, you think twice about turning them down. In fact, in that scenario, as a wine geek you really have only two options: 1) decline the samples, or 2) plan on staging a comparative tasting and pairing them with Apple, Cranberry & Walnut Pie with Stilton (from page 208 of Sid Goldstein’s excellent The Wine Lover’s Cookbook).

You can guess which option I picked…

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Art Vs. Artifice In The Search For Natural Wine

Vinted on August 22, 2011 under book reviews, wine books

“That’s just… man, that’s just… NOT right!”

The above quote is from a friend of mine, in reaction to learning that some of his favorite wines – and, in fact, probably most wines – are made with grapes purchased from growers. As in, grapes that did not come from a patch of land directly behind a winery building on a farm somewhere, tended with care by the winemaker’s own hands.

Imagine how he would have felt if he’d seen the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s list of “Materials authorized for the treatment of wine and juice.”  While it’s not quite as bad as the list of additives that are used to “enhance” our processed foodstuffs, it certainly feels a lot more “McDonald’s” than “Old MacDonald.”

As consumers, lacking evidence to the alternative we have a tendency to assume (naively) that what we consume is fundamentally natural, or that a “natural” product is somehow a superior one.  This premise – that the natural is always the better – serves as a driving force behind award-winning wine journalist Alice Feiring’s new book, Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally ($10 eBook, or about $15 in print – I received an advanced review copy).

Feiring is a self-proclaimed polarizing figure in the wine world, and if her intention with Naked Wine was to solidify her controversial status, she could hardly have chosen a better cement than the topic of “natural wine”…

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