Posts Filed Under wine products
For February’s wine product sample roundup (in which I cast a critical eye on wine-related stuff that isn’t actually wine), we once again hit the book shelves, with some mixed but ultimately geekily fascinating results…
First up is a long-overdue mention of Maximillian Potter’s account of the train-wreck-style-too-crazy-to-look-away story behind the 2010 threat to poison the vines of Burgundy’s La Romanée-Conti, which produce some of the most sought-after and expensive Pinot Noir wines on the planet (interestingly, the vintage under threat was the same one that I reviewed and – SPOILER ALERT! – everything turned out okay). The book is titled Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine (Twelve Books, 289 pages, about $10), and if that subtitle sounds a bit fawning, it’s also an accurate indication of the book’s only real flaw.
Potter’s an accomplished and experienced former staff writer, and he knows both how to spin a yarn and how to meticulously research his topic, both of which come together masterfully in Shadows in the Vineyard. Be forewarned, however, that Potter also falls into the same trap that has snared countless others who’ve mentioned this fabled Burgundian top-tier producer, which is to mention so often that its wines must be the world’s best that your facial muscles might get a bit tired from all of the ensuing eye-rolling. I mean, we get it already. But in terms of entertaining wine-related reads, this is a top-notch tale…
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It’s time for the first monthly wine product sample review round-up of the new year, which means you now have a couple of recommendations for vinous-related things to buy after you’ve returned the crappier gifts that you received during the holidays! You’re welcome!
Since it’s been as cold as Dante’s icy ninth circle of hell around here lately, I decided to focus on reading material, all the better to curl up in front of a fireplace with (drink in hand, naturally) and enjoy while hiding from the real world under a cozy blanket.
First up is Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties & Styles, (Sterling Epicure, 288 pages, $27.95) by three people that I happen to know personally (consider yourself full-disclosure-warned): the affable World Wine Guys Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, and the legendary Kevin Zraly (who might actually still owe me some money). This well-designed book has been getting serious positive press lately, and I’m happy to report that it’s well-deserving of all of it. The subtitle is apt, as Red Wine focuses on being comprehensive rather than exhaustively deep. Having said that, for 98% of wine lovers, they will not need (nor are they likely to find) a better guide to world’s fine red wine grapes than this one. Each grape gets at least a two-page spread that includes wine color, a tasting profile scale that focuses on the wine’s acidity/body/tannin combo, tasting notes and food pairings with at-a-glance icon references, a photo, a brief write-up, and a list of recommended wines to try (from bargain through to splurge price-levels). More ubiquitous grapes get a longer treatment, focusing on stylistic variances between countries, as well as winemaker quotes, and a handful of obscure red varieties (Teran, anyone?) get short highlights. Mad props to Christine Heun, who is credited as the designer, for putting together one of the easiest to navigate references I’ve ever seen in the wine world.
Closing out this month’s roundup, we have the gorgeously-photographed (think major food-porn style) Drink Progressively: From White to Red, Light- to Full-Bodied, A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food (Spring House Press, 240 pages, $27), by Hadley & TJ Douglas, the husband-and-wife owners of Boston’s The Urban Grape. This is a food-and-pairing-focused wine guide, and includes recipes by Straight Wharf’s Gabriel Frasca. The main idea behind Drink Progressively is to focus on wine body above all else, and then suggest wines and recipes to match that body accordingly. The Douglases do this by moving wines through an increasing body scale of 1 to 10, which leaves us with shorthand terms like “5W” (to describe whites from Burgundy and Mosel, for example) and “9R” (e.g., for bolder reds from Dry Creek Valley, Mendoza, and Barossa). It’s a clever, seemingly-simple conceit that I found gets confusing very quickly. Having said that, this book might be worth the cover price for the recipes and wine recommendations alone, though the latter tend towards the geekier (and therefore probably more difficult to find) end of the spectrum. The unsung hero here is Beatrice Peltre, whose photographs are downright stunning.
So… here we are… the last wine product review roundup of 2017. The quick refresher: this is the series of posts in which I cast a critical eye (and, sometimes, other body parts) onto those product samples I receive that cannot be safely ingested. Given the inevitable (yule)tide of the approaching holiday season, I decided to go with a) products that seemed classy, and b) products that were also (potentially) useful. The results are recommendations for two new and interesting pieces of wine stemware, both on the pricey side, but both worth considering for the
lovable drunk dedicated wine-lover on your Nice List.
First, there’s the Vacanti Spirale Wine Glass ($50 per two-pack). The idea behind this stemware is that it’s designed for bottle-aged reds; there’s a nifty little spiral indentation at the bottom of the glass that’s supposed to trap sediment, so that your teeth don’t end up becoming what traps the sediment. Of course, you could just decant properly, but even then you tend to end up with a least a little bit of precipitate in the glass when you start reaching the last dregs of an older red.
The little spiral thingy is not only visual cool, it actually works, though admittedly the use case for the Vacanti is fairly limited. The only real word of caution I can add is that the Spirale design wrecks total havoc on sparkling wines, sending the bubbles up in a concentrated stream that strips away a surprisingly large percentage of the pleasure of drinking those wines; if you grab some of these, avoid pouring bubblies into them at all costs.
Next, we have what ought to be a limited use-case-scenario glass, that actually ends up being a very good almost-all-purpose one: the Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Glass by Riedel ($37.50 per stem). Ostensibly, this tulip-shaped, tapered wine glass is meant to enhance the sensory experience of drinking fruit-forward Cabs, such as those offered by Martini (well… duh…). And certainly the glass does an admirable job of doing just that.
But… what’s far more interesting, in my limited testing, was how versatile the Cab glass ended up being on the drinking front. I threw just about every style of wine at this thing, and it handled all of them either very well or almost-danged-superbly. It’s best for fruity, balanced whites and reds that aren’t too strong in alcohol, but it worked out just swell for more delicate styles and even bubbles. The only thing that it couldn’t handle (mostly a factor of its size) was the dessert wine category. Other than that? It could end up being the only stemware option that you (whoops, I meant the persons on your Nice List) need.
This month’s wine product review roundup requires you to get your reading glasses, as we’re taking a look at two upcoming wine reference book releases, one of them tiny (and insanely useful), the other heavy and large (and maybe a lot less useful).
First up is the venerable Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine, 2018 edition (Mitchell Beazley, 336 pages, about $17). This tiny marvel is updated annually, and at this point I struggle to say anything about it that I’ve not already said in my usual yearly boot-lickingly obnoxious recommendation of this mighty mini-tome. No wine reference book series even comes close to packing as much utility into such a small package, and doing it so consistently. That I know so may of the contributors probably only makes my endorsement seem even more boot-lickingly boot-licking, but that won’t stop me from highly recommending it. Again.
In the interests of offering a balanced appraisal, I will say that the supplemental material in last year’s 2017 40th Anniversary edition is, in my view, superior to this most recent release; so if you own that one already, you may want to skip this one and see what the 2018 edition has to offer.
Next up is a new edition of the much larger, heavier, and visually impressive Larousse Wine (Hamlyn, 656 pages, about $60). Headed by technical consultant Master Sommelier Georges Lepré, with a team of contributors that are primarily French-based or French-wine-focused, you’d think that a book with 800 photographs and 37 maps would be insanely useful. And you’d be half right…
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