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How to Take On a German Wine Label and Survive (WBW #45)

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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

In this ultra-exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey, Dude and Plumboo face off against a German Wine Label, as part of Wine Blogging Wednesday #45 (this month hosted over at the venerable Winecast.net).

AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE!

WARNING: This post contains German words. Proceed with EXTREME CAUTION!!

To give you an appreciation of just how dangerous this mission was, we offer an excerpt regarding hunting the German Wine Label (GWL) from noted South African wildlife specialist Clive Walker’s Signs of the Wild:

“One should always approach a GWL with great caution. They have poor eyesight and hearing, but have a keenly developed sense of smell. GWLs are normally nervous and will not hesitate to attack if they are disturbed, especially when young. When threatened, they will prominently display their Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, and Winzergenossenschaft, if present. GWLs are dangerous if wounded or when continuously pursued, hunted, or annoyed. An experienced wine geek may be able to drive off a GWL with appropriate knowledge of Germany’s 13 Anbaugebiet, and while easily hunted it presents an extremely difficult target when charging head-on. Should you encounter a GWL, remain utterly still – under no circumstances run. One’s inherent desire is to flee, but this carries with it the certainty of a permanent end to your days of fine German wine appreciating. There is no doubting the sheer terror that can run through one’s veins when going up against a GWL. It can turn your blood ice-cold – which, in a pinch, you may be able to use to chill a white German wine to the appropriate serving temperature…”

Or something like that, anyway.


“The only real way to disarm a German wine label, and thus open yourself up to some seriously kickin’ German wine experiences, is with a little bit of helpful knowledge.”


Hyperbole aside, the labels on German wine bottles can be one of the most intimidating encounters for any budding wine shopper. Which is one of the main contributing factors to the tough times that German wines have in the American market; the other is that they are primarily made from grapes that are not household names to most American consumers. Which is a shame, because German wines can TOTALLY ROCK.

The GWL will try to intimidate and frighten you with its cacophony of German words and wine regulations. The only real way to disarm a German wine label, and thus open yourself up to some seriously kickin’ German wine experiences, is with a little bit of helpful knowledge…

The fist and most important point to remember is this: ignore the craziness and focus on the areas where the GWL is most vulnerable:

  • Who - the Producer, which is usually easy to find and often displayed prominently on the GWL.

  • When - the Vintage year, very easy to ID.
  • What - the Grape & Ripeness level. Germany makes wine from several tasty varietals, but by far its most noble grape is the aromatic, long-lived and refreshingly-acidic Riesling (the focus of today’s adventure). Germany is cold. Because it’s cold, it’s not always easy to get grapes to ripen to acceptable wine-worthy levels; therefore, Germany has developed a series of quality tiers that roughly correspond to the ripeness of the grapes.

    This is where things get a bit tricky. You can see from the adjacent pyramid (courtesy of GermanWineEstates.com) that it’s not easy territory to navigate. The thing to remember is that the higher the ripeness level, the more likely it is that the wine is sweeter. This runs a pretty large gamut, from the tasteful and usually dry Kabinett to the ultra-rich Trockenbeerenauslese, which practically needs to be enjoyed with a spoon (or poured over waffles).

  • Where - the Region. Again, potentially tricky territory (ha-ha) here. If you stick with the major quality wine-growing regions (of which there are only 13) and avoid trying to sort out the sub-regions and individual vineyards (of which there are a boatload, some of which confusingly have the exact same names at different geographic levels), then you can navigate a GWL without too much pain.

    Germany’s 13 major winemaking regions have wines with identifiable personalities and styles. For example, Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is steely and lighter-bodied, while wines made from the same grape in the Rheingau are known for their spiciness and heavier richness.


“With a little practice, you can fell the beast that is the GWL and be on your way to enjoying some of the finest wine made on the planet.”


An example of this in action can be seen in the following action photo of Plumboo with his felled prey, a 2003 Dr. Fischer Riesling Auslese from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region:


Not too painful, right? With a little practice, you can fell the beast that is the GWL and be on your way to enjoying some of the finest wine made on the planet. Hey, if a plush monkey with a squeak-toy for a head can do it, so can you.

Now, how does a wine like this taste, anyway? Here’s the review that Plumboo and I came up with after our sampling of the Dr. Fischer:

Aromas of flowers, citrus, and wet rock, presented in an elegant way (maybe even a tad understated). A palate that is well put-together, integrating a light body with citrus fruit and a healthy amount of sweetness. If there’s one element of the wine that’s not yet in sync with the others, it’s the bracing acidity – but give it 2 or 3 more years in the bottle, and it should come together quite nicely.

Now, sally forth and get thyself some German goodness. And don’t let those GWLs scare you!

Cheers!

(images: gapingvoid.com, germanwineestates.com, livinghistoryfarm.org)

10 Free Wine Web Resources You Probably Aren’t Using

Vinted on May 5, 2008 binned in best of, learning wine, wine 2.0, wine tips


We’re all short on cash in these times of recess -er, I mean, economic challenge. So the Dude has compiled a list of his 10 favorite wine resources on the web. All of them FREE. Each one will cost you exactly $0.00 to use. Bumpkis. Nada. Goose-eggs.

You can thank me later, by clicking the “Make a Donation” button on the Left and sending me some cash. Oh… uhm… wait a second… never mind…

Anyway, chances are that even if you’re an experienced wine geek, you probably are not using some of these gems. I’ve found them to be extremely useful, or helpful in a pinch, and in some cases downright indispensable. Hopefully you’ll find them valuable as well (look at it this way – you’re almost guaranteed to at least get what you paid for `em!)…

  1. Wine Vocabulary: At a loss for words trying to find the right term to describe that wine you’re tasting? Not anymore. With this handy aroma/tasting card from Vinography, you’ll minimize the guessing and maximize the terminology in your tasting notes. And you are keeping tasting notes, right?
  2. Wine Terminology: Don’t understand a term on the back of that bottle? Not anymore. WineLoversPage.com contains a ridiculous amount of information, and their Wine Lexicon is especially handy, easy to navigate dictionary-style, and contains click-able pronunciations for those of us who have a hard time with French (i.e., everyone but the French).
  3. Wine Labels: Confounded by tricky wine labels on those Old World wines? Not anymore. Another gem on the WineLoversPage.com website can sort that one out for you – a Wine Label Decoder, which can help you unlock the “secret code” and interpret just what the hell those German, French, and Italian wine labels are trying to tell you.
  4. Wine & Cooking: Wondering why yeast is the primary contributor of flavor to wine? No? Crap you’re messing up my shtick for this article…! Anyway, maybe you will start to wonder about it after you check out GlobalGourmet.com’s awesome Wine & Cooking reference.
  5. Wine Vintages: Doesn’t it piss you off when you’re at the wine shop, and you’re trying to determine if that low sale price has anything to do with a nasty vintage? Not anymore. You can get a handy vintage chart to-go by pointing your mobile browser to Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Mobile Vintage Chart.
  6. Wine & Health: Wondering if putting back those wines is putting years on your life ahead of your time? Wonder no more – the Professional Friends of Wine have compiled a wealth of wine health information in their Wine Health 101 Section.
  7. Wine Nutrition: Wondering about the nutritional content of that wine you’re drinking? No? Well, these are health-conscious times, my friend, so you’d better get on the ball! CalorieKing.com can help you out with their nutritional-label-style details on popular wine types.
  8. Italian Wine: Confused by Italian Wines? You guessed it – not anymore. ItalianMade.com has an expansive and informative section on Italian wines, complete with regional maps, varietal information, and wine & food pairings.
  9. Grape Varieties: Getting tired of feeling like a dunce because you don’t know the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? Alright, alright, it’s a trick question; but any budding wine geek who has even a passing interest in wine grapes should bookmark this great grape reference from CellarNotes.net.
  10. Best Bang for the No-Buck: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the folks at Wine Spectator do know their stuff, and they have put together one of the handiest one-stop-shop areas on the Internet for wine knowledge. In the case of their Wine Spectator School Library, that shop charges $0.00 USD, and comes complete with a glossary, regional wine maps, tasting materials, wine tasting advice. It’s a fantastic place to start for the budding wine geek.


Cheers!

(images: freefoto.com, ox.ac.uk, thelanguagemenu.com)

So You Want To Get Into the Wine Business? (How to Be a Wine Geek, Part IV: Interview with a Wine Retailer)

Vinted on May 2, 2008 binned in wine buying, wine how to


Welcome to the next installment in the “How to Be a Wine Geek” series here at www.1Winedude.com!

Many wine lovers have toyed with the idea of one day breaking into the wine biz. That’s not just trying to jump into perceived (and relatively false) romantic cache factor of workin’ the vineyard and making wine. Some would like to take a different approach to turning their hobby into their livelihood – in a way that doesn’t involve the potential to run into farm animals on a daily basis.

I thought it would be enlightening to get a view on what it’s like to turn wine passion into wine profession. So I asked someone who has done it. Jill Bernheimer, owner of the on-line wine store and blog Domaine547, kindly agreed to give us her thoughts on ‘life behind the bottle’.

Jill has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, and has garnered a reputation among the wine blogging community as someone who is not afraid to speak her mind. Another way of putting it, is that she’s not afraid to say publicly what the rest of us are thinking provately (thanks, Jill!).

Jill recently advised her customers to buy one of her wines from a competitor because it was able to offer a lower price than she could – an act that earned her mad props in the on-line community (and no doubt increased customer loyalty).

The interview results are a great insight into life in the wine industry. Enjoy…

1WD: Tell us a bit about your business. How did you get started? What made you chose to get into the wine biz?

Jill: I run a little wine shop that happens to be online only. It’s called domaine547, and the focus is on…well, on wines I like. I personally taste 98% of the wines that I bring in, and that way I can sell them without any hesitation.

The website itself is a bit curious, because the way you enter the store is through a blog… some people may not even realize there’s a store, but that’s intentional. I’m a soft-sell kind of gal, and I don’t want anybody to feel like anything is being forced upon them. If people discover the store, and if people want to shop there… then great.

1WD: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your business?

Jill: When I started the business just over a year ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself an expert on wine. That’s not to say I was without qualifications – I had my Intermediate certificate from the WSET, and lots of experience traveling, reading and drinking wine (and a moonlighting gig at a local wine shop). But my attitude and approach was as an enthusiast discovering wine alongside my customers and my readers.

I think the most rewarding thing is that, even with hundreds of more wines tasted, and much more knowledge about wine and experience in the wine business, my attitude has stayed pretty much the same: I’m like a kid in a candy store, just as excited about wine as I was when I made the transition from hobbyist to working in the trade. Of course, getting to taste wine everyday and meeting producers is great as well.

1WD: What’s the biggest P.I.T.A. about your business?

Jill: Shipping. On all levels…my hands are riddled with paper cuts from packing orders, and my head hurts from the intricacies of interstate alcohol shipping restrictions.

1WD: How do inter/intra-state wine laws impact your business?

Ugh. How do they NOT impact my business? There are lots of folks who say they’d order from me if it were legal, so I’d have to say that my volume is affected directly. Whether or not they’re just saying that? Well, I guess I won’t know until the laws change…

1WD: Beatles or Stones?

Jill: Hmmm, that’s a bit of a narrow world view. [Editors note: well, it is my blog, after all!]. But I’d have to go with Beatles more often than not, with the occasional Ruby Tuesday moment.

1WD: What’s the best wine & food combo that you’ve come across?

Jill: Sottocenere cheese with a Barbera d’Alba. This is going to sound pretentious, but they taste like they have some terroir in common. The cheese is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese infused with truffles and with an ash rind containing cinnamon and nutmeg spices. [Editors note: drooling is permitted.]

1WD: What’s your favorite wine in your portfolio?

Jill: Without a doubt, the Rafael Palacios “As Sortes” Godello. It’s steep for a Spanish white – it crept up from about $32 in the 2005 vintage to $46 for the 2006. But it’s so good. A hint of lemon, nutiness, some wet stones, ever so slight oak, and some tingle on the tongue without the acidity hitting you over the head. Really delicious. I’d compare it to a Grand Cru Chablis, and from that perspective it’s much more reasonably priced. Funny thing is, I’m much more of a red wine drinker than a white wine drinker, but there is no hesitation with this response.

1WD: How many times gave you seen the film The Big Lebowski?

Jill: I’ve seen it from start to finish only a couple of times, but I’ve seen it in snippets many more. Favorite quote is definitely “I don’t roll on Shabbas.”

1WD: Where do you turn for help and inspiration? Any Trade publications, Blogs, web resources, support groups or Therapists you find particularly helpful?

Jill: I have RSS feeds to more than fifty wine blogs, but I’ve been falling behind on my reading lately. I have learned a tremendous amount from blogs like yours, Good Wine Under $20, Catavino, Good Grape, Wannabewino, Catie at Walla Walla…too many to really mention. I do enjoy Twitter more than other community web resources as it offers me a chance to talk with all of the aforementioned (except Jeff who refuses to tweet) in a more Instant Message, conversational mode.

1WD: Exactly how much does the band Rush totally rock?

Jill: Would you believe me if I told you I got “Exit, Stage Left” [Editor's note: Dude's all-time favorite album!!!] as my Afikomen prize when I was in the 3rd grade or so? I loved Tom Sawyer. But it pretty much started and ended there (and with the Geddy Lee collaboration with Bob and Doug McKenzie) [Editor's note: "Hey, 10 bucks is 10 bucks..."].

1WD: Any advice for budding wine enthusiasts?

Jill: Taste early and taste often.

1WD: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Jill! One final question – Do these pants make me look fat?

Jill: There’s pretty much no right answer to this one! [Editor's note: I'm sorry... that answer is incorrect. The correct answer is "No, you look great! Did you cut your bangs?" But thanks for playing!]

Cheers!

What Makes a Wine Great? Maybe Not What You Think!

Vinted on April 30, 2008 binned in commentary, winemaking, zen wine

What makes a wine great?

I don’t mean great as in “pretty tasty, I like it, it’s got a nice beat and I can dance to it” great.

I mean eye-popping, life-changing, “the heavens opened ancient mythology style” great.

That’s a tough question, even for those of us in the wine biz, because so few of us have actually tasted a truly great wine.

I’m going to give you my view of what makes a wine great – and it’s probably not what you’d think.

But before I do that, I need to set the record straight about how I think greatness is judged in the first place…

Winemaking is more art than science. If you disagree with me on this one, then I invite you to read my previous post on the subject.

If you still disagree with me, then you might want to skip the rest of this article entirely, because the rest of this post will be drawing parallels between winemaking and art. For those of you who couldn’t stand art class, I apologize in advance!

Personal preference doesn’t matter. I don’t like pilsner beer. Does that mean that all pilsners are no good, or that they can never achieve greatness? I love the works of Picasso. Does that mean all of Picasso’s art is great? When you stop to think about it, it’s obvious that greatness has nothing to do with any one individual’s personal preferences (not matter how highly that individual might regard his/her own opinion…).

The light red wines of Medieval times would no doubt seem watery and insipid to our Parker-ized palates.

Collective preference does matter. The collective consciousness of a given society and its era in time does matter when it comes to greatness. This is borne out time and time again in art history – and in the annals of wine history as well. If you flip through the pages of Ancient Wine, or the superb Story of Wine, you will learn that the wine of the ancient Greeks and Romans likely would be too cloyingly sweet for our tastes today. The light red wines of Medieval times would no doubt have seemed watery and insipid to our Parker-ized palates. Times make the society; and societies make the collective decision on greatness.

Material matters – but not that much. Is a Picasso painting “greater” than a Picasso sculpture, just because the medium is different? Probably not. In wine, while some grapes (such as Concord) may never make truly great wine, it’s pure folly to discount any one of the “noble” grape varieties when it comes to greatness – all of them are capable of making a great wine. Unless you mixed them altogether. That would probably suck.

Is a Picasso painting “greater” than a Picasso sculpture, just because the medium is different?

Nature matters – and so does nurture. Old World winemakers will tell you that terroir – the nature and place from whence a grape came – is the determinant of whether or not the resulting wine can be great; the winemaker’s job is to interfere as little as possible with the natural process. New World winemakers will tell you that it is trough savvy vineyard practices and the use of modern technology in the wine cellar that greatness is achieved. They’re both right – start with a great pedigree, and finish with great care, and a wine may just achieve greatness.

So how can we measure a wine’s “greatness?”

In The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil offers 5 criteria that can be used to determine if a wine is great. Her take is as good as any other, so I’ll share a synopsis of it here:

  1. Distinct varietal character - a wine exemplifies the true characteristics of its grape(s)
  2. Integration – the wine’s components (alcohol, acidity, fruit, etc.) are harmonious
  3. Expressiveness – the aromas & flavors are clear & focused
  4. Complexity – like an artwork, the wine keeps you coming back, discovering more nuances each time
  5. Connectedness – the wine embodies qualities that link it to the specific place where it was made.

Not a bad list at all. I think it’s missing an important element, however. To me, the most important.

So I’d like to add something to Karen’s fantastic list: Great wine is like great art, or a peaceful meditation, or even a great life lived to its potential with humility and true grace.

Great wine is a Mystery.

By mystery, I don’t mean a problem to be rectified, a secret to be revealed, or a puzzle to be solved. I mean a Mystery like the seat of human consciousness in the brain, the origin of life, the feeling of love, and the nature of pure being.

Great wine is a true Mystery, because it is greater than the sum of its parts in a way that synthesizes our mental, physical, and spiritual selves; connecting us to ourselves, to each other, and to a place and time, and to the earth. The greater the wine, the less likely it is that any words will be capable of adequately describing the experience.


Great wine is a tiny miracle of the universe that cannot ever be fully explained.


Now, before you all start sending me lava lamps, crystals, or patchouli, remember the words of Albert Einstein – “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.

Which one would you pick?

Cheers!

(images: winefront.com.au, clevelandart.org, restaurantlacaravella.com, macedonian-heritage.gr)

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