Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving Day

For the last year and a half, I’ve been fortunate enough to write the Uncork Life blog for Wine Chateau. During that time, readers have had the chance to delve into the world of wine, with news, opinions, reviews, and the occasional shot of spirits coverage.

Starting today, however, I will re-focus my efforts on a brand new blog, The Food, Drink & Travel Report. My relationship with Wine Chateau is still intact in other regards, but The Report will be my own. And while readers can absolutely expect the same high level of reporting as they did at Uncork Life, the coverage at The Report will be expanded to include spirits and beer, travel, commentary on new food and beverage books and films, and reviews of restaurants around the country and around the world (contingent on my travel schedule, of course).

Finally, I’d like to offer a hearty thank you to all of the loyal readers of this blog. It’s been a pleasure covering the world of wine here for you, and I look forward to seeing you over at The Food, Drink & Travel Report as well. It launched this morning; please click over now to

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Wine of the Day: Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

What a wildly evocative nose--one that you could easily get lost in, smelling it through dinner and forgetting to eat. It speaks of warm graphite and cedar, a cigar humidor opened on a hot summer day, flowers a day past their prime and grown funky and sweet, and crushed black currants: Majestic and complicated. It tastes of black raspberries, high-cocoa chocolate, vanilla pods, melted black licorice, and espresso. This is a deep, rich, infinitely rewarding wine that shows classic Napa exuberance, Stags Leap District’s approachability at an early stage of evolution coupled with its ageability, and a plush fruit character that demands attention. What’s amazing here is the balance of acid, alcohol, fruit, and tannin: It’s both masculine and feminine at the same time. This could go for another 8 - 10+ years, but why wait? It's absolutely gorgeous.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

The PLCB, Wine Kiosks, and Your Morning Dose of Ridiculousness

Typically, this blog focuses on issues that directly impact the wider wine-drinking public: Important developments and news items, big-picture trends, items of interest for specific regions, tasting notes, and more. But today, I’m breaking with what we normally deal with to cover a news item that, really, only impacts those of us who live in Pennsylvania (I’m based in Philadelphia): The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

For those of you who don’t know, PA is one of the precious few states in the nation that maintains complete control over sales of wines and spirits within its borders. That’s right: No private enterprise like, say, Wine Chateau, could exist here. Rather, if you want to purchase wine, you have to visit one of the PLCB’s notorious so-called “state stores,” which, aside from a handful of more aesthetically pleasing outposts occasionally staffed with people who possess a modicum of wine knowledge (there are exceptions, of course), are generally rather Dickensian spaces with often uninspired selections peddled by employees whose deep-level knowledge of wine is comparable to my understanding of the elusive Higgs boson. (Check out this post, by the excellent Joe Roberts of the 1WineDude blog, regarding a PLCB employees’s insane denial of the existence of the cabernet franc grape variety...)

Anyway, so much for background. As you might have heard, last year the PLCB rolled out automated wine kiosks that would facilitate sales of wine in grocery stores, which is otherwise not permitted in our fair commonwealth. And though this may sound like a reasonable step forward in automated sales, it proved, in fact, to be a terrifying, not-even-vaguely Orwellian exercise in Big Brotherness. As this link from WGAL Channel 8 in Scranton shows, purchasing wine involves inserting your ID, having your image checked against the photo by some nameless, faceless drone on the other end, and then blowing into a breathalyzer to ensure you’re not drunk. If you pass all these tests, you’ll have the privilege of buying a (likely overpriced) bottle of uninspired wine from the state’s oh-so-esteemed selection.

Creepy, no?

Well now, after constant technical glitches and mounting customer frustration, Wegman’s, the high-end supermarket, has recently asked the PLCB to remove all such kiosks from their PA stores. As WGAL reported late last week, Wegman’s sent a letter “to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board...The letter states that kiosk sales have been lower than expected, that the machines have not met expectations, have had a ‘high rate of operational issues and malfunctions’ and have actually been detrimental to stores.

“‘The most weighty factor in our decision, however,’” the letter continued, “‘is the significant volume of … complaints that our store management is receiving...’”

As a Pennsylvanian, as a believer in free enterprise, and as someone who loves wine, I can’t help but smile at this development: It’s yet another blow to one of the most antiquated, ridiculous government bodies in the country, and highlights yet again how absurd and out of touch its leaders are to even have gone down this crazy kiosk road. Anytime I hear of another PLCB failure, I’m reminded of a wonderful German word: Schadenfreude. It means the taking of pleasure in another’s misfortune or suffering. And having been forced to suffer at the hands of the PLCB’s crazy rules and regulations for so long, anything that highlights their ineptitude beings me enormous personal and professional pleasure.

I’ll gladly raise a glass to this latest chink in the PLCB’s armor...just not one poured from a bottle that’s been purchased at a malfunctioning kiosk.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Back from Austria

Coming home from a wine trip and adjusting to more normal life again is always a difficult process. After all, over the course of the four or five or more days that you’re traveling through a different part of the world, eating great food, tasting more wine than most people do in a year, and spending your days and nights with colleagues from all over the planet--well, it’s easy to lose track of the more ordinary aspects of your life back home. (It’s always good to come home, of course, but also very easy to get spoiled while you’re away.)

I spent this past week, as I mentioned in my blog post the other day, at the bi-annual Wine Summit, sponsored by the remarkable Austrian Wine Marketing Board. The specific leg of the excursion I was on focused on Burgenland and Carnuntum and, as such, leaned heavily on the excellent Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch they produce.

The trip started in Vienna, which is actually home to one of the world’s best wine regions located within a major city’s boundaries. (The photo above, in fact, is taken from the Rotes Haus, where our first night’s festivities began. You can see the city itself in the background, behind the vines.) After that, we headed south to Carnuntum, where we focused on Austria’s famously spicy Zweigelt, and then to the huge Lake Neusiedl, which does so much to moderate the temperature of the surrounding areas.

West of Lake Neusiedl (or locally, Neusiedlersee), we tasted in what proved to be one of my favorite spots on the trip--Leithaberg DAC, whose fresh, food-friendly Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and crisp Blaufränkisch were some of my top wines throughout. These are bottlings that sing with a bright minerality that screams out for food--just my style.

Later that day we were treated to a fascinating, eye-opening blind tasting at the Esterházy Palace, where I had one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve sipped in a while, the 2008 from rising star producer Claus Preisinger: Fragrant, balanced, age-worthy, and delicious already, like some sort of fabulous Gevrey-Chambertin. That night, four colleagues and I celebrated Memorial Day with a barbecue just shy of the Austria - Hungary border, at Weingut Hans Igler in Deutchkreutz, with winemaker Clemens Reisner and his father manning the grill. They were generous enough to open not just the current-release wines they were planning on, but also a number of older bottles that demonstrated how beautifully Austrian reds can age. (Their 2006 “Biiri” bottling, 2001 “Ab Ericio,” and 2000 “Jewel” were show-stoppers.)

More wines followed in the remaining time on the trip, including focused tastings of wines from Mittelburgenland DAC and Eisenberg DAC, both of which demonstrated decidedly different aspects of Austrian wine. This country, like all of the best in the wine world, possesses a wide enough range of terroirs and winemaking talent to be able to call itself home to a huge range of styles and expressions. That diversity is what makes a national wine culture exciting, and Austria, as I’ve said for years, is among my favorite in the world.

We ended the trip back where it started--in Vienna--with a closing-night party at the famous Prater, with live music and more food and wine than a group twice this size could have consumed. The night was highlighted by crowd-rousing musical performances by the AWMB’s Managing Director Willi Klinger and wine writer and budding wine-travel impresario Ben Weinberg. Between Willi’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” Ben’s “Stormy Monday,” and the glass of Grüner Veltliner Ice Wine I sipped afterward, I cannot think of a better way to have ended this spectacular experience.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting tasting notes and impressions of specific wines and regions. Keep your eyes open for them. In the meantime, start stocking up on the great wines of Austria.

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