Showing posts with label Spitbucket. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spitbucket. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2020

One Wine Lover's Two Cents on Dieting

January is coming to an end. Some of you may be on the last stretch of Dry January or Whole30 or a similar month-long break from alcohol and/or other indulgence. I congratulate you.

Can't say no to Champagne and caviar
Try as I might, that is not my cup of tea (or glass of wine). But I am not immune to the allure of fad diets and exercise routines that promise a toner trimmer version of me. In fact, I am in the middle of an 8-week program. Just that I am ignoring the no-alcohol diet portion of it. Let me share my two cents on dieting.

No to No-Alcohol Diets

Unless you have alcohol abuse or binge issues, I can't imagine why anyone who appreciates wine would want to follow a no-alcohol diet, even if only for a month. The key word is "appreciate."

Proponents of Dry January suggests that taking a break from alcohol helps reset one's relationship with it. I see the point to some extent. I once gave up meat for Lent. When I got back to eating meat again, I became more selective in the meat I would partake. But I wouldn't say that I "appreciated" meat pre-Lent the same way I do wine.

My friend and wine blogger, Amber LeBeau, wrote a post that Dry January Can Go to Hell. She suggests that instead of taking a pause from alcohol in January, try mindful consumption all year round. Engage your senses when enjoying a glass of wine. Learn the story behind the wine and the vintage; how was the weather that year, what challenges were presented by Mother Nature, and how the winemaker artfully crafted the wine.

Wine flight is a great way to learn about wine appreciation
I mentioned in my blog that I belonged to the Specialty Club from my local wine shop. Every month, we get a red and a white from anywhere in the world. Tom, the shop owner, is a wealth of wine knowledge, and he always tells a good story for each bottle he carefully curates for the club. It brings a richer experience as I sip the wine. It is more than getting a buzz from the alcohol. If that is your experience too, then say no to no-alcohol diets.

No Bad Wine is Worth the Calories

One might argue that a good wine is a matter of taste. I think enjoyment is a matter of taste. Good, which suggests quality, is different. Consider this. I adore Jack in the Box tacos and all the beef-ish meat product tastiness. But that doesn't make them good tacos. Nor should I be eating them beyond rare moments of guilty pleasure. They are just not worth the calories.

Tasting our homemade wine
Wines of the Jack-in-the-Box-tacos variety are often mass-produced from leftover or poor-quality grapes, buffed up with all kinds of additives to hide the flaws. These could range from powdered tannins to provide structure to Mega Purple for a deeper color and a little residual sugar to mask any off-flavors.

Now I am not advocating for natural wine. As a hobby winemaker, I certainly have used my fair share of sulfur, commercial yeast, yeast nutrients, and malolactic bacteria. My goal is to ensure a clean and successful fermentation, but not to manufacture a taste. I very much subscribe to the philosophy of minimal intervention. Get the best grapes you can afford and make a wine that is a true expression of the variety, the vintage, and the terroir.

Perhaps I have the luxury since I don't make wine for a living so I don't worry about consumer taste and sales. But the overused additives in mass-produced wine can't be any better than the meat product of Jack in the Box tacos. When I go to a restaurant that only has cheaply-produced wine by the glass, I would skip it. If I were to add wine calories in my body, I'd like to have the full experience of a well-made wine.

So there you go! This is just one wine lover's two cents on dieting. What do you think?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Au Revoir, Amber!

"What Bordeaux tasting? Can I go?"

My friend, Siti, had flown into Seattle last minute to attend a private tasting, and I practically begged her to take me with her.

First Cellar Party

That was how I met Amber LeBeau and her lovely wife, Beth, the gracious unassuming hostesses of the tasting. It was the summer of 2016. Despite the gorgeous weather, dozens of people were crowding inside a wine storage facility in Bellevue, chatting and sipping wine. Numbering more than humans were bottles of Bordeaux, arranged by regions with maps and printouts describing the respective terroirs. Amber and Beth were cleaning out their cellar to make room for a new shipment of Bordeaux. Like everyone else, I was happy to help.

Tasting Bordeaux Classified Growths

Amber and the SpitBucket

Amber was working at Total Wine at that time. Her impressive list of credentials in the wine business includes a CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine), a degree in Wine Marketing and Sales/Wine Production at the Northwest Wine Academy, and Level 3 of the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) with distinction. What truly impresses me about Amber though is her curious mind and her open palate. She reads about and tastes through a myriad of wines. Her spirit on inquiry is almost infectious although I did pass on her blind tasting of coffee-infused wine.

A few months after the cellar clean-out party, Amber started where she blogged occasionally about her thoughts on wine and the industry. When a health condition took her out of the retail wine business last year, she began to spend more time blogging while preparing for her last level of WSET.

As a fellow albeit more casual blogger, I thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning from Amber's posts. One of my favorite posts of hers is about Jancis Robinson, the Beyoncé of Wine. It is a tribute to the celebrated British wine critic, published on International Women's Day last year. And guess what? Jancis noticed and tweeted about it!

And More Cellar Parties

A few weeks ago, we got the news. Beth has accepted an exciting job offer in Paris, and they will be moving very soon. And just like that, Amber and Beth need help cleaning out their cellar again. Wines that need to be drunk in the next three to five years must go.

"Nothing off limits!" She posted to a private Facebook group page.

A private tasting and dinner with Amber and friends
Also, just like that, Siti flew into town last minute again. This time, we hosted a small intimate private tasting and dinner, before Amber kicked off her cellar clean-out parties. The line-up that night was incredible. A few of us carefully selected a couple of bottles from our cellar, while Amber brought the equivalent of half a case. Nonetheless, it was a good human-to-bottle ratio in my opinion. And below are some notable mentions:

1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine Chevalier de Sterimberg Hermitage Blanc
2013 Ashan Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay

2008 Domaine Taupenot-Merme Corton Rognet Grand Cru
2016 Domain de La Côte Bloom's Field

2004 Betz La Côte Rousse Red Mountain Syrah
2012 Cayuse Vineyards Walla Walla Syrah
2004 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape

2005 Sandrone La Vigne Barolo
1992 Delille Cellars Chaleur Estate Bordeaux Blend

Wine line-up from the private tasting
It is a month and two cellar parties away before Amber starts her new adventure with Beth in Paris. Even though we will continue to geek out over wine on social media, I will miss tasting with and learning from her in person. That said, I expect that we will meet on the other side of the Atlantic, tasting through different French vineyards.

So au revoir, Amber! Till we meet again!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Cru Who? The Lesser Known Bordeaux

When one thinks of Bordeaux, first-growth châteaux often come to mind: Lafite Rothschild, Haut-Brion, Margaux, Latour, and the more recently added Mouton-Rothschild. Unless you have deep pockets, these are not your everyday wines. Many Bordeaux geeks seek to buy Grand Crus Classé futures to get some coveted Bordeaux at pre-release prices. That requires an incredible amount of patience and knowledge. If that is what you are into, you should check out My friend and wine-blogger, Amber LeBeau, shares extensive reviews of Bordeaux futures there.

Cru Classés tasting, compliments of Amber LeBeau

Bordeaux for the Rest of Us

If you have a modest bank account and/or limited patience like I do, finding quality Bordeaux at an affordable price point can be challenging. That is why I was thrilled when the West Seattle Wine Cellars hosted a free Bordeaux tasting last month. Now these are not your regular grocery store Bordeaux. Shop owner Tom DiStefano is particular about what he puts on the shelves and tends to seek out the less commercially known but incredibly delightful gems among wines. We knew we were in a for a treat!

A little snack to go with my red
The tasting line-up was poured by the Wine Trust, an importer with a strong focus on Bordeaux. The selection ranged from 2004 to 2013 vintages and included a couple of Crus Bourgeois from Haut-Médoc and a Grand Cru from Saint-Émilion. Sure there were no Grand Crus Classé in the mix, but none of the wines being tasted cost over $50 a bottle! And even I, with my perpetual self-imposed wine-buying moratorium in place, could hardly resist a half-case of these delicious deals.

Over the weekend, I decided to open the 2008 Château d'Agassac, Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois. On the nose, I got dark fruit with delicate floral scent, which both surprised and delighted me. The fruit carried through the palate with added layers of earthiness, spices, and nuts. The wine was medium to full-bodied and well-balanced, with ample acidity and fine elegant tannins. The finish was smooth and long-lasting.

For $30, this ten-year-old Bordeaux was delicious! I had it while snacking on some grapes and a piece of creamy blue Cambazola. But I could see see it pairing really well with a nice hearty beef and vegetable stew on a cold winter night.

Crus Bourgeois

Now, let's talk about Crus Bourgeois. As you know, the French like to rank and classify their wines. The most famous of which was the 1855 Classification of Grand Crus Classés requested by Napoleon III. Select châteaux in Bordeaux were assigned from first to fifth growths, with decreasing importance and price points. For châteaux in Medoc, there is another level added for high-quality wines that did not make Cru Classé. And that is Cru Bourgeois. Some would argue that there is a bit of overlap between Crus Bourgeois and the lower-level Crus Classé.

2008 Château d'Agassac
While they might be a good guide on the quality of wine, the different classification systems were and still are influenced by commercial and sometimes political interests. Wineries tirelessly lobby to be rated at the highest possible classification for both prestige and profit. Cru Classé and Cru Bourgeois rankings are no exception. In fact, the Cru Bourgeois ranking was annulled in 2007 and then re-introduced in 2010 with major revisions.

With a two-year lag in wine release, 2008 was the first vintage to be published under the new Cru Bourgeois rules in 2010. This Château d'Agassac was released just in time for that. Unlike Cru Classé, the recently revised Cru Bourgeois is a single level and is awarded annually to the wines rather than to châteaux. This kept the châteaux on their toes to produce high-quality wines.

2018 vintage will yet see another change in the rules of Cru Bourgeois, which will result in three tiers of quality and more stringent criteria. But we will not have to worry about that till 2020.

My Verdict: The 2008 Château d'Agassac was such a steal! It was delicious and sufficiently aged to display layers of complexity typical of a Bordeaux. I always recommend knowing your source with Bordeaux to ensure proper cellar condition before they get to the store. If you see a Cru Bourgeois in a trusted wine shop, scoop a couple up. Try one today and cellar the other for later. Santé!

Bonus Insider's Tip from Amber - Stock up on 2015/2016 Crus Bourgeois!

The recent 2015/2016 vintages offer oodles of great values among the Crus Bourgeois. Like 2009/2010, these are vintages where quality was stacked up and down the ladder. Most savvy Bordeaux buyers who regularly drink the Crus Classés often stock up on these gems to drink while waiting those classified growths to mature.

Unlike 2009/2010 though, 2015/2016 vintages are evident of how much the Bordelais have adjusted to the demands of the American and Asian markets. While traditional European markets that are accustomed to cellaring wines for many years, American and Asian consumers often open up their wines much younger and expect them to be drinking well soon after release. Even among the Cru Classés, many of these young Bordeaux wines are drinking shockingly well with only a little decanting. It remains to be seen if these wines will ultimately hold up in the cellar like their predecessors.

Bottom line is that there are tons of terrific 2015 and 2016 Bordeaux wines at all price points that are on the market now!