SOMM: Into the Rabbit Hole, er, Bottle
Jason Wise’s new cinematic exploration SOMM: Into the Bottle invites viewers down the proverbial rabbit hole for a behind the scenes look at one of the world’s most enigmatic products: wine. But does it need to be so darn complicated? Grape geneticist and former professor of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis, Carole Meredith, brilliantly sets the tone for the documentary by asking, “Can there be any other business where there’s so much bullshit?”
SOMM: Into the Bottle is technically a sequel to Wise’s 2012 Somm which introduced viewers to “the hardest test you’ve never heard of” which is, of course, the Master Sommelier exam. While Somm focused on four Master Sommelier contenders as they relentlessly prepped, tasted, swirled and spit leading up to the anxiety-inducing exam, Into the Bottle focuses on the wider world of wine and takes viewers on a relaxing exploration of how it has been shaped by human history, wars, point scores, and of course, sommeliers.
Unlike most sequels, which seem to grasp at the fraying threads of the original plot, Into the Bottle unpacks elements of wine in ten chapters laced with humor and star-studded storylines (think Aubert De Villaine, the legend behind some of the world’s most expensive bottles from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti). Want to know what Leon Panetta drank out of a CIA shot glass to celebrate the death of Bin Laden? Watch this movie.
It might be the last chapter that resonates most, though. The chapter, The Memory, delves into the reason that wine has been such a prominent constant throughout human civilization. It’s the powerful associations, experiences, and celebrations we have with wine. The merriment, the interactions, the conversations that happen around the bottle. Master Sommelier Brian McClintic confirms, “there is no better wine than the one you had at the Domaine.” It’s the story inside the bottle that helps forge our own. So, go ahead: get Into the Bottle.
Foodie Friday: Breauxmance
It’s that time of year when we start to freshen up, emerge from winter hibernation, and embrace the flavors and seasonality of spring. Right on cue, Breaux Vineyards has released their very first bubbly, cleverly dubbed Breauxmance. A beautiful salmon hue, Breauxmance is made from 99% Vidal Blanc and 1% Chambourcin to provide a dash of color. Like all of Breaux’s wines, this one is made entirely from estate-grown grapes, and the bubbly was hand riddled onsite.
This sparkler is spring in a bottle; delicate and romantic, with nice acidity and perlage. It deserves a full-flavored counterpart that will challenge it and show it off. For that, I give you Devils on Horseback. Deliciously decadent, these babies pack a salty-sweet flavor that will allow the acid in Breaumance to slice through.
Why not have yourself a little Breauxmance this spring?
Devils on Horseback
20 Medjool Dates, pitted
4 oz Chevre or Goat Cheese
10 Bacon Strips, cut in half crosswise
- Preheat oven to 375 F
- Cut a slit in each date, lengthwise
- Fill each slit with about ½ teaspoon of Chevre or Goat Cheese
- Use a half slice of bacon to wrap each stuffed date, and secure bacon with a toothpick
- Bake, on a tin foil-lined baking sheet, for about 25 minutes, or until bacon is fully crisped
The Right Wine for Your Relationship this Valentine’s Day
Don’t set the wrong tone this Valentine’s day by choosing a wine that doesn’t match your relationship. Use this handy guide to choose the right one for your special one!
Find the Recommended Wines:
Delaplane Cellars Shirland Syrah
Flora Springs Single Vineyard Cabernets (I recommend the Rennie Reserve)
5 Wine Taboos You Should Break
For a true product of passion, meant to lubricate social situations, open conversational doors, and generally help people enjoy themselves, wine sure seems to come with a lot of rules. When did everything become so complicated, with this and that becoming “taboo”? Let’s all let our inner-rebel run, shall we? Here are five wine “taboos” you should break, starting this weekend:
The screwcap vs cork debate among wine drinkers is perhaps one of the most contentious of our time. I won’t deny that popping a cork has a certain je nais se quoi; a celebratory element that can’t be replicated with a screwcap. But if you’re harboring sentiments that quality wine doesn’t come with a screwcap, allow me to broaden your horizons! Screw caps have been used to seal wine for more than fifty years, and are the preferred closure of many quality wine producers who don’t want to contend with the extra cost, risk of cork taint, or variable quality of natural cork. In fact, the great majority of bottles out of Australia are sealed by screwcap. Don’t turn your nose up at these, mistaking them for lower-quality wines; you’d be missing out!
Here are three recommendations to get you started:
- Meiomi Pinot Noir: $20.00, A beautiful Pinot Noir from the creator and winemaker behind Belle Glos.
- Ballast Stone Shiraz: $20.00, A powerful Australian Shiraz, showcasing the best of this varietal’s deep, sultry flavors.
- Tarara Winery 2012 Chardonnay: $25.00, Winemaker Jordan Harris is a big fan of screwcaps, and makes a number of stellar wines using them (that regularly sell out of stock).
2. Red Wine with Meat, White Wine with Fish
This old adage has a prominent place in the world of food and wine pairing. Don’t get me wrong, this guideline serves a purpose: an iodine-rich fish like Salmon paired with a tannic red wine will give you metal mouth faster than a trip to the orthodontist, but paired with a lighter red like Pinot Noir, Salmon and red wine can be magic (don’t take my word for it, try this Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon and Grenache pairing by Wine Enthusiast).
Similarly, beef dishes aren’t necessarily a match made in heaven for red wine. Consider your favorite beef dishes from Thai, Indian, Chinese or Japanese cuisines, for example. For these full-flavor, often spicy dishes, you need a wine that will stand up and not be washed out. Racy, lively wines like Gewürztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc are your huckleberry here.
That’s because when it comes to creating food and wine pairings that sing, the most important considerations are weight, acidity, and flavor profile. Weight refers to the overall body of the dish – is it light and bright, or swimming in a rich, decadent sauce? You’ll want a wine that mirrors that same body. When it comes to acidity, you may think you need to counteract the acidity in food with a rounder, more viscous wine. Acidic foods, however, marry well with acidic wines. A good rule of thumb here it to match acids with acids, and remember your palate. If it’s blown out by an acidic food, a flabby wine will fall by the taste bud wayside.
Finally, consider the flavor profile of the food or wine you’re trying to pair, and remember that they both tend to play well with the pairings they grew up with. The heavy tomato element in Tuscan cooking, for example, makes these dishes a natural pairing for the acidic Chianti’s and Super Tuscans from the same region.
- Good wine can’t come from a box
Stick with me here, because I know some of you may think I have lost my corks on this one. There are actually some delicious wines packaged in non-bottle containers, and let’s face it: there are many times when a 750 mL bottle isn’t convenient, or just isn’t enough!
I dare you to surrender any container cattiness you may be experiencing, and open your mind to some very exciting wines available in a non-traditional format. Virginia’s very own Michael Shaps is spearheading the effort to thing beyond the bottle, and is offering his wines in both boxes and soon, GROWLERS! He calls the wine growler a Mon Bidon, and it will be the perfect pairing for a picnic, weekend ski retreat, or anytime you could use more wine over a relatively short period of time. Michael’s Wineworks label also sells three wines by the box: a white blend, a red blend, and a Viognier. Each box retails for $40 and contains 4 bottles of wine. Stop associating larger containers with “bulk wine.” Think Magnum, without the heavy glass component!
4. Wine has to be fancy
Many types of art are misunderstood, and wine is no exception. Sometimes compared to poetry in a bottle, wine is definitely an artistic expression of a winemaker’s vision. But it’s this nuanced nature and perceived complexity that sometimes gives wine an undeserved air of haughtiness or snobbery. The fact is, you should drink what you like, where you like, when you like. While I’m not giving you permission to drink your way through your 10 am meeting with the boss, wine does NOT need to be reserved for fancy dinners, special occasions, and rich folks.
Millennials are breaking this taboo left and right, taking wine with them on the go, gravitating towards labels with funky graphics rather than vineyards and rolling hills, and favoring wines with a story rather than a big name. Take a page out of their rule-breaking book.
- Good wine has to be expensive.
We’ve all heard about wine auctions where bottles sell for more than most of us make in a year, but you don’t have to break the bank to indulge in a great bottle of wine. In fact, the Millennial rule-breaking crowd mentioned above has zeroed in on a price point of $10-12 for the great majority of their wine purchases, and there are plenty of budget-friendly bottles in that range. Here are some of my favorite bottles under $20:
- Kiwi Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc, $8.99 – This is the perfect wine to break taboo #2 above
- Butternut Chardonnay, $14.99 – Just, yum.
- Snoqualmie Cabernet Sauvignon, $13.99 – A BIG red for a little price
- Bitch Grenache, $9.99 – for when it’s been that kind of day
- Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, $19.99 – A little nuance, a little precision, a sexy wine.
So go ahead, rebel against these tired wine “taboos” and drink that wine with the screwcap or from the Mon Bidon during the big game this weekend! Cheers!
Foodie Friday: Appetizer Edition
Greetings food and wine lovers! This edition of Foodie Friday is dedicated to finding a decadent appetizer that can stand up to the winter cold, but won’t derail all those health-focused New Year’s resolutions. One that comes together quickly, with just a few simple ingredients, but pack plenty of satisfying flavor! I give you the Avocado & Pistachio Oil Crostini:
Please, hold your applause. This appetizer is simple, yet delicious and delivers a healthy dose of MUFAs while you’re imbibing. Here’s what you’ll need:
- French baguette
- 2 avocados
- ½ cup crushed or chopped pistachio nuts
- Pistachio oil
- Salt to taste
Are you ready for how simple this is? Here’s what you do:
- Set your oven to Broil
- Slice the baguette and brush each one with a bit of pistachio oil
- Place them in the oven until crisp – it will happen quickly so don’t walk away!
- As you keep an eye on your bread, cut the avocado into slices
- Remove bread from the oven and top with avocado slices, sprinkle with pistachio nuts, and drizzle with remaining pistachio oil. Sprinkle salt on top
That’s it! Literally, less than 15 minutes for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Pair with a light, bright white wine. I like Sauvignon Blanc with this appetizer, and generally go with one from Flora Springs Soliloqy Vineyard, but I also think an Albariño or Petit Manseng could make wonderful pairings for this one! You may want to try Michael Shaps’ Odette, or Chrysalis’ Albariño. Bon appétit!
Moodwining in the New Year
The New Year can bring on a full range of emotions and moods. Take heart, there’s a wine for that!
Looking for recommendations for any of the Mood Wines above? Check out the Cuvee Pinterest board Wines for Every Occasion! Cheers!
View from the Top: Marketing Lessons from the Virginia Wine Summit
As another year comes to a close, it’s only natural to contemplate the past twelve months, mentally unpacking the highs and lows; reflecting on what worked well, and what did not. What are the accomplishments of the last year, and how can remaining goals be achieved in the next? For Virginia Wine, this year was one for the record books. In 2014, Virginia was praised by Food & Wine Magazine’s Ray Isle, explored by celebrity chef Jose Andres, and the focus of the entire travel section of The Washington Post. But that was just the beginning.
With more than 20 wineries added to the roster this year, Virginia isgetting noticed; both as a wine destination, and as a new challenger in the ring with the world’s best wines. But how do we capitalize on this momentum? How do we make sure Virginia’s wines out-compete the best from other “lesser-known” regions, like New York and Texas, to claim coveted spots on restaurant wine lists and in online shopping carts across the country? At this year’s Virginia Wine Summit, marketing was a pervasive element of larger conversations about what is working well, and what isn’t. The topic of marketing permeated discussions on expanding grape production, industry best practices, and the branding of Virginia wine.
If you missed the Summit, or are looking for a refresher going into 2015, here are my top five marketing insights from this year’s event:
- Winemakers and winery owners need to tell their story.
It’s clear that winemakers and winery owners play a critical role in wine marketing; each one has a unique story to tell, and if you package it properly, it will sell. Customers engage in more than just the wine; they want to understand the back story, get increased access that others don’t, and feel like they’re a part of the inner circle (hello, Social Media!).
- PR is worth its weight in gold.
People are tapping into new wine regions and intel every day, and interested imbibers are willing to pay for shipping just to try the hot new recommended wines. Get your wines into print (or video) and you will attract new brand ambassadors and fans. Done and done.
- Virginia doesn’t need a signature grape, it needs to keep doing what it’s good at.
There’s been a lot of talk about Viognier ever since the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office designed a marketing campaign promoting “Virginia’s Signature Grape.” There’s no question that Virginia produces a number of excellent Viogniers and that this grape is wrapped in an extra layer of intrigue because it’s not particularly well known among casual wine consumers.
The overall consensus at the Summit, however, was that Virginia is tapping into a number of interesting grape varieties, and stands to benefit from such exploration, building a diverse portfolio of spectacular wines rather than demonstrating a range in quality for one particular grape. Instead of honing in on one grape variety to create its signature character, winemakers are growing what works well for them, including Petit Manseng, Tannat, Petit Verdot, and even Albariño. Virginia will build its reputation for quality on many different grape varietals, so from a marketing perspective, sing the praises of what you’re good at, whether or not it’s Viognier.
- If you’re not on Social Media, you’re missing out.
Social is as social does. Let’s face it: social media has changed the way we do business, and that includes the wine industry. Customers expect to reach the brands they like and support when it’s convenient for them, whether voicing a complaint, asking a question, or providing positive feedback. It’s critical to be where your customers are in order to listen, interact, and learn from them. An incredible 65% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on feedback from their peers on social media, and 77% of consumers in a recent Forbes study said they are more likely to buy a product from a brand that is active on social media.
With social staples like DrinkWhatULike’s Virginia Wine Chat on Twitter, and VirginiaWine.org’s Virginia Wine Month, it can be hard to know where to spend your time, but with 82% of consumers indicating they gravitate to businesses that are active on social media, you simply cannot afford to be absent.
- If you build it, they will come (your brand, that is).
Here’s the catch: your brand isn’t going to build itself. And as much as you might like to lean on the Virginia wine brand built by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office and VirginiaWine.Org, your brand needs to be separate and distinct, because you need to tell your story (did you read #1?).
Think of one product or company you really love. Now think about their color scheme, logo, style, and what they stand for. Did they have to tell you these things directly? Most likely not. That’s called branding, and a strong brand will confirm your credibility, connect your target audiences on an emotional level, inspire loyalty, and motivate them to buy from you. But it won’t build itself. The battle for imbibers in the Virginia Wine industry is growing stronger every day, and a strong brand will help you connect with them and make you memorable.
So there you have it! The Virginia wine industry had a year that would make Jefferson proud. Here’s to tremendous success, both present and future. Cheers!
Recently, the Washington Post took the time to explore the wine region in its own backyard. The entire travel section was devoted to eating, tasting, playing, and staying in Virginia wine country. One article in particular was focused on the culinary and viticultural bounty of the Charlottesville area. With numerous recent articles touting Charlottesville as one of America’s best cities for food and wine, the historical home of Jefferson and America’s winegrowing efforts has become a mecca for foodies and oenophiles alike. So, it goes without saying that the author probably couldn’t pack everything into one quick weekend jaunt through town. It seems to be her bias, however, and not Father Time that kept her from one of Charlottesville’s gems.
After taking in some of the rich history in the area, the author gets back to the business of tasting through Virginia’s wine country. It’s at this point that she muses, “[Blenheim Vineyards] is just up the road from Trump Winery. We’ve elected to skip the latter, put off by the large gold-leaf “T” on the sign at the entrance. By contrast, the sign for Blenheim is so small and plain, it’s easy to miss the turnoff.” Now to be fair, when most of us hear the name “Trump” it probably conjures images of opulence and bad toupees, but Trump Winery is under the tutelage of Donald’s son, Eric Trump. Eric’s done a tremendous job bringing Trump’s signature customer service to Charlottesville, while preserving the understated elegance and charm of Virginia Wine Country.
The Trump Winery tasting room is nestled among the estate’s 1300 acres of grapevines and tree groves. The cozy space is full of natural light and dark wood, with the square shaped tasting bar drawing attention to the center of the room. Beyond the tasting bar, the room opens to a spacious stone terrace with additional room for tasting, and various alcoves for lounging and sipping on your favorite Trump wine.
You may just find more than one favorite at Trump, too. Sparkling roots run deep on this property, having been planted by Patricia Kluge in 1999. These sparkling wines have won numerous competitions and accolades, including the 2008 SP Rosé which claimed a coveted spot in the 2013 Governor’s Cup Case. Trump offers more than just the light and bright, however. The 2012 New World Reserve is a beautiful, complex Bordeaux blend worthy of a gourmet meal or a cozy spot in front of a fire. If you’re craving something a little stronger, indulge in Trump’s Cru: a fortified chardonnay aged in bourbon barrels for more than 12 months. It makes a killer hot toddy or spiked/spiced apple cider.
Overall, Trump Winery provides a spectacular tasting experience in a beautiful corner of Virginia wine country; one that people (like the Washington Post journalist mentioned above) might miss because of preconceived notions about its owner. To avoid missing out, I invite you to Trump it.