Hoarding Souvenir Wineglasses

It doesn’t matter whether you drink from 50-cent water glasses or $100-a-pop fine crystal  – if you love the grape, then you have a stash of souvenir wineglasses.

 

 

I’ve collected these over the years, starting long before I actually knew anything about wine. I don’t need the glasses, don’t even drink from most of them. I have a cupboard full of divine Riedels and Marquis by Waterford that I use every day.

Yet I keep these, I think because they remind me of good times with good friends. That stemmed glass in the back row with the big “2” is from 2 Lads Winery on Mission Peninsula in northern Michigan. I was there with my sister Margie sometime in the last century, shortly after the winery opened. We drank our way up Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, stopping at any winery with a pretty lake view (which was most of them).

Another sister trip got me the beer glass in the upper righthand corner. I was with my sister Carol in Dubrovnik. It was hot that day and we exhausted ourselves shopping, so we stopped at a sidewalk café for a cold glass (or two) of pivo. I remember having to practically drag her away because she couldn’t stop staring at our handsome waiter.

The stemmed glass in the upper left corner is from the annual tasting fundraiser for the International Women’s Air and Space Museum on Cleveland’s waterfront. It’s a small affair, as tastings go, so it’s an easy evening for strolling and talking. I never miss it. Last year they switched to the small stemless glass, second from left in the front row. I brought the stemless, ridge-bottom glass in the corner from the Island Wine Festival at rowdy Put-in-Bay. It was my friend Anne’s maiden voyage on the Miller Ferry to the Lake Erie Islands  – how could that be, I wondered, when she’s lived here all her life? – and she was smitten.

The tall water bottle from Livermore Valley in California isn’t a wineglass, but it says, “Live a little more” – how could I toss away that cheery message? Livermore was one of the excursions offered at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi; this year we’ll meet in Walla Walla, Washington, and I know I’ll snag at least one good glass there, too. I might even drink from it while I’m there (twist my arm).

Wine Lingo:  Avvinare i bicchieri = an Italian wineglass custom. Clean glasses aren’t ready to drink from until the server pours a little wine into the glass, swirls it, then tosses out the used wine. Then the glass is ready. Author Karen MacNeil, in The Wine Bible, called it a “baptism of sorts.”

Bervini Rose

Vino ‘View:  I took half a dozen photos of this bottle, trying to capture its gorgeous salmon color. We’ve had a few warm days here in the northern states – our harbinger of spring – and they sparked my taste for a nice rosé. This is Bervini 1955 NV Spumante Extra Dry Rosé (11 percent alcohol, $17.99), a sparkling wine that tastes as pretty as it looks, filling my mouth with red berry flavor, floral notes and plenty of tingly acidity. The bubbles  come fast and tiny, making it even more elegant. Bervini rosé is a blend of Glera, best known as the white grape that produces Prosecco (no surprise, since the vineyards border the Prosecco region of Italy) and Raboso, a red grape that adds backbone, color and some tannins to the more demure Glera. I drank it before a salmon salad dinner (a nod to the wine’s color) with a berry vinaigrette and just a bit of blue cheese.

[The Bervini 1955 NV Spumante Rosé was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

Advertisements

No Whining About Wining Today!

We’ve celebrated Zinfandel Day, Carmenere Day, Chardonnay Day and a dozen more dedicated wine days – and when the holiday-makers ran out of grapes they wanted to salute, I guess they just decided to drink.

Hence a wine lover’s favorite day: National Drink Wine Day, February 18, designed to help us “embrace the positive benefits” of vino (as if we weren’t good at that already).

Vinitaly med.

[Fans of the grape, tasting at Vinitaly 2017 in Verona, Italy.]

Alaska Airlines will mark the day in a big way: in addition to offering a free glass of wine on most flights Sunday, they’re expanding their super-cool “Wine Flies Free” program. If you haven’t taken advantage of the program, get familiar with it – on flights departing from a long list of cities in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho, you can take home a case of wine as checked baggage, free of charge. You have to sign up for their mileage plan before you fly, and the offer is ongoing – not limited to Drink Wine Day – on Alaska and their partners Horizon Air and SkyWest.

You can find other special events and discounts Sunday, too, from Miami to Malibu, so Google your town and see what’s being offered. I started my celebration last night, when

Zweigelt

The Niece And Nephew brought me this bottle of this 2013 Hiller Pulkau-Austria Zweigelt, one of my favorite Big Sexy Reds. It was plummy, a little dusty and went down beautifully with our chicken-pesto pasta.

This morning I saw a survey by National Today, an organization that tracks the “cultural calendar,” that said almost 75 percent of Americans believe two glasses of wine is enough for one day. That fits perfectly into my Weight Watchers plan. With zero carbs, zero fat, 125 calories and four “points,” I can drink two glasses without guilt. Fewer than 10 percent of people, National Today learned, drink five or more glasses in one sitting – and thank goodness, because if they pour that much down their gullets, they’re probably also foolish enough to drive in that condition.

More stats that fascinate me: 3 percent of people say they always cry when they drink wine. (Me, I cry when I finish that second glass because I have to cut myself off.) And a whopping 24 percent think a $15 bottle is a splurge. I believe it; there’s so much good wine on the shelves at bargain prices, winemakers and sellers are no doubt paying attention to that trend.

But here’s my favorite factoid: a 40-year study by Harvard researchers found that middle-aged men who drink red wine are less likely to experience erectile dysfunction than those who drink white, or none at all. (Yee-ha! Have another glass, gentlemen!)

National Drink Wine Day is always on February 18 – a Sunday this year, and for most of us, the next day is a work day. Will that keep us from over-indulging? Or will thousands of wine lovers call in sick Monday?

Here’s my suggestion; you’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: for each glass of wine you drink, sip a glass of water. You’ll slow down your drinking and avoid a hangover. I know, keeping that water glass going is a pain. But you’ll thank me in the morning.

Wine Lingo:  Anthocyanins = chemical compounds that give grapes their red, blue or purple color. They’re why red wine is red.

German Pinot Blanc small

Vino ‘View: Drink Wine Day doesn’t mean we should drink only reds! Since it’s winter, this crisp, spicy Dr. Heger Pinot Blanc 2015 (13 percent alcohol, $19.99) will warm you up a little. It’s a Qualitätswein (“quality wine from a designated region”) from the Kaiserstuhl district, reportedly one of the warmest areas of Germany. That accounts for its apple and citrus aromas, and the honeydew I tasted – but without sweetness. This is a light Weissburgunder (the German word for Pinot Blanc) with plenty of mineralogy and just enough alcohol to feel cozy.

[Dr. Heger Pinot Blanc 2015 was sent to Big Sexy Reds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary 

Are You a Seasonal Drinker?

Until April, you’ll find me burrowed under blankets with my winter tonic in hand. That could mean a Big Sexy Red – preferably at least 14 percent alcohol – but more often I reach for a more bracing drink: bourbon, rye, a nice sipping rum, brandy or grappa. Something distilled, please.

Me.rye.medium

Scientists say I’m not alone, but they don’t agree on the reason we change drinks with the seasons. Some claim seasonal drinking is triggered by changes in temperature and precipitation, others believe it’s a social curiosity.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an early-winter pattern of over-indulging during the holiday season, then a pause when we make our New Year’s resolutions to cut back on the booze. They even have a name for it: the “January effect.” (The spirits industry probably doesn’t mind; they earn more than 25 percent of their profits between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.)

Another study found people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) sometimes drink more in winter as treatment for their sunshine deficiency, resulting in an alcohol-induced depression. One more possibility: there could be a genetic link between drinking and seasonality.

But you can’t broad-brush these findings. For instance, college students’ breath alcohol levels are reportedly higher in spring and winter – so why do they drink less in the fall, when you’d expect they would be kicking up their heels?

Apparently, location matters, too, but results still are puzzling. A study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation found that Swiss men drink more and cause more alcohol-related accidents on summer weekdays, but not on weekends. In Australia, drinkers cut back on beer in winter and drink more red and fortified wines. In fact, their red wine sales spike more than 33 percent between July and September when it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. I would expect a small increase in red-wine sales, but 33 percent?

If your “January effect” is about spirits, this also is flu season, and fans of the hard stuff know that one of the most soothing remedies is a simple hot toddy. Just steep two tea bags in a cup and a half of boiling water (about 5 minutes), then add lemon and honey. Pour two ounces of bourbon in a mug and pour the tea over it. You’ll feel better, just a little, in an hour.

Wine Lingo:  Solera system (used in producing the rums reviewed, below) = a fractional blending process that involves stacking casks of wine or spirits with the youngest at the top. Periodically, some of the newest wine is poured into the row of casks below it, while some of the wine from that cask is transferred to the next row down, and so on. Only wine from the oldest/bottom batch is bottled, and fresh wine replenishes the wine in the top batch so every bottle is a blend of old and new. The solera system traditionally is used in producing sherry and Madeira, but often with other wines and spirits as well.

Papa Pilar rum small

Vino ‘View:  If I didn’t tell you that Papa’s Pilar (86 proof; Dark $39.99, Blonde $29.99) was rum, you’d think you were sipping quality brandy. Sourced from various locations across the Caribbean and Central America, these rums are solera-blended and aged in sherry and Port casks. The dark version is full and smooth, tasting of plums, pecans, unsweetened chocolate and allspice, with a bit of dry sherry on the finish. The blonde is a tropical surprise; grapefruit competes with orange peel, cantaloupe mixes with lemon bar, and it’s another super-smooth number. I wouldn’t mix these rums even with a splash of water; the alcohol level isn’t so high that you’d need to dilute them. Add an ice cube and relish the refined taste.

[Papa’s Pilar Rums were sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

How Wine Writers Have Fun at Work

Are we having fun yet? We should be, since it’s Fun at Work Day. Let’s get this party started!

Actually, my good time started earlier this week, when I reached 2,000 Instagram followers! It takes some time and attention to keep that number inching up, but scrolling

Instagram thanks

through hundreds of new photos is one of my favorite ways to spend an hour or two. I’m impressed every day at the quality of others’ images – who knew martinis and wine photos could be so creative? It’s downright inspiring – and if you’re not following me, I invite you to check out my feed; I’m @BigSexyReds (of course).

Some folks claim that Fun at Work Day actually is January 28, but since that falls on a Sunday this year, there’s no way working on that day would be fun. I’m in the group that observes it on the last Friday in January.

Every day at work brings little thrills, doesn’t it? Since I work from a home office, my “fun” often arrives in my email. This morning, for instance, someone offered me a job working as a “tax professional” – obviously sent by someone who’s never seen the mess that is my checkbook, which hasn’t been balanced since I opened my checking account. Another email came from a man (I suppose) who insists he “will be glad to reacquaint with you, you are exceptionally beautiful and alluring.” I needed a shower after reading that one.

Today’s best email, though, is confirmation that I’m headed to Italy in April for a week of touring grappa distilleries! You might recall my post last April when I waxed on about grappa, after I tasted it at the gorgeous Ferrari winery in Trentino, Italy. This trip will be a tasting-and-learning trip across northern Italy – stay tuned for more details and plenty of photos!

Wine Lingo:  Grappa di monovitigno = grappa that’s made from just one grape variety, rather than a blend. Some consider grappa di monovitigno a finer drink than that made from several varieties because it can impart the aroma and taste of the specific grape.

Ruggeri Prosecco

Vino ‘View: Reaching 2,000 Instagram followers calls for a celebration, and that means it’s time to reach for something bubbly! This time I selected Ruggeri Argeo Prosecco D.O.C. Brut ($15-$25, 11 percent alcohol), produced in Treviso, just north of Venice. The wine is both floral and fruity, harmonizing with a crispy, fizzy acidity. Immediately I got a golden apple aroma that came back in the taste, along with subtle honeydew and orange. This light sparkler paired perfectly with my smoked salmon on crackers. 

[The Ruggeri Prosecco was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

Raise a Glass: Toasting 101

Everyone I know drank to someone’s health (or prosperity, or a new job, or world peace) in the last two weeks – but did we do it correctly?

Toast medium

[Photo, “Toast to 2012,” courtesy of Hakee Chang via Flickr]

We’ve been practicing long enough that we should be able to get it right by now. People toasted each other as early as the 1st century BCE, when Roman citizens were required to drink to the health of Emperor Augustus at every meal. In A Gentleman’s Guide to Toastingauthor David Fulmer writes that people continued toasting into the Middle Ages, but they weren’t exactly singing each others’ praises: back then, poison was a common means of getting rid of enemies, so people poured a bit of wine into their rivals’ glasses to prove the wine hadn’t been poisoned. Drinkers who trusted each other skipped the tasting part and just clinked glasses; some historians claim the clinking noise chased away evil spirits.

The word “toast” may have evolved from Elizabethan times, when ale houses placed a piece of spiced toast in glasses to flavor drinks. The toast also supposedly soaked up the dregs. By the early 1700s, a toast came to mean “a sentiment expressed just before drinking to someone.”

We all get pressed into toasting duty eventually. When your turn comes, drinking etiquette experts (yes, some people actually specialize in booze manners) offer these pointers:

  • Before you speak, get the group’s attention – don’t begin your toast while people are talking – and make sure everyone has a glass. Include teetotalers; they can toast with water or soda.
  • Raise your glass to eye level, make eye contact and begin your toast. Keep it to two or three sentences. Don’t wax on.
  • Your toast should be appropriate to the occasion. Don’t mention dead people at a festive celebration or be too casual at a formal or serious event.
  • Don’t begin your toast with a story about yourself. Sorry, but nobody cares.
  • Don’t use a script – surely you can remember three sentences.
  • Make it original. Resist the temptation to include clichés; they’re cop-outs.
  • And even if you’re the biggest potty-mouth in the room, don’t curse during a toast. Never, never, never.

Wine Lingo:  Punt = the indentation at the bottom of a bottle of sparkling wine. The punt has a practical purpose: during production, six “atmospheres” of pressure, or up to 90 pounds per square inch, build up inside the bottle. That’s more than twice the air pressure in a car tire, and the reason why you enjoy up to 100 million bubbles in each bottle. The punt helps to distribute that pressure. Other wine bottles sometimes feature punts as well.

Yarden Blanc de Blancs

Vino ‘View: I toasted a lot this season, and the best glass I raised was 2009 Yarden Blanc de Blancs (12 percent alcohol, $30.99). This Israeli sparkler from Galilee is produced by the traditional method and aged at least four years. The bubbles were fine and aggressive, just the way I like them. Yarden is known for its sparkling wines and this one delivers medium body with a surprising mix of crisp citrus and tropical tastes on top of homemade bread. Orange and honeydew melon were the prominent and lingering flavors, with a touch of grapefruit. This vintage will keep another two years; Yarden bubbly generally can age for a decade.

[The Yarden Blanc de Blancs was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

Classy Gifts for Wine Lovers

Once again, I’ve put off my holiday shopping until the last minute. It’s cold, it’s snowing and I don’t want to leave the house.

Fortunately, Santa has a laptop now, so we can all pour ourselves a glass of our favorite Big Sexy Red (or white, or hooch) and get our shopping done online. Here’s a list that any wine lover (which is pretty much everyone I know) can cozy up with:

 

 

The Aervana Aerator – $99.95 (left photo, above) might be my favorite wine toy. It aerates your wine instantly; gently press the button and your wine is on tap. Sediment stays at the bottom of the bottle, not in your glass, and you’ll never spill a drop. It takes six AAA batteries to operate, but thank you Santa, they’re included with the aerator. Use this gadget in front of your friends and it’s guaranteed to send your cool factor through the roof. Also available at Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond.

We’ve all known the heartbreak of dropping a bottle of wine on the sidewalk and watching our precious liquid spill onto the sidewalk. You can prevent those sad accidents with the Bottle Shock Wine Case –  $159, 2-bottle case; 179, 3-bottle case (center), a crush-resistant, gasket-sealed tote. It’s sturdy enough to be checked baggage, but I find it most handy when I’m taking several bottles to a friend’s house and don’t want to risk breaking them. The dense foam will protect your wine – trust me, those bottles aren’t moving – and the strap even has a small pouch for stashing a corkscrew.

I’ve tried a lot of drying cloths, but none have dried my glasses as fast and completely as the Wu-beez – $7.95 or $9.95/pack of two (photo on right). They leave behind no streaks or lint, and dry my best glasses with one swipe. If you’re giving wineglasses, stuff some cloths into the glasses to complete your gift.

 

For the wine lover who travels, the VinGarde Valise – $299.99 (photo on left) is a splurge but worth every penny. The super-dense foam inserts fit up to a dozen wine bottles safely – and by safely, I mean you can feel confident checking the bag; your wine will arrive at its destination in perfect condition, and under the 50-pound weight limit. I’ve carried wine home from Sonoma and Italy in this lightweight, indestructible suitcase. Extra foam sheets and straps constructed with auto seatbelt material secure the wine, and you can order extra inserts shaped for carrying wineglasses or magnums. VinGarde Valise is also available on Amazon.

Once you’ve drank wine from fine crystal, you’ll never go back to clunky glasses – but honestly, PubWare – $49.99/set of 4 (center) is different. It has the weight of glass and the rim is thin on your lips, just like a quality wineglass, but PubWare is unbreakable. It’s not plastic, exactly, but these stemless, 12-ounce glasses are PBA-free. PubWare also is available in flutes and other shapes. The best part: until December 31, the glasses are on sale for 25 percent off ($37.49/set of 4) with free shipping, so if you expect gift-giving occasions next year, it’s a good idea to pounce on these now.

Lastly, I think the RePour – $8.99, 4-pack; $16.99, 10-pack (right) makes a great stocking stuffer. These stoppers save leftover wine by eliminating all the oxygen in the bottle, thereby preventing the wine from degrading. The manufacturers claim the wine will stay fresh for months; I can’t test that part because I can’t imagine not finishing a bottle for that long. But if you have an expensive bottle and want to save some for a special occasion coming up in a few weeks, these stoppers should preserve it for you.

Happy shopping!

Mary

My Top 10 Wines & Spirits in 2017

As you might guess, I enjoy an adult beverage (or two) pretty much every day. That adds up to a lot of different wines and spirits. Selecting 10 favorites was a challenge – but holy Zinfandel, was the research fun!

These bottles range in price from super-affordable to impress-the-boss splurge, but none are ridiculously pricey. Any would make superb holiday gifts.

In no particular order, these are my 2017 picks:

 

 

  • When I served Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (40 proof, $38) to a few friends, none of them knew they were sipping rum – they thought it tasted like brandy or a honey-infused bourbon. That’s not too far-fetched, since this Venezuelan beauty is aged for up to 12 years in bourbon barrels. Long aging bestows elegance on a fine rum; this one carries notes of fennel, caramel, oak and corn. I wouldn’t mix Diplomatico – savor it neat or cool it with one ice cube.
  • If you haven’t tried reds from northern Italy, the 2016 Colterenzio St. Magdalener, DOC Alto Adige (12.5 percent alcohol, $14) is a good introduction. Its vegetable tone is delicious, tinged with parsley and, as it rests, tea and black cherries. It’s a bit stony, and the ashy aroma continues into the taste with milk chocolate and smoke in the finish. If you don’t like tannins, you’ll love this wine, but keep it for a year or two before you crack the bottle.
  • I drank my 2014 Yarden Malbec (14.5 percent alcohol, $32.99) while I munched on olives, cheese and pepperoni – a typical lazy supper for moi – and it held up beautifully. This Israeli wine, produced in the Golan Heights in Galilee, is a real Big Sexy Red – plums and smoke aroma, followed by bacon, blackberries and a bit of dark raisin tastes. It reminded me of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered shortbread stars, but with heat.
  • Whenever I see Zweigelt, I buy it because it’s not that common in the U.S., but I had never tried a Zweigelt rosé. Earlier this year, a friend gave me a bottle of 2015 Josef & Philipp Bründlmayer Grafenegg Rosé vom Zweigelt (12 percent alcohol, $50) and I’m on a mission to find more. Although Zweigelt is a relatively obscure grape in the U.S. it’s actually the most-planted red in Austria. The soft salmon-colored wine is a high-acid gem – “almost fizzy,” my friend said – but creamy and earthy at the same time.

 

 

 

  •  Pinot Noir isn’t always a big-bold red, but the 2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir       Carneros (13.5 percent alcohol, $27) is almost chewy, and dark like a California tan. I got an aroma of dark grapes, blackberries and a bit of turkey sausage (and I mean that in a good way). Add black pepper, raspberries, plums, bell peppers and pomegranate on the palate – a well-ordered structure with smoke and mocha on the finish.
  • I discovered Hanson of Sonoma Small Batch Cucumber Flavored Vodka (80 proof, $26) on a trip to Sonoma last spring and when I returned in November, I brought home two bottles. Don’t let the “flavored” deter you; these certified organic artisan distillers infuse their grape-based vodkas with real produce, and you won’t be drinking a cucumber salad – that taste is barely a kiss. It’s only distributed on the West Coast, but I found it online at MissionLiquor.com. Shipping cost for one bottle is exorbitant, but if you buy three or more it gets reasonable.
  •  One of the hottest wine regions these days is Eastern Europe, and 2015 Patricius Tokaj Dry Furmint (12 percent alcohol, $15) is a great example of the quality wines produced there. Tokaj in Hungary is the world’s first designated wine appellation, and Furmint, one of its most abundant white grapes, is used for making both sweet and dry wines. This one is as dry as wine gets – zesty, fresh, with strong minerality and stone fruit flavors, along with a touch of pineapple and banana.

 

 

 

  • I haven’t tasted every rye in the world, but Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (90 proof, $49.99) is the best I’ve tried. Developed by Wild Turkey’s master distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s one smooth drink. The tastes are a delicious blend of toffee, rye, pecan and cinnamon – and don’t you dare mix it; this is a fine sipping rye. Just make sure it’s labeled “6 Year Old,” because the regular Russell’s Reserve Rye is 104 proof and not nearly as refined-tasting.
  • Casal Thaulero’s 2009 Thalé Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (14 percent alcohol, $40) is that special-occasion bottle you set aside – but just for a short while, because it’s at its peak now. After aromas of red fruit and vanilla, expect a big, bold mouthfeel and tastes of maple, pumpkin spice and dry leaves – perfect for fall and winter drinking.
  • It’s probably not fair for me to include this bottle because a friend bought it in Italy, but Limoncello is my favorite digestivo and always makes a great gift. It’s traditionally made with Sorrento lemons in southern Italy, but I’ve come across some terrific limoncello produced here in the U.S., too. Get recommendations from your liquor merchant; the best limoncello is sweet enough that you know you’re drinking liqueur, but not cloying; and tart but not bitter. Like any fine liquor, it should be smooth and balanced. You can find quality limoncello for less than $40.

Bonus picks – Three choice drinks didn’t make the list: Ferrari Grappa Segnana Solera, omitted only because it’s not distributed in the U.S. (but worth ordering online if you can find it); OYO Bourbon Whiskey, Michelone Reserve, distributed only in eight states but also available online; and Maker’s 46, a great option when you want a not-ordinary bourbon to sip by the fire. All three are in my cabinet…So many bottles, so little time!

Next up – uncommon, last-minute wine gifts for any wine lover – or treat yourself!

Cheers,

Mary