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

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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

Grappa – Your New (Very Old) Brandy

When I started learning about wine and spirits, I was told grappa was more or less the garbage of the liquor world. There is a sliver of truth in that bias; after all, it’s distilled from pomace – seeds, stalks, skins and pulp, the parts of the grape most winemakers throw away.

But there the similarity ends. I tasted some fine grappa last week as part of the American delegation touring wineries in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. (I won’t rub it in too much about the Italy thing,  but I’ll share more about it in the coming weeks.)  For my money, discovering grappa was a highlight of the trip.

IMG_0541[Jamie Stewart, brand manager of Cantine Ferrari Trento, with a few of the winery’s 19th-century gadgets.]

Typically a digestivo, or after-dinner drink (because it’s believed to be good for digestion), grappa is today’s spirits trend, made by more than 100 producers and selling about 40 million bottles a year, though it’s been produced since the Middle Ages. Back then it was an easy, cheap way for farmers and vineyard workers to warm up.

Some classify grappa as an eau-de-vie – and in France, brandy distilled from grape pomace is called eau-de-vie de marc (pronounced “mar”). Other sources say eau-de-vie refers to brandy made from raw materials other than grapes.

Some producers distill their grappa in pot stills or column stills, but others use steam distillation, believing a direct flame could burn the pomace. The drink can be produced from one grape variety or a blend; single-variety grappa (at least 85 percent one variety) is sometimes called monovitigno. And it comes with requirements: fermentation and distillation must happen on the pomace with no added water. The stems in pomace can create small quantities of toxic methanol that must be removed, so Italian law prohibits grappa from being produced in a winery – distillation must take place in a separate facility. And in the EU (European Union), it can only be labeled “grappa” if it’s produced in Italy or San Marino, a tiny republic surrounded by the mountains of north-central Italy. But craft distillers in the US, who aren’t restricted by those labeling laws, are starting to produce some fine artisanal pomace brandies and labeling them as grappa.

The grappa I sampled, reviewed below, was produced by the Ferrari group (no relation to the car, though their wines are just as elegant) in Trentodoc, the cartel of sparkling wine producers in Trentino. You’ll notice it’s caramel-colored. When grappa is stored in glass or other “inactive” materials before bottling, it’s a clear spirit like vodka. Aging it in wooden casks gives it color; if it’s called Vecchia or Invecchiata it was aged for at least 12 months in wood. Grappa labeled Riserva or Stravecchia aged in wood for at least 18 months. My grappa underwent a fractional aging/blending process called a solera system.

Sip your grappa slowly, from a small glass – it can be potent stuff. And look at the alcohol content on the label before you buy; mine is a smooth 84 proof but you can find it lighter – or as raw as throat-scarring 120 proof.

IMG_0543Vino ‘View:  Grappa Segnana Solera Selezione (42 percent alc., about $40 US) After I was treated to a taste of this sublime spirit I couldn’t pull out my wallet fast enough; I had to take a bottle home. Made of 60 percent Pinot Nero and 40 percent Chardonnay, it blends five vintages in a solera process: some brandy from the oldest French oak barrels is bottled, then brandy from each vintage’s barrels tops off the next oldest, and the progressive blending continues each year. The barrels impart a roasted, vanilla, smoky flavor mixed with dark fruit and a long, fruity finish. Don’t look for Grappa Segnana on store shelves in the US; you’ll have to order it online. Google for the best price.

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Caffé Coretto (“corrected coffee”) = What you’ll drink if you add a shot of grappa to espresso. Or make it Resentin (“little rinser”) – drink your espresso first, then down a shot of grappa from the same cup.

Ciao!

Mary

Green Wine? Nope, Not Even for St. Patrick’s Day

We are, after all, BigSexyReds, not BigSexyGreens.

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Green beer is out of the question, too, because…well…it’s beer. So what else could we drink today? And why green, anyway?

Credit for our green mania goes to St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, born into nobility in about 387 A.D. (Most historians say he was born in “Roman England” or Scotland, but some sources claim he was born in Wales.) He was kidnapped by Irish pirates at 16 and lived as a slave in Gaelic Ireland, tending sheep until he escaped six years later.

St. Patrick later returned to Ireland as a missionary, and he’s said to have used the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, to illustrate the Holy Trinity to pagans interested in Christianity. The green symbolism never quite disappeared, and in the 1640s the Irish Confederation adopted a flag showing a golden harp on a green background. By the 1680s, people began wearing shamrocks and green ribbons to commemorate Irish independence.

The phrase, “the wearing of the green,” comes from a street ballad that honors supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Since then, we’ve associated the color green with Irish nationalism.

Not surprisingly, Irish stout is the most popular drink of the day. Beer lovers worldwide will down about 13 million pints of Guinness today – about 3 million of those pints in the U.S., where we usually drink just 600,000 pints.

But it’s a party, and if you want an alternative to beer, my pick would be green Chartreuse, the only liqueur in the world with a natural green color.

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Now, recommending Chartreuse comes with a caveat. You see, my dad ran a neighborhood pub when I was just out of college, and I worked weekends behind the bar. When friends would stop in, we’d sip green Chartreuse while we talked. And sure, it’s made by monks, so you’d like to think it brings a blessed experience. And it’s made with 130 herbs and flowers, so anything this botanical must be a healthy indulgence, right?

Wrong. The devil is in this stuff. Chartreuse is 110 proof, my friends. There’s a lot of alcohol in that emerald-green nectar, so watch it. And you’re not doing tequila shots here; don’t throw down shot after shot. Sip it icy-cold, in a fine crystal cordial glass if you can, and see how many of those 130 herbs and flowers you can identify.

But you’ll never know how many of them you identify correctly. Only two people in the world know the ingredients in Chartreuse, and they’re not talking.

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Pomace = the solids (skins, stems, pulp, seeds) left after grapes are pressed. Pomace often is distilled, transforming it into Grappa (Italy), Marc (France) or Eau-de-Vie (France and the U.S.).

Cheers!

Mary

[Photos courtesy of Dustin Gaffke and T Sea, via Flickr/Creative Commons]