Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Partisan Palette

The Ancient Romans had a saying that people should never mix politics and wine. It's more of a truism than a saying. There have been many a holiday dinner that has served as evidence of how this one simple rule can vastly improve your life. 

But these are not normal times. The oddness of our current political landscape - both outside and inside the Beltway - means it is next to impossible to keep politics separate from wine. Add the fact that our current president bought a Virginia winery that is now run by his family, and the climate is right to smash the two together and see what happens. That's what we decided to do recently with the support of Vanessa Moore of UnWined Virginia and her great staff of wine lovers. 

Given how polarizing President Trump is, we wanted to see what would happen if we got Democrats and Republicans in the same room and had them do several wine tasting flights - with each flight including at least one wine from the Trump Winery. Ultimately, there were two flights of three wines each. The first was comprised of sparkling wine and the second was of red Bordeaux-style blends. 


The full line-up once the wines were revealed. Like the election itself, Trump scored much better with the whites then with the blends

Our volunteers were first asked to taste the wines blind - meaning they could not see the labels of the wines - and write down their impressions. Next, they were asked to taste the wines with the labels exposed. Finally, we were going to reveal what the blind wines were and compare the taster's results. 

It was my hope that there would be a significant variance in scores once the wines were revealed. I envisioned the Democrats and left-leaning individuals  spitting out the Trump wines once they knew what they were drinking while the president's supporters would embrace them. 


Our esteemed panel discussing the wines

That, however, did not happen. Almost universally, the tasters scored the wines blind and exposed similarly, speaking to the general strengths and weaknesses of all the wines - including Trump's. The tasters, regardless of party affiliation, found the Trump sparkling wine "impressive," "enjoyable," "complex," and were, "impressed by it." The Trump red, meanwhile, was seen as, "cheap," "bland," "confused," and "made cheaply to taste expensive and failing." 


Vanessa Moore, standing at right, describing one of the wines
The Trump sparkling wine actually came out as the preferred sparkling wine. It was tasted alongside Schramsberg, one of the most well-respected sparkling producers in California and Canard-Duchene, an authentic French Champagne. 

The sparkling line-up. Trump was a crowd favorite.

As for the reds, it did not appeal to anyone. It was paired with Blue Rock Vineyard's Baby Blue Blend and Glen Manor Vineyard's red blend. Glen Manor produces one of the best reds in Virginia, and it was a very popular wine among the panel as well. Baby Blue also had its supporters. Nobody picked the Trump red as a favorite, and it was scored the lowest overall of all the wines tasted. 

The red line-up. The Trump red's approval rating was slightly lower than the President's.

The panel of tasters included both professionals including sommeliers, people who worked in wine stores, distributors, and enthusiasts comprised of casual wine drinkers, aficionados and those who wanted to see how the tasting played out. Of the tasters, slightly more were Democrats than Republicans, and none of the Republicans were supporters of President Trump. Several asked not to be included in photos or videos because they were federal employees or didn't want to be seen as either supporting or opposing the president. 

Despite the variance in personalities, professional backgrounds and wine knowledge, the tasting was very civil and even topics of politics were addressed respectfully. Not to draw universal conclusions from an event featuring only a dozen or so people, but it was at least affirming to know that Democrats and Republicans could share the same room and some wine without anybody needing to be rushed to the hospital. 

Being the son of liberal Democrats and being married to a traditional Republican (who is ardently not a Trump supporter), the Roman axiom not to mix politics and wine will continue to be enforced during the holidays, but it was refreshing to see what happened during this tasting. 



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Volunteers Needed for a Wine Tasting Next Week!

I am looking for volunteers to help with the extremely difficult task of drinking wine. 

This will be for a story that will appear in the Washington Post and for a series of stories that will appear right here on Beltway Bacchus. 

The task is to find half a dozen individuals who supported/support Donald Trump and half a dozen people who do not support the president to participate in a wine tasting. The tasting will include wines from Trump Winery as well as other Virginia and California selections. 

Tasters will first be asked to taste the wines blind (without seeing the label) and offer their opinions. They will then be asked to taste the wines with the labels showing to see how political bias affects the taste and appreciation of wine. 

If you are interested, please let me know. The tasting will be held at Unwined Virginia (1600-A Belle View Blvd. Alexandria, VA 22307) on Tuesday, June 6th at 6.30 pm. 

Anyone who is interested, please contact me offline, beltwaybacchus@gmail.com or @BeltwayBacchus and let me know if you are in the pro or anti Trump tasting camp. 

This should be a great, insightful and fun tasting. So much so that I am forgoing my usual adage that politics and wine should never be mixed for this one evening. 

I know there are some interested people out there, so please let me know!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wine Real Estate: Locations, Locations, Locations

Even without bringing the TTB, three-tier systems and the patchwork of state laws, regulations and statues that pertain to getting wine into the hands of consumers, wine laws around the world are a master course in Byzantine localism, politics and turf warfare. Bordeaux has strict laws over types of grapes, acerage yield, bottling requirements and a slew of other restrictions and regulations designed to make sure that a wine from Bordeaux tastes like... a wine from Bordeaux. Within the strict national laws implemented by the French government, there are regional battles. Margaux and St-Estephe vie for superiority - and since they are so tightly regulated in what they can grow, how they can grow it and how much they can produce - it is a pretty level playing field that comes down to the winemaker's skills, blending proportions and intangibles such as the terrior where the grapes were grown.

God help us all if we try to figure out the clash of clans that occurs over single hectare in Burgundy or the model of disfunction that is Italian wine classification...

This is not just an Old World wine problem either. While it is true that the restrictions on grape varietals, yields, etc., aren't as strict, in an utterly American way, pure economics dictates that certain grape varietals be grown in certain areas. The real estate in Napa Valley is far too expensive to fiddle around with things like Sangiovese, Tempernillo or even Pettit Verdot in anything but limited quantities. Cabernet Sauvignon is what people expect, can reap the highest price and is what people want. 

Ditto Syrah/Shiraz from Australia and Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina. 

Indeed much of the wine world's very educational mastery - and snobbery - comes from people who
have studied - and studied extensively - the nuances of the different wine growing regions, their soils, their histories and their grapes. 

Trying to capture the essence of a place: Locations Wines from California, Spain, France and Italy


So what would happen if these centuries of history, generations of winemaking traditions and decades of government regulation and economic incentives were thrown out the window? What if a winemaker could blend grapes and produce a wine not in the hyper-local tradition that wine is usually made in, but in an national sense? What would a French wine taste like that encompassed both Bordeaux and the Rhone? Could an Italian wine with grapes from both Piemonte and Puglia stand out as truly Italian? Ditto blending different regions of Spain, California or Oregon?

Leave it to winemaking superstar David Phinney of Orin Swift fame to find out. Phinney is well-known for his blends - The Prisoner perhaps being his most well-known and highly-rated. Add high praise from none other than Robert Parker, and you have the possibility of turning centuries of winemaking on its head.

That, at least, is what Phinney's new project Locations Wines aims to do. Thus far, I have tried the French and Spain blends. The French wine is a light to medium bodied red comprised of Grenache, Syrah and Bordeaux varietals from the Rhone, Rousssillon and Bordeaux.   


France in a bottle. 

It has hints of cranberry, strawberries and licorice, though lacks the characteristic earthy nose of some regional French wines. Giving the wine some time to breathe did open it up and add complexity to both the bouquet and flavor profile.

The Spanish Locations wine more accurately accomplished what Phinney and his talented team are striving to do: produce a wine indicative of a whole country. With such subtle and specific characteristics in Spanish wines - leather, earth, spice box, dried fruit and chocolate - that permeate the different growing regions, Locations nails it. All the smells I look for in a spanish wine were accounted for, all the flavors were accounted for, and the lingering aftertaste lasted just long enough for the wine to be memorable. It also did have a jammier mouthfeel than most Spanish wines, but that is forgiven based on all the other positive attributes.



A Spanish wine battling the windmills of winemaking tradition, laws and customs.


There are some other Locations wines I look forward to trying in the near future. The press materials for Locations Wines says that the driving force is to make wines that are Simple, Complex and Fun. The French wine was more on the "simple" side and the Spanish one was more on the "complex" side. Both were "fun" insomuch as I enjoyed drinking them. If Locations wines does aim to upend how wine is made, taught and enjoyed, then it certainly has its work cut out for itself. Still, there is something satisfying about trying something new - especially if it results in wines like these. 





Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Quick Observation on Virginia Wine

I have been away from writing about wine in general and Virginia wine in particular for a couple of years... Having two kids will do that to you. Not that you drink less wine, per se, just that you don't drink and appreciate wine like you can in pre-kid days. Now its more a race to finish a glass before falling asleep on the couch. My wife is a lucky woman, isn't she?

Now that I have picked the blog back up, what has been astonishing is the amount of quality wine and quality coverage coming out of Virginia. Just a few years ago, it seems, Virginia wine was a quirky local interest product at most wine stores - usually relegated to the back next to the jugs our up front next to the impulse buys. 

In these short years, however, Virginia wine has taken a spot among the more respectable wines from around the world. True, we are its home base, but go into any wine store in the DMV region and you will find a pretty prominent display of wines from Virginia. The closest wine shops to me - Red, White and Bleu, Swirl & Sip, UnWined and even Total Wine have all dedicated valuable shelf space to expanding their Virginia wine offerings. Whether this is a case of marketing, wanting to introduce Virginia wine to their customers, or consumer-driven demand, I don't know. But in a few short years, there has definately been a trend to offering more wines from Virginia - from multiple regions. 

From a press perspective, Virginia wines continue to hold their own. Outside of the local press and coverage of the Governor's Cup, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and Food and Wine have all written very favorable articles in the last few months about Virginia Wines. 

It's actually remarkable how far the industry has come since I was last paying attention to it. Wineries in Virginia now top $1 billion dollars in sales, attract over 2 million visitors and Virginia is now the fifth largest wine producing state in the country. Demand is growing and the quality of the wine continues to improve. Even in such highly charged, politically contentious times, it seems like everyone can agree that Virginia wine is having a much-deserved moment.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Law of the Land


Talk to anyone for any amount of time about Virginia wine and the name Jim Law inevitably gets mentioned. Founder of Linden Vineyards in Northern Virginia, Jim has been growing grapes and making wine since the early eighties. To put another way, in less than a decade after the Judgment of Paris that gave legitimacy to California wine, Jim decided to make a go of it in Virginia.

Since that time, Jim has developed a veritable coaching tree of Virginia winemakers that includes some of the best, brightest and most talented winemakers in the state - if not the country or the world. Jim Dolphin of Delaplane Cellars, Jeff White of Glen Manor Vineyards! Rutger de Vink of RdV Vineyards among many others got their start under Jim's tutelage before gaining recognitions for their wines in their own right.

Jim has developed a reputation - some would say a curmudgeonly one - for being constantly in pursuit of creating better and better wines. Eschewing the weddings, bachelorette  parties and bus tours that are becoming more and more common in Virginia - and provide wineries with both exposure and revenue - Jim maintains a modest tasting room, limited to small groups and dedicated almost entirely to the tasting experience rather than the total sensory one.
A locally-sourced Bordeaux-style wine in every respect. Will the day come when some wines are considered , "a Virginia-style blend?" Only time will tell.

Once someone tastes Linden's wine, you understand that Jim's single-minded focus pays off - and the knowledge he has passed on to other winemakers can only help the state as a whole.

Recently, we opened up a bottle of Linden's 2009 Claret -  Bordeaux-style blend consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere. Without knowing what the wine was, on smell alone, one could confuse the Claret for a wine from Bordeaux with the earth, spice and dried fruit dominant. The medium-bodied, ruby-hued blend demonstrates that more than being varietal-driven, Virginia's real promise comes in blends. Cinnamon, fig, spicebox and a little tobacco were noticeable and left you wanting to try another sip to see what else might lay in store.

While Jim Law doesn't need additional praise - having fans in both the Washington Post and the UK's Jancis Robinson, you can't help but become an admirer after trying some of his wine and be optimistic on what the future holds for Virginia's wine industry.

Monday, February 13, 2017

This Valentine's Day: Movies and Wine


Since tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and "Netflix and Chill" is a thing now, Vivino recently posted an article that pairs classic romantic movies with wine. 

If you haven't discovered Vivino, it's a game-changer as far as wine goes. It lets people photograph and "cellar" wines they have tried, offer great deals on rare, unique and compelling wines from around the world as well as a real sense of community and news for online wine lovers. Needless to say, I'm a fan. I am also a fan of many of the items in their "news" section. 

The clock is taking to make tomorrow special, or at least better than your average Tuesday... 

Thanks to Vivino and the two authors, Courtney Schiessl and Joel Caruso for their great recommendations. I hope you don't mind me lifting your suggestions. 

Top 10 Valentine's Day Movies + Wines to Match
People tend to overthink Valentine’s Day. And let’s be honest, there’s not much romance in an overpriced prix fixe menu at a packed restaurant or a frigid February carriage ride around a park. Cuddling up on the couch with your beloved, a bottle of wine, and a romantic film? Now that will get the sparks flying. And for those of you flying solo this year, we’ve got you covered too.

We teamed up with FandangoNOW to develop movie and wine date night pairings so perfect, they’ll melt your heart.
FandangoNOW asked several thousand film fans for their top picks for Valentine’s Day date night movies, and Vivino’s partner sommeliers Courtney Schiessl and Joel Caruso picked the wines to match, with a little “he said, she said” twist. Check out FandangoNOW’s full playlist of romantic classics to rent or buy on-demand, and read on for wine tasting notes.

Now just decide what Valentine’s mood you want to to set— from funny, to seductive, to tearjerking—and use our guide to pick the film and bottle (or two). As for dinner, takeout, of course! We’ve got wine ideas for that, too. You’ll be feeling the love and reciting your favorite lines from these classics in no time.

The Notebook + Moscato d’Asti
Courtney says: A date night viewing of The Notebook? Oh boy, things must be getting serious! This heart-fluttering classic needs a wine that’s also close to being sickeningly sweet, but ends up holding its own. Sweet but fresh Moscato d’Asti from northern Italy is just the thing, and while your date might not admit that he likes the wine OR the movie, I’ll bet you can catch him shedding a tear during the final scene.
Joel says: Do we have to? At least the wine is delicious. I only hope I go into a sugar coma before you catch me crying when they hold hands.

Pretty Woman + Malbec
Joel says: We all like dipping our toes in the fancy end of the pool. No movie speaks more to this desire for some of us than Pretty Woman. Is it Julia Robert’s incorrigible forthrightness, Richard Gere’s charm? It’s everything. This is a pairing that needs some sass; Malbec is sass in a glass. It doesn't care if it was invited to the party or not, it knows it will be the one everyone is talking about.
Courtney says: Sass in a glass? You know me so well. And after a few glasses, I may be ready to challenge Julia for that Rodeo Drive shopping spree.

Dirty Dancing + Tempranillo
Courtney says: Dirty Dancing was the first romance movie I ever saw. For me and most others, it will forever be a classic. Despite the fun going on behind closed doors, that staff definitely needed booze to get through family summer camp. Something lush, seductive, and sexy like Tempranillo from Rioja encapsulates all of that electricity between Johnny and Baby onstage (and at every other point, for that matter). Plus, by the end of the bottle, you and your date will think you’re really good dancers. Just don’t try the lift—safety first, of course.
Joel says: Ok, why not, for the 100th time. What if I tempted you with Crazy Stupid Love? Ryan Reynolds reenacting THE water scene with Emma Stone?!

Crazy Stupid Love + Gamay
Joel says: How do you match the quirky sexy chemistry of a movie so cocksure and aggravatingly self-aware? Keep it casual, fun, and the possibility of a future open. Gamay suits the bill perfectly. While easy enough for a one night stand, this grape shows it is capable of commitment, too. Beaujolais is the obvious choice, but more California producers are jumping on the wagon. We’re sure to see a rise in the popularity and staying power of this grape over the next handful of years. It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?
Courtney says: Swoons! If you were wondering about the way to a girl's heart, this is it. More of all of this always.

Titanic + Cabernet Sauvignon
Courtney says: No matter what James Cameron says, Jack and Rose definitely could have shared that door-raft. To get through this epic (and epically long) movie, reach for a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and channel warm thoughts to poor, freezing Jack. Who knows—enough wine might have kept the icicles away long enough for the rescue ship to arrive. Oh, farfetched hope that the ending will magically change, I’ll never let you go!
Joel says: Heavy. Heavy Heavy. Maybe if James Cameron wasn't so busy trying to fill his plot holes, I could get around this ending. That door was big enough for sure. Pour me a glass, Boo, I'm getting frustrated.

The Princess Bride + Merlot
Joel says: Something as classic as The Princess Bride calls for nothing less than a respectable noble variety like Merlot. A timeless film, light and heavy-hearted, this movie is brilliant, but it took most of the world years to accept it. Merlot has fought its fair share of popularity battles, but like a true classic, it isn't going anywhere and just keeps getting better. The movie strikes an impeccable balance between serious and fun, any good Merlot will do the same. “Farm-boy, fetch me that pitcher (of Merlot).”
Courtney says: I see your reasoning, but this choice might be a little dangerous, what with all of the spill-inducing outbursts of laughter. I hope you don't mind some Merlot on your couch as much as you'll mind me reciting the entire movie from memory.

Love Actually + Pinot Noir
Courtney says: Many have tried to replicate the perfection of Love Actually, but to this day, it remains the one and only truly great use of the iconic interwoven storylines model. The same goes for Pinot Noir; many try to imitate the one and only Burgundian Pinot Noir, but they never quite equals the original (to me, you are perfect). That doesn't mean that Pinot Noir from other areas isn't worth trying, of course; find a bottle that flows as seamlessly as these storylines do because who knows—the next great love story may be just around the corner.
Joel says: The storyline about the little drummer boy and his girlfriend gets me every time. Like a good Beaune, makes me want to cry happy tears.

Deadpool + Cabernet Franc
Joel says: Deadpool for date night? Did I win the lottery? What could you possibly pair with sarcastic wit and morbid hilariousness? Cabernet Franc comes to mind, with its underdog mindset and dominant presence. Made in all different styles all over the world, it's as unpredictable as Ryan Reynolds in that weird red zentai suit. We know it's red, we know it's a bit more lighthearted than its Cabernet Sauvignon counterpart, we know it's always entertaining, everything else is up in the air. At least we know we aren't going to have a bad time.
Courtney says: You picked one of my favorite wines to go along with one of my favorite guys, Ryan Reynolds. I'm definitely making it through this movie.

Silver Linings Playbook + Albariño
Courtney says: How can you not love the pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook? The movie is quirky and strange, but so fun and lovable at the same time—plus, dance scene! Albariño, an odd Spanish grape that’s found a corner of the white wine spotlight with its fresh and fun-loving nature, is a perfect fit. And while the family at the center of the plot favor beer over wine, they definitely would approve of Albariño's affordable price tag. Depending on how well you know your date, you may want to avoid the Cooper-inspired trash bag and sweatshirt outfit, though.
Joel says: Ok you got me. B-Coops and J-law? Not sure I could say no to either. Bring on the Spanish wine; this is going to be a good night!

50 Shades of Grey + Montepulciano
Joel says: Did date night just get really hot again? A wine pairing for a movie like this needs to be quite flexible and...accepting. For me, this screams Montepulciano. Much like Grey, these wines can be powerful, dominate, and a little intimidating at times, but the soft, approachable nature of the grape always shines through, alluring even the most innocent wine drinkers. Like Ana, they can seem meek at first, but the sensual depth and capacity might surprise you. With the capability of voluptuous, ripe fruit, dirty, sexy earth, and tantalizing floral elements, these wines will take you to places you never knew you liked.
Courtney says: This pairing is perfect because both Montepulciano and 50 Shades are things you may pretend not to like... but secretly can’t resist. I won't tell!


Courtney Schiessl is a Brooklyn-based sommelier, wine writer, and consultant. She is a full-time Sommelier at Marta in Manhattan and has spent time working the wine harvests in both Portugal and Bordeaux. Courtney will be spending Valentine's Day with Ryan Gosling (in her dreams) and a whole lot of delicious Champagne (in reality) but will consider better offers.
Joel Caruso is Beverage Director at Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, California. Joel has expertise and an appreciation for all things wine, beer, spirits, and hospitality. He is WSET level 3 certified and was named Orange County’s Best Bartender in 2015 by OC Weekly. Joel will be participating in Single’s Awareness Day by mixing wine cocktails for Orange County’s finest and hosting readings of his 50 Shades of Grey Montepulciano pairing.