What Gives Vino Its Veritas?

BOSTON, MA — “In Vino Veritas” doesn’t mean that wine contains some enduring, romantic, artistic truth. It means what we all know: when people drink wine, they talk. They speak truths they say they don’t mean, or at least don’t mean to say out loud. Wine’s active ingredient – alcohol – causes these slips, which is why it’s smart to keep your vino and your veritas far apart.

When we transform into talkative truth mode, we connect back to the specific physical transformative moment when grape juice turned into wine, when its sugar became alcohol, which is what makes this whole conversation possible.

Wine opens a great well of veritas, simultaneously freeing the tongue and focusing description on wine’s exotic flavors. On a biochemical level, this comes directly from the alcohol: one alcohol molecule plus one acid molecule equals one ester molecule, the thing in organic chemistry that makes everything aromatic and flavorful, from nail polish remover to honeydew to brown sugar.

New molecules can be so similar in structure to, just for instance, the honeydew ester that they’re sometimes instantly recognizable. What makes the language of wine a championship of imprecision and challenge is that these molecules aren’t identical, and what we try to talk about is a dimension or two beyond direct comparison. When you do it right, you can drink great wine in the here and now and bring the cosmos in at the same time.

Wine lovers still attribute wine to magic and call wines magical every day. The intervention of Dionysus (Bacchus in Rome) gives you the godly magic component you apparently need to make great wine. Every time I bow my head to put my nose into a glass of wine, I think how wine was once a god and even worshipers today are wine atheists.

There’s More To Life Than Wine, But Really, It’s Wine

BOSTON, MA — Wine lovers are always looking for an excuse to get wine into the conversation, even in the cocktail world. Vermouth is a kind of herb infused wine plus brandy blend, and that goes into a lot of classic cocktails, but wine itself as an ingredient is rare. Here’s the most basic recipe for a red wine cocktail. Feel free to substitute dry white wine or even your favorite dry rosé.

Cherry Old School

We call it an Old Fashioned because that’s exactly what it is, the very first cocktail: a little sugar water (sugar won’t really dissolve in whiskey) plus a little lemon juice, and your whiskey, of course. The good news is, sugar does dissolve in wine, so it’s a short walk to the red or white wine Old Fashioned. We made this one with Cerasuolo, a zippy bing cherry like red wine from Sicily.

2 oz Cerasuolo di Vittoria
1/2 tsp turbinado sugar
1 small sprig each: oregano, basil, and mint

Combine, shake 20 count, wait 20 count, repeat till the sugar dissolves, then let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Add 2 oz rye or corn whiskey and stir gently. Strain into a rocks glass over a giant hipster ice cube. Dash of bitters optional, since the fresh herbs contribute a lot of bitterness even steeping just a few minutes. Garnish with 1/8 spritzed lemon and a sprig of oregano.

2017 Baglio delle Fate Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Vittoria, Ragusa, southern Sicily, southern Italy, about $15.99)

After decades of toiling away in a kind of anonymous bulk wine purgatory, the wines of Sicily are finally having their moment in the sun. As tastes and trends go authentic, tracking after the natural / organic / sustainable niche, places where that kind of farming is easier to do have natural brand and product advantages.

Cerasuolo means cherry red, and a big bunch of bright tart cherry flavors form the first wave, followed by after flavors of rosemary, green tomato leaf, and black pepper. The color is light red and pretty, but the flavors are loud with the bass turned up.

DRINK WITH? Grilled meat is going to love this wine, but it’s light enough to go with a meaty grilled fish like tuna or swordfish. Saute up a pan full of mixed oil-cured olives for a perfect match too.

DRINK WHEN? This is one of those no-time-like-the-present wines. It will be fine to drink for five to seven years easily, but the thing I love about it right now is its freshness and youthfulness, which will settle a little over time. If you had two bottles, drank one now and saved one for January, the second bottle will remind you of summer.

PERFECT FOR? Buying wine for wine lovers can be a challenge, but this is going to be automatic for the Italian wine lover on your list.

What We Write About When We Write About Wine

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — First thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t write what you know. Go out into the great big world and find something new and interesting that you don’t know, that ideally no one knows. Discover it, figure it out, understand something about it, then explain it to other people in writing.
Do that once with anything like style, and congratulations, you’re a writer. Do that once on the topic of wine, and you’re a wine writer.

One of the main challenges of wine writing – as if there even are challenges and anyone anywhere cares about them – is resisting the urge to write about wine as a thing. It’s easy to do because wine is a thing, a wonderful thing, but the most interesting part of wine is not the concrete dimension, but the time churning experience of consuming a wine, having it be deliriously delicious for a moment and then gone forever.

I like the hands-on experience of schiste and loam as much as the next person – soils and weathers and growing conditions explain a lot – but as a wine reader, I want to know what it means more than what it is.

Limestone may well be soil composed of prehistoric sea shells and skeletons, so it’s high in calcium, which makes sense and is interesting on its own, but what’s that taste like in the glass? More importantly, do I like that flavor, and should I start asking for wines from high-calcium soil, or is asking that question going to be as epic a conversation killer as it seems destined to be?

Wine lovers rely on a lot of different sources to inform their wine selections: maybe your own taste or mood, often the people around you at any given table, sometimes a distant, accomplished expert. I like to watch people in tasting class start to connect with their own taste and mood, to see them realize they’re not wrong about Cabernet Sauvignon, they’re just Pinot Noir people, or vice versa. What I write about wine is what we teach about wine: what wine means, what it makes you think and feel, the story behind the story.


Chateau Grand Ferrand "La Palombiere" 2014

2014 Château Grand Ferrand “La Palombière” Malbec
(Bordeaux, western France, 85% Malbec + 15% Merlot, $21.99)

Translate the name of this wine into core English and it comes out 2014 Great Iron Castle “Pigeon Coop” Malbec, which would be an entirely unremarkable name if it was from some Australian or South African iconoclast winemaker. Instead, it merely specifies a particular vineyard – the one with the pigeon coop – where the grapes were grown.

Wines with this much Malbec in the blend are abundantly common in Argentina but not in France. In France, Malbec is a minor blending grape that makes a 2% – 5% appearance in Bordeaux blends, coming in a distant 5th place behind Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Thank you, Argentina, for changing our world view about what Malbec can be and how it can be made. The grape arrived in South America from France in the 1840s, but now the influence is flowing the other way. This Grand Ferrand Malbec is leaner and stonier than examples from Argentina, which makes it an especially ideal match with big red meats and aggressive cheese.

Wine Word Of The Month: “Lean”

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — It’s hard to speak the language of wine because it’s a language invented by drunk people, but wine lovers blame themselves for the convoluted vocabulary. Talking about wine is like writing a poem where multiple literal and metaphorical images appear and overlap. But it would help if we could get clear on a few basic words.

Someone threw the word “lean” into the mix the other night in class to describe the body of an Italian Pinot Grigio we were tasting. The opposite of “lean” is “fat” or “big and round” – think archetypical California Chardonnay. The PG in question was light in weight and silver in color, edgy, zippy, a little watery, but in a good way.

We use a lot of body image descriptors to talk about wine – a big red can be legitimately called a “body builder” – and they are a natural way to think and talk about wine.

HOMEWORK: Use it in a sentence. For instance: “I want a glass of white wine, something lean and light.”

Paolo Valle Pinot Grigio 2016


Something lean and light? Here you go!

One of the challenges with Italian Pinot Grigio is that it’s extremely different depending on where it’s grown in Italy. Sometimes, grown hot and wild in the south, Pinot Grigio comes off thin and watery, but not this one. Friuli is the foothills of the Alps – next stop, Austria and Slovenia – and the growing season is long and cool. What slow cooking does for food, slow growing does for wine. The result is a suave, rich Pinot Grigio to pair with seafood of all kinds, wild mushroom risotto, even fragrant veal and pork dishes.

2016 Paolo Valle Pinot Grigio
100% Pinot Grigio
(Friuli, northeast Italy, $18.99)

https://www.vinovations.us/paolo-valle-pinot-grigio-2016/

3 Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Yourself From Falling In Love With Wine

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — The language of love and the language of wine are completely interwoven in our culture, for better and for worse. For instance, if you fall in love with someone because you find them intoxicating, that’s OK; if you try to get someone intoxicated in hopes that they’ll fall in love with you, that’s not OK. True wine lovers set a great example by treating their wine like you’d treat someone you love: with care, with respect and consideration, and it almost goes without saying, no rough handling.

Falling in love with wine is easy. I know I meet a special group of wine people – already so in love with wine they’re ready to take the relationship to the next educational level – but the story’s always the same. Something happens – maybe you travel to wine country for the first time or you have an Italian boyfriend or girlfriend – and you go from “wine curious” to “wine lover” and you never go back.

There are a thousand reasons why people fall in love with wine. Here are my top three.

1. Wine has something for every taste.

One way wine makes itself irresistible is through its profound flexibility. Unless you have a note from your doctor or a verifiable religious waiver, wine is for absolutely everyone. For a beverage with such a broad range of flavors and styles, wine has a strangely elitist image. On the contrary, wine respects your taste by delivering something for every appetite imaginable. You want sweet, happy white wine? Scary, intensely inky red wine? Wine dares you not to love it.

2. Wine – like love – is addictive.

When people say things like, “I’m addicted to this Chardonnay!” they’re probably speaking figuratively, but they could be addicted for real. We don’t talk about this a lot in the wine business, but that’s starting to change. One of the things that keeps us coming back to wine is the positive psychotropic effect – not only am I more delighted, you’re more delightful! – but you need a little more ethanol each time to acquire the same delight. In no time, you can find yourself happily, socially acceptably hooked, with wine your permanent plus one.

3. Wine is constantly new.

Boredom is a dangerous enemy to be feared in any relationship, but that can’t happen when you’re in love with wine. If you drink 365 wines a year, you only taste a fraction of the thousands of different labels available; built into the system are the excitement of the new and the lure of the unattainable. Even if you think you always drink the same thing, every 12 months, you get a new vintage version that’s not at all the same thing. When you start drinking wines from both the northern and southern hemispheres, the vintages come at you twice as fast, in September like we’re used to, and now March. Wine almost encourages guilt-free unfaithfulness, but we just call it variety.

ROMANCE WEEK @ Boston Wine School

If you’re not thinking about Valentine’s Day right now, you’re just not thinking right!

BRIGHTON MA
Pre-Valentine Day! Wine & Chocolate: Making the Perfect Match | Boston Wine School @ Lantera Boston Landing | Feb 13, 2019 6:30 – 8:30 PM
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pre-valentine-day-wine-chocolate-making-the-perfect-match-boston-wine-school-lantera-boston-landing-registration-52236923043

HQ in SHARON MA
Valentine’s Day: Wine & Chocolate + Night in Italy (Class + Dinner) | Boston Wine School @ VINOvations | Feb 14, 2019 6:30 – 8:30 PM
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/valentines-day-wine-chocolate-night-in-italy-class-dinner-boston-wine-school-vinovations-tickets-52237363360

Falling In Love With Wine (Class + Dinner) | Boston Wine School @ VINOvations | Feb 16, 2019 4:00 – 7:00 PM
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/falling-in-love-with-wine-class-dinner-boston-wine-school-vinovations-tickets-54454204993

Southern Star Malbec: New world fruit, old world style

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — Inventive holidays like International Malbec Day give us the chance to look deep into the many Malbec based wines we teach with in wine class. Alma Andina – Soul of the Andes – hits the Boston Wine School trifecta: we use it in “Come To Cheeses” with Manchego, “Grape Expectations” and “Wine 101,” classes that represent the core of our curriculum.

As you can imagine, the world is full of tasty Malbec under $20, but the style of this Alma Andina is special. There’s plenty of dark brooding fruit flavors in the glass, tastes that will remind you of dates and figs and dried cherries.

But if you step out a little into the lake, the bottom drops off suddenly, and deep earthy subterranean flavors take over. I know I completely mixed my metaphors there, but this wine is worth it. If I’d tasted it blind, I’d have guessed French Malbec, a category that starts at $25 a bottle.

Argentina is a land in love with its carnivorous ways. It’s not unusual to have chicken, pork, beef, lamb and goat all in the course of the same meal, and you can tell this week’s wine was brought up in that same tradition. Don’t feel left out, vegans and vegetarians: the match here is with the grill and the char, something you can achieve completely, even meat free. I can definitely see myself working through a case of this Malbec once we start grilling again.

2016 Alma Andina Malbec Reserve (Mendoza, Argentina)

http://www.vinovations.us/alma-andina-malbec-reserve-2016/

Pinot To The People

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — California makes more Pinot Noir than it grows, not by importing out-of-state wine, but by blending in other grapes. Technically, US wine only has to be 75% one grape type to be named for that grape on the label. In theory, your favorite bottle could be pure Pinot, or it could be three-quarters, or anything in between.

Truth is, you can often easily see this in the glass. Pinot Noir – the grape – is light red and thin skinned, and many classic Euro Pinot Noir is so light you can read your phone through a glass of it. When you crack open a California Pinot and it comes out dark red, almost opaque, that’s a sure sign the wine’s blended, often with a high-pigment grape like Petite Sirah.

This week’s special comes from our “Pinot To The People” class, and we use the DeLoach “Private Collection” for a lot of reasons – its bright cherry and cranberry fruit flavors, its slight earthiness and outdoorsy aromas – but mostly for its authenticity. The color is real life burgundy and the flavor is true-to-type Pinot Noir.

If you’re a fan of cool-climate Oregon Pinot, this is a great choice. It comes from the Sonoma Coast, way north and west of Sonoma Valley and much closer to the cold Pacific. The result is a slow-grown wine full of flavor and finesse.

2013 DeLoach “Private Collection” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, California, USA)

https://www.vinovations.us/deloach-private-collection-sonoma-county-pinot-noir-2013/

Zinfandel Dreams

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — Our “Signature Grapes” tasting class really gets fundamental by tasting the connection between certain wines and the places around the world they’ve made famous – and vice versa. Zinfandel fills this role in California wine. Cabernet and Chardonnay may be just as famous, but you only get this kind of Zinfandel one place, and that’s a unique geographic bond that you can taste in the bottle.

People ask me all the time what’s my favorite wine, and I’ve got a lot of favorites, but the truth is, it’s Zinfandel. I love California’s signature grape because it has a little bit of everything I love in a wine – fruit, spice, earthiness, black AND white pepper.

In the wine world, we call this balance, and if you balance flavors in some dynamic and tasty way, we call this style. On the spectrum of Zinfandel, this Raymond stakes out the fruit and juice range, and its style is alive, vivid, and California sunny. The color is dark candy-apple red, and the flavors will remind you first of ripe red plums and black raspberries, then almost behind the scenes, the wine smells like dried herbs, even a little like cocoa.

Best of all, this 2014 is young by Zinfandel standards. It possesses great youth and vitality right now, but I would be looking forward to drinking this in the 2020s too.

2014 Raymond Vineyards “The Inaugural R Collection” Zinfandel 
(St. Helena, Napa, California, USA)

https://www.vinovations.us/the-inaugural-r-collection-by-raymond-vineyards-zinfandel-2012/

Blending For Power Wine

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — This is one of those wines that really sets your expectations before you even get into the bottle.

First of all, the richly artistic label – evocative and powerful on its own – promises a powerful wine experience. And then the blend – Cabernet Sauvignon plus Zinfandel – is simultaneously new yet embarrassingly obvious too. As soon as I saw it, I had one of those “DUH!” moments. America loves Cabernet… America loves Zinfandel – what took us so long?

There are other blends out there that use Cab and Zin with other grapes, but so far this is the only pure Cabernet + Zinfandel blend I’ve ever encountered, and I plan to encounter it again and again! This is a $17 blend that tastes better than any $17 Cabernet or $17 Zinfandel on its own.

The Ocean Howler really represents the best of both worlds: the bright, juicy, fruity happiness of Zinfandel combined with Cabernet’s earthiness and weight. It’s not quite April yet, but I’m already thinking about barbecue season, and this blend would be delicious with anything smoky and meaty off the grill. At just $2.20 a glass, this is one of the tastiest under-the-radar wines I’ve come across in a long time.

2016 The Ocean Howler Cabernet Sauvignon + Zinfandel
(Lodi, central California, USA)

https://www.vinovations.us/the-ocean-howler-cabernet-sauvignon-zinfandel-2016/

Magical Merlot: Off the beaten path in Castillon

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — This Wine Club Selection comes right out of our Burgers And Bordeaux class.

Our curriculum always focuses on the delicious, and this Merlot-heavy blend really teaches us what Merlot means in Bordeaux. As always, every Wine School Selection is a wine we teach with and you taste in class. That’s how you know it’s good.

This silky red Bordeaux represents a great value for a few simple reasons.

First, it’s from a great vintage, maybe better than 2015 even. Next, it’s from a very un-famous place – Castillon, literally on the other side of the river – which moderates the price. And finally, it’s majorly Merlot, a grape in abundance in Castillon.

The result is a soft, friendly, very easy to drink red classic with an abundance of fruit flavors – raspberry, cranberry, red cherry, and more. Best of all is the texture of this wine. It’s so lush and delightful and full of soft soft tannins, which are so rare – so many big reds are gritty instead.

Château de Colombe is drinking just fine right this very minute, but for a vintage like 2016 is shaping up to be, I would be confident to age it for 7 – 10 years. If 2016 is a special year in your life or someone you know, this is a profoundly affordable way to commemorate that year.

2016 Château de Colombe (Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux, western France)

http://www.vinovations.us/chateau-de-colombe-castillon-cotes-de-bordeaux-2016


WINE+FOOD | Ten Dollar Cheese, Million Dollar Match

Fourme d’Ambert
Cow’s milk blue | Southern France | About $15 a pound, available widely at cheese shops and Whole Foods

Fourme is the oldest continuously made cheese in France, introduced by the ancient Romans 2,000 years ago. It looks startlingly blue – and it is – but the flavor is surprisingly mild and mostly buttery. Fourme’s rich creamy texture is a good match with the feel of this week’s wine. We use this in wine and cheese class as a “gateway” blue, a great blue cheese for people who don’t like blue cheese… yet.