Thursday, July 12, 2018

SHERRY

Sherry is a fortified white wine grown and produced exclusively in a very small region of Spain called Jerez, just outside Cadiz in Southern Andalusia. Unfortunately, because the name was not legally protected until 1996, “Sherry” has become synonymous with sickly, sweet wines from South Africa, California, and Cyprus. Sherry is now defined by law as the English name for the wines of Jerez, and, far from being sweet, most Sherry is among the driest of all wines.
Sherry is made primarily from the Palomino grape and sometimes, for sweet versions, with Pedro Ximenez. The wine is fermented to about 11 percent alcohol, and then blended with brandy to bring it to 15 percent or higher. The four most common styles of Sherry are:
  • Fino: This is the palest and driest. Alcohol 15-17. Sugar grams per liter: 0 – 5
  • Amontillado: Slightly darker than Fino. Alcohol 16-17%. Sugar g/l: 0 – 5
  • Oloroso: Darker, fuller bodied slightly oxidized. Alcohol 17-22%. Sugar g/l: 0 – 5
  • Pedro Ximénez: Dark, full-bodied and very sweet. Alcohol 15-22%. Sugar g/l: 212+
After fermentation and the fortification with brandy, the Sherry is aged using the solera system in which the barrels of aging wine are stored in a pyramid style with the oldest on the bottom and newest barrels on top. Wine to be bottled is drawn from one third of the oldest, bottom barrels, which are then topped-up with wine from the layer above and so on, until there is space in the top layer of barrels for the new wine to be added. Consequently, over the years and decades, the wines of various vintages are blended together, which is why a bottle of Sherry never has a vintage year on the label. In some cases, some of the content of the bottle could be more than a hundred years old. Dry Sherry is a popular drink all over Spain, not just in Andalusia, and has been extremely popular in England since long before Shakespeare celebrated it in his plays.
Sherry is the 'Shakespeare' of wines. Both offer the widest variety of styles, from the driest Fino to the sweetest Pedro Ximenez, or the broadest comedy of Bottom to the most sublime tragedy of Lear. They are both unique and have no peers; the solera system is unique to Sherry, and the sheer volume and range of the written word is unique to Shakespeare. Not only does Shakespeare make more than thirty-five direct references to Sherry in his plays, but during his lifetime, Sir Francis Drake “liberated” 2,900 butts of Sherry (2.25 million bottles) from the King of Spain, and brought them home to England. The richness, the range, the historic parallels, will forever unite the Bard of Avon with the sack of Jerez.
Shakespeare’s most famous Sherry drinker, of course, was Sir John Falstaff, who called it “sac” and attributes the bravery and military success of Prince Hal to his consumption of Sherry. He also adds that Sherry produces “excellent wit,” while it “warms the blood.” In conclusion, Sir John avows that if he had a thousand sons, the first thing he would teach them is to reject all small thin wines and to devote themselves to Sherry.
Part of the payment to England’s Poet Laureate, since the time of Shakespeare’s drinking companion, Ben Johnson, has traditionally been a barrel of Sherry. England’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, was presented with 720 bottles of Sherry in 2012. Sherry is typically drunk as an aperitif before meals.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

CHINA


China it is one of the oldest wine-producing countries on the planet. However, wine has not been an important aspect of Chinese culture until very recently. Already within the first two decades of the new century, China has become not only a major producer but also a major consumer of wine. Within the next decade, China could prove itself one of the leading players in the world of wine.

Although grape wine has been consumed in China for at least 4,600 years, a stronger version containing up to 20 percent alcohol, called Huangjiu, or “yellow-wine,” made from fermented rice and cereals, has always been more popular. Additionally, the Chinese have always consumed a distilled version called Baijiu, which has a 40-60 percent alcohol content. Alcohol in China is typically consumed in the form of toasts, drunk in small shot glasses and tossed to the back of the throat—the complete opposite of everything described in Chapter One of my book.

Modern Vitis vinifera grapes were probably first introduced by the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great in the third century BC, and planted in the extreme west of China in what is today’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Marco Polo referred to the local wines when he passed through this area in the thirteenth century. This Uighur populated province (ironically the most Islamic part of China) is still the major wine-producing region in the nation, even though it clings to the edge of the Gobi Desert. One of the vineyards covers twenty-five thousand acres at 262 feet below sea level!

Following Deng Xiaoping’s Economic Reforms in the early 1980s, agricultural land was de-collectivized, private entrepreneurs were permitted to develop vineyards, and foreign investment was encouraged. At the same time, a growing middle class was becoming exposed to the outside world, traveling to Europe and bringing back knowledge about foreign cultures—including wine.

The French brandy house, Remy Martin/Cointreau, established a joint venture in 1980 which eventually became Dynasty Wines, producing over one hundred types of wine products in China. Initially, Chinese wines were limited to the export market, but with the growing wealth of the domestic market in the twenty-firstt century and a fast evolving appreciation for wine, 90 percent of Chinese wine is now consumed domestically. While the disposable income of the growing middle class accounts for the consumption of home-grown Chinese wine, it is only the extreme wealth of the Chinese billionaire class that can account for an obsessive consumption of French, especially Bordeaux, wines. The Chinese love of Bordeaux wine is delightfully explored in the 2013 movie Red Obsession.

Although most Chinese wine comes from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region on the border with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, a new northern area, Ningxia Province, also bordering the Gobi Desert, is rapidly becoming the center of China’s fine-wine industry. With 160,000 acres of vineyards planned by 2020, Ningxia will be three times the size of Napa. The French luxury goods giant LVMH has recently invested $28 million in a state-of-the-art winery called Chandon. An international competition named "Bordeaux Against Ningxia" was held in Beijing in December 2011, when experts from China and France tasted five wines from each region. Ningxia was the clear winner, with four out of five of the top wines. The best wine in the whole competition was the 2009 Chairman's Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon which even Robert Parker rated as “not bad.” It is unclear whether the name referred to Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book.

Another rapidly expanding wine-growing area is Shandong Province on the coast of the Yellow Sea, which, with 140 wineries, already produces 40 percent of Chinese wine. The latest company to invest in Shandong is Bordeaux’s Domains Barons de Rothschild, which harvested its third vintage in 2015. Based on Rothschild’s previous successes in California and Chile, Shandong Province is a region to keep an eye on.

In just the past decade, China has become one of the world’s top ten wine markets, and is actually the largest consumer of red wine in the world, as well as being the sixth largest producer of wine. Between 2006 and 2015, China’s wine consumption grew by 54 percent. According to Sotheby’s, it is no longer London or New York but Hong Kong which is now the world’s largest market for fine wines at auction. Furthermore, China is one of the world’s biggest consumers of Bordeaux’s Premier Cru wines, and has had a significant effect on the price structure. Chinese billionaires have long had a predilection for Château Lafite (like the English aristocracy before them), followed by Château Latour, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Margaux and finally by Château Haut-Brion. This preference for Lafite has had the unfortunate consequence of making Lafite the most popular target of international wine-fraud, resulting in a number of recent scandals and uncertainty in the Chinese market. There is a growing tendency among Chinese billionaires, therefore, to focus on the previously overlooked Château Haut-Brion wines (Jefferson’s favorite), because its unique bottle shape makes it more difficult for criminals to reproduce.

But despite China’s seeming integration into the international wine market, it retains certain Chinese idiosyncrasies. For example, the reason that Chinese are almost exclusively red wine drinkers has less to do with their appreciation of tannins and more to do with red being a lucky color traditionally associated with good fortune and good health. The Chinese still serve wine in small, shot-sized wine glasses, and, although it is a sign of progress that wine is replacing strong baijiu spirits at business banquets, it means that when that priceless 1959 Château Lafite is being poured, all the guests can toss it back in a hearty group toast without even needing to taste it.



Saturday, May 12, 2018

Books and Wine


Under the careful supervision of my father, I began drinking wine with meals at the age of five. Although mixed with water, it was unmistakably wine and we would discuss the taste and bouquet while my father would explain where and how it was made. At the same age, with the warm encouragement of my mother, I began a lifelong love affair with books.

My earliest memories involve Christopher Robin, with Pooh and Tigger and then Rat and Mole from the Wind in the Willows. Weekends were spent lying on the floor in the local library, lost in the worlds of Kipling and Dickens and, above all, my beloved John Buchan. Another early memory concerns Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and asking my mother to explain, ''But did thee feel the earth move?''

Shakespeare, of course, became an early love of mine, and I still thrill to hear Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV , Part 2 boldly proclaiming the joys and wonders of a glass, or two, of Sherry. Likewise, in Richard III, I still feel a chill when the two murderers arrive at the Tower of London with orders to drown the Duke of Clarence in a barrel of wine. When the unsuspecting Duke asks the men for a glass of wine, the second murderer calms him with a reassuring, “You shall have wine enough my lord, anon.”

And it is not just the English who associate wine with books. The twelfth century Persian poet, Omar Kayan, famously wrote:
                A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
                A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
                Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
                Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Indeed, as the writer Julian Street famously argued in his posthumous book, Table Topics: "Blot out every book in which wine is praised and you blot out the world’s great literature, from the Bible and Shakespeare to the latest best-seller. Blot out the wine-drinkers of the world and you blot out history, including saints, philosophers, statesmen, soldiers, scientists, and artists."

But of course it is the French, with their unparalleled tradition of winemaking and their glorious history of great writing which, since Rabelais, has always combined that love of books with the mastery of the grape. This combination was enough for me to leave England at an early age and move into the French countryside of southwest France where my wife and I spent the next few years raising children, drinking Bordeaux wines, and immersing ourselves in every writer from Balzac and Flaubert to Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

Ironically, my favorite French writer preferred beer to wine and would even phone the Ritz hotel at any hour of the day or night to order a cold bottle to be delivered to his apartment. Nonetheless, Marcel Proust still wrote a wonderful description of his young hero drinking seven or eight glasses of Port wine to give himself courage to invite a young lady for an amorous assignation. By the time he had drunk enough to make his proposal, the young lady declined. Possibly because he had consumed too much Port wine, or because she had not consumed any.

If Marcel Proust was a wine, I think he would be a Gewurztraminer from Alsace. Despite the wine’s underlying acidity, its sharpness and acuity is hidden behind a rich, floral bouquet that charms with a mellifluous harmony that simply overwhelms the senses. In the same way, Proust, the writer, hides his sharp and extremely comic insights into human nature behind a screen of poetically seductive images. The first taste from a glass of Gewurztraminer or a random passage read from In Search of Lost Time leaves us standing alone in ecstasy, inhaling through the rain, the lingering scent of invisible lilacs.

Over the years, as I have become more familiar with my favorite authors and have become better acquainted with a wide selection of different grapes, I often find myself pairing wines with writers. In Chapter Six – Varietals, I have therefore described several different grapes in terms of novelists who share similar characteristics with the wine. A literary wine pairing.

Sixty-five years after my first glass, I have become ever more set in my ways, and now I am never happier than with a glass of wine in one hand and a good book in the other.




Thursday, April 19, 2018

FAVORITE WINE BOOKS [4]


ECONOMICS OF WINE:
  • Colman, Tyler: Wine Politics, University of California Press, 2010.    From the heavier taxes on wines from the Dordogne River than those from Bordeaux, or the tariffs the English charged on French rather than Portuguese wines during the middle ages to the post-Prohibition, three tier distribution laws which still continue in 21st century America – politics has a powerful effect on what we are able to drink and what it tastes like. Tyler Colman exposes the politics behind the labels.

  • Lukacs, Paul: Inventing Wine, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.   I originally was going to list this book in the ‘history of wine’ section because it traces the history of wine from its Middle-Eastern origins to its growing popularity in 21st century America. But it’s much more than a history book since Paul Lukacs’s real focus is on the combination of economic and social forces that affect how and what we drink.

  • Steinberger, Michael: The Wine Savant, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.    This is very much a book of the moment; Steinberger discusses and analyses all the many issues and questions facing a wine drinker in 21st century America. The difference between a 95 and a 94-point wine, the current relationship between Bordeaux and Burgundy, the fashion for organic and biodynamic wines.

  • Veseth, Mike: Wine Wars, Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.    Mike Veseth has the unique gift of being able to write about dry, academic subjects in a way that makes for gripping and exciting reading. This book explains how all the competing economic forces that churn within today’s wine industry, affect what we are able to put in our glass. In his own words, this book discusses “The curse of the Blue Nun; the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists.”

  • Wallace, Benjamin: The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Three Rivers Press, 2009.   Starting with the 1985 sale of a bottle of Chateau Lafitte once owned by Thomas Jefferson, for $156,000 – this amazing book introduces us to the surreal world of billionaire wine collectors and people who only drink wine bottled before the phylloxera scourge of the 1860s. Superb nonfiction that feels like fiction.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Favorite Wine Books [3]


SPECIFIC WINE REGIONS & ISSUES:

  Campbell, Christy: The Botanist and the Vintner, Algonquin Books, 2006.
1871 was an extremely bad year for France. France lost the Franco Prussian War, Emperor Napoleon III was exiled, Paris was taken over by the Communards – but worst of all, all the vineyards in France began to die and no wine was produced in France for another 30 years. This delightful book describes the scourge of Phylloxera and how France eventually recovered.

 Dovaz, Michel, and Michel Guillard: Bordeaux: Legendary Wines, Assouline, 2014.
This lavishly illustrated and luxurious book is slightly cheaper than most of the legendary wines which it so lovingly describes. And certainly, once opened, it will last much longer than all of them – once opened.

 Kliman, Todd: The Wild Vine, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2010.
For those oenophiles interested in the early and unsuccessful attempts to produce wine in the young United States, this book explores the fascinating story of the Norton Grape.

 Pitte, Jean-Robert: Bordeaux/Burgundy, University of California Press, 2012.
It is an endless debate, never to be settled, which is best – the wines of Bordeaux or those of Burgundy? This delightful book offers no conclusion but explores all delicious aspects of the question.

 Potter, Maximillian: Shadows in the Vineyard, Twelve, 2014.
Based on the original article in Vanity Fair magazine, this ‘crime thriller’ of a book describes the criminal attack on one of the world’s most prestigious vineyards – Romanée-Conti. In telling his story, he also examines all the unique features of this famous wine region.

 Taber, George: Judgment of Paris, Scribner, 2006.
In addition to containing marvelously comprehensive descriptions of European and Californian winemakers’ art and passion, it is also contains the only eye-witness account of the famous wine-tasting afternoon in Paris in 1976 which dramatically changed the world of wine forever and ever.




Monday, February 26, 2018

FAVORITE WINE BOOKS [2]


HISTORY OF WINE:

 Butler, Joel, and Randall Heskett: Divine Vintage, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
There are 280 references to wine, vineyards and wine-making in the Bible. Noah’s first task after leaving the arc was to plant a vineyard and Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. These two Biblical scholars explore the fascinating central relationship between wine and our Judeo-Christian traditions.

 Clarke, Oz: The History of wine in 100 Bottles, Stirling Publishing, 2015.
By focusing on one specific aspect of wine, a particular vintage, the shape or size of the bottle, a famous wine maker or drinker, Oz Clarke manages to describe the history and development of wine in a series of entertaining and informative vignettes.

 Johnson, Hugh: Vintage – The Story of Wine, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
Sadly, out of print but happily widely available through on-line booksellers, this hefty volume is a delightfully written and lushly illustrated pleasure to read from cover to cover. It is also in invaluable reference work written by one of the world’s greatest wine experts.

 McGovern, Patrick K.: Ancient Wines, Princeton University Press, 2003
McGovern is an anthropologist, a scientist, a chemist and a molecular archeologist who has focused his studies on the origins of wine in the Middle-East from Neolithic tombs, Noah and Gilgamesh to the Scorpion King and Tutankhamen. Fascinating.

 Phillips, Rod: 9000 Years of Wine, Whitecap Books, 2017
Covering much of the ancient history that McGovern discusses, this book takes the story further, tracing the spread of wine from the Middle-East, around the Mediterranean, throughout Europe and into the new world. The story ends with the international consumer market of the 21st century.

 Standage, Tom: A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Walker & Company, 2005
Wine plays only one aspect of this book, but Standage uses it to tell a fascinating history of human thirst. Beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt, Wine in Greece and Rome, Spirits in the Colonial Period, Coffee in the Age of Reason, Tea and the British Empire, Coca-Cola and the rise of America.

And of course, it goes without saying that The Booklovers' Guide to Wine itself includes a most comprehensive historical overview of the story of wine told in a most informative and entertaining manner!


Friday, February 23, 2018

FAVORITE WINE BOOKS [1]


GENERAL BOOKS ON WINE:

Johnson, Hugh, and Jancis Robinson, World Atlas of Wine, Barnes & Noble Books, 2017.
I have been reading Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine since the first edition was published in 1971. Since the release of the fifth edition in 2006 he has partnered with Jancis Robinson. That I have been buying, reading and enjoying each edition of this book for almost half a century I think says it all. The maps, the writing, the knowledge – fabulous!

Johnson, Hugh: Pocket Wine Book, Mitchell Beazley, 2018
This is a genuine ‘pocket book’ in the sense it will fit conveniently in your pocket. If you are interested in specific labels and specific vintages from anywhere in the world, this book, which is reissued every year, is indispensable.

Keevil, Susan: Wines of the World, Metro Books, 2010.
This is a beautiful, visual reference guide to wine with the focus on different countries, wine regions and individual terroirs. It is packed with great photographs and maps plus buying information and price guides.

MacNeil, Karen: The Wine Bible, Workman Publishing, 2000.
This is another general guide to all the major wine regions of the world, but the maps and illustrations only play a secondary role to the text. Karan McNeil’s metaphors, descriptions and informed observations are always, fresh, unique, entertaining and stimulating.

Robinson, Jancis: Guide to Wine Grapes, Oxford University Press, 1996. 
Sadly out of print, this wonderful, pocket-sized guide is still available for a few dollars at various on-line booksellers.  Her newer version is much more comprehensive, Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours but with a price tag of about $140, I am perfectly happy with the pocket version.

Robinson, Jancis, ed.: Oxford Companion to Wine, Oxford University Press, 2006. 
At $40.00, this is not a cheap book either – but it is worth every penny. This is the ultimate reference book and source of all information about wine. If you have just one wine book in your library, this should be it, - in addition to The Booklovers' Guide to Wine of course!



Sunday, February 18, 2018

WINE AND THE DRAGON [2]


  CHINA [2]:   Although most Chinese wine comes from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region on the border with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, a new northern area, Ningxia Province, also bordering the Gobi Desert, is rapidly becoming the center of China’s fine-wine industry. With 160,000 acres of vineyards planned by 2020, Ningxia will be three times the size of Napa. The French luxury goods giant LVMH has recently invested $28 million in a state-of-the-art winery called Chandon. An international competition named "Bordeaux Against Ningxia" was held in Beijing in December 2011, when experts from China and France tasted five wines from each region. Ningxia was the clear winner, with four out of five of the top wines. The best wine in the whole competition was the 2009 Chairman's Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon which even Robert Parker rated as “not bad.” It is unclear whether the name referred to Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book.

    Another rapidly expanding wine-growing area is Shandong Province on the coast of the Yellow Sea, which, with 140 wineries, already produces 40 percent of Chinese wine. The latest company to invest in Shandong is Bordeaux’s Domains Barons de Rothschild, which harvested its third vintage in 2015. Based on Rothschild’s previous successes in California and Chile, Shandong Province is a region to keep an eye on.

    In just the past decade, China has become one of the world’s top ten wine markets, and is actually the largest consumer of red wine in the world, as well as being the sixth largest producer of wine. Between 2006 and 2015, China’s wine consumption grew by 54 percent. According to Sotheby’s, it is no longer London or New York but Hong Kong which is now the world’s largest market for fine wines at auction. Furthermore, China is one of the world’s biggest consumers of Bordeaux’s Premier Cru wines, and has had a significant effect on the price structure. Chinese billionaires have long had a predilection for Château Lafite (like the English aristocracy before them), followed by Château Latour, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Margaux and finally by Château Haut-Brion. This preference for Lafite has had the unfortunate consequence of making Lafite the most popular target of international wine-fraud, resulting in a number of recent scandals and uncertainty in the Chinese market. There is a growing tendency among Chinese billionaires, therefore, to focus on the previously overlooked Château Haut-Brion wines (Jefferson’s favorite), because its unique bottle shape makes it more difficult for criminals to reproduce.

    But despite China’s seeming integration into the international wine market, it retains certain Chinese idiosyncrasies. For example, the reason that Chinese are almost exclusively red wine drinkers has less to do with their appreciation of tannins and more to do with red being a lucky color traditionally associated with good fortune and good health. The Chinese still serve wine in small, shot-sized wine glasses, and, although it is a sign of progress that wine is replacing strong baijiu spirits at business banquets, it means that when that priceless 1959 Château Lafite is being poured, all the guests can toss it back in a hearty group toast without even needing to taste it.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wine and the Dragon (Part 1)


CHINA
Strictly speaking, China is not part of the “New World.” Indeed, it is one of the oldest wine-producing countries on the planet. However, wine has not been an important aspect of Chinese culture until very recently. Already within the first two decades of the new century, China has become not only a major producer but also a major consumer of wine. Within the next decade, China could prove itself one of the leading players in the world of wine.

Although grape wine has been consumed in China for at least 4,600 years, a stronger version containing up to 20 percent alcohol, called Huangjiu, or “yellow-wine,” made from fermented rice and cereals, has always been more popular. Additionally, the Chinese have always consumed a distilled version called Baijiu, which has a 40-60 percent alcohol content. Alcohol in China is typically consumed in the form of toasts, drunk in small shot glasses and tossed to the back of the throat—the complete opposite of everything described in Chapter One of mybook.

Modern Vitis vinifera grapes were probably first introduced by the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great in the third century BC, and planted in the extreme west of China in what is today’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Marco Polo referred to the local wines when he passed through this area in the thirteenth century. This Uighur populated province (ironically the most Islamic part of China) is still the major wine-producing region in the nation, even though it clings to the edge of the Gobi Desert. One of the vineyards covers twenty-five thousand acres at 262 feet below sea level!

Following Deng Xiaoping’s Economic Reforms in the early 1980s, agricultural land was de-collectivized, private entrepreneurs were permitted to develop vineyards, and foreign investment was encouraged. At the same time, a growing middle class was becoming exposed to the outside world, traveling to Europe and bringing back knowledge about foreign cultures—including wine.

The French brandy house, Remy Martin/Cointreau, established a joint venture in 1980 which eventually became Dynasty Wines, producing over one hundred types of wine products in China. Initially, Chinese wines were limited to the export market, but with the growing wealth of the domestic market in the twenty-first century and a fast evolving appreciation for wine, 90 percent of Chinese wine is now consumed domestically. While the disposable income of the growing middle class accounts for the consumption of home-grown Chinese wine, it is only the extreme wealth of the Chinese billionaire class that can account for an obsessive consumption of French, especially Bordeaux, wines. The Chinese love of Bordeaux wine is delightfully explored in the 2013 movie Red Obsession.




Friday, February 9, 2018

East European Wines [4]: Slovenia & Croatia


SLOVENIA: 
Emerging from decades of communist atrophy followed by the horrors of the late 20th century Bosnian wars, Slovenia is now home to some of the most exciting wines in Central Europe. Following the deadening effect of State-owned co-operatives, much of Slovenia’s wine production has returned to small, family-owned operations where individualism and experimentation have taken center stage. Long recognized for its oak trees, which make some of the world’s finest wine barrels, Slovenia is increasingly being recognized for its wines.

CROATIA: 
I hitch-hiked down the Dalmatian Coast through Croatia during the 1960’s when it was still part of communist Yugoslavia and fell in love with its wines. On the dramatic and beautiful Adriatic coast, facing Italy, Croatia has been producing wines since even before the Romans arrived. I was a young man in the 60’s but I still vividly recall the heady taste of freshly-grilled goat-meat washed down with generous glasses of the local Crljenak Kaštelanski (Zinfandel ) sitting on a moonlight beach beside the wine-dark-sea. 

Croatian emigres in the 20th century were very influential in the development of the Californian, Australian and New Zealand wine industries and now, following the end of the Bosnian conflict, they are returning home and promise to make Croatian wine a major player once again on the world stage.




Sunday, February 4, 2018

East European Wines [3] Georgia & Romania

GEORGIA: As discussed elsewhere in my Booklovers' Guide to Wine, Georgia’s border with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan is the site of the world’s oldest wine making activity. This is where wine has been made and drunk longer than anywhere else in history. Even today, the Neolithic wine-making techniques dating back to Noah are still in use. The vast, underground amphorae called kvevri are still being used to produce wine in the traditional manner. 

Through most of the twentieth century, almost all of Georgian wine was exported to the Soviet Union where quality was not a priority and individual wine makers were not incentivized to excel. Switching to the competitive international markets after the 2006 break with President Putin’s Russia, Georgian wine makers are now starting to focus on quality. With 9,000 years of tradition behind it, Georgian wine is ready for a come-back.


ROMANIA: Proud of its Roman wine-producing past, Romania is now the sixth largest wine producer in the European Union. If not yet famous for its quality wines, it is already a best-seller in America’s Sam’s Club with a wide selection of red and white wines at less than $7:00 per bottle.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

EAST EUROPEAN WINES [2] HUNGARY:

 Described by Louis XIV as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” (the king of wines and the wine of kings) Tokaji Aszú, the unctuous, honeyed wine made from super-concentrated, botrytized grapes, has long been the archetypical Hungarian wine since it was first documented in 1571. 

Beloved by Thomas Jefferson and Russian czars alike, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria (who was also King of Hungary) had a tradition of sending Queen Victoria Tokaji wine, as a gift, every year on her birthday, one bottle for every month she had lived, twelve for each year. On her eighty-first and final birthday (1900), this totaled an enviable 972 bottles. 

As sought-after and expensive in the 21st century as it was in the 18th, these ebulliently floral, lusciously fruity wines are traditionally a blend of local grapes including varieties of Muscat, the world’s oldest varietal. Even under Ottoman and then under Soviet rule, Hungary still managed to somehow produce Tokaji wines which have never lost their international appeal. 

Following the collapse of the Hungarian Communist regime in 1989, Hugh Johnson, the great English wine writer founded a winery to revive the fortunes of this ‘Vinum Regum’ which he called Royal Tokaji. This sweet golden wine, tasting of ripe peaches, apricots, pears and mandarin oranges is made from three local varietals, Furmint, Hárslevelű and Muscat de Lunel.

The other famous wine from Hungary is Egri Bikavér - Bull’s Blood – which although weakened under Soviet rule is now once more being made in the traditional manner – dark, strong and powerful.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

East European Wines (1) GREECE

During the Roman Empire, Eastern Europe had far more vineyards than the Western Empire. East European wines were considered some of the best in the known world. Following the collapse of Roman rule, however, with the lack of any political stability, the wine industry fell into disrepair. The arrival of Islam during the Middle Ages, followed by communism in the twentieth century, completely demolished all memory of the region’s glorious wine making traditions. But the glory will return, and already some of the old names are returning to the world stage.

GREECE: As discussed elsewhere in my Booklovers' Guide to Wine, Greece has been producing great wines for over 6,500 years. The reputation of, and demand for, Greek wines continued through the Middle Ages and beyond, traded by the Venetians and always commanding high prices in Northern Europe for its sweet white wines. The Islamic, Ottoman Turks controlled Greece for about four hundred years, and unfortunately destroyed the ancient culture of wine production until Greek independence in 1821. However, some wine cultivation survived in the more remote regions, especially on the islands such as Santorini. Since the late 1980s, serious wine production has moved Greek wines beyond the level of the resin-taste of Retsina wine. Wine grapes are now grown throughout the Greek mainland as well as the islands. Top regions include the Cyclades, especially Santorini, where Assyrtiko and other vines are tied into a basket shape to protect the fruit against the continuous wind, and the Peloponnese peninsula, particularly Neméa, which produces full-bodied, juicy reds like Agiorgitiko.

Greek Varietals:

Assyrtiko (White): Perhaps the most famous of Greek varietals, this wine is always associated with the island of Santorini, whose relentless winds and dry, desert like volcanic soil create both dry and sweet white wines with a powerfully acidic and mineral finish. The vines are traditionally woven into a nest-like protection against the winds, which ensures a long, slow, and full ripening. Some of the vines on Santorini are reputed to be over five hundred years old. The Greek Gods created this wine to be drunk with fresh seafood—especially octopus.

Moschofilero (White): This pink-skinned grape from the high plateau of the central Peloponnesian peninsula produces notably aromatic white and rose wines, which are light, crisp, and low in alcohol. With fresh scents of limes and roses, this makes the perfect al fresco wine for summer picnics.

Agiorgtiko (Red): This is the most-widely grown of Greek varietals, and its thick-skinned berries are capable of a wide range of styles, from light-reds to Robert Parker-style fruit bombs. Grown most notably in the northeastern Peloponnesian region of Nemea, the wines have succulent tannins which enable the wines to age well in oak. Delicious with goat roasted over an open flame.

Xinomavro (Red): The most famous wines made with the Xinomavro grape come from Naoussa in the Macedonian region of northern Greece. Xinomavro means acid-black in Greek, which aptly describes both the color of the grapes and the resulting wine. The wines, with their lingering taste of olives, are high in both tannins and acid, which means they can be aged for a very long time. Perfect with Greek salad and feta cheese.

With lush velvety reds made from the Agiorgitiko grape and minerally, crisp, and bone-dry whites made from the Assyrtiko grape, the serious wines of Greece are once again asserting their classic heritage.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Wise, Thoughtful & Most Perceptive Review ...

Andrew Klein in The Texas Wine Lover magazine writes:


In The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine, Patrick Alexander brings together his lifelong passions for wine and literature into an enjoyable wine book with a literary twist. Patrick began bringing these passions together in a very popular wine appreciation class in Coral Gables, Florida over six years ago, which has been selling out since its inception. Patrick has taken his wine class to book form in The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine, which covers everything from wine tasting, winemaking, the terroir of Europe, the development of wine in the New World, and a vast array of wine grape varieties, all while mixing in literary insight.

While I’ve read quite a few wine books, I think The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine really differentiates itself in its presentation of wine history, not only in its own history, but also the profound impact wine has had on historical events through the ages. Patrick shares his knowledge of the development of winemaking throughout the world, from the Spanish Missionaries in the Americas through the vast influence of the British Empire. This historical context is carried through into a detailed description of the terroirs of Europe and the New World. This is where I learned the most from The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine. What makes Burgundy truly unique? Ever wonder how Shiraz made it to Australia or Malbec to Argentina? Patrick has your answers.

The in-depth guide to grape varieties and wine varietals goes deeper into the literary slant by pairing great writers to grape varieties and wines. Patrick does a good job of bringing together the grape varieties, wines they are made into, along with their individual characteristics and origin. He embraces his literary interest by pairing a multitude of grape varieties with great writers throughout history, such as Charles Dickens with Cabernet Sauvignon. While Patrick does intertwine literary references through the book, one doesn’t need to be a literature aficionado to enjoy it. The literary aspects act as a means to enhance the context of Patrick’s narrative.

The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine also serves as a practical wine guide with excellent pairing and purchasing advice. Patrick provides encouragement and guidance on exploring wines that may be new to readers. The world of wine is a big one, so the advice on wines to explore will help readers expand their horizons. Patrick’s approachable suggestions will help readers likely find some new favorites that won’t break the bank. I know his Top 40 Wines to Try list is something I’m going to revisit to expand my knowledge of wine.

Patrick’s conversational writing style and wit makes readers feel as if they are attending his class. The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine covers vast amounts of information without ever becoming dry in delivery. I found myself making quick progress through the 350-plus pages, continuously engaged along the way. Isn’t that what we all want from a good book?





Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Book Review

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune's review of the year's best wine books:

"Every bit as edifying and entertaining is Patrick  Alexander’s “Booklovers’Guide to Wine” (Mango, 394 pages, $19.95), which takes pairing to a new level: matching great reading with tasty wines. This book would be a highly recommendable primer on wine without the literary references as Alexander guides us through regions and grapes, plus how to truly appreciate this nectar.


But the hefty chapter matching grapes with authors is pure delight: albariño and J.R.R. Tolkien, chardonnay and Jane Austen, and his personal favorite, gewürztraminer and Marcel Proust. Amazingly, every explanation of the matchups makes so much sense that it’s impossible to imagine another author for that wine, or vice versa." 

http://www.startribune.com/grab-a-glass-of-wine-and-check-out-the-year-s-best-books-on-the-subject/463936663/


Thursday, January 4, 2018

What is wine?

Wine is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented juice of fruit, specifically the fruit of the grape vine Vitis vinifera.  Most non-Moslem countries and cultures have evolved social rituals for the consumption of alcohol, using it to celebrate feast days and special occasions such as weddings. In many societies, alcohol is consumed in the form of distilled spirits, drunk in small shots and often accompanied by toasts. In Russia, for example, vodka is widely drunk; in China and Japan it is baijiu or sake. This drinking of distilled spirits, consumed in small shots, is typically limited to groups of males and can often result in public inebriation.

The European tradition of wine consumption is different, in that the wine is sipped slowly, usually accompanied by food, and in social or family groups that include women. Wine drinking is thus regarded as a healthier and more civilized way of consuming alcohol. In modern societies, where women are playing an increasingly independent and important role in business and public life, wine drinking is thus becoming more and more widespread.

Whether for reasons of health, economics, or social change, the consumption of distilled spirits and beer has seen a steady decline in the twenty-first century while the consumption of wine has increased dramatically. Cocktail parties have long been being replaced by wine-and-cheese parties, and prime rib dinners are increasingly washed down with Burgundy rather than bourbon. For the world’s two largest markets, wine consumption in the US and China is forecast to increase by 25 percent between 2014 and 2018.

In 2010, the US became the world’s largest consumer of wine, surpassing even France. But while wine drinking in France, as in most of Mediterranean Europe, is part of the traditional culture, in America wine drinking is something new. For a variety of reasons which will be examined later, North America has evolved a long tradition of whisky and cocktail drinking, while wine drinking was regarded with a certain amount of suspicion as being “European” with all the ambivalent connotations that the word implies.

From an early age, most Southern Europeans have been drinking wine with every meal; they drink wine to quench their thirst and to help them digest their food. In France, wine drinking crosses all class divisions; rich and poor, young and old regard wine as the natural accompaniment to every meal. Of the Italians, it has been said that they do not drink wine, they eat it; meaning that, like salt and pepper, wine is regarded as an everyday accompaniment to food. Of course rich Europeans can afford more expensive wine than poor Europeans, but it is believed that no man is so poor he cannot afford a glass of red to aid his digestion.   

Many young European children begin drinking wine (mixed with water) at mealtimes. In contrast, Americans prohibit alcohol until the age of twenty-one, often leading to binge drinking at college. Therefore, if only for legal reasons, those Americans who do enjoy wine usually did not start drinking it until they were in their twenties, and then only for special occasions. Consequently, although attitudes are changing, compared to Europeans, Americans are often self-conscious or apprehensive about drinking wine and still regard it as something “mysterious.”


My book has been written to dispel those fears and to remove the mystery from wine. Based closely on the very popular six week Wine Appreciation program offered regularly at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, the book covers all the basics, from the history of wine to how best to drink and, most importantly, how to discover and appreciate its many pleasures.