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."

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.