Monday, July 31, 2017


“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Gevrey Chambertin.”―  Napoleon Bonaparte

The Vitis vinifera vine finally expanded beyond the bounds of Europe in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Two peoples are primarily responsible for the spread of wine production in the New World: the Spanish, who needed an abundant supply of wine to celebrate the Catholic Mass in all the lands they conquered, and the English, who needed wine to assuage the thirst of their sailors and soldiers in the Empire on which the sun never set.

The Spanish took vines, probably from the locality of Cadiz from which they set sail across the Atlantic, and which themselves were the vines first planted by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. They were known as “Mission Vines,” and planted all over the New World in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The first vineyards were planted on Hispaniola, and later in Mexico (1549) and Peru (possibly as early as 1540).

Spanish colonization of the Americas occurred primarily on the West Coast, first in South America moving south from Peru to Chile, and eventually north from Mexico into what is today California, where each new Mission along the Pacific Coast planted its own vineyard. In all cases, the motivation was to supply wine for the Eucharist during the celebration of the Catholic Mass. At the same time, there was a continuing but often ignored prohibition from the Spanish authorities, who wanted to export Spanish wine and did not want the colonies to be self-sufficient. The problems were that wine from Spain had usually oxidized by the time it had crossed the ocean, it was expensive, and the locally produced wine simply tasted better.

While the Spanish controlled the west coast of both North and South America, the English and French struggled to control the East and Center of North America. Part of the English desire for a colony in North America was to have an independent source of wine so they would not be dependent on other European suppliers. Unfortunately, neither the French nor the English realized that because of the vine disease Phylloxera, vines would not grow, either on the English controlled East Coast or in the French colonies of Louisiana and New France.

Moving in the other direction, however, both the English and the Dutch realized that the Cape Colony of South Africa was the perfect base to grow wine and resupply their navies sailing to their Empires in the Far East. Very soon, by 1685, the South African wines of Constantia were actually being shipped back to Europe for consumption by Frederick the Great in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia.

From South Africa, the English started to transplant South African vines to the new colonies in Australia as early as 1788, and the exercise was so successful that by 1822, Australia, referred to as England’s vineyard, was exporting its wines to Europe, and by the 1880s was winning international prizes.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cure for a disappointed heart

With its Mediterranean climate, well-drained soils of clay, shale, and limestone, proximity to the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and warm growing climate, South Africa is the ideal place to grow top-quality wines. Hugh Johnson wrote, “The most dramatically beautiful wine country in the world is surely South Africa.” Geographically, it was ideally located for the Dutch and English fleets to restock with fresh wine en route to their empires and colonies further to the east.

The first vineyards were planted by the Dutch in 1654, initially just to supply the Dutch sailors heading to the Orient, but by the end of the seventeenth century, the sweet white wines of Constantia were so highly-regarded that they were being shipped back to Europe for the Royal courts. Both Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia praised the dessert wines of Constantia, and Napoleon Bonaparte had as much as 1,126 liters (297 gallons) of Constantia wine shipped in wooden casks each year to Longwood House, his home in exile on St. Helena, from 1815 until his death in 1821. The Count de las Cases reported that, on his deathbed, after consuming thirty bottles each month, Napoleon refused everything offered to him but a glass of Constantia wine. Even Jane Austen recommended Constantia wine’s healing powers for a disappointed heart, and other writers, from Charles Dickens to Charles Baudelaire, spoke glowingly of its charms and pleasures.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Champagne bottles

Champagne (which used to be part of the Duchy of Burgundy and which is therefore made of the Burgundian grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) uses a Burgundy-style bottle. However, because the pressure inside the bottle can be 90 psi (three times the pressure of a normal car tire), the glass needs to be extra thick. Also, the punt is more pronounced, enabling the riddler to turn the bottle in the rack. Most Champagne is bottled in green glass, but pink or rose Champagne is bottled in clear glass to show off the color.

In addition to the standard 750 ml bottle, Champagne also comes in larger bottles—though I suspect the benefits are more visual than gustatory:

  • Magnum – 1.5 liters (two regular bottles)
  • Jeroboam (a.k.a. Double Magnum) – 3 liters (four bottles)
  • Rehoboam - 4.5 liters (six bottles)
  • Methuselah – 6 liters (eight bottles)
  • Salmanazar – 9 liters (twelve bottles)
  • Balthazar – 12 liters (sixteen bottles)
  • Nebuchadnezzar – 15 liters (twenty bottles)
  • Solomon – 18 liters (twenty-four bottles)
  • Goliath – 27 liters (thirty-six bottles)
  • Melchizedek or Midas – 30 liters (forty regular bottles)

Winegrowers in Burgundy and Bordeaux also produce large format bottles with similarly Biblical names—but not to the extent found in Champagne.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot Noir as "the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic." Master Sommelier, Madeline Triffon, calls Pinot Noir "sex in a glass," while Peter Richardsson of OenoStyle christened it "a seductive yet fickle mistress!" Robert Parker has said of Pinot Noir “When it's great, Pinot Noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world.” The children’s author, Roald Dahl, once wrote that "to drink a RomanĂ©e-Conti [Pinot Noir] is like having an orgasm in the mouth and nose at the same time."

A grape which can inspire such passions can be paired only with a writer of sublime and sensuous sensitivity, such as King Solomon and his Song of Songs:  
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine … How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. … You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.  Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love."

Obviously inspired by the Song of Songs, and possibly a glass, or two, of Pinot Noir as well, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote in his “Ode to Wine:

    "My darling, suddenly
     the line of your hip
     becomes the brimming curve
     of the wine goblet,
     your breast is the grape cluster,
     your nipples are the grapes,
     the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
     and your navel is a chaste seal
     stamped on the vessel of your belly,
     your love an inexhaustible

     cascade of wine."

Saturday, July 15, 2017


According to Vinpair, the online magazine devoted to 'wine, beer and spirits', the best way to pair a wine with a romp in the hay is with a bottle of red, as explained in the following article:

If you ask Leon Phelps – aka the “Ladies Man” – about the most essential ingredient for love, Courvoisier will be his answer every time. As he so famously said in his trademark lisp, “usually it only takes me a bottle of Courvoisier and some Lou Rawls to get excited, you know?” Booze, and red wine in particular, is listed as one of the top ten aphrodisiacs for love, but have a bit too much, and alcohol can turn from being good for your sex drive to being bad very quickly – don’t pretend you’re the only one who hasn’t had a few too many and then had a not-so-fun romp in the sheets. So what’s the ideal dosage for love? Let us prescribe it to you.

When we first take a sip of booze, alcohol’s initial effects as one of the world’s greatest social lubricants begins to take hold. We feel looser, more open and often, much more relaxed. This is the liquid courage we hear so much about, and it’s why so many of us seem to have the most success when meeting someone out at a bar. At this initial stage, we feel more confident to take a risk – which includes talking to that attractive person across the room.

It’s at the level of about one to two drinks, when most people report feeling the most pleasure. Alcohol stimulates the receptors in our brain, and at one or two drinks in, that slight buzz and warm feeling aren’t being overwhelmed by the feelings of dizziness, nausea and even depression, which can set in after consuming a good bit. It’s also at this light level of alcohol intake when we’re most likely to perform our best – drinking and driving is not the only thing you should avoid when drunk.

And while all alcohol in moderation helps a bit when it comes to sexual pleasure and desire, none has more benefits than red wine, both for males and females. For the ladies, red wine causes the sex drive to be even more pronounced than with other drinks, at least according to a group of Italian researchers who discovered that the compounds in the wine actually enhance levels of sexual desire in the fairer sex. What the researchers uncovered was that the red wine specifically increased blood flow to women’s erogenous areas, which in turn led to increased levels of desire. The researchers were quick to point out, however, that after more than a drink or two the other effects of alcohol began to take hold, which led to a less pleasurable experience. Moderation, it seems, is key.

For men, not only does a drink or two loosen things up and increase blood flow to essential areas, but red wine also seems to increase levels of testosterone in the blood, a necessary hormone when it comes to male sexual arousal and “appetite.” Normally a male’s body rids itself of testosterone when an enzyme called UGT2B17 attaches specific molecules to testosterone, enabling the body to identify it and get rid of it through the urine. But when consuming a glass of red, a compound inside the wine called quercetin effectively blocks UGT2B17, preventing the body from excreting it, and thereby raising levels of testosterone in the blood. However, just as with women, a few too many drinks and all alcohol, including red wine, can have the reverse effect, lowering testosterone and decreasing the sex drive.

So when it comes to alcohol and sex, the best prescription is opening and splitting a bottle of red with your partner. It’s the perfect amount for you to each have two glasses and experience the positive effects the combination of wine and sex can deliver, with a smaller chance of the negatives.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Old Wine (Really Old Wine).

Three cases of Madeira wine were discovered at a New Jersey university.
Everyone’s basement has been known to get cluttered at some point. That’s what it’s there for, right? Your own private hoarder’s paradise that no one ever has to know about. Even if the space doubles as a wine cellar, sure, maybe some boxes get moved around and you forget about a few bottles until the next spring cleaning. Or in the case of the Kean family, maybe you forget about a few cases… for 221 years.

During a recent restoration project at Liberty Hall Museum on what is now New Jersey’s Kean University, staff discovered nearly three cases of Madeira wine from 1796, as well as around 42 demijohns from the 1820s, according to Even more amazingly, much of the Madeira – which is a resilient fortified wine similar to port – is believed to still be in good, drinkable condition. In the 18th century, Madeira – which comes from the islands of the same name located in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Portugal – was popular in the states because it was able to cross the Atlantic without losing its quality. That same steadfastness is why it’s likely been able to hold up over two centuries later. “So you could open some of these bottles, and it might be perfect," said Bill Schroh Jr, Liberty Hall’s director of operations. Liberty Hall President John Kean even tried a bit, comparing it favorably to a sweet sherry.

Of course, how any alcohol gets lost in a wine cellar for over 200 years is another story entirely. Liberty Hall was first built in 1760 as a getaway for a rich New York lawyer. In 1811, the Kean family moved in, where multiple generations lived until 1973. Now a museum, every year, the staff has chosen a different room to renovate, according to Kean University’s The Tower. 2016 was the year of the cellar – a room that hadn’t been properly cleaned in 50 years – which is what lead to the recent wine discovery. “There were bottles on top of bottles,” said Schroh; “some were bad, some were good, some were popped and emptied, some were broken; but there were just so many. There were at least 200 years’ worth of bottles in there.”

Even Kean wasn’t entirely aware of what was in the basement. “We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it,” he said. Perhaps what they should have done is let some of the university students loose in there on a Saturday night: If there’s alcohol to be found, they’d have found it.

The museum is now believed to have the largest known collection of Madeira in the United States, though the value of all that wine isn’t being disclosed. At this point, the bottles are simply being put on display as part of the museum; however, it’s worth noting that, technically, the wine is still property of John Kean and the Kean family. Schroh even pointed out that, if he wanted to, Kean could come by and grab a bottle at any time.

As reported in Food&Wine Magazine.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Wine Cultures

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 I examine in my book, 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.

A two thousand word survey of French wine, Etude Des Vignobles de France: Regions Du Sud-Est Et Du Sud-Ouest, published by the eminent Dr. Jules Guyot in 1868, concluded:

Wine is the most precious and stimulating element of the human diet. Its use in family meals saves a third of bread and meat, but more than that, wine stimulates and strengthens the body, warms the heart, develops the spirit of sociability; encourages activity, decisiveness, courage and satisfaction in one’s work.

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.