Film and TV Wine articles

Marketing by Dan Brown

Wine marketing has to be the least imaginative in the world. It takes one of two forms: there’s the plea to authenticity. So even wines from young countries such as Australia feel that they have to have a story about how in 1834 Hector McDougall arrived from Paisley and planted some grapes etc etc etc. Or there’s the lifestyle one which you see on the rare moments when wine makes it on telly: it’s all Pinot Grigio, chatty but sophisticated women, big sofas and a little Simply Red to get the party started. Compared with other alcoholic drinks, beer sold through humour, gin sold through culture (Hendricks) and whisky sold through national identity, wine is lagging behind.

That was why I was delighted to receive information from a new wine that is being launched over here called Apothic as it seems that Dan Brown was involved with their marketing campaign. Here’s an exert from their press release:

“Named after a mysterious place, Apotheca, where vintners stored their most coveted concoctions in 13th century Europe. . . ”

The fiction angle is continued on the bottle which looks like the cover of an upmarket horror writer, John Connolly perhaps. And, most audaciously, this angle is continued in the bottle because the contents actually have nothing to do with medieval vintners. The wine isn’t even from Europe, it’s Californian.

And the wine itself? Well I don’t think it’s really aimed at me. It’s a smooth, sweet red without any of the tannin or bitterness that red wine lovers learn to love. Basically it’s a red wine for people who wouldn’t normally drink red wine. Top wine writer Jamie Goode sums up its qualities rather well here.

Let’s hope that Apothic encourages wine marketing people to come up with something a bit more interesting in future. If Apothic can be inspired by Dan Brown, why don’t Tio Pepe do something with PG Wodehouse or KWV with Wilbur Smith?

Apothic Winemaker’s Blend 2011 soon to be ubiquitous for around £9 a bottle. 

Restaurants Wine articles

Wine and food matching nonsense

Like most people who think themselves humorous, I have a very low tolerance for other people making jokes. I commented in an earlier post about the silly suggestions about wine matching on the Oddbins website. I said they sounded like the idea had come from a by a gang of facetious students. On reflection I can see that I was wrong. I now see that they’re satirising the modern fetish for over-specific wine and food pairing suggestions. Is it anymore ridiculous to suggest matching a wine with music by Bob Marley than ‘barely-seared albacore with green zebra tomato salsa’?

This ‘absurdly specific’ recommendation was noted by Eric Asimov in his thoughtful book, How to Love Wine. It comes from Wine & Spirit magazine and the suggested wine is a Swanson Pinot Grigio 2008 from California. The 07 won’t do as it is best served alongside grilled unagi (whatever that might be.)

The old buffers at the Sediment blog have a similar experience in their Wining & Dining ebook:

“I once encountered a wine whose producer ‘recommends drinking with braised pork belly with seared scallops and a white bean mousse’ – an unbelievable proposal, not unlike a car manufacturer saying, ‘the maker recommends this car for driving along the A406, turning left on to the Finchley Road.'”

Wine and food matching is all the rage in the wine world at the moment. I put it down to the growing influence of sommeliers. They have a vested interest in making the business of putting wine and food together as complicated as possible. If it was simple, they’d be out of a job. Nowadays wine writers don’t only try wines but attend dinners put together by chefs and sommeliers where dishes are ‘paired’ with specific wines. This leads to a whole new level of embarrassment for amateurs like me as not only are you expected to comment on the wines but also how they go with the food.  This happened recently at a recent dinner where I was on a table with expert Lucy Bridgers – she leant over and asked me just this. I didn’t know what to say, I liked the food, I liked the wine, and they seemed happy if not ecstatic together. Rather like my parents.

There are of course some classic matches, port and stilton, bloody meat with tannic reds, albariño and clams, but the problem with many recommendations is that they are really only of interest to sommeliers and experts such as Lucy Bridgers. We should not forget that food and wine matching is a very recent thing. Enthusiasts of yore would have paid no attention to our rule of dry wines with main courses and sweet wines with pudding. The truth is that most dry wines will go with most savoury dishes and the old rule about white wine with fish and red with meat isn’t such a bad one. This is especially good advice when eating out because everyone will order differently so forget matching just order a delicious bottle of red and one of white and I bet you’ll be happy. A heavier Beaujolais cru and a decent Macon will cover almost any eventuality, you are as unlikely to get a major clash as you are to score a sauternes and Roquefort style perfect match. If you’re eating on the continent, life is simple as you can just order the local wine and it’ll probably work.

Look, I’m not a total anachronist.  I don’t want to go back to sack with everything. I’m glad that someone worked out that Burgundy goes with game birds. And it’s nice that at this very moment there are sommeliers in Brooklyn working out the right wine to go with octopus vol au vents. I’m just saying please don’t make wine any more complicated that it is already. I’ll leave the last word to Mr Asimov:

“. . . just as with tasting notes, overly specific instructions for matching wines and foods are mystifying and intimating for novices and useless for experienced drinker.”

I should add that the Sediment ebook is well worth reading and only costs £1.99 from your friendly local online retailer. It goes particularly well with a 2005 Bandol from Pradeaux served with my aunt’s Armenian lamb stew. 

Interviews Wine articles

Wine interview: Eduardo Porto Carreiro

This week I’m delighted that top sommelier (sorry wine guy) Eduardo Porto Carreiro has agreed to take part in my booze interview. Originally from Brazil, Eduardo was sommelier at Grace and then Lukshon in Los Angeles and has recently moved to Bar Boulud in New York. 

What was the first wine you had that got you hooked?

I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly one wine that got me “hooked.”  I recall quite fondly growing up and always sneaking sips from my mother or father’s glass at the dinner table.   If I had to pick one specific event: it would have to be when I was in college and I went on my first winery visit.  I was in the Finger Lakes region of New York and had the opportunity to visit Hermann J. Weimer (one of the top Finger Lakes wineries) — there I tasted through a huge spectrum of Rieslings from dry to sweet.  I was amazed how complex and versatile just one grape variety could be… For the first time, it was both an intellectual as well as a hedonistic fascination.

I’ve been told you prefer the term wine guy to sommelier.  Why is this?

Fundamentally, “wine guy” and “sommelier” are really the same thing.  However, I feel that most people become more relaxed chatting about wine with someone when titles and oft-perceived-as-pretentious terms are thrown out of the window.  I don’t change who I am to play the role of the wine guy or the sommelier, but it does seem to change the guests’ view as well as their comfort level.

You started your career as a wine clerk at Greenblatt’s Deli in Los Angeles.  Which of their sandwiches is your favorite? 

Greenblatt’s Deli is a fascinating place.  I was lucky to have landed there. Not only has it been one of the top wine stores in Los Angeles for the past seven decades, it has also been the home to some of the best Deli Sandwiches in America.  Without reservations or hesitation: my favorite of the Greenblatt’s sandwiches is their Corned Beef & Pastrami Combo Reuben (corned beef and pastrami! ed.) It’s heavenly decadent.

Which reds would you suggest to those who think they only like white?

Wine drinkers who prefer to drink whites seem to do so, because they don’t particularly like the bitterness that tannins lend to a wine and have a preference for fresher and brighter profiles.  I would recommend young and vibrant low tannin reds that could be served with a bit of a chill.  A great young Beaujolais, or perhaps a Frappato from Sicily, or a Poulsard from the Jura would be good options.

Which wine makes you inwardly groan when customers ask for it and why?

I’m upset to admit that every time someone asks for a Pinot Grigio, involuntarily, my guard does go up a bit.  In the ten years that I’ve been in the wine business, Pinot Grigio has easily been the most requested white wine. It’s a grape that I don’t have much fondness for and that is so widely available, it saddens me that people don’t move beyond such an obvious option.  That being said, every time someone asks for a Pinot Grigio, it does give me the opportunity to turn them on to a different grape that may appeal to them even more.

What has been the least popular wine that you have listed? Do you regret listing it?

I’ve listed several “orange wine” style bottles on lists that I’ve curated that don’t tend to be terribly popular.  And I don’t regret listing them.  For the small niche of people who do appreciate these wines, and for the guests that we get to turn on to this unique style — we win regulars and repeat customers for life.  There’s nothing quite like dealing with adventurous wine-drinkers and it’s these less popular wines that make for great little victories along the way.

What’s the hardest dish you have had to match?

Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles.  Numbingly hot.  Dry wines are a terrible match; as are most off-dry wines.  It has to be a very specific kind of fruity Riesling or aromatic white Belgian ale.  Very tough to match!

Do you think that sommeliers have a great influence over what the average wine drinker buys?

I think sommeliers do have an opportunity to influence drinkers.  Most importantly, though, I think that sommeliers play a pivotal role in empowering average drinkers to trust in their own palates and push their boundaries with regards to what kind of wines to drink.

Have you ever told a customer that he’s wrong?

No.  I honestly believe that there is no right or wrong with regards to taste.  It’s entirely personal and individual.

How did you become a sommelier?

I fell into it.  I was a waiter at a restaurant with a great wine program and asked a lot questions.  My interest was rewarded when I was asked to help out with the wine program, eventually becoming the Assistant Wine Director.

What’s your big tip for this year?

Keep an eye out for wines from Corsica.  The regions of Patrimonio and Ajaccio have some fun little wines coming into the market.

What bottle are you most looking forward to drinking?

There’s a 2002 Ambonnay Grand Cru Champagne from Marie-Noelle Ledru in my fridge right now that I cannot wait to open.  It’ll be perfect for a lazy Sunday brunch at home.

Who is your favorite drinker in literature and why?

Henry Chinaski (Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical main character in the novel Women).  This character drinks like there’s no tomorrow and reminds one that moderation isn’t so bad after all.

You own a wine label, Angelica Cellars, with your best friend, Ben.  How did you two decide to go into business together and how involved with the making of this wine are you?

Ben (Feldman of ‘Mad Men’ fame, ed.) and I have been great friends for a very long time.  We always used to drink together (even before it was legal to do so) and eventually came to a place of imagining what it might be like to get into the production side of things.  We did a lot of research and ended up deciding that we should make a wine that we both would love to drink because if all else failed, we could always drink up the inventory.  Long story short, we found a great little vineyard in Santa Barbara County that had the right clone of Syrah and the right climatic conditions, and we found a co-op winery that would help us with our project, and we haven’t looked back.  Ultimately, we make all the big decisions regarding wine-making, packaging, marketing, etc.  But, thankfully, we have a great team that looks over our barrels when we’re not around and effectively allows our vision to become a reality.

Do you have an aversion to ‘wine talk’? Are there any wine words or terms that annoy/ baffle you?

I don’t mind wine talk if the person I’m talking to comes from a real or grounded place and is using it because of a passion for a particular wine.  I have a real aversion to wine talk, if the person who is using it wants to somehow show off or elevate themselves above others.  That said, the word “filigree” to describe a wine has always confounded me (no idea either ed.)

What Californian wine would you recommend to someone who thinks that all US wines are jammy and brash?

Today there are quite a few up and coming producers such as Broc Cellars out of the central coast of California and Arnot-Roberts out of Northern California that could easily dispel notions that American wines are jammy and brash. But there are also older and more established wineries that could challenge those assumptions.  Try to find a bottle of Hanzell Pinot Noir from the 70’s — it would easily hold up to any Old World wines.

Finally if you had one wine to drink for the rest of your life what would it be?

If I were a man of means and had to answer that question truthfully, the one wine I’d drink for the rest of my life would be Champagne. There’s nothing quite like a great bottle of Champagne and there are few wines that are as versatile and can be drunk morning, noon, and night.

You can find out more aboutAngelica Cellars here.

Interviews Wine articles

Wine interview: Caro Feely

Before giving it all up and buying that plot of land in France, I’d advise you read Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France by Caro Feely. Caro and her husband Sean originally from South Africa but both doing something lucrative and consultative in Dublin bought, seemingly on a whim, a run-down estate in Bergerac. Neither of them have any experience of viticulture and they have two young children. It almost ends in financial, medical and matrimonial disaster but by luck and determination/ bloody-mindedness they have made the estate a success. I found the sheer complexity of running their domaine fascinating. The wines of Chateau Haut-Garrigue are now available in Britain and Ireland and have picked up some good notices in the press. I’m particularly looking forward to trying their Saussignac, a sweet wine made with nobly-rotten Semillon and Sauvignon grapes. Caro Feely has very kindly agreed to take part in a Q&A.

When did you first realise that wine was something special and can you remember the wine that triggered this feeling?

When I was about 18 and in my last year at school my sister Jacquie introduced me to good things like Boschendal Blanc de Noir and Twee Jonge Gezellen TJ39 and less fancy wines like the famous Tassies or Tassenberg – a favourite of students in SA as a local song goes: ‘dis nie goeie vyn dis nie goeie vyn maar dit proe eerste clas,’ (my afrikaans spelling is no doubt incorrect so apologies) ‘it’s not good wine its not good wine but it tastes first class’ especially when you are a student on a tight budget. Then in my first couple of years working in Johannesburg I shared a house with a fella who was a master of wine and he had a cellar worth about 10000 euro in the house: a source of more fine education on wine. This was probably when I began to understand just how much variety and interest there was in wine and it was around that time I met Sean whose grandparents had been winegrowers in the Cape.

Before your change of career, what was your favourite wine region?

I don’t recall being particularly for one region or another. I loved the wines of South Africa like Springfield Life from Stone and Fairview’s Mourvedre blend, wines of France from the small producers in Languedoc, Loire and Bordeaux.

You don’t flinch from describing quite how hard the life of a vigneron is; if you knew then what you know now would you have bought the property in Bergerac?

No way! But I am pleased I didn’t know and that we did it as I think we are ‘stronger steel’ having been through the fire now.

You also don’t flinch from criticising your husband Sean. How did he react when he read the book?

He knows he can be pig-headed sometimes… He thinks it’s a good book. Being an ex-journalist and English major for his first degree he’s one hard task master. His reaction to an early draft was far from positive but hard feedback from him and 2 other journalist friends were necessary but nasty medicine to helping me find my voice.

You have taken to biodynamics in a big way, what do you think yourold self would say about ‘crystal spectrums’ and burying cow horns in the ground?

I was very sceptical. I think once you have worked with nature everyday the way we do it is impossible not to be convinced. When I walk out and smell extremely strong floral perfumes I know it is a flower day and hey presto the calender confirms it is, when I smell super earthy smells it is a root day. I could go on for hours… There is way more to life than our current tunnel vision approach to science explains. For the wine tours and classes we offer I talk biodynamics very practically.

From reading your book, I can tell that you take enormous care over every aspect of the wine-making process and yet you machine harvest for most of your wines. Do you think there is a contradiction here?

We do about half and half. The higher volume production like our core merlot and most of our dry white are machine harvested. This is because these are picked relatively early in the season so there is generally less need for sorting (no rot – although we do do what we call a negative pick by hand to remove what we don’t want harvested the afternoon before eg unripe or overripe bunches). It also means we can harvest in the cool night and being mid-September days can still be very hot. Hot harvest means more oxidation more need to SO2, more manipulation and shock to cool it in the winery and potential cooked aromas. We don’t want this. For us for the moment this is the good solution but overtime we would like to find a way to be able to hand harvest everything. There are pros and cons to the two options. For the top end reds where we harvest later and for the dessert wine it is all hand picked as here it is more important to sort bunch by bunch and even berry by berry (as with the Saussignac) plus the days are a bit cooler (October).

Who makes wine that you admire?

Strohmeier in Austria

Klur in Alsace

Kathleen Inman in the Russian River

Are there any wines/ regions/ countries that you avoid and if so why?

We tend to drink only organic and biodynamic wines knowing what we know about what goes into the rest….

What is the most that you have ever spent on a bottle of wine, what was the wine and was it worth it?

For one of the grand cru classé classes I gave at our wine school . I bought a Mouton 93 for around 240 euro and it was interesting for the occasion but I wouldn’t buy it for myself (I see it is worth way more now so maybe I should have held it to resell!).

What are you most looking forward to drinking from your cellar?

A client gave me a bottle of Pontet Canet 2006 (organic and biodynamic grand cru classé Pauillac) that I am looking forward to drinking. I tasted it at the estate a couple of years ago and it was superb.

Thanks to Summerdale Press I have one copy of this book to giveaway. Just email me on henry g jeffreys @ gmail dot com to go into the prize draw or RT this article & follow me on twitter @henrygjeffreys

Books Film and TV Wine articles

Grape varieties don’t matter

The much-hyped comedy Sideways left me cold. I did leave the cinema, however, with the warm glow of the pedant for noticing that the grape varieties the Paul Giamatti character is most rude about, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, are the two that go into his beloved Cheval Blanc,  I remember thinking isn’t that just like Hollywood to make such a basic mistake. I now think it was a sly nod to the cognoscenti. Perhaps one of the film’s points is that grape varieties are not paramount, where a wine comes from, the skill with which the grapes are nurtured and the wine made is more important than the type of grape used.

The varieties that come in for the most flack are the German crosses, Huxelrebe, Bacchus, Muller-Thurgau etc. These grapes, normally crossings of Riesling with something that ripens earlier, were designed to have some of the flavour of their noble ancestor but be easier to grow consistently in Germany. They, especially Muller-Thurgau, are held responsible for the precipitous decline in German wines reputation since the War. So when at a recent tasting I was offered a glass of wine made from this variety I declined. The producer, La Vis from Trentino in Italy, insisted and watched with amusement as my face lit up: it was delicious. My notes say: ‘floral, v.fresh, spicy.’ It tasted like one of those madly fashionable Austrian wines and not at all ‘vaguely peachy with a flat, flaccid mid-palate, too often with a slight-suspicion of rot’ (the tasting note from the Oxford Companion to Wine.) It wasn’t Riesling but it wasn’t trying to be. I have the suspicion that those awful German wines owe more ludicrously high yields, bad quality fruit and huge quantities of sugar than any intrinsic varietal qualities. With those practices, the wines would have been awful no matter what grape variety they used.

Due to our damp cold climate, most English wines apart from the champagne-style sparkling wines are made from these Germanic crosses. I have always avoided them. Why have a Bacchus when you could have a Fiano was my reasoning. Well at the same Italian tasting I tried a dull dilute Fiano, a dreary Falanghina and hopeless Greco di Tufo (all Campanian grapes which can be excellent.) Perhaps it is time to try change my view. Wine critics have been praising wines such as the Chapel Down Bacchus for many years now. They have transcended their humble varietals. They are bought because of the reputation of the company rather, at the other end of the scale, as Cheval Blanc is.

La Vis Cru also do a lovely Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Grigio.  They are distributed by United Wineries.

Chapel Down Bacchus widely available.

Cheval Blanc widely available for those who can afford it. Petite Cheval, the second wine, offers some of the magic for a more reasonable price. Try Berry Bros & Rudd.