Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Obligatory Thanksgiving Wine Pairing

Now, I told myself I wasn’t going to blog about it – naa-aah. Not me. No way this year. I was not going to tell my readers what wines make for a perfect pairing with their Thanksgiving turkey. I mean we’ve been reading about it for years from the LA Times to the Seattle Times to the New York Times and back to the LA Times, again. And let's not forget the glossies - perfectly poised and basted birds on the covers of food and wine magazines and between their pages are "perfect wine pairing" suggestions. And needless to say, there's usually a big shiny wine photo advertising the chosen wine pairing suggestion. Whooaaaa - what a coincidence that the ad manager chose the same wine as the wine writer!

Unfortunately, I fell – I fell to the peer pressure of my fellow wine bloggers reminding me it was time - - time to give out my suggestions for Thanksgiving wine pairings. So here I am. Now, for several years it seemed to me that everyone got stuck in a rut when it came to the perfect wine pairing for their Butterball or else they bought into the rant of the fictitious character from the movie, "Sideways." I can't tell you how many wine message boards I have read where someone would ask about turkey and wine pairing and the standard answer was always, "Pinot Noir - - the only wine to serve with turkey." And on one of those wine message boards, I was told I was "wine-ignorant" for suggesting a crisp dry French rose' for Thanksgiving. And let's not forget - -

The marketing scheme of Georges Duboeuf and his annual Beaujolais Nouveau "phenomenon" - - a bottle of young Gamay produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It's fermented for just a few weeks and the new vintage is officially released for sale on the third Thursday of November. The young Gamay production can be traced back to the 19th century, but became a marketing tradition since 1985. Off the distributors will race to see who will bring the first bottles of the vintage to their markets. And what a coincidence that it falls just a few days before the American Thanksgiving! In fact, today is "Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2008!"

So you ask, "Well Miss Smarty-Pants-Walla-Walla-Wine-Blogger-Woman," what wines are you going to recommend to pair with my Thanksgiving meal? My recommendation for the perfect food and wine pairing for your Thanksgiving table is: choose your favorite wines and be conscious about how many carbon footprints you take = go local!

Thanksgiving is about friends, family and giving thanks – who cares what some "big-city" magazine or newspaper says you should be drinking with your holiday meal! Open your favorites and open many! If Uncle John Pilgrim wants a Cabernet Sauvignon with his turkey and Aunt Priscilla Pilgrim would prefer an off-dry Riesling - - it's all good! This is the best time to enjoy and share your favorite wines with your loved ones.

Also, think local. Okay, so I will bring out that bottle of French rose' I've been hanging onto for a few months and I will bring out a few bottles of Spanish Cava for the sparkling factor, but the majority of the wines at our table will be local - - wines produced in the Walla Walla Valley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Four Wine Questions For: Erika Strum

Welcome to my fourth interview in my 4WQ4 blog feature. If you are not familiar, this is an article where I ask four Q&A’s with a “celebrity” in the wine industry. And it just so happens, since we are coming to the end of the year – only four features a year seems appropriate – a “Quarterly Four Wine Questions For: - - a Q4WQ4:?

One could say that Erika Strum was born with a silver corkscrew… and if the last name Strum sounds familiar to you, yes - - her father is Adam Strum, publisher and editor of the Wine Enthusiast Magazine located in Mt. Kisco, New York – 30 minutes outside of Manhattan. But Strum knows all too well what it’s like to start and work in the wine business from the ground floor. When she was a 21-year old newbie she hosted winery tours and led tourists through wine tastings in Napa Valley and later she would be involved in retail sales for a large wine store.

Erika Strum is now the Internet Marketing Manager at the Wine Enthusiast Companies. The Wine Enthusiast Companies, founded in 1979, started as a direct mail business featuring wine accessories. In 1988 Wine Enthusiast Magazine was founded and is now one of the world’s largest periodicals devoted to wine and spirits. They also founded the “Toast of the Town,” a premier wine tasting event located in four cities throughout the US. Erika is involved in all divisions of the business from online marketing through email marketing plus editing and writing for the UnReserved blogs and Winstons’ Wisdoms, the catalog blog.

When Strum isn’t working on search engine optimization, writing company online articles and managing the company’s internet marketing, in her spare time she's been studying for her WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) and completed her Advanced Certification. She also writes about wine and food on her own personal blog at StrumErika. I also found out she is fluent in French! That always comes in handy when it comes to wine - -

W5: Most wine lovers have picked up a copy of the familiar Wine Enthusiast Magazine or ran across the online version. The print magazine is a beautiful glossy featuring the best of wine and spirits, covering old world to new world wine regions including wine education, food and travel. How did it all happen for your family and at what point did you make your entrance into the family business?

ES: The story of how the family got started is sort of a sweet one. My Dad was doing wine sales for Gallo and my Mom was a commercial producer. Soon after getting married they were at a dinner party and the household they were at was missing a corkscrew. A light bulb went off and they figured, perhaps this could be a great business idea. They started working in the attic of our old house and launched the first catalog which was only a handful of pages of wine accessories. They took a pretty big risk, not knowing how big the wine market really was, and it paid off. The business began to grow over the years and a decade later they expanded to the magazine. The tricky thing is that wine has really expanded beyond the niche market that it once was. As more people offer wine accessories and wine reviews we have to determine how to separate ourselves from the pack.

I started in the business three years ago after working at an SEO firm. I put off joining the family biz for a bit after college. For some reason it felt like joining the company was the easy way out. I wanted to earn a spot in the company and bring some additional skills beyond a typical entry-level kid. Now that I’m here, I’m not goin’ anywhere!

W5: Right up front Erika, I have to ask you - - what you know about Walla Walla wines? You live in New York, so I know that our wines are not your focus nor are they easily accessible! But I have to say that I have read a many a good review about the wines from Walla Walla, WA in the Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

ES: In terms of Walla Walla wines—that’s a tricky one! I’ll admit that my experience with Washington wines is limited though I traveled to Seattle last year when my Dad was speaking at Taste Washington. We spent some time at Chateau Ste Michelle and at a couple of tastings throughout the conference and I sampled some nice Rieslings, Syrahs, and Cabernets. (W5: I’ll bet Erika will be paying a bit more attention to the wines of Walla Walla now.)

W5: Lately, several members of the wine media, including another wine magazine, has been criticizing the recent growing movement of independent wine bloggers aka “self appointed wine critics.” How do you see yourself in the middle of all of this, especially since you are so involved in internet marketing and owner of a personal wine blog?

ES: There are so many things to discuss but I guess there has been quite a bit of buzz lately about glossies vs. blogs and the idea of people being more empowered to rate wines themselves. People wonder if critics feel threatened by this new influx of reviewers (bloggers) out there and I think ultimately vilify previously established critics. I know that one of my biggest projects since starting at the Wine Enthusiast Companies has been to revise our buying guide, which is launching soon (fingers crossed). One of the major features it will have is the ability for online users to rate wines themselves, alongside the expert reviews. When I proposed this idea I was elated with how it was received. Our tasting panel was thirsty for the feature! They were excited to start hearing people’s opinions and in fact, said it was a feature they’d yearned for, for quite some time. I can’t speak to other publications but this is a sentiment I’ve felt around here a lot.

So I started getting into blogs with my personal blog, StrumErika. At my old SEO firm, a bunch of us started different blogs with various focuses. I started StrumErika doing mainly restaurants reviews and then throwing in some silly videos, and some basic wine knowledge stuff. Then I started at Wine Enthusiast and got involved in the Twitter wine community and started to make it really a restaurant/recipe/wine blog. I’m still trying to determine if I really need to pick one of those things, or if it’s OK to be all three. I try not to take it too seriously though.

I also handle the catalog blog which is called Winston’s Wisdoms. I write posts on wine storage, glassare, corkscrews and the like and also edit posts from contributors in various departments at the company. It’s a great outlet for us to dispel customer confusion about wine accessories and to show some expertise. We also have a group of blogs for the magazine called UnReserved written by Steve Heimoff, Mike Shachner, and our in-house editorial team. I do some writing and editing there as well.

W5: Erika, I have to be honest here – when it came to my last 4WQ4 for the year 2008, I had a list of two other people to interview - and both men! But it occurred to me – “Hey! The last three 4WQ4 interviews were with men! I keep preaching about the power of women in the wine industry and I need to practice what I preach.” And with that said, based on your own experiences Erika, how do you see women in the wine industry, whether it is a woman winemaker, wine writer or the woman behind the tasting room bar and are you seeing any advancement or do we have a long way to go to receive 100% acceptance?

ES: Ah, women in wine. I don’t think we have 100% acceptance and I do think it’s still a male dominated industry but I don’t blame anybody for that. Wine collecting, is sort of a masculine hobby. Masculinity often involves collecting and showing off. Think: baseball cards, comic books. By nature, it’s not a feminine trait. So in the past, men have been more involved in maintaining cellars and paying attention to reviews which in the past, were largely written by men. But nowadays, studies have shown that the women are the ones purchasing wine for the household and women are getting into collecting too. The female consumer is becoming more important and who better to target women than a woman? We also can’t forget Jancis Robinson and lots of new female bloggers emerging on the scene, so I see things changing. At the magazine we have three female critics on staff: Monica Larner, Susan Kostrzewa, and Lauren Buzzeo.

I took a trip recently to Bedell Cellars in Long Island where I met their new female winemaker, Kelly Urbanik, who is a young woman my age. The oenology program at UC Davis is now 50% women, for the first time. I caught up with Kim Stare Wallace last weekend who is an old friend of the family and the talent behind Dry Creek Vineyards. Another great one is my Mom! A lot of people aren’t aware that my Mom has always been an equal partner in the business, along with my Dad. There are countless examples. I think there’s hope, and it’s an exciting time for women in wine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Malbec: Old Vines vs. New Vines

Malbec, known as one of the six red grapes allowed in a bottle of Bordeaux, has been found mostly in the Cahors region of Southwestern France. This dark and inky juiced grape was later introduced to Argentina in 1868. Often referred to as Côt in France, lost it's popularity in the 1950's when a frost devastated about 75% of the vineyards. However, Malbec remained the premier grape in Argentina and eventually found it's way to California and Washington and especially in Walla Walla, Washington.

If you have been keeping up with the 89 Project blog, I blogged an article for the project regarding aMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005. aMaurice is a winery from the Walla Walla Valley and I actually craved this wine after the first sip at the winery. It was "s_w_o_o_n" worthy! I rationed my first bottle for three evenings and every evening it became more interesting. The color was an inky plum color and the nose wafted out dark fruit - reminding me of a treasured family recipe of huckleberry coffee cake made from the berries we picked during our summers in Montana. The other nice surprise was the finish - graham crackers! The second evening it was if the flavors built up and became even more intense but with dark deep cocoa added. The third evening, the intense flavors remained but with a pleasant bit of spice in the finish.

So as Teddy Roosevelt once said over a cup of coffee served to him in Nashville, Tennessee - - "it was good to the last drop." And unfortunately Dr. Jay Miller never asked my opinion about the wine, because Parker pointed it an 89 - only 89.

Last week, we celebrated the evening of the election with another Malbec - - one from Mendoza, Argentina. And to make this even more interesting, the Malbec fruit was hand picked from vines that were over 90 years old.

Gourlart Grand Vin Malbec was also a 2005 vintage like the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars. The color was a deep red. There wasn't quite an inkiness going on, but definite shades of violet came through in the color. At first I thought it had an extemely complex nose - it was almost difficult to define. Perhaps due to terroir that was not directly familiar to me? But later notes of ripe dark berries, chocolate and spice came out of the glass. The tannins were balanced and the acids were "juicy." I also picked up a familiar spiciness that was heavy on the oak - - in fact this wine had spent 14 months in 100% new French oak. I also noticed that in another year or six-months this wine would be needing some decanting - which is not a bad thing.

How did I feel about this particular Malbec from Argentina? It wasn't quite "s_w_o_o_n" worthy of the local Malbec, but it was definitely "crush" worthy (And remember, my "crush"worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy may be different than your idea of "crush" worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy). One very important thing: at first sip, I knew it was not of familiar terroir and would have almost guessed this Malbec to be a French wine.

While both wines are Malbecs and of the same vintage, it is very difficult to say which one is the better wine. It's all about taste and style - each wine bringing something different to the person savoring the liquid. Comparing the two wines could also depend on how you pair them with particular foods. The Goulart Grand Vin definitely screamed for some spicy foods such as Tex-Mex and Cajun influenced food. The aMaurice Cellars would be accented wonderfully with a charcuterie and/or cheese plate, or an herbal induced rich beef stew, beef stroganoff or even a tomato sauce enhanced pasta dish.

And when it came to points how did the Goulart Grand Vin - 2005 from Mendoza, Argentina with fruit picked from 90 year old vines compare with the aMaurice Cellars - 2005 from Walla Walla, WA picked from relatively newer vines? Well, the Wine Spectator gave the Goulart Grand Vin - - drum roll - - 89 points.

Now this is where you will allow me to jump up on my soap box. As we know, 89 points can kill the sale of a very delicious and well-made wine. Personally, I feel that those who over look a wine because it received a 89 are really missing out on some well-made and interesting wines. And for argument's sake, let's say if the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars received 90 or 91 points, some "narrow-pointed minded" people might over look the Goulart Grand Vin because of it's mere 89 points. Or if the Goulart Grand Vin received a 90 or 91, the aMaurice Cellars Malbec with it's 89 points could also be forsaken. How can you pit each wine against each other - it's like the flaw of the Oscars. How do you give an Oscar to the best movie of the year when your choices are a comedy, romance, western and a sci-fi? To sum it up - -

To choose one of these Malbecs over the other - - it can't be done because missing out on either wine - - well, you are just missing out - - period.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Stay Green - Dispose of Green

So after a weekend of tasting a lot of great Walla Walla wines from over 100 different wineries and after the wineries pour several bottles every week to all of their customers - what happens to the empty bottles?

Many Walla Walla wineries are now working with Walla Walla 2020 Recycling and recycling their own bottles and cardboard. While glass cannot be recycled in the City of Walla Walla's curbside home containers, clean green, brown and clear glass can be recycled at several special drop boxes. The locations for these bright yellow containers in Walla Walla are:

· City Service Center, 55 Moore Street at the end of the cul-de-sac on Moore Street
· Sudbury Road Landfill, near the scale house
· Fire Station No. 1, 12th Avenue and Poplar Street, in the southwest corner of the parking lot off Birch Street
· Fire Station No. 2, Wilbur Avenue and Tacoma Street, in the parking spot adjacent to the basketball court
· Walla Walla Recycling, Inc., 827 N. 12th Avenue

Also many thanks to Sonja and Jim at Lowden Hills Winery, who not only recycles their glass and cardboard to help make our community a little more green, but they also offer their customers and community to feel free to bring their rinsed wine bottles, regardless of brand, to Lowden Hills Winery for recycling.