Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrate #Cabernet Day

Tomorrow, August 29th, is #Cabernet Day and that’s reason enough for me to pop open a bright and bold Cabernet Sauvignon and toast to the day.

Started by Rick Bakas in 2010, #Cabernet Day was advertised by word-of-mouth  through social media platforms.  It is actually a global event now, to be celebrated around the world with a raised glass, or bottle, of your favorite Cabernet (Franc, Sauvignon or blend.)

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes
But why Cabernet? Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most recognized grapes, and wines, in the world. It is grown throughout Europe, America, and Canada.

Cabernet Franc Grapes
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes
During the 17th Century an accidental crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc resulted in the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  The grape became very popular in Bordeaux during the 18th Century. The vines are hardy and resistant to disease and cold temperatures, which makes them easier to grow. Cabernet Sauvignon was the most planted grape in the world until Merlot took over in the 1990’s.

But never fear, Cabernet has bounced back and is once again the most planted grape in the world. In fact, in the U.S. 25% of all grapes planted in California are Cabernet Sauvignon. 
In France, the majority of the country’s Cabernet grapes come from the Left Bank in the Bordeaux region. (The Right Bank tends to lean toward Merlots.)

Cabernet Sauvignon can be crafted into a wine that cellars well. Mature Cabernets can demand a high price and they are the stars of the wine auctions. It is not unusual for more mature California Cabs to command $300 to $800 a bottle. If you’re looking for mature California Cabernets at better than expected prices, check out Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses in New York and Chicago where these bottles can range from 65% to 85% of the prices the same wines go for in San Francisco at Bonhams & Butterfields But one word of caution, know your vintages for the best deals.

  And speaking of the highest prices, Screaming Eagle commands first place as the most expensive California Cabernet with an average selling price of $2,500 a bottle. The reason it can command such a price? When it was first released in 1992, Robert Parker gave it 99 points and Wine Spectator gave it 96 points. It’s now a prestigious bottle for the wealthy to name-drop that they have cellared.

However, Penfolds of Australia holds the title for the world’s most expensive wine, which just happens to be a Cabernet. Last year Penfolds offered 12 handmade ampoules of their 2004 Block 42 Cab for $168,000 each. Why the price? According to Penfolds:

"2004 Block 42 is a rare, single-vineyard wine, only released in stellar vintages and produced from the oldest continuously-producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world."

But there's even more "bang for the buck(s) - You can't open the bottle, only a Penfolds expert can.
Watch the video demonstration @

"When a decision is made to open the ampoule a senior member of the Penfolds winemaking team will personally attend a special opening ceremony for the owner. The winemaker will travel to the destination of choice, where the ampoule will be ceremoniously removed from its glass plumb-bob casing and opened using a specially designed tungsten-tipped,  sterling silver scribe-snap.  The winemaker will then prepare the wine using a beautifully crafted sterling silver tastevin."

But for today, any Cabernet will do. So pour a glass and savor those intense flavors of berries, tobacco, leather and lead pencil. After all, any time we can celebrate with a Cabernet is a good time, indeed.

~ Joy

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Get the Most From a Wine Festival or Public Tasting

At this time of year there's a surplus of public wine tasting events throughout the country. Wine tastings are available at wine festivals, wine shops, grocery stores, even convenience stores, and at wine classes.  All of these venues can offer an excellent chance for you to try new or different wines, and to explore wines you are not familiar with.

Wine tasting events are designed to allow the wine lover a chance to try several types of wines at the same time and compare.  They also offer you a chance to discuss the wines with fellow tasters, garner opinions, and learn as you go.  These events are not for the pretentious. Wine drinkers from beginners, to intermediates, to advanced, enjoy these gatherings and love to share information.

You might go to a Cabernet tasting at a local wine shop and get to try four or five excellent Cabs in a seated environment with other wine lovers.  The presenter should be able to answer your questions and steer you toward something you will like.

Grocery stores may offer a flight of wines, ranging from dry to sweet, along with cheeses from their deli that will pair well with each wine.  These are enjoyed at a tasting table with the products available right there for purchase.

Wine festivals abound!  Usually the name will indicate what types of wine you can expect to find. Before heading out, decide what kind of information you want to gain from attending the event. Are you looking to learn more about a certain grape, a type of wine, a wine region, or just looking forward to an outing with friends?  All are great reasons to attend, just clarify to yourself what you hope to gain and make the most of the event.

But before you go there are a few things to keep in mind when attending an event, based on my experience in front of and behind the tasting counter; we'll call these Joy's Ten Suggestions for Attending a Wine Tasting Event.

1)  Eat before you go. Yes, there may be food pairings offered, but these are only samples, and the purpose is not for you to make a meal out of them.  These tiny ‘appetizers’ are there to help you with pairing ideas, and to help your body absorb the alcohol so you can enjoy the event without getting drunk.

2)  No heavy aromas.  In other words, if you really want to taste the wines – no smoking, no heavy perfumes or after-shave lotions.  Don’t wear, or do anything that will affect your sense of smell and taste. And yes, this includes chewing gum, going heavy on the garlic, or chewing tobacco!  (And he wondered why all of the wines tasted like mint….!)

3)  Plan what you’ll wear.  If it’s an outside event, wear something cool and comfortable.  No heels - think about it..., No black – too hot.  No white – unless you don’t mind getting wine stains on it.  (I know, you’re very careful, but the guy tasting next to you, ummm…not so much.)

4)  Keep hydrated.  Wine shop tastings will usually have water available.  If you’re attending a wine festival, carry your own.  Don’t expect the booth to provide it for you.  The water they have on hand is for rinsing glasses.  Grocery tasting?  Grab a bottle at the register.  While you may not feel that you’re getting dehydrated, play it safe by drinking a glass of water for every glass of wine consumed.

5)  Move away from the table after you’ve received your pour.  There is usually a line of people waiting behind you. Please be considerate and get out of the line of action.  You can always get back in line for another sample or to ask a question.  Basic guidelines:  Don’t hog the table and don’t cut in line.  Wine lovers are affable people – as long as you don’t keep them from their wine unnecessarily ; )

6)  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but please make them relevant to the wine and not just chitchat.  This is your opportunity to speak with the wine maker, wine shop manager, or (hopefully) someone who knows something about the wines they are pouring.  Have a question about the wine you just tried?  Get in line and ask.  The pourer may have an answer, a suggestion, or an idea that gives you more ways to enjoy the wine.

7)  Take advantage of the tasting notes offered.  Read the wine’s description and then taste.  Can you find the same flavors described?  Or do you taste something different?  Note on the sheet or in a designated notebook what you experience.  Later, you can discuss your findings with friends who also tried the wine, or remind yourself why you bought three cases of it.

8)  Ask if any ‘specials’ are being offered at the tasting.  Many times wine shops and grocery stores will offer special prices on the wines you’ve tried.  At wine festivals, 6 bottle and case (12 bottle) discounts may apply, along with a percentage off of one-bottle purchases.  It never hurts to ask and you may find yourself with some great bargains.

9)  Go prepared to purchase by taking your own wine carrier bags.  You may have decided that you would only buy 6 wines –but once you get there and start tasting, six can change to 12 or 24 very quickly.  At a large event, empty wine boxes can be hard to find because everyone needs one to carry their purchases.  Be prepared and you won’t have to wait for a carryall.

10) Remember the 3E’s!  These are the musts for any wine tasting event – Explore, Experience, and Enjoy!

Even if you don’t live near a large grocery, wine shop, or wine festival location, you can still enjoy a wine tasting.  Attend a Twitter Tasting and take part in the questions and comments as you sip and savor along with other participants, worldwide.

The weekend is coming – now get out there and


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Six Bizarre Wines (You Couldn’t Pay Me to Drink!)

Southeast Asis
I have a friend who’s always traveling to some far away place and she keeps an eye out for unusual wines and drinking customs, along with unknown cemeteries and death rituals I might feature in one of my blogs. Her travel stories are usually wonderful, but sometimes they can be stomach lurching and a bit bizarre.

Take her trip to a village in Southeast Asia where she was invited to be the guest of honor and partake in a special celebration, complete with snake wine. I must hand it to her, not only did she try it, she actually kept it down during the dinner. I know I would not do the same…

But it started me thinking about what others may see as acceptable for a wine to have in it that we in the US definitely do not.

Here are just a few bizarre wines currently out there:

Snake Wine
Snake & Scorpioni Wine
Regardless of its name, Snake Bile Wine, Snake Blood Wine, Snake Heart Wine,
 or Snake and Scorpion Wine, these wines are big favorites in Vietnam, China and Southeast Asia. The point is to have a venomous snake placed whole into the bottle for its “essence.” 

Cobra Wine
Rice Still
The venom is dissolved into rice wine or grain liquor but is rendered nontoxic due to the wine or liquor's alcohol content. This type of rice wine is actually a distilled liquor with a high alcohol content similar to moonshine.

Snake Wine
The snake may be used whole, in parts, or just body fluids mixed with the wine or liquor. Imbibers believe this wine can cure many illnesses, along with hair loss and impotence. (Sounds like snake oil salesman rhetoric.)

Baby Mice Wine
Baby Mice Wine
This one comes from Korea and China, again, using rice wine. Only this time baby mice are the bizarre ingredient.  I know that sounds bad, but then it gets worse; the baby mice are between 2 and 3 days old when they are drowned in the rice wine before being fermented for a year in the bottle. Customs claim that this wine is a health tonic that can cure anything from the common cold to liver disease. (But possibly not alcohol-induced liver disease?)

Lizard Wine
Lizard Wine
Lizard Wine
Again from China, Lizard Wine is a green wine made when Gecko lizards and ginseng are placed in a vat and left to ferment. After a year the liquid is strained and bottled with a lizard. It is supposed to ward off evil spirits. (Define “evil Spirits” for me…)

Deer Penis Wine & Tiger Penis Wine
Deer Penis Wine

Tiger Penis Wine
Yes, China also crafts this peculiar wine made from the penis of a deer or a tiger. Proponents say that for the wine to retain its healing powers the penis must be extracted from the deer while it is alive. Not necessarily so for the tiger. The wine is consumed as an aphrodisiac and to enhance sexual potency – (Notice this did not enhance anything for the deer or the tiger…)

Seagull Wine
From the Arctic Circle comes a wine with wings – literally. The ingredients are simple, take a seagull, put it in a clear glass bottle or container, add water and set in the sun to ferment, for a long time. The Inuit’s created this wine apparently for the sole purpose of getting drunk, quickly. No wonder those long, cold Arctic nights are so lonely…

And, I’ll leave you with a wine from our own side of the fence - one that will surely keep you on your toes –

Sourtoe Champagne Cocktail
Downtown Hotel

This is from our friends up north at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada.  This drink is made with champagne served in a beer glass with a dehydrated human toe added.

Preserved Toe
Legend has it that forty years ago, in 1973, a local resident discovered a human toe, preserved in alcohol, while cleaning out a cabin. He decided to create a drink featuring the appendage and began serving the Sourtoe Cocktail at the Eldorado Hotel. That toe was served in champagne cocktails for 7 years, until a man, on his 13th cocktail, swallowed it.

Club Member
Club Member
But never fear - seven more human toes have been donated to the hotel through out the years and a Sourtoe Cocktail Club has been formed. The club offers an official certificate to those who drink a Sourtoe Cocktail, but there is one rule "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe."

Elephant Dung Beer
And don’t’ get me started on beer and hard liquors, there’s plenty more bizarre ingredients but I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

Ahh - Merlot
It is amazing what humans will do for the sake of a thrill or "health". Now excuse me while I go retch. Then a nice glass of a mundane Merlot might be just what it takes to settle my stomach.

~ Joy