Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving History - Being Thankful for Wine

Thanksgiving is a traditional, and federal holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. The Continental Congress first declared the National Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1777. The days of Thanksgiving varied from year to year but were celebrated with some regularity in the mid-17th century after the harvest was in.

But it was in 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday to be celebrated the fourth Thursday of November each year that Thanksgiving began to become a treasured holiday.

The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 at what is now the Plymouth Plantation. The three-day feast was held after the first successful harvest in the New World.  Over fifty Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians attended the celebration.

The foods of the first Thanksgiving vary somewhat from what we have today.  The Pilgrims did have access to wild turkeys, but there was also venison, eel, cod, bass, and waterfowl available.

Autumn Vegetables
The vegetables that were available included corn, onions, leeks, carrots, cabbage, various squash and pumpkins; nuts, dried fruits, cranberries, and apples were also included in the feast.

Thanksgiving Dinner
In modern times, our Thanksgiving usually includes what has become traditional foods; turkey, dressing/stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, autumn vegetables such as corn, beans, squash, and pumpkin pies. The choice of beverage usually includes tea, coffee, colas, wine, and beer.

But has wine always been a Thanksgiving staple?  According to information regarding the cargo carried by the Mayflower – wine was regularly included on its shipping routes. The Mayflower’s hold could carry 180 oak casks of wine and was typically loaded with wines from Bordeaux and La Rochelle, France to be shipped back to England.

Hard Cider Casks
Wine was also listed in supplies sent to the New World from England, along with beer, aqua vita, (a drink made from distilled wine or beer) and hard cider.  As the colonists learned how to make these beverages in America, they began to disappear from the shipping supply roles. While native grapes, fruits, and grains would have changed the taste of the wines, beers, and hard ciders, colonists learned how to work with them to craft flavorful beverages to be enjoyed with their meals.  By the mid-1600’s, hard cider was the drink of choice in the colonies.

Wine with the Bird
Today, there are many wines touted as excellent Thanksgiving wines – Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer/Traminette, and sparkling wines like a Moscato, to name just a few. 

Georges Duboeuf
Georges Duboeuf knew that Beaujolais would pair wonderfully well with the normal autumn celebration fare, but this wine was traditionally not released until December 15th.  

 With that in mind, Duboeuf released his Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November, and called it Beaujolais Nouveau. Now the third Thursday of November is heralded by the anticipated release of Beaujolais Nouveau, well ahead of the traditional Beaujolais release date, and just in time for autumn celebrations.

Fruit Wines
If you’re feeling adventurous and would like to add a bit of authentic autumn flavor to your celebrations, consider a cranberry wine, or one crafted from pumpkins, persimmons, or apples.  You might even want to try a sparkling Shiraz.

Regardless of your choice of food and wines for this Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful for that wine glass, and for what’s in it!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

~  Joy

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It’s Beaujolais Nouveau Time

Each November, along with swirling leaves and crisp autumn air, another event occurs like clockwork  - the release of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau.

It occurs on the third Thursday of November at 12:01 a.m. local time, that’s when the current year’s Beaujolais is released to the public.

Gamay Grapes
Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine crafted from Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais wine region in France. The grapes have been around since the 15th century and Beaujolais Nouveau was just a regional wine enjoyed by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season.

But what began as a fad wine of the 1960s morphed into a cult wine for the 1980s, and beyond. Wine critics are hard pressed to give the wine much press, saying it is a gimmick fashioned mostly by French wine producer (of Beaujolais Nouveau) Georges Duboeuf.

Georges Duboeuf
Duboeuf saw a way to market the new wine and make a good profit from it – only a few weeks after the grapes had been hand picked. It was a stroke of marketing genius when he held a race to Paris with the first bottles of this extremely young and immature vino. Media from around the world covered the story and by the 1970s it was an annual event.

In 1985, the date of release was legally changed to the third Thursday in November to better take immediate advantage of the holidays. Beaujolais Nouveau is a great wine to serve with Thanksgiving, which occurs exactly one week later in the U.S. When you consider that close to 40 million bottles are released, mainly in Japan, Germany, and the U.S., this November release date just makes sense.

Beaujolais Nouveau
Beaujolais Nouveau is unique in that the grapes are
Carbonic Maceration Occurring

harvested and tossed in fermentation tanks without an official crush. This allows for fermentation on the skins, which results in more a flavorful wine.  After only 6 to 8 weeks of carbonic maceration fermentation, the wine is bottled and shipped. The wine is a purplish-red color, light bodied, and very fruit-forward, which adds to that mass appeal.

While wine critics don’t rave about it, many wine lovers do, lining up to purchase the limited
number of cases at wine shops across the world, just in time for the holidays.

In France, Beaujolais Nouveau even has its own day! This year over 120 celebrations will be held on November 21st – a day filled with festivals, fireworks, music, dancing, and of course, wine tasting.

Each vintage tastes differently but generally you can expect the flavors of strawberry, cherry, and red raspberry in a bright, fresh wine that’s easy to drink, and fun to pair with holiday foods. (Think turkey, ham, and cranberry sauce.)

Ministry of Agriculture
But before you get ready to rush to your local wine shop demanding cases of the stuff, you should know that this year the French Ministry of Agriculture reports that 2013 was one of the worst harvests in the past 40 years. (Last year and 2011 were also poor harvest years.)

Officials indicate that hail damage from summer storms along with millerandage (a problem where the grapes differ in size and maturity but grow on the same vine) are two reasons for this year’s lower yields. And smaller yields mean higher prices. But this is Beaujolais Nouveau we’re talking about - This year a bottle of Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau will run any where from $8.00 to $14.00 in the U.S.

Beaujolais Nouveau is indeed a party in a bottle, and you’ll see lots of festive decorations surrounding it in the liquor stores. Just remember that this wine has had very little fermentation and it’s meant to be enjoyed NOW. And, unlike most red wines, this one will become more enjoyable if chilled for 20 – 30 minutes before serving. If you forget to cool it down, no problem: just add a few ice cubes!

Remember, this is supposed to be fun, so put aside any preconceived notions, (no snobs allowed!) just kick back and enjoy this wine with friends because Beaujolais Nouveau will be gone very soon! And then you may find yourself waiting another year for that third Thursday in November…

~ Joy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wine Auction Spans Four Centuries

Today a wine and spirits auction transverses across four centuries when bottles of Madeira from 1792 along with Port from the Napoleonic wars, Port from the First and Second Wars, and wines from the 21st century come up for auction in Switzerland.

The global auction house, Christie’s is offering a private collection of rare Port and Madeira dating back to the 19th century for sale. The auction began yesterday and will conclude later today.

Mission Haut-Brion 1929
The wines auctioned yesterday were from a private Swiss cellar that had not been disturbed for years. Over 7,000 bottles were on the block, from double Magnums (3.0 L) to Imperial (6.0 L) sizes dating from 1953 to 1989. Included in this auction was a Magnum (1.5 L) of Mission Haut-Brion 1929, along with other Magnums from 1945, 1947, and 1949 vintages.
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

Another six Magnums of Haut-Brion 1955 along with a double
Magnum of the 1959 vintage were also up for auction. Other wines include six Magnums of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1947 Bordeaux in the original wooden cases, expected to bring $22,000 - $33,000.

Waterloo Vintages
Other auction highlights include one of the finest private collections of Port and Madeira to ever come to auction. This includes over 100 bottles of Port from the 19th century with several Waterloo vintages from 1808 and 1815. Auction estimates are around $5,000 for each Waterloo vintage bottle.

The Ports being offered for auction span every decade of the 19th century. Bidding may be fierce for these bottles as rare, mature Ports are currently commanding premium prices.

1847 Chateau d'Yquem
Madeira vintages include 1792, 1805 and 1820. These are some of the rarest Madeira on the market. And a rare pre-phylloxera* 1847 vintage bottle of Chateau d’Yquem is expected to bring $44,000 - $66,000.

*Phylloxera is an insect that feeds on the roots and leaves of grapevines. This results in deformed roots and fungal infections that cause the vines to die. The phylloxera outbreak began in Europe in the 1850’s and devastated vineyards across the country. It is estimated that well over two-thirds (some say nine-tenths) of all European vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera during that time.

Royal Salute Tribute of Honor
And if these offerings are not enough to whet collectors’ taste buds, a very limited number of rare decanters of whiskey are also up for auction. Only 21 decanters of Royal Salute, Tribute of Honor exist. Royal Salute whiskey was hand-bottled in flagons of fine French porcelain encrusted with over 413 black and white diamonds on the stopper, collar and sterling silver pedestal the bottle is on. The pedestal also bears a replica of the Sword of State flanked by two lions that are engraved in gold. Less than 15 liters (about 4 US gallons) of this 45-year-old whiskey were ever released and auction experts estimate the value to be  between $220,000 – $330,400 US Dollars.

1979 Petrus
Wine lots from private vendors will close the two-day auction and include a full case of Haut-Brion 1989, magnums and double magnums of Petrus 1979 and a double magnum of Latour 1983.

The auction continues today at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva and is expected to bring in close to $3 million.

~ Joy

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do Wine Club Memberships Make Great Gifts?

The holidays are fast approaching and now is a great time to consider what you’d like to receive (as a wine lover) and what you’d like to give the wine aficionado on your list.

Maybe you’ve considered joining or gifting a wine club.  There are a multitude of wine clubs out there, from those offered by a local winery, to clubs from select wine regions, retailers, internet wine clubs, even media outlets.

You can select clubs based on the types of wine; red wines, white wines, sweet wines, dry wines, gold medal wines, organic wines. Or maybe a wine club that changes it’s theme with each shipment is more to your liking. Whatever you’re searching for, you can probably find it at this time of year when clubs offer specials and incentives for the holidays.

Wine club memberships are great gift ideas because they allow you (or your recipient) the convenience of receiving select wines directly to your door. Wine clubs have helped introduce consumers to varieties, locations and producers they might not normally have tried or had access to.  And that has helped in expanding the customer’s range of knowledge about wine, wine regions, and the industry as a whole.

Paul Kalemkiarain
The concept of the wine club is said to have developed about in 1972 when Paul Kalemkiarain, Sr., started choosing  ‘monthly wine selections’ to offer to the customers of a liquor store he managed in California.  Customers requested that the wines be delivered to their homes and Kalemkiarain began sending them by mail – thus began a monthly wine club.

What Comes with the Wine
Today wine clubs are as different as the wines themselves.  The varieties of wine offered, the number of bottles sent, the frequency of the club; monthly, bimonthly or quarterly, and the frequency of shipping are all variables you should consider when selecting a wine club.  Newsletters, winetasting notes, food pairing tips, recipes, even personal notes from the winemaker may be added perks with a wine club membership. But in the end, cost may be the true deciding factor. 

Wine Shipping
Prices charged for wine clubs are what the market will bear, so do your research.  Clubs can start at $30 + shipping for two bottles of wine and go up to around $200 + shipping for two bottles. Wine may be shipped by ground (the lowest rate) or overnight by private carriers, but never by the U.S. Postal Service.  Some wine clubs will offer shipping at a flat rate, regardless of what you order.

Here are just a few things to consider before joining up:

• Specific wine clubs offers exactly what you want.
• Wine clubs offer wines that may not be available through regular store channels, especially true for small wineries.

• If you reside in a rural or limited wine area, wine clubs may give you access to wines that are difficult to obtain in your area.

• Wine clubs are a good way to experience different wines from all over the world.

• Wine clubs may offer special discounts, or hold special events just for wine club members. Winery wine clubs offer perks such as complimentary wine tastings, pick-up parties, or free wine glasses.

• Limited wines may only be released to wine club members.

• Wine clubs strengthen relationships with the customer and the winery or producer.

• Wine club prices may be highly inflated.  What will the club cost you over a year? (Figure in the price of the bottles, taxes, and shipping.) Do the math before you sign.

• Wine clubs select the wines to be sent.  You could end up receiving wines that you don’t necessarily like.

• State-to-state wine shipping laws. Rules vary from state to state, sometimes county to county, regarding wine shipments, including how many bottles/cases you can receive and if taxes are charged. Learn more at

• Shipping prices can be prohibitive.  Since wine cannot be sent by regular mail,
private shippers must be used.  Keep in mind that UPS and Fed Ex also include extra charges for adult signatures, and an adult must be present for these carriers to leave the package.

• Condition the wine arrives in.  Once the wine leaves the wine club premises it is at the mercy of the shipper.  This means it can set on a dock in the sun or inclement weather.  Check with the club and see if they will hold shipments for you if your area is difficult to ship to weather-wise.

• Wine clubs are not personal.  You can’t get a recommendation or up-close, personal service like you would in a wine shop or store.

• Other limitations and requirements - Find out if there’s a penalty for canceling your membership. What happens if you don’t purchase the agreed upon amount of wine in the amount of time specified?

Bottom Line:
When you join a wine club make sure its one with wines you will continue to enjoy over the length of the membership period.  Check out how often wines are shipped, when your card will be charged, and how you can track your shipment.  Can you request fewer shipments, or have them held and shipped at more appropriate times?  Also read the fine print before signing and find out what’s required to join and cancel a club membership.

If it’s a club that sounds too good to be true – check it out. Make sure the wine club is legitimate.  Has it had complaints registered against it?  Are the wines delivered what they’re promised to be?  Are there unseen costs added in?  Is the shipping really free?

Like anything else, a wine club is only as good as the value you feel you are getting. Make sure it’s a good fit for your tastes and objectives.

After all, the Holidays are all about spreading “Good Cheer,” and wine club memberships can be great gifts that  "keep on giving!"

~ Joy