20091231

Never piss off a billionaire

From the Los Angeles Times:

William Koch (right) didn't mean to turn the wine world upside down.

The Palm Beach, FL, billionaire developed a taste for wine as a young man and, as he accumulated wealth, built an extensive wine collection. Among that collection: a 1787 Lafite Bordeaux with Thomas Jefferson's initials etched into the bottle.

Except, he says, it's a fake.

"I thought that I had a piece of history, a piece of America's most important history," Koch said, holding up the bottle in his wine cellar, which contains about 40,000 bottles.

His response to the alleged fakery was unheard of in the wine world: He sued the seller.

Since that initial lawsuit, he has filed four more and is working on another. He says he aims to clean up an industry where a single bottle can fetch more than $100,000.

Now, collectors are warier. Some auction houses are shunning him.

And the wine world hasn't been the same.

[Go here for the full story.]


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20091205

'Calistoga' approved as a wine designation


Chalk up one more designation in the ever-more-complex world of U.S. wine labeling.

Napa Valley winemakers have been cleared by the federal government to put the name "Calistoga" on wines made from grapes grown in that California town.

The decision by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates wine and wine labels, goes into effect early in 2010. A California law also requires Napa vintners to use the words "Napa Valley" on labels.

Local vintners first petitioned the feds in 2003 for the Calistoga permission. Calistoga, located in the northern part of Napa Valley, is one of the region's oldest communities.

The lengthy process, and some lobbying and lawsuits that created quite a controversial situation, are detailed in this report on the SFGate.com website.

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20091201

Late billionaire's wine going to auction

To people of a certain age, the name Doris Duke will ring a bell. A gold-plated bell.

The late, lone heir to the estate of tobacco tycoon James Duke once was known as the "richest little girl in the world." In 1924, at the age of 12, she inherited his $100 million estate derived from both Duke Energy and the American Tobacco Co. which today is known as Fortune Brands.

She was known as a philanthropist and excellent businesswoman whose estate was worth $1.2 billion at the time of her death in 1993.

Among the many things she collected over her lifespan was wine. And, not just any wine. Four lots from her cellars will be up for auction at Christie's in Manhattan on Wednesday, December 9.

Each of the four lots of three bottles of 1929 Chateau d'Yquem has a pre-sale estimate of $15,000 to $24,000.

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20091129

NY grape becomes signature Indiana wine

Traminette, a grape hybrid from Cornell University's Agricultural Experiment Station, has been given the designation of the state's first signature wine.

The state, however, is not New York, but rather Indiana.

Confused? Go here to read the whole story.

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20091113

A celebri-quote: Elizabeth Hurley

Actress-model Elizabeth Hurley, 44, told a reporter from London's Daily Mail that she has switched from wine and coffee to vodka to maintain her famous figure.

"I used to drink an awful lot of coffee, but I was told after the age of 40 you have to be careful with coffee and wine. I don’t miss having a glass of wine because I’ve switched to vodka.

"I don’t really like vodka that much but if I’m at a party, I have a small one with a lot of fizzy water and a huge squeeze of lime. Initially it’s like medicine but I’ve gotten used to it now."

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20091102

A celebri-quote: Kate Hudson

Like her mom, the actress Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson has never been on the chubby side. Quite the opposite, as discussed in an interview with the actress in the current issue of Elle magazine. She dropped to about 105 pounds for a movie role as a terminally ill woman.

"I love my glass of wine. I love tequila.

"To be in New York for two weeks and not have one beverage! I'm not sure I've ever done that.

"I'm not, like, 110 pounds, but I'm probably heading towards that."

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20091028

About that Brunello problem ...

The U.S. government's concern over improper blending of several Italian wines, including by some makers of the popular Brunello di Montalcino, has not been resolved.

Italy requested a meeting with U.S. officials to discuss its ongoing investigation of the situation. Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, Italian ambassador to the U.S., and Luca Zaia, Italian minister of agriculture, told officials of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB) board that they are taking full responsibility for the integrity of all 500 Italian wine denominations.

They said none of the mislabeled products that have been the subject of numerous press reports remain on the market. They also cited heightened quality control mandates and an oversight role for the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nevertheles, the TTB said it is continuing to enforce the certification requirement and has no plans to lift it. Industry observers have speculated that court cases against violators taking place in Italy will have to be resolved before the restrictions will be eased.

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California wine center on the block

April L. Dowd photo

COPIA, the Napa, CA, wine and culinary center that teetered on the edge of insolvency through much of its brief history, is up for sale.

The owner is seeking bids for the shuttered facility that declared bankruptcy last December after running out of cash. Bidders have until Nov. 12 to submit proposals for the 17-acre property, according to a real estate company handling the sale.

The $78 million complex offers “an exciting opportunity for a new owner to develop a vibrant and valuable commercial and tourism destination,” he said.

ACA Financial Guaranty Corp., which controls the property, put it on the market. ACA insured the bonds issued to pay for COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts. Proceeds from the sale will go to repay the bondholders. The property is worth $25 to $35 million in the current market, according to estimates in bankruptcy court filings.

COPIA was the brainchild of wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, who died last year at age 94. It was financially troubled since its 2001 opening as a facility that included museum exhibition space, a restaurant, expansive gardens, meeting rooms and art galleries.

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20091017

Vin de Table becomes Vin de France

It may not mean much to the average wine buyer at first, but the denomination "vin de table" now is "vin de France."

The change comes as a result of the reform of the Common Market Organization (CMO) of the wine sector in Europe and the new category "Vin de France." In the change, ANIVIT (the acronym for National Wine Council of Vins de Table and Vins de
Pays) officially became Anivin de France (National Council of Vin of France).

The new category replaces Vin de Table, and, for the first time, allows the mention of varietal and vintage on the label.

The new wine councail says its missions "are entirely centered on the development of the new category Vin de France -- wines without geographic denomination, conforming to the missions defined by the CMO of the wine sector." In plain English, that means specifically:

• Ensure a permanent and ongoing association among the different professional bodies of producers and trade professionals.

• Improve the knowledge of the organization and regulation of the markets.

• Develop the exposure, accessibility and penetration of Vin de France, primarily through public relations, tastings and trade exhibitions, publicity, advertising and sales promotion.

• Promote moderate and responsible consumption, notably within the association Vin et Societe. Vin et Societe is a group whose missions are also to promote moderate consumption and to convey the economic, commercial and cultural values of wine.

• Participate in national or regional Research and Development programs, and in collective action by the wine sector as a whole.

The board of directors of Anivin de France was named by the four founding organizations: AGEV (the General Union of French Wine Producers), CFVDP (French Federation of Vin de Pays), VIF (Independent Winegrowers of France) and CCVF (Federation of French Wine Cooperatives) to drive the new category of Vin de France, with or without the mention of varietal and vintage.

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20091001

Report slams NY liquor authority

The official word is out concerning the embattled State Liquor Authority, a bumbling bureaucracy that has been assailed on many fronts. Not surprisingly, it reinforces most of the long-standing criticisms of the authority.

The first part of the New York State Law Revision Commission's two-part report on findings and recommendations notes:
The SLA's current nine-month backlog of license applications reflects a failure in the licensing process, jeopardizes public health and safety, and exacerbates the economic crisis currently plaguing New York. Small business owners, and some large ones as well, are forced to suffer ever-mounting expenses for months on end without the income generated from having these licenses. The situation deprives the state of new revenues from sales and income taxes, and it depresses the growth of new jobs in local communities.
Despite that sweeping condemnation, apparently the SLA was not found guilty of The Great Train Robbery, the hanging-chad controversy in George Bush's election, or the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

The SLA itself was not alone in being chastised by the Commission. In a slap at some in other branches of state government, the Commission said:
"Some people, including those quite familiar with the SLA's budget, have remarked about the backlog: 'What's the big deal, the state has already banked the license fees, the applicants can wait.' This shortsighted view, to be kind, is nothing less than foolish. The 'What's the big deal‚' advocates both in and out of government basically view the SLA as a 'cash cow‚' and care little about the importance of an expeditious, careful and fair licensing process dedicated to the well-being of New York's citizenry and the State itself. ... A New York County [Manhattan] grand jury is in the midst of concluding a criminal investigation into the bribery of SLA licensing examiners by corrupt 'expediters' that is expected to be completed by the end of October. The State Inspector General is also expected to issue a report in the near future detailing the corruption and other problems in the agency."
Among recommendations made by the Commission:
• The SLA should have the authority to declare a moratorium when it deems that the backlog of licenses has ended.
• Give the SLA the needed number of employees to allow it to carry out its mission.
• The SLA should create two positions of regional manager (one for New York City, and one for Albany, Syracuse and Rochester) to oversee daily administration ... including customer service.
• Develop policies that ensure that enforcement focuses on serious violations with an impact on public safety, and more closely monitor businesses with a history of complaints and violations.
• Investigate non-economic incentives such as those adopted by other State agencies to motivate and reward staff and alter the negative agency culture that has evolved over time."
• Owners of restaurants that have a wine, beer or full liquor license pending should be eligible to secure a BYOB (bring your own bottle) permit.
You can go here to read or download Part 1 of the report. The Commission said it "will evaluate the current structure of the SLA in Part 2 of its report."

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Cider: Is there a comeback in the making?

William M. Dowd photo

Over the years, I've occasionally written about cider. Not that sickening sweet diluted stuff sitting in bottles on your supermarket shelf, but real cider. The sort of beverage enjoyed throughout Europe for centuries and in this country until the 20th. (For example, 'All things cider and how to taste them' back in December.)

Brian Palmer, writing for Slate.com, has an interesting take on the topic of cider and speculates on whether it is making a comeback in this country. Here's how he begins:
"During the 1840 presidential election, opponents of William Henry Harrison portrayed him as a hard-drinking bumpkin. In a savvy act of political jujitsu, Harrison embraced the charge, branding his campaign paraphernalia with a portrait of pure Americana: a log cabin and a barrel of cider. Harrison rode the image to a 234-60 Electoral College victory over incumbent Martin Van Buren.

"Shortly after the Harrison landslide, Americans would begin to drift away from his beloved libation. ... A century later, cider would be almost completely forgotten. Most Americans now consider cider -- if they consider it at all -- to be in the same category as wine coolers or those enigmatic clear malt beverages: chemically suspect, effeminate alternatives to beer. And who can blame them? America's mass-market ciders are comically weak and inexplicably fizzy. Many are made not from cider apples but from the concentrated juice of eating apples, which is a bit like making wine from seedless table grapes. ... Let's get back to our roots."
Go here for the full essay. And, go here and enter the word CIDER in the search box for a list of related stories.

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20090929

NY International Wine Awards to be unveiled

William M. Dowd photo

There's a new wine competition in town. At least there will be in New York City.

Dori Bryant, president of The Polished Palate, and spirits writer Adam Levy tomorrow will announce the debut of the New York International Wine Awards (NYIWA).

The NYIWA is a competition that will award the best wines in various categories as judged by the people on the front line of consumer contact. Trade-only judges will consist of restaurant owners, sommeliers, liquor store buyers, and distributors and importers of fine wine.

Jack Robertiello of Drinks Ink will act as the competition host and lead the judging panel.

Bryant and Levy hosted the premiere New York International Spirits Awards in June 2009. The success of that inaugural event led to the expansion of the franchise to include wine.

The judging for the NYIWA will take place in closed sessions the week of February 6, 2010, at the Astor Center in New York. The deadline for brands to enter is January 22, 2010.

“The NYIWA is the first wine competition to rely solely on the results of trade-only judging," said Bryant. "These judges are the front line of consumer purchases on a daily basis.”

Details and entry forms are available online.

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20090923

Wine exciting enough to cry over

When Dick Vermeil (below) was a head coach in the National Football League, he was known for his emotional, teary outbursts as much as for his success in the won-lost columns.

He coached two Super Bowl teams, losing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1981 but winning with the St. Louis Rams in 2000.

Now retired from that world and at age 73, Vermeil is working hard on Vermeil Wines, his boutique winery founded last year in Calistoga, CA. Its first offering, Jean-Louis Vermeil Cabernet-Sauvignon named after his late father, has gone to market.

What's the quality level?

Robert Parker Jr., the globally well-regarded critic for the Wine Advocate, said:

"His initial dive into the wine world is impressive. It goes against the rule of thumb that celebrities rarely achieve anything special in the world of wine."

Vermeil, who was born in his great grandfather’s home in Calistoga, leases a 178-acre vineyard near the Silverado Pass from the Frediani family. He is producing only about 1,500 to 2,000 cases of upmarket wines this year -- cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, cabernet franc and a charbono. Most of it will be online or in the winery's store.

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20090922

A celebri-quote: James Bond

Author Ian Fleming's fictitious spy James Bond has uttered many a lasting quote in print and on film. Here's one from the film version of "Goldfinger," as spoken by Sean Connery.

"My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

"That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!"

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20090920

MA farmers markets seek wine-sales OK

From the Boston Herald

Go to any farmers’ market in Massachusetts and you can pick from a mouthwatering array of fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked breads, homemade jams and other products straight from local farms. You can’t, however, sip a chardonnay, sniff a merlot, or purchase any other offerings made at the nearly three dozen farm wineries and vineyards from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.

Now, a group representing winemakers, with the support of state agriculture officials, is pushing to change state law to permit wine to be sold at the roughly 200 farmers’ markets that are held each week in Massachusetts.

It would be a change long overdue, according to Kip Kumler, owner of Turtle Creek Winery in Lincoln and chairman of the Massachusetts Farm Winery and Growers Association. ...

Sen. Jamie Eldredge (top), D-Acton, calls winemaking a "hidden secret" of Massachusetts agriculture. He’s the lead sponsor of a bill that would permit wine tastings and sales at farmers’ markets.

[Go here for the full story.]

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20090915

Maine's wine, spirit makers on the prowl


• From McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


CAMDEN, ME -- Maine wine and spirit makers face an uphill battle to win market share, but they are welcoming the challenge.

C.C. Peet of Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, Steve Linne of Blacksmiths Winery in South Casco, Bob Bartlett of Bartlett's Winery in Gouldsboro and Bob Harkins of Cold River Vodka in Freeport detailed the challenges of the wine and spirit business during a panel discussion ... at the 4th annual Maine Fare celebration.

Maine Fare's goal is to assist in preserving, protecting and sharing Maine's culinary history and resources. The event highlighted Maine products through panel discussions, tastings, exhibits and samplings. The wine and spirit panel was moderated by Jack Scully of Belfast's Easterly Wine.

All agreed that the key thing they have working for them is the Maine brand. Whether marketing wine or spirits, having a product that is made in Maine makes it easier to attract buyers.

"There is a tremendous loyalty to Maine-made and -grown foods," Scully said. "The possibility for growth in the wine and spirit field is terrific. I think the growth of Maine products both inside the state and outside the state has great potential."

All three vintners said that because wine has a certain "snob factor," it's difficult to convince buyers that wines made of blueberries and other fruits can match up with grape wines from France or California. Bartlett, who has been in the business more than 30 years, said some wine drinkers are reluctant to sample his wines simply because they are made from fruit. He said working with restaurants individually is one way of overcoming that problem.

[Go here for the full story.]

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20090911

Christie's looking to '21' for bigger numbers

NEW YORK, NY -- A stash of Prohibition-era wines from a secret cellar in New York's legendary '21' Club will be part of a selection going up for auction Saturday at Christie's International in Manhattan.

There were 640 bottles in the cellar, according to Charles Curtis, Christie’s head of North American wine sales, including rare Bordeaux and Burgundy selections.

The auction will be held at Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Center.

The company is betting that the slightly improved economy will bring up prices for fine wines. Last fall, prices dropped by as much as half, which Christie's said was the company's worst experience ever. Prices at auction are generally 10 to 20% lower than last year's best, according to Lix-ex, the London electronic wine exchange.

Among the other highlights are six bottles of 1999 Musigny, Vieilles Vignes from the famous estate of Comte Georges De Vogüé, packed in the original wooden case (estimate: $2,200-3,000); three bottles of newly-released Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Tâche – Vintage 2006 (estimate: $1,500-2,000); a dozen bottles of 2001 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, packed in the original carton (estimate: $2,400-3,200); and a case of 1998 Barbaresco from Santo Stefano di Nieve (estimate: $1,000-1,500).

Go here for a detailed list of wines scheduled to be up for bids.

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20090908

A celebri-quote: Ricky Gervais

British actor/comedian/producer Ricky Gervais ("The Office," "Extras") was interviewed by Bon Appétit magazine about alcohol, food and other things in his life.

Q: Any favorite indulgences?

A: Here's the bottom line. Cheese, wine and Champagne are amazing. Salt and chocolate are amazing. It's not rocket science. We're mammals -- we like fat, salt and alcohol. Mammals love alcohol.

You know, drunkenness occurs the same in animals as in adults, from mammals down to insects. Antelopes eat fermented apples and go down to the watering hole the next day and they're hung over.

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20090831

Lakewood's wine a NY product from start to finish

In the world of spirits, when one refers to an oak barrel it usually means American white oak or French Limousin oak. At Lakewood Vineyards on Seneca Lake, winemaker Chris Stamp is sticking to his own backyard.

Stamp (right) has begun aging his Chardonnay in 59-gallon barrels, built by coopers in Pennsylvania from New York State oak.

“It has produced an extremely nice Chardonnay,” Stamp told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “We’ve had a consistent run of gold medals.”

As the newspaper reported, "Stamp’s original intent was to better capture the regional terroir by using locally sourced wood for his barrels. 'Where’s the sense of place if you’re using French oak barrels?' he says. After floating the idea in 2002, Stamp patiently waited -- three years -- for the barrels to be cured and seasoned before phasing them in. Lakewood ... now relies on this backyard bonanza for half of its Chardonnay vintage.. ... Stamp notes a more 'delicate' character imparted by our climate’s tighter-grain oaks'."

Dr. Frank Stamp founded the vineyard in 1951, leaving his dentistry practice in Maryland to do so. He bought Lakewood Farm, a rundown peach and apple orchard, and the next spring began planting grapes. The family grew commercial grapes only until 1988 when Monty Stamp (Frank's son), his wife, Beverly, and their children pressed the grapes for their first wine vintage.

Chris Stamp was raised on Lakewood Farm and went on to study food science and chemistry with the goal of becoming a winemaker. He graduated in 1983 and went on to work for Plane's Cayuga Vineyards, a pioneer winery on Cayuga Lake, then worked as a research and extension associate for the wine industry in Ohio. When Lakewood Vineyards winery opened, he returned to the family farm and has been winemaker for each of its vintages.

Lakewood Vineyards is located at 4024 State Road 14, Watkins Glen. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Phone: (607) 535-9252.

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20090828

World's oldest bartender retiring

From the Associated Press

WEST VIEW, Pa. — Only minutes after Prohibition died in 1933, Angelo Cammarata, 19, served a 10-cent bottle of Fort Pitt beer to a customer in his father's neighborhood grocery.

Ever since, except for a 30-month hitch during World War II, the son of Italian immigrants has been tending bar and serving drinks. Guinness World Records dubbed him the longest-serving bartender a decade ago, and he's earned induction into Jim Beam's Bartender Hall of Fame and numerous other honors.

Now 95, he's calling it quits.

[Go here for the full story.]


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20090823

Midwest gets nation's largest AVA

You may not know the wine appellation "Upper Mississippi River Valley" now, but watch for it on wine labels at your favorite purveyor in the coming months.

It is the newest federally-approved American Viticulture Area (AVA) -- and the nation's largest, cutting through 29,914 square miles of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. The largest AVA had been the 26,000-square-mile Ohio River Valley.

The new designation comes as a response to wine and agriculture officials from the four states petitioned the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau, which designates AVAs, such as Napa and Finger Lakes.

The new region works as a specific geographic area, a necessary criterium, because, unlike much of the flat plains of the Midwest, the Upper Mississippi River Valley is covered with steep slopes and well-drained soil required to grow premium grapes, usually various hybrids since the harsh winters wreak havoc on less hardy grapes as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.

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Illinois alcohol taxes set to soar

Consumers in Illinois will be hit with the largest alcohol tax increase in state history come September 1. Oh, and many suppliers also plan to rase the prices of their products as well.

It reminds me of the situation a Canadian distillery official told me about during a visit to his operation a few years ago when the subject of high prices of adult beverages in his country came up.

"Why don't you find many Canadian alcoholics?" he asked. "Because no one makes enough money to be one."

In Illinois, the excise tax on alcohol is paid to the state by the manufacturer or distributor. According to the state's Department of Revenue, consumers can expect to see the tax on a six-pack of beer go up by 25% (from 10.4 cents to 13 cents), the tax on a bottle of wine go up 86% (from 13 cents to 28 cents), and the tax on a fifth of distilled spirits 90% (from 90 cents to $1.71).

That all is based on current prices. Once supplier price hikes are figured in, consumers probably will be paying about $3 more for a 1.75-liter bottle of spirits and $1 or more extra for a bottle of wine.

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20090810

Hormone Management Chart

Men, studies have shown that one's happiness-in-a-relationship factor can be improved by double-clicking on the chart below and memorizing its contents.



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20090806

They still exist???

A 136-year-old organization, gathered in Wichita, KS, this week for its annual convention, has found something current to complain about.

It's the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the same all-female organization that helped push through Prohibition back in 1919.

Their complaint? President Barack Obama’s suds summit with the Harvard prof and the local cop involved in a recent dustup that immediately became a cause celebre for people who love to play the race card -- from either side.

Bunny Galladora (honest), WCTU media director, said the meeting sent the wrong message because “alcohol and conflicts are not a good combination.”

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20090805

Whinnying for wine

Celebrity endorsements of wines and spirits are one thing, but do people really want to sip something endorsed by a horse?

This isn’t just any old horse, of course, of course. It’s the famous three-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra.

Kendall-Jackson Winery announced Tuesday that a limited edition of wines honoring the horse will be ready for the holiday season. K-J plans to produce and bottle 300 cases of the wines. Each bottle will bear the horse’s image.

Actually, we should have seen this sort of marketing gimmick coming. Kendall-Jackson co-owners Jess Jackson and wife Barbara Banke bought the filly in in May after she won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4 lengths.

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20090804

IW&SC wine/spirits results are in

What event involves 10 weeks of blind tasting by 70 industry experts from around the globe evaluating light and fortified wines from 33 different countries across Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada?

If you said the International Wine & Spirits Competition you'd be right. The UK-based global event has wrapped up its Northern Hemisphere wine and spirits judging, with the Southern Hemisphere's products to be judged later in the year.

The judges awarded 102 gold medals, a number that represents just 3% of the entries.

Riesling enjoyed a resounding return with Germany taking 12 Gold medals, predominantly for this grape variety. France, Italy and Spain were the highest scoring countries judged by total medals won. New entries came from Turkey, Tunisia, Thailand, South Korea and Montenegro, with the latter plus Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden being the only four countries to win medals for each entry from their country.

Go here for the results, available by category, from the IWSC.

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20090729

Belhurst is NY's label & package champ


Belhurst Winery wound up as the best of the best in the 2009 New York State Wine Label & Packaging Competition.

The Geneva winery was awarded "Best in Show" for its cabernet franc, which had won the "Traditional" class title followed by its Carrie wine, and its Dry Rosé took "People's Choice" honors.

The competition was held at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua, and was sanctioned by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. The entries were on display at Sonnenberg since May, and ballots cast by visitors throughout that period determiend the "People's Choice" award.

The full list of award winners, by category:

Best in Show:
Belhurst Winery Cabernet Franc.

People’s Choice Award:
Belhurst Winery Dry Rosé.

Traditional: Belhurst Winery Cabernet Franc, winner; Hunt Country Vineyards Alchemy, honorable mention.

Natural/Nature: Arcadian Estate Winery 2 Roads Chardonnay, winner; Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Salmon Run Chardonnay, honorable mention.

Art Illustration: Fox Run Vineyards Arctic Fox, winner; Atwater Vineyards Stonebridge Red, honorable mention.

Innovative:
Belhurst Winery Dry Rosé, winner; Belhurst Winery Carrie, honorable mention.

Contemporary: Miles Wine Cellars, winner; Miles Wine Cellars Call Me A Cab, honorable mention.

Wine Label Series:
Ventosa Vineyards Cabernet Franc/Pinot Noir/Tocai, winner; Adirondack Winery Autumn Brilliance, honorable mention.

20090725

Restaurateurs fight PA wine boutiques plan

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- It could end up being a case of sour grapes for some Philadelphia restaurateurs.

A small but vocal group, mostly of Center City restaurant owners, is organizing against a Liquor Control Board plan to open wine boutiques in gourmet groceries.

Among other concerns, those in the group worry that the proposal will siphon off customers and give the high-end food shops -- selected by the LCB -- an unfair advantage.

"I feel like the state is trying to sell houses when they make tractor-trailers. It's not their job to play with the culinary landscape of an area," said Jason Evenchik, owner of Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro, 129 South 13th Street.

Evenchik has joined with the owners of more than 50 establishments, most in Philadelphia, who have formed Restaurants for Fair Competition. They are asking the state Senate to derail the plan. The House has approved the legislation.

[Go here for the full story.]


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20090715

Going against the grain -- and the grape

William M. Dowd photo

Pairing wines and foods can sometimes be a puzzling process for those who don't do it very often. Or, when the foods are widely disparate and only one or two wines are desired.

Sometimes guesswork is as good as anything until you find what most pleases your palate. I usually advise going against the conventional wisdom of white with fish and poultry, red with beef and pork.

That came home to me once again when I was one in a party of four meeting recently for dinner at the restaurant Dale Miller two blocks from the stately Capitol building in downtown Albany, NY. The restaurant has an excellent wine list, and my assigned task was to decide on what one wine to drink with appetizers and entrees that ranged from a vegetable sampler to beef carpaccio to scallops to beef tenderloin.

I ended up selecting a 2006 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto from Chile's Maipo Valley, a rich, fruity bold wine that a good cab should be, one that held its own against the beef dishes but had enough subtlety and delicacy of finish to complement the scallops and vegetables without overwhelming either dish.

In the same week, I had to come up with a pair of wines for a dinner party for eight -- meaning a lot of different personal tastes -- for which I'd cooked a three-course Mexican menu.

This time I was in control of the menu, unlike at the aforementioned restaurant, so I could be more precise with what was needed to complement a wide-ranging dinner.

Starters were guacamole and a pico de gallo salsa, followed by tortas de cangrejo (lump Pacific crab cakes on a bed of micro-greens, dotted with a coarse mustard-mayo sauce).

Entrees were a carne de cerdo machado (herb-rubbed, oven roasted pork tenderloins, accompanied by a sauce of fresh cream, raisins, apricots, white wine and beef and chicken stocks) and estefado de pollo y tomatillo (a savory light stew of herbed chicken stock, thickened with a butter roux and studded with diced green tomatillos, yellow bell peppers, scallions, shallots, cilantro, served with brown basmati rice).

Dessert was a simple banana sauté in a sauce of rum, brown sugar and fresh orange juice.

[Go here for the rest of the story.]


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20090714

Electronically pairing wine and food

From the Reuters news agency

Don't know which wine to have with a pepperoni pizza? There's an app for that -- as well as websites and Twitter.

The number of ways to discover the most suitable wine for a particular dish can be as overwhelming as walking into a large wine shop.

More than a dozen apps claiming to be the equivalent of a sommelier in your pocket are available for iPhones and iPods. And there are others for the BlackBerry and other mobile devices.

[Go here for the full story.]

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Time for a down-to-Earth 'Moonwalk'

Monday, July 20, will mark the 40th anniversary of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon.

The publicity mill at Grand Marnier is making sure everyone remembers its liqueur was part of the first cocktail Armstrong and his crew enjoyed upon their return to Earth in 1969.

The cocktail, called the “Moonwalk,” was created by Joe Gilmore, who was the head barman at the Savoy Hotel in London. Here is the recipe:

1 part Grand Marnier
1 part fresh grapefruit juice
2 dashes rosewater
Moët & Chandon Champagne

Shake ingredients well and strain into a wine glass. Top off with Moët & Chandon.

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New winery in an old brewery

For people who like both wine and beer in equal measure, Mansfield, OH, has the perfect recycling project to brag about.

Cypress Hill Winery has just opened in a former brewery.

Gary and Janice Jones and Rick and Carol Taylor are the owners and operators of the new enterprise, located at the rear of 37 East Fourth Street in the former Wooden Pony brewery.

They have been making wine informally for more than a dozen years, but as they got serious and began competing in Cleveland area amateur winemaking contests their skills expanded. Last year their 2006 zinfandel won best-in-show honors.

They now are licensed to sell their wines, once made in the Taylors' wine cellar, thus the need for expanded facilities. They are offering four different wines -- syrah, barbara, zinfandel (seen above) and cabernet sauvignon. All are made from 2007 California grapes and are barrel matured for at least one year.

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PA wine vending machine plan on hold

A Canadian wine-vending kiosk

You really do have to pay attention 24/7 in this fast-changing world.

One example:

• A Google headline on July 8:

Pennsylvania governor supportive of self-serve wine kiosks

• A Google headline on July 9:

Pennsylvania governor put stop to wine kiosk plan

So, which is it?

Both, as it turns out. Gov. Ed Rendell's office says he still supports the theory of selling wine via vending machines in grocery stores, but he has decided to temporarily put the state Liquor Control Board plan on hold.

He says he wants to see if the technology really works. No timetable has been announced, and no word on how one does this without giving it a trial run.

The idea is that the wine kiosks would scan a buyer's driver's license and use face recognition technology to verify the picture matches the buyer. The devices also would include a breath detector to make sure buyers are not inebriated.

The Liquor Control Board said the kiosks will be monitored by remote video and can cancel sales.

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20090706

Long Island wine country in a growth spurt

From Newsday

Recession or not, a new crop of wineries, tasting rooms, vineyards and wines is making its way to Long Island wine country this season, suggesting that the business of sipping may not only defy but thrive in tough economic times.

From the planned September opening in Southold of a 10,000-square-foot tasting room and winery called Sparkling Pointe devoted exclusively to sparkling wines to a quaint red tasting shed across the road called One Woman Wines & Vineyards, Long Island will play host to nearly a dozen new winemaking operations over a one-year period, pushing the total to more than 60.

The "newcomers" include some stalwarts in the business. Just this week, Jason Damianos, the winemaker of Pindar Vineyards fame, plans to open a two-story, 5,500-square-foot winery and tasting room called Jason's Vineyard in Jamesport. His plans preceded the economic downturn, Damianos said. But financial changes since then actually have helped, because interest rates are down. "I'm hoping they stay low," he said.

[Go here for the full story.]

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20090704

Law breaking tastes good in New York

If you're a New York resident who orders wine online from retailers outside the state, you also are a criminal, according to a federal appeals court decision handed down this week.

A Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled that New York State's law permitting in-state retailers to ship wine directly to consumers but forbidding out-of-state retailers from doing the same is constitutional and within the state's rights under the 21st Amendment.

However, it is doubtful the ruling will mean much. Online sales are notoriously difficult to track and most retailers simply ignore the rules.

The ruling upheld a 2007 district court decision (Arnold's Wines Inc. v. Boyle). In it, an Indiana store and two New York consumers sued to overturn the state law. Their argument is that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the 2005 case of Granholm v. Heald, which bans states from discriminating between in-state and out-of-state wineries, also applies to wine retailers. The district judge dismissed the case and the Court of Appeals has now concurred with that decision.

The case is just one of several in the battle between retailers and wholesalers. Since the Supreme Court handed down the Granholm decision, suits and countersuits on both sides of the debate have popped up around the country.

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20090630

Come visit me


This is the logo for Examiner.com, a multi-topic Web site created by the same company that started the free-distribution Examiner newspapers in major U.S. cities.

I've been signed as the Web site's National Drinks Columnist, and I'm inviting you to join me here as well as on this site, for all the latest in beverage news and views -- spirits, wine, brews, non-alcoholic drinks.

(Bonus for those of you interested in the Upstate New York restaurant scene: I'm also Examiner.com's columnist for that topic. You can find it here.

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20090627

Mmmm, birch sap vodka and wine

From Farm Focus of Atlantic Canada

As the cork is removed, hints of fruit are released, and once it's poured into a wine glass and lifted to one's lips, a semi-sweet taste with apple hints are followed.

That's according to the description for Lady of the Woods, a birch sap wine.

Craig Lewis, the brainchild behind the idea and the company Sap World, said he came up with the concept after reading an article about birch sap and its markets.

"When I read that article, something clicked," he said. "I did a bunch of research, invested $10,000, and on Baie Verte highway (Newfoundland) we ended up tapping 191 trees.

"(We) collected 500 gallons, took that to Rodrigues Winery and they produced 172 cases. We had that on the market and we sold that in three months."

[Go here for the full story.]


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Despite May frost, NY grape crop may be ample

William M. Dowd photo

Bad weather, including a May frost that whacked the Concord grapes in the Lake Erie region, didn't stop New York from producing what looks to be a bumper crop this year. The question will be, what is the quality of the grapes?

However, much of that is up to what the winemakers do with the fruit. At the moment, assessments are being made on the tonnage of grapes and what to do with them.

"It looks like it’s going to be mixed in terms of quantity," says Jim Trezise, president of the New York State Wine & Grape Foundation (NYSWGF).

"While wine grapes look so plentiful that a surplus is expected and new markets are being sought, the Western New York Concord crop loss is so severe that Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer have asked Gov. David Paterson to request federal disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, wine grapes are grown primarily in other regions and suffered virtually no damage, with the vines progressing normally and a potentially large crop."

The NYSWGF is partnering with Cornell Cooperative Extension on a system to attract wineries from other states that may be interested in purchasing New York grapes. The core of the program is a "matchmaker" Web site showing grapes, or juice, or bulk wine for sale, or wanted. Neither NYWGF nor CCE are involved in any transactions.

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20090618

Belhurst Riesling takes NYS Fair top honor

Belhurst Winery's 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling won the blue ribbon for "Best In Show" at this year's New York State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

As a run-up to taking that honor, the wine took "Best of Category - White" double gold as well. Not a terribly surprising decision, considering rieslings' preeminence among New York wines. This year, 61 New York wineries entered 390 in the contest.

The competition was held at the Wegmans Pride of New York demonstration kitchen at the fairgrounds in Syracuse. Competition for fair ribbons are held in categories ranging from dessert cakes to dairy cattle, most of which will be decided during the Great New York State Fair scheduled for August 27 to September 7.

However, commercial wine judging traditionally has been held well before the fair to allow winners to use the results in summer marketing. The award-winning wines are featured in a special display in the Horticulture Building during the fair.

Belhurst is located near Geneva, overlooking Seneca Lake. It is dominated by Belhurst Castle, a stone building dating to the 19th Century which is part of a year-round lodging complex that includes White Springs Manor, a Georgian Revival Mansion with period guest rooms, and the Vinifera Inn.

Other best in category selections:

Red: Peconic Bay Winery Merlot 2005
• Sparkling: Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs 2002
• Fruit: Montezuma Winery Cranberry Bog NV
Dessert: Ventosa Vineyards Tocaice 2007
Rosé/Blush: Anthony Road Wine Co. Dry Rosé of Cabernet Franc 2008
Fortified: Goose Watch Winery “Finale” White Port 2007
Specialty: Montezuma Winery Rhubarb NV
Mead/Honey Wine: Earle Estates Meadery Raspberry Reflections NV

Other double-gold winners (unanimous gold of all panel judges):

• Belhurst Winery Dry Riesling 2008 Double
• Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs 2002
• Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs 2002
• Chateau Frank Celebre Rose NV
• Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2008
• Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars Semi-Dry Riesling 2008
• Lucas Vineyards Chardonnay 2007
• Ventosa Vineyards Tocaice 2007

Other gold winners:

• Americana Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay 2007
• Anthony Road Wine Company Dry Rosé of Cabernet Franc 2008
• Anyela's Vineyards Semi-Dry Riesling 2008
• Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard Riesling 2008
• Bashakill Vineyards Black Bear 2007
• Chateau Lafayette Reneau Dry Riesling 2008
• Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Dry 2007
• Goose Watch Winery "Finale" White Port 2007
• Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Homestead Riesling 2008
• Heron Hill Winery Semi-Dry Riesling 2007
• Heron Hill Winery Semi-Sweet Riesling 2007
• Hunt Country Vineyards Seyval Blanc 2008
• Peconic Bay Winery Merlot 2005
• Swedish Hill Winery Vidal Blanc 2008
• Swedish Hill Winery Svenska White NV
• Thirsty Owl Dry Riesling 2008
• Young Sommer Winery Semi Dry Traminette NV
• Anthony Road Wine Co. Semi-Dry Riesling 2008
• Anthony Road Wine Co. Semi-Sweet Riesling 2008

Go here for the full list of all medal winners.

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Delaware wine/beer sales bill tabled

Well, that didn't last long.

A bill just introduced in the Delaware state legislature that would allow supermarkets to sell beer and wine (see earlier story) has been tabled by a House committee.

House Bill 193, sponsored by Rep. John J. Viola, D-Newark, would have made Delaware the 46th state to allow stores other than package stores to sell beer and wine. He said the licensing fee -- $100,000 for the first year and a $5,000 biennial renewal fee -- could have raised up to $10 million the first year “and substantial revenues after that.”

However, Siobhan Sullivan, director of the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, told the committee the division would have to hire 12 new agents at a cost of $700,000 to enforce the bill.

DelawareOnline reported that Viola, who chairs the committee, wasn't happy with being unable to fend off the vote to table. Had that happened, he said, he would have been able to address the arguments against it “backed up by data and facts.”

The bill also was opposed by package-store owners, who packed the House chamber for the hearing. Tabling makes it unlikely it will be considered before the June 30 adjournment deadline.

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20090615

Which wine goes with iPhone?

Selecting the perfect wine for the occasion is an age-old practice. But, as with most things, technology has gained a foothold.

"Hello Vino," a free app available through iTunes, delivers personalized wine recommendations to an iPhone or iPod Touch.

The free app, available through iTunes, selects the perfect type of wine to go with a meal or occasion, or to give as a gift. Wine shoppers need only install the app, and answer a few simple questions to get a specific wine recommendation. Hello Vino offers beginning wine consumers an easy way to make an educated wine purchase both in the store and at a restaurant.

"Buying wine can be very intimidating," says Rick Breslin, Hello Vino CEO. "You're standing in the store, looking at a wall full of hundreds of bottles, and you have no idea which wine to buy. Hello Vino takes the pressure off."

The app recommends wine varietals as well as specific brands. Ratings and information including pricing and reviews help consumers pick the ideal bottle. It can be used with or without an Internet connection.

Video demonstrations are available here. You can download the app here.

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20090614

A celebri-quote: Danny Wegman

• Danny Wegman, 62, is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and head of the Wegmans supermarket chain, which owns 72 stores in five states as well as an emerging restaurant concept connected with some of the market sites. Wegmans will open three stores this year -- two in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania -- and has plans for new locations in Maryland and Massachusetts as well. He was interviewed by his hometown Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Q: What's your take on the issue of wine in supermarkets? Why didn't it get approved in New York State this year?

A: Well, when seven out of 10 people want something and it doesn't go through ... there are obviously some special interests in there somewhere.

The whole wine and liquor industry is a very strange subset of America that plays by totally different rules. Competition is synonymous with every other part of America except for wine and liquor.

We happen to think that wine is part of food, so we'll probably keep working to try and see if we can't make that happen.

[Go here for more celebri-quotes.]

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20090613

Wine Institute picks new chairman

From the San Francisco Business Times

The Wine Institute, which represents California wineries that produce 85% of U.S. wines, elected Ray Chadwick of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines as its chairman for fiscal 2009-2010.

... Chadwick, who has been Napa-based Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines’ president and CEO since 2001, steps down July 1 to become a non-executive member of the DC&E’s board, according to the Institute and Diageo. That move was part of a broader reorganization announced in early March.

Also elected to the group’s board were Tom Klein of Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Vineyards as first vice chairman; David Kent of the San Francisco- and Livermore-based Wine Group as second vice chairman; Kathleen Heitz Myers of St. Helena’s Heitz Wine Cellars as treasurer; and José Fernández of Constellation Wines U.S. as secretary.

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Hugel, Alsatian wine giant, dead at 84

 From SFGate.com

Jean Hugel, a leading force in resurrecting the Alsatian wine trade after the devastation of World War II and the longtime head of one of the best-known and oldest producers in Alsace, died Tuesday in Ribeauville, Alsace, France. He was 84.

The cause was cancer, his nephew Etienne Hugel said.

For people who began drinking wine in the 1970s and '80s, discovering the wines of Alsace, in their slender, fluted bottles, was no small pleasure. Thanks to Mr. Hugel's efforts to introduce his wines to the rest of the world, many of those bottles bore the name Hugel & Fils.

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20090610

Tennessee direct-shipping now allowed

Back in January, a federal appeals court upheld Tennessee's ban on direct wine shipments to residents' homes. Now, a new line has been signed by Gov. Phil Bredesen that will allow it.

The law allows wineries that acquire a $300 license to ship up to three cases to Tennessee consumers per year. That raises to 36 the number of states that allow direct shipment of wine.

Bredesen earlier had signed into a law a bill allowing Tennesseans to buy and bring home up to five cases of wine at licensed out-of-state wineries. That was done to overcome the appeals court opinion that found existing rules designed to promote Tennessee wineries were unfair to out-of-state competitors.

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