I’ve finally made the switch to my own domain and a web host. I’m a Wordpress newbie, so it’s been a bit of a job tweaking a theme to the way I like it. But I’m happy with what I have so far. I’ve been happy with Blogger, but I’d like to eventually build beyond a blog. Inquiring Vine will be a work in progress, but I’m sure I’ll have fun adding to it from time to time.

Here is the new location for The Inquiring Vine blog. For those who have added me to their newsfeed readers, it looks like you’ll need to re-subscribe since the feedburner address is different, or you can click the link here.

I hope you like the new look. I still have some small bugs to work out, but for the most part the blog is all set. See you on the other side!


Last year Natalie MacLean’s book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over came out in paperback. If you haven’t seen the book, you may have visited her website or read her monthly newsletter, "Nat Decants." She has received many well-deserved accolades for her writing. As the bio on her website puts it, she funds her late-night vinous habits with a day job as a wine writer, judge, and speaker. Natalie’s book is without a doubt a pleasure to read. She writes as someone with authority while also revealing her witty and light-hearted personality. She’s funny at times, so much that one writer called her “laugh out loud funny,” a term that struck me as being geared for advertising; but, I assure you I was laughing a lot through this book. Her writing is also very vivid, even sensual at times.

Natalie starts the reader’s journey with a peek at her first moving experience with wine at a restaurant she and her husband, Andrew, frequented early on in their relationship. The wine was a Brunello, a Tuscan delight that was so delicious that she was not merely impressed, but felt almost physically moved, feeling a flush of warmth running through her entire body. This wine encounter was so intense that it launched her lifelong on a journey of discovery with wine. As the second part of the book’s title hints, A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, we follow her along segments of this wine journey, and get to vicariously enjoy astounding wines in Burgundy, Champagne, and California, as well as catch a glimpse of the unique people who make those wines. We also learn that Natalie is very much a good sport and not afraid to get dirty. She immerses herself in the process of winemaking by working under the searing sun in the vineyards of central California, and following an Aussie vintner high and low through the cellars of Bonny Doon, in Santa Cruz, Ca.

When she’s not tasting Burgundy wines with the introspective Aubert de Villaine and the fiery Lalou Bize-Leory, or learning about the wine world according to the philosophic Randall Grahm, Natalie tackles the sticky subject of wine scores, a vinous minefield indeed. The wine industry has few topics as controversial as Robert Parker and wine scores. Sharing that dubious honor might be James Laube and his crusade against cork, or the ever increasing level of alcohol of New World, blockbuster, powerhouse, hedonistic wines, which, I personally enjoy as equally as a bottle of 6% alc Moscato d’Asti. She compares and contrasts the approaches of Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, and also discusses the effect of wine scores from the numerous wine writers and critics. We also read her take on the effect that is so endearingly referred to as the Parkerization of wine—the tailoring of wine in hopes of garnering the high scores.

Also along the wine journey we follow Natalie going under cover as a sommelier, learn the story behind Riedel, and read the about the ins and outs of retail wine. Many readers will be able to relate to Natalie as she invites us into her home as she prepares for entertaining guests on Thanksgiving. We learn about all the considerations with selecting and serving wines to go with the vast array of flavors that can be involved when having friends and family over for dinner. In that chapter, as well as another dedicated to combing food and wine, she shares the secrets of food pairing. At the heart of her guidelines of taking into consideration such things as tannins and acid in the wine, or the richness of a food, is her encouragement that wine drinkers truly do know more than they realize: the reader should trust his or her taste and not worry about the old axiom of red wine with red meat and white wine with poultry and fish. It’s perfectly acceptable to stuff those old rules into the trash bin, except maybe for such things as tannic reds with salmon.

All in all, Red, White, and Drunk All Over is a very enjoyable read. As a wine blogger and writer I can certainly relate to her when she says writing about wine allows her to extend her hedonism and gives it a “sharper, more satisfying edge.” After having read her book, I bet she’d be a lot of fun to share a bottle of wine with. She is passionate about wine and loves talking with people who are equally passionate about wine as she is.


It has been four years now that Lenn and guest hosts have asked bloggers to explore everywhere from the shelves of the favorite stores to the far reaches of the earth for wines, popular and obscure alike. I’ve only participated in three Wednesdays, starting only last year, but judging from the line-up of topics, bloggers have covered a lot of exciting topics. Pairing wines with chocolates certainly looked fun. Having read quite a few bloggers, I think most of are always willing to try something outside the norm; so obscure reds, local wines, and indigenous grapes brought out a lot of variety from everyone. And we’re never hesitant to have a little fun either, like borrowing from a TV show most of us here in the U.S. watched as kids.

Lenn didn’t ask us to reach so far back into our pasts for the August theme. We only go back to our early days with wine, to our drinking roots. Here's a link to Lenn's announcement.

I’m going to forgo the Gallo jug wine my parents drank, and I’ll bypass Amnesia Lane, a route lined with such nefarious characters as Boone’s Farm or MD 20/20 (second to the worst hangover, ever). We’re celebrating four years of all blogging together, which I think calls for a little bubbly. I don’t recall the names of most of the wines I had when I first started going to tasting, but I do think I remember some from my first Champagne and sparkling tasting. And for a little fun, I might revisit one inexpensive Riesling I had a fair amount of when I was stationed in Colorado: Schmitt Sohne. I haven’t had that since the late 1990s, but I seem to remember eventually thinking it was too sweet. And for a long time after that, I didn’t think I liked Riesling; but that’s since changed.

Mark your calendars. Stop by some of your favorite wine blogs on 13 August as we visit ghosts of wines past.


I just love wine gadget catalogs! They are always filled with nifty toys, furniture, and storage systems that I'm probably not going to buy because, well, I have plenty of corkscrews--wait that's not possible--no basement, and very little storage space. But, oh my, aren’t those vintage oak hanging racks and EuroCaves pretty? It’s like porn for gadget fiends and wine geeks.


Honestly I’d love to build a cellar or sport some oak barrel tables. The instant wine chiller sounds like an awesome time saver. No need to wait for a bottle to cool off in the fridge or the freezer. But, the Clef Du Vin is a bit dubious if you ask me. Yeah, stick a piece of metal in a glass and the wine tastes 10 years old.

But what about those unfinished bottles? All our problems are solved! Is it a vacuum pump? Is it a wine cooler? Nope, it’s both. It's the EuroCave SoWine Bar. I’m not sure how long this puppy has been around, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. Apparently you can keep to bottles in separate temperature-controlled compartments for up to ten days. But the catch is it costs 400 bucks! For two bottles? For my money I’d rather go with Private Reserve inert gas or the Vacu Vin and pop the bottle in a 30-bottle wine refrigerator that costs about the same amount. Those vacuum stoppers last about 10 years, shorter if you have cats who love to make toys out of anything that rolls. Here’s the best bit. The picture shows a bottle of Gallo Sonoma inside SoWine. Would the average Gallo drinker pay $400 to store two bottles? And besides, who keeps an opened bottle for 10 days?! Well, besides port and sherry perhaps.

The Budometer. I just took a visit to a fun little web site called BUDOMETER.com. I first read about it today on an Open Wine Consortium Recipes, Wine, and Food Pairing group discussion. You may also have heard about the site as yumyuk.com. I took their quick survey that asks you about your various beverage preferences and then gives you an evaluation of your potential tastes in wine. Essentially, it asks your preferences corresponding to different taste buds, i.e., you rate how much you like salty foods, how strong you like your coffee and with how much cream and sugar, etc. Right now they’re still in the beta testing phase, so it likes the survey is a work in progress at this point.

What you get after this 1 minute survey is a prediction of how much tannin, oak, fruit and so on you like in your wine. It also rates you on a sensitivity scale, sweet on one end, and bold, tannic wines on the other. Think Moscato and Riesling on one end and the oak-bomb, powerhouse wines on the other. Then, and here’s an interesting bit, it gives you a list of specific wines to match your results.

So how did I do? Eh, not too far off. I like bold wines with a fair amount of tannin—Bordeaux-style, Rhone-style, Nero d’Avola, and the like. And I also like a good amount of acid. Give me a New Zealand Sauvignon any day of the week. But it also tells me I’m likely to enjoy low fruit and high oak. Well, it depends. I’m not crazy about Chardonnay with lots of oak and butter, at least if it’s crowding out the other flavors. I like flavors of apple, peach, and citrus. And I’m a sucker for those not so in your face Burgundies, red and white. I like balance.

I thought it was an interesting little quiz. I always like to see how close to the mark people get when they create a survey that’s supposed to predict something that can be so subjective. 4 out of 6 wasn’t bad. Give it a whirl and see what you get. They encourage feedback, so if you think they were off on something, why not shoot ‘em an e-mail.

Cheers.

Quinta de la Rosa is off by itself, on the edge of the river and vineyards above on the hillside. The guest area of the quinta is more like a guest house at some villa than a bed and breakfast or inn. Though we were expected, there was no front desk to speak of, and nobody to greet us right off the bat. The innkeeper the taxi driver found was very nice and showed us to our room. Soon after, we were given a tour of the winery then and offered a tasting.

The quinta is a small, labyrinthine villa nestled on a steep riverside hill. If the winery were any bigger it might be possible to get lost among the various staircases and anonymous buildings. Our guide and innkeeper, Adalina (not sure of the spelling) took us down to the crush and fermentation building and then over to the barrel building. I finally got to see first-hand a stone lagar that I’ve read so much about. These granite vats are where vineyard workers stomp the grapes after they’ve spent all day harvesting on the steep slopes. Depopulation throughout Portugal during times of economic hardships and authoritarian rule, and costs of winemaking, compelled wine producers in the Douro to turn to various automated methods of simulating the treading process. Many port producers still use the traditional method some of their wines, including Quinta de la Rosa. It sounds like a real blast to watch or take part in, but of course our visit was too early in the year to see the festivities that apparently go along with crush.

Our tour finished with a visit to the tasting room where Adalina poured several port and table wines: red and white wine, and white, ruby, and tawny port. One of these, Passagem, was from Quinta das Bandeiras, a recent joint venture between the Berqvist family, the owners of Quinta de la Rosa, and Jorge Moreira. The wine has yet to be exported, so it won't be in the states any time soon. That's one of the beauties, but also a sad part of travelling to wine area: you get to taste a lot of great wines you would otherwise not have the chance buy, but it sure sucks after you've poured that last souvenir bottle. Passagem is made mainly from Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, are grown up the river from Pinhao, in the Douro Superior, near Pocinho. I was too busy enjoying myself and tasting wine to take any notes, but suffice it to say, Passagem is a tasty wine. We’re holding on to a bottle to drink later on.

We The quinta offers a three-course dinners, which naturally comes with several of their port wines. Sounded like good idea. This...was delicious! The white port was served with cheese and that was pretty tasty. Dessert was a sort of flan with a 10 or 20 year old tawny. But the main dish was great! It looked almost like a cod au gratin, and it was loaded with cod and cheese and filled with creamy goodness.

Oh, and then there was the pool. It was a bit cool and looked as if it hadn't been cleaned for a few weeks (some leaves and a few small floaties, but not dirty), but hanging out the lounge chairs was still great. Several hours there was the perfect bit of needed relaxation: sun, solitude, wine, view of the vineyards across the river. Perfect! The quinta was a nice, rustic place to just relax for a few days. Though there were other guests, most of the time we felt like we were the only guests; we saw the others at breakfast and once at the pool. For having made plans over the internet, we lucked out on this place.

We're now the proud owners of only one Avanti wine refrigerator - the Avanti EWC28 28-bottle Wine Cooler. For a while we had two, one working, and one a perch for the cats. Last year the first one was a great birthday present. We were always running out of room for wines we weren't going to drink right away. This thing fir the bill. It was quiet and kept wine at a nice 56 degrees (according to my 2 dollar fridge thermometer). It was nice and compact. However, we've had two problems, one major, one minor. The major thing is that it stopped cooling after 10 months. The fan worked, but it was only blowing room temperature air. Call me crazy, but that's not too helpful if you want to keep red wine at safe temperature in the summer but you don't have a basement.

When I started doing a little poking around on the internet I found some reviews from people who had a similar problem. Some crapped out after 6 months. One poor sucker had his/her quit after the warranty period and was told that no replacement parts were available. Lovely. Naturally, all the negative reviews I found were written after we got the refrigerator. Luckily the thing was still within the warranty period. Customer service seemed pretty accommodating, and they offered to replace it, no questions asked. Maybe they know their product is sub-standard. Anyway, all I had to do was to cut off the power cord, peel off the serial number sticker, and send those, a copy of the receipt and a check for $15(?) to Avanti. The replacement has been fine so far, but we've only had it two weeks. But to add insult to injury, we had to pay $50 dollars to our condo association to have it hauled away for scrap metal. We seriously considered tossing it in a dumpster at some construction truction site.

Without the gimp, short-lived motor I am a bit disappointed about the shelf spacing, which I think should be a design consideration for any wine refrigerator. The shelves are too close together to comfortably fit Champagne- and Burgundy-style bottles. Champagne bottles require you to take a shelf out, and labels on Burgundy-style bottles get scraped up. What's more is that the cooler is advertised as having space for 28 bottles, though that doesn't mean 28 750 ml bottles. The space between the bottom shelf and the floor of the cooler is useful only for half bottles and slender dessert wine bottles. One customer wrote on Amazon that after complaining about the space, customer service said 28 bottles refers to "standard sized bottles." Standard? Anybody who has assembled mixed cases for customers in a wine store will tell you there's no such critter.

Another little problem, which the new one doesn't have, is that the suction on the door was so strong that the foam-like insulation pad on the door often ripped away from the door.

If you want to buy a wine refrigerator, first, take my advice and avoid this puppy, though I was quite thankful for it as a present. And second, after experience with the spacing, I would go shopping with some empty bottles and test to see whether the shelves will accommodate the wine I want to chill.

Cheers!

We had an excellent trip around parts of northern Portugal, visiting the coastal town Viana do Castelo before moving up the Douro River to Pinhao, and then down to Porto. The entire time we were never disappointed with the seafood or the wine. The food wasn’t all five star, mind you, but it was all tasty and doubtless very fresh.

Adventures in food and wine
The thing a traveler has to keep in mind while wandering through Portugal is to have a sense of adventure. Don’t be surprised if your server brings you a plate of fish and it’s still looking up at you, while bathed in butter, blanketed in onions and potatoes, and resting mostly intact. Sardines (sardinhas) are sometimes whole, as in guts and everything but the scales. That was a fun surprise for Lynne as she went after a piece with her fork and realized she would have to pick from around the guts. She’s used to all the hair-like bones, but she wasn’t prepared for offal from the sea. Other fish, including Portugal's signature fish, cod (bacalhau), is often served with the head and tail, left eyeballing you while you pluck its delicious meat from the bones.

Unless you speak Portuguese or are intimately familiar with a wide variety of DOCs and cooperatives in Portugal, deciphering the wine menu is a little tricky. Most menus are split between Vinho Verde and Vinho Maduro. It’s up to the diner to know the branco from the tinto, but a lot of the wines listed on the menu have both.

The Douro
Pinhao is by no means off the beaten track, though staying several nights in the village lends the feeling of wandering down a less often travelled path. Boats bustling with tourists are an almost daily sight. Tourists travel either up the river by boat and return on a train, or vice versa. But once everyone has cleared out, the town is virtually empty. We saw a German couple a few times, and an English couple stayed at our Quinta.

Here we stayed at Quinta de la Rosa. We got a quick tour and a sampling of their wines and port soon after we checked in. The colheita was excellent (no surprise there). The quinta puts on a three course dinner which with they serve three of their different port wines: white port, ruby, and a tawny. I wouldn't necessarily expect ruby port to be paired with fish, but it was cod baked in this rich cheesy sauce that was, well what can I say but, absolutely yummy!

Porto
Where do I start? The port wine or the enormous, loopy celebration in honor of Sao Joao, the patron saint of Porto? The port was excellent, needless to say. We toured Graham's (our favorite), Ferreira, and Ca'lem. The first two were great, mainly, I think, because we were part of a group of four. Ca'lem is locate very close to where walkers get off the bridge, so it gets larger crowds. You have to walk to the far end of the main street to get to Ferreira, and then head up the windy hill from there to get to Graham's. If you're not into walking in the summer sun, I assure you Ferreira and Graham's are worth the trek. I'll write more on the port lodges later. And "What about thatenormous, loopy celebration?" you ask. I'd describe it, but telling you about thousands of not-all-that-drunk Portuguese eating sardinhas and bopping people on the head with a plastic, squeaking hammers just doesn't do it justice. I'll post some video once I figure how. You gotta see it to appreciate it and laugh.

Until next time.
Cheers!


It’s time for Wine Blogging Wednesday! And what a great way to revive the blog. This month’s WBW is brought to us by the letter "S" and hosted by none other than Grape Juice. The only requirement for the wine is to have the letter "S" in the wine somewhere. Easy enough? I thought so.

This month I’m going with a wine from Ssspain! This is a young, juicy wine, and Lynne says it reminds her of grape jelly. And what’s a main staple for anyone watching Sesame Street on a regular basis? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, of course. Also, Lynne and I have over half a case of this left from our post-reception party and the next day’s brunch. So it didn’t take much of an effort to choose a matching wine for this month’s theme.

I present to you...er, the letter "S" presents to you. . .

Coto de Hayas Tinto 2006, Joven
The wine hails from Campo de Borja, which butts up against the southeast border of Navarra. The Coto de Hayas smells like a young wine, mainly with red fruit. I get the flavor of dark cherries and a swirl of grape juice and mixed jams. The tannins are a tad bracing and the finish is bright. It’s also got some white pepper to go along with it all. In a nutshell, it’s tasty!

Apparently one of the big wine magazines (forgot which one) rated this among their top pizza wines and value wines. Not too surprising, as it clocks in at under $10.

As for the details, the wine is made from 50% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah. Alcohol is at 13% and the wine was fermented in stainless steel. The wine is made by Bodega Aragonesas.

With wines from the US and New World things are pretty straightforward. Recognition of the grapes and states take you a long way. Whenever you read California, Oregon, or Southern Australia, and Pinot Noir, Shiraz, or Chardonnay you have a fairly good idea of what to expect when you pop the cork (or unscrew the cap). Scan down the label of a European wine label and the picture gets a little more interesting, especially when you are looking at Italian wine. With 20 regions and over 800 distinct grape varieties the possibilities can get overwhelming. Chianti is one thing, but if you see Cesanese del Piglio, and you aren't feeling adventuresome, odds are you'll scratch your head and start looking for something a little more familiar. Enter Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. With their book Vino Italiano, they truly help remove a lot the unknown. They present Italy in such a way that every reader will find this book both a useful and enjoyable.

The book is written in a journalistic style, with each chapter starting off with a slice of life in Italy or a bit of history. The reader’s journey starts in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, with a nicely painted a scene of one winemaker, Valter, who also happens to run a butcher shop and a cafĂ© often filled with locals. The rest of the book leads the reader down to Sicily and up over to the island of Sardinia. Their tales of these regions helps provide a context for learning about the wine. Beyond the history and the human interest story that accompanies each region, Vino Italiano serves as a great reference book on Italian wines. Wines are described in detail and broken down into different styles within a region: sparkling, white, red, and sweet wines. Within those categories, grapes are discussed and methods are explained.

From fine, ethereal elixirs to mass produced thirst quenchers, Lynch and Bastianich write at length to give us an objective story about the people who grow the grapes and craft the wines. It’s the objectivity and a bit of candor that I really appreciate. They aren’t simply telling us, “These wines are out of this world!” in order to help peddle wines; rather, they shed light on wines that may be less than what producers would have us believe. Case in point is when producers in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige try to explain the vegetal, green bell pepper aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon. They say it is an expression of the region, but Lynch and Bastianich are quick to point out this has more to do with the characteristics of unripe fruit.

Beyond the great story writing, the book is filled with lots of valuable information. The book starts out with some explanations of Italian wine labels and how the regions are divided up into their quality categories, from DOCG to Vino da Tavola. Each chapter contains a map of the given region indicating the DOCGs and DOCs; unfortunately though, the DOCGs and DOCs are only indicated by a spot on the map, instead of showing an outline of the area. The maps also include the key cities, major rivers, and mountain ranges. Located and the end of each chapter is the Fast Facts, which is several pages of, you guessed it, facts about the region: culinary details, grapes and their characteristics, vintage information, key producers and the price ranges of their wines, and a brief driving guide. Additionally, each chapter has a recipe created by Lidia Bastianich or Mario Batali.

A lot of wine stores that sell books will have this one, or you can always buy it from Amazon, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy. One warning on Amazon, though, buy early. I've been completely satisfied with regular shipping that takes about a week, but I recently had really crappy experience with 1-2 day shipping (and that's putting it nicely).

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