Mt Etna Wines Are Exploding (Literally)

Mt Etna Erupts, Spring of 2021. Nearby wineries jubilant???

In rather dramatic fashion, Mt Etna has been erupting again this week. Though volcanic eruptions are a humbling testament to the raw, unpredictable power of nature, wine lovers can be thankful their black, volcanic soils produce uniquely delicious wines like those from the Etna DOC. Assuming the vineyards survive the eruption, of course.

And it appears that neither vines nor structures are at risk this week, despite the awesome power of this eruption – the lava is flowing down into an empty valley, where it’s flowed for untold previous eruptions.

But about those volcanic soils… Even when the lava isn’t actively flowing, Mt Etna quietly belches clouds of black volcanic dust. It’s nearly constant. The vineyards of the Etna DOC are perched on steep vineyards between the 10,000 foot volcano to the West and the ocean to its East (where the Mediterranean and Ionean meet), so the vines are frequently covered in volcanic ash.

While its the region’s extreme, “adrenalin-rush winemaking” that adds interest to the wines of Etna, they’ve grown hot (sorry) on their own merits. They just happen to be uniquely delicious – the fact that every bottle comes with a story of wonder and delight is just a side bonus.

Here’s why I think these unique wines are worth a portion of your wine budget:

Volcanic Vineyards
It’s all about the flavors and aromas from these well-drained, nutrient-poor and mineral-rich, black volcanic soils (yes, yes, yes, and also the vineyards’ altitude (starting at 500 feet and rising up the mountainside to and impressive 4000 feet ), exposure, ocean influence, yadda yadda). But it’s the area’s unique soils that make the Etna wines worth sampling.

The Grape Caveat
Not to be sold short, however, Etna’s ancient grape varieties also play a key role in shaping these wines. They come from grapes believed to originate on the island, and that are known only to a handful of serious students of the vine. But serious can be boring!
 
Don’t be serious. Be curious!
Etna Rosso
Etna’s reds must be made from at least 80% of the ancient Nerello Mascalese, believed to have originated in Sicily. The grape is similar in style to the medium-bodied reg grapes – Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. The second red grape in these blends is equally obscure Nerello Cappucio (which adds color and ripeness/alcohol). Finally, should the winemaker so desire, up to 10% of the blend can comme from a handful of other Sicilian varietals. 

Etna Bianco
The equally (more?) delicious white wines of the Etna DOC are crafted largely from a relatively unknown white grape – at least 60% of the blend must be from the Carricante grape. And while the Catarratto is Sicily’s most widely planted white grape, it too is virtually unknown to most of us, and is the second grape on the list of credits for the Etna Bianco wines, followed by a short list of others. 

But more important than all these details – the wines are simply delicious and worth a try!
Three Etna DOC wines worth a bit of your wine budget this month:
Discover a new favorite!To Your Health! The health benefits of moderate drinking.
Dave the Wine Merchant*
866-746-7293
 
*P.S. These wines have become popular lately. If my supply has been depleted before you can order, rest assured I’ll be bringing in more. Just reply to this email with your interest and I’ll contact you once they arrive. Vintages and vineyards may change, however.

2021 – Your Best Valentine’s Day EVER!

Valentines Day 2021 – a celebration like none we’ve had before!

(Internal dialogue) “Valentines Day 2021? This is gonna suck! Stuck in the same rooms since COVID lockdown began? How do we even BEGIN to make Valentine’s Day enjoyable this year?!”

By re-imagining the entire evening! Here’s how…

Valentine’s Day “Before Times” – Think about it. Before COVID, things weren’t really that great, come February 14th.

We’d make reservations at a great restaurant, over-pay for a Prix Fixe menu and a temporarily-inflated wine list, then wait at the bar for forty minutes past our reservation time because the restaurant packed in “just one more turn of the tables”, until finally (tipsy after our second cocktail) we’d have to call the sitter to see if he/she/they could work an additional hour…

Valentine’s Day in the Before Times

Come on, friends. We can easily cook up a more enjoyable Valentine’s Day than that!

Here are some fresh, wine-themed ideas for a truly memorable at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

And remember, Valentine’s Day 2021 falls on a Sunday and is followed by a national holiday. Many of us will benefit from built-in snuggling and recuperation time on Monday morning!

Valentine’s Day 2021

Whichever activity you choose (ideas to follow), there are a few basic ingredients in our recipe for a memorable at-home Valentine’s Day. Start with the essentials listed here, then build on them using any of our ideas – or ones of your own:

The Basics

To begin with, we suggest these essential ingredients in our recipe for a memorable at-home Valentine’s Day. Bring in the basics listed here, then build around them using any of our event ideas:

  • Flowers: There is no better way to brighten your space than with fresh flowers. But before you resort to the standard – red roses – consider that many people have fallen seriously out of love with this old standard. Perhaps, in part, because rose prices get seriously inflated for Valentine’s Day! If you need creative ideas for flower arrangements, consult the florists at Foothill Flowers (800-742-2551) before placing your order.
  • Candles: Candle-making is now a common at-home business for many of the bartenders and waitstaff that once served our Valentine’s Day meals at now-shuttered restaurants. But as you shop for hand-made candles, note that the scented ones add unwanted flavors and aromas to your wine and food and often become over-bearing. Best to stick with unscented. You’ll find candles you like here on Etsy.

 

  • Play Lists: If your youthful dream was to be a DJ, you’ve probably already compiled a romantic playlist for Valentine’s Day. If not, just search your favorite streaming service for ‘Valentine’ or ‘Romance’, and find a list you like, one that will last… all night long.
  • Food: Whether your plans include cooking or ordering delivery/take-out, eating together is an essential part of a romantic evening. To make this night different from the prior 333 dinners you’ve shared during lock-down, why not dress up as if you were going out (when was the last time you did THAT?!) to make the evening more memorable… and the unwrapping more fun.
Visit Black Lapel, A Style Journey. Not an ad partner.

OK, Now Build on Those Basics! – build on this foundation with one or two of these ideas:

  • Wine and Chocolate Pairing – Contrary to popular belief, wine and chocolate don’t really pair very well. And many sparkling wines paired with chocolate can be downright offensive. But here’s my time-tested tip for making this fantastic – select an oxidized dessert wine (one with the nutty flavor also known as ‘rancio’) such as an aged Tawny Port, a Banyuls or one of the unique and special wines from the Rivesaltes. Pair these wines with three or four exquisite chocolate bars containing varying amounts of Cacao and vote for your favorite combination. Pure delight, and a great hopping-off point for one of the other activities below!
  • Spa Night – Grab some bath bubbles (our new favorite is from Alaffia – not an ad partner) foot scrub, lotion, face masks, massage oils and candles for an evening of pampering. If a good soak is how you like to begin your spa night, light loads of candles to enhance your relaxation and stress relief. Cap it off with a new pair of luxurious bathrobes to preserve the warm glow until bedtime. And to go with the bubbles for your bath, you’ll need some bubbles for your flutes of course! 
  • Movie Night – We’ve all watched a lifetime of movies during the pandemic, so suggesting yet another movie night for Valentine’s Day means we have to take it up a notch! Some ideas: 
    • Give each other a pair of luxurious pajamas to relax in as you watch the movie. Or as you don’t watch the movie, should distraction happen.
    • Pick a killer movie! Here’s LifeHack’s thoughtful list of the top 21 romantic movies.
    • Add plenty of popcorn and some great Champagne (trust me, this odd-sounding pairing works well!) If you can afford caviar, go for it!
    • Bonus Idea: Top this evening off with a gift of special Champagne glasses. My wife recently expressed an interest in the vintage Coupe glasses (see a non-vintage version, below), and I scored some points Christmas morning by presenting an unmatched collection I’d gathered from several vintage shops. Go ahead, draft off me.
12 for $77 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Not an advertising partner.
  • Bring the Valentine’s Day Heat! – Baking and icing heart-shaped cookies as a family provides a creative activity for any number of participants. And for wines to pair with sweet cookies or other deserts, remember the wine needs to be sweeter than the food. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

 

  • Become Immortal – Well, a small part of you anyway, by recording a brief video of each family member. So that this can be done in a single evening, limit your time to about 5 minutes per video, with one family member acting as the Host to introduce the “guest” and ask questions such as these:

For adult couples:

    1. How did you meet?
    2. When did you know there was something special, beyond just dating?
    3. Tell us about your first date
    4. What did your family think?
    5. What was the best part of your wedding?

And for kids of any age:

  1. What is your earliest family memory?
  2. When have you been the proudest of another family member?
  3. What do you think is the best part of being in Covid lock-down with your family?
  4. What are you looking forward to once lock-down orders are lifted and your life is back to normal?
  5. What do you think is the right age for getting married?

In advance of Valentine’s Day, create a private channel on YouTube or create a folder on a cloud storage platform so you’re ready to store your videos in perpetuity. Then share the link exclusively with your kids and/or friends and family members.

Chordboard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you use one of the ideas listed here or something you dream up on your own, we hope that Valentine’s Day 2021 becomes enjoyable and memorable for you and yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends!

Dave the Wine Merchant

“Man that toast was too short!” (Said nobody, ever)

Want to show some appreciation for friends and family at upcoming Holiday events?  Read my ten tips for Toasting Success and you’ll be remembered as a pro.

  1. It’s not as hard as it seems.  Although public speaking is intimidating for many – telling someone “Thank You” in public is what most of us have been trained to do since we were three!  And a toast is just a formalized extension of that – just stand, clink your glass for silence, and say some sort of extended version of a simple Thank-You… “I think we all owe our hosts a big thank you for such a wonderful time, such great food, and for having the wisdom to invite such an interesting group of friends tonight!
  2. Know Your Audience.  You’re unlikely to give the same toast at a gathering of old school pals as you would at a work event, right? To avoid falling flat, or saying something inappropriate, remember those you’re inviting to raise their glass will be unlikely to do so unless your words are pleasing to their ear.
  3. Toast, Don’t Roast.  I once listened to a Best Man describe how he and the groom once stole a refrigerator from a neighboring apartment. It was the most inappropriate toast I’ve ever heard at a wedding, and was not appreciated by anybody, leaving many of the celebrants in a state of shocked protest when invited to raise their glass. This is not the time for the risky or risqué!
  4. 60 Seconds, Tops. One reason people can feel nervous before giving a toast is the false belief that every toast needs to be a speech. Quite the opposite – as long as your toast conveys your heart-felt gratitude, it’s a success. Your best bet is to shoot for 30-60 seconds, from the first word to the invitation “… so please join me in raising your glass to…
  5. Follow This Proven Outline. Having listened to and studied with some of the world’s truly great public speakers, I don’t think you’ll ever be disappointed when following their outline for a good toast:
    1. Thank the host and/or acknowledge the guest of honor
    2. (Totally optional, but recommended) Describe a shared experience from the past – light, and either humorous and/or touching.
    3. Invite all to join you in raising their glass to the honoree(s).
  6. Do It Early. Those who hate speaking in public find it preferable to procrastinate. But a toast is best when it sets the tone for an event early on – after everyone has been seated at the table and the first wine has been poured, for example.  Just before dessert is also a great time, but comes with the downside of, well, see below…
  7. Don’t Drink Too Much First!  For obvious reasons.  We are never as glib as we think we are after that second or third glass of wine!
  8. Eyeball-to-Eyeball.  Look each other in the eyes as you raise your glass. I learned this important lesson from an Italian winemaker who was aghast at my very American tendency to look at my glass as we clinked, instead of looking at the man who had just honored me with his toast. A toast is a sharing of our humanity, a celebration of it, and as we raise our glasses around the table, it will mean much more if each participant recognizes the others by looking them in the eye as they clink glasses. (This is easier when in a small gathering, of course)
  9. Standing Is Best. Standing at the dinner table as you propose your toast makes it easier to get started, as heads will turn to see what is happening. Clink a water glass (no, not the crystal one!) to gain attention, and dive in, or simply announce “I propose a toast!”.  If standing is not possible for any reason, simply raising your glass can be effective, though it does not convey the same gravity – which is often preferred for casual situations anyway!
  10. Sources of Inspiration. There is no substitute for speaking from the heart. But there is also a long history of wit and wisdom that may lend a humorous launch pad for your own creativity. I’ve collected some of my favorites over the years, and you are welcome to view them here

“Drinking Alcohol Causes Cancer!” (Whoops. Not!)

Alcohol cancerThis week, two UK publications used attention-grabbing headlines like the one seen at left.  They quoted a ‘study’ published in the journal “Addiction”.

They had but one problem.  There was no study.  Only the wishful musings of a neo-prohibitionist writing in the publication’s “For Debate” section. You may have seen the headlines making news – such is the nature of our state of journalism today – and I’m posting this to argue that moderate drinking is still more likely to lengthen one’s lifespan than to shorten it.  

Of course, being employed in the wine industry, that’s what you’d expect me to say, right? So I will leave you with a link to this more reasoned consideration of the debate.

Happy Sipping!Just Dave

Dave “The Wine Merchant” Chambers

 

Does Your Wine Cause Cancer?

During the course of my many solar orbits, I’ve observed broadcast news shift from dry, informative information to content that offers entertainment that shifts between feel-good stories embedded between warnings of the falling sky.  Such is the destiny of today’s deregulated marketplace.

So I wasn’t too worried when I read the headline “Weed Killer Could Be Lurking In Some CA Wines”.  But if one follows the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” it does seem as if Monsanto’s ‘RoundUp’ is too ubiquitous to NOT become a factor in the health of some portion of the population. 

The news on wine containing traces of this popular weed killer is just the latest bit of inflammatory news.  Clearly, our entire food supply is at risk, as are our watersheds.  I tend to adopt a rational approach to such things, and intend to keep looking at the research beyond what our current broadcast news environment allows.  

I’ll keep an eye on this to see if wineries diminish their use of RoundUp, or if organically raised grapes still have traces of the carcinogenic chemical, and see if there is scientific consensus (outside of studies sponsored by Monsanto) that indicates glyphosate is encroaching into our food and water supply at a level worthy of concern. Stay tuned.

See the original broadcast here:

 (or copy/paste this link)

http://abc7news.com/health/i-team-weed-killer-could-be-lurking-in-some-ca-wines/1314832/

CorkSharing – Wine App Review

CorkSharing-full

Having learned my lesson the hard way (it’s a long sob story not worth any more pixels), I appreciate good wine apps.  I recently came across Bryan Petro’s “CorkSharing” (wine tourism app for iPhone and Android) and thought it worth sharing.

CorkSharing was designed for those who like to plan their route in advance and who enjoy a little preferential treatment upon arrival.  The app allows users to visually scan a map of a wine region showing an overlay of participating wineries.  Users can then click on a winery’s red dot to review their self-reported details and, if all looks good, to book a tasting appointment. 

From a winery’s perspective, the app automates the reservation process, from booking the appointment to taking payment for the tasting fees (CorkSharing takes a 15% booking fee – there is no other cost to participate).  The company currently has more than 600 participating wineries from around the globe.

To see more on how it works, here’s a helpful video demo:

 

Winery Sign-Up Process
If you run a winery tasting room and would like to test CorkSharing, sign up for it here.

Tasting Event Promotion
Holding a tasting event you want to publicize? Post it here.

 


My App Review

My vision for our failed iPhone app was to allow wineries to book reservations, as CorkSharing does, but also to push promotions to users once their device was within a reasonable distance.  Imagine a slow day in your tasting room, and the ability to post an instant promotion of limited duration.  Generating more TR traffic for you, and providing greater value for customers seemed like a great deal.  

CorkSharing gets you much of the way there, and seems a likely candidate among wine apps to go the distance.  However, they desperately need more wineries on board before the app reaches critical mass, and they are constantly working on this.  Unlike other apps, they don’t scrape data from winery websites in order to create the appearance of endless choices (only to disappoint users who click on winery after winery not participating in the booking).  

The app is free and easy to use.  Even at this early stage it’s worth downloading.  Any wine lover planning their next trip will find it useful!

Just DaveCheers!  
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com 

Today’s Life Lesson – Always Pick Up The Phone!

McBrides #3

Always pick up the phone?  I know that seems like weird advice, what with more and more companies/charities/candidates employing an ever-expanding phalanx of thick-skinned sales people to call during the dinner hour all hours of the day.  It’s tempting to let all your calls go to voicemail!

But imagine what might have happened if you had ignored a call like this one, coming in from an unknown number…

“Hi honey, this is your father.  I know we’ve never met, but after your mom and I split I went away for a long time. Like your mom, I too have terminal cancer and want you to know before it’s too late that you have a half sister.  My brother and his wife are going to help you find her.”

20150514_124301

That’s essentially the phone call that reunited Andrea and Robin McBride as they told us their story over lunch at San Francisco’s Sens restaurant on Thursday.  The sisters now constitute a fair percentage of America’s female winemakers, and an even larger percentage of winemakers of color.  And if we slice that pie even thinner, they are the only American winemakers who can call themselves “African American sisters”.

After meeting for the first time in 1999 (one was raised in New Zealand, the other in Monterey, CA) they discovered many similarities, including a love of wine.  To make a great story short enough for the space available, in 2005 – the same year I launched the Sideways Wine Club (though their story is a bit more exciting) – they decided to become importers of New Zealand wine.

Their first shipment consisted of just a single pallet – about 55 cases, because that was all the cash they could afford to risk.  It was hardly worth the paperwork!  But they took those wines from account to account and through pluck, charm, intelligence and hard work, they leveraged that first pallet into a sizable import company with over a dozen representatives.  Along the way, they related stories of how their gender and race led some to assume they were “the assistants”.  They said they never took it personally, and just let their wine do the talking.

Their first venture into winemaking started in New Zealand, with a brand called Eco.love – three wines with a commitment to sustainable production that resonates with the female millennials that are their primary customers.  Now they’ve partnered with Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines to launch their California brand TRUVÉE (Tru Vay – poetically enough, French for “to find”), introduced in January of this year.  

The TRUVÉE brand has launched with two wines, each produced in quantities of about 10,000 cases, and each priced at $15.99 (retail).

McBride Sisters

TRUVÉE 2013 Chardonnay – this lightly-oaked wine (50% “with oak”, 50% Stainless Steel) is from a number of top Central Coast sources, Edna Valley, Bien Nacido, Chalone and others.  Their goal was to span the Old World and New World styles with a wine that was in the sweet spot for what our industry classifies as “Super Premium” wines (keep in mind that only 4% of wine sold costs more than $20).  This was a nice, every-day Chard that paired very well with all the dishes Sens served us on Thursday.

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20150514_122659

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TRUVÉE 2013 Red Blend – A Rhône-style wine that blends Grenache (primarily San Benito), Syrah (Chalone), Zinfandel (Paso Robles) and Merlot (San Lucas Valley).  Lighter-bodied and very approachable, I tasted the red wine with each of the dishes and it spanned nicely, the tannins sufficiently tame to pair well with Sen’s lower-fat Mediterranean dishes, and the acidity sufficiently high to remain refreshing.

All in all, I was pleased to discover the sisters and their wines.  There are many, many good wines out there, but I suspect that five years from now this brand will be among the winners.  Because even a good wine does better with a good story, and there is no better story than that of Andréa and Robin McBride.  I wish them all the success they deserve.

20150514_140656

Everything in moderation (including moderation?)

Today’s NPR news feed includes a story I’d call “news-ish”.  That’s my term for what the news/entertainment industry calls “human interest stories”.  Such stories get more viewers/listeners/social media likes, and therefore they’re replacing solid news.  But who am I to complain?  I sell wine for a living, and what could be more “Human Interest” than that?  Despite the wine industry’s unique internecine squabbles, we rarely make headlines outside the “human interest” category.

This particular article reported on how women (not men?) who actually COOK the recipes they see demonstrated on TV’s cooking shows tend to be 11 pounds heavier than the women who simply WATCH the shows.  For the record, correlations have also been found between the number of people who drowned in a swimming pool in a given year and the number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in during that year.  That’s the thing about statistics – it can be tricky stuff.

The trim Giada de’Laurentiis

The writer thought this finding called into question the wisdom of cooking at home to obtain healthier food, and even called into question the writings of food proponents such as Michael Pollan.  But in the end, the story concludes on a note of common sense.

When asked how she can cook such high-fat dishes on her show and still maintain her trim figure, celebrity chef Giada di’Laurentiis replied “I eat a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything.  Everything in moderation.”

And that’s just sound advice whether putting food on your plate or wine in your glass.

Happy Merchant Cropped for webCheers,

Dave the Wine Merchant

“Honey, what was that wine we liked??”

That question is an increasingly common one among wine fans over 40.  I like to tell them they’re experiencing memory difficulties because they have a lifetime of memories stored inside their heads, like a hard drive that’s getting full, and it takes longer to scan through everything and access a specific piece of information when it’s needed.  (There’s actually some brain research that supports my theory, which is surprising as I thought I’d made it up)

But here’s a useful article that provides helpful clues on how to cement something into your memory regardless of its vintage.  If you’re taking the SWE/WSET/MS/Etc. certification exam, this is required reading.  If you’re just interested in a better memory then yeah, you too!

2/27/15 Food & Wine Article by Charles Antin “How To Improve Your Wine Memory

A Tasting Experience at the Intersection of Wine & Art

Creativity Explored - where art changes livesWhat are you doing here?!  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate you reading my blog, it’s just that I’m going to ask you to do something more.  

Because reading about wine is all well and good, it is a fascinating topic and all, but it’s sort of like reading about sex – eventually, it’s best to set aside the academic study and experience the subject live and in person.  Which is what we’re doing every time we separate the cork from its bottle, and especially so at an organized tasting where wine becomes the center of focus, where it’s elevated beyond a pleasant background accompaniment to good company, good food or the (sadly) the T.V.

And on Thursday,  January 29th, we’re turning the usual tasting format on its head with wine inspired by art. It’s a whole different approach to tasting!

It’s not uncommon for an artist to be inspired by wine, of course.  That’s been common for centuries.  But wine inspired by art?  Come experience it with us – you’ll taste wine, and view the art that inspired it, with fresh and enlivened senses. We’ve paired artisanal wines with six different works of art by some of the developmentally handicapped artists working through the venerable Creativity Explored in San Francisco’s hip Mission District.  This worthy organization provides studio space and gallery/marketing support for dozens of such artists, some of which are able to support themselves from their proceeds.  Tickets are just $20 (available here).  Here’s a sneak peak at two of our pairings:

Biggy Cats... by Christina Marie Fong
Biggy Cats… by Christina Marie Fong inspired a pairing with Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare Blanc. Come learn more about this fascinating match!
"Big Tree" by Jason Monzon
“Big Tree”, by Jason Monzon, inspired a pairing with the wines of Mendocino producer Seebass. Come learn how the art inspired our choice!

I hope you can join us. Because as much fun as it is to read about wine, it is far more enjoyable to taste it!  So stop reading and hie thee to the shopping cart – Tickets are a very reasonable $20 per person ($38 for two)Click to Buy Tickets

 

Happy MerchantCheers!

Dave the Wine Merchant