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.

20150514_133354

20150514_122659

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

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

Book Reviews: “Proof” & “Dial M for Merlot”

I must be the most frustrating book reviewer in the world.  When I agree to review a book relevant to food and wine enthusiasts, the publicist sends me a promotional copy.  And then… they wait.  Sometimes for quite a while. Because I have two habits that virtually guarantee my review will miss the critical 6-8 week period following release:

  1. I read the entire book .  Most reviewers see this behavior as inefficient. Farcical, even. But a fair review requires an understanding of the book’s gestalt, not just a skim of a few pages.  Besides, if I struggle to finish the book in a timely manner it usually means other readers will too.
  2. I don’t enjoy publishing bad reviews.  I know how difficult it is to craft a compelling story and tell it in an engaging manner. But a desire to caution readers from investing time and money on a book they may not enjoy eventually means the review gets publish.

I apologize to the publicists for being so late to the party.

Dial M for Merlot, by Howard K

20141207_161416This is the first effort from author “Howard K”, who spins an interesting tale.  But sadly, that tale was told via the prose of a novice author employing metaphors so clumsy they were sometimes painful to read. In addition, Mr. K uses a rather liberal hand in sprinkling gratuitous sex throughout his story, with female characters that seem to have sprung from one of Ian Fleming’s old James Bond series – fun, pretty baubles to adorn a male protagonist.

And finally, Mr. K requires the reader to suspend belief and accept the absurdity that a virgin computer nerd / Star Trek enthusiast without any interest in fine wine or food, can transmogrify into an expert wine taster and womanizer within a few short months.

That said, by making his protagonist a wine novice, Howard K has a convenient reason for diving into some substantial details about wine, and doing so without ever making his story seem like a dry reference piece.  It is a great conceit for leading the general public to a greater appreciation of this ancient and noble beverage.  In addition, he has woven a story of intrigue, in fact one that I think could be easily adapted to the big screen.   The story line is engaging despite the author’s shortcomings as a writer, which improve over the course of the book.  Quite dramatically, in fact.  

Which gives me hope that Howard K’s next book will be even better.  

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Proof – The Science of Booze – Adam Rogers

20141207_161429

Rogers’s book is just the opposite.  An experience writer (for Wired Magazine), he sprinkles his dry humor throughout this dry subject, well researched and supported with a 19-page notes section.  A book about booze being dry?  Well, yes and no.  The subject is near and dear to the heart of any fan of wine/beer/cocktails, but READING about yeast/distillation/fermentation and hangovers is about as engaging as reading a manual on good sex.  It’s more enjoyable to put down the book and actually partake.

That said, those willing to read through the tough parts will find many valuable nuggets as they mine this book for fun and useful information. The well-researched chapters don’t really flow in a cohesive narrative, but that also makes them easy to serve as stand-alone topics.  I confess to not reading this book in sequence, as my interest in yeast or sugar are not as great as those of Aging, Smell & Taste, or Body & Brain, each of which I found to be useful chapters.  I’ve taken notes for future classes and presentation from each of these chapters.  Valuable nuggets abound for those willing to do a little hard rock mining.

All in all, this is a book for which any enthusiast of wine/beer/spirits will gladly make room on their bookshelf.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Cheers! Dave

A Travesty of Justice – Case against wine merchant dismissed

In today’s news comes word of a NY court case that was dismissed out of hand.  Seems the judge didn’t take kindly to the plaintiff’s suit against a wine merchant who sold him wine using Parker’s score (91) and a staff description of the wine.  The plaintiff bought six bottles at $13 a bottle, only to get them home and find they were not to his liking.  

This is a travesty of justice for those of us who would like to preserve the right to legal recourse against art galleries that sell us art that doesn’t quite match the pain on our walls, radio stations that play bad music, and sports teams that lose to teams whose fans, team members and management are known jerks.  

Imagine the legal precedence this sets.  Pretty soon you won’t even be able to sue a taco truck for selling you tacos you don’t like.

What’s America coming to?

Details here

What Wine Pairs With Donuts?

The trend spotters have all reported in and it’s safe to say the cupcake fad is dead.  In its stead, I bring you (drum roll) the donut fad! (Or the doughnut fad, depending on your spell checker)

“Yeah, so?” you ask, “what’s that have to do with a wine blog?!”

Glad you asked.  Everyone knows donuts don’t pair with wine.  Many have tried, few have lived to tell the tale.  And, given my oft-repeated advice that a wine needs to be slightly sweeter than the dessert it’s paired with, few wines would stand up to the test.  Pairing donuts with a dry wine would be about the most unpleasant culinary experience I can imagine, though it seems a just sentence for those nutters who claim “I drink Cabernet with everything“.  For the rest of us, we’d be nuts to pair donuts with dry wine.

Um, until now.

Today, Urban Daddy reported a new company called ‘Bespoke Doughnuts’ has introduced savory doughnuts to San Francisco’s adventurous eaters.

Savory Donuts

For example, here is Bespoke Doughnuts lineup for this week.

Appetizer: A carrot-ginger doughnut.

Main course: A Hawaiian-barbecue doughnut with a grilled-pineapple filling, sweet teriyaki glaze, and taro or lotus root chips and kalua pig on top.

Dessert: A Snickers-inspired doughnut. 

Guess I’d better get over there and start researching some new wine pairings.  You know, just in case this fad catches fire.  Meanwhile, Urban Daddy reports Bespoke Doughnuts can be found in two locations in San Francisco – Saturdays, 9am until sold out, at Mélange Market, 3153 17th St, and Sundays, 1 to 6pm, at Beaux, 2344 Market Street.

Combining Food and Wine: Basic Guidelines

wine & food guidelinesBy Lily McCann

Food and drink articles and programs often stress the importance of combining food with the right type of wines. There can sometimes be an element of snobbery attached to this subject.  At the end of the day, enjoying food and wine is a subjective experience and people can try and enjoy any combination that suits them.  That said, understanding the basic principles of matching food and wine may help you find some combinations you really enjoy.

Staying local
Traditional advice is to combine regional wines with authentic local dishes and this is a wisdom that rarely fails. Claret or Rioja with roasted lamb, or Muscadet with fresh shell-fish are classic combinations and their success outlines some of the principles that can guide the best pairings of food and wine.

Balancing food and wine
Ensuring that food and wine have a similar weight or presence is often advised. Delicate dishes go better with lighter wines while rich foods fare better with something bigger. This is where the age-old ideas of matching fish with white wine and red meats with red wines come from. Chicken and pork will usually work with both, depending on the sauce they are cooked in. Of course these rules are there to be broken – fish can be enjoyed with red wine but ideally a wine low in tannin and high in acid such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Bardolino, and even then, the pairing is best when the fish is rich in oil and flavor.  Cooking the fish with tomato and olive also strengthens the flavor bridge to these red wines.

Acidity 
Crisp, unoaked white wines are generally seen as a good accompaniment to shellfish and fish dishes. This is even truer with fish served with a wedge of lemon because the citric acid in the lemon increases the acidity in the dish. And a good rule of thumb with wine and food parings is to match acidic dishes with acidic wines.  Wines with marked acidity include dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or other white wines from oceanic growing regions.  Oh, and preferably unoaked wines – oak flavors fight with the briny flavors of these fish and seafoods.

One other thing to keep in mind, two of the most overlooked and food-friendly wines on the market are dry Rosès and Sparkling wines.  Both contain enough acidity to refresh your palate between bites, and enough body to complement your food.

Red wine and meat
Many red wines are loaded with tannins that leave the palate dry and almost gritty.  They also overpower the flavor of many foods. Choosing foods that provide a protein or cream barrier are ways to compliment this trait. Tannin wants to latch onto the nearest available protein and if nothing else is available, gums and teeth will do! Occupying the tannin with the fat molecules from a good steak or rare cooked lamb will mop up the tannin in a young Claret or Cabernet, giving a softer and sweeter edge to the wine.

Soft, creamy cheeses can perform a similar task, providing a coat of fat and protein on the palate. Conversely, hard cheeses are less efficient at doing this, and tend not to pair as well with tannic red wines. A diet of red meat, red wine and soft cheese may not be the healthiest way to eat every day, but there are plenty of healthy living blogs such as those highlighted by KwikMed that will provide a range of lower fat recipes using these foods that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

For other meats such as chicken and pork which are well cooked in roasts or casseroles, try rich white wines or livelier, fruitier red wines with softer tannins.

Fusion foods
Fusion foods are arguably responsible for the breakdown in the traditional food and wine partnerships. The inventive combinations of flavors and ingredients from different parts of the world can leave wine drinkers wondering where to start. The only way to work out the best wine for a fusion dish is to look at what it contains in the way of acidity, sweetness, protein and heat and go from there. Spicier dishes are best combined with off-dry and unoaked white wines and sometimes pair well with softer red wines. If a dish has a lot of sweetness to it, try and find a wine with even greater sweetness. It’s a difficult task and even the best food and wine experts can struggle to match complex fusion dishes with a suitable wine.

Enjoy it!
As stated above, the most important thing is always to enjoy your food and wine however you choose to combine them. Even if you make a particular effort to match food and wine you will still probably get it wrong on occasions. Try and keep a note of combinations that have worked well for you and understand why the worked. If you can build up a good repertoire of food and drink combinations that you enjoy, you can return to them whenever you like.  Or you can choose to branch out and be a bit more adventurous.  Who knows? as Dave the Wine Merchant says in his tagline, you might just “Discover your next favorite!”

Highlights from Taste of the Bay 2013

2013 Taste of the Bay

Sending congratulations to the student organizers of last night’s ‘Taste of the Bay’ event in the Julia Morgan ballroom.  There are many charity fund-raising events you can attend in San Francisco.  I’ve been to many.  But this is the only one I know of where the organizers are full-time students in SFSU’s Hospitality Management track.  Many of them also hold part-time jobs in addition – oh to have that resilience and energy once again.

Dessert Table - 2013 Taste of the BayThe food options were more than ample, and most of the samples offered fell somewhere between ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’.  To compliment the food offerings the student organizers recruited a handful of breweries (of course, the community-oriented Lagunitas Brewery was pouring!) and about a dozen Wineries, pouring 2-5 wines each.  

It took some work and much jostling but I managed to taste all the wines.  My favorites were the Chardonnays and/or Pinots from Thomas George (formerly the Davis Bynum property), Hook & Ladder, and Moshin, as well as the ’08 Cabernet from Xurus (pronounced Hoo Roos) from Lake County.

Special kudos to the entrepreneurs behind “Spicy Vines” – wines infused with spices without using heat to steep the spices (which makes so many mulled wines bitter, hence the need for sweeteners).  I laud their risky venture inspired by the traditional winter wines found in many Old World wine regions – it’s the traditional drink that greets vineyard workers after a cold morning of pruning vines.  Spicy Vines offers fun, unique wines you can serve warmed or at room temperature.  I encourage you to try them here.

Winemaker Bryan Harrington, Dr. Kathy O'Donnell, SFSU
Winemaker Bryan Harrington, Dr. Kathy O’Donnell, SFSU

Though not pouring at the event, I enjoyed learning about the no-sulfite techniques being employed by Bryan Harrington for his “Terrane” line of wines.  He uses chilled CO2 to extract the natural oxygen-inhibiting properties of grape seeds in place of the more commonly applied SO2.  I’ll be stopping by his facility on Custer Ave soon, and will report on the highlights.  Bryan’s eponymous ‘Harrington Wines’, one of San Francisco’s urban wineries, features a couple dozen obscure Cal-Ital wines, each crafted in very limited quantities.

Dr. Colin Johnson, Chair of SFSU Hospitality & Travel Mgmt Program
Dr. Colin Johnson, Chair of SFSU Hospitality & Travel Mgmt Program

I encourage you to attend next year’s event, or to sponsor a table if you’re in the hospitality industry, to help support this most worthy cause.

Cheers!

Dave “The Wine Merchant”

Disclaimer.  For the past six years, I have been a regular guest lecturer for SFSU on the “History of California Wines” and “Deductive Tasting Techniques”.

Let’s get these parties started…

2013 Fall Catalog - Cover image
Click to view Catalog Contents

“The best hosts we know!!”

Your friends say a lot of things about you.  That’s one thing you hope they say.  And with these wines, they will.  Say that.  About you.

Introducing the 19 wines I’ve hand-picked for our fall wine club members.  Each one meets or exceeds the strict standards set for its price point – from $11 to $56 per bottle.  Whatever your wine budget, come discover your next favorite!

Need more reasons to stock up?  You have a ton of parties lurking just around the corner.  Hot on the heels of Halloween is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, Super Bowl Sunday…  YOU, my friend, have a lot of celebrating to do.  So let’s get these parties started.

It’s easy.  When your wine arrives, invite friends over.  Pop a cork.  Polish a few glasses.  Share.  Repeat.  Next thing you know your hosting skills rival Martha Stewart’s.  Just… without the jail time.  Though that last part is pretty much up to you.

View all 19 Hand-Picked Wines Here 

Cheers!
Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

*P.S.  Don’t forget, with a 12-bottle order your discount increases to 10%!

Experience the “Insider’s” Napa

Would life be better if you owned a winery?  Would you rock the wine world?  Be the envy of everyone you meet?  Well here’s the next best thing.

Smack dab in the midst of Napa’s 2013 grape harvest, here’s a long weekend you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  Channel your inner Lucy and go knee-deep at the grape stomping competition.  Take home wine you bottled*.  Welcome Napa Winemakers to your table.  Dine by candle light surrounded by century-old barrels.  In short, see Napa like an industry insider.

To make this all possible, the folks at Chicago Magazine and I have developed this “Insider’s Tour” of Napa. If you can join us, here’s what you’re in for… 

"Insider's Napa" Tour - Itinerary Logo

Weekend Itinerary: (Items subject to change)

Friday, Sept. 20th
Arrival, Reception and Dinner

Napa signArrive SFO before 3:00PM Pacific Time.  Hop aboard one of the hourly shuttles to the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa – your home base for this “insider’s” weekend.

6:00 PM — Welcome Reception. Get to know your fellow wine enthusiasts and meet boutique producers you won’t find in wine shops back home. Who knows?  One or two winemakers might even show up, if we can tear them away from their 20-hour days during harvest.

7:00 PM — Garden-to-Table Dinner.  You want Fresh?  You want seasonal??  Join Chef Brian Whitmer in the hotel garden to pick ingredients for your al fresco dinner.  He may fly below your radar, but Chef Whitmer has chops.  His resume includes stints managing culinary operations for the Masters of Food and Wine, working with New York’s Daniel Boulud at Polo Club and Bradley Ogden at San Francisco’s Campton Place before earning Esquire’s “Best Restaurant” nod for his work at Montrio in Monterey.  Brian and I will work together to perfectly pair Napa wines with each of your three courses.

Saturday, Sept 21st
Napa’s Emerging Winemakers

9:00 AM — Enjoy breakfast in the hotel at your convenience.  Or arrange for an early spa treatment.  Or take a lap in the pool.  Just don’t be late, because the bus leaves at 10:50 sharp for your next immersion experience…

11:00 AM — Bottle Your Own Barrel at the Ried Family Vineyards
A wine bottling party - Reid Family VyrdsOwner Kirk Reid leads us through his family’s vineyard, then through the production facility and on to the bottling room where you’ll bottle the barrel of wine purchased for your group – all 24 cases.  As reward for your hard work, you’ll gather around the farmer’s table for lunch overlooking the vineyard.  When you get home and open a wine you bottled, the story pours out with the wine.

Ried Family Vineyards are a boutique winery, crafting a miserly 400 cases each year.  Yes, that’s hundred.  The family ‘s Napa roots date back to the mid 1800’s, though their vines date back to 1992.  Their vineyard provides homes for vines producing choice Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, and Viognier.

3:00 PM — Private Tasting at Kenzo Estate
Kenzo Estate ownerWhat would you do with an extra $100,000,000?  If you’re video game tycoon Kenzo Tsujimoto, you buy 3,800 acres in Napa and build a custom winery to produce world-class wines.  Kenzo Estate produces just 11,000 cases of such wine, most of which is exported to Japan.  But you’ll get to taste Kenzo’s rare wines ($80 – $250 a bottle) in the luxury of their hospitality facility and have the opportunity to purchase them directly from the winery.  (3-minute video – Kenzo Estate in the news)

6:45 PM — Stomp Grapes!  
Entrance to Castello di AmorosaYou’ll eat dinner on Saturday at the “Harvest and Grape Stomp Party” at the beautiful Castello di Amorosa.  Winery owner Darius Sattui built this Italianate castle, complete with dungeon and various hidden chambers, over the course of a decade.  He was inspired to build it during trips to Italy, where he was struck by the celebratory Italian spirit of food and wine, friends and family.  Grape stomping competitionThat was something he wanted to bring home to Napa.  But while you and I might bring home Italian spirit with a painted dish or an airport tchotchke, Darius built a castle.  And it’s here he hosts the annual harvest party you’ll be joining.

What do you wear to a stomp party?  Leave the coat and khakis at the hotel and break out whatever goes with grape juice stains.  (Note, grape stomping is not required.  You’ll still be fed if grape-colored calves aren’t your thing.)  Click the image to view video from last year’s event.

Sunday, Sept 22nd
Napa’s Classic Winemakers

9:00 AM — Breakfast and Bubbles
Breakfast with Bubbles on Mumm's patioAfter a hard night of stomping grapes, you’ll need a breakfast with bubbles to get going.  And there’s no more scenic spot for sipping on bubbly than on Mumm’s patio (weather permitting) or glassed-in dining area.  

One can never tell what September mornings will bring.  But if it’s a clear Sunday you’ll watch hot air balloons as you enjoy breakfast.  Or maybe you’ll just want a cuppa java to get going – take it to go and stroll through Mumm’s famed photo gallery to start your day.  Your continental breakfast will provide just enough to get you off the launch pad – which is perfect, given that your three-course lunch is just a short time away…

11:30 AM — Mondavi Immersion
Our private tasting in Mondavi's barrel roomHow can an “insider’s tour” include wines carried in every wine shop around the world?  Because you’ll see it as no regular tourist does.  And because you’ll want to take home a deeper knowledge of this icon of the wine world to share with as many friends as possible.  Appreciating this winery’s impact on Napa, and the whole Mondo Vino, is your foundation for appreciating today’s entrepreneurs.  

You’ll begin with a vineyard tour hosted by a Mondavi’s historian, who will then guide us through the production facility and a private tasting of their Reserve wines in the breath-taking barrel room (above right). You’ll end your visit with a leisurely three-course lunch (with wine pairing) served in their hospitality facility.

2:30 PM — Restoring Inglenook!
Our private tasting and tour at the re-christened InglenookYou’ll enjoy a private tour and tasting at this facility, until recently known as Niebaum-Coppola/Rubicon Estates. This magnificent estate is home to one of the valley’s finest Bordeaux blends — Rubicon.  Is there a better way to learn how to detect the distinctive “Rutherford Dust” found in Cabernets from this exclusive part of Napa?  The short answer is no.

And the winery’s history is just as intriguing – it was Inglenook’s early history from the mid 1800’s that inspired owner Francis Ford Coppola to abandon plans for a simple “weekend get-away” in favor of re-building Inglenook.  After two decades and countless millions spent acquiring the property’s original vineyards, he’s now completed this Herculean task, and restored the property to its original name – Inglenook.  You’ll be among the early visitors to this re-named property, which never disappoints.

4:30 PM — Return to the hotel and spruce up for your intimate dinner.

6:00 PM – Merryvale by Candlelight
Your final dinner in the Merryvale Barrel RoomYou’ll have just enough time to freshen up and change for your final event in the valley –  your candlelight dinner amid century-old barrels at Merryvale.  You’ll find this the culinary and experiential highlight of your weekend, with a menu designed specifically for Merryvale’s library wines. This is an experience like no other so don’t forget your camera.

Monday, Sept. 23rd 9:00 AM — Swap phone numbers and email addresses with all your new friends of your final breakfast at the Marriott.  10:00 AM — First shuttle departs hotel San Francisco International Airport.

About Your Guide
Your tour guide will be Dave Chambers (www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com) who spent time as a marketing consultant for wineries before launching the “Sideways Wine Club” for Fox Searchlight Pictures. He now curates an ever-evolving portfolio of artisanal wines for his adventurous wine club members and is a regular guest lecturer on California’s wine history for the SFSU Hospitality Management program.  Dave will co-host your weekend with Rich Gamble, the Publisher of Chicago Magazine.

Sign Up Now

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

*Possible only if fully subscribed.

50 Shades of Gris (Grey)

Black or White was so easy before 50 shades of Gris!It used to be so clear.  Things fell into simple categories.  Black or white.  Good or bad.  With us or against us.  Easy.

Then some braniac introduced the grey area – neither white nor black, neither good nor bad.  Areas open to interpretation.  Conditional morality.  Circumstantial justifications.  Flawed heroes.  

50 shades of gris?And then, just recently, a pudgy middle-aged British mom-cum-best-selling-sex-author (the most unlikely sex guru since Dr. Ruth!)  introduced the idea of FIFTY shades of grey, and forever more we’ll have to consider not just one or two shades of nuance, but FIFTY of them.

And the notion is spreading to other fields, areas one would never think of as being the subject of hued doubt.  Even the world of wine, it turns out, finds winegrapes caught in this nether world of grey – not quite white and yet not quite red, either.  These lightly-hued orbs look like a white grape that really wants to turn red. 

What used to be a simple red or white is now a complicated situation I’m calling “50 shades of Gris, Grigio and Grey“.  

OK, so I’m still working on the catchy title.  But trust me, the wines are just plain yum.

Just one of the 50 shades of Pinot Gris!
Pinot Gris ready for harvest. Staete Landt Vineyards, Marlborough, New Zealand

The grape known as Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio – same grape, different country) produces a wide range of intriguing styles of wine.  It can be light and crisp (Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy typifies this style) to wines that are rich and ripe with a distinctive waxy note (though I always felt that description was less pleasurable than the experience would indicate).   To see what I mean, try one of the more viscous, oilier Pinot Gris from the warmer parts of California or New Zealand’s North Island.  Compare this wine to a Pinot Gris/Grigio from a cooler climate – tighter wines offering more aromatics and rewards for the focused taster who enjoys layers of complexity, such as those from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France.

Whatever style you prefer, you’ll have to agree that a well-made Pinot Gris is simply a sexy wine.  In fact, various descriptions I’ve come across sound as if they were ripped from the pages of one of the ‘Fifty shades’ novels – “Mouth-filling, rich and refreshing” are the words one producer chose to describe their Pinot Gris.  Another claims their wine to be “An intense pleasure“.  But this one takes the cake – “Enters with a mouth-filling creaminess that lends a generous texture to its long finish and pleasant memory“.  Wow.  Who’d have thought they were describing a wine?

Here’s a fun idea for an inexpensive night at home – order your favorite Thai food, or whip up a bit of ceviche, or roast your favorite bird.  Then invite the neighbors and separate three or four Pinot Gris/Grigio from their corks.  Dinner for six, under $100.  

Three Pinot Gris In Contrasting Styles:

Morgan, 2010 Pinot Gris, Monterey, $18  –  This wine personifies the warm, round and ripe style of Pinot Gris, with a tinge of color from brief skin contact.  Good acidity keeps it from being cloyingly round and banal, with enjoyable spice notes complimenting the fruit notes.

Mary Elke, 2011 Pinot Gris, Donnelley Creek Vineyard, $16 – Slightly crisper than the Morgan, this wine is from the cool Anderson Valley area, and expresses that fact with more mouth-watering acidity and a leaner body.

Boeckel, 2008 Pinot Gris, Alsace, $19  – Alsace-Loraine is that region in North-Eastern France that abuts Germany.  An even cooler growing region, these beautiful wines are capable of considerable aging, as seen in this particular wine.  

Try All Three and Save 17%!- $44 – One bottle of each wine – the perfect start to your tasting party! 

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant