I literally received 5 calls yesterday from family and clients about what wines they needed to buy for Thanksgiving. On edge, they were flummoxed about getting the perfect wine for the holiday, especially since many of them were not having a big crowd and wanted to buy something a little more special (since they didn't have to buy a mag of PG for Aunt Betty to have with her ice cubes).
Ok, Wine Rule Number 1 for Thanksgiving is...
there is no rule.
Drink what you like.
Actually, I lied - there is a rule - no big tannins - unless you are cooking the traditional Thanksgiving Day Steak.
Stick with wines that have juicy acidity - both whites and reds, have youthful fruit flavors, and are not crushing your palate with tannins.
That would typically mean wines like Pinot Noir - and any of the Pinot Noir categories / regions: Burgundy, Russian River Valley, Willamette Valley, Central Otago - are my favorites. Really though, Pinot Noir from ANYWHERE is going to be fine. See my recent picks below.
Other reds include - Zinfandel, Gamay, Syrah, Sangiovese
For white wines, I like something that has juicy acidity, fresh fruit - especially apple and pear fruits, perhaps a little touch of oak but not too much, and often slightly lower alcohol - so think traditional wine regions or producers that emulate that style. Grapes for me include Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and sometimes Chardonnay. Think Burgundy, Alsace, Loire, Willamette Valley and cooler regions of California, such as Santa Barbara. Italian whites will mostly works as well, but I would probably be shopping in the northern regions and for similar varietals as listed above - especially Pinot Gris/Grigio from Alto-Adige or Collio.
Pink wine always work on my table, and for Thanksgiving these are great choices as they are flexible with food selections, and are super easy to drink if you have a mix of drinkas at the table. Pretty much EVERYONE makes a Rose these days, so the world is a source. I often go by color when picking Rose - lighter pinks are of course often lighter and more refreshing - darker pinks are more full in flavor. For Thanksgiving - I would pick something a little darker and robust from say Spain or a New World region, although French Provencal Rose are still quite the rage.
Here are some picks I have tried recently. Go for these or similar selections should be on your list...
Look for wines from Burgundy - a good choice for moderate prices is to go with a producer such as Drouhin or Jadot - maybe not the most exciting wines but certainly reliable - especially at the village level.
For a little more exciting and interesting pick, find a good producer from Nuits-St-Georges or Savigny-Les-Beaune, such as Daniel Rion or Pierre Guillemot.
For Pinot Noir from the USA, check out everyday priced wines like Castle Rock 's Russian River Valley, which should only be about $15, all the way to Hartford Court's RRV, which will be a bit more but also offer more intensity and richness. From Oregon, try the King Estate Estate Pinot for a truly top-level wine.
Can't leave off the Beaujolais, and 2020 was actually a pretty great year for the Nouveau, so find some fresh wines and enjoy. My three best so far are from Brune, Dupeuble and Tete. These are all great, and you should definitely stick with key importers such as Kermit Lynch for classic Beaujolais producers. Want a little more "serious" wine, pick other wines from these guys from any of the recent past vintages, and from Crus such as Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent or Fleurie.
Also, you might find (although rare) a Beaujolais Blanc - better known as Char-do-nnay. Easy drinking and will be basically just like a Macon-Village style. Dupeuble has a good one. No oak.
South Africa and the Loire make the best, and I like wines from both regions for the holidays. South Africa will almost always be a little drier, while the Loire examples from Vouvray and Montlouis will be more fruit driven. Lots of opportunities in each region - I recently had the Terre Brulee from Tania & Vincent Careme - outstanding, with juicy acidity, a touch of citrus and apple, plus good mineral feel. Just may be a little hard to find. Grab a selection form a neighbor winery and you should be in good hands.
Choices again. Germany is King, Alsace makes great ones, the US makes very drinkable styles.
Dr Loosen from the Mosel in Germany is my go-to. Trimbach and Hugel in Alsace. And right now, my little sneaker of a wine from the US is A to Z's fresh and fruit driven Riesling from Oregon.
Always remember, though, that food and wine pairing is not too hard and that MOST wines go with MOST food fairly well. Once you learn a few tricks then the magic can happen and you make some truly outstanding pairings. Thanksgiving is a pretty easy one as there are a lot of different things on the table, but all of them work well with acid- and fruit-driven wines. Obviously if you want to dive into the cellar and pull some older Bordeaux or Burgundy - please let me know where to show up! Happy Day!
I have been asked a lot to share some holiday cocktail ideas, and so here are a few recipes that I have put together for anyone looking to imbibe with a little creativity. These are designed as batch or kit style recipes, but I have also listed the solo drink recipes below. Enjoy!
BOURBON THYME CIDER
For the family sized recipe – because you should be sharing with at least one other someone in the holidays…you will need
1, 750ml Baks apple cider from Poland
1, 375ml Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
1 (10-oz.) bottle club soda
6oz BMitch’s Holiday Thyme Simple Syrup
1 juicy apple, thinly sliced
Thyme sprigs for some garnishing
To make the drink – in a tumbler combine
2oz Bourbon, 1oz of Holiday Thyme Syrup, 4oz cider all with ice and top with soda for some fizz. Stir gently. Garnish with a slice of apple and a thyme sprig.
BMitch’s Holiday Thyme syrup
1 cup organic cane sugar, 1 cup H2O, a fist full of dollars – I mean thyme sprigs
In a pot add water and turn on the burner, add sugar and stir, turn off burner and add the thyme for about 10 minutes once the sugar goes clear. You should roll the thyme in your hands before adding to the syrup as this will open up the oils in the leaves.
I know – not exactly a traditional holiday drink, but it is so good when made right and is mellow enough to have anytime, plus with a little twist – it can be very holiday. I also think of oranges around the holiday, plus gin – so this just works for me. I like mine over ice so the ice melts slowly and dilutes the drink while I sip. Easy-peasy to remember recipe – all you have to know is 1-1-1…
1oz Berkshire Mountain Distiller’s Greylock Gin
1oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
1oz Cappelletti Aperitivo Il Specialino – or can use any Italian/American dark Aperitivo
Stirring is key here – combine everything in mixing glass with ice and stir the heck out of it. Pour over fresh ice in a big rocks tumbler and add a swath of expressed orange peel. Sip and savor while you are cooking.
Again, you should be sharing so here is the shopping ingredient list for making more than one…
1, 375ml Brugal Anejo Rum from the DR
1, 8oz Element Shrub Blood Orange Saffron
6oz Pomegranate Molasses Syrup
4, 12oz bottles of Hosmer Mountain Extreme Ginger Beer (the best ginger beer)
1 Juicy Orange
To make the drink, combine
2oz Rum, .75oz Shrub, .75 of the Pom Molasses in a tumbler with ice, and then top with the best Ginger Beer and a wheel of the orange.
The Pomegranate Molasses is available as a bottle purchase at many upscale grocery stores – usually in the baking goods section or possible Middle Eastern foods section. It is also easy to make and is a key ingredient in many dishes from North Africa and the middle east. Can be a great base for a non-alcoholic drink as well – just top with club soda over ice and enjoy.
Diversity and Inclusion in the Drinks Trade
The drinks industry has not been in a void when it comes to the issues of diversity among those who work in and around the business, and we certainly have had issues with inclusion of gender and backgrounds. With a number of high-profile incidents popping up in recent months, it can only be assumed that there are far more that go unreported, and have been for much time. Whether you own or operate a business with a written code of conduct that addresses these issues, or (like many) you simply try-and-do-the-right-thing, you should look to up-date or add a current code of conduct for your staff and associates. Having something that is is written and referable is always going to be a great policy. Now it the time to put in place a strong policy about how your business operates. It is also important to make sure that everyone in your business knows what that policy is how it may impact their status.
This week, Tom Lewis writes on UK based The Buyer blog about this topic, and while this may not be the normal piece of info you look to NWEA for, this is definitely something that our industry friends should be considering and thinking about. New England Wine Academy is a relatively small operation but we have a clearly defined policy for inclusion and adaptations for our students' needs, and do everything we can to ensure there is as easy and accessible a path toward education as we are able to provide. Hopefully this article can guide some thoughts. The drinks trade is full of all kinds of people, and because of this I have always found it to be one of the best industries to work in and be creative. I see it as the intersection of art (think of what a winemaker or distiller has to do) and the economic/business world. The more we have the more creative ideas we have - what could be better.
And on a Lighter Note...How About a Wine Gadget on Sale!
In a Food & Wine article out this week, I noticed that the Coravin is on sale for one of the lowest prices I have ever seen it - $200.
I AM NOT A FAN OF WINE A GADGETS!
But, when I am, I choose one that works well, and is completely functional. Aside form a great corkscrew, the Coravin is the only other gadget I own and use regularly. When I want a glass or a taste of something, or I am studying and do not want to waste an entire bottle, the Coravin has been the answer.
Check out the article here for full details,
and note that NEWA is not affiliated with F&W or Coravin, nor receive any royalties (or free cartridges) from them.
My Coravin is Ferrari Red, BTW
WINE ENTHUSIAST Magazine Picks Lail as Top Wine of the Year for 2020
I have been a fan of Rob Lail since reading James Conaway's Napa, a long time ago. I also sold wines that were related to her and her family over the years, including Napanook, Merryvale, Lail, as well as Dominus and Inglenook. I always admired her father's wines and the story of how Inglenook came to be and then was lost - and then rebuilt by Francis Ford Coppola. I had the chance to visit Inglenook about 10 years ago, and it has been great to see how he has rebuilt the estate over the past 50 years.
I also have had the opportunity to meet and present with Robin Lail and the wines of Lail Vineyards to the public, and she is a wonderful person. As a history and a wine buff, I guess what I like and admire about Robin Lail's story is her connection to the history of Napa Valley, and so many people and wineries that have emerged or have connections to Inglenook, her father, and early days of The Valley. I was really happy to see her 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon selected as the top wine for 2020, by WE magazine. Everytime I taste Blueprint I am reminded of what great wine Napa really does produce.
Read the article here on Wine Enthusiast
So wine does not have to be all serious and business-like. Sometimes, a lot of times, we like to have fun with it.
Here is my most recent exploits with magnum of Taittinger Champagne, posted here because, well, I can, and it was fun. Champagne was great and we enjoyed it to the last drop.
The technique is called SABRAGE, for anyone needing to know the official term. Just be careful if you are trying this as bottles can and do break, and the glass can be very sharp. You should get instructions from a seasoned professional before attempting on your own.
And that sword, ugly handle, but it is legit big in size, and is actually very sharp. Although there is a small ding in it now - not really sure where that came from...
We are working hard here at The Academy, and we have updated all course descriptions and schedules for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year, as well as into 2021. Please refer to the "Classes" tab above for full descriptions, or click on "Shop" to go directly to the class list. We have also added options for anyone needing to resit an exam - this is for Levels 1, 2, and 3 - wine, and Level 1 or 2 in spirits. Once you book a resit then a date will be coordinated with you depending on the schedule needed.
This past week, WSET added several more options for online wine courses at Levels 1, 2, and 3. These dates have been added due to demand. Additional classes are scheduled to begin throughout the remainder of 2020, and well into 2021. Class registration deadline is generally 7 days prior to the course date.
With the year drawing to a close (thank goodness!), we are offering a number of end-of-year courses at discount.
All Level 1 Wine courses are currently on sale with added discounts for the last few 2020 start dates getting even more aggressive. These are the ever-popular introductory course, and are designed to build a foundation for further learning.
The last Level 2 Wine course for 2020 online, is also being offered at a 10% discount off the regular low-low price. Take advantage of this one as it is a great price for this course, which is one of the most popular offered by WSET.
And the last Level 3 Wine course is also being offered at a 10% discount from the standard price. For anyone who is looking for a more advanced level of wine education, this is an opportunity to jump into a full-on class that covers the world of wine, and is recognized globally by the industry and anyone who may be hiring for positions in the drinks trade.
I get a copy of all of the feedback commentary on each of the online classes in my APP, and I find it useful to pass along these notes from time to as they go to the core of what is taught throughout the WSET programs. This week, the topic of BLIC came up ina L2W course. BLIC and its expanded series of letters is a tasting and judging process that will be used all the way through to the MW programs, if you were ever to aspire to that level. For the most part though I find it to be a very helpful tool in establishing my assessment of the quality of a product beyond the interference and influence of the brand name, price, grape varietal, label, etc. Here is the assigned educator's notes below...
...what we also find is a bit of confusion over how to rate the quality. Here is a system which is really good for testing your observations against your opinions. It is not a definite marker, but it does give you a very good idea whether your are in the right ball park. I still use it in my initial assessments when judging wines in my wider career. The system is called BLIC, standing for Balance, Length, Intensity and Complexity. After writing your tasting note go back over it and read it carefully in relation to these criteria. (please see textbook for elaboration on these terms)
Balance refers to the structural components of the wine. These are its body, acidity, tannin (red), alcohol and dryness. In the world of modern winemaking it is increasingly hard to find a commercial wine that is not in balance. One of the key skills winemakers learn in training is how to balance these elements appropriately.
The length of a wine refers to the 'finish', how long the flavour can be detected after spitting the wine out. This is a key element is determining the quality of a wine. If the flavours just drop off immediately then it has a 'short finish', which isn't great. If the wine's (pleasant) flavours linger long after we consider it to have a 'long finish' which would be great.
It is really important to note the intensity of the nose and palate. This way we can get a full picture. If the wine has 'light' intensity then it lacks concentration, if it is towards pronounced then this would indicate better quality.
It is not a simple case of large numbers of flavours indicating quality, but it is a good sign. A wine does not have to have all primary, secondary and tertiary characters to be complex. The lexicon is broken down into clusters, a wine covering a wide span of these from green fruit to herbal, floral and tropical would indicate complexity from primary flavours alone. So when reading over your note, keep a good eye on what you have tasted. If you think a wine is not complex and have written a long list of flavours, then this would call that opinion into question and vice versa.
Each of these criteria represents 1 mark out of 4. 1 = Acceptable, 2= Good, 3= Very Good, 4 = Outstanding. You can award half marks if necessary. Here is a good example of how this works...
Anybrand Italian, Pinot Grigio, 2019
Sight - pale, lemon
Nose- Light Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime
Taste- Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, dry palate, high acid, low tannin, low alcohol, light body, light flavour intensity, short finish.
Balance - Yes, TICK
Length - It is 'short', CROSS
Intensity - 'Light', CROSS
Complexity - It has some fruit, but they are all in the citrus cluster. This is not particularly complex, CROSS
So, as you can see, by using a standardized system that becomes ingrained in your tasting process, you can very quickly make a call on the quality of wine based on relatively quantifiable criteria. If a wine ticks or checks all the boxes for BLIC, then there can be no other call than for a wine of very high quality, and if you only have 2-3 checks, then the wine falls in between as good or very good. Not a perfect system, but something that can be mastered and repeated in almost any tasting exercise.
The question is...
What type of wine is Port?
The answer is 1. Fortified wine
So what exactly is a fortified wine? This is a wine that has had alcohol added during the production process. This addition of alcohol is called "fortification" as it increases the alcohol level by volume and thus helps to protect, or fortify, the wine for aging, travel, or whatever might cause harm to the wine. This is an old process used since at least the 1600s, when it was discovered that casks holding a bit of left over spirit/alcohol helped to preserve wine when it was added to the barrel. Plus the wine had a bit more "kick", which was always considered a good thing.
Wines such as Port, Sherry, Marsala and a whole host of other dessert-style wines rely on fortification for their particular style. Ports have a bit of residual sugar (therefore they are sweet) due to the fortification happening before fermentation is complete (this leaves residual sugar in the wine = sweetness).
With colder weather settling in, this presents an opportunity for anyone looking for a nice tipple to finish a meal or enjoy by the fire. Some great values that are on my favorites list include a core groupe of wines, such as the following:
Taylor-Fladgate 20 year Tawny port - a delicious and top selling port with flavors of toffee, hazelnut, and caramel.
Warre's Otima 10 year Tawny port - slightly more ruby in color than the Taylor 20, this wine has a generous red fruit and brown sugar feel to it, and people love the style.
Ramos Pinot Reserve Ruby Port The Collector - a great introductory port, filled with ripe, youthful black fruits
Fonseca Bin 27 Late Bottled Vintage port - a step up in seriousness from the standard ruby, this wine is all from one vintage, aged between 4 and 6 years to soften the tannins and allow the wine to come together. This is one of the best values for quality in the wine world, and Fonseca is a top producer.
Ports come in two over-all styles: Ruby and Tawny.
The ruby ports are rich and fruity as they have not been aged in casks for an extended period of time, thus retaining a lot of the natural fruit and deep color from the grape. These go very well with fruit, nut and chocolate oriented desserts.
Tawny ports on the other hand have been aged for an extended period of time in casks, and during this process shed some color, while the flavors take on more toffee, nut and caramel tones. Usually offered in 10 year, 20 year and sometimes 30 or 40 year versions, these are delicious values and go very well with pastry and cake style desserts, or anything with caramel, vanilla and similar flavors.
Record Early Harvests in Champagne and Burgundy, But With a Return to Normal or Higher Harvest Levels Across France.
France saw record early harvests in many of the main wine regions, including the earliest harvest in centuries in Burgundy, as production levels rebounded after a tough year in 2019.
Bloomberg - 9.8.20
Germany 2019 - One of the Best Vintages Ever?
It pains a little to see how little German wine Americans really drink. These wines are tremendous, balanced and juicy, and pair really well with a lot of the healthier and fresher meals we eat, today. These are great choice for the fall season ahead, as well. Plus with slightly lower alcohol levels almost always involved, these wines do not hit your head like many New World wines can. Read all about the new vintage hitting our store shelves in this report by one of the leading sources for great info on the German wine industry, and for CRYING OUT LOUD - grab a bottle of Mosel Riesling, already.
Mosel Fine Wines #53 (you may need to subscribe, but it free!)
Mezcal is Having a (Long) Moment
And why not? This unique and generally misunderstood beverage from Mexico can be as subtle and sophisticated or as bold and brash as any drink category out there. Some producers making dozens of different expressions from different agave, multiple attitudes and with a variety of wood combinations. All contributing to a spirit that is remarkable more complex than that bottle someone had at a dorm party where the challenge was to not be the person eating the worm (which I can say from first hand experience does not cause any hallucinations). Check out this article detailing what you should know about Mezcal, and then go have a Smoking Margarita!
10 Things You Should know Before Drinking Mezcal - Delish
Will You Be Heading Out This Holiday Season?
With so many businesses changing their model this year, the entire world has had to review its standards for operations and practices, and this includes an adjustment to what the holiday season may look like in the next few months. Will there be any Christmas/Holiday parties, lunches, social gatherings? Your local restaurants sure hope there is, but what will they look like and how safe can they be will really be the big question. The lasting impact fromt he Covid crisis is still playing out, but anyone who works in the on-premise trade will surely be looking to see what can be salvaged from a terrible year. Vaccine? Maybe, but can't count on that to save us - at least this year. Safety and service is what we can control, so assuring our guests that a normal delivery of the holiday traditions is our best (and perhaps only) option. Here are some thoughts from Imbibe on that front.
Safe Festivities - Imbibe
New England Wine Academy has added an advanced Tasting Workshop to the general schedule.
This one-day class is part of the WSET Level 3 program and is for anyone looking to enhance their knowledge of wine tasting at an advanced level. The workshop is designed to help WSET Level 3 candidates understand the practical side of the exam, and follows the WSET syllabus, but there are limited seats available for non-WSET candidates who wish to participate.
This option is designed for Level 3 candidates that need extra review time, maybe have taken a break from studies and need to refresh their tasting technique, for Level 2 students looking to get a jump on their Level 3 studies, and for serious wine enthusiasts considering a wine educational path with WSET.
Class is typically form 9am to 3pm, and covers approximately 14 wines as well as the methodology of the WSET level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting. You will be guided by an advanced wine educator in the proper process for tasting, as well as preparing for the Level 3 exam.
If you are interested in participating in this workshop please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, to reserve a spot, or sign-up with the button below. Only candidates with a strong tasting back-ground and understanding of the WSET methodology should register without checking with NEWA, first.
Next session is September 27th; cost is $129, per person.
As of today (September 7, 2020), New England Wine Academy has updated all course descriptions and schedules for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year, and beyond. Please refer to the "Classes" tab above for full descriptions, or click on "Shop" to go directly to the class list.
This past week, WSET added several more options for online wine courses at Level 1. These dates have been added due to demand for this entry level course. Additional classes are scheduled to begin on September 28, and October 19. Class registration deadline is generally 7 days prior to the course date.
Levels 1 and 2 in wine and spirits have quickly becomes some of the most in-demand courses with WSET, as there is a huge interest among the drinks industry as well as non-industry enthusiasts. We do know that cocktails are in full swing among younger drinkers as well as favorites of older audiences, so this makes complete sense. Take a look at the courses available from NEWA for Spirits certification and career growth through better knowledge.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With over 25 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.