Too Much Wine Too Little Time

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Just who is beer guy?

It all started about 25 years ago. I started to enjoy an ice cold beer. Nothing fancy, a can of Bud or maybe for a special occasion I’d go for some fancy import, like a Molson. Back in those days I really liked a Ballentine Ale. It tasted good enough, and it did the job from a buzz prospective. But the best part was the little puzzles on the inside of the cap. Over the years I became an aficionado of watered down American beers, I just loved them. How could you not like something that tasted almost as good from the first one to the 15th! That old Schaefer commercial was right on. You know it “. . . the one beer to have, when . . .” There was even a little dive bar in town that served Bud bottles along with a little glass to pour it into. You could sniff it I guess, the wonderful owner of the bar has passed away and the place changed hands. I don’t go there anymore. I wish I found out why he served Bud with those little glasses, it was such a classy little touch.
Over those 20 or so years I found it difficult to enjoy other types of alcoholic beverages. The reason being, I had fine tuned my taste buds and pace to perfection with respect to beer. If I drank any other beverage, it all went down at the same pace and seemingly tasting the same. This is not a good thing if you are drinking a Martini or Margarita!
Over the past few years on a weekend having a few of those good ‘ole brewskies I’d experience some shortness of breath and feel my neck being a little itchy. Didn’t think much of it until one time I felt particularly itchy and went to the bathroom, oh yea, it was at that dive bar. Wow, my neck was all red and blotchy and I could feel that shortness of breath. After some experimenting with what I was eating and drinking I narrowed it down. I had developed an allergy to BEER!
Although there were many other experiences over a several year period that helped me to see the light, this was the beginning of my transition to the “red side”.
In coming articles I’ll share some of those strategic inflection points (can you guess where I worked once), many of them have occurred during the many fortunate opportunities I have had to travel on business. They were a long time coming and from many different places on the globe, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Singapore and good old New Jersey. As well, I’ll talk about wine from a “beer guys” prospective. I’ll tackle some of the most pressing questions I have pondered and maybe you did too. Things like; what is the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $150 bottle of wine? All those flavors, smells, fruits is really just a bunch of bull, isn’t it? If I love wine, but still enjoy a beer, which should I drink first on an evening that I might have both? How to do a full day of wine tasting, followed by dinner, followed by after dinner drinks without a hangover the next day? This is all important stuff, stay tuned.

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Kale and White Bean Stew

In the winter we know most parts of the country are lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables that are at their peak. Well, Kale, a hardy, healthy winter green is grown in cold weather, so it is prime time for a neat Kale recipe. Kale is a member of the cabbage family and also rates high in the dark green leafy vegetable category that we always hear is so good for us. Kale is a source of several vitamins including, A, C, and K, it is high in antioxidants, calcium and fiber. We know all of these are helpful in keeping our immune system in balance and fighting off disease. Kale comes in several varieties including Curly Kale, Tuscan Kale and Red Kale. Keeping in mind that Kale has a strong, rich, flavor with an almost peppery kick, why not pair the below recipe with a light Sauvignon Blanc to offset the spicy flavor? This recipe is courtesy of the February Bon Appetit magazine and sounds great for a cold winter night. Try it tonight!

Kale and White Bean Stew
Makes 6 servings
1 ½ pounds kale leaves, center ribs and stems removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped peeled carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped shallots (about 4)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 15-ounce can white beans (preferably organic) drained
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Sherry wine vinegar
2 tablespoons assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as tarragon, parsley, and chives)

Cook Kale in large pot of boiling salted water for 1 minute. Drain. Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain. Squeeze out excess water. Coarsely chop kale. Heat Olive Oil in medium size pot over medium heat. Add chopped carrots, celery, shallots and garlic; cook until soft, stirring, about 15 minutes (do not brown vegetables). Add white wine and simmer until liquid is slightly reduced, about 7 minutes. Add white beans, 4 cups broth, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 20 minutes. Add Kale and simmer 5 minutes longer. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Add more broth by ½ cupfuls to thin stew, if desired. Mix in Sherry wine vinegar and chopped fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Demand or Quality?

I often think of some of my favorite wines and can’t help but wonder when the vintage runs out before the next one is released, why they don’t make more? I mean sometimes you have to wait several months and that is pure torture in my mind. Imagine logging on to the winery website and seeing the words “sold out”. Or your local wine manager saying he can’t get any more from the distributor. Well, in all seriousness, I think that it is okay to wait even though I gripe as I wonder if they made more would they sacrifice quality? I’m inclined to think so. There are mass produced wines made that are very good, but I am talking about the handcrafted boutique winery that has a small case production. If they expanded production, they would have to expand their vineyards, the cost of doing business goes up, they may need more staff, etc. Also, if this particular vineyard is organic and the demand for a higher number of cases is now a factor, do they sacrifice the organic farming and use pesticides and other chemicals to ensure a higher crop? These are all very important questions that would need to be answered and in my mind, I think that one would have to be very careful about doing so.
I guess I will just have to wait for the next vintage sometimes. And you never know the wine might not be as special if it was available all the time. The anticipation of the new vintage adds some allure.

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California wines featured at the inaugural luncheon

Tomorrow January 19th 2009, the United States will inaugurate our 44th President, and a very special day it will be. In need of a big and positive change we will make history with the inauguration of the first black president. The celebrations will begin soon after Barack Obama is sworn in with the inaugural luncheon. About 230 dignitaries will be treated to a three course lunch of seafood stew, duck and pheasant, and apple cinnamon sponge cake, as well as some of California’s finest wines, and all will toast our new president with a Korbel Natural “Special Inauguration Curvee” California Champagne. The food and wines were selected by a bi-partisan committee, chaired by California Senator Diane Feinstein, after tastings that were held for senators and representatives. The first course, a seafood stew filled with lobster, scallops, shrimp and cod, will be served with Duckhorn Vineyards’ 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which was released April 3, 2008. The main course, a brace of duck and pheasant served with sour cherry chutney and molasses sweet potatoes, will be accompanied by Goldeneye, 2005 Pinot Noir, from California’s Anderson Valley. The Korbel Natural will be served with the sponge cake for desert. The luncheon will kick off the all day celebration that includes a parade, inaugural balls and many private parties. Senator Feinstein, a longtime ally of the wine industry who has promoted its interests on Capitol Hill is also the first women and the first Californian to head the inaugural committee. She was a key supporter in having California wines be the featured wines for the inaugural luncheon.

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Wine stuff

As I sit here thinking of all the really great gifts I got this year at the holidays, including wine, it brings to mind the many wine themed accessories and decorations I got as well. The world of wine really is huge nowadays. I am not just talking about the standard stuff such as wine, wine glasses, decanters, coasters and wine charms. I am talking about your home décor. Accent rugs, wall hangings, dish towels for the kitchen. Don’t forget clothes too, I love the wine t-shirt I was given. One really cool gift is a Vineyard scented candle with a metal grapevine holder from Yankee Candle. The candle smells excellent, like fresh grapes growing in the vineyard. There is also a candle topper that allows the wick to burn more evenly by directing the flame through the opening in the topper. This particular topper has the names of cheeses scrolled around the outer edge with a display of grapes, wine glasses and wine bottles along the top. Another cool feature of this Yankee Candle accessory is that the topper comes with its own stopper that extinguishes the candle when placed on the topper. No mess blowing out the candle, no lingering smoke or anything.
There is so much neat stuff out there. If you received any neat wine themed ornaments for your tree consider leaving them out all year on one of those small stands that allows it to hang just off the surface. You can find the stands in most collectible or card stores, actually, I think even some craft stores too. It is a neat accent to leave out and show your love for wine. We have a few that stay out year round, not just in our wine cellar, but the living room too.
For more home décor and gift ideas, check out all the links on our link page. Sterling Wine Online is one of our links that is a really neat site and offers a tremendous variety of wine related items. You can buy a gift, or pick yourself up a t-shirt or even an authentic wine barrel planter if you choose. Enjoy checking out the various sites and Happy Shopping!

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New Year Napa Plans

Another year has past and a fresh and new one has just begun. You know what that means? Yes the 2009 Napa trip plans will begin very soon. As I am sure everyone has, we have been hit by the economic down turn. Money has been a little tighter and I have all but given up on ever retiring, the old 401K was hit hard in 2008. Well, I refuse to let the bad times end my annual Napa trip, without Napa to look forward to it would be quite depressing. Anyway as soon as we arrived home from last years visit, I started saving for our return so I am ahead of the game. As usual we will visit as many new wineries as possible and of course head back to some old favorites. This years trip will be later in the year probably in August or early September. So stay tuned as we again report on the planning and lead up to Napa and the visit as it happens.

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Winter Entertaining

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The holiday season has come and gone and now we begin the long winter months. I was never a winter person, give me sun and warm weather and I am happy. Well maybe a snow storm around Christmas that melts away and is gone in two weeks, but otherwise that is enough for me. Here in New Jersey that is not about to happen, we can get some real wintery weather with bitter cold, wind and yes, a lot of snow. So if you are not a winter person how do you get through the long dreary months? My way of dealing with it is to always have some kind of entertainment planned ahead so I have something to look forward to. My wine hobby gives me great enjoyment, I did say hobby as it is not just about drinking wine for me. It involves everything from collecting, reading and learning everything I can to expand my knowledge, of course this web site, and also introducing new comers to the wonderful world of wine. My wife and I love entertaining from dinners, picnics, parties and so on. Gathering friends, family and new guests together always gives us great enjoyment. As you can guess wine is most always an important part of those events. While we do slow down during the winter months it is always fun to plan a get together with friends who tend to go into lock down inside their homes from January to March.
Entertaining can vary from the big dinner party, small gatherings or just a quick evening with another couple. We are always looking for new ideas for entertaining and for New Years Eve we celebrated with my brother and sister in law who came up with an excellent idea for some entertainment, a blind wine tasting. While blind tasting wine is not a new idea, their plan added some fun competition to it. There were only four of us so our tasting was only two bottles. The great part about it is you can expand to as many as you want depending on group size. Our blind tasting requirements were that each couple had to purchase a bottle of red that none of us had ever tried. The cost range was from $40 to $60. The bottle had to be covered prior to the tasting so we used foil bags. A wine tasting scoring sheet was provided by one of their local wine shops so we could score the wine also. Now the fun part, they set up a sheet for each of us listing ten questions with a score for the correct answer on each. The harder the question the more points you received for a correct answer. Our questions were Country of origin, Major Region (i.e. Napa) Sub-Region (i.e. Howell Mtn.) Major Varietal, Minor Varietal, Vintage, Winery, Brand, and Wine Maker. They were some tough questions and you have to know your wines to have success. You can see though there is a lot of potential for modifying the tasting for big or small groups, experienced or new wine lovers and so on. How about offering a wine related prize for the winner you can really make it a lot of fun and personalize it however you wish. It doesn’t have to be a complicated dinner, just serve some quick appetizers along with the wine. You will see that entertaining can be simple, fun and it will help you through those long winter months.

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January 2009

Historic Sebastiani Winery sold
A slumping wine market, lack of a clear succession plan and years of feuding between third generation family members were behind the sale of Sebastiani Winery, reportedly sold in late December 2008. While terms of the sale were not announced industry insiders say Foley Wine group paid $50 million for the winery with over 225 acres and facilities that dates back to 1904. Sebastiani Vineyards sells about 280,000 cases of wine annually. Similar issues of infighting and struggles between new generations have caused the sale of other famous name California wineries as well.
Foley Wine group is owned by William P Foley II, founder and chairman of Fidelity National Financial Corp. of Jacksonville Fla. Foley started his wine venture 11 years ago with the purchase of a small winery in Ballard California now named Lincourt. Within a year he opened Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery on a 460 acre ranch in nearby Santa Rita Hills. Since then Foley has acquired several other wineries including Firestone Vineyards (another family winery), Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, and Merus, an expensive, cult Cabernet Sauvignon maker in Napa Valley.

Copia Goes Bankrupt

Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts will close after failing to secure Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The center opened in Napa California in 2001 to great fanfare, a late in life project of the late Robert Mondavi. The center never attracted the throngs of visitors that had been expected. With estimates at $80 million of unpaid debts’ Copia has been criticized as costly and unnecessary.

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Happy New Year

Another Christmas season is behind us as 2008 has ended and new fresh year is before us. This past year was very trying for us all to say the least. So much went on adding more stress to already hectic lives. Think back about the constant attention on the presidential election, the mortgage meltdown which led to the banking crisis, then a total financial collapse, which helped push the big three automakers over the edge. Add this to the already ongoing conflicts and problems around the world, and it makes you wonder how much we can take. We had some big wine stories this year also. Early spring saw the big freeze that wreaked havoc on the California vineyards. The most severe frost in 30 years estimated to have caused $80 million in lost revenues. In May we lost wine great Robert Mondavi known to many as the grandfather of Napa Valley, a pioneer wine maker who left behind a remarkable legacy. Then in December news broke that the feuding Sebastiani Family, long rumored to disagree on the direction of the family business, would sell their brand, vineyard holdings, and facilities to the Foley Wine group. A deal which would end an era of wine making which began for the Sebastiani’s in Sonoma in 1904. The financial crisis also had a significant effect on the wine industry, softening demand for all wines except those retailing below $10.00. Restaurants were hard hit causing wineries that rely on those sales to scramble for other sales outlets. Yes 2008 was one of those years that comes and goes leaving behind probably more bad news than good. So we can only hope and pray that 2009 will bring new beginnings and good news to a world in need of just that. With that in mind, we wish everyone who spends time with us. A new year that provides good health, new and happy memories, granted wishes, financial security, and success in all you do. We hope for a kinder gentler world with leaders who work towards peace, human rights and stability, throughout the world. Thanks for all your support in 2008.

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2009 1st Quarter

Napa Valley Mustard Festival
A Napa Valley 16th annual event, held every late January through March offering wine, art, entertainment and cultural activities throughout Napa’s famous growing region. The Mustard Festival, a non profit service organization serves businesses and non profit groups attracting visitors to the valley during a beautiful time of the year when wild mustard carpets vineyards with brilliant hues of green and gold; and it promotes national and international businesses that sponsor and participate.
A great time to visit and explore the culture, arts and argriculture of Napa Valley.
Web Site: http://www.mustardfestival.org

The 2nd Annual New York Wine Expo
Taste wines from around the world all in one large venue. Sample wines from over 160 wineries and talk with the wine makers and other winery representatives.
In addition to the many samplings, sign up for seminars for all levels of wine lovers, pick up tips on serving, pricing and selecting the right vintage.

February 27 & 28
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
New York City

Friday, February 27, 2009
New Expanded Hours
6:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Saturday, February 28, 2009
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

PRICE: Early bird purchasers save $10 per ticket
Friday admission: $75 in advance
Saturday admission: $85 in advance
Web Site: http://www.wine-expos.com/Wine/NY