Greetings from the echoes of what
some folks like to call “Black Friday”–a day on which so many of us cash those
early Christmas bonuses. Anyway, since our
treasury was a little depleted, your Board Members decided to make all our own
gifts this year. It was getting a little
boring having the champagne dinner at Le Mont (as we usually do with the
treasury money) anyway. It’s been so
much fun bonding as we create treasures from the old tinfoil, unused building
materials, and scraps of wine cases. We did, however, want to update you on the
accomplishments of your elected Board Members this past year, so:
Bev, the Potentate of Programs, has recently
taken to expressing herself through poetry during her therapy sessions free
time, so we’ll let her start us off with holiday poem:
“Season’s greetings and fleeting meetings, with the ones we
love, on earth and above.
Let’s spread our cheer o’er many climes, during these
wonderful and happy times—
Alright, that’s it, enough of this crap. The in-laws are
here, so much for my nap.
I spilled my wine, that’s just my luck, “But Mom, it’s
Christmas!” Yeah? Who gives a f—
It’s a work in
progress. . .
Dennis realized the one thing that
he hadn’t finished from his bucket list, besides remodeling the bathroom, was
to become a professional basketball player.
So he began training in late May, bought several hundred dollars’ worth
of supplements down at GNC, more Ace bandages than Florence Nightingale would
know what to do with, got a membership to Club Julian, and proceeded to burn
himself raw on their newest tanning bed.
After he got out of the trauma ward, he vowed that sports had not seen
the last of him. As far as I can determine,
this means he spends Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday nights avoiding Kathleen by
dodging behind the big screen down at The James Street Tavern.
Guess who finally got
called to Jury Duty after throwing herself on the mercy of the court? Kathleen
was selected, with “a jury of her peers,” to serve on a trial that started
December 1st. That is why this letter is getting to you so late. She was doing her
civic duty, and trying to earn enough money to treat Dennis to some steaks on
the Barbie at Outback Steakhouse.
The night before her
jury duty, Kathleen did some brushing up by skimming the Declaration of
Independence, the amendments to the Constitution, and contemplated the historic
court cases like Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. the Board of Education.
Finally, she perused the Emancipation Proclamation for good measure. She wanted
to be prepared for whatever might be asked during her tenure as a juror.
This summer, Tim hiked the
entire circumference of each of the Finger Lakes in his Birkenstocks while
carrying three Haitian orphans on his back. In September, he invented a fuel
injection system that will allow cars to get 500 miles per gallon. But most
impressive of all, after years of intensive training, he finally learned how to
put down the toilet seat.
Brittany started the
year by designing an entire line of swimwear for cats. In March she achieved
enlightenment and went to Tibet to have a glass of banana wine with the Dalai
Lama. In October, movie studios went
into a bidding frenzy for the rights to her best-selling, coming-of-age/mystery/fantasy/thriller
tome, “Planet of the Grapes.”
This past year, Marie
received national recognition for watching every Christmas movie broadcast by
the Hallmark Channel in 2015. In addition, she single handedly saved Amazon
from financial ruin with her online purchases.
As many of you know, Marie
is a great lover of cultural treasures and is always on the lookout for
artifacts that can potentially unlock the mysteries of our ancestors, and that
might also match the earth-toned color scheme of her guest house. In April of 2015, she
unearthed the lost Anasazi City of Lukachukai with a band of Navajo pot
hunters. Like you, I assumed lost cities were confined to ocean floors and 19th
century jungles, but this massive, century-old cliff dwelling is a testament to
the few undiscovered wonders still hidden in the world. The clay walls didn’t stand a chance against
Marie’s new axe (purchased on Amazon, I might add). She came away with as many ochre colored skulls as she could carry!
The summer was fairly
inconsequential for Terry and Pat. Terry won a handful of journalism awards,
lost funding for his research project on determining the five best kinds of
monkeys and finally got those drapes that Pat had been wanting. He also fought
a cow, but that’s a story for another time.
Since it snowed last
night in Butler, Terry got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a
glue gun. He hand painted it in gold leaf, got out his loom, and made a blanket
in peaches and mauves. Then to make the sled complete, he made a white horse to
pull it from DNA that he had just sitting around in Pat’s craft room.
Not to brag or
anything, but Thom finally achieved Diamond status on his Hilton Honors card,
thanks to the AWS National Convention. Do you know what that means? It means
that he get a free bottle of water on check in, sometimes two. You’re jealous,
aren’t you? Frequently he gets a parking spot under a street light and perhaps
best of all; he might get a Toblerone
candy bar. Perks, my Friends! Perks!
Merry Xmas, Happy Hanukkah, and/ or
whatever alternative Holiday you may choose to observe,
It’s the Holiday
Season, and our thoughts always turn to wine.
The question is which
wine. If we’re looking for the most
versatile, then there’s only one answer.
Champagne’s effervescence cleanses the palate, it makes food more
enjoyable, and more importantly, it is more effective than tequila when you’re trying
to impress a date. Champagne is arguably one of the greatest discoveries that
happened to mankind. And, like most great things, Champagne was discovered by
accident. Here are some more items about
The Bubbly that don’t even come up on Jeopardy.
The British were the first to see the tendency of
wines from the Champagne region to sparkle, and they tried to understand the
reason behind those tiny bubbles. Due to the use of coal-fueled ovens, the
English glassmakers produced stronger, more durable glass bottles than the
French. English bottling and corking skills were far superior to those in
France so wine was often transported to England in wooden wine barrels where
merchant houses would then bottle the wine for sale.
During the winters of
the Champagne region, temperatures would drop so low that the fermentation
process was prematurely halted leaving some residual sugar and dormant yeast.
When the wine was shipped to and bottled in England, the fermentation process
would restart when the weather warmed and the wine would begin to build
pressure from carbon dioxide gas. When the wine was opened, it would be bubbly.
In 1662, the English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper detailing
how the presence of sugar in a wine led to it eventually sparkling and thatby adding sugar to a wine before bottling it, nearly any wine could be
made to sparkle. This
is one of the first known accounts of understanding the process of sparkling
wine and even suggests that British merchants were producing “sparkling
Champagne” before the French Champenois were deliberately making it.
THE WINEMAKER IN THE IRON MASK
Dom Pérignon was
originally asked by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the
bubbles since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the
cellar. As sparkling wine production increased in the early 18th century,
cellar workers (especially the riddlers, or remueurs
in French) had to wear aheavy iron mask to
prevent injuryfrom spontaneously
bursting bottles. The disturbance caused by one bottle exploding could cause a
chain reaction, which would cause wine cellars to lose 20% to 90% of their
inventory this way.
THE DEVIL’S WINE
Effervescence has been
observed in wine throughout history and has been noted by Ancient Greek and
Roman writers but the cause of this mysterious appearance of bubbles wasn’t
understood. Over time it’s beenattributed to phases
of the moon and both good and evil spirits. It was considered a wine fault in early Champagne winemaking. The
mysterious circumstance surrounding the then unknown process of fermentation
and carbonic gas caused some critics to call the sparkling creations “The
Champagne has been an
integral part of sports celebration sinceMoët & Chandon
started offering their Champagneto
the winners of Formula 1 Grand Prix events. At the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans,
winner Dan Gurney started the tradition of drivers spraying the crowd and each
Champagne is usually served in a Champagne flute,
whose characteristics include a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl, thin sides
and an etched bottom.
The Champagne coupe or
Champagne saucer is a shallow, broad bowled, stemmed glass, commonly used at
wedding receptions, often stacked in layers to build a champagne tower.
Champagne is continuously poured into the top glass, trickling down to fill
every glass below. Legend has it that the shape of the glass wasdesigned using a mold of French Queen Marie Antoinette’s left breastas a birthday present to her husband,
Louis XVI. As much as we would love for this to be true, this is almost
certainly false. The glass was designed especially for champagne in England in
1663, preceding them by almost a century.
Not to be outdone, however, Moët HennessyChampagne brandDom Pérignonreleased a glass modelled after
breasts back in 2008. Both Schiffer and Lagerfeld (the photographer
of note) had a long association with Dom Perignon, the former appearing in a
series of ever more suggestive ads for the brand. In 2007, the pair hosted a
series of lavish parties for the launch of the Oenothèque 1993, the house’s top
bottling. The glass, which sold as a package with a bottle of 1995 Oenothèque,
cost $3,150! Check for one on eBay!
We just received this note. We thought that you'd enjoy seeing it.
Thank you again for the very generous donation to the animals at the Western PA Humane Society! The support of the American Wine Society – Pittsburgh Chapter means the world to our shelter pets, and we could not continue our 141 year tradition without the generosity of people like you. We know Pearl had a fabulous time at the event! Here she is with Thom –
we’ve been asked if our wine is “vegan”.
What is a vegan wine? Are all wines vegan or not? If not, then why not?
And how can I find vegan friendly wines?
Why Not All Wines Are
Vegan (or Even Vegetarian)
As we all know, wine
is made from grapes. Essentially wine is fermented grape juice. Yeasts, either
natural or cultured, convert the grape juice sugars into alcohol. So far this
all seems to be vegan friendly.
The reason that all
wines are not vegan or even vegetarian friendly has to do with how the wine is
clarified and a process called ‘fining’. All young wines are hazy and contain
tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are
all natural, and in no way harmful. However, we wine drinkers like our wines to
be clear and bright.
Most wines, if left
long enough, will stabilize and fine without any assistance. However,
traditionally producers have used a variety of aids called ‘fining agents’ to
help the process along. Fining agents help precipitate out these haze inducing
molecules. Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet attracting the
molecules around it. They coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but
larger particles, which can then be more easily removed.
most commonly used fining agents were casein (milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These fining agents are
known as processing aids. They are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated
out along with the haze. None of the fining agent remains in the finished wine.
Fining with casein
and albumin is usually acceptable by most vegetarians but all four are off
limits for vegans. But there is good news. Today many winemakers use clay based
fining agents such as bentonite,
which are particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal is another
vegan and vegetarian friendly agent that is also used.
In addition, the move
to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, means
more vegan and vegetarian friendly wines will be in the market. An increasing number of wine producers around
the globe are electing not to fine or filter their wines. Such wines usually
mention on the label ‘not fined and/or not filtered’.
Apart from mentioning
whether it has been fined or filtered, wine labels typically do not indicate
whether the wine is suitable for vegans or vegetarians, or what fining agents
were used. There has been much lobbying to change the US wine labeling laws to
include ingredient listing, but so far it isn’t compulsory.
How To Tell If a Wine
Is Vegan or Vegetarian Friendly
So, if the
ingredients are not listed how is a vegan wine drinker to know whether a wine
is vegan friendly? It’s not easy. If you call around to a few State Stores and
ask if they have any vegan friendly wines you will be met with a ‘what do you
mean?’ But don’t give up. There is help.
typically allow you to search even for organic or biodynamic. As natural
winemaking gains more market, perhaps we’ll see progress in this approach. A very
good online resource for finding which alcohol is vegan is a site called
Barnivore (www.barnivore.com), which is a database of user
submitted brands. They have an app for looking up info on the go.
the holidays reunite more than friends and family. In many homes, holiday
feasts are a mixture of well meant, but completely mismatched dishes prepared
with love for the sake of tradition. Beautiful and meaningful to be sure, but
challenging when it comes to wine pairing. Add to the challenge our natural
tendency to bring out the good stuff to celebrate special occasions and it is
easy to see how the best intentions can go wrong.
best idea, then, is to match variety with variety and serve several different food
friendly wines. These are considered safe bets as they shoot more-or-less straight
up the middle.
friendly white wines for the holidays include Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, and
reds include Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Chianti and Rioja. This isn't a definitive
list, but its somewhere to start. As always, let your palette be your guide.
was originally a time to celebrate the end of a successful harvest, but now
it’s the beginning of the long holiday season. Generally the menu at
Thanksgiving is full of fresh vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes,
squash, cranberry sauce, and of course the Thanksgiving turkey. Many of these
foods are heavy and rich and represent a warm break from the cold.
cut the richness of many of these foods, try a sparkling white wine like
Champagne - not just for its suitability, but also for the sense of occasion.
bodied whites are solid choices for turkey and ham, because they won't
overpower the mild taste of the white and light meat.
you prefer a red, a bright Beaujolais will complement the milder dishes, while
its fruity tones will stand up to the more intense. Cabernet Franc is another lighter bodied red
that has a touch of pepper and darker fruit tones that will go well with the
darker turkey meat. They pair beautifully in fact, so if you want to bring out
the good stuff, Cabernet Franc is an excellent place to start - or finish,
whatever the case may be.
turkey is relatively wine friendly it’s the heavier, often times orphan side
dishes that present a challenge. Grandma's candied yams with whipped and
toasted marshmallow topping for example. These dishes need a rich, bold wine to
hold its own. Ideally, it should be one with solid acidity and strong fruit
tones. Red Burgundy, Shiraz and Riesling will stand up to most holiday side
Noir pairs well with many foods, including turkey and ham. The earthiness of
the wine picks up on the earthy undertones of the food, and Pinot's jammy
residue complements both meats.
and other classic holiday dishes, pair extremely well with fruit. Ham is
generally rich and salty, possibly smoky, so choose a low acid, low tannin wine
medium bodied reds with cherries, blackberries and soft tannins. The fruit in
medium bodied reds will complement the double smoked baked hams. A heavy red
will overpower the ham's flavor, while a wine that is too acidic will take away
from the sweetness of the ham. Off dry Rieslings pair well with ham and its
smoky sweet flavors, and its acidity will cut through the richness.
versatile wines to have on hand during the holidays include Merlot, Shiraz and
Chardonnay. These varieties do well during appetizer time or during wine and
cheese round the fire time. Although I’m not a fan, white Zinfandel is a good
single varietal crowd pleaser.
Winery in Madera California makes Essensia
from Orange Muscat grapes. Quady makes only dessert wines and Essencia is certainly one of those. Wine Enthusiast recommends serving it
with cheesecake. “Drink it with cheesecake and go to heaven” they said and then
they gave it 93 points. I agree. There
are flavors of apricot, honey and golden raisin, but I find a strong taste of
orange. While it’s definitely sweet, it’s not cloying and the wine has an
excellent balance of acid to fruit. This
would be an excellent wine to include at holiday dinner gatherings. I like it with pumpkin or sweet potato pie.
hands down favorite for the holidays of course, is Champagne, the one and only.
It goes with everything, everyone and every
occasion - happiness in a glass.
Let’s imagine that you're in the Fine Wine and Spirits Store
and you want to buy a wine that you haven’t tried yet. You have nothing to go
by other than the label. Will the label tell you anything you should know?
Many people wonder what they should look for on a wine
bottle, and there are whole books written about how to read a wine label. In a sea of wine labels, are there certain
things to look for across the board, or country to country? Here’s what to look
for and what to ignore. There are a million caveats and exceptions, but here's
some general advice:
This is actually the first thing to read. You don't need to
have a vintage chart in your pocket or care whether 2010 was a better year in
the Chianti Classico region than 2012. The vast majority of wines at the store
are meant to be consumed right away, so you want to make sure the wine isn't
too old, particularly if you're buying it expecting lively, fresh fruitiness.
You will routinely see five year old Pinot Grigio and two year old Beaujolais
Nouveau at stores, for example. As soon
as you see that kind of age on wines like those, you know that you can skip
them and move on (and possibly not shop there again).
Too many wines today have too much alcohol, which leaves
them unbalanced. Sure, there are some classic wines with fairly high alcohol
levels, but many of today's regular table wines (Merlot, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and
Zinfandel) have levels at 15% or above. Some of those might be terrific, but if
you had nothing else to go on, you should look for alcohol content at about 14%
In the past few
years, there has been a profusion of inexpensive wines with cute animals on the
labels. These wines are generally less attractive than the labels. Of course,
some good wines happen to have animals on the labels, consider Stag's Leap,
Iron Horse from California, or the famous Fattoria Due Cane, for instance. When
it comes to less expensive wines, however, the cute animal seems to be the main
point of the wine. An amusing tale about the animal is often a clue that this
is not as amusing a wine as the story.
The more specific that this information is, the better. A
wine that says it's from Napa is probably a better bet than a wine that simply
says it's from California. It's the same way all over the world. Unfortunately,
this will also probably be reflected in the price, so this might not tell you
much about value. There are fabled vineyards around the world, plots of land
famous for producing high quality grapes. If you care enough to know a few of
these, they might help you make an educated guess about quality.
This means the people who made the wine also had a hand in
growing the grapes on their own land. Generally, you will find this a good
On American wines, this doesn't mean anything, so ignore it.
There are various rules around the world concerning words like Reserva, but
there's no guarantee it means anything in other parts of the world. Unless you
know something about the rules concerning, say, Rioja, where it has genuine
significance, don't worry about it.
Old vines or vieilles vignes
Theoretically, older vines produce fewer, but more
flavorful, grapes, but the problem is that no one has defined what an "old
vine" is, so anyone can put this on the label. Again, ignore it.
A phone number
This will require some extra time, because we're talking
about tiny type on the back of a label, but you'd be surprised how many small production
wines these days include a phone number on the back and an invitation to call
the winery. You will find that this is a sign of a highly personal winery. It's
amazing how often the winemaker or winery owner answers the phone.
Details, details, details
There used to be a wine, Hanns
Kornell's Sehr Trocken, one of a handful of sparkling wines made at his
California winery. On the back label was a hand printed date of when the wine
was "disgorged," when the sediment in the neck of a bottle of bubbly
was removed and the temporary cap replaced by a real cork. On the front of each
bottle was this notation: "Naturally fermented in this bottle," which
is a big deal because that's the way real Champagne is made, with the final fermentation
taking place in the bottle and not in a huge tank.
Some wineries, like Forge Cellars in the Finger Lakes, still
give information like that, including the dates when the grapes were harvested
and the wine bottled. Details like these make the point that these things
mattered to the winemaker and that he or she understands that they have meaning
for the consumer, too. They add to the feeling of the wine's authenticity.
A menagerie of critter labels for wine has emerged
recently. All hope to emulate the
success of a certain Yellow Tailed marsupial. Over the past few years, these
wines earned $605 million in sales, and average of 77 new animal
labels launched since 2003 more than doubled those of their non-critter rivals,
according to AC Nielsen. So, it seems, what's on the label does make a
difference. Join us for a tasting of these
“Critter Wines” to benefit the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. We will sample a variety of wines each with
an animal prominently featured on the label.
Pennsylvania Humane Society has been helping pets and people since
1874. Their mission is to provide the
most comprehensive, compassionate and humane services to enhance the lives of
companion animals for families and the community, and to educate and prevent
the cruelty of all animals in our region.
As more shelters become “limited access”, people
have no other choice than to surrender their pets to an open-door shelter that
will never turn away a pet in need.
Because of the stigma that open-door shelters have, many people choose
to make donations to limited access shelters, when in fact, it’s the open-door
shelters that need the money more. The Western
PA Humane Society helps over 10,000
animals each and every year. That’s a
lot of mouths to feed!
We will be accepting donations for the Humane
Society during the tasting. Cash or checks are preferred. We will also be
welcoming a representative from the organization, with a special guest! Our raffle at this tasting will be a bit of a
competition to see if we have more cat fanciers or dog lovers. There will be two raffle wines, and you may
choose whichever you prefer to cast your vote.
Of course, you may vote MANY more times than once!
PLEASE REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR WINE GLASSES.
cost for members is $20. The cost for guests is $25.
Are you confused about the notion of decanting wine? Are you wondering if you should do it, when
you should do it, or how you should do it?
We're here to help.
Some may think decanting to be a bit pretentious or
elitist. The process can appear that way,
especially if done in a restaurant setting, with a flurry of activity, using
exotic vessels. But decanting is really
just pouring fermented grape juice from a bottle to another container. There is
nothing mysterious here, folk.
There are two practical reasons to decant:
• If the wine is young, decanting allows it to breathe and
open up, so that it may be closer to its peak when you serve it.
• If the wine is more mature, decanting allows you to catch
any sediment that's accumulated in the bottle over the years before it shows up
in your glass.
So how does one decant?
With a young bottle, just pour the contents into your decanter, or
whatever other clear vessel you're using.
Younger wines should have little to no sediment. You're just giving the wine some air. There's no magic timeframe on how long to
decant, either. Whatever time you have
available is your likely answer. A few
hours should be plenty for most bottles.
When you're done having the wine sit, you can pour it back in its bottle
for easy serving. (That's called double decanting) Wow.
Decanting an older wine is a bit more involved. Since the purpose is to eliminate sediment,
we're going to slowly pour the wine into your decanter. You'll need some light to allow you to see the
sediment as it reaches the neck of the bottle.
You want to stop or be very careful at that point to keep the wine in
the decanter pure. You'll likely have a
small amount of wine left in the bottle with a mouthful of sediment. Pour the remaining liquid into a glass. You may be able to filter out most of the
remaining sediment by swirling the glass.
Or not. If you know someone who
loves sediment, give the glass to them.
Some folks use a Vinturi
filtering device to pour the wine through on its way to the decanter. That will give the juice some additional
aeration, and certainly can't hurt. You
can occasionally swirl the decanter itself to give the wine a bit more air.
We've read recently about folk using blenders to aerate
wine. I haven't done that. I’m not going to do that. Why not?
First, there's the problem of finding our blender. Then there's the thought of what else has
been blended with it, and how well it may have been cleaned afterward.
Let's discuss decanters themselves for a moment. Some of these objects are pompous,
ridiculous, and ludicrous and probably a lot of other words ending in
"ous". All you really need is
a clear vessel. A glass pitcher will
do. Some people are fond of using
scientific beakers. They're very
functional, and a lot more effective and cost efficient than an exotic
We hope to have taken some of the mystery out of decanting
for you. Try decanting a young wine for
an hour or so before serving it sometime soon, and see if it adds to your
enjoyment. And if you plan to pop the
cork from an older Cabernet, decant it on the front end to avoid a Heimlich
maneuver later. Cin cin, either way!
Don't forget about the
nominations of Board Members
Studying wine is a lot
less fun than drinking it, but some people feel guilty about their ignorance of
its seemingly infinite details. Thankfully, a lot of the things wine geeks
obsess about don't really matter to normal humans. Here are five fewer things
to worry about when you pull your next cork.
The next time you're
fretting about whether to drink Riesling or Gewürztraminer with your Thai
takeout, keep in mind that awful pairings (Cabernet and asparagus) and
transcendent pairings (Sauternes and foie gras) are rare. Here's a simple pairing
guide: Most combinations of wine and food are enjoyable.
The year it was made
Weather in winemaking
regions affects the way wine tastes, but not as much as who makes it. A bottle
from a good vintage by a bad winemaker will pale in comparison to one made in a
not so great year by a winemaker who gives a damn. So find producers you like
and stay with them.
Which grapes are in the
It's not always clear
what those grapes are, anyway. In the U.S., wines labeled as a certain grape
(like Cabernet Sauvignon) can legally contain up to 25 percent of any other
grape (like Merlot, or Moscato, or Malvasia Nera). In some of the world's great
old vineyards, which were planted way before genetic testing allowed scientists
to determine which grapes were which, the winemakers may not even be 100
percent sure about the varietals. Also, grapes can produce a wide range of
flavors. A rich, buttery Chardonnay from
California doesn't taste anything like an unoaked Chardonnay from Chablis. Just
Its score on the
How much it costs
There are plenty of
bad $100 wines. And there are plenty of great $100 wines that, in the wrong
context, are going to taste worse than some $10 wines. On a 95 degree summer
day, would you rather be drinking a pricey room temperature Zinfandel or a
cheap and crisp, cold Vinho Verde from Portugal? And don't think this is only
true for inexperienced palates. When sommeliers finish their shifts at fancy
restaurants, where they've spent the last 8 hours tasting the supposedly brilliant
and complex wines ordered by high rollers, the last thing they crave is
$3,000 Bordeaux. Most of them drink beer.
Don't forget about the nominations of Board Members