Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Corkheads: Q&A with Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV

Gary Vaynerchuk believes this generation is going to demystify wine. All they need to do is bring the thunder.

He brings it five days a week with his groundbreaking video blog, Wine Library TV, which is named after his parents' New Jersey shop. His tastings air from the thunder saddle, better known as the basement.

There, to an estimated 80,000 daily viewers, Vaynerchuk, 32, takes "sniffy sniffs," spits into a Jets bucket and compares a Zinfandel's muted nose to a basketball player who can't go left.

Vaynerchuk, who is director of operations at Wine Library, is about educating consumers and debunking myths. He'll scrunch up his face in disgust and slam a wine while his father tries to sell it upstairs. Then he'll tell you not to listen to a word he says. Think Jim Carrey, with a palate.

And while most people who take Robert Parker's word as gold could never spot the critic in a restaurant, we've seen Vaynerchuk on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." His honesty is arresting. He's the real deal.

Recently, I caught up with Vaynerchuk while he was in San Francisco promoting his book, "Gary Vaynerchuk's 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World" (Rodale, $19.95). Here's what the man of thunder had to say.

Q: What do you think the world should drink more of?

A: Crisp white wines. Albarino. Greco Di Tufo. Falanghina. Complex wines at 8 to 15 bucks and amazing
with food. There's something to be said for acidic whites. I think they train your palate and open you up.

Q: What wine secret do you hope never gets out?

A: Grower's Champagne. Everyone continuously drinks Moet and Perrier. But there are hundreds of Champagnes that rock the house. I love to keep my Cava a secret, too. For $12 to $18, you can drink insane Cavas.

Q: What's your preferred method of preservation? Gas? Vacuum? Freezer?

A: I'm a huge fan of putting the cork back in the bottle and putting it on the counter. Or cook with it the third day. But the real thing is boxed wine. If our society throws out preconceived notions of this form of wine, I'd say give me Camus Cabernet in a Tetra Pak.

Q: You've been called the millennial Robert Parker at a time when Alice Feiring's book on homogenous, Parkerized wines just hit stores. Got an opinion on the guy?

A: He's a product of his own success. He's passionate and honest. That really rocks me. There's a lot of people at fault for what's happening to wine. The retailers who quote him and use shelf talkers instead of branding themselves. There are not enough messengers of wine. And in general, we are a society that doesn't think for itself. Plus, we are a very young wine society.

Q: You started drinking wine relatively late for someone who grew up around it. What was your Aha! wine?

A: It was a 1993 Masi Amarone and it tasted like pure milk chocolate. I was 22. But I could recite Italian DOCGs when I was a lot younger. That's the thing. A lot of people can wine-nerd it up, but they've never compared Grenache roses from the Loire and Languedoc. People are totally misguided. Vaynermaniacs are about discovering what they like.

Jessica Yadegaran

A Lighter Way to Mix It Up

Over the past year, there has been plenty of talk in bar and restaurant circles about wine-based cocktails. Some people in the industry have even coined the term "winetails," I guess mainly because people can't resist coining ridiculous terms.

Name aside, I wholeheartedly support experimentation with wine in cocktails. Much as I enjoy 101-proof rye whiskey or 110-proof green Chartreuse, sometimes even a spirits writer doesn't want to consume that much alcohol. Plus, I love wine.

I must warn, however, that using wine in cocktails is a surefire way to scandalize the serious wine aficionados in your life. Which is always fun.

The other day, for instance, I prepared my favorite wine-based drink at a little get-together. I opened a decent bottle of Rioja, poured some into a highball glass filled with ice, then topped it with an equal measure of Coca-Cola.

Those watching were aghast. "That's like a hobo drink," said my friend Erin.

In fact, that drink is called a Calimocho (or a Rioja Libre) and is the tipple of choice of wayward Spanish youths, a poor man's sangria. It is also extremely delicious and refreshing on a hot day.

"It's a dirty secret, but Coke with a big, fat red wine is great," says Duggan McDonnell, owner of Cantina Bebidas in San Francisco, where Sauternes, malbecs and muscats mingle with harder spirits on the cocktail menu.

Wine-based cocktails allow places without hard-liquor licenses to serve mixed drinks. And the move to wine as a drink ingredient seems to speak to many Americans' jitters about drinking hard liquor. "It has to do with lighter palates, people wanting something a little lighter," McDonnell says. "I'm all for lowered alcohol, and it's often a nicer overall experience. I don't always want to taste heat on the palate. I want balance."
Fortified wines such as port and sherry have been old-school standards since the early days of cocktailmaking. The classic sangaree, for instance, mixes ruby port with a teaspoon of sugar on ice; it's topped with grated nutmeg. Sherry cocktails such as the Adonis, Bamboo and Duke of Marlborough (all slight variations of sherry, vermouth and bitters) are included in nearly all early-20th-century cocktail guides.

Winemakers R.H. Phillips and Ecco Domani recently jumped on the bandwagon, hiring high-profile cocktail consultants to create drink recipes for their brands. The results yielded a few winners, including the Star Gazer, using R.H. Phillips's Night Harvest Chardonnay, dark rum, vanilla simple syrup and pineapple juice. The Ecco Sidro, made with a teaspoon of muddled ginger, 1 1/2 ounces of apple cider, a pinch of chai tea powder and two ounces of Ecco Domani Chianti, is popular at the Buddha Bar in New York.

McDonnell experiments boldly with wine at Cantina Bebidas. He'll mix vin santo with mescal and Benedictine, garnishing it with a flaming orange peel, to create the complex and sultry Duende. Or he'll add cabernet and muddled blackberries to a traditional caipirinha. "You add wine to the mix -- that residual sweetness, that acidity, that terroir -- you're bringing something into a cocktail that a margarita or a Sazerac or mojito will never have," he says.

Bartenders in the Washington area have been at the forefront of the trend. Todd Thrasher, sommelier at Restaurant Eve and cocktail master at PX, both in Old Town Alexandria, has many wine-based cocktails in his repertoire, including a champagne cocktail with house-made cherry bitters, a black currant fizz in which the currants are soaked in Gewuerztraminer, a drink called a Mona Lisa involving gooseberries that have been steeped in New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and a wine cooler made from plum wine, plums, lemon bitters and prosecco. He also plans to serve his own version of the Calimocho this summer, but with a homemade cola rather than Coke.

Thrasher says wine provides a complexity often missing from other cocktail ingredients. "You couldn't just add a few drops of that and a few drops of this to a drink and still get the same effect as adding wine to a cocktail," he says.

Gina Chersevani of Tallula Restaurant and EatBar in Arlington is also known for wine creations. "I have 40 wines by the glass here at the bar," she says. "I play with wine all the time." She makes a syrup from shiraz, balsamic vinegar and strawberries and adds it to bourbon for a unique Manhattan variation. But perhaps the most interesting experiment is her Sangria Cubes, which she adds to white wine, red wine or, my favorite, a little gin and champagne for a variation on a French 75.

One of my go-to warm-weather drinks is the Port Tonic, a blend of white port and tonic on the rocks. At Komi in Dupont Circle, Derek Brown has given the Port Tonic a new twist. His Formosa substitutes sparkling sake for the tonic, adding a sweet, yeasty taste and aroma that nicely complement the port.

No discussion of wine cocktails can be complete without mention of sangria, that oft-maligned party drink of cheap wine and soggy fruit. "My interest is in refining balance in sangrias," McDonnell says. He believes that anything can be a sangria as long as it's two parts wine to one part liquor and features an interplay of spice and sweetness. On Page F8 I include his popular Tuscan Sangria, which combines a sangiovese wine with Tuaca, Punt e Mes and limoncello.

It's a beautiful drink that you wouldn't want to demean by calling it a "winetail."

Jason Wilson

Southern hemisphere wine gaining in global market

Southern hemisphere wine producers received a boost last week after a leading industry body announced an increase in the region's production and continued growth in the share of world wine exports.

The International Organisation for Vine and Wine (OIV) forecasts a growth in production to 51.4 million hectoliters (mhl), up 5 percent on 2007. They expect a rise in the southern hemisphere's share of world wine exports to almost 25 percent.

"In general we have seen an overall increase in production and there have been big developments in exports in all the southern countries," said Federico Castellucci, Director-General of the OIV.

Southern hemisphere producers are focusing on their key export markets -- Britain, the United States and Germany -- where they are steadily eroding the market share of traditional European producers like France and Spain.

Specialists say the growing success of New World wines is down to aggressive marketing, which targets a few popular brands. In 2005 Australia overtook France as Britain's leading supplier of wine, increasing its market share to 23 percent.

Chilean producers in New York said they would be aiming their wines at the U.S. palate and pocket, as wine consumption there is still rising unlike mainland Europe.

Despite strengthening their overseas presence, southern hemisphere producers have struggled to crack the French market. With the highest consumption per head and narrowly the largest consumption overall, France remains an elusive target.

An exporter of South African wines to France said the French market was difficult for New World wines to crack, but that there has been growing interest among young people.
In 2006, sales of foreign wines in French supermarkets were just two percent of the total volume sold, according to the latest statistics from French agricultural body Viniflhor.

Sylvain Albert, owner of Parisian restaurant and shop Le Tastemonde (, only sells foreign wines and has seen business grow steadily over the eight years since he began.

"France tends to import poor quality wines from abroad so they have a bad image here. If you choose good quality ones then there is no problem," Albert said.

Jessica Mead

She has the same taste in wine estates as Pitt and Jolie

Who knew I would ever have anything in common with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?

It turns out we're like this when it comes to wine, because we're all fans of Chateau Miraval. That's the extraordinarily beautiful and secluded wine estate in Provence that they have just rented for three years.

I spent a couple of nights there nine years ago while tasting my way through the region and can report that the world's most famous couple will have more than decent wines to sip. Miraval now produces three fish-friendly dry whites, two savory reds, a delicious dry rose and a luscious sweet wine, L'Or de Miraval.

Tile roofs, sky-blue shutters, warm creamy stone, fountains, olive trees on a steep hillside, 75 acres of vineyards -- Miraval is everyone's secret dream of a home in the South of France. From my room in the 14th century part of the chateau, the view stretched over a wide green lawn to rows of vines.

I sampled the estate's wines in a light-filled room off the country kitchen and later dined with neighboring producers in the long medieval hall with an immense fireplace.

I also took a peek at the recording studio on the property (Sting once used it; the Stones left after one night -- not enough local action). The estate even has a tiny private chapel.

Tom Bove, whose family owns the property, told me last week that Pitt and Jolie "dropped out of the sky."

"They're personally very nice," he said in the telephone interview. "Brad is from the Midwest, as I am."

Bove, 65, is an Indiana-born businessman (Rochem Group) who fell in love with Miraval in 1992 when he and his first wife, Jane, were looking for a vacation home. He persuaded his family to purchase the 1,000-acre estate. His wife took charge of the vineyards, and they set about vastly improving the wines' quality. Tragically, she died in a 1998 plane crash.

The Pitt-Jolie household, including four kids plus expected twins (who may or may not already have arrived when you read this), won't have to worry about toxic chemical sprays on the grapes since the vineyards are certified organic.

When Brad and Angelina first visited, they tried the savory, salmon-colored 2007 Chateau Miraval Cotes de Provence Rose ($16) with lunch.

"It's the first vintage to be labeled " 'Pink Floyd,' " Bove says. (The band recorded part of their iconic album "The Wall" at Studio Miraval.)

Naturally, the Brangelina buzz has already spurred wine sales.

"We've been inundated with calls from retailers," says Andrew Hirko, chief financial officer at the chateau's East Coast importer, Monarchia Matt International. "We're sold out of the rosé, and the red and white are nearly gone."

Elin McCoy

Wine: Old World flavors taking on a California flair in foothills

Calaveras County continues to make a name for itself as the "Iberian connection" with its success in developing Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties.

Over the past five to six years, winemakers have quietly made a stylistic statement through winemaking efforts focusing on varietals including tempranillo, grenache, verdelho and, more recently, albarino. But it actually stretches beyond that, as more and more foothill winemakers have success with Italian and southern France grape types as well.

Consultant and winemaker Chuck Hovey, former winemaker at Stevenot Winery, has been a pioneer in promoting Mediterranean and Iberian grape types in the region. Hovey is involved in several new projects that include making wine from grape types new to the area including a foothill vermentino, a grape type common to the Italian island of Sardinia.

But several foothill winemakers raise caution on our connection to the styles of the Old World and duplicating their efforts.

"We should not compare our Italian and Spanish varietals to the wines of Europe," said Gary Zucca of Zucca Mountain Winery. His winery makes highly regarded sangiovese, barbera and syrah, workhorses in the Mediterranean wine regions.

"We have warmer weather, better irrigation and make wines that are riper," said Zucca.

At a recent Calaveras tasting event, he went on to observe that Americans treat wines as aperitifs or cocktail wines while the Europeans think more about how the wines work with food. This was echoed later at the tasting by winemaker Rod Ruthel of French Hill Winery, who was pouring his award-winning barbera. The wine showed ripe full fruit flavors without losing the classic acidity associated with Italian barbera.

"That's the trick" said Ruthel. "Most consumers don't realize how important the acidity is to complementing food flavors."

I find that the new emerging foothill wines are built more for the California palate with their forward fruit and softer acidity. In any case, the region is one to watch over the coming years.

You have a chance to become better acquainted with the region's Mediterranean connection on the weekend of June 20-22 when Calaveras County wineries participate in their 12th annual Passport Weekend.

Wine tasters are issued "passports" that are stamped at each of the wineries visited, and are all entered in drawings for special prizes. Each passport holder will have access to special wine tastings, gourmet foods and special wine discounts.

For more information and reservations, contact the association at 866-806-9463 (wine).

With 21 wineries and only three traffic lights, this foothill wine region is filled with new discoveries. Here are a few to look for on your search.

French Hill 2005 Barbera

Lots of spice and baked blackberry pie aromas are followed by more berry; a nice tartness in the finish makes this red a perfect Italian food companion. At more than 15 percent alcohol, the French Hill 2005 Barbera is not a lightweight. About $35.

Hatcher 2006 Mourvedre

Pleasant drinkable red that works as a perfect match with Mediterranean food, especially grilled lamb with rosemary. Crushed berry aromas give way to red currants and raspberry flavors. About $20.

Zucca Mountain 2005 Syrah

From the secluded Canterbury Vineyard's Block 2; the Zucca Mountain 2005 Syrah exhibits lots of ripe fruit flavors with blackberry jam aromas and a long finish. A great depth of richness that is unlike the Rhone reds from France. About $30.

Solomon Wine Co. Garsa

A nice thread of spice and elegance shows up in this 2004 tempranillo that is more fruit forward than its Spanish counterpart. Plum and spice aromas carry over to the easy-drinking flavors. About $20.


Anti-chemical legislation threatens productivity says Bordeaux proprietor

Sauternes chateau boss Philippe Baly has launched an attack on official regulations that ban the use of potentially toxic products from vineyards.

Speaking to, Baly, who runs first growth Sauternes property Chateau Coutet with his brother Dominique, said that continued legislation against the use of chemical and toxic products was threatening productivity in the vineyard because there were no alternatives to banned pesticides and herbicides.

'If we decide to remove chemical and toxic products, there is nothing to replace them, so there's more loss [in the vineyard],' he said. 'Maybe genetic modification is the answer.'

Baly added that the only current alternative was prayer.

'I'm lucky – I've got a chapel,' he said.

Since the French government department for farms, fisheries and rural affairs drew up its Sustainable Agricultural Contract (CAD) in 2002, many products and vineyard treatments have been phased out.

Pesticides and herbicides such as triazines and sodium arsenite were already being phased out by 2001.

Baly said the legislation was 'anti-economics' and that it made French winemakers 'marathon runners with weights tied to their feet'. He added that this was especially true in the sweet wine regions of Bordeaux.

'People tell you to make a better product but then they complain about the prices,' he said. 'We have a very low production volume, high costs and a tight market.'

Oliver Styles