Dueling Rieslings

Last weekend, I tweaked my drinking homework a little bit. Instead of blind tasting a single bottle, I tasted 2 wines side by side. The idea was to train myself on differences and help calibrate my “sensors”. It’s easier to say that a wine has medium + acidity when you can compare it with a wine that has medium – acidity. I did that sort of thing before, in a much less structured way with a couple of red burgundies.

The wines were both from the same grape, Riesling. One came from Australia and the other one from Germany, both can be found in retail for between $15 and $20. Those are the common points, now we need to taste the difference

The wines :

  • Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley Dry Resling 2014
  • Nahe, Kreuznacher Knonenberg Auslese Riesling 2013



  • Pewsey Vale : clear, medium lemon with legs
  • Nahe : clear, medium lemon with thicker legs

Similar in color and intensity, the Nahe’s higher sugar shows more legs


  • Pewsey Vale : clean, medium intensity. Notes of citrus (lemon), vegetal, green fruit (pear), white flowers and mineral (rock, with faint petrol notes). The wine is young but developing.
  • Nahe : clean, medium + intensity. Notes of tropical fruit (mango), flowers (elderflower), stone fruit (yellow peach). The wine is developing

First big gap here, with the Nahe showing a very different set of aromas, much riper and exotic compared to the greener, citrusy Pewsey Vale


  • Pewsey Vale : dry, medium + acidity, medium – alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity, medium – finish.
  • Nahe : medium sweet, medium + acidity, medium – alcohol, medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, medium + finish.
  • Pewsey Vale : notes of citrus (lime), mineral (rock, oil), green fruit (apple)
  • Nahe : notes of tropical fruit (pineapple), stone fruit (yellow peach), flowers (elderflower)
Delicious homework

Delicious homework


  • Both wines are good. I would give a slight edge to the Nahe but not enough to move it to very good.
  • Both wines can be drunk now but they have potential for ageing

After doing some research, I think I did ok, one big mistake on the alcohol level however because the Nahe is only at 9% ! That’s definitely a low, not a medium -. The whole exercise was fun, I’ll definitely try it again.



Wine Book review : Wine & War

My posting schedule has been a little bit irregular lately and not as assiduous as I would have liked. I was a little preoccupied by professional matters which made it hard for me to focus on writing blog posts. Hopefully my work situation is all worked out now so I can get back on track.

First order of business, a review of another wine book, Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup.  My trusty sidekick lend me the book a while ago and I finished it last month. It’s definitely worth a review. I guess the subtitle of the book would work as a summary: The French, the Nazis & the battle for France’s greatest treasure. Anybody interested?


Good. As I was saying, it’s a pretty great book, I might be biased because it’s about History and wine, arguably my two favorite things, but bear with me. Basically the book is a series of vignettes, in chronological order, about what happened to some wine producers WWII. Not only during the Phoney War and the actual war, but mostly during the Occupation.

I’m into History and I never realized how bad French people actually had it during the occupation. I mean I knew that being occupied and ruled by a puppet dictator was bad, but I didn’t realize how much people were actually starving. See, the Germans wanted to treat France as their national pantry, shipping all food production to Germany. And that included wine. They actually set up a dedicated organization to manage the plundering of French wine production with actual weinfurhers set up for each wine producing region.

Wine, as a prestige product and a symbol of French culture was a target of the Nazi occupants and the pillage of the best vintages was organized. Luckily, French producers and negociants acted fast, burying their best bottles, walling them inside cellars, switching labels with bad quality wine… All those measures helped but could not prevent the damage.

One of the most touching episodes told in the book takes place in a prisoner camp in Germany. French POWs are cold, worried, half-starved and homesick. One of the POWs, an ex-wine producer decides to organize a wine dinner for the whole camp with care packages from their families. It turns into a huge, month long project and culminates in a day long wine seminar topped by a tasting. For a day, wine helped prisoners forget about the stalag and enjoy a bit of their culture. That was definitely my favorite passage.

You’ll learn a few wine terms and some bit and pieces about winemaking and classic bottles and vintages, but for wine lovers, the fun part will be picking up names of producers they have heard of. Most of those names still live on today in the wine business: Huet at Vouvray, Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, Drouhin in Burgundy, Piper in Champagne… The most marking name, in my opinion was the Hugel family from Alsace. One of their son ended up conscripted in the German army and the other one fled to London to join the Free French Forces. That is some Greek tragedy material right here. Luckily, it ended well.

There you have it. I thought it was a great book but I am 1) a student of History and 2) French so I have a vested interest in the subject matter. I wonder if someone who is “just” a wine lover would enjoy it too.

A cheese and wine habit

I have a confession to make, a dark secret, a deep flaw, an unspeakable weakness in my otherwise pristine character. I cannot resist cheese. As far as I remember, I was never able to control myself around a piece of cheese. During the month I spent in Paris around the holidays, I’m pretty sure 75% of my meals were cheese and bread with sometimes a bit of lunch meat thrown in for good measure.

And, well, I did it again… Last weekend in New York City I wandered into a dark place, a place of addiction and despair, a place of cheese. This is my story, may God have mercy on my soul and may it serve as a warning to you. Don’t let your children get hooked up on camembert.

So yeah, cheese. Cheese and wine actually, I found a bistro that offers a few cheese and wine flights designed to go together, and, since I have a problem, I had not one, but two such flights : six cheeses, six wines. It made for a beautiful way to start the day.

Flight number 1:

cheese flight 1

Delice de Bourgogne with Ca’Furlan Prosecco (Veneto, Italy)

The pear and orange aromas of the wine compliment the creamy, dairy-like flavors of the cheese. The pairing makes it lighter, crisper, it cleans the palate and supports the cheese

Robbiola due latti with Three Saints Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California)

The cheese is very creamy and the wine very oaky. It works out well, without the oakiness the wine wouldn’t be able to keep up with the strong flavor. Both wine and cheese have a nutty taste that makes for a really nice finish.

Pont-L’Eveque with Louis Jadot Santenay (Burgundy, France)

Pont-L’Eveque is an intense, funky cheese from Normandy, kinda like the weird cousin of camembert. The Santenay as enough acidity to hold its own and cut through the funkiness, the aromas of tart red berries from the wine give a necessary dose of freshness to your taste buds

Flight Number 2:

cheese flight 2

Pecorino with Hugel Riesling (Alsace, France) :

Both wine and cheese have a salty, mineral side that blend together and create something even better.

Brillat-Savarin with Olivier Leflaire Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France)

Brillat-Savarin is the creamiest cheese ever. The simple chardonnay with good acidity is a good match, it’s actually a very classic match between creamy cheese and acidic wine to cut some of that fat from the cheese

Epoisses with Chateau Haut-Selve, Graves (Bordeaux, France)

Ah, Epoisses,… Stinky, almost liquid, delicious Epoisses. A cheese that you are allowed to eat with a spoon… Here paired with a very fruity Bordeaux it’s the cheese that provides acidity and the wine that is rounder. Another great pairing.

After all that cheese and wine I stepped back into the sunny streets of NYC. So, I have a little bit of an addiction, but I can stop whenever I want! The only thing is that, well, I really don’t want to.

Bacchus and Me, a book review

Recent conversations with friend have put a nasty doubt in my mind. Am I a one trick pony? Is wine all I “do” in my free time? I mean, I learn about wine, I talk about wine, I write about wine, I drink wine. It doesn’t help that last week I also read about wine, finishing “Bacchus and me” by Jay McInerney. Basically it is a compilation of his essays on wine published in House & Garden Magazine in 2000.


McInerney is a bit of an unusual wine critic in the sense that he is first and foremost a novelist, a fiction writer who developed an interest in wine. His most famous novel is Bright Lights Big City and he is loosely associated with the New-York city writing scene (think Brett Easton Ellis and friends).

I must confess I only read Bacchus and me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, none of his fiction works. The book is extremely interesting. It’s an easy read with short chapters dedicated to a grape, a region, a producer or even a wine in particular. Of course it’s filled with information for wine fans, but the interesting thing is that it’s information useful for beginners and connoisseurs both.

Wine novices will learn what are the varietals used in Burgundy and how and why they differ from the ones used in Bordeaux. More advanced drinkers can learn about advanced techniques or legendary year so there are interesting layers of knowledge for all wine lovers.

To me, a couple things stood out (other than the overall usefulness of the book). First of all, it is extremely well written, as could be expected from someone who is, well, a writer. The metaphors to describe certain grapes or certain wines use everything from rock bands to paintings and make for a very vivid impression. The book is thus very easy to enjoy (even when you read it while riding a busy Red Line train through Boston). The best, or at least the easiest to remember is the way the two main Bordeaux varietals are presented “Cabernet-Sauvignon was Lennon to Merlot’s McCartney”.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com

The second thing is that the book will make you thirsty. Descriptions of great and legendary wines will do that. It will make you wish you had more money or that you were a professional wine critic. What really made it for me is one of the last chapters detailing a series of New Year’s Eve dinners that McInerney had with Julian Barnes and Stephen Fry (among others). I would have wanted to be at that dinner even if they had served water. But they didn’t, the wine line up is nothing but serious : Krug, Lafite, Latour, Yquem, and a vertical of Hermitage La Chapelle from Jaboulet,… You know, nothing special really.

If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading this book. It’s easy, it’s interesting and it’s extremely well written. Oh and it’s funny too. That never hurts.

MWWC8 : A tale of Two Harrys

MWWCHere is my entry for the March edition of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. The previous winner was The Sweet Sommelier with a post on the them of Devotion. This month’s challenge theme is Luck. Hopefully i will be more inspired than last month !

Without further ado, here is my Luck entry for the MWWC8 :

Liquid Luck or a Tale of Two Harrys

In one of the Harry Potter novels there is a potion called Felix Felicis that characters describe as “liquid luck”. Now I love the Harry Potter books, but I have to say it right there, liquid luck already exists; it’s called wine, check it out.


I could go down the easy road and just say that wine can get you drunk, sometimes drunk enough to make questionable choices and, in a certain acceptation of the term, “get lucky”. But I will not do that. I mean, I can’t really reach my punch line 6 lines into the contest right? No, I will have to take my time, work it slowly, I don’t care if it is getting late, I could be up all night (to get lucky).

Wine is quite literally liquid luck. In each bottle there is a special wine that only can be made once. Earth, Heaven and People have worked together to produce something that cannot be identically re-created. “Earth” would be the terroir, and granted, you can say that terroir doesn’t change. “People” means the winemaking process, the techniques used, and again, it can be a constant. But Heaven is the weather, and we can all agree that there is a significant amount of chance involved in that variable.

Any wine is a one-time chance encounter between those variables to produce something unique. That’s pretty lucky. Now there’s even more luck involved since another chance encounter has to happen for wine to become a real magic potion. There is an expression, “Lightning in a bottle” to describe the idea of something extremely unlikely happening. In that case, isn’t all wine lightning in a bottle?

The bottle has to meet its drinker. Once again, there are a lot of parameters to consider: how old is the bottle? What conditions was it kept in? Will it be served with food? What food? What mood is the drinker in? It is impossible for the same magic moment between a wine and a drinker to happen twice. In fact, just by drinking a wine, the drinker will change, the experience of this wine making him more educated, never will he be the same person than he was before his first sip.

Luck, or happenstance is also the original reason for some wine production methods. Noble rot for instance, or ice wine, or even champagne were all unforeseen consequences or miscalculations. The fact that champagne wine was sparkling was actually a bad thing as it lead to bottle breaking and exploding, people getting injured and wine getting spilled. Shame. Then someone goes along and invents the muselet and all is well again. Those techniques still came up as accidents but let’s call them happy accidents, shall we? Once more luck is here to provide the unexpected (and the delicious), thank you luck.

Muselet et sa capsule

Muselet : small but important

Sometimes, it even goes beyond luck. Sometimes there is a meet-cute between you and a wine and lucky doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel. Quite possibly, you feel like you have been struck by lightning (the one that was in the bottle). I can recall a couple wines that did that to me. A Chateau Latour 1982 and a Corton-Charlemagne 1978, I should be so lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky) to ever try them again.

I think what it all comes down to is the attitude you bring to your meeting with a particular wine. Do you just go through the motions? Do you expect something to happen? Are you ready to be wowed? What kind of genie will come out of the bottle? To put it in simpler terms, let me let another Harry, not Potter, but Callahan, AKA Dirty Harry provide the moral of this story: “Do I feel lucky punk? Well, do ya?”

Oh, and I do, I really, really do.

Wine Trivia : what’s in a name?

Congratulations to Confessions of a Wine Geek for answering the previous question correctly. The Dukes of Burgundy banned Gamay from their territories and the Chevaliers du Tastevin hold their meetings at the Chateau de Vougeot.

This week, here is a language related quiz. I listed a few English words that are a rough translation of grape varieties names from different languages. Can you find the grape variety and the language it was translated from? Some are really easy, some are trickier.

my name is

1)      Fog

2)      Spicy Traminer

3)      Little sweet one

4)      Black pinecone

5)      Black black (2 languages)

6)      Little green one

7)      Little early one

Tasting is not a game, it’s war

God bless Netflix. How else would I be able to watch random documentaries about gender challenged seals in Antarctica, or about Brooklyn based organic goat cheese producers? The answer is I probably wouldn’t be able to. And in all fairness, I probably wouldn’t want to, there is such a thing as a too narrow niche… But, what Netflix allowed me to watch was a nice documentary, called Somm, written and directed by Jason Wise,  about 4 students studying for and taking the exam to become Master sommeliers. See, this is more in the topical target of this blog than baby seal gender-studies, I know how to stay on message.

somm affiche

Anyway, Master Sommelier is an extremely exclusive title that less than 200 people have reached during the 40 years or so it has existed. Basically, you have to pass a 3 steps exam that will challenge: your theoretical wine knowledge, your service skills and, and that is the cornerstone of the movie, your tasting skills.

The tasting part of the exam is the focus of the movie, mostly because it is the most spectacular: 6 wines, 3 whites, 3 reds. You have 25 minutes, to taste, describe and determine grape variety, origin and vintage for all 6 wines. I didn’t use the word spectacular idly; it’s actually fascinating to see candidates spit descriptions at the speed of light. Especially when they start discussing “freshly opened tennis ball can” of “cut-off watering hose” aromas.

An early training session

An early training session

I mean, the whole process is humbling for all wine amateurs, the sheer speed and depth of the description is staggering. So is the volume of index cards they use to cram wine knowledge in their heads. And so is the amount of pressure they experience. The exam shapes their life for years at a time with real life put on hold so that they can study. That’s the gut wrenching part. When does something you love become a job? When does a job become a chore? Are you still able to enjoy a glass of wine with friends when your mind races to possible vintages?

It’s a really nice documentary that I recommend for any wine lover. The 4 candidates are pretty diverse; to sum up there’s the intense one, the quiet one, the thoughtful one and the smooth one. The movie is intercut with interview form sommeliers, producers and other wine actors as well as with loved ones of the 4 protagonists. You learn some things about wine but it’s not the point. It’s more about the level of dedication one can bring to its passion, the sacrifices you make. It puts things in perspective. To be honest, in my case, it made me decide to work more on my tasting skills. Results are yet to be conclusive on that front.

Wine Trivia : small is beautiful

All right, new category! Taking inspiration from The Drunken Cyclist and his Trivia Wednesdays posts, I will start asking trivia questions as well. I think it will be a little different in format as I’d rather give a longer, single question with context and hints than a set of questions with multiple choices.

I mentioned in an earlier post that small vineyards and thus small production were major causes of high prices for French wines. Burgundy was my example, especially when considering the tiny Grand Cru parcels and the wines they produce. The map of AOCs in Burgundy can get pretty maze-like and the smallest AOC in France is La Romanée Grand Cru in the Cote de Nuits. But if we exclude Burgundy from the equation, what is the smallest AOC in France?

What is this AOC? Which region does it belong to? What’s the main / only variety used there? Which AOC is it completely enclosed in?

Judge not lest ye be judged

It’s a valid question, especially for someone starting out on the wine learning path. One of the stated goals of the WSET courses is to learn how to judge the quality of a wine by tasting it. By definition this means ridding oneself of personal tastes and preferences to give a dispassionate opinion of a wine. A wine could be of good quality and yet depending on personal taste, some people might not like it. I think that is one of the great challenges facing me.

For a long time I had an purely hedonistic approach to wine, simply trying to judge what I drank by whether I liked it, whether I enjoyed it or not. It’s not a bad approach, it’s open-minded, it’s simple and it makes wine drinking accessible for the profane. Gone are those days! I now must drink seriously, furrow my brow and take inspired and intense poses as I ponder the deep mysteries of the wine in my glass.

Appropriately furrowed brow

Appropriately furrowed brow

Nah, just kidding, that sounds like too much work… I still try to ask myself whether I enjoy a wine or not. The difference is that I should make myself form an objective opinion first. I hope the brow furrowing will be kept at minimal levels, it sounds painful. Plus I’m not sure I can pull off the inspired, focused look for extended periods of time… I’m not really sure it’s in my nature.

It remains hard to separate taste and quality, especially since I’m really a beginner. What is quality? I tend to think that a wine tastes like a wine from its region/variety/style should taste, then a certain standard is reached. Granted this is more like judging the representativity of a wine than its quality, but I think it’s a start. Of course it’s possible for an outlier of a wine to be of good quality while not being a good example of its style of region.

I really believe this is just a first step in the right direction. Eventually I’ll learn to be more specific about the quality of the wines I taste, judging, for instance, the aging potential for a young wine. But the road is long, and it’s a good thing. I mean it’s a good thing if tasting wine remains enjoyable; I never want it to become a chore, just an exercise of my taste buds and my wine knowledge. There is the intellectual thrill of learning and expanding your knowledge of course, but wine, by itself, has a thrill of its own that I do not want to lose along the way.

Napoleon and wine

Napoleon was a great wine lover, sadly there were no wines from his native Corsica in his favorites, but he was known for loving 3 wines in particular: Moët & Chandon Champagne, Vin de Constance from South Africa and Chambertin wines from Burgundy. One could argue that they are all better than Corsican Vermentinu, but I don’t want to have Corsicans angry at me.

Glass of Chambertin not pictured

Glass of Chambertin not pictured

He actually had more than 300 gallons of Vin de Constance shipped to St-Helena, the small South Atlantic Island where he lived out his final exile. Reportedly the last thing he had before dying was a single glass of that sweet dessert wine. I guess he drank till the not so bitter end. I am slightly ashamed of that last joke… Was it bad? Was it really bad?

Anyway, It’s good to know that being Emperor of the French did not prevent him from enjoying foreign wines.