Rise Up Against the Tyranny of the Stem!

For years now we’ve been dealing with the hegemony of Riedel stemware in the market. In general it has been a good idea, because it has made people more aware of subtle details. At least it did at first. However with Appellations and companies commissioning the design of stemware to compliment their particular drink, what we are now dealing with is a sort of forced Corporate group-taste.

When all is said and done, stemware serves the same purpose of a good brassiere: it displays the contents to advantage. (This makes Riedel the Victoria Secret of stemware.) However you should never forget that somewhere far away, somebody is deciding what exactly you should be tasting.

Several years ago I took to tasting everything from ISO tasting glasses. They have become over time my preferred drinking vessels despite my enormous inventory of stems. However I still do the photo shoots in the “proper” stem for fear of some newbie wino having a snit fit over my glass. (I do vary this rule for purposes of photogenicity.) Today I was reviewing a rather nice Rioja Crianza, Altos by Torres. Theoretically you should drink Rioja from a big bowled glass, which indeed is what I used as the prop glass.

Stems for Modernity

Stems for Modernity

I had been making my notes using the ISO glass, but as I’d filled the big bowl Riedel I took it back to my desk. The taste difference was remarkable to say the least. The big cab/shiraz bowl emphasized the viscosity, the oak flavours (vanillin, caramel etc.) and minimized acidity and fruit.

Out of curiousity I put another splash back in my ISO glass for an A/B comparison and, no my memory is not geriatric yet. I promptly repeated the experiment with a rose I had on hand (Gamay/Pinot Noir 80/20) in both. Again the difference was remarkable. I may start tasting my whites from the big bowl and keep the reds in the ISO glasses.

This is an experiment everyone should carry out for themselves.

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Vodka that Saves!

bellion tall

Well the world of alcohol is full of all sorts of interesting claims but this is a completely new one on me. It may possibly be true.

Bellion Distilling of NJ, has started producing a line of alcohol, that they call “functional spirits.” The booze is infused with a patented substance called NTX, more on which later. For the moment the Vodka is the only one available, and then only in MA, RI, CT, TX.

The claim to fame is that NTX provides some degree of protection to the liver from the ravages of alcohol. The leader of the inventing research team, Hartha Chigurupati of the eponymous firm Chigurupati Technologies has actually run some scientific studies comparing the liver enzymes of drinkers with and without drinking his NTX infused alcohol.

To cut to the chase you have three liver enzymes, which will be closely monitored by your doctor if you are on harsh medications or have told the doc the truth about your alcohol consumption. (Near as I can tell virtually everyone lies and says they only drink “occasionally, you know, maybe a couple of glasses of wine a week.”) When I pressed Dr. Chigurupati for an example he told me the following.

The research sample were instructed to drink to a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) 0.12 nightly for two weeks. Their enzyme levels were measured before and after. They were then given two weeks off to recover, and the process was repeated but this time the alcohol was infused with NTX. I picked (arbitrarily as I’m no physician) on the GGT numbers. Dr. Chigurupati said during the first drinking session, a person with a GGT level of 23, saw that level climb to 35. Drinking the vodka with NTX two weeks later their GGT levels only climbed to 24.

Obviously this is a huge breakthrough for most drinkers. However it is unlikely to be allowed in the advertising as governments will see the ingredient NTX as offering drinkers protection when over-drinking, and therefore encourage over-drinking.

I haven’t tasted the vodka. Bellion promises to come out with a Bourbon, Tequila as well soon.

Over to y’all gentle readers. I can’t see how the addition of NTX will hurt, and if it helps I’m all for it.

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Petra Kir-Yianni

It’s been brought to my attention (Thanks Bill!) that most people haven’t a clue what I’m talking about when I mention Kir-Yianni in the next post. So here’s my take on the grape. It’s not common – you’ll need a good wine store with a broad international selection, probably near a Greek neighbourhood. On the other hand it’s a steal of a deal under $20.

kir yianni petraIf you are of a certain age the phrase “greek wine” conjures sun baked islands, retsina (harsh red wine flavoured with pine resin) and pitchers of tart white wine the colour of urine. This is the problem for modern Grecian vintners – a bunch of super-annuated drinkers like me, who would rather be dead in a ditch than face the rigours of Greek wine again.

Greece is the cradle of modern European wine. Their grapes were exported to Italy and the south of France. Their techniques were copied and improved upon. And even today they harbour a number of grapes that would do well when planted abroad. More importantly they too have imported modern viticulture and vinification techniques back into their country.

There are a handful of reds on the shelves here (I have recommended Naoussa in the past in this column) and two whites. One of the whites has a small following as a bargain Muscat (AKA Moscato). The other is fairly new and deserves white wine drinkers give it a try.

For the cork dorks in the audience it is blend of Roditis and Malagouzia grapes. I know what you’re thinking. “Not ANOTHER Roditis/Malagouzia blend.” Roditis is a pink skinned grape that resembles pinot noir. It has the wonderful capacity to maintain acidity in hot climates. Malagouzia is an ancient grape going back to biblical times and probably earlier, and makes elegant aromatic wines.

The combination produces a light coloured white with a citrus and lemon zest bouquet, a crisp palate with – and this surprised me – a very round finish. The zip of the attack and the lingering finish are the hallmarks of a first rate food wine. Opa!

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Spaghetti With Orange and Bacon Recipe

I found the original of this recipe in the WSJ. I immediately modified it to suit me. It scales easily from one to 8 persons. It took me, including prep time less than half an hour. If you did it for just one, less again.

This is modified recipe from Betsy Andrews. The original was prunes and bacon. I found the bacon overpowering and I’m not a huge prunes fan, preferring the brighter flavour of apricots. Dates could be used instead of either. Also, this looks like a variation on a Spanish or Southern Italian recipe to me, in which case they likely used a sour or blood orange. I used a Californian Navel. Feel free to experiment by adding the juice of a quarter of lemon or more.

Total Time: 30 minutes Serves: 2
1/2 pound dried spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
100g pancetta or bacon, crumbled (I prefer pancetta, but most folks are more likely to have bacon in your fridge.)
1 red onion, diced
½ cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Leaves from 1 sprig rosemary, roughly chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving (I don’t measure, just grate away merrily.)
8 dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onion greens
salt and pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup cooking water. Bringing the water to the boil takes longer than anything else in this recipe.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towel. When cool, crumble it. (I do this with my hands but some people use knives etc.)

3. Add red onion (or whatever onion is handy; I usually use yellow cooking onion) and cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, butter, red pepper flakes, rosemary and orange zest and juice. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until sauce is slightly reduced, 5ish minutes.

4. Add cooked spaghetti, 4 tablespoons cooking water (Optional. If you like your sauces runnier than I like mine you should.) and Parmesan to sauce. Toss to coat. Stir in apricots and chives and bacon. Season with salt and pepper if desired. (I don’t think either are necessary. There’s a ton of salt in the bacon and cheese and my extra chili flakes cover off the pepper.) To serve, drizzle with olive oil (also not really necessary.) and Parmesan (personal taste.)

I served it with a Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio but it was overpowered. So I opened a Petra Kir-Yianni which worked beautifully. You should be fine with a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Next time I’ll try a Viognier.

kir yianni petra

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Oyster Bay Merlot

bridges wine world oyster bay merlot tall2_01I have a thing for Hawkes Bay wines from New Zealand. This one isn’t the best of the bunch but it is available – THANK YOU OYSTER BAY!

If you can find any wines from the area jump on them. The syrah from there is a real eye opener – lean, elegant, aromatic. Most of the wines are bordelaise clones, better made than Bordeaux and about half the cost of comparables.

Latest column from the weeklies.

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