Beer, Wine and Spirits. Tastings and Travel. News and Events. Classic Flavors from Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries Across the Drinks World.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is the Beer Fridge the Source of Global Warming?

What will you do when they come for your beer fridge?

Denise Young, a researcher at the University of Alberta, wants beer drinkers to pull the plug on the ultimate luxury: the beer fridge. Environmentalists issued a report today that claims homes that use older refrigerators to keep beverages cold are contributing to global warming.

The reason is older model refrigerators suck as much as 50 percent more energy when compared to modern units. Many North American households do not retire old refrigerators when newer units are purchased. Instead, the old units are placed in garages, basements or game rooms and given the new task of keeping a chilled supply of beer, soda, wine and bottled water at the ready. The study estimated that as many as 30 percent of homes have a second refrigerator.

The University of Alberta study recommends that governments offer to buy back inefficient beer fridges. The researchers say that if beer drinkers gave up their beer fridges that enough energy would be saved to power tens of thousands of homes. They also note that a refrigerator that is more than 10 years old costs consumers $250 annually to operate.

"People need to understand the impact of their lifestyles," says Joanna Yarrow, director of Beyond Green, a sustainable development consultancy in the UK. "Clearly the environmental implications of having a frivolous luxury like a beer fridge are not hitting home. This research helps inform people – let's hope it has an effect."

They almost had me convinced until they called the beer fridge a "frivolous luxury." The microwave oven, indoor plumbing and the incandescent light bulb are far more expendable when compared to making sure that there is plenty of cold beer available. Besides, this is not wasteful -- in fact, I consider it to be a form of recycling. Beer drinkers are keeping the beer fridge out of the waste stream. This is a noble act.

Long live the beer fridge!

My Goodness, My Guinness: Thief Hits Dublin Brewery for 450 Kegs

A thief in Ireland has taken shoplifting beer to new heights.

A man simply drove a truck through the gates of the Guinness brewery in Dublin on Wednesday and hitched up a trailer with 450 kegs, then drove away before security staff realized what happened. The theft was captured by security cameras. Police believe the thief counted on going undetected in the bustling loading dock area of the St. James's Gate Brewery complex, which is even busier this time of year as the brewery works to fill holiday orders.

Police say the trailer had 180 kegs of Guinness, 180 kegs of Budweiser and 90 kegs of Carlsberg on board, worth more than $94,000.

The vehicle, the driver and the beer are still missing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Firestone Walker Eleven

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we stay in California wine country, but this time enjoy a special anniversary beer.

Firestone Walker Brewing is located in Paso Robles, Calif., and is run by a family that also has holdings in California vineyards. While they sold off the majority of their wine business, including the Firestone brand name to the Foley Wine Group last summer, the company is still focused on turning out some of the more interesting beers coming from California.

Firestone Walker ferments its brews in a British-style union of oak barrels. The company has won its share of medals at brewing competitions, including being named the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year at the 2003 and 2007 Great American Beer Festival. So it was no surprise that when it released a limited edition beer called "Ten" to mark its 10th anniversary last year that it became one of the more sought after beers by beer fans. Reports surfaced of retailers selling the 22 ounce bottles for as much as $100 as supplies sold out.

Firestone Walker has followed that up with Eleven, a strong ale that is aged for 18 months in oak barrels. Only 500 cases of the beer (12 22-ounce bottles per case) are being shipped to retailers for a scheduled released on Nov. 30th. A suggested retail price of $16.99 per bomber bottle has been placed on the brew.

Brewmaster Matt Brynildson approached this ale as if it was a meritage of beer. He used Bravo Imperial Brown Ale, Rufus Continental Imperial Amber Ale and Parabola Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout in a blend that was aged in American oak. Some of the barrels had previously done time at distilleries aging spirits. The result is an 11 percent alcohol by volume brew with 42 IBUs.

The sample that we tasted over the Thanksgiving weekend was a rush of flavors. There was a clear alcohol hit with plenty of oak, some wine-like characteristics and even hints of raisins to the beer. It is a rich dark color with touches of molasses in the nose. This beer is not overly sweet and has some nice earthy balance filling out a complex flavor profile.

This is a very satisfying beer with which to end an evening. A 22-ounce bottle can easily be split three or four ways, with everyone having plenty of enjoyment in their glass. Firestone Walker has once again come up with one of the more intriguing beers on the market.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lager Library: Land of Amber Waters

If you have an interest in the history of brewing "Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota" by Doug Hoverson is the definitive volume on beer in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Published by the University of Minnesota Press, Land of Amber Waters (352 pgs., $39.95) is lavishly illustrated with more than 300 color photos including historic brewery photographs, label art and advertising. Hoverson traces the history of Minnesota brewing back to 1849, touching in detail on many of the 300 breweries that have turned out lagers and ales in the state. Hoverson, the associate editor of American Breweriana Journal, a homebrewer and certified beer judge, is a social studies teacher in Minnesota. He combines all of this expertise in showcasing how beer and breweries reached into every corner of Minnesota.

One of my favorite aspects of Land of Amber Waters is looking at the various ways beer has been marketed during the last 150 years. One poster for Grain Belt Beer, with the headline "We've Come a Long Way Baby" and an illustration of a young woman reclining in a field of barley, had to be recalled by the brewer after complaints that it was too suggestive. The poster would hardly cause a second glance in today's world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: California Wine Round Up

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we conclude the reports on our recent visit to California wine country with a round up of some of the wines we enjoyed.

Visiting San Francisco and California wine country was an eye opening and taste bud stretching experience. It was a celebratory trip marking our 25th wedding anniversary and served as a reminder to me of how blessed I am to have Sandy as my wife, partner in good times and bad, and constant source of encouragement. The blog entries for the last few days have documented some of the winery visits that we made, but we made many more stops and experienced more than just wine along the way.

Many people heading to Napa and Sonoma look forward to staying in one of the many inns or bed and breakfasts operating among the wineries. We tend to be more traditional hotel folks and found two excellent places that we would happily return to on future visits. The Meritage in Napa and Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn both sit at the southern ends of the two major wine regions.

Our dining during the trip tended to be more on the casual side and Taylor's Refreshers in St. Helena served up one of the best burgers I've had in sometime. The lunch and dinner served at the winery by the folks at Pietra Santa was wonderful. And we had a spectacular fresh seafood feast at Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco (Pier 47 at the foot of Jones).

We got to see plenty of beautiful vistas driving around wine country and stumbles across some things that make it a unique place -- from the Napa Valley Wine Train to the ghost house on the grounds of the San Saba Vineyards to the walnut farmer in Sonoma selling grocery bags full of nuts for $15 just up a dirt lane from an old Studebaker pick up truck. The amazing size and scope of California agriculture is incredible and seeing workers in the fields reminded me of how many people we count on to get food on our tables.

Then there was the wine. Here are a few Tuesday Tasting recommendations:

B.R. Cohn 2004 Olive Hill Estate Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon: When Bruce Cohn isn’t busy booking the next Doobie Brothers gig he’s making wine. This red is a rich combination of plumb, cherry, oak and spice. Perfect for a great steak or a chocolate dessert.

B.R. Cohn 2006 Carneros Chardonnay: Oak and butter nose with nice vanilla and warm oak flavor notes.

Ty Caton 2004 Estate Tytanium: A full flavored Bordeaux style red from a young winery that is 33 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent syrah, 29 percent petite sirah and 14 percent merlot. Plum, cocoa and oak.

Ty Caton 2004 Field Blend: At Opus One they sell a brand called Overture exclusively at the winery that is a great wine at a much lower price than the flagship brand. It is basically juice left over after the winemaker has built the signature blend. Caton's answer is his Field Blend, a mix of petite sirah, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec grapes. This is an affordable luxury with great meritage blended quality that hits appealing flavor characteristics.

Conn Creek 2004 Anthology: This wine is 68 percent cabernet sauvignon, 19 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent merlot, 5 percent malbec and 2 percent petit verdot. The wine delivers a smooth blackberry base that will likely evolve over the next several years.

Duckhorn 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: Thick burgundy red color, with spice and ripe dark cherry flavors. A long finishing cabernet perfect for a great meal.

Duckhorn 2005 Decoy Napa Valley Red: One of the great values along the Silverado Trail, this Bordeaux blend is made from the juice that does not find its way into the other Duckhorn wines. It spends 16 months on French oak. Solid ripe fruit and oak nose, with a dry and spicy character.

Loxton 2004 Sonoma Syrah: This wine spends 20 months on oak and produces a bold, fruit forward red that delivers a long pleasant flavor profile.

Loxton 2006 Parmelee Hill Vineyard Chardonny: Barrel fermented in twice used oak, this wine has a nice green apple fruit presence in a creamy and mellow oak flavor profile.

Sapphire Hill 2006 VLH Late Harvest Zinfandel: Banana and pineapple nose, with a good sweet start that is balanced and not cloying.

V. Sattui 2005 Quaglia Vineyard Zinfandel: Deep purple color with tart cherry dominant flavor and a subtle background peppery spice.

San Saba 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc: With 15.1 percent residual sugar you might expect this to taste like sugar water, but in reality a solid level of acidity makes this a fairly balanced dessert wine that has great honey and floral notes.

Trefethen 2004 Double T Red: A blend of classic Bordeaux grapes, this wine is lively and fruity. Perhaps not the red you would order for a Saturday night steak dinner, but a perfect mid-week wine to go with pasta or pizza.

Trefethen 2006 Dry Riesling: A good crisp dry riesling. The crack of acidity at the start opens to a nice grapefruit and honeysuckle flavor profile.

Wellington 2004 Victory Reserve: A thick red blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent Cabernet Franc and 15 percent merlot. Plenty of tannins and fruit. A good steak awaits.

Wellington The Duke V: A non-vintage blend of 60 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet and 20 percent zinfandel sold only at the winery at an incredible price. A solid Sonoma red that is assertive, yet finishes with a smooth touch.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mumm Napa Sparkles

Mumm Napa is located on the Silverado Trail to the east of the hustle and bustle of Route 29. It was the perfect stop during our recent California trip to mark my 47th birthday.

We went on a group tour of the facility, which was interesting and showed the sheer size of Mumm's operations in California. Built in 1986, it was one of the more modern wineries we visited and it also had a variety of features that make a stop a must when you are in wine country. The tour area gives you a birds eye view of the production floor, including the 65,000 gallon blending tank. The tour ends in a gallery showcasing some stunning photography, including works by Ansel Adams.

The tasting room has one of the best views of any winery. Glass doors open to the vineyards and you can look across the valley while enjoying sparkling wine.

We were hosted for our tasting by Hank Beech, who was both charming and informative about the wine. Glasses filled our table as we got an appreciation for the range of sparkling wines Mumm is turning out in Napa.

Too many people treat sparkling wine like pilsner beer, looking at it as fairly one dimensional. They may favor one producer over another, but they don't recognize why. Part of the problem is that they enjoy sparkling wine in a limited way, often just for special occasions. Part of it is that sparkling wine makers, especially Champagne makers, tend to use terms on bottles that are not easy to figure out: Brut, Demi Sec, blanc de blanc, blanc de noirs, etc. It is acceptable to ask for a glass of Champagne (even if what you are drinking is cava or prosecco), but no one would just ask a wait person for a glass of wine without at least specifying white or red.

We enjoyed several of the sparkling wines poured for us at Mumm. Among our favorites were:

Mumm Napa Blanc de Noirs: This non-vintage sparkler is a light pink salmon color and has a good balance between the berry hints of the fruit and the acidity.

Mumm Cuvee M Red: This sparkling wine is 97 percent pinot noir and 3 percent syrah and sold only at the winery or through the Mumm website. It’s bright red color is a perfect change of pace. Just a slight touch of sweetness with a cherry note. We brought back three bottles of this wine for Thanksgiving at our Daughter and Son-in-Law's home.

2000 DVX: This sparkler honors Guy Devaux, the late winemaker who spearheaded Mumm's development in California. This is a golden straw color, with hints of apple, apricot and strawberry. A great wine to start or finish an evening.

Drink Art: The Vintage in California by Paul Frenzeny

Drink Art is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that looks at famous works of art depicting men and women enjoying life and drink.

The Vintage in California, at Work at the Wine Presses
Paul Frenzeny
French, 1840-1902

During my recent California wine county visit I was reminded of the relationship between man and equipment in harvesting grapes and making wine. Today there are incredible pieces of machinery that can do amazing things in harvesting and crushing grapes, but the human element is still a critical part of the process.

In this illustration by French artist Paul Frenzeny we can see that more than 100 years ago the grape harvest was different, but it still involved immigrant labor, in this case Chinese workers, and a rush to get grapes in and crushed at their peak. The scene shows workers stomping grapes and a giant wine press at work. Wagons are crammed with grapes, suggesting just how long the days are at vineyards during harvest. A winemaker is in one corner of the piece with a tasting glass examining the new juice.

The illustration is part of the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley.

Lager Library: Great Food Great Beer: The Anheuser-Busch Cookbook

Clearly one of the marketing drivers this year for the folks at Anheuser-Busch has been to tell the world about how well beer and food goes together. And we're not just talking pizza and beer, although that still works.

A-B has been on the road holding some beer pairing dinners and doing other work to get beer a place at the table in fine dining establishments. I was the guest at one of these events earlier this year at Blue in Charlotte. Now comes the release of "Great Food Great Beer: The Anheuser-Busch Cookbook."

A-B worked with Sunset Publishing to create the cookbook, which has lavish food photography. Brent Wertz, executive chef at the Kingsmill Resort & Spa, and George Reisch, an A-B brewmaster, were involved in some of the recipe development and pairing suggestions in the cookbook.

"Great Beer Great Food" starts off with a history of A-B and some information on matching beer and food, proper beer glassware and a quick guide to beer styles. Because the book is from Anheuser-Busch the answers to food and beer pairings lean towards products flowing from St. Louis. The recipes are a mixture of foods that go well with beer and foods that have beer as an ingredient.

The 185 recipes in "Great Food Great Beer" (304 pgs., $24.95) range from warm artichoke and amber bock dip to mushroom stuffed filet of beef. There are even desserts, with a gingerbread cake that uses a cup of dry stout as an ingredient that sounds worth making.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Louis M. Martini Keeps Red Flowing

When Louis M. Martini in St. Helena was acquired by E. & J. Gallo in 2002 there were questions about what would change at the vintner. One of the biggest changes is that more people can now find Martini wines at retail thanks to the power of Gallo's distribution arm.

We made a stop at the winery during our recent visit to the Napa Valley and while waiting Michael Martini, who was running late from another appointment, we sampled a range of wines. The winery turns out quite a range of price points and styles, including labels like Ghost Pines that have been brought back since the Gallo acquisition.

Martini, who is Master Winemaker at winery that was founded by his grandfather, joined us during our tasting and took us on a tour of the winemaking facility. Along the way we sampled some wine straight from the tanks and discussed the perils of wine stained teeth.

Louis M. Martini has been a part of the California wine scene since 1938. In that time it has seen trends come and go. The "Sideways" affect has raised interest in pinot noir, but merlot sales still has a good level of consumer demand. Martini said he sees wineries shifting gradually from big, bold reds, to more drinkable wines. “Fruitiness is coming back," Martini said. "There is more softness to a lot of California reds.”

Among the wines we tasted:

Louis Martini 2003 Monte Rosso: Purple plum color, this wine is rich and smooth with hints of ripe cherries. Plenty of depth and character.

Los Ninos 2000: A Sonoma blend of 67 percent cabernet savignon, 20 percent petit verdot, 11 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent malbec, the wine has a slight hint of banana in the nose with a soft and long ripe fruit flavor.

Louis Martini 2006 Pinot Grigio: Light peach notes and a firm level of acidity are the hallmarks of this white.

Louis M. Martini 2004 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: A nice, smooth cabernet with a slight oak presence. Solid black currant and black cherry notes.

Louis Martini 2004 Port: Made from petite sirah grapes, this is a lovely rich port. Dessert in a glass.

Could Our Love of Chocolate be the Result of Ancient Beer?

Researchers believe that our love affair with chocolate may have its roots in early Central American beer.

Researchers from Cornell University have published a paper that says the first use of cocoa was earlier than originally thought, likely around 1000 BC, when brewers in Central America made a primitive beer from the fermented pulp of cocoa fruit.

The researchers believe the cocoa beer, or chicha, eventually resulted in the frothy chocolate drinks made from the seed of the cacao tree that were a big part of Mesoamericans society starting about 500 years later. John Henderson, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University and lead author of the study, says the cocoa beer is likely the foundation of the modern world's chocolate industry.

Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to taste chocolate in Mexico during the 16th century. They brought the Aztec drink back to Europe and chocolate would become one of the world's most popular sweets.

Canadian Winery to Turn Used Grapes into Energy

Some vineyards use the leftover skins, seeds and stems from wine grapes to make grappa. At Inniskillin the plan is to use these winemaking leftovers to create renewable energy.

Inniskillin, Canada's largest winery, is working with StormFisher Biogas to take grape pomace that would have been sent to a landfills and use it power homes along the Niagara peninsula.

StormFisher's system captures methane gas produced by the decomposing waste and the gas is burned to generate electricity.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hahn Counting on Pinot Noir

Hahn Estates is located inland from Monterey on a hillside looking down to the Salinas Valley. It's beautiful country that produces some very nice wines. We found ourselves at the winery late in the day recently and enjoyed the great view with a few of their wines.

Hahn Estates 2005 Pinot Noir: This Central Coast winery believes so strongly in its pinot noir that it has ripped out 400 acres of cabernet sauvignon to expand its pinot plantings. This is a lush pinot noir with nice deep cherry notes. A great value for a California red.

Hahn Estates 2005 Chardonnay: A hint of peach in the nose, with a nice citrus and apricot flavor profile.

Smith & Hook 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Named for the ranches that make up the vineyard, this red has good tannins and dark purple fruit flavors.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hall Has Diplomatic Approach to Wine

There has been a winery on the grounds of where Hall Wines stands in St. Helena, Calif., since 1885. By 2009, you will be able to see more of that original winery than is visible today and you will also be transported to the future as Hall will become one of the most talked about destinations in Napa Valley.

Craig and Kathryn Hall purchased the Bergfeld winery in St. Helena in 2003. In 2005 they added wine production facilities at what was the Sacrashe Vineyard in Rutherford. The Halls are on an aggressive investment path and are building a Frank Gehry designed visitor’s center and winery at the Bergfield site that will open along Route 29 in 2009. It may very well change what visitors to Napa Valley expect when they go wine tasting. The plan includes a unique wood lattice canopy and glass enclosed production area viewing. It will be a showplace that should introduce more people to some very good wines.

Craig Hall is a Texas businessman and Kathryn Hall served as the U.S. ambassador to Austria from 1997 to 2001. They have more than 500 acres of vineyards and their winemaking facility also has a substantial custom crush and private label business.

During our visit we were given a private tour by Meg Revheim, who treated us to some barrel samples in the historic winery building and a tasting of the current range of Hall wines. We found the work of winemaker Richard Batchelor to be very impressive. Among the wines we enjoyed:

Hall 2006 Hardester Ranch Merlot: From the barrel this was a jammy, fruit forward wine that shows plenty of promise.

Hall 2004 Napa Valley Merlot: Extremely smooth and inviting. Nice plum and blackberry notes.

Hall 2004 Katherine Hall Signature Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine is at least 85 percent cabernet, with merlot and cabernet franc blended in for extra complexity. Berry nose, smooth, but assertive flavor. Cabernet character is balanced with both tannin and fresh fruit evident.

Bergfeld St. Helena 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon: Still a bit tight and in need of a couple of years in the bottle, this wine does display rich ample fruit and good tannin balance.

Abita Brewery Expanding Capacity

Abita Brewing has been turning out great craft beer for more than two decades and now it is about to go through a substantial growth spurt.

Eight new 9,300-gallon aging tanks have arrived at the Louisiana brewery as part of an expansion project that will be completed in early 2008. The construction will increase brewing and warehouse capacity, as well as provide new office space for Abita.

Abita expects to sell more than 62,000 barrels of beer this year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Opus One

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week as part of our reports on our recent California trip we stop at a Napa Valley landmark.

Opus One means many things to many people. With a bottle of its Bordeaux blend commanding $180 and its Scott Johnson designed winery building commanding the valley floor near Oakville, everything the winery does sets a tone. Formed from a partnership hatched in 1978 between Robert Mondavi of California and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of France, Opus One consists of just 169 acres. It is a property that looms large on the wine scene if for nothing more than it establishes heights for others to scale.

The winery uses only new French oak of medium to medium heavy toast. Each has its center section stained with juice by the winery crew, as is the practice at Chateau Mouton Rothschild. The vines are planted to a French style density. The blend of grapes used each year varies as winemaker Michael Silacci looks to come up with the signature that best fits the vintage.

The 2004 Opus One consists of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent merlot, 4 percent petit verdot, 2 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent malbec.

The result is a wine with subtle touches of dark ripe berries, with slight amounts of spice, cocoa and some firm tannins. For Opus One fans this wine promises a solid ability to age gracefully for years to come.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Whitehall Lane Makes the Most of Napa Whites and Reds

On the Napa Valley leg of our trip to California, Sandy and I made a stop at Whitehall Lane Winery, located just to the south of St. Helena.

We were given a tour of the wine making operation by Doug Fitzgibbon, tagging along with a VIP group. After seeing some grapes being crushed and workers topping off barrels, we made our way into the tasting room. There we had several very nice wines. Whitehall was founded in 1978 and produces 45,000 to 50,000 cases of wine annually. They have big plans on the horizon, with a new hospitality salon and a chef's kitchen that will allow 30-35 people to enjoy intimate dining. Part of the project will expand Whitehall's high-end wine portfolio.

Whitehall has 160 acres of vines on the Napa Valley floor and also buys from a select list of growers. Some of the wines being made at Whitehall use the Vino-Seal glass cork, which is the latest attempt at solving the industry problem of an average 6-8 percent failure rate of bottles using natural cork closures.

We found Whitehall produces some very nice whites and reds.

Whitehall Lane 2006 Proprietary White: A blend of 62 percent sauvignon blanc and 38 percent semillon, this wine has a grapefruit nose and a honey, citrus and grapefruit flavor profile. Refreshing for a hot day.

Whitehall Lane 2005 Carneros Chardonnay: An oak and honey nose with crisp, green apple flavor notes.

Whitehall Lane 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon: This Bordeaux-style wine is chuck full of fresh fruit notes. There are tart plum skin and dark cherry flavors. A solid Napa Valley value compared to prices from other nearby vineyards.

Whitehall Lane 2006 Belmuscato: This dessert wine is made from 100 percent orange muscat grapes. There is a forward apricot essence with an interesting caramelized creme brulee aftertaste.

Whitehall Lane may not have the name and reputation of some of its neighbors along Route 29, but it is worth a stop on your tasting itinerary.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Marin Institute Wants to Ban Alcohol Ads on NYC Buses and Subways

The Marin Institute says it has come up with the magic bullet to end underage drinking in New York City: ban alcohol advertising on buses and subways.

Last week the neo-Prohibitionist group was in New York and mounted a city hall protest to try to get Metropolitan Transportation Authority policy changed. Less than 5 percent of advertising on buses and trains in the New York comes from beer, wine and spirits brands.

Marin Institute bomb throwers accused the MTA of promoting underage drinking.

The reality is that anyone living in the five boroughs is constantly hit by advertising messages on television, radio, newspapers, billboards, transit, Internet and other sources. Alcohol messages are just a fraction of what kids see. If the folks at the Marin Institute really wanted to solve the underage drinking problem they would support two things immediately:

1. Lowering the legal drinking age from 21 years old to 18 years old. If you can vote, legally sign contracts and join the military, you ought to be able to buy a beer. That would eliminate an entire class of disenfranchised adults who are treated like criminals for having a drink.

2. Support programs that encourage early education about the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, along with the dangers of over consumption. Give parents the tools they need to show kids how alcohol plays a positive roll in the enjoyment of food and in social settings. If you treat it like forbidden fruit, you encourage underage consumption.

The folks at the Marin Institute would never support these proposals because their real goal is to go back to the good old days of Prohibition.

Mike Grgich: The Judgment at Paris Legend

Every industry has people who have made innovations and through their skill and hard work changed how we look at products we use every day. One of the great things about writing about the drinks industry is that occasionally I will encounter one of these legends.

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, is an 84-year-old native of Croatia, who is responsible for really annoying the French back in 1976. Grgich came to America after fleeing Communist Yugoslavia and settled in Napa Valley to make wine. He worked at a couple of wineries before becoming the winemaker at Chateau Montelena. That is when a bit of magic would take place that elevated Grgich to cult status.

To mark the American Bicentennial in 1976, English wine merchant Steven Spurrier came up with idea to organize a blind tasting matching California cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays against French Bordeaux blends and chardonnays. It was more of a publicity stunt for Spurrier's business than anything and a chance to show if the Americans had managed to close the gap when compared to the great wines of Europe.

The deck was stacked against the Americans. The judges for the event were French winemakers and journalists. The tasting was held at the InterContinental Hotel in Paris. No one involved really gave the American wines much of a chance. Most had little respect for California vineyards.

In what can only be described as the American Wine Revolution, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was selected as the best white and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was selected as the best red in the tasting. The Americans had run the table. The event would become known the Judgment at Paris. The shock wave from that one tasting caused an instant leap in interest in California wines. Land values in Napa and Sonoma skyrocketed and the $100+ bottle of California wine has become almost common.

The event also propelled Grgich forward in his dream of having his own winery. In a partnership with Austin Hills, of Hills Brothers Coffee, and his sister Mary Lee Strebl, Grgich Hills Estate was born in Rutherford.

During our trip to California we stopped at Grgich Hills to have a glass of chardonnay and to try some of their other wines. Ken Morris, Communications and Marketing Manager for the winery, gave us a tour and ushered us into the tasting room. While we were going through the recent releases, Mike Grgich appeared to greet patrons arriving via the Napa Valley Wine Train. I managed to get a couple of moments with Grgich, get this photo snapped and ask him about what has made his wines consistently standout for 30 years.

Grgich talked about the importance of vineyard management and the hard work of his nephew, Ivo Jeramez, who manages the vineyards. Grgich sums it up when it comes to his prized vines: “We love the grapes.”

We tasted several of the Grgich Hills wines, including:

Grgich Hills 2005 Chardonnay: Smooth oak flavor base, solid acidity level. A very good wine by which to measure other California chardonnays.

Grgich Hills 2006 Fume Blanc: Fruit forward wine with hints of lemon and floral bouquets.

Grgich Hills 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine, which spent 21 months on French oak, has an inviting nose and plenty of plump blackberry flavor notes.

Grgich Hills 2004 Merlot: With grapes from 4 out of 5 of the vineyards owned by the estate, this is a smooth and inviting red. Hints of plum and black cherry.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Olives & Grapes at Pietra Santa

The Pietra Santa Winery dominates the Cienega Valley, which is about 25 miles inland from Monterey Bay. A Spanish mission-style winery building sits in the midst of a a 455-acre estate with grape vineyards and a grove of 5,000 imported Italian olive trees. The nearest towns are San Juan Bautista and Holister, Calif. Pietra Santa is one of only two wineries located in the Cienega Valley AVA.

We were invited to visit the winery as part of writers junket to see how olive oil is produced. We were the guests of the Blackburn family, which purchased the winery a couple of years ago. Winemaker Alessio Carni, who also is in charge of managing the estate olive oil business, hosted a tour of the vineyard, demonstrated the press and ran the group through an extensive tasting of the wines produced at Pietra Santa. The Blackburns, who have been farming almonds in California for many years, were gracious and friendly. It was interesting to pick the olives and see the manufacturing process, then go through a comparative tasting of various olive varietals.

The Pietra Santa Estate Extra Virgina Olive Oil is a blend of 59 percent Franoio, 11 percent Coratina, 24 percent Leccino and 5 percent Italian mix olives. The result is a fresh, somewhat fruity and creamy gourmet oil.

The vineyards at Pietra Santa were first planted ion the 1850s by Frenchman Theophile Vache. Carni, a native of Siena, Italy, has been in charge of the vineyard since 1998. “The limestone soil provides good drainage which helps our vines and we have the mountains and our valley that are perfect for grapes.” Carli says. “The key to great wine is letting the grapes show their true character.”

We sampled the complete Pietra Santa line during our visit, which included a lunch served inside the winery and a dinner at a 100-year-old home on the property. Here are some of the wine highlights from the visit:

Pietra Santa 2004 Sangiovese: Carli uses medium toast French oak barrels to produce a tannin-filled red that has Chianti-like characteristics.

Pietra Santa 2004 Dolcetto: Deep burgundy color, this dry red has ripe fruit and tobacco notes.

Pietra Santa 2005 Zinfandel: A rich deep wine. Medium-dry with cassis and leather notes.

Pietra Santa 2006 Gewurztraminer: Solid floral nose, good level of acidity and citrus flavor notes. Perhaps note as spicy as some gewurztraminers, but very refreshing.

Vache 2002 Pinot Noir: Deep purple from some whole berry fermentation, this wine was aged in French oak and has nice plum and pepper notes.

2003 Signature: A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabnet franc, this wine is spicy with a good amount of oak. Nice ripe blackberry notes. Will likely age well for several years.

Paul Newman Launches California Wine

Paul Newman stars in one of my favorite movies of all-time. The Sting? No, but that is admittedly a good flick. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Another nice movie, but no. The Hustler? Nope. The Color of Money? While he did win the best actor Oscar for this one (he was nominated for Oscars eight other times and received an Honorary Oscar the year before The Color of Money was eligible) it is not my favorite. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Not a chance. The Verdict? Please, you have to do better than that guess. Cool Hand Luke? Great movie, but it looks like we are having a failure to communicate.

I'm talking about a role that went largely unrecognized by the award show pundits (it did win the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Hochi Eiga Shou competition in Japan), but still has a loyal following 30 years later: Slap Shot. Newman has played enough iconic roles to fill a barroom, but the character I'd most like to meet in real life and buy a drink is Charlestown Chiefs Coach Reggie Dunlop.

While Reg Dunlop would likely order a beer or a Crown Royal, the real life Newman now has his own wine label. Newman’s Own 2006 California Chardonnay and Newman’s Own 2006 California Cabernet Sauvignon are scheduled to hit stores in 2008.

To launch the wine, Newman worked with the Rebel Wine Co., a collaboration of Three Thieves and Trinchero Family Estates. The wines, made from grapes sourced in the Central Coast appellation, will be priced at $16.

Since being introduced 25 years Newman's Own products have raised more than $200 million and distributed the funds to hundreds of charities. Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation donate all profits and royalties after taxes to educational and charitable purposes.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Few Days in Wine Country

It has been a busy time around Lyke2Drink. It's not an excuse for not publishing for a week, it's just my reality.

There were a couple of magazine deadlines in my freelance life and a strong level of client and new business activity around the office at my day job. All of that was sandwiched around a much needed vacation.

Vacation? Yup, but a busy one. There was my 47th birthday on Nov. 3rd, the 32nd anniversary of my first date with my wife, Sandy, on Nov. 2nd, and our 25th wedding anniversary on Nov. 5th. All of these milestones were celebrated during a wonderful trip to California. The good news is that the cross country journey included visits to more wineries than I can count in the Central Coast, Napa Valley and Sonoma appellations. Life is great when you can actually consider kicking back and celebrating to also be research.

Over the next few days I'll give you a full report on some of the places we visited and the wine we enjoyed. Grab a corkscrew.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Session #9: Beer and Music – The Message in a Bottle

Welcome to the ninth edition of Beer Blogging Friday. This edition of The Session is being hosted by Tomme Arthur at Brewer’s Log and focuses on the relationship between music and beer. Beer and Music – The Message in a Bottle is a topic should prove to generate quite a response.

One of the most popular of all entries on my blog was an entry from August 2006, Sitting on a Bar Stool: The Greatest Drinking Songs of All-Time which covered songs about beer, wines and spirits, plus general drinking songs. Music and drinking kind of just go together. I think it has much to do with the fact that both are leisure activities and help us escape for the daily grind. In both cases they can reconnect us to a place and time, link us to our heritage and give us a reason to smile.

That’s why my contribution to this edition of The Session is a ranking of what I consider to be the Top 10 beer drinking songs of all-time, along with a pairing of the beer that goes with the tune.

1. In Heaven There is No Beer – Polkaholics (Zywiec Lager)
2. Beer for My Horses -- Toby Keith & Willie Nelson (Shiner Bock)
3. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer – George Thorogood (Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale)
4. All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight – Hank Williams Jr. (Arcadia Cereal Killer Barleywine)
5. Beer in Mexico – Kenny Chesney (Tecate Lager)
6. There’s a Tear in My Beer – Hank Williams Sr. (Edmund Fitzgerald Porter)
7. Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer -- Hank Thompson (Pabst Blue Ribbon)
8. I Like Beer – Tom T. Hall (Rock Bottom Brown Bear Brown)
9. Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash (Avery The Reverend)
10. Saturday Night’s Alright – Elton John (Young’s Ram Rod)