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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pennsylvania ponders wine vending machines

Things Go Better with Wine!Pennsylvania is one of those states that controls the distribution of alcoholic beverages by operating state-run stores, so one wouldn't really expect it to be a hotbed of wine-distribution innovation.

However, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is looking into the possibility of operating wine-dispensing kiosks at up to 100 locations around the state, and is soliciting bids from contractors to operate them. The machines would hold about 500 bottles, and dispense a dozen different selections. Users would have to register to make purchases with the machines, which would take credit, debit or PLCB gift cards. The kiosks would incorporate security identification measures such as fingerprints or biometric readings.
J. Silverheels Gray, 9:04 AM | link | 0 comments |

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dobermans, wine characteristics, and a new staff member

HobbesRecently Tom Wark posted a piece on Fermentation titled On Dogs, Wine & God that compares wine characteristics to the traits that are bred into dogs. Quoting one of his commenters, wine blogger Arthur Z Przebinda of Redwinebuzz, Tom says: "What makes a Doberman a classic example of the breed? The way it best displays the traits and characteristics that define the breed," then goes on to point out that over time dog breeders have bred out or in certain characteristics based on evolving breed standards, that the same thing has happened with wine, and that's perfectly OK.

The Doberman is a perfect example, since the Dobes of today are bred to be companions more than the protector that German tax collector Louis Dobermann created in the late 1800s. Today's Dobes are bred to retain all the qualities Herr Dobermann was after — intelligence, power, speed, and ease of mainenance — but with a more tractable temperament suitable for a family dog. Similarly, some wines that were previously unapproachable or challenging have been changed so that they can be enjoyed by a larger segment of the population. In each case, there are curmudgeonly traditionalists and those who embrace the new style, and their viewpoints are equally valid.

This seems like a good way to segue into an introduction to our newest staff member here at WineCanine, a 10-month-old Doberman named Hobbes. Hobbes came to us through Southwestern Ohio Doberman Rescue, which had him in a foster home in Louisville, Kentucky. Hobbes was named Sirius by SWODR and apparently had been called Buster at one time, judging by the name on the leash that he came with. We had originally gone down to meet a red Dobe named Calvin, who, with his long tail and natural ears, looked quite a bit like our Red, who passed on in late March. Calvin was nice, but this young, fawn-colored fella turned out to be a Weim lover. So, we went down to look at Calvin, but ended up with Hobbes.

Hobbes has been very interested in learning about everything in the kitchen, so after a brief training period he will assume the position of WineCanine's official ChowHound.
J. Silverheels Gray, 10:57 AM | link | 1 comments |

Monday, April 21, 2008

A visit to Bern’s Steakhouse

1910 MadeiraI'd heard about Bern’s Steakhouse from a few people, so when I was in St. Petersburg last week I made it a point to go across the bridge to Tampa and try the place out. Here's the executive summary: If you're a wine enthusiast, you should definitely give the place a try.

"Over the top" is the phrase that kept coming to mind, from the decor (which I've heard described more than once as "19th century New Orleans brothel"), to the management of their food sources, to the 172-page wine list. Bern's boasts an impressive collection of awards from the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and other magazines, and it's easy to see why.

The restaurant started in 1954 in one small space in a strip mall. As the steakhouse became more and more successful it took over all the other spaces in the mall, and the original location is now just one of several dining rooms. A second story was also added, as well as a huge kitchen space.

After dinner (I'll get to that in a moment), diners have the option of touring the kitchen and wine cellar, and if you're a wine or food geek you should definitely do that. If you do, you'll see the computerized command center; the humongous charcoal grill that can accommodate up to 200 steaks at once; the areas where they bake their own bread; their onion ring production system; and where they raise the sprouts that they put on their salads (from seeds imported from England). At the top of the stairs to the wine cellar is the wines by the glass station, where one busy bartender pours from a selection of around 150 different wines.

Then it's down into the cellar, which isn't fancy but is nonetheless impressive. There are about 100,000 bottles down there and 8,600 different selections, ranging in price from about $20 to $10,000 and in age from centuries-old vintages to quite recent. Bern's backup inventory, which totals somewhere around 500,000, is stored in three different nearby warehouses.

My two dinner companions had mostly gone along to humor me, so I ended up ordering a Martini (regular Bombay Gin, straight up with olives and three drops of vermouth from the eyedropper our waiter carried) and two reds from the by-the-glass list. I chose a Père Anselme Crozes-Hermitage 1978 ($6.50) and a l’Aventure Optimus 2005 ($16.50) to accompany my aged, one-inch-thick Porterhouse, and both wines, while very different, were quite good. The ’78 was medium-bodied and had plenty of fruit still, but paled in comparison to the Optimus, which was huge, rich and satisfying, and an excellent match for the steak. I spent a good, long time with my nose in the glass, inhaling its wonderful bouquet.

I wish I could say that I was as blown away by the food as I was by the Optimus, but it was just a steak. There wasn't anything wrong with it, but it wasn't exceptional, either; I can make a better one at home. Still, it was a very nice meal, and not outrageously priced — my steak was $52.48, and came with French onion soup, a salad, baked potato, onion rings and a medley of vegetables raised at Bern's own organic farm. We didn't have dessert, but if we had we would have gone upstairs to the Harry Waugh Room to select from 39 different desserts and who knows how many dessert wines and after-dinner drinks.

Would I go again? You bet I would, and I'd recommend the experience to any wine lover. Just go with the expectation that wine is the star and food is the accompaniment, rather than the other way around.
J. Silverheels Gray, 10:57 AM | link | 0 comments |

Friday, April 18, 2008

Diageo reveling in its Hillary moment

Crown RoyalBeverage giant Diageo is enjoying the burst of free publicity that its Crown Royal whiskey got when the campaigning Hillary Clinton downed a shot of it in an Indiana bar.

Not one to miss an opportunity, Diageo is using the incident to promote one of its smaller brands, Jeremiah Weed Bourbon Liqueur by sending bottles of the sweet, 100-proof beverage — reportedly a favorite of fighter pilots — to the three major presidential campaigns.

While Crown Royal hails from Canada, Jeremiah Weed is at least made in the United States, in Connecticut. (So it's not really Bourbon — ask any Kentuckian.) It's not likely to happen, but it's fun to speculate about what would happen if Hillary's beer-and-a-bump, just-folks strategy catches on. Nothing breaks the ice like a little Tequila followed by jello shots....
J. Silverheels Gray, 9:27 AM | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Australian drought doubles price of rice

RiceThose who pay attention to the world of wine already were bemoaning the fact that the drought in Australia is forcing up the price of grapes, but today's New York Times features a story about a crop that has been even more dramatically affected: Rice.

Australia's rice production has dropped by a staggering 98 percent, and the largest rice processing mill in the southern hemisphere has been mothballed as a result. This has caused the price of rice — a staple food in much of the world — to double during the last three months. Higher prices are in turn causing food riots in some of the world's poorer countries.

While there hasn't been much rain in southeastern Australia for the past six years, there has still been enough water to grow less water-intensive crops, such as wheat and wine grapes. And there's a considerable economic incentive to switch to grapes, too — even at the new, higher price for rice, wine grapes produce a pretax profit of close to $2,000 an acre as opposed to around $240 an acre for rice.
J. Silverheels Gray, 8:18 AM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, April 14, 2008

Baby Roogle Red 2006

Roogle RedAs far as critter labels go, you've got to hand it to Marquis Philips. They've managed to make an icon out of a non-existent creature (I've never seen one, anyway), the Roogle, and somehow make it even more believable by putting an illustration of one in its juvenal phase on their bottles of Roogle Red 2006.

The Roogle, which symbolizes the Australian-American partnership behind the Marquis Philips line, is a formidable beast — half kangaroo, half eagle — and is a fitting mascot for the S2 Cabernet, Shiraz 9, Sarah's Blend, the other wines on whose labels it appears. And judging by the Roogle Red, they're big and powerful even when they're young.

Roogle Red is a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which has been aged in oak for a year. It's very dark in color, huge in body, and oaky and plummy in flavor. It has a little heat straight out of the bottle — related, perhaps, to the 15 percent alcohol content — but that moderates quickly (or maybe you just don't care anymore) and the wine becomes a real pleasure to drink.

Roogle Red is about $10 a bottle, which makes it a great candidate for quaffing on the deck with friends, washing down cheeseburgers, or just having a couple of relaxing glasses in the evening. Hooray for ornithosupials!
J. Silverheels Gray, 8:32 PM | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Allegrini opts for better wine over DOC rules

AllegriniAllegrini has opted to pull out of the Valpolicella Classico denomination because the DOC will not allow Classico wines to be bottled with screwcaps. The estate's Valpolicella Classico will now be known simply as Valpolicella.

"We have been waiting for the regulations in Valpolicella Classico to be amended so that we could use screwcaps on this wine," winemaker Franco Allegrini told Decanter magazine, "but they haven't, so we have decided to pull out of Classico. The closure is more important to us than the denomination."

Allegrini has a history of being more interested in producing good wine than in following rules. The winery's excellent Palazzo della Torre is made using a variation of the ripasso method rather than the traditional one, at the expense of not being eligible for a more prestigious designation.
J. Silverheels Gray, 11:18 AM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, April 07, 2008

Brick Street Inn’s Lobby Lounge to open April 8

The Lobby LoungeAfter a lengthy remodeling, the Brick Street Inn in Zionsville is opening its Lobby Lounge tomorrow in the spaces formerly occupied by a café and gift shop. With hours from 3 p.m. - 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and 3 p.m. ’til midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, the lounge will offer tapas, desserts, cocktails, microbrews, and if what I've heard is accurate, an extensive by-the-glass wine selection.

The Lobby Lounge will also incorporate the tables in the Brick Street Inn's front yard, which is without a doubt the most pleasant place to sit and watch the activity on Main Street. And just in time for warm weather, too!
J. Silverheels Gray, 9:56 AM | link | 0 comments |

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Brother, can you spare a wine?

TormarescaFed Chairman Ben Beranke finally uttered the R-word, unemployment is at its highest level since 2003, the dollar is at par with the Loonie, and home values have tumbled as much as 20 percent in some areas. And, as anyone who eats regularly has probably noticed, food prices are on the rise — due, in part to increased motor fuel costs.

As consumers adjust their spending, some changes will occur in the wine industry. For one thing, some of the wines that normally only appear on restaurant wine lists will hit the shelves in retail stores, as people cut back on eating out. And high-production domestic wine producers like Bogle, Franzia (maker of the Charles Shaw brand) and Columbia Crest will win more business as the weak dollar forces up the price of imports.

But here's a bright spot: There will be bargains to be had as distributors wheel and deal to improve cash flow by unloading products that are moving slowly.

Just such a bargain is the Tormaresca Negroamaro-Cabernet 2005, an 87-point wine that is being closed out at Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville for $3.99 per bottle. (It hasn't been advertised yet, so WineCanine readers have a couple of days to stock up before it sells out next week.)

This is a really decent everyday drinker, perfect for pizza, burgers or red-sauce pasta dishes. Those with an appreciation for old-world wines will take to it more easily, but after decanting the nose moderates, the tannins mellow, the the rich, plummy fruit comes to the fore. (I left half a bottle uncorked for 24 hours, and was pleasantly surprised.) A case or two should fill out the wine rack nicely....
J. Silverheels Gray, 8:44 AM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Riedel introduces new OMG collection

Riedel OMGFollowing the success of its innovative, stemless O and Tyrol collections, Riedel Crystal has introduced the supersized OMG line of stemless wine glasses.

Similar to the O in shape but much larger in size, the OMG comfortably accommodates an entire 750 ml bottle of wine, with plenty of room left over for sniffing and swirling. In the publicity photo that accompanies this post, the OMG Bordeaux is shown holding its intended 750 ml payload, while the (from left) O, Overture, Vinum and Tyrol each contains 187.5 ml.)

Designer Maximilian Riedel introduced the new line at a press conference in England, where larger glasses — like those made by his family's company — have been blamed for that country's binge drinking problem, along with bottle sizes and the higher alcohol content of modern wines. "If you're only going to allow yourself one glass of wine a day, this is the glass you'll be wanting," Riedel said. "And if your government gives you any grief about buying one, just say it's a vase for your flowers."

The Department of Health took a dim view of the new glasses. "We are not amused," said Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister. "Anyone who uses these glasses will certainly be imbibing more than the suggested limit of 3 to 4 units per day." A unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol. A 187.5 ml serving of wine with a 13 percent alcohol content is equivalent to approximately 2.5 units.

Reaction to the OMG was more positive in the United States, where it is more easly understood and accepted. "All right, it's super-sized!" was the typical comment of American consumers who were exposed to Riedel's new line. The first restaurant to lay in a stock of the new glasses is Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Penn., which is famous for its 6-lb. cheeseburgers.

The retail price of the OMG series, which will include shape-specific glasses for Chardonnay / Viogner, Shiraz / Syrah, Cabernet / Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Single Malt Scotch, is $49.95 each.
J. Silverheels Gray, 12:01 AM | link | 0 comments |