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SavorEachGlass Blog

It's Not California Wine if it's Not Breaking the Rules

Written on Friday at 03:59PM by Tynan Szvetecz

Whether the result of the manifest destiny archetype that seems to be burned into their collective minds or the sheer primal urge to make things bigger, Americans have a unique and peculiar logic that permeates through everything they do: Why drive a Geo when you can drive a Ford F-350? Nowhere in the wine industry is this sentiment causing more controversy than in the heart of California wine growing country, where wines are clocking in at 16% alcohol by volume or higher. In an international market place where wines rarely break 13%, the California-sparked trend towards higher alcohol in wine is upsetting the foundation of wine traditionalists.

On the surface it doesn't seem like such a big deal, but when you consider that a 15% alcohol by volume wine has 25% more alcohol in it than one labeled 12%, it puts the debate in perspective. If people want to get inebriated, after all, they can always move on to vodka, scotch or everclear. A wine brought to the dinner table at that level will go to the head noticeably faster than what many people are used to.

However, it's important to realize that the producers making these high-octane wines are typically smaller vineyards interested in a high-quality product. Sure, the alcohol is higher, which means there was more sugar when the grape was picked, but the acid in the grape and the grape skin also have time to mature to offset that high alcohol. The California producers releasing these wines are determined to make sure they remain balanced, so they cultivate the acidity and the tannin to match the alcohol. As a result, many of these wines are $25 or more, and it's not rare to see them priced at $100 a bottle.

For the most part, the producers claim that they are merely falling in line with the nature of the California climate, which is hot and can support a long growing season. Opponents are concerned that the wine will overwhelm food and will lose its elegance. Whether you personally prefer the soft and subtle elegance of a Burgundy that clocks in at 12.5% or the driving boldness of a 16% blended red, surely you can appreciate that in this world, it takes all kinds, and aren't we better off with more options?

The Reverend's Soap Box

Where the Health Benefits of Wine Tip to Health Risks

Written on Friday at 03:58PM by Tynan Szvetecz

Okay, the cat's out of the bag: wine is good for you. With 5th century Italian monks as inspiration and double blind clinical studies as proof, modern medicine has accepted that the benefits to drinking a moderate amount of wine on a regular basis far outweigh any that could result from not engaging in the practice. The key to this life-giving scenario, as recently pointed out by a group of Australian researchers, is moderation.

Their efforts were targeted at understanding the relationship between the beneficial antioxidants in red wine and the blood-pressure increasing properties of alcohol. There was a hope that the good stuff in wine would offset alcohol's tendency to raise blood pressure. The study was conducted on 24 healthy, non-smoking males who did not intake any alcohol intake for several months prior to the study. Half the group was given beer on a daily basis and the other half was given wine. The result was that daily wine drinking raised systolic blood pressure nearly as much as beer.

The implication is that if more than two glasses of wine are taken in daily, men at risk of hypertension and men with hypertension will tip the health benefits of wine to a health risk. Two glasses daily is the optimum sweet spot for those interested in achieving the maximum benefit for the heart. At this level, people can still benefit from the HDL (good) cholesterol-raising effect and anti-coagulant properties of alcohol.

Cheers to that!

The Reverend's Soap Box

Award Winning Wines That Actually Won Something

Written on Friday at 03:56PM by Tynan Szvetecz

Australian wine fans may have noted over the last several years that some of the gold, silver and bronze stickers that adorn an Aussie wine label brag about awards that seem at best bizarre and at worst totally suspect. Finding a wine that was a gold medal winner at Grandma Nicky's Barbeque, for example, might not carry with it the prestige you had hoped. In order to combat the recent explosion in obscure wine awards running rampant through the Australian marketing industry, The Winemakers Federation of Australia has decided to self-regulate. From here on out, vintage gold, silver and bronze discs would be allowed only on wine which received an award at an open, objective and independent competition.

The current wine boom is not unlike past booms (the 90's coffee boom, the recent cigar boom) in that there are just as many shady marketing gimmicks that enter the playing field as there are legitimate high-class producers selling a great product for a cheaper price. Consumers have access to more great wine than ever before, but they also have to sift through more to get to those wines.

At least now we don't have to worry about being distracted by the gold medal winners from Aunt Ida's Dinner Party.

The Reverend's Soap Box

The Beauty and the Beast of Wine Blogs

Written on Friday at 03:55PM by Tynan Szvetecz

Wine bloggers, like technology bloggers, are relishing in the fact that they are posting in a time unlike any other. The wine industry is exploding all over the world and the benefits cannot be overstated. One of the keystones of this phenomenon is that more great wines are available at prices that can actually match the el-cheapo brands like Yellow Tail and others. Of course, because operations like Yellow Tail have access to loads of marketing capital, they will be the bottles the average consumer reaches for.

Wine bloggers are feeling empowered to change this phenomenon by offering features like tasting notes, reviews and cyber tastings. As these things spread through the net in the form of RSS feeds and blog watches, they can serve as the underground marketing fire needed to introduce consumers to wine that may be more complex and enjoyable than many of the name brands.

The thinking is: Hell - if the blogosphere can lead to the firing of major corporate executives, surely it can enlighten people to buy better wine. While this is certainly a fulfilling quest for the average wine blogger, is it not at best elitist and at worst intimidating to suggest there are wines consumers should enjoy? When I hold a wine tasting the first thing I do is make sure everyone in the room speaks their mind - giving the wine a personal score from 0-100. If there's one thing that is absolutely a given at each tasting, it's that everybody rates the wine differently.

The beauty of the wine revolution, it seems to me, is that wine is losing that perception of righteousness and snobbery that has accompanied it, especially in the United States, for hundreds of years. If someone wants to rate Yellow Tail a 95, I'm not going to tell them their wrong or deluded by mass marketing gimmicks. If that's the wine they want to reach for when they shop, that's great! The point is that they are enjoying their wine. As bloggers, the best we can do is to introduce new wine to people that might not otherwise find it. Let them decide if it fits the bill.

It's important for us all to remember that the 100 point scale is totally absurd as an objective model, and that a mass produced wine overblown with fruit and oak can be enjoyed just as much in one person's hands as a delicate, silky, mind-bogglingly complex Burgundy in the hands of another. And isn't that, after all, the point?

The Reverend's Soap Box

Celebrating Blue Teeth, John Wayne Style

Written on Friday at 03:54PM by Tynan Szvetecz
In the vast and diverse world of wine making, it's difficult to find a grape that is quintessentially American. There are native North American varieties after all, but none that have made their way into any prominent role in modern wine growing. That's one of the reasons why Petit Sirah has developed such a cult following in the United States.

Not to be confused with Syrah, recent DNA tests have been able to trace this Californian hybrid back to the 1880's when it was imported from France, thought to originally be called Durif. Durif is a likely cross between Peloursin and Syrah grapes.

Originally, Petit Sirah was probably named so because its grapes had similar characteristics to Syrah in that both can be massive, rich and rustic wines. As one might guess they were probably also petite, and smaller grapes are generally favored by wine makers because they have a higher skin to juice ratio. A great deal of the tannin, flavor and subtle aromas in red wine come from the skin, so during wine growing and cultivation smaller grapes are generally prized higher than larger ones.

Today, there is an interesting underground infatuation with the grape, not only because the Americans have renamed it, re-bred it and called it their own, but also because its complexities can be enthralling. Some have gone so far as to nick name it P.S. I love You and refer to it as the John Wayne of grapes.

If you are interested in truly experiencing the grape in its most prized habitat, checkout the Blue Tooth Tour ( currently moving through the country. Named after the unavoidable blue color the grape imparts to the teeth and lips, the festival showcases the very best in California Petit Sirah.

The Reverend's Soap Box