An Office Celebration: We Drank Wine. Surprised?

This week was a bit of a treat. Instead of the usual one-or-two wines, our tasting included three varied wines: a Prosecco, a Port-style Zinfandel, and an Alsatian Riesling. What was the occasion? Does one need an occasion to celebrate life?

Port Sippers Wine Glass

Luna Argenta ProseccoWe started with the non-vintage Luna Argenta Prosecco, a prime example of its style. The color was a very pale straw, and the carbonation appeared to be fine if a bit aggressive. The nose was very aromatic, detectable from a yard away directly after its pour. Apple, citrus, and a light floral scent all cobbled together in a fairly standard bubbly scent. The flavors were a bit different, with pineapple, a bitter berry, and pear all making appearances. It was dry, and the flavor was weak when compared to the aroma. Still, not a disappointing sparkling, especially for one that usually sells for just over $10. This was the clear favorite in the tasting, as the bottle was drained soon after the tasting was over. Compare that to the last wine, which, among the nine of us usually eager wine-consumers, had a half of a bottle leftover that we used to clean our drains.

Evenus Port-Style ZinfandelA bit of a surprise was the 2006 Evenus Port-style Zinfandel. Hailing from Paso Robles in California for just under $10 at Trader Joe’s, this wine was a big change from the Prosecco. We decided to give our Porto Sippers a workout for this one, as we hadn’t had the opportunity in our tastings thus far. The Port sippers will direct and splash Port wine directly onto your tongue, resulting in a unique tasting experience that, admittedly, we hadn’t tried in quite a while. This certainly disappoint, highlighting the flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and baking spices in this wine. We also tried it with dark chocolate, and it paired sublimely.

2004 Kuentz Bas RieslingWe finished with the 2004 Kuentz Bas Alsatian Riesling.  The Riesling was by far (and surprisingly) the worst of the group. The aroma was that of spiced fruit and dark floral, but it seemed slightly spoiled. The flavor wasn’t much better, with orchard fruit and citrus tempered by a floral flavor, though the whole experience was marred by some rotten-sweet characteristic. The texture was lifeless, lame, and the finish was disappointingly short. I wrote and underlined FLACCID on the sheet. The balance was just awful, with no acid activity whatsoever. As the most anticipated wine in our line up, it was a complete let-down.

It was so bad that Ashley decided to see if she could improve its characteristics by drinking it from a coffee mug. Not surprisingly, her plot was foiled.

Wine from a Coffee Mug

A Friday Afternoon Indulgence and an Odd New Accessory

Ken Forrester Pinotage and the Moltes GewurztraminerThe tasting this week was a study in contrast: the whimsical, airy notions suggested by an Alsatian Gewurztraminer and the dirty, heavy-handed character of a South African Pinotage. The Gewurz, a 2008 from Moltes, is a $15.00 gem from Alsace, the eastern-most region of France that borders north of Switzerland and west of Germany. The Pinotage, a 2009 Ken Forrester wine from the Stellenbosch valley in southwestern South Africa, offers a hybrid grape from a terroir nearly 6000 miles away from the cradle of its ancestors in Languedoc and Burgundy.

The Gewurztraminer came highly recommended by Jen, the manager of the Hillsborough Wine Company, one of my favorite local spots to get my wine. I was initially dazzled by the depth of the wine,  with golds and yellows and greens all swirling about depending on where the light caught. The nose was fairly typical for a Gewurztraminer, with floral, tropical, and very slightly grape-y scents. The flavors, though, were unexpectedly complex. Orange zest, lavender, passion fruit, pineapple, and, again, a light grape make an appearance on the palate, with the pineapple overtaking on the finish.

I’m not a Gewurztraminer fan, but when they’re done right, whoo boy, they don’t disappoint.

The Pinotage was received much more coolly. I can definitely understand the lack of enthusiasm; it was simply too young. We gave it a pass through this Menu decanting system, designed to decant and aerate the wine then pour back into the bottle. Maybe we can’t age it in a hurry, but ideally we can at least let it open up to its potential.

What we got from this wine was a consensus of wrong wine, wrong time. This was a very smoky, very sour, albeit very smooth, experience, with aggressive tannins and a heavy-handed flavor. We found it very savory, making it an ideal pairing for barbecue ribs, something that will take the edge off the smoky flavor and allow the red fruits to shine through. The nose gave us a suggestion of what the flavor could become, with a bright cherry shining through the meatiness. Because I neglected to bring in some food for the tasting, however, the world may never know.

At least the Menu decanter was a rousing success. A good, even cascade, solid seal that held a 750ml bottle firmly in place, and a gasket that didn’t spill a single drop while pouring either into the bottle or out. Though one might question the wisdom of decanting a bottle then refilling it, at least from an aesthetic point, the convenience of pouring from a bottle rather than a decanter cannot be overstated.

What do you think? Is this product’s feature a solid idea or merely a gimmick? Would you rather be serving a decanted wine from a decanter, or is the bottle the preferred vessel for when you’re entertaining?

A Case Study on Quality to Price Ratio in Wine and Beer

The Background:

In social media, there’s a term that’s bandied about almost as often as the word “guru”: ROI, or Return On Investment. What are you getting for your time and effort? How are you converting your man-hours to sales or action? How many people are seeing your tweets, reading your posts, or watching your videos, then going out and doing what you expect of them? It’s one of those objective/subjective metrics, as one man’s value is another man’s excess.

In wine, there is a similar metric known as QPR, or Quality to Price Ratio. It’s a helpful thing to have in mind when considering which wines to buy. For a local example, there are two wineries that stand on opposite ends of the price spectrum (as far as North Carolina wines are concerned, at least): Cellar 4201 and Childress Vineyards.

Cellar 4201 charges a maximum of $14 per bottle, delivering an above-average experience on every wine. Their QPR is high.

Childress charges around $10 to $15 for their varietal wines and upwards of $40 for their signature wines. The QPR varies greatly depending on the wine and the price; for example, their Cabernet Franc varietal wine is worth a lot more than the $15 price tag while some of their signature wines may not impress at $40 or even $30.

With this in mind, I want to attempt to put QPR in perspective with a few wines and beers that I have in my collection at home.

The players:

Bud Light bottleBacchus Belgian SourEspiral Vinho Verde 2009Andre Lorentz Alsace Riesling 2003Chateau O'Brien Late Harvest Tannat 2007

Bud Light: $1.00 for a 12oz bottle (roughly $6 for a six pack) – We all know Bud Light. They have those funny commercials that never seem to make the beer taste any better.

New Belgium Mothership Wit: $1.50 for a 12oz bottle (roughly $9.00 for a six pack) – New Belgium is on the middle tier of craft beer; while not priced at the pinnacle of craft beer, they deliver good value compared to their competition at under $10.00 for a six pack, and they embrace organic brewing practices.

Delirium Tremens: $4.50 for an 11.2oz bottle (roughly $18.00 for a four pack) – You’re getting into the high end of craft beers available to the common consumer with Delirium Tremens (see my review of Delirium Tremens from earlier this week for specifics). You can get a four pack for just under 20 bucks, but, really, there aren’t too many people out there who’d need four of these guys in one sitting. That’d be like pounding two bottles of wine.

Bacchus: $11.00 for a 12.7oz bottle – With Bacchus, a sour ale painstakingly brewed and aged in a Belgian castle, you’re getting into the realm of beer that most people don’t know and don’t care to invest in. If you’re ever lucky enough to sample a sour ale, it’s a unique experience, though an acquired taste, and like the finest wine, it really requires an appreciation beyond the average consumer to justify the price.

Espiral 2009 Vinho Verde: $4.00 for a 750ml bottle – Most Trader Joe’s fans swear by their wine. You consistently get drinkable, flavorful wines at rock-bottom prices with an easy-to-browse, fairly varied selection. The Vinho Verde offers a lightly carbonated, very dry thrill that at least approximates the traditional Vinho Verde experience at a ridiculously low price.

André Lorentz 2003 Riesling: $11.00 for a 750ml bottle – The Rieslings of Alsace are notable for their embrace of the terroir, turning in a varietal wine experience that simply cannot be matched by other regions (except perhaps the northern vineyards of Germany). André Lorentz offers a basic Riesling in these regards that is comparatively affordable and a good value.

Chateau de Monthelie 2006 1er Cru Burgundy: $40.00 for a 750ml bottle – Coming from a good but not great 2006 vintage in Burgundy, the Chateau de Monthelie 1er Cru is a step below the Grand Cru, still recognized as being part of the top 15% of wine produced in the region. $40.00 is a fair price for what generally is a high-quality, mostly consistent experience.

Chateau O’Brien 2007 Late Harvest Tannat: $70.00 for a 750ml bottle – Pressed from a grape that was cast aside for its inability to properly mature in France, Tannat varietal wines have found a resurgence in the terroirs of Uruguay and Virginia, making them a rarity in the wine world. A late harvest Tannat wine is even harder to find, justifying the $70.00 price tag for what is ostensibly a high-quality unique dessert wine experience.

The Challenge:

To put these prices in perspective, consider the following decisions should you find yourself in a wine and beer shop with a given amount of cash:

If you had $12, would you rather have a single bottle of Bacchus, a bottle of the André Lorentz, a six pack of the Mothership Wit, or a half a case of Bud Light?

If you had $70, would you rather have a single bottle of Late Harvest Tannat, 6 bottles of the André Lorentz, or 70 bottles of Bud Light?

If you had $40, would you rather have a bottle of Burgundy 1er Cru, 10 bottles of Vinho Verde, or 40 bottles of Bud Light?

If you had $4, would you rather have a bottle of Vinho Verde, a bottle of Delirium Tremens, or 4 bottles of Bud Light?

There’s no right or wrong answer here… sometimes you want share a single high quality bottle in an intimate setting; other times, you want to furnish enough alcohol for a 12 person tailgate. If you’re doing the latter, investing in premier crus is a bad idea.

What do you think? What makes a good wine investment in your eye? Would you ever spend $70 on a single bottle of wine when you could get six of another?

A Man’s First Love with Belgian Ale: Delirium Tremens

The Back Story:

Delirium Tremens Pour at Wine(Explored)

Delirium Tremens, the family-brewed 500 pound gorilla in the world of Belgian Ale

If you’ve been following my beer reviews for any length of time, you’ll know that I have two great loves in my beer life: India Pale Ales and Belgian Ales. For the latter, I came into this infatuation a little over a year ago, experiencing my first great Belgian Ale at a local bar called Milltown in Carrboro. Though, right now they’re on my s#!& list for removing the Duchesse de Bourgogne (a Flemish Red staple) from their menu, they’re still the best place to get upper-end craft beer in the Triangle.

At least, they are since Hookah Bliss was closed by the new North Carolina tobacco ban. </bitter>

A reasonably-priced bar is a fantastic place to experiment with new beers and wines, and if you give this guy the opportunity, he’ll make sure to sample as many new beverages as possible while still being able to stay upright. This is dangerous in a bar with a tome-sized beer and wine list, by the way.

As for the beer? The Huyghe Brewery might be accused of insensitivity because of the name of their beer; delerium tremens is a medical term for severe alcohol withdrawal in which a patient who had previously consumed several pints of beer, or roughly a pint of hard liquor, a day for months begins experiencing a mental and physical meltdown (what alcoholics refer to as the DTs).

Symptoms include an enormous variety of mental disorders, from insomnia, stupor, mental fatigue, or mood swings to delirium, hallucinations, and phobia. Physical symptoms include fever, jumpiness, heart palpitations, seizures, and vomiting.

Sounds like a trip, right?

So of course, this family-owned brewery decided that this would be the perfect name for a high abv beer. The label is adorned with pink elephants, that mainstay of alcoholic lore that found its way into children’s cartoons back in the 50s and 60s, as well as other fantastical creatures one might see in a fear-induced hallucination. The bottle, an opaque stoneware style, makes everything come together in a package that’s just slightly off… obviously, off-kilter is the theme for this beer named after a mental disorder.

The Results:

Delirium Tremens Translucency

A better look at the translucency of Delirium Tremens (with Sunday Night Football in the background)

The appearance of the beer is a very light yellowish-amber. Carbonation is medium-fine and very active. Head retention is fantastic, offering a milky-white head just stable enough to trap flavors and aromas for several minutes without being a syrupy, frothy mess.

The nose of the beer is very light and hoppy, slightly nutty, with a bright, fruity scent of orchard fruits and tangerines. Very aromatic and full scent.

The mouth feel of the beer is very full, very smooth, with a very subtle carbonation and a slightly astringent quality.

The flavor of the beer has a jam-like sweetness and grassiness, an influence of very subtle malts. The flavor is a bit medicinal, with a green-apple-like component and a slight orange hoppiness. The medicinal flavors give way to a metallic tinge that becomes more metallic towards the finish, which is lightly grainy. The alcohol, at 8.5%, is essentially undetectable (in the flavor, not in the head… I finished this one glass and I was all sorts of buzzed).

For the Casual Drinker:

There’s nothing casual about this beer. It packs a phenomenal flavor into a beer that doesn’t look all that dissimilar from your Bud Lights and Miller Lites of the world. It’s not off-putting, however, as it offers very wine-like purity of flavor intermingled with the typical desirable beer qualities. It’s all a matter of investment at this point… do you feel that it’s worth $4.50 for an 11.2 oz bottle (and much more out at the bar)? Also, make sure you understand this beer packs a punch, at 8.5% abv. I’d also recommend pouring it into a tulip-shaped glass if available; a wine glass will do in a pinch, though a traditional Belgian ale glass would be ideal.

The Conclusion:

The price of a 4-pack, $17.99, puts this in the upper echelon of wide-spread craft beers, and it’s a good thing that the beer delivers. This is fine example of a Belgian Ale, and it’ll definitely be worth the occasional treat. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Delirium Tremens

Producer: Huyghe Brewery

Region: Melle, Flanders, Belgium

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 8.5%

Price: $4.50 for 11.2oz

Purchased at: Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough, NC

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