Thursday, March 02, 2006

Migration

If you've ended up here, please note this is the last post in the blog at the Blogger.com site. I've had to move over to TypePad, so you should update your RSS feeds and bookmarks. Check out the new location at http://winefornewbies.typepad.com/. See you there!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Moving around

Blogger has been a good home for this blog for a while, but with the increased popularity and stuff, I've decided to migrate to TypePad. So, if this site looks kind of funny, it might be because I'm exporting and importing the posts. The trouble is not in your set, and everything should return to normal shortly. I hope.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Shows 18 and 19 are up!

Show 18 deals with Italian white wines, and Show 19 offers some guidance on wineries that produce consistently good results at all price points. Both episodes are waiting for you at the iTunes Music Store. Finally, I can take the lid off of the advertising sponsor: it's HBO, and they are advertising a new dramatic series, Big Love, which will premiere on March 12 immediately following The Sopranos (which has its season premiere that evening). Big Love follows the life of a polygamist and his three wives, their seven kids and three new houses. It stars Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin and Harry Dean Stanton. That's quite a cast, and it ought to be...interesting. Whether this will be the next Sopranos or Six Feet Under remains to be seen, but it's hard to disagree with the idea that this is a very unusual idea for a television show. I'm really excited to pick up a sponsor like HBO, even though the show has nothing to do with wine. I see it as a vote of confidence in this podcast. If you could, if the Big Love ad is finally running on the right sidebar, please click through just so the ad agency and HBO have reason to believe they made a good decision to select Wine for Newbies as one of the twenty or thirty podcasts to participate in this advertising campaign. And even though it's really off topic, if the show sounds interesting, you may wish to read Jon Krakauer's book "Underneath the Banner of Heaven." Although the book deals mostly with a horrible murder that took place in a Mormon family, it does a very good job of telling the historical story of Mormonism and its struggles with polygamy. (Krakauer wrote another excellent book, "Into Thin Air," about a disastrous climb up Mt. Everest.) Thanks to everyone for their continued support. I hope you enjoy the two new episodes, and if the advertising bothers you, don't worry--this is only a two week campaign, so next weekend's episodes will have another ad from HBO for Big Love, and then that's it. Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

We've passed 200! (And other stuff)

Our listener mapp at Frappr.com has done really well, and we now have over 200 members. Woo hoo! It's fascinating to me as the podcaster to see where all of you call home. If you look at the map, we're obviously dominated by listeners in the U.S., but I'm really impressed by the number of listeners from Asia and Latin America. And we even have a handful of listeners from Down Under and in Scandinavia. I've been able to access some data tracking the downloads of the podcast episodes, and it's mind-boggling. Since we started tracking this information earlier in February, almost 18,000 episodes have been downloaded. That's amazing! And the trend shows more and more listeners joining us every day. To all of you who are spreading the word, I offer my sincerest thanks. If you haven't put your pin on our listener map, please do so. The data suggests that the podcast has roughly 1,000 subscribers, so only about 20% of them have joined the party, so many of you all haven't. Think of it as the price you pay for the podcast. :-) I'm at work on at least one new podcast, if not two. They won't be published until Sunday evening on the 26th since that's when the ad campaign starts off, and I need to wait until then. But, to tempt you to check for the new episodes tomorrow evening, I can offer you two words: Italian whites. I hope it sounds good! Finally, thanks for your support for the advertising idea. One person suggested doing an enhanced AAC podcast with the ads as chapters, but I'm lucky to figure out how to get the RSS/XML feed to work. I would like to get into some enhanced podcasts, but there's a bit of a learning curve there. Have a great day and enjoy some wine this weekend!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Decision on advertising

After participating in a conference call yesterday evening, I've decided to go ahead with the advertisement. I think it will not be intrusive, and while the product being advertised has little, if anything, to do with wine, I think it may be of interest to listeners anyway. Plus, the advertiser is a huge brand name that carries instant recognition in the US market, and I think it will help draw more people to the podcast--not because the advertiser is going to boast about the podcasts it uses, but because the ad agency will do some publicity. All in all, it's an experiment for everyone, and when you're one of about 20 to 25 podcasts out of the thousands that will be sponsored by a media giant, it's hard to pass up the opportunity. Plus, I think having a sponsor gives the podcast a bit more "legitimacy" in the media, which can bring more listeners, which can bring more advertisers, which can generate cash to improve the show and cover any costs of expansion. So here's how it's going to work. Within the first 90 seconds or so of each episode, I'll have a 15-second "This episode is brought to you by..." and then a slightly longer version at the end of the podcast, maybe 20 to 30 seconds. There will also be a banner ad on the web site, and that's it. As I said, it's not intrusive, and although this product has nothing to do with wine ("product" isn't quite the right word, since it's actually a television show), I may see in what ways, if any, I can draw a link between wine and this television show and blog about it. In the meantime, if you're wondering who the advertiser is and what television show is being advertised, you'll have to wait until Monday when the whole thing kicks off. Look for some podcast episodes this weekend, most likely on Sunday night!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What would listeners think...

...of a short commercial (15 to 30 seconds) at the beginning or end of a podcast? Lots of podcasts have sponsors. Grape Radio has wine-related sponsors, which I would consider ideal. But I've been approached by an ad agency who likes the demographics of the listners with a proposal to run a short sponsorhip blurb at the beginning or end of episodes for the next couple of weeks. I've really wanted to avoid becoming "commercial," but the increasing popularity of the podcast makes me think about things like the need for more bandwidth or storage space, which would incur costs. Advertising would offset those costs and perhaps be a way to fund new features of some sort or another. Any thoughts? Would it be bothersome if the sponsorship was from an advertiser who has nothing to do with wine? If I could share the advertiser with you, I would, but let's just say it's a giant media company. I'm inclined to give it a try to see what happens. But I'd appreciate any thoughts anyone has. Of course, the cool thing about having an ad would be you could easily fast forward through it or skip it at the end. :-) But I'm probably not supposed to say things like that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It's not so hard, really--my podcasting method

While I appreciate Hugo's comment that I must be a machine for turning out three podcast episodes in the course of one weekend, I have to admit that I don't find it to be very difficult. The most time consuming portion for me is actually writing the script or outline that I work from. Once I sit down to record, I sit down in front of my Mac, fire up Amadeus II and record using my Sony microphone. I save the recording as an AIFF, then pull it into Audacity. Why? Because I think Audacity's effects tools are more capable than Amadeus II's, at least that's been my experience. I use the compressor, normalize it, and then amplify the file. I resave the file to AIFF. From there I hop into GarageBand 3 on my trusty Power Mac. I add the canned jingle, add my podcast's AIFF file, put the canned jingle at the end, and then make sure the volumes are okay. I next export the podcast episode into iTunes. This takes a little while, maybe 5 minutes, so it's a good chance to go grab a soda, a glass of wine, or play fetch with the Golden Retriever. Once the episode is in iTunes, I leave GarageBand until the next episode. In iTunes I convert the AAC file to an MP3 file, fix the show name up, add the artwork, and I'm ready to roll. I then drag my latest podcast episode to my desktop so I can find it easily. Up until the last couple of episodes, I had been using Vodcaster to take care of the XML feed etc., but since it can't add a couple of things I want, I've been editing my XML feed by hand. I just select and copy the most recent episode's info, paste it as a new entry, update the tags, and save it. I then copy my MP3 file to the directory in my iDisk, and I'm almost done. I fire up my web browser, use a bookmark to ping the iTunes server, and then I update the blog. Sounds like a lot, but you'll notice there's very little in the way of editing the podcast. I don't mind a few ums or small mistakes in the episodes since I think it adds some degree of reality and spontaneity. If I really screw up, then I can always chop that out. But I've found that the editing of the soundfile can eat up a lot of time if you're worried about mistakes. By eliminating this task, I can move the podcasts along much more quickly. Total time per episode--probably 1 hour, not including the script writing, which I can do any time. I'll write chunks of the scripts during the week. Do I have the most professional sounding podcast? No. But what do you want for a free online wine course? :-) Thanks to the many listeners who continue to offer their support. I hope I haven't taken away any of the "magic" by revealing that it is not too much of a challenge to knock out a handful of podcasts in one weekend.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

One more to wrap up the weekend

Show 17 on Germany's white wines is up. It's waiting for you at the iTunes Music Store.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

And Show 16 is up, too!

The weather here in Northern Indiana has taken a dive, so we feel like we're in the Artic National Wildlife Reserve. Too cold to go out (wind chills are below zero Fahrenheit), but a good day to do another podcast. Show 16 covers the white wines of France. As always, grab it over at the iTunes Music Store.

Show 15 is up!

A little insomnia has produced our newest episode, where we cover wine service in restaurants--the good and the bad. As always, you can grab the show at the iTunes Music Store. The voice track on this episode may be a little off. I have a bit of a head cold or something, so I don't speak very loudly on this one. The trouble is not in your set. :-) Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Forum anyone?

We're getting a few comments, and I've tried to reply to them (sometimes a bit late). It occurred to me that maybe we ought to set up a discussion forum. Then I realized that our Frappr Map has a built in forum. Just click on Group Forum above the map and join in the conversation! (And someone remind me to mention the forum in the next podcast episode!)

What are you drinking tonight?

Here in the U.S. (and I assume in other parts of the world), we celebrate Valentine's Day. For some, it is a day to celebrate love and romance. For others, it's just another day. But for many, it's a day that includes a nice dinner with a special person. Leave a comment to tell us what wine(s) you had or will have with dinner tonight. Was the wine one of your safe and reliable choices, or did you branch out into a more adventurous choice? For my wife and I, it will probably be a bottle of Justin Justification, along with a half-bottle of some champagne with dessert. I'm not sure which champagne yet; I loaded up on various champagnes on a weekend trip to Sam's in Chicago--and if you're in the Chicago area but have never been to Sam's, go there immediately. Whether you have a special person in your life or not, enjoy the day--any day you can drink wine is a great day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Heh, guess who can't count

Just in case you were perusing the iTunes Music Store and saw Show 13 and Show 15, and wondered where Show 14 was, don't worry. I mislabeled Show 14 as Show 15, and the mistake should be corrected soon. Nimble fingers at work on the computer keyboard again, I guess.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

One more show

No triple this weekend, but hopefully a double will tide you all over until next weekend (if not sooner). Show 14 is up, a whirlwind tour of alternative red wines to enjoy. Grab it at the iTunes Music Store or right here. Here are some of the shows that we're working on. No guarantee they will be released in this order, but hopefully this will whet your appetite. -- Restaurant wine service pet peeves -- California's wine regions -- Bordeaux wine regions -- Australian wine regions -- Dessert wines -- Other Southern Hemisphere wine regions -- Wine shipping issues -- Wine education resources -- Portugese wines Of course, there are more on the "to do list," but these are the ones that seem to be generating the most script-writing at the moment. Have a great week!

One more show

No triple this weekend, but hopefully a double will tide you all over until next weekend (if not sooner). Show 14 is up, a whirlwind tour of alternative red wines to enjoy. Grab it at the iTunes Music Store or right here. Here are some of the shows that we're working on. No guarantee they will be released in this order, but hopefully this will whet your appetite. -- Restaurant wine service pet peeves -- California's wine regions -- Bordeaux wine regions -- Australian wine regions -- Dessert wines -- Other Southern Hemisphere wine regions -- Wine shipping issues -- Wine education resources -- Portugese wines Of course, there are more on the "to do list," but these are the ones that seem to be generating the most script-writing at the moment. Have a great week!

Show 13 is up!

Show 13 covers alternative white wines like Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Grigio, and more. Go grab it at the iTunes Music Store, or if you just can't wait for it to show up there, you can download the mp3 file here. A listener suggested using some kind of sound effect to indicate changes in topic, so I thought I'd give that a try. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or three.

Friday, February 10, 2006

We're guest hosting a podcast

JH over at the Random Good Stuff blog invited us to do a guest podcast, which we did. The show is a quick overview of how to taste wine and the big six grape varietals. Listeners of our podcast may find the overeview helpful--although it's a really, really basic overview--so you can find it here. This one will not be posted at the iTunes Music Store or the regular RSS feed. Many thanks to JH for the invitation. Hopefully we'll pick up a few more subscribers.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Indiana...always looking backwards

I was afraid this was going to happen. After the US Supreme Court decision last year that said states could not simultaneously allow in-state shipping of wine and prohibit out-of-state shipping of wine to residents, Indiana's house of representatives has passed a bill that will ban all shipping. This is an excellent article that explains how many of Indiana's wineries will be clobbered by this legislation. While other states are opening their borders to out of state shipments, Indiana is closing all shipping down. Ah, the strength of the beer and wine wholesalers...and people go along with it because we're just one notch to the left of Utah when it comes to tolerance of alcohol as an object of commerce. (No offense to our friends in Utah, but they understand the issue and the problem that draconian alcohol laws pose.) This reminds me of how Molly Ivins once described the Texas legislature. She said that when Texans learned that more people were killed by guns than died on the highways in Texas, the response of the legislature was to increase the speed limit so that there would be more highway deaths rather than enact some form of gun control. (No, this is not an invitation to debate on gun control. If you want my opinion on that topic, I agree with Chris Rock--we don't need gun control, we need bullet control. Raise the price of bullets to a few thousand bucks each--that way, you really need to be angry at someone if you're going to pay that kind of money to shoot them.) But at least I've been able to work up a solution for my wine class at IUSB. The properly designated caterer/supplier of alcohol will "hire" me as a server with the appropriate permit to serve alcoholic beverages. Kind of silly, but it works and it's a cheap solution. And it turns out that no one in the administration is anti-drinking. They're just worried about liability issues. That I can deal with. A new temperance movement I'd have some problems with--like the one apparently going on down in Indianapolis.

A stunning logo

Barbara Carlton of Carlton Design in Studio City, California, has designed a beautiful logo for the podcast and this site. I'm pleased to share it with you. I like it so much that I'm thinking of opening up a CafePress.com store with the logo. I don't expect anyone to buy anything. I just want to be able to buy my own sweatshirt with the logo on it. :-) Barbara, thank you for your beautiful work and your generosity. If I ever have the need for some graphic design work, or know of anyone who does, you're getting the call.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Yes, but can it tell me whether I'll like it?

I don't know what to make of this, an "electronic nose" for sensing wine aromas that shouldn't be there.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A humble thank you

Something weird was going on...I had been getting a lot of emails about the podcast. Even some business-related ones. And I had no clue as to why. Then I looked at the iTunes Music Store this evening. I knew that the Wine for Newbies podcast was at the top of the popularity chart for food and wine podcasts, which I took as a pleasantly surprising aberration. I figured it would drop back down. But it hasn't. The show remains popular. And then I looked at the top 100 podcasts. Holy cow, Wine for Newbies ranks 54th today. I am stunned and also humbled. Thank you to all of the listeners who also read this blog, and I'll have to remember to thank everyone in the next podcast episode. And, speaking of the next podcast episode, I should probably start working on it. Thank you again for all of your kind comments and your support for the show. I hope it will continue to meet your expectations.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Calling all creative types!

Especially people good with graphic design. We need a nice logo for the Wine for Newbies podcast. I've been using the got wine? image that I found in some collection of bumper stickers for sale, but it would be nice to have our own logo. My design skills are mediocre at best, so if someone would like to put something together, I'm all for it. Heck, anyone's welcome to submit something. It just has to be square in shape so as to fit in the podcast logo style. I guess we could have a contest where the prize is bragging rights and the occasional mention in the podcast. :-) Let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A triple!

We've uploaded three more podcast episodes today: Show 10 covers building a collection and where to store your wines. Show 11 explores the big red wine grapes Zinfandel and Syrah (or Shiraz as the Aussies call it). And, inspired by a Dom Perignon 1998 that I enjoyed last night (thanks Sam and Christiana for sharing!), Show 12 tells you just about everything you need to know about Champagne. Grab the shows from the iTunes Music Store or subscribe using the links to the right. Aren't quiet weekends great?

Friday, February 03, 2006

To your health

Show 9 has been uploaded, and as always you can get it from the iTunes Music Store or the feed link over in the right column. In this episode we look at some of the medical studies showing the benefits and problems connected to consuming wine. It's mostly good news, fortunately!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Just need to vent for a few moments

As some of the readers of this blog know, I teach a wine appreciation course at Indiana University South Bend. I do this not for the pay (I get paid like $250 for six weeks' worth of time, one evening a week) but because I enjoy sharing my passion for wine with people who want to know more. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a knack for putting people at ease, answering their questions, and making them feel like they have received their money's worth. This class may be in jeopardy, even though it starts on February 13. The University has some rather stringent rules about serving alcohol at "University functions" (to quote the regulations). The alcoholic beverages must be purchased from the University-approved source (no big deal) and must be provided by the University-approved source, including, apparently, pouring. Our approved source is one of the local wine shops. It's not huge, but they are helpful and I've enjoyed getting to know the management there. Last fall, we offered the course again and offered actual in-class samples of wines. (Can you imagine going to a wine appreciation course and just being told about the damn wines?) It went very, very well. We had pouring devices to limit samples to one ounce, and never had more than five different samples. No one walked out drunk, no one drove while intoxicated. People were very responsible, and the class was offered late enough in the evening that they had dined beforehand. Well, some people at the University apparently believe "University function" includes the classrooms. Now, has anyone ever heard of a "function" as being anything other than a) a particular use of an object or system, or b) a gathering of people, like a party? (Okay, math folks work with functions all the time, but that's a different thing.) So, we decide to look into having the approved source pour the darn samples ahead of time. Fine, it's a pain in the neck, runs the risk that people will spill the samples or knock over glassware, but if that's what we have to do, that's what we have to do. But now we're hearing that some of the powers that be think the course should not be held on campus. So, they want to incur extra cost (after the cost and therefore tuition has already been calculated) to hold it off-campus, and here we are less than a week before it starts and we don't know where we're going to meet. Or even if we're going to meet. We limit the class size to 25 (thus only needing one bottle per wine), and we have 23 signed up. We know the class will be filled. It has been the prior times we've offered it. So, some schmoe who probably has moral objections to "alkeehall" is likely screwing up this perfectly good program. I've spent countless hours preparing PowerPoint presentations, and even had been working on a textbook for the course that people could take home at no cost to them. So, do I spend more time getting ready for the class, or do I cut my losses and just decide it's not worth it. That's a really, really tempting option right now. I'd almost rather take the time to find another facility and just offer the class myself. I'll get my own permit to be allowed to pour the samples, or I'll contract with a wine shop and have them do it. Or maybe I'll just point everyone to the podcast and let them get the course for free, and screw Indiana University. Okay, I think I'm done venting. I know that my course's program manager is as frustrated as I am with the situation, and even the department's chair was signed up for the class. There are people who don't want to see the class end, so hopefully something positive will happen in the next few days. I don't mean to sound like a kid on the playground threatening to "take my wine class and go home." But it is frustrating when you put time into a project, at minimal compensation, doing it for the love of it, and the effort is not appreciated by people higher up in the power structure. Rant over. I'm working on the next podcast, with a slightly off-the-beaten-path topic. Look for it soon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Quick restaurant review

Recently in the South Bend, Indiana area, a new wine bar/bistro opened up: Wine Down. Mrs. WineGeek and I dined there last night for the first time. Overall, a positive experience. The wait staff was appropriately attentive and knew the menu and wine list. The entrees were nicely done and flavorful. I had the filet mignon and she had the duck breast. No complaints about either, and the presentation was a nice plus. The wine list is fairly extensive, albeit small by some standards. There are approximately 75 wines on the list, with about 36 available by the glass (not including three ports). The wines ranged from a Woodbridge to a David Bruce Pinot Noir. For those who really want to splurge, they have a selection of three different bottles that get into the three figure range quite nicely. My one complaint about the wine list is that it lacks information on the origin and vintage. If you don't know that David Bruce Pinot Noir comes from California, you're out of luck. And it's always a pet peeve of mine when vintages are omitted. I started off with a Cuvee Anne Laure Gewurtztraminer, which was pleasantly acidic and spicy. It accompanied the Caesar salad nicely. To accompany the filet, I had a glass of the Vega del Rio Crianza Rioja, which was outstanding. Both wines struck me as being reasonably priced. The stemware (an even bigger pet peeve of mine) was appropriate. Whites were served in a tulip shaped glass with room to swirl (but not too forcefully), and reds were served in a large onion-shaped glass with plenty of room to swirl. So, for the South Benders looking for a change, check out Wine Down at 1213 E. University Drive (to the east of the Super Target). As for me, I will plan on stopping in regularly to at least have a glass of wine, if not a full meal.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sooner than expected...

The store has opened.

Time to open a store?

This wine blog, and its companion podcast, Wine for Newbies, will always be free of charge. And I don't see any need to ask for donations, etc. to offset any costs because, well, there really aren't any. Blogger is free, the iTunes Music Store is free, and so on. Yeah, there's a few bucks for the domain name registration, but that's not an issue. Still, it seems to me that this blog and the podcast could be supplemented by some other learning resources that you might be interested in. So, over the course of the next few days (or even later today) I plan to put together a "store" where readers and listeners can find educational resources. Here's the catch. Although you'll have to buy things from the sellers and not from me, the sellers may drop a few coins my way for the referral. If the seller has such an affiliate program, that's fine. If the seller doesn't, that's fine to. The purpose here is not to make any money at all. The purpose here is to point you to good resources to enhance your educational experience. I believe in full disclosure, so I'll try to note which items generate a commission. Buy things if you like, browse and don't buy anything, whatever you like. Make a note of something and buy it later without using the links from the store.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Another show posted

We've posted the next installment in the podcast series, Wine for Newbies. As always you can pick it up at the iTunes Music Store. In this episode we talk about the Cabernet Sauvignon grape as well as the important topic of how to preserve the open bottles of wine that you don't manage to finish. And don't forget to join our listener map at Frappr.com. The group is growing steadily, but slowly. There's room for plenty more, so please join us!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The next show is up!

Show 7, on Merlot, is available at the iTunes Music Store or here. Don't forget to put yourself on the Frappr map!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Where are you?

Following the lead of other wine bloggers and podcasters, I've set up a Frappr map where listeners and readers can "put their pin on the map" and show everyone where you're from. Just go to http://frappr.com/winefornewbies/ and add yourself to the map!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New show posted

The latest show on Pinot Noir has been uploaded. It should be at the iTunes Music Store shortly, and you can always get it directly by downloading the file. Having received my copy of Apple's new iLife '06 with the podcast enhancements to GarageBand, I've changed the theme music and will explore what else I can do to spiff up the show a bit. While there are plenty of fun sound effects (I particularly like the Dogs Barking, which drives our Golden Retriever, Molly, nuts), I'm not inclined to goof up the show just for the sake of using the sounds. So, no need to worry about that. Enjoy the show, and as always, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Holy cow!

I was browsing around the iTunes Music Store over lunch today, and for grins I pulled up the list of most popular food podcasts. Imagine my surprise when I saw Wine for Newbies at number five on the list, ahead of Tim Elliott's Winecast and Grape Radio. Something's got to be wrong here, but I'll enjoy the "fame" while it lasts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Another one?

Yes, another one. The latest podcast is up, and it's on Chardonnay. As always, you can find it at iTunes Music Store or here. I'm already at work on the next episode on Pinot Noir, so stay tuned! On the diet front, I'm doing well, down a total of 7 pounds from my high peak, 5 from when I started keeping track. Of course, I wasn't on my best behavior today, so I expect a bump up in a couple of days. But still, the goal is to go from eating too much on most days of the week to only doing it once in a while. What I probably miss the most right now is the wine, but that's only because I'm trying to limit the sugar intake (although the Frango Mints tonight didn't help). What I've discovered, though, is that I don't feel I have to have the wine, which is reassuring since there are a few relatives who have a history of alcoholism, and that can run in families. Do I miss the wine? Yes. Do I feel like I'm going to go crazy without it in the next few days or even longer? No. So, steady as she goes I guess. Look for more news on this topic and elsewhere over the next couple of days.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Double holy liebraumilch!

I don't know what happened today, but we have two--count 'em, two--podcasts posted. We posted the show about Riesling earlier, and we posted the show about Sauvignon Blanc a little while ago. Users of the iTunes Music Store may have noticed that shows 1 and 2 disappeared for a while. We had to revamp our feed, but hopefully overnight all four shows will appear at the music store and in your podcast aggregators. Thanks again for the encouragement and patience! I hope this podcast series will be a big help to all the wine drinkers out there who want to know more about this wonderful part of life. A quick aside--for those keeping track, I'm down 2 pounds (but in between the last diet post and today I had shot up 3 pounds, so I'm down a total of 5 from the high mark). Woo hoo! Of course, eliminating sugars and carbs is an easy way for me to quickly drop weight. Once I make some progress I will need to shift to better eating habits and portion control. Still, being on the downward trend feels good.

Holy liebfraumilch!

Believe it or not, it's here: the latest podcast. Show 3 covers Riesling, the first of the "Big Six" grapes. Catch it here or via iTunes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Can a WineGeek diet successfully?

Like so many Americans, I need to drop some weight. We're not talking a few vanity pounds, but rather 30+ pounds. Health is not an issue right now, and I want to keep it that way by slimming down. We all know the various diets out there (Atkins, South Beach, etc.). I'm particularly intrigued by the Brigham Young University professor who advocates intuitive eating--you eat only when you are hungry, and you eat so you're satisfied (but not stuffed). Using this technique, he's lost 50 pounds and kept it off. My problem is, like many other wine fans, I love food. I'm not into fancy, gourmet foods, but I love good comfort foods. And I can eat pizza with the best of them. Logic (and plenty of reading) says that you're more likely to succeed if you don't think of the process as "dieting" since that has an implied "end." It's too easy to decide to quit dieting. So, instead, we're going to approach this weight loss effort with a healthier mindset: I am simply changing to a healthier eating habit. Smaller portions, far less desserts (rats), far fewer Krispy Kremes (double rats), and (ahem) less wine. Now, I'm not going to become a teetotaler. But it's very easy to end up drinking three or four glasses of wine per evening, and that's quite a few empty calories. Plus, all the health research I've seen says that moderate drinking (2 to 3 3.5 ounce glasses for men, 2 3.5 ounce glasses for women--and those are maximums) of wine has significant benefits. When you get into that 4th glass (for men, 3rd glass for women) you begin increasing your chances of health problems. So for 2006, my goal is to drop 30 pounds. This morning I weighed in at a hefty 199.0, which is way too much and too high a body mass index. It's my hope that by losing this weight "publicly," it will both encourage me to keep going (by way of positive comments from readers--hint, hint) and encourage others to try it as well. I'll post my downs (and ups) here, and hopefully will inspire people to improve their own health in 2006. Cheers!

Whew!

At last, the holidays are over! While they were lots of fun, and some close friends of the WineGeek had their first child on New Year's Eve, it's nice to put the holidays in the past. Once I get settled back in at work, I will post about some of the wines we enjoyed and get the new podcast (re)recorded and uploaded. Here's to a great 2006!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Holiday Blues

Sounds like a great album title, no? Actually, there's no blues here, but I thought I'd take a second to update folks on the podcast and future posts. I've been working on getting the podcast production software back into shape since I had to rebuild the hard drive a week or so ago. That's just about done, fortunately. With a little luck the long weekend will let me get the Riesling podcast episode recorded and posted. And why have things been so quiet lately? The holidays! I've had some good wine, but haven't had much time to focus my thoughts and write up some posts. Don't worry--this blog and podcast aren't going anywhere. They are simply a little bit on the back burner until things get back to normal around here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Status report

Wouldn't you know it...on Friday I recorded the new podcast about Riesling, and on Saturday had a computer crash. So, I've spent the last few days getting my trusty (?) PowerBook back into order, and I hope to record the podcast again this evening or perhaps tomorrow evening. I guess that's what I get for running some fairly bleeding-edge applications and utilities. Memo to self: do that type of stuff on the non-mission critical computer from now on!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy Kwanumas!

No, I'm not into the whole politically correct thing or the mythical "war on Christmas" hooey. I just enjoy combining Kwanzaa, Hanukah and Christmas into one word. (My sister-in-law and her Jewish boyfriend celebrate Hanumas. Works for me.) Anyway, this ramble is just to offer an excuse and apology for the lack of posts and podcast activity lately. The month of December gets so freaking busy with gatherings (good wine helps) and other obligations that the time for writing and podcasting is even tighter than usual. Oh yes, happy Festivus too!

Just because it's legal...

...doesn't mean it can happen. New Yorkers are still unable to purchase wine online, despite the fact that the New York state legislature and governor enacted a law to allow them to do so. Check out the details in this New York Times article. (Free registration required.) Of course, I'm waiting to see what our legislators do here in Indiana. As I've said before, they are more likely to ban all shipments of alcohol rather than let anything in from outside Indiana. Some of the legislators will support that position because they receive support from the beer and wine wholesalers, but too many will support the position because they don't like the idea that responsible adults can even buy alcohol. (These forces remain fairly quiet, enjoying the fact that we Hoosiers can't buy alcohol on Sunday.) Sometimes I really wonder why I continue to live in a state whose collective intelligence is a constant even though the population may be growing. (Oh yeah, I remember--I don't want to take another bar exam. Anyone want to pay me big bucks to live near Walt Disney World, drink wine and write about it?)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wine Blogging Wednesday: Judge a Bottle by its Cover

The theme for this month's WBW event is great label art, or at least eye-catching label art. Many thanks to Derrick over at An Obsession With Food for hosting and coming up with this great idea. When I think of label art, I usually first picture the work of Ralph Steadman and other artists on Bonny Doon labels. There's no doubt that Bonny Doon has achieved a certain notoriety with its wacky and humorous labels. But as great as this label art is, Bonny Doon was too easy a selection for this event. So, I perused my wine collection and local wine shop and it jumped out at me: Let's spend some time talking about this label. First, a disclaimer: I am not an expert in art, and if I happen to refer to the wrong movement or something, it's because I'm not well-informed. I have enough knowledge to be dangerous. This label seems to be a skilled combination of Arts and Crafts elements with Art Nouveau. The typeface on the label is distinctly Arts and Crafts, while the figure of the woman and the leaves and grapes is distinctly Art Nouveau. This, of course, is a logical blend of styles since Arts and Crafts influenced the Art Nouveau style and they both enjoyed popularity in the early 1900s in Great Britain and the U.S. But enough about art, let's get to the good stuff: the wine. This 2003 Pinot Noir comes from Van Duzer in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The wine is a pretty garnet color with a beautiful nose of classic Pinot Noir notes: red fruits, with hints of darker fruits as well. The earthy notes also make themselves known. The flavor profile is wonderful with cherry flavors and silky tannins. The finish is nice and long. At $20+ per bottle, this is not an everyday drinking wine for most people, but you can drink it any time and enjoy it. Solid 90 on the WineGeek scale. While I won't offer any tasting notes on other wines, I can mention a few labels that I've always found to be interesting. One is Chariot Sangiovese from California. This is an inexpensive Sangiovese with gorgeous classical artwork with high quality wine inside. I wish I had a bottle to photograph and share the label image. It runs less than $15 and is worth seeking out. Da Vinci Chianti also has beautiful label art, but again I cannot find a usable image to share with you. It's a good inexpensive Chianti for everyday drinking. I've always liked the label art of L'Ecole No. 41. The wines that come in the bottle are outstanding as well. I have yet to have a bad wine from L'Ecole No. 41. That's it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Great comic

I've always enjoyed Non Sequitur, even if its author, Wiley, occasionally bashes lawyers. But this new series looks like it could be amusing. (You can click on the image to see a slightly larger version, which is more readable.)

WS Top 100

Like many wine fans, I look forward to Wine Spectator's Top 100 each year. It's interesting to see what wines they picked as the 100 best wines they tasted during the year. But it's also a source of some confusion for me and a lot of other readers, I'd imagine. Of course, anyone's Top Whatever list is going to be a subjective selection, and we probably shouldn't expect logical selections. Still, this year's list perplexed me a bit. If the selection of the No. 1 wine is to choose the most exciting wine, then picking the Joseph Phelps Insignia 2002 (96 points, $150/bottle) makes some sense. But then, the Chateau d'Yquem 2001 (100 points, $400/bottle) coming in at No. 10 confuses me. After all, shouldn't a 100/100 wine be more exciting than a 96/100 wine? Wine Spectator has said that they also factor the wine's price into the equation, which would then allow for a lower scoring wine to achieve a higher ranking. But if this is so, why did the $68 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2003 (97 points) end up No. 2 and not No. 1? My point here is not to quibble with Wine Spectator's editors and writers about their selections. Rather, it should be obvious that there is a certain amount of silliness in trying to rank anything on a subjective basis, whether it's wine or college football teams. (Look at No. 1 USC, which although undefeated this season has faced only one Top Ten team whereas No. 2 Texas, also undefeated, has faced two Top Ten teams.) So, use WS's Top 100 for what it's best suited for--as a list of some of the best wines available, and to see how many you've encountered. I don't think it's necessarily a good goal to try to drink as many of the Top 100 as possible after the list is published, although retailers certainly tout their own inventory after the list is released. Rather, the Top 100 can be a good measure of how well you're doing at exposing yourself to great wines. If you've had or bought none of the wines on the Top 100 list, perhaps it's time to move away from Charles Shaw's bottlings and try some other wines. In my review, I've had or purchased for later consumption 7 of the Top 100. I feel pretty good about that considering that I don't have the access to as many wines as the WS staff does (although any winemakers who want to send me a sample for review (even a 1/4 bottle!) are welcome to do so--send me an email and I'll send you my shipping address). In addition, there are a lot of wines on the Top 100 list that aren't in my constellation of wines--especially the European wines. So, I clearly have room to expand my wine experiences. As for my top wines of the year? That's a topic for another time...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Podcast update

Well, whatever I have definitely is not the flu, thankfully. Still, it has me down for a little while as the meds make me drowsy. Although I've written the script for the next podcast, I doubt it will get recorded and posted until Monday evening.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Got your flu shot?

I wish I had. Thanksgiving came and went with me fighting one heck of a cold or (quite possibly) a mild case of influenza. Various medicinal components make for an interesting cocktail, but not one I'd recommend for flavor or pleasure. In any event, the Thanksgiving dinner wines were pleasant, but I was in no condition to do a thorough tasting. We did enjoy the 2001 Chateau La Malle Sauternes with dessert. Even in my medicine-induced fog, I could enjoy that treat. I think our planned trip to Chicago on Sunday to pick up some wine at the wine locker and to Sam's Wines and Spirits will have to be postponed. Production of a new podcast may be delayed by a week, I regret to say. You don't want to listen to me "sound lige I can't eben talk" and I don't want to spend hours editing out the coughing spells. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday. We all have many things to be thankful for, and we really shouldn't need a holiday to remind us of that fact. (If this post seems to be a little more meandering than normal, blame it on the meds.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

New podcast is up!

Episode 2 of Wine for Newbies has been posted, and we learn a bit more about describing wine and how to write a tasting note for your own reference. Get this episode by subscribing to the podcast either via the MP3 Podcast button or the iTunes button over to the right. Enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Could it be?

We might, just might have another podcast this weekend. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How to find wines

A reader has asked where he can find the Spann Vineyards Mo Jo that I wrote about earlier this month. I know which of my local wine shops carries it (City Wide Liquors, at the downtown location), but if you don't live in the South Bend, Indiana, area, where do you go? One good resource is Wine Searcher. This site lets you plug in the wine you want, and it will find the online retailers who have the wine. You can also do some price comparisons. So, if you're fortunate enough to live in a state that allows direct shipping, you can probably order your wine from any number of resources. If, however, you're stuck in a backwards state like Indiana (which is more likely to ban all shipping of alcoholic beverages), well, you'll need to come up with another solution. Sad but true.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

iTMS has it!

The iTunes Music Store has the link to the new podcast. You can get it here. For some reason, they have the "website" link hooked up to my page about our Golden Retriever. How much does anyone want to bet it will be nearly impossible to get Apple to fix that little error. Oh well...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

iTMS slow

The iTunes Music Store is a bit slow in getting the new podcast listed, so please use the mp3 link off to the right to subscribe. I'm checking daily to see if it's up in iTunes yet, but no such luck. As soon as it's in iTMS we'll let you know.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Every wine lover's nightmare

Wine fans know that wine needs to be stored at proper temperatures so the wine doesn't go bad. Some of us even buy chilling units to cool our wine cellars. Ours failed this weekend. Not a total failure, since it will still blow room temperature air, but it's definitely not cooling the cellar. My one gripe about the manufacturer (and this may extend to other manufacturers) is that it doesn't make any units that are the same size. This particular unit required that a hole be cut in the wall so the unit could be inserted in. In theory, I could just replace it, but all of the current options are much smaller, so I'd either have to figure out how to plug the hole or leave the hole open--not very efficient. I'm all for improvements in technology that result in smaller devices, but manufacturers would be wise to consider making some sort of unit that would allow a smaller unit to be retrofit into the larger opening in the wall. It would save a lot of consumers a lot of time and frustration. So, I've contacted a family member who is an HVAC contractor. I'm hopeful that he'll be able to provide some needed repair services. Otherwise, we're going to be drinking an awful lot of wine over the next few weeks!

First "new" podcast published!

I'm pleased to announce that the first in a "new" series of podcasts has just been published. Wine4Newbies (or Wine For Newbies) is a wine education podcast that you can begin listening to at any time. In this first episode, we cover the basics of wine tasting and how to do it well. You can subscribe via this link. A link to the iTunes Music Store should be up soon, and I will work on getting links posted in the right-hand frame. Please let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Argentinian Malbec

Today's wine is Terraza de Los Andes Reserve Malbec. This is a lush wine with a dark ruby color, loads of aromas on the nose, plenty of dark fruit with spice and pepper, gentle tannins, and a nice finish. At less than $20, it's a steal. 85/100 on the WineGeek scale. Quick Hit: We're working on the first "new" podcast, and I hope to record it tomorrow evening and get it posted by the weekend.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in

Now I know how Michael Corleone feels. After yesterday's post about shifting the podcast format around in a major way, I received this email:
Congratulations Podcaster! Your podcast "WLW-Winegeek" has just received the 5-STAR-AWARD from Podspider! With over 20,000 entries, the Podspider Directory is one of the world's largest podcast database. The Podspider Portal combines this comprehensive resource with a powerful search machine that makes it easy for podcasts like yours to take their place on the world stage and be heard. Best of all, listing your podcasts in the Podspider Directory is free. We've reviewed your podcast submission "WLW-Winegeek" and approved it for listing in the Podspider Directory. But that's not all. We constantly review new and existing listings in the Podspider Directory to help identify podcasts that stand out in the crowd. Based on our review, we've decided to confer your podcast with the PODSPIDER 5-STAR-AWARD! The criterias for the award are continuity and technical operativeness as a guide for podcast listeners. Based on the 5-STAR-AWARD be will start in 2006 an international contest and award the best podcast from all 5-STAR-AWARD podcasts. To make visitors to your Web site aware your podcast has achieved this distinguished status, use the Podspider Award Logo available at: http://www.podspider.com/podspideraward.gif The award logo is similar to the standard RSS podcast logo. After placing the logo on your Web site, add the text "Podspider Portal" to image tag text and link the image back to podspider.com. If you informed us about your backlink we will list also your podcast with the award image in a higher ranking of your category in the Podspider directory. Your Podspider Directory listing will help new listeners find your podcast. By linking your site with the Podspider Portal, you and other podcasters who do the same help the community of podcast fans grow even faster, in turn increasing your ability to gain even more new listeners. As a Podspider Award winner, you're also authorized to offer podcast listeners the ability to download the free podcatcher software Podspider FreeEdition directly from your Web site. Podspider FreeEdition offers many features and benefits other solutions can't match. Just place the following link on your Web site: http://www.podspider.com/download You can learn more about Podspider FreeEdition at: http://www.podspider.com/freeedition RapidSolution Software is actively committed to the dynamic, continuous development of podcasting through ongoing enhancement of existing Podspider services and investment in new Podspider capabilities. By listing your podcast in the Podspider Directory and linking your Web site back to podspider.com, you're making your own valuable contribution to the evolution of podcasting! Best regards Norman F. Foerderer Podspider Editorial Team
I guess it's back to more frequent podcasting. :-) So, here's what we're going to do--we'll continue with the educational series, but perhaps in shorter chunks with less "glitz." (After all, you're tuning in for the info, not the pretty music intro and outro.) That will at least cut down on some of the post-production that usually takes place. Thanks for your continued support as I work my way through this maze!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Changes to the podcast

By now everyone knows it's been forever since I put together a new podcast. The simple fact of the matter is it takes a whole lot of time to do podcasts, and time is always in short supply in my world. Heck, it even gets in the way of drinking wine! :-) So here's what I plan to do. I always felt that what set my podcast apart from others was the educational focus. In the future, I will do occasional podcasts that focus on learning more about wine. I will start fresh as I begin reworking my wine appreciation class at Indiana University South Bend. I will also host all of the episodes long term so that people can get the episodes they want, and not necessarily have to listen to a podcast about something they are not ready to delve into yet. So, to those listeners who have enjoyed the podcast and sent along your praise, I am sorry that my decision may disappoint you. The decision doesn't make me completely happy, either but I really do not enjoy putting out a lower quality product and not being able to put out a good product on a regular schedule. If I had the time, I would do so, but podcasting takes significantly more time than blogging. A couple of hours can go into writing the script, recording it, editing out mistakes, running the sound files through various effects to improve the sound quality, and then mixing everything together so it can be converted to an mp3 file and uploaded. All that work makes a 15 minute show. Blogging is still a great deal of work, but it can be done any time and from virtually anywhere (sometimes it even makes a good break on a Monday afternoon to help clear the mind before getting back to work projects!). I feel that blogging is a stronger suit for me, so that's where I will spend most of my time. As holidays occur and I find myself with extended periods of time, I'll put together better shows about the world of wine to help novices learn more about this enticing subject. Many, many thanks to my faithful listeners. I hope you'll continue to enjoy future episodes--no matter how infrequently they may show up. For those who absolutely need to have their regular wine podcat fix, I strongly recommend Tim Elliott's WineCast or the gang over at Grape Radio. There are many other good podcasts out there that are worth your time. See my entry from a week or two ago about the great Australian wine podcast as well. Thanks again, and stay tuned!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Not a wimpy pink wine

Pink wines get a bad rap--the mere words "pink wine" evoke images of white zinfandel. It's an unfortunate thing since there are some darn good pink wines out there. One of these is the Charles Melton Rose from Charles Melton, an Australian winery from the Barossa Valley. This wine is 35.7% Shiraz, 30.1% Grenache, 25.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8.3% Pinot Meunier. It has a fascinating reddish pink color with loads of red berries on the nose. The palate has a pleasant spiciness on the finish, which lasts for a while. Serve this up next summer on a warm evening or with some spicy barbecue sauce. At $20 it's a decent price and a fun way to surprise your friends who will wonder what has gone wrong when you serve them a pink wine. Look for more wine reviews in the near future as I report on the other eight wines from my wine class's "final exam" this week. You can read about the first review in the WBW entry below.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It's Wine Blogging Wednesday: Think Small

When I first read the theme for this month's WBW, I began to fret. Small production wines can be tough to find, and even when you find them, they can carry a hefty price tag. Fortunately, I found one and it's price is reasonable. Spann Vineyards Mo Jo Russian River Valley 2001 is a wine with 245 case production, so it definitely qualifies. This wine is a blend of 64% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah. The winemakers say it's modeled after a Super Tuscan, and while I don't have much experience with Super Tuscans (but I'm willing to learn!), the wine is certainly super. The color is a beautiful garnet, and the nose is bright with notes of licorice, perhaps. A most pleasant bouquet of aromas. The palate is very fruit forward with a nice balance of acidity and the tannins come roaring in at the end--but not harshly. It has a nice long fruity finish. At $30 a bottle, it's not an inexpensive wine, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to friends. We actually sampled the wine this evening during my wine class's "final exam" where we meet at a local wine shop, everyone chips in, and we buy a bunch of great wines to try. We sampled everything from Alsatian Rieslings to a premiere cru Burgundy to a South African Blend and a German eiswein. The Mo Jo was quite popular (although not one Austin Powers joke was to be heard), and I think the students might have taken a bottle or two home with them. Of course, the wines were wonderful, but that's for another post tomorrow perhaps. If you're looking for something off the beaten path, Mo Jo is worthy of your consideration.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Two Bordeaux Blends

We had some friends over for dinner last night, real wine afficionados like ourselves. I opted to break into some good stuff to accompany our meal. The first wine was a 1995 Opus One, which was one of two bottles Catherine and I received as wedding presents back in 2000. The second wine was a 2000 Chateau Cantemerle. I decided to open the Opus One after reading an article in Wine Spectator that wrote about some of the 1995 California Cabernets and how they were faring. In the past, WS has scored the '95 Opus One at 93 or 95. But in this article WS scored the wine at 82, which worried me. Perhaps the wine was past its prime? Perhaps I missed out on the legendary Opus One greatness? As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about. This wine was brilliant on all levels. The 1995 Opus One is a Bordeaux-style blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 % Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, and 2% Malbec. It is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels, and interestingly has 39 days of skin contact. When I first opened the wine, I knew I wanted to decant it so no sediment would wreck the experience. I had stood the bottle up down in the cellar a few days ago to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom. This turned out to be a good move. After pulling the cork, the bouquet leapt out of the bottle. I poured a small sample into a Riedel tasting glass--after all, I didn't want to serve a bad wine to our guests. :-) The wine was largely still at cellar temperature (59 degrees in my cellar), having been brought up only an hour before. The wine was somewhat brick colored with a nice nose and bright flavors. Definitely a good wine. I poured most of the wine from the bottle into our decanter. The remainder went back into the tasting glass (where the sediment was evident in the cloudy color of the wine). I finished that up over the next 20 minutes or so. I just couldn't bear to throw it out, sediment notwithstanding. My initial impressions were that this was a very good wine, nice and complex, but hardly stellar. But I was looking forward to seeing how it would be after a couple hours in the decanter and it reached room temperature. When we poured the wine with dinner, it was as if there was a completely different wine in the decanter. The color, obviously, didn't change, but the aromas were notably improved--we picked out cedar, cassis, and wild cherry. The flavors were stunningly delicious, with a nice long, long finish. We were all very impressed and wondered if a better wine could be found. It was balanced, harmonious, and left nothing to be desired. 95 to 100 on the WineGeek scale. We left some of the Opus One in the decanter to open up further while we enjoyed the Chateau Cantemerle. This wine was probably opened up way too early, but it was certainly enjoyable. It too was decanted for a couple of hours. It was a dark purplish red with lots of earthy aromas. Definitely Bordeaux. This wine is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine comes from vines averaging 30 years old. The wine has skin contact for 28 to 30 days. (You have to love it when wineries publish all sorts of technical data on the web.) The flavors in the wine were darker than the Opus One, which is not surprising considering the age difference. Still, I would score this a solid 90 on the WineGeek scale. I have a few more bottles in the cellar, and I look forward to seeing how those age over the next several years. Two great wines, along with great friends, made for a memorable evening.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Help--I need some recommendations

As some of you know, I teach a wine class at Indiana University South Bend. We're wrapping up on Monday night (10/31), and one of the topics I want to cover is "bad wines." The wines we have sampled have generally been good quality wines, and I think it would be helpful if the students could experience what we would call bad wines--wines that lack structure, balance, etc. If you know of an inexpensive ($10 or less) wine that is widely available that you feel has some significant flaws, please let me know. Put differently, if you were going to explain to a friend the difference between a good wine and a bad wine, you'd pick a wine out of your own collection perhaps to be the good one, but what would you pick to be the bad one? Hmmm...seems like a potential Wine Blogging Wednesday theme to me.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001

Wow! Dark purple with hints of red, rich aromas of dark berries, loads of flavors with firm tannins, and a long finish. Solid 90 on the WineGeek scale, with a price tag around $40. Definitely worth the money for those special occasions.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A must-listen podcast

Grape Radio has posted its latest show featuring Michael Jordan--not the ball player, but the top guy at Disney's Napa Rose restaurant. This restaurant is one of the best in the world (yes, it's a Disney restaurant) and the wine list will knock your socks off. Give it a listen. I just wish there were lots of photos of the restaurant that I could share with you because it is beautiful. I also wish I could hop on a plane and go have dinner there. Indiana is just too far from Disneyland (or Disney World for that matter!).

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A 1997 California Cab that lives up to expectations

1997 was universally viewed as the brilliant year for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This evening's selection is the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District from the '97 vintage. The color is a beautiful garnet with lighter red on the edges. The nose is (as always for me) subtle, but with noticeable dark cherry aromas. The flavors on the palate are bright fruit with loads of berry and cherry. It really opens up well over the course of an evening and as it moves from cellar temperature to room temperature. The tannins are nice and firm, but not overwhelming. Perfect, really. The nice long finish lasts and lasts. Solid 90 to 95 on the WineGeek scale. I originally thought about 85 to 90, but it's definitely 90 to 95. The best part? I have one more bottle in the cellar!

A quick educational resource

Longtime readers will recall that I teach a couple of wine courses at Indiana University South Bend. This year I have put up a web page for students to download PDF files of the slide presentations, and I thought others might appreciate the materials as well. You can also download a decent image of the Wine Aroma Wheel. You can find the materials here. Yes, the site is amateurish, but I'm more interested in the stuff that's in the bottle than this simple page of resources. :-)

Excellent new podcast

Oz Wine Show is a brand new podcast from Australia. The two mates hosting the show know what they are talking about, and they offer a great insight into one of the world's largest wine producers. We here in the States know about the big producers (Penfolds, Lindemans, Rosemount, Wolf Blass) but this show introduces the listener to smaller producers worth seeking out. I'm now a subscriber, and I highly recommend you give the show a listen. And speaking of podcasts...I'm inspired to record a show or two today, so we'll see if I can get my chores done and have some time to get a podcast done. As listeners know, the theme is wine education, so I'm thinking about some topics like:
  • Tasting wine
  • Southern Hemisphere wines
  • History of the Chilean wine industry
  • Others?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Winery of the Week

This is a new, occasional feature of this blog. Once in a while (hopefully weekly) we will select a winery with a web presence and whose wines are worth knowing. This week's winery is Justin Vineyard and Winery. [Note: the site's front page plays some classical music, so browse wisely.] Justin is located in Paso Robles, California, somewhat inland from the coast and east of Morro Bay, CA. Although there are a good number of wineries in Paso Robles, few have gained the attention that wine lovers have given to Justin. Justin was not originally named "Justin." Located on Chimney Rock Road, the winery was originally named "Chimney Rock" by its owner, Justin Baldwin (who owns the company with his wife Deborah). When he received a phone call from Chimney Rock in Napa Valley. Justin quickly realized he'd need to change the name of his new winery, so he named it Justin. The wine for which Justin is perhaps best known is the Isosceles. This is a Bordeax-style blend, with the 2002 bottling made up of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine has consistently received high scores from the critics, and deservedly so. It is not inexpensive at around $55.00, but people seem to snap it up quickly despite the cost. Justin's other flagship wine is Justification, an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. While Cab Franc wines are uncommon and frequently are nothing to write home about, Justification's use of Merlot makes it a delicious wine. Again, like its brother Isosceles, Justification is not cheap at over $40.00, but this is one Cab Franc worth its price tag. Wine lovers also buy this wine up quickly as the 2003 vintage is already sold out. Justin also makes one heck of a Cabernet Sauvignon, which at $23.00 is very reasonably priced for a California Cab. The current vintage was rated 87 by Wine Spectator, which makes this wine a great bargain. Justin has a whole bunch of other reds (including some tasty Syrahs) and white wines, but I have not had the opportunity to enjoy them all yet. The winery features an inn (called, not surprisingly, the JustInn) along with a dining room (Deborah's Room) featuring gourmet meals. The place sounds like a great destination for those who want to try a different wine region in California. For those whose travel plans do not include California any time soon, you can enjoy the wines and explore the Justin web site.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A great question

Why do we drink white wines chilled? We all know that cold foods do not have full flavors. Anyone who doubts this only need sample a chocolate milkshake and let it warm a bit to see the chocolate become more pronounced. While catching up on some reading, I ran across this article in Food and Wine Magazine where the writer posed this very question to some wine experts. Their answers may surprise you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Jack London Vineyard Sonoma Valley 1997

Reports are coming in that 1997 California cabernet sauvignons, seen as a benchmark vintage, are beginning to fall apart. Not everyone agrees, but plenty of people seem to be glad they are opening their 1997s now and not waiting. (I've also heard that some of the '95s and '96s are beginning to decline, but who knows for sure?) With this in mind, I opened this bottle this evening to go with dinner. Sure, this is a Saturday night wine, but you have to enjoy the good stuff once in a while. And this is definitely good stuff. The color is a lovely garnet with just the slightest hint of brick at the very edges. The nose is full of earthy scents topped by blackcurrant. The flavors have plenty of dark fruit, and it shows good structure with appropriate tannins. The finish is nice and long. Solid 90 points on the WineGeek scale. The MSRP for this wine was $35 a bottle, which seems to be a fair price considering the quality. In fact, given the high prices of many California cabs these days, a 90 point $35 bottle is quite a bargain. If you can find one of these gems, pick it up and enjoy it this month.

Who will be the first?

With the introduction of the video-capable iPod by Apple Computer, how long will it be until we see a video podcast by a wine blogger? The instructions on how to do so are online. I think Tim Elliott over at WineCast should do one. He does many tastings, and it would be fun to watch him do a live tasting, see the bottles and the colors of the wines he covers. Speaking of podcasts, yes, there will be more WineGeek podcasts. I've been up to my eyeballs in travel, work, teaching, and dealing with a lovable and attention-starved golden retriever. Plus, since it's fun to watch Notre Dame football again, many Saturday afternoons are booked up. (No, I'm not an obnoxious Notre Dame fan. I am an alum, but I do not think the sun rises and sets with ND football. When they do well, it's fun to watch them. When they don't do well, I don't worry about it.) Who knows...maybe I'll do a podcast tonight. Maybe I'll even tinker with a video podcast just so I can say I tried it. I doubt that will become a permanent or even occasional feature.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The WineGeek Scale

Let me be the first to confess--I hate 100 point scales for scoring wines. The difference between an 88 and an 89 is so narrow and impossible to empirically quantify. But, the 100 point scales is the norm, so that is what I use. Here's my philosophy. I'm not going to try to say a wine is an 85 or an 86. But a wine can easily fall between 80 and 90, so 85 makes a nice midpoint. Some might rate it an 84, some might rate it an 86. Close enough for government work. Following is my general score and explanations: 70--Minimally acceptable. Franzia box wine. 75--A decent wine, but not worth writing home about. 80--A good, solid wine, worth buying again and enjoying on a daily basis. 85--A very good, solid wine, worth buying in quantity (more than 1 bottle). You can enjoy it on a daily basis or as a "Saturday Night Wine." 90--A great wine, something very special. Definitely a wine for having good friends (who enjoy wine) over or special dinners. Can also be consumed during the week when you're in the mood for something more than an everyday wine. 95--An outstanding wine, beyond very special. These are the wines you hesitate to drink because you don't want to "miss them" after the bottle is empty, but you worry that you'll get hit by a bus before you get the chance to enjoy them. 100--I can't imagine scoring a wine at 100. As Tanzer says, what if I try another wine and it's better--how do I score that? At best I'd probably score a wine as being in the range of 95 to 100, leaving room for that better wine. A classic wine that will be remembered for many years. You want to save the label and frame it with archival matting. You take pictures of the wine in the glass to help you remember the color, but you're frustrated that cameras can't capture the pureness of the color like your eyes can. A magical wine, one that you wish you had your best wine connoisseur friends over to share with, but are secretly pleased that you had the whole bottle to yourself. Most wines that I have will end up somewhere in the 80 to 90 range. If a wine is truly lousy, I won't even score it. I'll tell you to just pass it by in the wine shop.

Two Rieslings

As part of the Wine 101 class I teach at IUSB, we sampled two German rieslings last night. The first was a St. Christopher Piesporter Michelsberg QbA, 2001. Very nice floral notes and a lush mouthfeel. Slightly sweet (halbtrocken most likely, although the bottle did not say so). Delicious, and a definite "would buy again." 85 points on the WineGeek scale. To demonstrate the ripeness difference, we also sampled the Schmitt Sohne Riesling Kabinette, 2002. The nose demonstrated more fruits, particularly apple and pear. A bit more "zing," if you will. The wine had a much creamier mouthfeel, and was just as delicious as the Piesporter. Again, another "would buy again" and 85 points. What is always interesting to me is in the class of 24 students, we have a bit of wine left over after the 1oz pours are distributed. So, at the end of class I invite students to help themselves to additional samples. They made a beeline for the two Rieslings, passing up the Dolcetto d'Aqui and the Montepulciano d'Abruzzi that served as our other two samples. It seems these delightful and inexpensive Rieslings were a hit with the class. They may be a hit with you as well.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival

Many people mistakenly think of Walt Disney World as a kids' vacation destination. They don't realize that Disney understands that adults need to be entertained as well, and what better way to do that than to offer great food and drink? Over the last ten or more years, Disney has offered first class dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Celebrity chefs such as Todd English have opened restaurants on Disney's property, and you can find several restaurants that have received Wine Spectator's awards. For fans of Emeril Lagasse, you can travel a relatively short distance to dine at one of his two restaurants in the Orlando area. Each fall, the Epcot theme park becomes more than a place to ride rides and take pictures. The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival begins in late September and runs through mid-November, and it offers food and wine lovers a whole array of pleasures for the palate. The great thing about this festival--besides its length (it's the longest in the world)--is that many of the offerings are included with the price of admission to the theme park. It's a real bargain by any measure, especially when you realize that some single-day events can cost over $200 per person. So, what will you find at the festival? How about free wine seminars held each day? You can attend several seminars held during the day, with myriad topics. This past trip, I attended a seminar presented by the Justin Vineyards and Winery [note: site plays music], where we sampled the 2002 and 2003 estate and reserve syrahs. Another seminar featured three great pinot noirs from California, including Etude and Belle Glos. International wineries are well represented as well. I attended a great seminar offered by Argentina winery Bodegas Nieto Senetiner [note: site plays music] and Chile's Casa Lapostolle. In this last seminar, in the course of thirty minutes we sampled four different wines (which were excellent) and learned a ton about the Chilean wine industry's history. In the past, I've enjoyed seminars offered by Guenoc, where we were given barrel samples of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot and we went through an exercise in blending the wines to create a Bordeaux-style blend, known as a "meritage" (rhymes with heritage). Too bad it was only a sample set, but one can hardly expect to walk out of a seminar like that with a case of wine when the seminar is free. One year, Stags' Leap Winery showed us that it is indeed possible to enjoy big red wines with chocolate. In another seminar, Nickel & Nickel poured samples of their single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons (and at $80 or so a bottle, they certainly are not inexpensive!). Other seminars can focus on wine regions, such as the Pacific Northwest or South Africa. Some seminars may focus on styles of wines, such as how oak affects wine. The breadth of the seminar topics is almost more than one can absorb. For those willing to spend a little more money, there are lunches that feature three courses prepared by a chef paired with wines that complement the meals. You can attend signature dinners featuring gourmet courses and fabulous wines. You can attend vertical tastings, or even full-day wine schools like the Bordeaux Wine School. Cooks will find plenty to entertain them as well. Daily free cooking demonstrations are available, and you can even take three hour cooking classes led by internationally renowned chefs. For us, the highlight of the event is the Party for the Senses, which is held on each Saturday evening during the Festival. For about $100 per person, you are treated to an evening of food and wine hedonism. Dozens of chefs offer their wares for your consideration, and dozens of wineries offer samples of their wines. This year's party included chefs Frank Morales from Zola in Washington, D.C.; London's Michael Moore; Dean Max of 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale; and Diego Lozano from Diego's Restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida. The wineries included Champagne Pommery, Nobilo, Penfolds, Lindemans, Rosemount Estate, Franciscan (pouring their Magnificat, among others), Justin Winery (pouring their Justification, among others), and even Highland Distillers, pouring 12 and 15 year old Macallan and 18 year old Highland Park single malt whiskys. During the course of the evening, performers from Cirque du Soleil provide visual and musical entertainment. The Party for the Senses is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink experience (although I'd recommend not drinking too much--spitting the samples should be encouraged at this event) and is the one event we will go to great lengths to avoid missing. Check out some photos of the event. The icing on the cake is the specially etched wine glasses that guests get to take with them. (Disney has forgone the small wineglasses, now offering glasses with good size bowls to aid in the swirling of the wine.) Mere words cannot convey the depth of what this festival has to offer. Beer lovers can enjoy a free international beer seminar (and at the party for the senses they can try Sam Adams Utopias, an extreme brew more like cognac than beer). There are numerous food and wine booths where you can purchase samples of food from around the globe, often matched with wines to complement the flavors. The annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival should be on every wine lover's destination list. If there's one problem, it's that there are too many good things going on during the six week period that unless you live there, you must out of necessity miss some of the events. Perhaps when I retire I can be there for the whole event. This festival is a value by any measure, and when you consider the warm Florida climate in the fall and other offerings at the Walt Disney World Resort, it's hard to find a more enjoyable way to feed the wine lover's spirit. You can review a bunch of photos from this year's festival.

A Tale of Two Syrahs

My apologies to Charles Dickens for ripping on his title. First up is the d'Arenberg The Footbolt 2000 [PDF File of Robert Parker's Tasting Note]. This is a gentle shiraz from Australia that is easily approachable. Unlike many Aussie shirazes, it is not huge and bold. It's more nuanced and therefore a wine that can be enjoyed by a broader audience. It's a nice ruby color with gentle spice notes and bright berries. A nice long finish wraps up a great package that can be had for $20 or less. An easy 85 on the WineGeek scale, perhaps even up to 90 points. The second syrah comes from L'Ecole No. 41, their Columbia Valley 2002. This is a dark, brooding syrah with tons of dense fruits. There's more oak in this wine, which is evident from the vanilla notes (Mrs. WineGeek said the wine reminded her of chocolate chip cookie dough). The color is a dark, inky purple red, with a long, long finish. The tannins are much more evident, producing excellent structure. At $30 a bottle, this is not inexpensive, but it is worth the price. Solid 90 on the WineGeek scale.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Upcoming events or posts

Good evening! Well, after watching the thrilling yet heartbreaking Notre Dame v. USC game, I figured it would be time to get a bit of blogging done. I'm hopeful that tomorrow I can get a lengthy blog entry with photos about the 2005 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival posted. There might even be some notes about a syrah and a shiraz we enjoyed with dinner tonight. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Two Napa Valley Chards

In an effort to begin refining my tasting abilities, I am occasionally going to open two bottles of an identical varietal and then compare the two wines. For this first entry, we have the St. Supery Chardonnay Napa Valley 2000 and the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 2001. Same grape, two different vintages, two different winemakers, and two very different styles. The St. Supery 2000 had a solid yellow color with pleasant aromas. I need to spend more time with Chardonnay to learn the aroma profile. It had a pleasant creamy mouthfeel with a hint of oak. Nicely done. Solid 85 on the WineGeek scale. The Stag's Leap 2001 Reserve was slightly paler in color, probably due to the age difference. It had distinctly oaky aromas, which seemed to me to override anything else. It was also creamy, with heavy oak influences producing that bite in the back of the throat. I'm not a fan of big, oaky Chards, but this was certainly acceptable. While this wine would not be my first choice for a California Chardonnay, and isn't my preferred style, it accomplishes the goal of producing a well balanced wine. Another solid 85 on the WineGeek scale. Both of these wines could be rated higher in the wine press, but I haven't looked to see. They are certainly very good examples of the different styles of Chardonnay from Napa Valley. The nod for the better of the two goes to the St. Supery since its oak was not dominating the experience.

Two great pinot noirs

For fans of Oregon pinot noir, there's the Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2003. Try this and you'll never think of pinot noir as a wimpy red wine. Huge aromas and flavors make this a winner, even with its $30 price tag. If you like California pinot noir, try the Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley. Stunning, but more subtle than the Ponzi (which is a hedonistic wine by any measure). You can find this gem anywhere from $30 to $54(!) a bottle.

We're back...much work to be done

I love it when technology works. It drives me absolutely nuts when it doesn't. When my blogging software crashed yesterday, I spent some time trying to make it work properly. No such luck--it could not publish any new posts, so I knew I would have to resort to drastic action. I hate losing all those past posts, but what can I do? We move forward. Blogger will serve as a useful tool for the short term, and maybe even the long term as I play with it a bit. So, look for some good stuff to show up this weekend. I really want to share a couple of great pinot noirs we discovered while on vacation. Thanks for your patience!