Category Archive: Wine Thoughts

Full Disclosure: Additives in Wine

Posted on May 9, 2017

additives in wine

I have taught at San Diego State University’s Business of Wine Program for several years. During my California Wine Intensive course, I always talk about reading the back label of a wine to have a better understanding of how involved in the production was the winery.  Was it “cellared and bottled by”, “produced and bottled by” or “estate grown, produced & bottled by”?  They get a kick out of seeing how many labels we see in the market place which have very little to do with growing grapes or even making the wine.  The TTB mandates that the front label displays the type of grapes, where they come from, when harvested and the alcohol level. On the back label they tell us how much involvement the winery had in the production process.  However, the back label omits something very important; what was added during production.

Why is wine so different from other consumer goods? Why isn’t wine held to the same requirements other packaged goods must adhere?  There are two sides to this argument.  Wine makers would have to change labels every vintage.  The additives and additions change from vintage to vintage. Most of the additives added are harmless. Stricter labeling laws would result in higher priced wines. On the other side of the argument, people want to know what is in the bottle. Were there any additives or flavorings added to the product?  In the mind of most people, wine is a natural product and it is what it is, fermented grape juice aged in oak.  Only if that was the truth.  Unfortunately, most wines are full of additives.  Granted most additives are there to improve the wine.

In 1987 wineries were forced to mention the use of sulfites, people magically developed headaches and allergies and blamed sulfites.  Sulfites have always been in wine to prevent bacteria growth. Amounts used vary from region to region and producer to producer.  When it became required to list on the lable, people’s buying habits changed. Most did not care, but others whom were more sensitive, started to look at bottles to see if the wine contained sulfites. I guess we can say they became wiser consumers. Of course we know that the headaches are alcohol related and not so much from sulfites.  Funny thing is even though alcohol level is on the label, most do not read it. They would rather blame chemicals for their discomfort.

Consumers are very worried about ingesting non conventional chemicals.  Most consumers have no idea what goes into a bottle of wine. Just when they were trying to get our heads around sulfites, here are some other additives we may see in wine: yeasts, tannins, bentonite, dried fish bladder, gelatins, egg whites, sugar, tartaric acid, malic acid, lactic acid, calcium carbonate, acetaldehyde, dimethyl dicarbonate, mega purple, oak chips, pvpp, potassium sorbate and the list goes on. Many of these additives might seem familiar since they are in a lot of our packaged foods.  We have become used to reading the back of labels and are okay when we see the word “calcium” or “potassium”, we don’t bat an eye.  But mega purple? This is why I don’t buy Velveta cheese it has apocarotenal coloring. Some of these additives help stabilize wines and are an important part of wine making.  However, others are there to modify wine or rather, improve poor quality wines. Kind of like the coloring added to Velveta, used to improve the color of poor quality cheese stuff.

Worst case scenario is when the two buck chucks of the world use fining agents that release arsenic into the wines.  How many people would still buy a $2 wine if the label said “some ingredients are known to cause cancer” and in bold letters arsenic. Safe or unsafe, consumers have the right to know what is in the bottle. I think its time for full disclosure in the wine industry.  Let people make wiser decisions when buying wines. Hold wine companies accountable for trying to sell us swill by modifying with additives and slapping on an eye-catching label. It would also make producers of expensive wines focus on production in the vineyards and not the laboratory.

In my opinion if it is served in a package, then let us know what is in the package.  We have a right to know. I don’t care if you modify the wine so that it fits a certain flavor profile, but let us know you are doing it. Otherwise we will think that Pinot Noir is supposed to be purple.  Hopefully one day we can read the back label and know who, when, where and how the wine was produced. Where do you stand on this?

 

 

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The Immigration of Alcohol

Posted on March 30, 2017

 Immigration and what we drink

Immigration is a hot topic in the media today.  My entire family were immigrants and look at us today, well integrated and contributing to society.  I cannot stand aside and keep quite when I hear the rhetoric of how immigrants are destroying America.  I will prove to you that without immigration we would not be enjoying what we enjoy most, alcoholic drinks.  Here is a quick look at the history of alcohol and immigration and how it influenced our society, politics and  traditions.

It is believed that the first alcoholic beverage was discovered by monkeys when they drank fermented date palms. Those monkeys soon realized that the world was a much better place to live in once they chewed on those dates. Ever since then humans have used alcohol for similar reasons, to improve the quality of life. At first it was essential, water was not palatable and fermented grain water and grape juice was. It also supplied carbohydrates, antibiotics (as discovered in the bones of mummies in Egypt) and of course made us happy. The first sign of fermented beverages were in the Caucasus mountains (where the Caucasian people came from), today known as the area of Georgia just north of  Turkey and Iran. Mesopotamia eventually had the first city states which arrived from agriculture which was linked to farming grains for beer and bread.

caucasus Mtn

As centuries went on, migrants from Phoenicia, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece Carthage and Rome passed through these areas changing alcohol forever.  The Greeks were immigrants from the isle of Greece and brought wine to the Mediterranean regions of Italy, Spain and France. The Romans immigrated to northern Italy and learned wine making from the Etruscan, they went on to migrate throughout the European continent spreading vines, oak barrels and roads on which to spread more juice. They also learned from the Northern barbarians how to brew beer, mead and cider. They introduced wine to the Germanic tribes and Gauls.

Distillation was first discovered in Pakistan. It was perfected in Arabia buy Muslims. The Moors migrated to Spain and with them brought distillation. Celtic immigrants in Northern Spain were booted from the country and pushed north to Whales and Scotland where they invented whiskey. The English migrated to Portugal and Spain where they found sherry and Madeira. Madeira became the staple for England’s major migration throughout India, Caribbean and America. The wine lasted long voyages and traveled well, it kept the English alive and drinking.

east india co

What about illegal immigration? What I mean is slavery. This is really the only real illegal immigration that ever existed. Africans pulled away from their lands and brought against their will to the islands of Barbados to make Rum. Rum became the spirit which changed the world. English plantation owners planted sugar cane, sold the sugar to England (eventually destroying the massive Madeira sugar trade by under pricing sugar) and with sugar’s waste, known as molasses created rum. Plantation owners of Barbados became the first Tycoons. Those tycoons returned to England and built porter breweries, forever changing beer. Rum made it’s way to the Americas where immigrants known as pilgrims were trying to make a go of it with beer and whiskey. Unfortunately grains were difficult to grow, rum was easy to produce and it became the drink of the colonists. England’s taxation on sugar, molasses and rum eventually led to the War of Independence.

taxation

Following the War of Independence, Americans stopped drinking rum.  They turned to those Scottish and Irish immigrants who were producing whiskey in the back woods. Whiskey eventually became the American spirit. However, there was a temperance movement starting up in the early 1800′s which outlawed the sale of liquor. It did not last long, immigrants were smart and found loop holes. For example, instead of selling liquor they would sell a show and serve liquor for free. The temperance movement did not last long. There were more immigrants on the way to put an end to it.

immigration

The US was hit by massive German immigration known as the 48ers. These German immigrants brought with them the lager. The beer that changed the world. No longer were people drinking heavy stale ales, but fresh light low ABV lagers. These Germans became barons and the first lobbyist. They used their wealth to help change laws. They created the income tax, allowing them to win favor from the government. The US Government did not impede on there business and left them alone to produce beer, it was handsomely rewarded through taxation. The Germans brought with them the beer garden, a place for families to get together and spend Sunday afternoons. As the Barons become wealthier, beer gardens became theme parks. If it weren’t for immigrants we would not have America’s favorite past time, roller coasters and carnivals.

beer barons

The down side was the temperance movement had almost a century to organize and latched on to anti immigration mantras as scare tactics. WWI gave rise to this new movement and with it came anti-German sentiments. Whiskey was a problem. The beginning of the industrial revolution brought stress to family life. The poor working conditions and low wages combined with the abuse of men drinking whiskey, led to a lot of spousal and child abuse. Rather than demonizing whiskey, it was easier to demonize beer since it was made by Germans. It was easier to get people to hate the German’s than it was to hate American whiskey. This anti immigration scare tactics led to the darkest times in our lives, PROHIBITION. No alcohol for 13 years.

prohibition

It took another immigrant force to make a change. The Cuban and Italian immigrants. Cuba became the place for wealthy Americans to go and have a drink. Cubans saw that there was a need for liquor in the US. Most of the US distilleries closed and those that remained opened were forced to produce alcohol for medicinal use.  Their limited production was not enough to feed the rise of many speakeasies and under ground drinking joints.  Rum was easy to bring from Cuba. The Italian immigrants being wise business people, took the lead with bootlegging. Hence the rise of the Mafia’s power. This bootlegging led to the resurgence of Rum in America. after prohibition, whiskies still needed to age, and rum was readily available. And so was the only drink that prospered from prohibition, Coca Cola. It was a no-brainer, the Cuba Libre. We later saw Hollywood jump on the rum wagon and Tiki became they thing. Cocktail bars pooped up, Elvis goes to Hawaii and Gilligan gets stranded on an island.

tiki era

Prohibition ends, and WWII begins. Instead of being able to produce grains for beer and whisky we had to produce grain for the war effort. Not only was rum an obvious choice, but so were grapes. However, WWII brought its own discrimination against immigrants. This time the Asians. The fact that we were at war with Japan, meant that at home we were at war with the yellow people. Up to this time, the grunt work force were the Chinese. We needed a new grunt worker. So we opened the doors to Mexico and invited a new worker through the Bracero program. These Mexican workers were temporary workers. Eventually Mexicans from southern Mexico made there way north and gave rise to to our border towns. This work force also gave rise to wine in America. Without the Mexican we would not be able to enjoy Napa Cabs.

bracero program

These immigrants also brought with them a new spirit, Tequila. Tequila was easy to get. Whiskeys need time to mature and whiskey was not readily available. Tequila was ideal. It soon became the drink of colleges and fraternities. And to this day everyone has a tequila story. The tequilas of this time were pretty awful. This is why people bit in to a lime and licked salt so that they could cover up the taste. Tequila has changed drastically, so please, do not ruin today’s Tequilas with lime and salt. And the only reason you have a tequila story is because you shot it, so please take your time when drinking Tequila and sip it.

Although Vodka is really not directly related to Russian immigrants, it is today’s most order spirit. It came to fashion during the cold war when Americans took an interest to the taboo. Wasn’t it strange that we were allies in the two World Wars, and immediately following them we became mortal enemies. Then there was all this anti-communism banter, which only made us more inquisitive. Our best marketing firms new how to sell vodka. They sold it as the “breathless” spirit, meaning that you can go on your lunch break shoot back a few martinis and return to work without anyone noticing it on your breath.

smirnoff

Okay, it might not be related to immigration but it does make me think that whenever America has an enemy in the world, it might be good to see what they drink. So far all our enemies and unwanted immigrants have given us something to drink which I would never want to return. Today we are back where we started, political leaders preaching anti-Muslim rhetoric. Let me remind you that if it was not for these non-drinking people, we would not have liquor today.

muslim distillation

This brief look at the history of  alcohol brings to light the importance of immigration. Immigrants are looking to better themselves. When a person’s frame of mind is one of improvement and forward thinking, only good things can come. It is rather those that feel that they are entitled to something with out working for it that effect us in a negative way. Be aware of anti immigration rhetoric and look back through history and see what immigrants have accomplished. America not a melting pot where we melt into one sticky gooey homogenized fondue. America is but a punch bowl.  Some of us are limes, some of us sugar, others water, and the rest of us are different fruits; each ingredient makes the drink more complex and delicious.

 ”Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard any other drug with extreme horror” – William Burroughs

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Frankin D. Roosevelt

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Is bigger better?

Posted on February 27, 2017

Bigger is better

Is bigger better? Ask the Japanese and they say no, look at their cars. Ask an American and they’ll say, “You’re damn right!” Just look at their SUV’s.  A few weeks ago I was on a panel discussing Washington Wines with winemakers Bob Betz and Sarah Hedges Goedhart.  During the discussion I was asked if consumers in San Diego were open to Washington Wines. I mentioned that I had seen an increase in people’s interest, however; people still think Washington makes Pinot and Oregon is the same as Washington. I went on to say that most wine drinkers in San Diego like big wines. California wines are a perfect fit for those in search of opulent wines. Washington Wines, on the other hand, although can be just as big, have more structure and subtle nuances.  Of course, wine styles will vary by winemaker, but in general, Washington wines come across more restrained and balanced.

Personally I like my wines to be restrained. I do not need a punch of oak. I do not need a burst of alcohol and fruit. I enjoy the earthy, floral and bottle aged aromas backed by acidity that make my mouth water. I may be an anomaly. For the most part, wine consumers seem to be in search of bold aggressive flavors. A perfect example is the rise of Pinot Noir’s popularity.  Pinot Noir by nature is delicate, light bodied, gently spiced, low in alcohol and dominated by under ripe fruit and florals. When it was thrust into the lime light in 2004, every wine drinker felt that they had to like Pinot Noir because Miles from the movie Sideways told them so.  What did the Pinot producers do? They did not continue making their subtle lean angular Pinot’s, rather started to push them into obesity. Additions of Syrah did the trick for some. Others replanted where they could get more sun and ripeness and yet others used the laboratory to build Pinot’s muscles. Prior to 2004 Pinot were more reminiscent of a Jude Law and today they are more like a John Cena.

Why? I wish I knew. My inclination is that it is part of the American ideology that bigger is better. Here is the example I used at the Washington Panel:

Have you ever gone to an all you can eat buffet and looked around? How many people will take the time and walk around the buffet to see what is being offered. After assessing the spread, do they grab a plate and carefully select items which complement each other? For example, do they serve themselves a poached egg, grilled shrimp and asparagus, return to their seats and enjoy the combination of flavors?   We can agree, this is not common.. More likely they grab a plate at the beginning of the line, piling their plate with everything along the way. They might even grab a second plate and fill it up too. When they dig in to eat they have gravy on their salad, carrot juice on the prime rib and a mound of mashers suffocating the grilled shrimp.  ARGGGHH! They dig in, shoveling it into their mouth.

This is a classic scene throughout America. We are not a nation of refinement, we do not seek pleasure in the nuanced flavors. We want it all and we want it now. This is the mentality of how we chose our wines. It has got to be big! “Man, look at those legs”, is something I have heard all too often when someone is complimenting their wine choice.  Wine is just like a woman, beautiful legs have nothing to do with quality. Those crimson thick slow running legs are alcohol trying to separate from water. Thick legs means one thing, high alcohol. High alcohol is the result of a grape with a thicker skin providing more color and tannin. Typically, thicker skins mean warmer climate, indicating more sugar, resulting in a full body.  A consequence of a full bodied wine is that is has lower acidity. Lower acidity means it is less likely to pair with food. I may be digressing here, but my point is that we are in danger of equating quality with one style of wine, big opulent fruit forward wines.

Climate and WIne Pic1

A slide I use to teach staff

Where does this come from? I attribute it to prohibition and modern society. 13 years sans alcohol. Large companies monopolizing the food industry creating fast food, Coca Cola, microwaveable and processed foods. We lost touch with bitterness and tartness. Those senses were replaced by sweetness like wonder bread, velvety cheese and light beer. For decades we lost the path of what vegetable should taste like. As a boy I was served canned and frozen vegetables, for what reason I do not know.  Ketchup and mustard became a staple and used regularly as we use salt and pepper. We became glutinous and in search of sweet flavors.  The Pepsi Challenge proved we liked sweeter drinks. However, it also proved that we like them for a short time and cannot drink more than one at a time, hence; Coke now dominates the cola market. And the same goes for wine. Today wineries make wines for our post prohibition palate.  Big bold wines are perfect for our white bread, Oscar Meyer, mustard and ketchup, soda drinking society, but drink one glass and you are done.

ht_pepsi_challenge_button_jc_150311_4x3_992

Interestingly, during the Pepsi Challenge, Pepsi would win in blind tasting because it was sweeter. Coke came out with New Coke, a sweeter version. Eventually discontinued it when they realized people could not drink more than 1 Pepsi, it was too sweet. The drier Coke ended up winning in the long term.

People always ask me what type of wine I like with the hopes of turning them on to something new. I have a hard time giving a recommendation.  I know that most people love the all you can eat buffet bar because they can pile it on. The wines I like would get lost in a buffet, they are the shrimp and poached egg, the prime rib and masher with gravy; not the mounds of goulash most people like. However, I would not be doing my job if I did not try to steer people in a certain direction. We were hunters and gathers at one time, tearing fresh meat off the bone, and now we stand in line in a buffet. So there is some hope for the American palate.  I have decided to give a few recommendations of wines that I call cross over wines. These are wines that have elegance, but still quench your thirst for boldness.

  • Grenache from Australia. These wines can vary depending on the type of climate. They can be big and alcohol forward or light and Pinot-like. I love Grenache for its red fruit, rose aromas and bright acidity. My favorites are from the McLaren Vale, old vine Barossa or Adelaide Hills.
  • Syrah from Washington State. Another chameleon-like Rhone variety that shows a sense of place. Syrah from Washington can have a touch of earth and acidity from the Rhone with the fruit and spice of California. They are full bodied wines that quench your Cabernet thirst.
  • German Riesling. Most people like Chardonnay for its full flavor. But it can get overwhelming and saturate your palate with alcohol and wood. Riesling is full of flavor, but does not overpower, rather it’s racing acidity and lower alcohol leaves your mouth craving more. And not all Rieslings are sweet, however; a touch of sugar really makes me happy. Look for Trocken (dry) or Kabinet or Spatelese (hint of sweetness with more concentration)
  • Barbera from Mexico. Barbera is typically a light bodied, high acid and low tannin grape. However, in Baja California it takes on a whole other personality. It has more body, but does not need oak to give it dimension. It retains lovely red fruit acidity with more texture. Hard to find, but when you do, go for it.
  • Carignan from Chile or California. Carignan was the work horse for all the millions of cases of box wines sold in the US. But when planted in the right soil, the wine is fantastic. It has a racy nature like Pinot, but more tannin and color. Such a fun wine and makes dinner much more enjoyable.
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OOPS and I’m Bummed

Posted on March 7, 2016

OOpd I'm bummed

________________________________________________

Maurice’s Wine Cru went down for a few days..totally bummed!

It was a result of me not catching an important email from my server.  Unfortunately, I lost all posts since October 2015.  So if you are trying to find the best wines of 2105, the story on Rancho Guejito or the post on Tequila, they are long gone…frowning face.

Oh well nothing lasts forever.

I may have them saved elsewhere, so if you see those stories pop back up, you are not experiencing deja vu.   It’s just me trying to put content back on to mauricescru.  Click through it, re-read it, share it…I don’t care, just don’t get upset.

 

Drink Up Cru

On another note,  I plan on starting a new project.  It is still a ways down the road, but should be pretty fun, Drink Up Cru. My friends at Wine Weirdos inspired me to create Drink Up Cru, a video channel featuring the wines, beers and spirits I bring into the restaurants at the Cohn Restaurant Group. I’ll try to keep it entertaining and informative in the mauricescru style.  In the meantime enjoy their videos. The best are the twitter…30 second videos.  Below are a few videos with mauricescru as a guest.

 

 

Stay tuned for Drink Up Cru…

 

 

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The Frightening Truth About Wine Competitions

Posted on January 22, 2015

wine competition

What really goes on behind the scenes at a wine competition?   Who are these people who taste wines and whose opinions get plastered all over the front of a bottle with a medal and score? Are they there to take out their aggression and  pamper their egos so they feel superior to all other wine drinkers?  Do they really know what they are doing? How do they go about judging so many wines and why does their opinion really matter?   Is it really fair to give an award to a wine just because one person prefers it over another?   Here is the frightening truth about wine competitions.

I just finished judging the 32nd annual San Diego International Wine Competition.  The SDIWC is the child of the grand papa of wine competitions in San Diego, Robert Whitley.  I spent the weekend with fellow judges judging 1000 wines on Saturday and another 500 on Sunday.  I got up close and personal.  I infiltrated the competition and posed as a judge to bring you the truth about wine competitions.  The truth is… they are a lot of fun!

Let’s answer the questions posed.  First of all, who are these people?  The SDIWC had judges from all walks of life within the wine world.  There were winemakers like Vernon Kindred from Fallbrook Winery, Carlo Trinchero from Taken Wine Co. and Adam LaZarre from Lazarre Wines. Their were wine personalities & wine writers (story tellers) like Tim McDonald from Wine Spoken Here and Wilfred Wong from Wine.com.  There were judges representing wine distribution companies such as Mark Deegan and Kevin Walsh.  And there were sommeliers, the Motley “Cru” I run with like Brian Donegan, Paul Kirkorian, Tami Wong, Lisa Redwine, Molly Brooks-Thorton and Rebecca Turpin.  So many more to mention, but the ring leaders were Robert Whitley, Rich Cook and chief judge Michael Franz, the editor of Wine Review Online who kept all of us hooligans in line.  These are the  people who get the last say.  Their taste preferences are marked on bottle in the form of numbers, oval medals and gold stickers.  I can’t speak for their egos, but they are all pretty damn cool.

Do they know what they are doing?  Well that is a loaded question.  Half the time I don’t think they know what they are doing. But when it comes to wine, they know exactly what they are doing.  I can’t say that I would like drive behind Joe Hart, winemaker for Hart Family Winery.  Or for that matter, I don’t think I would like to take any psychological advice from Ron Rawlson, but I do want to know what they think about wine. So yes, they know what they are doing.  Let me clarify, they know what they are doing when it comes to judging wine.

How do they go about judging so many wines?  The answer is “very carefully”.  Most people think that if you drink so many wines you get drunk or even worse palate fatigue.  This is why they are the chosen judges.  They learned to spit, all except for George Skorka, but he seems to exist on another plane from most humans. (Those that know him will tell you that he is Buddhist-like, Christ-like and cannot get drunk.) Yes the palate can get fatigued, but a bit of sparkling water, a cracker or roast beef and they are back in the saddle again.

Why does their opinion even matter?  Oh it matters! These judges will sacrifice their entire weekend tasting hundreds of bad wines to get to the few good ones.  That is die-hard.  I respect the opinion of someone who will go through the torture of tasting a flight of medium dry red blends from unknown parts of the world just to get to that one stand out.  It is easy to judge Barolos and $100 Cabernets, but to have to judge fruit wines from the latest genetically modified fruit, that is a true professional.  It’s like confiding in the Lexus car sales rep who drives a Lexus.  I would rather confide in the sales rep that sells Lexus and drives a Kia. That rep would have a better point of reference as to why Lexus is worth the price. That is who these judges are.  They taste the hundreds of pink to bright fuchsia colored wines to get to the Barolos.  At home they drink good wine at a good value.

Is it fair to give an award to a wine just because one judge thinks it deserves that award?  Nope.  That is why at the SDIWC the judges have to come together and agree on the award.  It takes time to get everyone to agree, and can be tricky because egos can get bruised.  The solution was to leave the egos at the door so that the wines received the proper award.  I had the pleasure of judging with Wilfred Wong and George Skorka.  Remember I told you that George was from another plane? Well he is.  When he tastes a wine that has funk on the nose, he literally drools and tries to push us into adoring it.   However, the moment we tell George the wine might be off and to come back down to Earth, he obeys and his Christ-like ego says “thank you gentlemen, let’s give it an 87″.

The hard work that goes into these competitions is mind-blowing.   Robert found judges with good palates and can work together. Volunteers have to categorize thousands of entries.   They work around the clock polishing thousands of glasses. The shear number is ridiculous. The hours of data entry will cross the eyes of any Microsoft coder.  Managing all the entries, volunteers and judges has to be insane.  With so many moving pieces, Robert Whitley is the best at making it look so easy.

I hope I was able to give the inside scoop on the frightening truth about wine competitions.  Actually, better than reading all this garbage why not watch the video and see for yourself.

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