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 label, 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This April my focus is to run an extensive cocktail month across my many restaurants. Most of you know me as the wine guy, but for the last 3 and a half years my focus has been much more so on liquor and beer. The trends across my restaurants are liquor and beer increasing as a percentage in sales a much higher rate than wine sales. It makes me sad to say that wine has taken a steady decline. But I cannot get dragged down by, I have to focus on what people want. And it seems as though they want spirits. April will be CRG Cocktail Month. I have a lot of really cool promotions, events and dinners planned out. Make some space on your calendar and check out a few of these events.
Two company-wide promotions you will have to check out. We kick off the month with $5 cocktails. Come in to any of the participating restaurants and check out my bartender’s creations for $5. Each restaurant will have a different selection of 5 cocktails for $5, all day long for 5 days! This will take place April 2nd-6th. Come mid-month, just as you are turning in your taxes, and we will turn on the cocktail specials again. This time enjoy 2 cocktails for the $10.40. Drown your tax woes with a friend and try any of the participating restaurants’ fresh cocktails. Whether it is Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Rum or Whiskey; we will have something for you.
The most fun part of my job is coming up with creative events where you can enjoy an afternoon or evening with friends. Some are educational while others are a good party. The first event of note is a two part event. At Sea 180 Coastal Tavern I am inviting local distillers from Henebery Whiskey, Malahat Distillers and Cutwater Spirits for a panel discussion and tasting. We will meet in the Boca Rio room where the distillers will talk about their projects and walk us through their spirits in a classroom style tasting. Following the panel, we head out to the Patio for a cocktail party. Sea 180 will provide snacks and live music. You will enjoy live cocktail demonstrations with local spirits. See, you can have your cocktail and eat it too, get educated while you party! Only if this was available when I was in college.
Mid-month we pay homage to my favorite spirit, Tequila! Our first annual Tequila Fest will be held on the Harbor Float at Coasterra. Deborah Scott features the signature dishes from her 5 restaurants, Coasterra, Island Prime, C-Level, Vintana & Indigo Grill. Tequila and Mezcal producers will taste you on their best agave spirits. I will be releasing our collaboration with Modern Times and Azunia Tequila. I have been working on a very special beer aged in Tequila barrels and flavored with salted plums and tamarind just for this event. And to bring even more life to an already bumping party, DJ Süsio spins Latin Beats. Your ticket gets you 5 food tickets, 1 signature cocktail and unlimited tastes of agave spirits. For those of you looking for wine, beer or creative cocktails, a full cash bar will be available.
The last major event is a San Diego Bartender Competition. We have invited the top bartenders in the city to join us at Analog for a friendly competition with Makers 46. Maker’s Mark will be there sharing and teaching guests about whiskey and their many brands. All the while, a live bar competition will take place. Bartenders will compete in a two part competition. The first, they bring with them their best Maker’s Mark 46 cocktail. For the second competition they will be given a limited amount of time to create a cocktail using a secret ingredient. Analog will provide snacks for everyone, tastes of Maker’s whiskeys and a full cash bar will be available in the Karaoke room.
To round out the month our chef’s host dinners at their restaurants. All cocktail inspired of course. 333 Pacific, our vodka lounge, has Chef Steven Zurkey pairing his delightful creations with Absolut Vodka. C-level’s chef, Mike Suttles is pairing whiskey with his creations. Bo Beau + Garden’s chef, Tyler will have a variety of spirits to choose from and doing a cocktail dinner. Finally, Vintana is hosting an interactive brunch, Brunch en Blanc. Every one dressed in white trying white spirits paired to Chef Bryan Brown’s brunch favorites. In true Vintana fashion, live music will be played during this brunch while bartenders shake up white spirits for you to enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
If you have ever worked in the service industry, you would know that the holiday season is the strangest time of the year. It seems that the holidays brings out the worst in people. This year we have no time to indulge in negativity. We need to change our habits while dining this holiday season. As Jon Oliver put it, 2016 has been a F…up year. Regardless of where you stand on your political, social and economic views, it is safe to say that we are pretty divided. This has to end!
FAMILY DINING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Every holiday season I see this happen. Families get together because they feel like they have to. The result is a horrible experience for them and for the restaurant. Here is a look into a typical American family dinner:
The father is upset he is not watching the game and pissed he has to sit with his mother-in-law
The teenage kids are bored as can be, and embarrassed by the fact that mom can’t eat anything on the menu because it doesn’t fit her gluten-free diet.
Grandma can’t hear a thing, so everyone needs to talk in loud voices, which brings more embarrassment to the teenagers. Especially when the parents begin to talk about the kids’ personal affairs.
Grandpa is pissed that he has to pick up the bill, and is actively looking to catch the server in a mistake so he can receive a discount.
This scenario is all too common for servers. The server is walking on eggshells, trying not to ignite the volatile tension at the table by making a mistake or saying the wrong thing.
This is not fair. If you do not enjoy being with your family, please do not take them out. The restaurant staff could be with their families, but instead are working so others can enjoy the holiday. And it sucks if you can’t enjoy it because you can’t get along with your mother-in-law, you obviously are taking the day for granted.
This brings me back to 2016. So much has gone down this year. All this stuff is outside of our control. What we can control is how we interact with our loved ones. Family is all you really have. Yes, they can annoy the hell out of you, but that is because they know you and you know them so well. Stop trying to control who they are and learn to accept them. When it is all said and done, they will be the ones responsible for your funeral and carrying on your legacy. This year, go out with your family on the holidays. But this time, enjoy their company. Put aside your disagreements. It is not a time of giving, but a time of accepting. Accept your family for who they are and be kind to you servers.
The holidays also bring out the demons we have suppressed all year-long. The worst part is that they usually come out at the office holiday party. There is always one person whom you thought you knew, and then WHAM! Put a little alcohol in them and they transform into another being. The problem, is that they usually do not remember what they did. This year, don’t be that guy or girl who has to ruin the party. So many companies have stopped throwing holiday parties because of the one person who cannot control their alcohol. How can we prevent it this year?
If you normally do not drink alcohol throughout the year, don’t start the night of your office party.
Do not pressure your quite co-worker to drink that night, you never know what you are going to get.
Throughout the year, voice your concerns about your boss and co-workers directly with them. Do not bottle up everything and let it all out the night of the party. Uncool!
Do not bring a date to the party whom you do not know. You never know what you are going to get. It can cost you your job.
THE SERVICE STAFF
Remember that employees of the restaurant have families and friends and have either chosen or been scheduled to work on the holiday. They could be at their friends’ or family gathering, but instead they are serving you. Be respectful. Don’t ruin their day just because you can’t hold your liquor or get along with your family. Be generous, tip them properly. Do not be a Scrooge.