Friday, May 5, 2017

A Reprise: Cinco de Mayo in the New World Order

Cinco de Mayo: What Does It Have to do with Wine? 

Cinco de Mayo--and Mexican fare in general--is rarely if ever associated with wine. Beer, Sangria, and Margaritas are the go to drinks. Are there any wines that can be paired with Mexican food though? I tackled this subject seriously a few years ago. I hope you'll enjoy my muse through history, food, and wine.

You might Pair Whatever Wine You Like with Mexican, as long as the food's not too spicy,
or the wine not too high alcohol. Avoid throwing gasoline on a fire in other words.

That said, if you enjoy a true pairing, you can go a little deeper.

Things have changed. At least since the 1860s when the event known as Cinco de Mayo took place. It happened while the American Civil War was going on, and an overly ambitious French Emperor Napoleon III thought it would be a good idea to spread his empire into North America. The United States was way too self-absorbed to do anything about it, so he succeeded for a while at least. For a few years, an Austrian ruler of Mexico was installed by France to run things in the name of the Empire, but eventually, all of this collapsed under its own weight. Cinco de Mayo does not however celebrate the end of French rule. It is not an "independence day" of any kind.

The actual date the "Fifth of May" celebrates the Battle of Puebla, when Mexican forces scored an unlikely victory over the superior French troops. Granted it was just one battle, but it has stood to this day as a symbol of national and cultural pride, and provides us with a really great excuse to eat Mexican goodies and drink tequila and beer....(don't forget the wine!)   OK, not the smoothest of transitions, but this leads me to the events of the last few days.

Fierce Mexican Rebels in Period Costume

My mission was to find an appropriate combination of food and wine for this challenging occasion. 

My wife and I were planning a Mexican inspired meal of our own at home, to be enjoyed this weekend. I focused on a multi layered dip using "refried" black beans with chipotles in adobo, sauteed onions and corn with jalapenos, sauteed bell peppers, chopped Roma tomatoes, and melted cheese on top. Mashed avocado with lime, of course. This would seem pretty familiar to most Americans, so we had to look elsewhere as well to balance things out.

My wife has a great recipe: Vegetable Chiles Rellenos with Walnut Sauce; a "gourmet" New American spin on a Mexican classic. It took her a lot of work to make, and the results were well worth it. Every bite was interesting and complex. The two dishes worked hand in hand, with familiar Tex-Mex paired with a "New" Mexican dish. AND....there was no meat at all. We were eating vegetarian without even thinking about it.  But this brings us to that question:  hmmm... ...what to drink?   This was my wine challenge after all.

Real Food Pic: Vegetable Chiles Rellenos with Walnut Sauce

My choice was, of all things, a French wine. The irony was not lost on me, as I turned the corkscrew, and we toasted Napoleon III's well as those brave Mexican rebels, of course. This is actually the "new world order" I spoke of. French wine to celebrate a Mexican victory over French troops! So France's influence in all this is (other than misplaced military zeal): The food and wine pairings must come first! Leave empire building to others!

The wine we enjoyed was Domaine des Nouelles Rosé d'Anjou. Yes a Rosé!  It goes extremely well with the savory, spicy, earthy, and cheesy flavors that Mexican cooking boasts. Rosé d'Anjou also has quite a history of its own. For centuries, it has been considered among France's best. The fact that it by definition has to be semi-sweet has caused it to lose some of its allure in recent decades, as global wine preferences have drifted towards dryness. 

I suspected that this anticipated sweetness might be just the thing with spicy food (as it so often is), and my wife and I were both pleasantly surprised at how supple and refreshing the wine was. Anjou Rosés deserve a reacquaintance. It went incredibly well with the meal, and has been added to our short list for this summer's back yard wines.

So...   Wine with Mexican food?
Wine of the Imperialists

                   ....It really IS a new world order.

Thanks for your patience :)
'Till Next Time

--  Marc Soucy,  FWS

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Marc Soucy's Practical Wine Advice: Wine in a Restaurant Part 3 Color Addendum

Wine Color as an Indication of Condition   (Continued)

A flood of questions the size of the Douro/Duero River (see here) have come in regarding the value of aging wine, how the color relates to this, and when should you not worry about the color. 

Okay then.....

The fact is that most wine doesn't benefit that much from age. A year or so in the bottle generally makes the wine a little more complex and a little smoother. With white wines, the added complexity may or may not be attractive. It depends on many factors that I listed in part one of this article (read here). Generally speaking, white wines are mostly better younger, and red wines by comparison do benefit more from aging than whites. The red wines though should be ones that contain a lot of the solids from the grape skins. It is the role that these solids (including many polyphenols, crystallized acids, and tiny remnants of the winemaking process) play in the wine that makes aging improve the flavor. This process is not unlike what happens to a stew when allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator. The flavors seem to integrate and smooth out compared to what they were like when first cooked, when each ingredient is more obvious.

So, a little wine knowledge has to come into play here. Get to know which red grapes leave the most of these solids in the wine, and you'll have a decent starting point understanding which ones can be allowed to age the most. Lighter bodied reds--Pinot Noir comes to mind--usually do not age particularly well (Gevrey-Chambertin fans will break into a donnybrook right about now...and believe me I'm on your side) compared to sturdier wines like a quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or the famous collaboration of these two, red Bordeaux, especially the "cru classé" bunch ($$$$). Even though I am mentioning these three wines, there are lesser known wines like Sagrantino di Montefalco and higher end Petite Sirahs ($$$) that are so dense with polyphenols, they can benefit from a decade or two of aging easily. 

So why go on this tangent when we're supposedly discussing wine color? Because not all red wines change color at the same speed. Depending on what wine it is, they will develop those brownish hues earlier or later in their lives. Luckily for most people, even red wines are rarely meant to be aged for many years, and those that do typically bring a high price tag, so that's your main warning that this wine is something a little different from the one you brought to that party last week. It brings its own set of controls--financial ones--so you don't really have to worry much. 

Also, fortified wines--both red and white--like Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Moscatel de Setubal, Pineau des Charentes, Banyuls, Muscat-de-Beaume-de-Venise and on and on... take on a wide variety of colors that are caused by the peculiar production processes unique to their own region of production. The "rules" we are discussing pertaining to dry table wines do not apply nearly as much. 

Non-fortified dessert wines like Sauternes, Tokai, Beerenauslese, some Reccioto and late harvest styles, all have deeper richer colors that should also distinguish them from the drier wines. 

So what does all this mean in everyday practical terms?

If you don't order a fortified or dessert wine and don't order super expensive wine, all you have to do is make sure there are no brown hints in the color, and move onto to sniff and taste the wine quickly. 

See?    Easy!

...not necessarily the other way around.

Did I forget to mention Rosé ?

'Till Next Time...

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Marc Soucy's Practical Wine Advice: Ordering Wine in a Restaurant: color

Ordering Wine in a Restaurant (Part 3):  Color

Continuing my articles (read previous ones here) about ordering wine in a restaurant, let's talk about wine color. Above is a series of glasses with WHITE wine in all of them....yes that's right, white wine. The two on the right are not red wine. They are white wine that has evolved over time to show darker, browned, rusty... ...aged color. Over time, exposure to air--however tiny--temperature, vibration, light, and more importantly the wine's own organic chemical evolution, all contribute to these changes. Exposure to oxygen quickly accelerates these changes, hence the word "oxidation". What's most important about the color changes is that the flavors and aromas change along with the color. And that is why it's important to look at the wine carefully in a restaurant before accepting it. Simply put, if a white wine has brownish or reddish hues to it, it is suspect. Use this information to go on to the smell and taste part. We'll go over those in a later article. 

It's important to know that white wines that have not changed in this way often do not look the same anyway. Numbers 1 through 3 above are all in perfect condition from appearance. If I had to guess, I would say that #3 is an oak aged Chardonnay, but I could be wrong. Aging in oak does darken the color of white wine. Chardonnay is naturally a bit darker in color than say, Sauvignon Blanc, which most often looks like #1 or #2. This is why basing a judgement only on color would be a mistake. Brownish white wine has almost certainly gone bad, and the lighter the color, the more likely it is that the wine is in good shape. Think freshness. Most white wines do not benefit from aging, so signs of age--like a darker color--is a warning sign.  But not a disqualifier. 

Red wine is of course darker by nature, so the color is a bit harder to spot. Again think of freshness. The more red and vivid the color, the fresher the red wine. Some grapes produce wine that is naturally a bit "browner" than others--Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo can for example--so you do have to use smell and taste to confirm the condition. The brownish tinge might be a sign of too much aging or oxidation. It might not. It's just a bit of useful information as you evaluate your wine. 

One piece of advice. In a restaurant, try to get used to doing this as quickly as you're comfortable with. Memorize the few facts I've laid out here and just take a quick look at the wine. Use the color as a guide post and nothing more. Move on to the smell and then the taste very quickly. Your job is only to make sure the wine has not gone bad. You're not doing a wine review. 

You'll probably get better service from your waiter if you don't make a show out of it. 

And your tablemates will appreciate it. :)

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET

Marc Wine Blog

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Marc Soucy on Wine Culture: How to Approach Small Food Part 2


In my last article (read here), we discussed a little of the reasoning behind small food in Mediterranean cuisine. Remember those picture of small portions of finely prepared dishes from the Veneto region of Italy? There were between five and seven courses like that in some of the meals I experienced. Well, take a look here at this multi course French meal:

See the Similarities to the Italian preparations?
I'll rush through this rather sloppily, but to understand the point, a typical French dish undergoes the following:  careful slicing and dicing of many items, pan searing the meat, sauteeing the vegetables, finishing the cooking in a stock with wine ("braising"), boiling more wine and stock in the pan with the solids where the meat was seared to gradually create a sauce, and then assembling the entire thing so it looks appealing and decorative on the plate. And there are a number of additional techniques and "secret ingredients" involved (see Demi Glace for example). Not every French meal is so involved, but the results of this kind of effort is that every bite has more flavor: both in intensity but even more so in subtlety, even though that sounds like a contradiction. The nuance of each bite is intended to draw attention and focus our mind on the experience. I noticed the exact same thing in my recent trip to Italy. 

A serving for four of a small dish can easily contain several cups of reduced vegetables that you barely see, an entire bottle of wine, the main ingredient of course, and a series of well practiced cooking techniques. So what winds up being just a few bites of food, actually contains a pretty big amount of nutrients and flavor compounds that come from all the stuff that went into those few bites. This is rather different than the traditional American approach of grilling the best piece of meat you can find, and leaving it to shine on its own. French cooking is almost like organic engineering by comparison. 

To the left is a modern French dinner plate, somewhat typical of what a meat eater might have for dinner. The portions are modest, but every bite is an experience. 

Below is a similar dish that is in the "Nouvelle Cuisine" style. Notice its decorative aspect, and relatively smaller size. When done right, a ton goes into it.

By tasting through a number of plates such as these, with each having very different ingredients and flavors, you can wind up with quite a large and satisfying meal. So much so, that the Italians have developed a reputation for over-feeding people. The French on the other hand, are doing the same thing, but have the reputation of under-feeding people. Why is that?  My theory is that because French food looks more like American food (meat, potatoes, vegetables), Americans compare a single French plate to a single American plate, and come to the conclusion that they are roughly the same but the French give you less. 

The truth though, is that for a formal dinner, the French will have a few dishes like this, not just one. This type of cooking can be expensive because of all the expertise, prep time, and ingredients that go into them. If you simply find it too expensive, do give it a try a couple of times when you can. Pay close attention to the flavors, and take plenty of time to savor them. You will not regret it. I've frequently given the same advice about wine. There is a reason these things go together so well.

Each of the Three Meals Above are from a Different Country.
Can You Tell Which Country Each Comes from?

Remember, Italian, French, Spanish, and other Mediterranean cultures value meal time as a social event. It's healthier and makes life more special. We celebrate life together and reflect upon the bounty created by our success as a society, even when things aren't always going great. 

We make things better by what we eat and what we drink. 

Not a bad motto.

'Till Next Time,
 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET

Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Marc Soucy on Wine Culture: How to Approach Small Food Part 1


Question:   Where Does This Dish Come From?

Take a Moment. Guess in Which Country I was Served This A Few Days Ago.

tick tock tick tock

The answer is:


Yes. I just got back from a wonderful trip to the Veneto region of Italy, where several times I was served meals that consisted of small portions of very varied ingredients. These pictures are just some of them. 
Wine Culture is a major focus of mine, and this topic has come up many times during my travels and conversations with primarily my fellow Americans, about the nature of these small portions you get from certain European cuisines. I'd like to shed a little light on what this is all about, and invite others to chime in as well. Frankly, it's a topic that is often only whispered about, and rarely discussed that openly.

Well, let's do that.

This is PART 1:

I've written about the influence of the Roman Empire and of Italy on the wine world in the past (see here). One of the influences was the celebration of life, of the harvest, and of their success, through a sampling of the many dishes they could invent with the ingredients they had come to have access to.       Variety is the spice of life. 

La Dolce Vita. 

Instead of making a roast and a pile of root vegetables for a celebratory meal as was--and is--common in the more northern European countries, the Mediterranean countries followed the Roman model of smaller portions of more varied things. It reminded them, and does today, of just how good life can be. It reminds them of success.

Add to this the fact that mealtime is considered a major social gathering in these countries, and not a refueling stop, and you have the makings of a slow procession of small plates, each meant to be an experience on its own, and contributing to the whole event. They each stimulate conversation, stimulate the mind and body, and truly celebrate life in the region you are in, so to speak. The ingredients are usually from nearby--just as in the farm-to-table movement in today's America--and for this reason dictate a regional uniqueness to the food. For these reasons, it's not uncommon for a major meal to take several hours, something unthinkable to many Americans.

Indeed the dishes pictured above bear little resemblance to what most Americans picture when they think of "Italian food":

Italian American classic: Spaghetti and Meatballs
Delicious but not Authentically Italian
It is also important to this discussion to bring up two other countries:  France and Spain

France's cuisine has been in the forefront of fine dining for Americans going back over two centuries. Our Founding Fathers were in love with French cooking. There have been hiccups along the way, but largely, French cuisine has improved almost everyone else's expectations from their meals. (ref: Julia Child) The complex and laborious techniques used are the main source of this inspiration. True, French dining is also known for its more formal aspects, but in fact, it has a very informal and "comfort food" side to it as well. 

Spain's cuisine is most famous for their Tapas. And what are they? Small sharable plates that inspire a variety of experience, conversation, and well, FUN.  Sound familiar? Spanish cooking has enormous variety that exists within a definitely identifiable style and range of flavors. The communal aspect to the meal reinforces the social gathering function of eating together, and again, celebrates life and nature's bounty.   

There is so much to say about small food, a single blog article is insufficient. 
So, I'll continue this discussion in upcoming articles. 

Please stay tuned and Visit here again. 

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET
Marc Wine Blog

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Marc Soucy's Wine Blog is 5 Years Old Today

Marc Soucy's Wine Blog, is 


Trainin' the Ole' Schnoz

Thanks to all my readers from all over the world for keeping me going.
At this moment, there have been well over 88,500 visitors so far!

My mission is and has always been to spread the word about how life can be
improved by including wine, and learning more about how that is done and why
it is done. Maybe you think this is too big a subject, or too frivolous to bother with.

I don't. 

Life it too short not to make the very most of it. Details matter.
Making a BIG DEAL out of Certain Things Makes Life BETTER.

Just Keep it FUN While You're Doing It.

Advanced Wine and Food Pairing Class Gone Awry (no that's not me!)

I hope to continue providing you with new perspectives on how to enjoy wine more! 
(even though regrettably, the articles have not been nearly as frequent as I would like.)

My exploration of the wine and spirits trade continues: Playing more and more roles in the industry, advancing my knowledge and fascination with wine, wine culture and history, and other topics, and even engaging in a competitive environment I never thought I would experience. It continues to excite, and simultaneously bewilder how all of this works.

So, with continued fascination.... 

Until Next Time!

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Iberia's Douro and Duero : One of the World's Great Wine River Valleys

News Flash: Wine Terroir Trumps National Borders

In this article, I'm going to focus on yet another approach to understanding wine for relatively new enthusiasts. For far too long, I've heard wines referred to by their country of origin, as if the national boundaries are the end of the story. I believe the wine producing world needs to be understood without the constraints of national borders and "political maps"....or at least this additional angle should be taken into serious consideration.

When you focus on the concept of "terroir" especially, the regional topography, climate, soil type, and substrata do not know anything about which country they are in. With the exception of Australia and New Zealand who have no land neighbors, there are often adjacent wine producing regions right across the border in the next country. The Iberian peninsula has a couple of clear examples of this. 

In the northern corner of Portugal where Vinho Verde is made, one grape in particular, Alvarinho, is sometimes used to give this popular (mostly white) blend more structure and elegant flavor. It grows very well in the granite laced, high acid soils. Prevailing winds from the Atlantic Ocean to the west introduce an additional saline quality that enhances the effects of mineral deposits beneath the topsoil. This makes the wine extra refreshing, and a natural to pair with fresh shellfish. Well, travel due north across the Spanish border, and you're in Rias Baixas, perhaps Spain's most important white wine region. Their most popular white is--you guessed it--Albariño (the Spanish name for Portugal's Alvarinho). Similar soil and climate conditions exist there, where nature ignores the national boundary.

Less than a one hour drive south, back in Portugal, lies the Douro River, famed for it's contribution of Port wines to the world. Travel eastward towards Spain, and you pass through the Douro wine region, where the grapes for both Port and for the excellent dry red wines of Douro are grown. Then you hit Spain.    ...Does the wine world end there ?   Haha!

Focus on the Blue-Lined Douro / Duero River
Of COURSE NOT. The Douro River cuts north, forming a portion of the border with Spain, then it turns eastward.  Guess what's there?  Toro, Rueda, and Ribera del Duero among others. Rueda is arguably another of Spain's top white wines, made from the Verdejo grape. The other two regions boast some of Spain's boldest reds, each made from variations of Rioja's famed Tempranillo grape. The same river system has given birth to a large number of important wine growing regions. Terroir wins out by contributing what the environment has to contribute.

The fact that they're in a different country, and the river has a slightly different name doesn't seem to bother the vines. 

-- Marc Soucy  FWS  CSW  WSET

definition:  FWS (French Wine Scholar)  
Certification (with honors) by the Wine Scholar Guild, Washington D.C. & Paris France

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Big Swing (price targetting and affordability)

Well, where do I start?

The Big Swing is a process I've experienced as a wine lover over the years. I think most wine drinkers know the temptation of trying wines that are above their normal price range. Is it worth it? Will it be greater than what I'm used to? Will I then be stuck spending more money on wine because I can't go back to that plonk I was drinking? Might I feel cheated, like I wasted my money? These are very common feelings believe it or not, but ones we rarely share with each other.

Wine prices vary...a lot. I've encountered many people who've asked me why wine is so expensive. (I have written quite a bit about the answer to this question in a series of articles that starts here.) The short answer though is: How can they make wine so cheap? The answer, as in so many other industries, is mass production and shortcuts. These facts are not to criticize or diminish the value of the wines they produce, since they allow people of modest means to choose wine as a part of their lives. On average, this is a positive thing.

If you are used to drinking mass-produced wines because of their lower price point, you will at some point get to try something more expensive, and more carefully produced. Will you like it? That's when all those questions I presented above come into play.

As a devoted wine lover, I have obviously tried many wines at many price points, and struggle with the economics of the whole process. When is a bottle of wine worth $30 or more to me? Clearly it's when I feel like I can afford it, and like I am ready to experience something a little more special. And it's only by doing it once in a while that you learn to appreciate the "special-ness" of those wines. The exact price point is not the point here. It's whatever you consider to be "too expensive for me". Special occasions certainly come to mind here, but I also love the idea of making an occasion special by getting a nicer wine to try. 

Sancerre is One of the World's Great Sauvignon Blancs
Though You Wouldn't Know It from the Label
So, the "Big Swing" (remember that's the title of this article), is the periods of time I experience when I've decided I'm sick of the cheaper wines I've been settling for, and it's time to up my game, at least for a while. Yup, more of my money will be spent on wine, and eventually this will start to bite. At some indeterminate point, I will decide that I've had enough luxury, and am ready to come down to earth and spend less on my average bottle.  It's a little hard adjusting, but I do. This becomes the time when I seek out the lower priced wines that are simply better than the rest. Yes that's right, trying the more expensive wines helps me identify the good ones from the less good at the lower price range. This has happened a couple dozen times to me over the last twenty years. These periods can last for a few weeks, or even a year or more. Ultimately, it starts over and over, swinging from once price range to the other. 

Of what value is this concept? I guess it's that this experience has taught me a great deal about wine: it's relative value, pricing, characteristics of higher priced wines, what wine adds to a meal, how much of a good "cocktail" it can be (or not, depending), and my own relationship with it. Why do I now understand what I get for my $20 when I buy a bottle of Sancerre? It's because I've tried them enough times for it all to make sense. And I've paid attention to the experience.

I hope that more and more people start reaching above their own comfort zones into wines that have more character and uniqueness. You only have to do it in spurts, and stop when it starts to bite. Small producers, hand picked grapes, lower chemical content, carefully selected vineyard sites, these are hallmarks of special wines, though those alone do not make the wines themselves special. 

Only you can do that. 

Me too.

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog
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