WineCountry Staff: April 2007 Archives

Now That’s MY Kind of Wine Party

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As someone who hosts wine parties for a living, people often ask me what goes into throwing a really fantastic tasting.

the question
“What’s the secret?” they ask, looking for the key to taking usually stodgy wine appreciation into the realm of the hip, the fabulous and the entertaining.

the answer

Before, I would have said that I couldn’t quite put my finger on any particular recipe for success when it comes to extraordinary wine events. But after attending the Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town tasting in San Francisco last month, I can now say that the secret to hosting the most fabulous parties lies in just a few critical ingredients:

- first, provide LOTS of wine
- add to that unlimited amounts of delicious food
- invite around a thousand guests
- finally, host said event in a gorgeous, theatrical spot

the Studio 54 of wine parties
Held inside San Francisco’s wonderfully glam War Memorial Opera House, the Wine Enthusiast event added to these ingredients live jazz and a terrific crowd. The result was a swanky nightclub-like vibe, especially as the evening progressed and the wine continued to flow. I was so caught up in the revelry, in fact, that I forgot my VIP goodie bag at the end of the night (but at least I left in a taxi!).

While there, I met and mingled with dozens of guests, sampled bite-sized hors d’oeuvres from a long list of high-end eateries, and – naturally! – tried close to 100 wines. It was like being in a wine and food fantasy land along with 999 new friends. Even the exhibitors seemed to have a fabulous time: Folks from wineries were seen buzzing around to other vendors, checking out who was there and sampling their goods.

there’s always next year

If you’re looking for a little extra excitement in a wine tasting, I highly recommend checking out Toast of the Town next year. In the mean time, there are plenty of consumer wine events held throughout the year where you can warm up for Toast. I can’t guarantee that any of them will manage to pull off the nightclub vibe, but then again that special mix of ingredients - 1,000 guests, dramatic setting, unlimited wine & amazing food - can be a little tough to pull together.

contributed by: Courtney Cochran

By Courtney Cochran

When I spent three weeks in the south of France last summer I chronicled just about everything I did in my blog. Besides documenting winery visits to tony spots like Bordeaux’s Château Margaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Beaucastel, I blogged about nightclubbing in St. Tropez, shopping in Cannes, and gambling in Monte Carlo.

What could be more natural, I thought?

To me, these experiences were integral parts of my wine country travels. But to others, I’m sure some of these activities – the clubbing, the shopping or the gambling (or all of them!) – may seem like hedonistic side jaunts unrelated to wine.

But these “extras” are exactly what I love about blogs (short for web logs). Unlike more traditional publications, blogs are highly personalized and often include eclectic commentary on authors’ unique experiences, impressions and opinions. They bring their subjects – whether they’re widgets or wine makers – to life in a way more mainstream publications simply can’t.

No question about it, blogs are now key players in the editorial landscape, and the opportunities they afford travelers to gain an inside look into the activities and personalities of places can’t be underestimated. And although there’s no shortage of wine blogs out there, a handful of them do terrifically well at showcasing wine country travel.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of my favorites:

Founded in 2004 by San Francisco-based entrepreneur and wine enthusiast Alder Yarrow, Vinography may just be the most popular wine blog on the Web. In it, Yarrow ably canvases a broad swath of wine-related subject material including wine reviews, event listings, industry trends, and – yes – travel. His coverage of a trip to New Zealand in late 2006 is rife with amusing insights, beautiful photography and useful tips on tasting, touring and dining. Besides this and other travel notes, Vinography includes an extensive list of links to other wine blogs, publications, and resources, making it a dynamite jumping off point for your foray into the wine blogosphere.

Gang of Pour
Run by a wry group of wine writers located in Detroit, Ohio, California, and Canada, Gang of Pour takes on the subject of wine in decidedly amusing ways. With features like “Rednecks & Red Rhônes” and “Lot-a-Palooza” (about something called “lot” wine production), Gang of Pour puts an entertaining spin on its subjects that’s made it one of the Web’s most popular wine blogs. And with a rich cache of travel-related reporting, it’s a favorite of mine for tips on where to go and what to taste in off-the-beaten-path places like Niagara and Oregon. Watch for regularly updated wine travel features in Gang of Pour’s “Daze of Wine and Road Trips” e-journal.

Tom Cannavan's wine-pages
Wine-pages is the long-time passion of Tom Cannavan, whose day job is editing “Fine Expressions”, a glossy bi-monthly magazine devoted to wine and premium drinks. Founded in 1995, wine-pages is a veritable Internet dinosaur, but don’t expect antiquated design or features: The site is spiffy and up-to-date and includes a great archive of wine-related material, from a BYO guide and book reviews to tasting notes and travel guides. And with its detailed notes on excursions to wine country around the globe, Cannavan’s site is my pick for the most practical wine travel tips. Voyagers can expect to find advice on “eating and sleeping” and “wines and things to do” throughout Europe, in the US, and in South Africa. Bon voyage!

Mike and Mary Colhoun

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mikecalhoun.jpgMaking Their Mark in Wine Country with Landmark Vineyards

Under Michael Colhoun's guidance, Landmark Vineyards has catapulted from a little-known winery to world-class prominence. Michael's achievements were best summed up in a recent article by James Laube in the Wine Spectator, "Since 1993, Landmark's Chardonnays have been among the most exciting wines made in California, combining uniformly high quality with excellent value."

Prior to 1993, Michael was Executive Vice President of a commercial real estate brokerage and development company in the New York metropolitan area. All of that changed when his mother, Damaris Deere Ford, the great, great granddaughter of John Deere and the Founder of Landmark, needed someone with marketing, sales and operational skills to run the winery.

Fry Wines – What You Need to Know

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Fry Wines – What You Need to Know

If you think about it, our associations with wine and fries are worlds apart – gustatorially speaking. One we pick up in so-called upscale places where we feel obliged to pronounce the names of obscure producers and lands with just the right touch of accent and well-cultivated vinous savvy.

for example: “Why yes, Server Jeffrey, I’d like a glass of the 2002 Olivier Leflaive Corton Charlemagne. Oh, and please don’t serve it too cold. I hate it when I can’t pick up all the nutty nuances in my White Burgundy.”

Okay, Mr. Big Man, coming right up.

The latter, on the other hand, we’re accustomed to ordering at the local Mickey-dees drive-through, where the process couldn’t be less ceremonious.

e.g., take two: “Um, yes, I’d like the, uh, Big Mac - no onions - and a side of fries…Large. Oh, and please don’t forget the ketchup.”

It would seem, to the uninitiated, that these two twains just aren’t meant to meet.

Let’s Get Together
But that’s just where you’re wrong.

Wine and fries actually share a colorful and – if not remarkably long or widely celebrated – history together. A favorite combo in French bistros and their offspring around the world, wine and fries come together on the table more often than you might think, and often to great effect.

Steak Frites – This classic French bistro dish is just what it sounds like: a well-marbled steak alongside some greasy fries. Together, the combo is high in both fat and salt (fat comes from both, the salt mostly from the fries), which is a big reason why we like it so much. Note: the concepts of “light” and “low sodium” don’t exist in France.

Croque Monsieur – Another French favorite, a Croque Monsieur is a glorified grilled cheese sandwich dressed up with a slice of ham and some good bread, buttered and grilled - naturally. Fries on the side round out the wonderfully fatty experience and lend this already salty dish (thanks to the cheese, bread AND ham) still more salt. Mais bien sûr!

Make Mine a Fry Wine
Not just any wine will work with fries. Super salty and fatty, fry dishes call for wines that are low in tannin (salt makes tannins – the chalky, chewy substances found in red wines – seem stronger than they really are) and light in body. Light-bodied wines tend to have high levels of acidity, and fatty foods need zippy acidity to cut through all their grease.

Red Pick – Simple, straightforward fruity reds from Beaujolais in France make the best wines for meat-driven fry dishes like Steak Frites. These wines hit all the right notes: they’re light in body, high in acid and simple in structure – just like the bistro dish you’re tucking into. Even better, they’re super cheap – usually clocking in at $10 a bottle and under – putting them on a perfect price par with your grub.

White Pick – With its melted cheese and buttery bread, a Croque Monsieur calls for a crisp white wine, while its mega-high salt content cries out for something sweet (strange as it may sound, sweetness is the ultimate counterbalance to saltiness). This is why crisp, sweet German Riesling is the perfect partner for the Monsieur. Reach for one with the word “Kabinett” or “Spätlese” on its label for an unforgettable fry-wine combo.

contributed by: Courtney Cochran