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Columns – Marguerite Thomas

Tyranny or Anarchy?
Marguerite Thomas
May 10, 2016

No, I'm not talking about the current political situation here. It's food and wine pairing that's caught my attention just now following a recent web surfing session during which I was surprised to discover that the word "tyranny" is frequently used in conjunction with the phrase food and wine pairing. "Wine and food matching has become a tyranny," declares Master of Wine Tim Hanni. "Food and wine matching should be important, but not a tyranny," writes Fiona Beckett, whose website happens to be one of my favorites on this subject (food and wine, not tyranny). Blake Gray, meanwhile, wrote about apps on his blog: 'Since food and wine pairing is mysterious and counter-intuitive, if you have a pairing app that tells you One Dish--One Wine, immutably, with no wiggle room, it's a tyrant in your pocket.'

Thinking Pink and the Rise of Rosé
Marguerite Thomas
Apr 5, 2016

With warm weather lurking just around the corner here in the northern hemisphere it's time to start thinking about roséA Actually, an increasing number of us think about rosé in all seasons! Several of Manhattan's best sommeliers now include 'Winter Rosés' as a category on their lists (metro New York City drinks 20 percent of all imported rosé in the US). Victoria Moore writes in Britain's The Telegraph, 'In France, sales [of rosé] have exceeded those of white wine for several years now. Over here, rosé is drunk winter and summer and goes stratospheric every time the sun shines.' Google Trends reports that December is now typically the month when searches for rosé wine peak. And not only has rosé evolved into a year round drink, according to a flurry of recent articles men (gasp!) are embracing rosé, or brosé as the trendies call it.

Speaking of Wine: Cyril Brun from Charles Heidsieck
Marguerite Thomas
Feb 23, 2016

Champagne Charles Heidsieck, which was founded in 1851, was the first producer to bring Champagne to the United States. Cyril Brun, who was senior winemaker at Veuve Clicquot for the past 15 years, moved to Charles Heidsieck last May to fill the position left vacant in the wake of cellarmaster Thierry Roset's sudden death in 2014. I recently interviewed Cyril about his life and his upcoming move to become senior winemaker at Charles Heidsieck.

Venturing Beyond the Top Five
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 12, 2016

Dear fellow American wine drinkers: Can we resolve to bust out of our all-too-familiar wine drinking habits and try some new varieties in 2016? According to the Wine Market Council 39 million Americans drink wine several times a week. And do you know what we're drinking? The most popular top five varieties, ranked in order of preference, are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Now I certainly have nothing against a good Chardonnay or Cabernet myself, but come on people, let's be a little more adventuresome here.

Colorado Winemaking Gets Serious
Marguerite Thomas
Dec 1, 2015

Colorado is a notoriously welcoming state for skiers and snowboarders, for hikers, bikers, kayakers, bird watchers, and outdoor music lovers. And as any bon vivant who has ever attended the Aspen Food & Wine Classic or the Telluride Wine Festival will tell you, Colorado is also a great place for sampling top wines from around the world. Less well known is the fact that Colorado's own vintners are beginning to produce some very impressive wines of their own.

Oysters to the Rescue
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 20, 2015

If you're an oyster enthusiast as well as a wine lover I'm sure you'll agree with me that one of the best things about our favorite bivalves is how much they can enhance the pleasure of imbibing a glass of Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis or Champagne. But oysters have an even more important role to play than bringing us gustatory happiness: As dynamo filters, we are counting on them to help clean our polluted water systems. When the explorer Henry Hudson sailed his 85 foot ship the Half Moon into the New York Harbor in 1609, he had to navigate around 220,000 acres (acres!) of oyster reefs. The oysters in the harbor had sustained the local Lenape people for generations, and when Hudson arrived that estuary was one of the most biologically pristine, diverse and dynamic waterways in the world. Fast forward to 1906. Not a single oyster is left in New York Harbor, having all disappeared down the gullets of rapacious New Yorkers.

Tasting Sicilian White Wines
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 25, 2015

I was in Italy earlier this summer attending VinoVip, an annual event at which Italian vintners show their wines. Sponsored by the wine magazine Civiltá del Bere, VinoVip attracts hundreds of people including wine buyers, wine writers, and wine drinkers. The gathering is set in the magnificent Dolomite Alps, a locale recently described in The New York Times as a "geological wonderland." Among the exciting discoveries for me this year was the great variety of white wines from Sicily.

A Long Time Coming: Artisanal American Vermouth
Marguerite Thomas
Jun 30, 2015

In view of the fact that sales of artisanal vermouth in the United States skyrocketed in 2014, making vermouth one of the fastest-growing categories in the US wine trade, the recent release of Adam Ford's book, Vermouth: The Revival Of The Spirit That Created America's Cocktail Culture is well timed. Adam Ford knows first hand what he's talking about: A lawyer by trade, he has created Atsby Vermouth, one of America's leading craft vermouths, which he produces on Long Island's North Fork. Nicely written and beautifully illustrated, the book moves chronologically from the beginnings of the world's oldest spirit (vermouth is at least 10,000 years old) through the history of vermouth in America, and on to contemporary American vermouth.

The American Plate
Marguerite Thomas
May 5, 2015

'In some respects, the past is another country…with flavors all its own that are well worth exploring,' writes Libby H. O'Connell in the introduction to The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites. In the book O'Connell, an historian, educator and Emmy award-winning documentary producer, shares fascinating facts and entertaining insights into the transformation of our palates from the year 1400 to today. Of course the book focuses on food rather than drink--it's called 'American Plate' not 'American Glass'--but since our ancestors could clearly equal, or even best us in amount of alcohol consumed, the subject of beverages does get some attention.

Sometimes Dreams Do Come True
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 27, 2015

Come on, admit it--even if it's been for only a minute or two…you've fantasized about having your own winery, right? Okay, maybe not actually owning a winery, but being a winemaker, perhaps one of those consulting vintners who jets around following the harvests from New Zealand to Napa. Or, if you're more the outdoorsy sort, maybe you've had a dream of retiring to Oregon to grow fabulous Pinot Noir grapes. But here's one thing I bet you've never had a secret yearning for: Becoming a vineyard field worker doing what the Farm Bureau portrays as, 'Hard, stoop, hand labor, [working] under the sometimes less advantageous conditions of heat, sun, dust, winds and isolation.'

The Evening's Opening Embrace
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 25, 2014

I fell in love with vermouth and other fortified aperitif wines long before fancy table wine seduced me. This infatuation began in my earliest drinking days, when I lived on the coast in western France. The wine we generally consumed with dinner was for the most part local, generic, inexpensive, simple, and tasty: Vin Ordinaire. Occasionally we indulged in a pricy Bordeaux or wine from the Loire, smacking our lips and agreeing that it was tres bon, but for the most part we drank the local stuff, which we thoroughly enjoyed without making a fuss over it. But ah, the aperitif before dinner, now that was another matter altogether.

Autumn in a Glass: Musings on a Seasonal Appetite
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 30, 2014

Just because fall is in the air, I have no intention of giving up the juicy rosés, the spine-tingling Sauvignon Blancs, and the crisp unoaked Chardonnays that were so cool and refreshing on hot summer evenings. But as the days grow shorter, temperatures cooler, and meals more robust…I am probably going to be a bit more discerning about my wine and be less inclined to lazily toss back a glass of that simple Pinot Blanc I guzzled so thoughtlessly in August. I'll be more likely to seek out a beautifully structured white such as Hanzell Chardonnay, and I'll take time to really notice and savor its special attributes.

Review: Proof--The Science of Booze
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 5, 2014

Proof--The Science of Booze, by Adam Rogers, may not be a book for everyone (the anti-alcohol crowd probably won't be interested), but it's hard to imagine any serious wine drinker who wouldn't find Proof chockablock full of fascinating facts and information. The writing is clear, concise, and full of humor in a very readable style that's even more impressive from a writer who specializes in science and technology (the award winning author is currently articles editor at Wired.)

Taste Matters
Marguerite Thomas
Jun 10, 2014

Along with vision and hearing, taste and smell are critical aspects of human existence, but while the mechanics of how we hear and see things have been known for a long time the science of taste and smell has only recently been studied seriously. Since I spend a good portion of my life tasting (and drinking) wine, as well as developing recipes and cooking (and eating) a fairly broad range of different kinds of food, I am particularly curious about how the chemistry of food and drink translates into taste. To learn more about all this, I recently went to Philadelphia, where I spent a day at the Monell Center. Founded forty-five years ago, Monell is the world's only independent, non-profit scientific institute dedicated to basic research into the senses of taste and smell.

High Level Wine
Marguerite Thomas
Apr 15, 2014

Here's a mini quiz for you: Which country can boast the highest vineyards in the world? Yes, Switzerland, where terraced vineyards range from 2132 to 3772 feet above sea level, is a pretty good guess, but it's the wrong guess. In fact Switzerland can't even lay claim to the highest vineyard in Europe. That distinction goes to Spain, more specifically to Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. On Tenerife, vines are cultivated on the volcanic slopes of El Teide at more than 5000 feet above sea level. (To put this in perspective, consider that Napa's mountain vineyards tend to max out at around 3000 feet.)

Speaking of Wine
Marguerite Thomas
Feb 18, 2014

The words we use to talk about wine say a lot about who we are and how we think about wine. Obviously, those of us who write about it have a particular interest in choosing the most suitable words to describe wine, but even interested consumers can learn to be more precise, more honest, really, in their choice of words when talking about it. I would even suggest that the words we use often determine how we think about wine.

Shifting Into Soup Mode
Marguerite Thomas
Dec 17, 2013

Remember the Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode when George says, 'Shh, I gotta focus. I'm shifting into soup mode'? That's what usually happens to me this time of year as I go into a frenzy of dreaming up new and ever more wonderful kinds of soup to make. One thing I've learned from this annual culinary obsession is that sometimes the tastiest soups may have modest beginnings, but with a little tinkering here, a dash of inspiration there, the basic recipe can evolve into something well beyond the mere sum of its parts. Take, for example, the soup I made recently, which started out with two fundamental ingredients: butternut squash and coconut milk. What I was aiming for was something I might recreate as a first course for the upcoming Christmas dinner. I wanted it to be a rich soup, with generous, stimulating flavors that would lend themselves to tasty, and perhaps unusual, wines.

Tasting Tejo
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 19, 2013

You've already perused Piedmont's delicious wine country, browsed Burgundian chais, sampled Sonoma's selections and meditated over Malbec on a hot afternoon in Mendoza. Are you ready for a new kind of travel adventure now--something along the wine road less travelled, perhaps? Assuming you are a reasonably independent traveller as well as a wine adventurer who enjoys the thrill of discovery, Tejo is a region waiting for you.

Sustainability: Do We Care?
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 1, 2013

Pity the poor consumer! Typically faced with a plethora of decisions that have to be made when figuring out which bottle of wine to purchase to take home for dinner, the first issue to resolve is color: Red or white? Okay, red. Now, do I want Pinot or Cabernet, Malbec or Syrah? Once that question is settled, do I go with a familiar producer or should I take a chance on an unknown label? As for the price, am I going to draw the line at $15 or spring for that $40 bottle I've been eyeing? And do I select the bottle that lists 14.5 alcohol content on the label or look for one with less alcoholic kick? Whew, done. But wait, suddenly there's something else for us to consider: Does the label indicate that the wine is sustainably produced?

Education Vacations for Everyone
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 27, 2013

Whether you're a wine novice or a connoisseur, if you'd like to hone your tasting skill and broaden your range of knowledge, take my advice and consider attending one of the serious (but fun) events that are geared to both wine professionals and interested consumers. I'm not talking about folksy, regional wine festivals. While these can certainly be entertaining, inexpensive and (with luck) marginally educational, what I am referring to are the more specialized programs that concentrate on a single grape variety. Professionally oriented events such as these may be costlier, but they're also supremely focused, and they encourage attendees to learn more about wine while refining their own tasting perceptions and proficiency.

Locapour and Omnishambles
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 9, 2013

Wine drinkers who are aware of the "locavore" movement might make a similar effort to seek out local wines. I'm not suggesting any of us give up our California Cabernets and our favorite Meursaults, but with wine now being made in all 50 states, chances are good that there is at least one winery not too far from where you live whose wines you'd probably enjoy. But wait--stop rolling your eyes and telling me that local wines stink! Yes, there are still plenty of stinkers being produced out there in the hinterlands, but especially if you haven't recently tasted any of the newer, excellent regional American wines, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover the quantum leap forward so many of them have made in the past handful of years.

Prosecco Primer
Marguerite Thomas
May 28, 2013

Most travellers who make their way to Italy visit Venice, ramble through Rome and perhaps ski or hike the hills around Cortina. The Prosecco region, by contrast, remains one of Italy's last well-kept secrets, relatively unknown even to enophiles. It's hard for me to understand why this Northern Italian gem isn't on every wine lover's list of must-see wine regions.

Should Sauvignon Blanc Always be Drunk When Young?
Marguerite Thomas
Apr 9, 2013

As usual, H.L. Mencken said it best: "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple--and wrong." My most recent experience with being proven wrong had to do with Sauvignon Blanc. Normally the words 'Sauvignon Blanc' conjure up a taste-image of crisp, dry white wines, wines with the fresh aromas of spring greenery and (in the best examples) a complex, mineral-laden finish. I do also enjoy certain fruitier-styled Sauvignons, the ones blessed by notes of lime peel, grapefruit, melon and perhaps even tropical fruit notes. The common denominator that I, and like-minded Sauvignon Blanc lovers, look for in these different styles of wine is the racy vigor that's emblematic of youth.

Stop Rinsing that Glass!
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 15, 2013

At various wine events I've watched countless numbers of people slosh some water in their glass, dump it out, then hold the glass up for a new wine to be poured in it. I've even seen professional tasters perform this ritual, and each time I have to force myself not to scream STOP! I've usually held by tongue since I couldn't prove that this practice is more apt to harm than enhance the fresh pour, but I'm speaking out against the rinsing ritual now that I've read what Jason Haas, partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard, has to say on the subject.

Q & A: Charles Krug's Peter Mondavi Jr.
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 27, 2007

Peter strove to balance innovation with tradition. He was the first in the Napa Valley to introduce French oak barrels. He was an early pioneer in the use of glass-lined tanks, and was also one of the first to invest in cold fermentation to maintain freshness in white wine. Now that Peter is in his nineties, the family owned companies -- Charles Krug and CK Mondavi -- are being run by his sons Marc and Peter Mondavi Jr., who are, they say, 'literally betting the farm on the future.' The family is midway through a ten-year, $21.6 million project that includes replanting their 850-acre estate with Bordeaux varietals selected for the specific soil profiles in the vineyards.

Q & A: Darrell Corti
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 2, 2007

To describe Corti Brothers as a good food and wine store is like saying that Notre Dame Cathedral is a nice neighborhood church. Indeed, Corti Bros. is a gastronomic shrine to its loyal customers, offering to the epicurean faithful an array of soul-soothing and palate-pleasing fare that ranges from Argumato Lemon Olive Oil to Japanese finishing salts to the rare XSR 120 White Port.

Alto Adige: Land of Surprises
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 14, 2006

If you picture a place where someone might yodel one minute and burst into an aria from Barbieri di Seviglia the next, where ravioli filled with sauerkraut may be offered on a restaurant menu (I'm not kidding), and where Mediterranean fig and olive trees flourish right next to Alpine ski slopes, that place is the Alto Adige.

The Definition of Fun: An Interview with Terry Theise
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 19, 2006

Wine importer Terry Theise is the wunderkind of fine German and Austrian wines and of small, quality grower Champagnes. As the leading importer of Austrian wine to the U.S., he has introduced scores of American palates to the charms of Grüner Veltliner-an accomplishment that in itself might be enough to guarantee vinous sainthood.