17 Jun

Father’s Day

In eighth year of this column, coming up with something new for Father’s Day put me over a barrel trying to roll out something fresh.

Then—inspiration. What DIY dad wouldn’t want to know how a cooper makes a wine barrel?

• Wine barrels are made from straight-grain strips of oak so wood doesn’t break when bent. Staves must be cut perfectly, then aged to remove harsh tannins.

• Staves are rounded on the outside and shaved on the inside, which helps in bending. Staves are wider in the middle than on the ends to achieve the bowed barrel shape.

• Barrels are assembled—typical barrel requires 25 to 30 staves—and a metal hoop is placed on one end. At this stage, the barrel looks like a flared skirt topped with a metal belt.

• Barrel is put upright, drenched with water, and a fire is lit inside. Heat and humidity allow staves to be bent by a large vice, slowly pulling staves together at the flared end. Because of careful shaving of the staves, the distinctive bulge forms in the middle as the staves are squeezed together. Metal hoops are hammered home as barrel forms.

• The cooper next starts a fire inside the barrel on the wood to “toast” the interior. Toasting affects the final wine flavor, so this is particularly artisanal element of the effort.

• The cooper cuts a groove inside the top and bottom of the barrel to receive end pieces. Hoops are relaxed to allow the barrel to expand and receive the end pieces. Barrel is squeezed together and hoops re-applied.

• Finally, strips of straw are wedged into any tiny cracks, the barrel is sanded to achieve a finished look, and hoops used in making are replaced by showier finishing hoops.

Wine barrels are different than whiskey barrels. Whiskey barrels are utilitarian holding vessels for four-plus years. Wine barrels hold wine for nine months to two-plus years and are displayed. As one cooper puts it, “a whiskey barrel is a vat, a wine barrel is furniture.” American oak barrels cost $350-$600; French oak barrels $800-$4,000; standard barrels hold 59-60 gallons.

Last round: Father’s Day toast—May you live to be so old your best vintage wine is past its prime.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Follow tasting notes on Twitter @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine.

10 Jun

Snobbery

Snobbery is pernicious peril for wine drinkers.

Each person’s palate is different. Pickles may repel you. Asparagus is awful, broccoli beautiful, raw broccoli exceptional, cooked broccoli disgusting. Everyone is keen for green kale, but I have no idea why anyone would ever touch purple kale.

So it goes with wine.

“Sophisticated” wine drinkers eventually wander into tasting territories where furiously exotic flavors flourish. Teeth-purpling reds with flamboyant tannins inflame wine lust. Scouring acidity sends us into paroxysms of pleasure when paired with wild-caught fish served with purple kale.

The rest of the world wishes for a simple, affordable bottle to enjoy with their meal and/or move past a day surviving idiot drivers, bothersome bosses, clueless clients.

If your palate permits you to explore subtle nuances of right and left bank Bordeaux, bravo for you.

If your palate prefers sweet and simple and affordable, something that doesn’t taste much different than cola but has welcomed additional kick, good for you, too.

Best wine is wine you enjoy. Don’t listen when pompous pettifoggers pontificate.

Tasting notes:

• Gallo Family Vineyards Pink Moscato NV: Bright, light-bodied, perky, sweet (but not cloying) with fresh citrus, red berry, orange, peach; dances on palate, pairs with almost everything; nice price. $4

• Tisdale Pinot Grigio NV: Unpretentious easy drinker; wisps of peach, lemon, pear; somewhat like water with lemon wedge; well done for what it is; drink chilled while chilling by the pool. $5

• Barefoot Bubbly Berry Fusion NV: Very sweet, fruity, pomegranate, cranberry, ripe plum; light, bright, cola-like bubbly. $10

• Barefoot Bubbly Peach Fusion NV: You want peaches, we got peaches. Extravagantly fruity. Peaches, peaches, more peaches, side of honeysuckle. $10

• Barefoot Bubbly Citrus Fusion NV: Delightfully more restrained than BB sisters; orange, tangerine, peach, passion fruit; plenty of sweet to charm its market, but some taming citrus acidity, too. $10

• The Original Dark Horse Big Red Blend NV: Ripe red, dark fruits, plum, caramel; six different grapes; fruity sweetness; smooth, easy drinker, with hints of acidity, tannin, oak; no overpowering cherry jam attack (hallelujah); no nuance or depth, but nice-for-price pour that will entertain. $10

Last round: If I agreed with your opinion about this wine we would both be wrong.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Follow tasting notes on Twitter @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine.

03 Jun

Ancestral wine drinkers

Turns out we primates have enjoyed wine for a long, long time, and some of us have been able to enjoy more of it than others.

Wine’s history dates back to when fruit-bearing trees first appeared 100 million years ago. Fruit is ideal fermentation vessel. Sweet ripe fruit swollen with microbes consuming sugars and producing carbon dioxide and alcohol lures all kinds of eaters of sugar. Sugar is fruit’s success secret: “come hither,” eat me, scatter my seeds.

Alcohol buzz seems secondary lure, but a variety of mammals indulge. Elephants drunk on rice wine rampage in India. Swedish moose got so snockered on apple wine, it got stuck in an apple tree until rescued. Those animals, however, are cheap drunks.

About 10 million years ago, some of our forebears took it to next level when a gene—ADH4—mutated to created an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol 40 times more efficiently. With that mutation, happy hour lights turned on for common ancestors of chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans.

Why? Scientists hypothesize the adaptation allowed the animals to eat and drink foods others could not tolerate as well. They did not get drunk as easily, and were—thus—less susceptible to predators. Rotting, sugar-and-alcohol infused fruit became a food they exploited more safely than other fruit eaters.

More than 9,000 years ago, human beings moved from foraging rotting fruit to deliberately producing wine. If someone asks why you enjoy wine, say your ancestors used it as a survival tool for millions of years, and today you use it for same reason.

Tasting notes:

• Gallo Family Vineyards Red Moscato NV: Sweet, clean; cranberry, red berries, citrus slice, peach; not sophisticated, but refreshing easy drinker; people who don’t like wine will enjoy; wine drinkers can sip without shame. $5

• River Bend Cellars Sasquatch Red NV: Vivid fruit—blackberry, plum, black cherry; puckering tannin, balancing acidity, lingering finish; tasty, not for fainthearted or newbies to big red wines. $19

• Sean Minor Point North Pinot Noir 2013: Dark fruit, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, leather, spice; restrained oak, medium body, soft tannin, smooth bright mouth; nice price Oregon pinot. $20

Last round: Wine does not cure the flu, but it fails more agreeably than any other method.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Follow tasting notes on Twitter @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine.