Archive for December, 2010

December 29, 2010

When you just feel like paying a lot for a glass of wine: Crú Wine Bar

Do you ever go to the car dealership to get your oil changed? You figure they sell your particular car, so they should know the most about them. Right? Shouldn’t the dealer be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to maintain your car better than just a generalist mechanic? So what if it costs $20 more for an oil change. To me, going to a dealer to get my car serviced is like going to a wine bar to get a glass of wine. One would think that I go to wine bars fairly often seeing as I love wine and all, but I just don’t. I know that going to a wine bar can be a good way to try wines by the glass before committing to a full bottle. I realize that many of them have knowledgeable staff that can suggest good wine to try. There are also plenty of decent wine bars in town with a good selection of wine. So why don’t I go to them more often? I get my oil changed at Jiffy Lube because I can’t stand paying way too much at the dealer. That’s how I feel about going to a wine bar. I recently went to Crú Wine Bar in the Domain in north Austin and had the oil change at the dealer experience.

Read the full post at the new home of What are you drinking:

December 21, 2010

Budget Bubbles: Select a Delicious Sparkling Wine for your Holiday Party

Champagne is synonymous with celebration. There is something special about a tall, slender champagne flute with tiny bubbles streaming to the surface like thousands of balloons released to the gods, like so many comic thought bubbles floating over a crowd and bursting into fits of laughter. Any holiday party is incomplete without a toast with bubbles. Don’t send your guests home sobbing like unfulfilled children with coal in their stockings on Christmas morning, serve sparkling wine for Chrissakes.

Don’t despair if your wallet is a bit moth-eaten and too slim to cover for the expensive stuff from the Champagne region of France, there are plenty of lovely sparkling wines that can meet your budget. Sparkling wine goes by lots of different names, depending on where it’s produced. In the U.S., we have the evocative name, sparking wine. Other names around the world include Mousseux or Crémant in France, but not from Champagne; Prosecco, Trento and Asti in Italy; Cava in Spain; Sekt in Germany  and Austria; Espumante in Portugal, and Cap Classique in South Africa.

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December 19, 2010

What are you drinking? has a new home!

I’ve finally purchased a domain name and have a hosted site at I’m in the process of recreating my site there and plan to have new wine reviews up soon. Let me know what you think.

December 11, 2010

Size Matters: How to Make an Impression at Holiday Parties

I’m a huge proponent of going to as many parties as possible during the holiday season, particularly the parties that have full, hosted bars. There are plenty of parties at friends’ homes to attend as well. When you attend a private party, you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply, whether they need it or not. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.

This holiday season, why not make a positive impression by bringing an over-sized bottle of wine to your next party? The holidays are all about excess and I know you are in the holiday spirit, so go for it.  Stand out by presenting your host with a Magnum, Jeroboam or even a Rehoboam or festive Champagne or red wine. You can’t go wrong.

There are several sizes of wine bottles. There is absolutely no reason to bring an ordinary bottle to a festive event when you can do more. Here’s a handy reference guide for you.  

Volume (liters) Ratio (bottles) Name What it means
0.1875 0.25 Piccolo It means “small” in Italian, and is also known as a quarter bottle, pony, snipe or split. It is the common size served when you order bubbly by the glass. To me this is just a novelty. Why in the hell would anyone embarrass a perfectly good wine by putting it in something so unfulfilling? The only reason to take these to a party is if you have a car-load of ‘em and you’re using them as stocking stuffers.
0.375 0.5 Demi It means “half” in French., so its cleverly known as a half bottle or split. It is a reasonable size if you want a little wine with dinner by yourself. These are completely useless at a party and will no doubt cause you to be seen as “half” a guest.
0.750 1 Standard This is your normal bottle that you see everywhere. Legend has it that the size was based on the amount an average Frenchman could consume at lunch without being too impaired to return to work. If you are absolutely common and ordinary in every way, bring this size bottle. “Oh look honey, Mr. Average is here to bore the hell out of us.”
1.5 2 Magnum The double bottle. These are relatively easy to find and affordable. It’s just big enough to make a good impression when you walk into a party. It says, “I’m not messin around here.”
3.0 4 Jeroboam Oh yeah, the “Double Magnum.” It is named for a Biblical king and has kingly dimensions. If you tote this bad boy into a party, you’ll definitely get invited back next year (unless you sleep with the host’s significant other).
4.5 6 Rehoboam This beast is about as big as you can get and still feasibly carry it to a party and pour from it without making an atrocious mess. We’re talking about an entire ½ case of wine in one bottle here. It’s also named for a Biblical king. Walk into a party with this, and you’ll be king.

There are several other sizes of wine bottles going all the way up to the 40 bottle Melchizedek. You’re not going to find the ultra-large size bottles unless you special order them. These are the bottles you see as ornamentation at fine restaurants and wine shops. Call your favorite wine shop ahead of time to see what they have on hand in a large format bottle. Your friends will love you for it.

I recently did this with a Magnum of Domaine de Mourchon 2006 “Grande Reserve” Cotes du Rhone Villages. The winery is on top of a hill in the village of Provencal Seguret, located in southern Cotes du Rhone. It’s a fairly new winery, founded in 1998 with existing vineyards. They make three lines of wine, and the “Grand Reserve” is a blend of Grenache and Syrah from old vines.

Here is what you can expect.

Look The rich purple of an advent candle burning for Christmas.
Smell The makings a fine fruit cake with nutmeg, toasty cinnamon, fennel, raspberries and plums simmering on the stove.
Taste This wine is a holiday feast of jammy black cherries, currant, white pepper and carpaccio. Its medium body moves from fruit to earth before a mid-length finish of smooth tannins.
Price $38 (or $20 for a standard 750 ml)

This is a respectable wine and downright jolly in a large format bottle. So what’s it going to be? Will you be remembered as the guest that brought the huge bottle of fantastic wine? Or will you be forgotten?

What are you drinking?

December 8, 2010

Hangover Helper: 11 Tips to Survive Holiday Parties

The holiday party season is in full swing, and you know what that means: FREE BOOZE. If you’re like me, you’ll be trying to cram more than one party into every night between now and New Year’s Eve. With all of that boozing comes the inevitable hangover. We’ve all had them and we’ve lived through them – even if we think we won’t in the moment.

There are many ways to avoid hangovers starting with moderation. But if you are a reader of this blog, that is not in your vocabulary. You can also avoid fruit juices and mixers that are high in sugar, drink white wine rather than red, avoid carbonated beverages and drink clear liquor rather than dark. All well and good, but it’s much easier to live la vida loca during the holidays.

Before you seek the soothing comfort of cold bathroom tile this holiday season, prepare yourself with an ounce of prevention and by parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Here are some tips for avoiding hangovers and remedies to get you back in the saddle for the next party.


  1. The helpful reminder: Before you go out, put a chair on top of your bed. Place two aspirin or Ibuprofen tablets on the seat of the chair. When you stumble home ready to fall into bed to sleep the sleep of the anesthetized, you will have to remove the chair first. Ah, those delightful pain relievers are waiting right there to knock the headache back before it starts.
  2. Lead the horse: Put a baby wading pool just inside your front door and fill it with fresh water. When you get home from the parties don’t go any further into your house before you stoop and drink deeply from the trough. Hydration is the key to avoiding a nasty bout of brown bottle flu.
  3. Get a complex: B complex vitamins – folic acid, biotin, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin, aka B12 – taken before you binge can prevent a hangover. Take a B12 vitamin about 4 hours before you go out, another one right before you walk out the door, and then a third before you go to bed. Vitamin B12 naturally boosts the body’s energy, but it takes hydration and rest to work best. Drink plenty of water with each one, get a decent amount of sleep and your chances of dodging the dastardly hangover are greatly improved.
  4. Go Irish: Eat potatoes before you drink. Potatoes contain flavonoids which can help reduce hangover symptoms and keep you from feeling too fragile.
  5. Dilution solution: The most basic recommendation for feeling good in the morning is don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eat a sandwich, eat some pasta, eat some peanuts or almonds. Eat something. Food will help dilute the alcohol in your stomach and slow its absorption. That gives your body more time to metabolize it as it enters the blood stream. Look, you’re going to gain 20 pounds during the holidays anyway, so don’t risk a hangover just to look like Kate Moss.
  6. The triple fister: @candidcourtney recommends a rotation of “Cocktail…Diet Coke…H20…Cocktail…Diet Coke…H20…” The three-pronged approach gives you a buzz, a caffeine boost and keeps you hydrated at the same time. Slipping in two non-alcoholic drinks between each cocktail also moderates your consumption. Just make sure you have ready access to the loo.


  1. Hair of the dog: This is by far the most popular recommendation I’ve heard. It typically works because it is delaying the drop in blood alcohol which is one of the causes of a hangover. Try a Bloody Mary. The vitamins in the tomato juice and celery will help.
  2. Cup of Joe: Do you think Don Draper would try and ride out a hangover without a cup of coffee? Hell no. The theory goes that alcohol dilates the blood vessels causing those pounding headaches. Caffeine constricts the blood vessels to alleviate that pain. The trick here is that caffeine, like alcohol, is a diuretic and can further dehydrate you thereby exacerbating your headache. So drink that coffee, but pair it with some water.
  3. Elevate the electrolytes: Hydration is an absolute must to ease that hangover and you can speed it along by drinking something with sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate like Gatorade, Powerade and even that Pedialyte stuff that you give to pukey babies.
  4. Drugs! This could be an entire blog post in itself, but I’ll stick to the basics. I swear by Alka-Seltzer. It settles the stomach, kills the headache and if you put a swizzle stick in it, you can imagine you’re right back off the wagon. If you’re an amateur and don’t keep Alka-Seltzer handy, grab a good old fashioned Aspirin or an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen. Be careful though, both can further upset your stomach. Avoid Tylenol or its generic equivalent, Acetaminophen. Paired with alcohol it can really tear into that already battered liver. If you’re a Heath Ledger wannabe, rummage through the medicine cabinet to see if you can fish out some Codeine, Vicodin, Percocet or the like. Knock a few of those back and you’ll be feeling something else altogether.
  5. The greasy spoon: Even if eating a big greasy breakfast doesn’t technically cure a hangover, it sure can make you feel a little better. A fat burger covered with cheese, chili and bacon and side of fries is my favorite. If you really want the greasy breakfast trick to work, you have to eat it before you go to bed to slow the absorption of alcohol. Have the cabbie drop you off at the all night diner on the way home. Better yet, find someone sweet to make a late night breakfast for you.

With a little bit of planning and after care, we’ll all make it through the holiday bender season one party at a time. There are tons of ways to prevent and cure hangovers. What are your favorite?  Don’t be a Scrooge and keep them to yourself.

What are you drinking?

December 6, 2010

Is China Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon Great Wine?

When you order wine in China, be specific. You may get a glass of high alcohol distilled liquor, such as rice wine, rather than fermented noble grapes. But never fear it is possible to get a decent glass of Chinese red wine. Modern wine production has been going on in China for more than 100 years, but I took an incursion from the French in 1980 when Rémy Martin set up a joint venture for wine production to flourish. And flourish it has. Chinese grape wine sales revenues were approximately $2.8 billion in 2008, a growth of 20 percent over 2007.  Domestic consumption has grown rapidly in the past decade and it is now the fastest growing wine market in the world.

 There are now hundreds of vineyards producing wine, including Grace Vineyards, which I reviewed in September 2010. This month I went back and tried Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon. China Great Wall Wine Company, a subsidiary of COFCO Wines & Spirits Co. Ltd., is one of the top three largest wine producers in China along with Changyu Pioneer and Dynasty, and is the largest exporter. It was established in 1983 and has vineyards in the Shacheng region of China. In addition to making distilled spirits and off-dry wines, the company makes red and white table wine using state of the art wine producing equipment imported from France, Germany and Italy. Great Wall wines have gained notoriety in China and it has been named the official wine products of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and is the provider of the only designated wines for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Does that mean the wine is any good? Here are my tasting notes.

Look Here is the first clue that this Cabernet is not going to beat premium wines from established wine regions in blind tastings. It looks more like a Pinot Noir than a Cabernet. It is bright, translucent garnet rather than inky, midnight eggplant.   
Smell Great Wall has a timid nose. I had to snort deeply to get a whiff of boysenberry, plum, hickory smoke and bacon.    
Taste It has gentle fruit musings of strawberry and cherry overlaying saline red meat on the mid pallet and then finishes quickly with charcoal and light tannins. Its light bodied and mellow: much less robust than a California Cabernet or a Cab driven Bordeaux.

 Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t readily available in the U.S. I wasn’t able to find it for sale on any of the large online retailers like or It’s certainly not worth the price of a plane ticket to go and taste it in China. But, if you find yourself in China, give it a try to get a baseline measure of where Chinese wine is today. Great Wall Cab is reasonably pleasant and drinkable. Chinese wine producers have a way to go to catch up with the established wine industry, but I don’t doubt they will. Try it again in five years and let me know if I’m right.

What are you drinking?