Bob's Cheese and Wine Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Wine’

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Posted by fromagebob on December 9, 2010

Start a discussion about history, and you’ll be mining a rich topic that runs the gamut of the human experience: battles and conquests, migration and survival, kings, queens, religion – you name it. One topic you probably won’t touch on, though, is beer. Or wine, coffee, tea, spirits, or Coke, for that matter.

It turns out that those six beverages (or at least the first four), had a huge impact on our survival and the development of our civilization. “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage, is a great look at how beverages that we take for granted today were at the foundation of our development as a people. Beer and wine were accidental discoveries that provided the basis for early survival. Coffee took the place of beer as the morning beverage of choice, and tea laid the foundation for the English empire. But all of them played a fundamental role in the story of us, and how we became who and what we are today.

As we moved from hunter-gatherer to more urbanized settlements, one of the big problems became the disposal of waste and the subsequent contamination of water supplies. When you’re hiking through the jungle, any stream will do to quench your thirst, but as the population became more urban, drinking downstream from the neighbor created some real issues.

Beer was one of the earliest non-water beverages that was safer to drink than water. The fermentation process, and the alcohol content, negated the contamination that was very common in the population. Plus, it contributed to the nutritional well-being of the imbiber, which helped to improve general health. Wine also became an important beverage for the same reason – it was safer than water, and also provided benefits to the drinker in the form of polyphenols, anti-oxidants, and more.

The more fascinating of the four were coffee and tea. Because beer and wine were safer than water, and because they were fairly easy to produce, they were the drink of choice for a very long time- up until the late 16th century in Europe. Coffee originated in the Middle East, and became a fairly common drink in the 15th century. Up until that time, it was very common to start the day with a watered-down glass of beer, and to imbibe beer or wine as a beverage throughout the day.

Coffee changed that; as it became popular in Europe – especially in England, coffeehouses began to appear, and became the center of science, finance, and industry in a fairly short period of time. The reason (as we know today) was simple – a cup of coffee is stimulating, where a glass of beer is not. Men began to congregate in coffee houses to discuss business and the news of the day; coffee houses began to specialize in a particular area of knowledge, such as finance, marine affairs, science, and so on. Lloyds of London started in Edward Lloyd’s coffee house. The London Stock Exchange started in Jonathan’s Coffee House on Exchange Alley. In France, Joseph Priestly (“The Invention of Air”) met Benjamin Franklin and other notable scientists and philosophers in a coffee house.

Because coffee was made from boiled water, it was safer to drink than plain water, and because it stimulated rather than sedated, it became the drink of choice of business men and the intelligentsia alike.

Tea also played an important role in the rise of civilization and the foundation of our country; like coffee, it was safer to drink than water, and like coffee, it provided stimulation from its caffeine content. Tea played a large economic role in the rise of England to power, because it was such a valuable commodity. In the cities, women were not permitted in coffee shops; their venue of choice became the tea parlor, and the custom of afternoon tea became quite common. As the production of tea became more widespread, the cost came down, and it became the beverage of the workingman in England.

This is a great book for anyone interested in the minutia of history – of those things and events that played an important role in the rise of man, and the development of civilization. We tend to think of history as a grand movement from level to level, but – as this book aptly shows – history is more of a series of accidents and opportunities, from which greatness may (or may not) arise.

Best part of the book for me was finding out the truth about Coca Cola! Read it for yourself, and see.


Posted in Book Review, Wine and Cheese History | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Wine and Cheese Tasting at Casa Toscana

Posted by fromagebob on July 15, 2009

Had the pleasure of going back to Casa Toscana in Miami’s Upper East Side last night for an Italian Wine and Cheese tasting. Yum!

The tasting featured four nice Italian wines: a 2006 Ciacci Piccolomini IGT Toscana Rosso, a 2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Rosso de Montalcino, a 2006 La Spinetta Il Nero De Casanova, and a 2003 La Spinetta Sassontio. The cheese was from Il Forteto, a producer in Italy, and included three wonderful cheeses: a Pecorino Stagionato con peperoncino, a Brillo Pecorino Di Vino, and a Boschetto al Tartufo.

Let’s start with the wines:

2006 Ciacci Piccolomini IGT Toscana Rosso

This wine is produced in the Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone, Southwest of Montalcino. The wine is 95% Sangiovese Grosso, with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blended in. It’s fermented in stainless steel vats, then aged four to six months in Slovenian Oak Barrels. According to the producer’s tasting notes, it has an intense, fruity bouquet, with notes of herbs and spices. It’s ready to drink, full-bodied, soft, and well-balanced.

I found it to have a nice nose, with a slight sense of alcohol (it’s 14%), along with nice strawberries and undercurrents of leather. There was some stone fruit in there, and maybe a touch of smoke. It is a soft wine, with strawberries and stone fruit on the palate. I wish the alcohol level was a little lower; I think it gave the wine a tiny negative, but I would rank this 85 on a 100 point scale, and +1 on the FromageBob scale.

2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Rosso de Montalcino

This wine is also produced in the Castelnuovo dell’Abate area. It is 100% Sangiovese Grosso, and spends about 12 months in Slovenian Oak. According to the tasting notes, it’s fruit forward, with an intense bouquet of fresh cherry, rose, violet, cinnamon and cloves. I found cherry, dark berries, and strawberries on the nose with a touch of roses. I think dark cherries. The taste was cherries, cloves, tobacco, and a little chocolate. It was a nice wine – I liked it better than the Rosso, I think because it had more body and better mouthfeel. I would give this an 86/+1

2006 La Spinetta Il Nero De Casanova

This wine is a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino. It’s made from young vines, and aged in toasted French oak for 9 months, followed by 2 months in stainless steel barrels, then 2 more months in bottles. The wine is neither filtered nor clarified. According to the tasting notes, it offers scents of ripe berries, cherries, plum and coffee, and could age for up to 10 years. I found it to have a nose consisting of black cherries and leather, with just a tiny hint of coffee and chocolate. The taste was tannic, with chocolate, smoke, and dark cherries. This is definitely a food wine, and was a fabulous paring with one of the cheeses (but you’ll have to wait for that!). I would give this an 88/+1. Definitely a food wine.

2003 La Spinetta Sassontio

This wine is also a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino, but ferments in new toasted French Oak for 12 – 14 months, then 3 months in stainless, followed by 20 more months in the bottle. It is not filtered or clarified. According to the tasting notes, it has a crisp nose is black cherries, mixed berries, fresh tomato leaves, and minerals. In the nose, I found dark berries, cherries, and old leather (nice, smoky, worn, delicious leather!). In the taste, black cherry, tobacco, leather, and roast vegetables. It was quite pleasant, a bit tannic, but – according to the notes, could age for up to 25 years. I liked the wine – I thought tha the Nero de Casanova was better in this tasting, but I can see where this wine would evolve to be greater than the former. This is also a food wine.

Posted in Wine & Cheese Paring | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Symphonie: A Galliac Wine

Posted by fromagebob on June 12, 2009

The day before we left Galliac, we stopped at a wine shop to try some wine. It had been recommended by Patricia, our hostess at La Bastide de Servidou. I like Galliac wines; they’re rustic but tasty, and very pleasant. Not expensive, and a great everyday wine. They’re impossible to find in the US, although I am trying, and – to my great distress – being in the region during a holiday, and getting Napolean’s Revenge on the only day we might have tasted just bummed me out.

However, all was not lost, as we drove into Galliac on our way back from Cordes sur Ciel. The shop is owned by a winemaker, and the tastings were of his wines. They were actually quite good, but quite tannic, which is a characteristic of Galliac wines. Myriam did not like them, but I thought they had possibilities. We bought a bottle of a more mellow wine to have with dinner, and a white that Myriam liked, and started to leave, when I remembered that Patricia had given us a coupon for a free bottle of wine.

Back I ran, and was handed a bottle of Symphonie, a white wine by Alain Gayrel. We opened in the other day with some food Myriam picked up from Daily Bread, the middle-eastern restaurant we like. I knew that Riesling was a good pairing, but figured – given the whites we had tried in France – that my Symphonie might prove up to the challenge. I was right.

The wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Mauzac, 50-50. It had a bright yellow-gold color, and a vibrant flavor. If I had to pick something close it would be a tangy Pinot Gris. The wine had the influence of the Sauvignon Blanc, but was a little fruiter and sweet, but not too sweet. There was a hint of grapefruit and citrus, but also a fleshy fruit – perhaps under-ripe peaches. I was hard pressed to pinpoint. The finish was nice, and it really went well with the food. We had spinach pie, kibbeh, labneh, hummus, and baba ganoush, with pita bread.

Gayrel’s Domaines are Les Meritz and Vigné-Laurec. He also makes Galliac reds, blending Braucol, Merlot, Syrah, and Durus. Didn’t try those, but I wouldn’t mind!

Mauzac: According to Jancis Robinsons Oxford Companion to Wine, the Mauzac grape is grown in Galliac and Limoux. It is a traditional grape of both areas, and is usually blended with Len de l’lel in Galliac, and with Chenin and Chardonnay in Limoux. Mauzac ripens latem and was traditionally picked late in the season, but is now picked earlier, giving it fewer flavors and more acidity. The grape is especially suited for sparkling wines. The grape is perhaps best known as one of the components of Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wine, which has been produced since about 1530.

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The Galliac Region

Posted by fromagebob on May 16, 2009

I’m giving up on the day by day tracking, mostly because I keep forgetting what we did when (or when we did what…). Figure it’ll be easier on my brane if I random post – not much sense in order anyway! So: I don’t remember when I heard about the Galliac region of France; it was a few years ago. I hadn’t tried any of their wines until about three years ago, when we walked to a small wine shop/bistro near Paulo’s apartment. Its name is Au Noveau Nez

The proprietor is great. She speaks English, and is very knowledgeable about her wines; she specializes in what I like to call “off-track” wines from around France – like Galliac and Vaunage (a small wine region near Nages) . When we visited the first time, I think she had a bottle of Galliac open for us to try, and I liked it, so I bought a bottle or two to take home. It was quite nice. More rustic than the refined brands, and a little more tannic, but I liked it. I tried to find in Miami, but the response to the question “do you have any wines from Galliac?” was “from where?” So I had to wait until the next trip to buy. I still have one bottle in the cooler and added two more from this trip. I learned a lesson – ask about local holidays occurring around the time you are travelling to a remote area!

Anyway… our trip to Toulouse came from a suggestion from Uncle Paulo, who was originally planning to come with us, but weaseled out at some point. We decided to make the trek anyway. His recommendation was to stay in Toulouse, but when we visited the Loire a couple years ago, we had such a nice time at a bed-and-breakfast in a Chateau, we decided to take that route. By process of elimination, we ended up in the middle of the Galliac region, smack in the middle of the vineyards (see my posting on Servidou). When I realized where we were going to end up, I figured on tasting my butt off in the area, but didn’t figure on two factors: the Ascension and a touch of Napolean’s Revenge. Ended up not being able to taste much at all, other than the wines we had at dinner.

The vines were just sprouting their spring leaves. The vineyard next to the chateau looked kind of strange – the rootstock looked rather old, but there was only one level of trellis above the vine. I wasn’t sure if they had grafted new growth or if there was some strange Galliac custom, so I asked the proprietor of the Chateau. Turns out that the vineyard next door did machine harvesting, so they trained the grapes to grow on one level so that the machine could “pick” the grapes. Other vineyards had the traditional trellis or the free-growth standard that I was familiar with.

I decided to do a little checking; Patricia (the proprietor) told us that this was an ancient wine region, one of the first in France. According to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion, the region does have historic importance, and dates back to ancient Gaul, when the Romans planted the Languedoc and Galliac regions (the weren’t called that back then, obviously). Apparently, there’s some legitimate historical debate as to which region is older, and Galliac has some strong evidence that it is the older of the two. They have established that wine production in the area was well established around 1 AD, but historically, it may be that wine production in the area pre-dates Roman conquest. According to Robinson, Galliac was probably producing wines before Bordeaux; war and other factors curbed production until the 10th century (not sure when it was curbed…). She says that the wines were highly prized locally and in Northern Europe, especially in England. The tax man got involved (Bordeaux) which killed off their export trade.

Trade picked up again until the Albigensian (Cathar) Crusades in the 12th century, but the wines were popular again in England in the 16th century. Apparently there were considered more “robust” than the wimpy Bordeaux plonk <g>. Galliac wines were primarily used for blending through the 19th century when phylloxera wiped out most of the vines. According to Patricia, quality and quirkiness also played a part in the 20th century to keep the wines down. They were considered inferior in quality, and they were bottled in non-standard bottles which caused problems with packing and shipping, so Paris wine merchants wouldn’t buy them. No second source on that, but it sounds reasonable!

Today, the region has undergone a transformation, in that the producers are paying more attention to quality (and using normal bottles). I’ve tried quite a few of their wines, and found almost all to be quite decent. They are more robust than their more refined cousins, and definitely more tannic, but the rustic quality and local flavor make them quite enjoyable.

The white wine grapes in the region (again quoting Robinson) include Mauzac, which gives wines with a strong apple peel aroma, Len De L’El, a grape that produces low acid wine and is often blended with locally grown Sauvignon, and Ondenc, used in sweet wines. Ondenc is also one of the permitted Bordeaux varietals, although it is not widely grown. They also grow Semillon and Muscadelle.

The red grapes include Duras, and Fer Servadou. More recently, Gamay, Merlot, and Cabernets have been grown. Red Galliac wines require that Durus and Fer comprise 40% of a Galliac red.

The region also makes a sparkling wine using the Mauzac, by methode gaillacoise.

One of the cooperatives in the area is Cave de Labastide, which was the label on one of the better wines we tried. Unfortunately the bottle got tossed out before I could copy down the actual name; we wanted to try to find that specific wine because it was so good. We tracked down the shop where the coop sold their wines on our way out of the region, but they were closed on Monday. Ah, fate! There are more than 100 vineyards in the area. Here’s some links to a few:

Chateau Clement Termes

Chateau de Mayragues

Domaine de Pialentou

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France, Day 2: Foire da Paris 2009

Posted by fromagebob on May 7, 2009

Today we visited the “Foire da Paris.” This is a HUGE exposition, kind of a combination of the Coconut Grove Art Festival, the Home Show, Walmart, and the South Beach Food and Wine Festival all in one big, big, place. Here’s the website, if you want to take a look. We headed directly for the “vins & gastronome de France et d’Europe” – the food and wine pavilion. Oh-my-God. The pavilion was about the size of the Miami Beach Convention Center. It was filled with booths featuring everything you can imagine – sausages, cheese, hams, wine, foie gras, pastries, candy, nuts, confections, wine caves, olives, plus a couple dozen restaurants scattered about – some looked like they would easily seat 50-100 people. It was pretty overwhelming when we walked in the door, especially the fact that there was a LOT of cooking going on, and the air was filled with some pretty luscious aromas. We decided to be organized, so we headed for one end of the hall, and started to hike back and forth through the fair.

I won’t go through the whole things (mostly because I can’t remember it all), but the high points… We tried foie gras from several vendors, most direct producers. The second place we tried turned out to be the best, and we ended up going back there to buy some to bring home (if it lasts that long). It was from Perigord, which is one of the main places for foie gras. This was duck foie gras (foie grad du canard) and it was soooo delicious. Most of the booths had samples of their wares, and we certainly indulged!

There was a large Grand Mariner booth nearby; we tried a Grand Marnier Alexander – blue label, served cold, definitely on our BUY THIS list – we forgot to go back and get a bottle, but it will certainly be on our list when we return to Paris. It wasn’t as sweet as the regular Grand Mariner, perhaps because the cold suppresses the alcohol, but it was very, very good. I think Tio Paulo had a second glass when no one was looking.

Right across from the Grand Mariner stand featured hams, sausages, and cheeses. Here’s a picture.

sausage11The sausages (which I sadly couldn’t try) were delicious, according to Myriam and Tio Paulo. When I looked at the signs for them, they were labeled “Fromage du Chevre”, “Cepes (mushrooms)”, “Beaufort”, and so on. When I first walked over, I thought that they were cheeses and so on, but it turned out that when they made the sausages, the blended whatever was on the label – so the Fromage de Chevre sausage had bits of goat cheese worked into the body, and so on. We bought three – one of each. They had a ton of options – poivre, other cheeses, and so on. They smelled great. But I was not left out, no sir! They had some Beaufort cheese, a Fromage de Chevre, and a nice Brebis, all of which I tasted. What a difference from Miami! Shipping across the Atlantic sure impacts the flavors.

We hit a booth with products from Cahors; we tried a couple of the wines (malbecs). Different than the Argentine version. Tio Paulo doesn’t like the Argentine version; the Cahors Malbecs are more minerally and tannic; not as fruit-forward as the Argentine versions. Austere would be a good description. Quite good though. The fellow at the booth was quite generous with his pours (not good so early in the show, but we didn’t complain). On our second wine, he produced some foie gras from that region, which was just smashing with the wine.

A booth from Pays de Basque featured olives – lots and lots of olives (also not on my favorites list), but Myriam and Paulo happily tasted their way through several varieties, proclaiming them outstanding.

What was interesting about this fair is that you could buy anything from the vendors; not like most in Miami where you cannot. We were going to wait until we left to revisit the booths that we really liked, but that fell by the wayside.

Let’s see… we found a booth that featured tapenades and aperitifs from Corse. One that caught our attention was a cherry liquor with hot pepper blended in. Sounds strange, but it was delicious. Kind of sweet on the first sip, but as it coated your mouth, a slow burn set in from the pepper. Wonderful contrast in flavors. Speaking of Corse, we also found a booth that featured pork and cheese products – quite good – where I had my very first taste of “Brin du Maquis” – not sure if it was Brin d’Amour or Fleur d’ Maquis; both are similar cheeses, but nothing like the cakey version you find in Miami. I think that the way they store the cheeses in Miami doesn’t allow enough moisture to escape; this was more of a semi-hard cheese with a lighter coating of rosemary. I suspect that by the time it gets to Miami, the moisture in the cheese probably affects the rosemary, making that taste stronger, and the cheese more soft.


Of course, we hit quite a few wine and champagne booths, trying a number of very nice wines. Nuits St Georges was one of the better offerings. There were several booths with Jurancon but I never had a chance to taste (bummer).

About half way through the show, we came upon a booth featuring cheeses from Salers; they had a fermier St. Nectaire, that was so creamy and delicious I almost bought a chunk. They also had Morbier and several Cantals, including one that was 20 months old. The rind was craggy and fissured. As it ages, the rind is invaded by cheese mites (like Mimolette), which give it this appearance. According to my cheese reference, Cantal purists (of which I am now one) believe this is when the cheese is best. Our cheese monger friend was dispensing samples of the paste, which was just fabulous. Meaty and sweet, with a very nice, lingering aftertaste. It has a faint floral taste that was quite pleasant.

There were two women standing next to us that we was explaining the rind to. Next thing I knew, he cut off a piece and held it out, asking (in French) who was courageous. I stuck my hand out and took it. Frankly, the cheese from the outside looks quite…not disgusting, but definitely within my “would you put that in your mouth” guidelines (which have now become quite relaxed). But ever dedicated to my craft, I popped it in my mouth and chewed it up. Very interesting. The taste was a pleasant loamy, kind of dusty taste, with an incredibly intense flavor of the cheese that was closest to the rind. In any cheese, that part near the cream line is the most aged portion. As the cheese mites burrow into the rind, they expose that first layer to the air and microbes. The Cantal actually forms kind of a bloom at this point, which also contributes to a (this will sound strange if you’re not a cheese lover) pleasant moldy taste.


Well, for my courage, he rewarded me with a nice glass of Pomerol, which absolutely made the whole experience worthwhile, and gave me quite a nice boost of flavor from the cheese! Vive la Cantal!

We found a Champagne booth that had an American inside- she was from New Mexico, and told us that New Mexico was where the American Wine industry came into being, before prohibition. She gave us the name of a sparkling wine producer there who makes (according to her) a great sparkling wine. We shall see. We bought a bottle of their Rose for Hugette; we’ll try that when we go back.

Lunch was a sandwich of Brebis cheese on a baguette. Yum. We soldiered on, trying more foie gras; the best we found was extremely expensive 5 small cans were almost 80 euros, so we decided we weren’t quite that refined and moved on.

We headed back to the 11th, happy and tired, where we had a very light salad for dinner, and went off to bed. Early morning Thursday to catch the 8am train to Toulouse!

Posted in Cheese, French Cheese, Wine & Cheese Fairs | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »