Archive for July, 2010

Boxing yourself into a new adventure

There always is an adventure waiting when it comes to trying new wines.
While the adventure occasionally proves to be one you’d just as soon miss next time it’s offered, most of the time it’s an adventure worth repeating.
Although I’m not sure it’s considered an adventure the second time around.
Maybe it’s more like falling in love for the second (or third or 20th) time, when it’s the promise of something new and exciting that keeps you on track.
This latest adventure began last winter, arriving in an eight-sided box containing the first of several selections from Octavin’s new Home Wine Bar system of boxed wines.
So far, and six wines into the adventure, it’s been an enjoyable and tasty ride.
Octavin wines (the wine is in a heavy plastic bag, which is inside the eight-sided cardboard box) is produced by Underdog Wine Merchants of Livermore, Cal., who, according to their Web site, are dedicated to offering “unique, esoteric wines that are distinctly characteristic of their origins and variety.”
There’s been a lot written about Underdog and their Octavin wines (check out the media section on the Octavin Web site) in the last six months or so as they’ve become better known and better distributed.
A month or so ago I received the Octavin Silver Birch (N.Z.) 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and then a few days ago, the nice FedEx lady dropped off a box of the Boho Vineyards 2008 California Old Vine Zinfandel.
I opened the Sauvignon Blanc almost immediately, had a couple of glasses, and then kept the wine in the ‘fridge for about 5 weeks. Honest, I didn’t forget it, I was benignly testing the wine’s shelf life, something most boxed wines love to brag about.
Next to the Octavin box was an opened (and re-corked) bottle of SB from another producer, and when I tasted them side by side last week, the bottle was flatter than my 401(k) while the Octavin plastic-sealed wine was fresh and sparkly and wonderfully refreshing on a 98-degree afternoon.
As we all know, light and oxygen are the two greatest enemies of wine, and Octavin’s plastic liner and heavy cardboard box protected the precious liquid inside from both.
Even though I ignored the wine for most of a month, the wine forgave me, retaining its pear and green apple flavors balanced by the minerality (a neat wine-type word that really means something) and crisp acidity associated with the SBs from the cool regions of Marlborough.
The latest newcomer to my wine-storage area in the basement is the Boho Vineyards 2008 California Old Vine Zinfandel. I punched open the box last night and poured a glass, pleased with the big plum and jam fruit flavors and the easy-to-manage tannins that winemaker David Georges coaxed from the grapes.
Another plus is the typical (at least what I think are typical) alcohol levels (13.7-percent, in this case) that make American zinfandels not only food-friendly but also drinker-friendly.
Both wines are priced at $24 for the three-liter box (the equivalent of four .750-liter bottles), which makes this adventure affordable, as well.

Web site opens world of wine events

One of the challenges for a wine lover living not living in a major city is finding wine events to attend.
Not that they’re lacking, although someone in say, New York City probably can select from several events each week.
My friend Susannah talks here about having that abundance of decisions.
Here, I’m always looking for something other than the weekly “tasting” at one of the local liquor stores, semi-events with hand-picked limited selections that can turn into sales pitches for whatever the store has in overstock.
No matter where you live, though, if you don’t know about an event, you can’t attend it.
That’s why I was initially fascinated by the idea promoted by Eric V. Orange, founder and developer of the Web site site is a free listing service of wine events in your area.
And how do the events get listed?
By you, of course.
“Even after ten years online, I am surprised at how many people in the food and wine business do not know about,” Eric wrote in a recent e-mail. “I recognized years ago that the ‘industry’ folks are looked at as a source of reference from friends and family and the bigger base of the industry using the site, the broader it gets into the consumer world.”
His idea was to gather information on each event at one site and make that site available to everyone.
“It’s really a simple idea,” said Eric, whose wine background includes a five-year stint at Millbrook Vineyards outside of Poughkeepsie, former wine rep and certified sommelier who now lives with his wife and family outside Philadelphia.
He explained that is a free “post your own event” site, and once you’ve posted an event, future postings are easier since the basic information is on the site.
And keeping up with technology means developing an iPhone app, which includes a Geo-location feature (for those of us terminally direction-challenged) to show events within a pre-selected distance from your location.
Which means you don’t have to thread through events in San Francisco when you live in Atlanta (unless you’re headed to SF, of course).
And if you’re looking for an event, the site is remarkably easy to use. The main page offers you a click-on menu of states, which in turn opens a window listing all the sites in that state where events are planned.
The key here, of course, is that if you know of an event that isn’t listed, you can go ahead and make the listing and that event forever will be in your debt.
Or not.
Not just domestic events, either. is an international site, so if you’re heading to, umm, France, say, the current listings say you can choose from 26 events across the country.
Mais oui.
Oh, don’t worry about people reading your listings, it seems there’s a lot of demand for something to do.
Here are a few stats about, thanks to Eric: 115,00 subscribers to The Juice, the weekly events e-mail newsletter; 21,000 fans on Facebook; and 4,600 followers on Twitter.
Don’t you wish you had 4,600 followers on your Twitter site?
Eric said at last count, the site had listed 282,354 events and sold $3,987,629 worth of tickets.
I’d love to go on, there’s more (isn’t there always?) but the site has it all.
Take in an event near you, and spread the word on future events.
Who knows, you might save someone a boring weekend.

Chocolate maker with a passion

Aspen — It’s been a week or so since the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and I’m just about recovered. But there are several stories still to tell, and one of those is about chocolatier Art Pollard.
Art and business partner Clark Goble own Amano Chocolate, based in Orem, Utah, just outside of Salt Lake City.
You really should meet Art and get a taste of his passion for making world-class artisan chocolate.
And taste his chocolate, while you’re at it.
I ran into Art during one of the Grand Tastings, him standing behind his table, tie askew and this mile-wide grin splitting his face, barely containing the enthusiasm he feels for great chocolate.
A simple question from me turned into a fascinating 15-minute introduction into chocolate making and how Pollard, while the rest of his business-school classmates at Brigham Young University were investigating such heavy topics as the international space shuttle and particle accelerators, was figuring that his future might lie in chocolate.
Chocolate took a bit of a back role for a few years as Art built his software business but soon he was writing software in one room while cooking chocolate in a backroom using a machine he made himself. It must have been the best-smelling software company ever.
All the while, he was traveling the world, learning from the Old Masters in Europe and Mexico and seeking out sources of hard-to-find cacao beans.
He soon discovered that the old machines – some of his are more than 100 years old -, are still the best for chocolate making. “I get way better flavors that way,” he said. “It’s not that hard to make bad chocolate but it’s really hard to make good chocolate.”
The photo below shows Art nex to his 70-year old chocolate melangeur, a vintage chocolate grinding machine. The two giant revolving granite rollers on top of a revolving granite slab grind the roasted cocoa to a thick oily paste and finally a thick liquid. This liquid is called cocoa “liquor” and is over 50 percent fat. It is either used at this stage for cocoa butter pressing or is mixed and re-ground with sugar in the Melangeur to make chocolate.
You can see more of his prized machinery on his Web site.
Art Pollard

His timing (2006) in introducing his chocolate to the world wasn’t the best, he admits.
“I got started just as everything was collapsing,” he said, and now can laugh at his timing. “I lost a lot of sleep.”
Today, Amano (Pollard says it means both “by hand” and “with love” in Italian, reflection of his commitment to artisan chocolate) makes a chocolate rivaling the best I’ve had from Europe and elsewhere. One style, the Dos Rios, smells and tastes of blood orange, bergamot and rose petals.
“Those flavors come the bean, isn’t that wild?” Art asked, his grin even bigger. He said cocao beans can have fruity flavors or vegetal or the deepest chocolate, all depending on where they come from. It’s their terroir, in wine speak.
What’s interesting, too, is in many of the isolated places he finds great coca, the locals use the beans for cooking, not making chocolate.
During a recent trip to Venezuela, he took a farmer some chocolate made from his own beans.
“You have to understand these farmers are totally isolated, and they’ve never seen finished chocolate made from their beans,” Art said. “I gave him a taste of the chocolate and he just looked at me, amazed.”
“He said, ‘The tastes in this are like a river, they take you on a long journey.’
“That really touched my soul.”

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