The Beat Goes On: Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course

9781454913641_p0_v2_s192x300Kevin Zraly Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (revised & updated edition)New York: Sterling Epicure, 2016.

I don’t know if Kevin Zraly has a theme song — a tune that they play when he enters the room or takes the stage — but if he doesn’t have one I would like to suggest “The Beat Goes On.” I think it fits him like a glove.

Windows on the Wine World

Zraly was instrumental in getting the wine beat going here in the United States through his work at the Windows on the World restaurant in New York and his high-impact teaching at the Windows on the World Wine School.

Zraly’s tenure at the restaurant lasted from its first day of business in 1976 (a key year for wine in America) until September 11, 2001. You know that date, I am sure, and it will make sense when I remind you that Windows on the World was located at the top of One World Trade Center.

The restaurant was gone after 9/11, but the beat went on. The school moved uptown, but didn’t really miss a beat until Zraly decided to retire from teaching this fall, after 40 years and more than 20,000 students. So now the school is gone, too, but the beat still goes on in the form of the latest edition of this book.

A Confidence Game

The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course is the closest thing that most people will have to taking the actual course with Kevin Zraly and it is valuable resource both for the wine novices that it was written for and for wine veterans, too.

Newbies learn enough about wine to develop the personal confidence they need to enjoy wine and not be unnecessarily intimidated by it. This confidence is vital to wine sales in restaurants and shops, too. Remember: no one has to buy wine and many do not because they are afraid of making a mistake.

Wine veterans will appreciate the book, too, because Zraly’s enthusiasm is totally contagious and reading it reminds us of why we fell in love with wine in the first place.kevin-zraly-sm

What’s new for this edition? The basic structure remains the same, which is a good thing. Zraly’s brilliant original strategy was to organize the class and then the book around a typical restaurant wine list — whites on this side, reds on the other, sorted by regions and so on.

You get key information about the regions and the wines plus suggested producers, food pairings, comparative tasting prompts and a lot more. Where some books seem to be written for technical WSET exam prep classes, Zraly aims to prepare his students for real world exams — choosing and enjoying wines at restaurants and shops.

More. Give Me More

The text has been updated along with the graphic design and I think both are great. Wine is changing so fast that it is hard to keep up (and impossible to be really complete), but this edition does a good job in both respects. The graphics work because the bright colors stimulate the mind’s eye and are used to convey information in a consistent style. Sue noted that the design allows a great deal of information to be packed onto each page. It is attractive and useful, not distracting as is so often the case.

I have always admired previous editions of this book, but I wanted more. More countries and regions and maps and — most important — more Kevin Zraly. More Zraly because it is his dynamic personal relationship to wine (and his student/readers) that makes this book great.

I think I will always want more in terms of wine regions, etc. — love to see information here about Portuguese wines besides Port and maybe Georgian wines now that I have visited here. But I understand that this isn’t an encyclopedia and, at 360 pages, it is already pretty big.

But what makes me happiest is that the sense that you are listening to Kevin Zraly, learning from him and getting excited by his excitement — that sense is fuller than ever before. More Zraly? Simply irresistible! That’s what makes the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course essential reading for all wine lovers.

Congratulations to Kevin Zraly on his achievements, awards, and contributions to wine in America. And thanks for this book, which extends his influence into the future. The beat goes on!

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“The Beat Goes On” is a Sonny and Cher tune (Sonny Bono wrote it), but I thought you might enjoy this version by the Buddy Rich band — it really swings. Cheers.

 

Flashback Friday: Revisiting Open That Bottle Night 2010

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year, Open That Bottle Night! It is a holiday invented especially for wine lovers.

In honor of OTBN, here is a Flashback Friday column excerpt that returns to a rather fantastic celebration in 2010. Enjoy! (And use the comments section to let everyone know what bottle you uncorked this year!)

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The last Saturday of February is a holiday for wine lovers: Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). It’s the evening when wine enthusiasts come together to share wine and stories.

Although the wines are the official reason for these gatherings, the people and their stories are what it is really all about.

This year Sue and I will be getting together with Bonnie & Richard, Ron & Mary and Michael & Lauri at Ken & Rosemary’s house in Seattle. Everyone’s bringing wine and a story about the wine and Rosemary is making another of her spectacular meals. I’ll report the specifics in a note at the bottom of this post.

Vino Exceptionalism

The premise of OTBN is that wine is different — or maybe that we are different when it comes to wine.  Americans are famously interested in instant gratification — we want what we want when we want it. That’s one reason the U.S. saving rate is sometimes a negative number. Can’t wait — gotta have it now. That’s our typical consumption profile.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that we sometimes behave in exactly the opposite way when it comes to wine. Yes, I know that 70% of wine is consumed within a few hours of its purchase. That is unexceptional.

No, what I’m talking about is our counter-stereotype tendency to tuck special bottles away and save them for … for what? For the right occasion, I suppose. For the moment when they will mean more than they do just now.  Sometimes it is about proper aging of the wine, but usually there is an intangible component that transcends the bottle’s contents. For whatever reason, it seems we need to be reminded once a year to get these wines out and enjoy them!

Frequently (in my case, at least) we hold them too long so that when the cork is finally pulled the wine within is a shadow of its former self.

Liquid Memory

The interesting thing is that it usually doesn’t matter that the wine has faded away. Turns out it was the story that mattered most. Liquid memory!

Dottie & John

John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter invented OTBN in 2000 as a way to celebrate wine by releasing its pent up stories. Dottie and John wrote the weekly wine column for the Wall Street Journal until quite recently and each year they invited readers to send them accounts of their experiences, some of which appeared in post-OTBN columns.

It was quite an experience reading what other people were inspired to say by the wines they opened that night. Kind of a peek into their souls. I think that was the point, however. As Dottie and John wrote in their final column on January 26, 2010.

Wine isn’t a spectator sport. It’s utterly intimate. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should like, including us. Try wines broadly—there have never been so many good ones, at all prices, on shelves—and keep raising your personal bar for what is truly memorable, so that you are always looking for the next wine that will touch your soul and make you feel you’ve gone someplace you’ve never been before. It’s not about delicious wines. It’s about delicious experiences. May your life be filled with them.

Post OTBN: Here’s What We Opened

We had a delicious experience on Open That Bottle Night 2010: great wine, spectacular food and fascinating stories. By the numbers: five and a half hours, ten people, thirteen wines, 75 wine glasses. Here are the food and wine menus — you will have to imagine the stories. Special thanks to Rosemary and Ken for hosting. And thanks to Dottie and John for inventing OTBN.

Wine Menu (listed by vintage year, not the order tasted)

Solter Rheingau Riesling Brut Sekt 2006

Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2004

Callaghan Vineyards Sonoita (Arizona) Padres 2003

Shanxi Grace Vineyards (China) Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Franc 2003

Racines Les Cailloux du Paradis (Loire) 2003

Chateau Haut Brion Blanc 1998

BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (magnum) 1997

Champagne Charles Ellner Brut 1996

Chateau d’Yquem 1996

Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1990

Chateau Figeac St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru 1967

Chateau Cheval Blanc 1961

Taylor Vintage Port 1960

The Food Menu 

Rosemary Flatbread with Artichoke and Green Olive Spread

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Wild American Shrimp and Fennel Salad

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Roasted Tenderloin of “Wild Idea” Buffalo

Polenta with Cremini and Porcini Mushrooms and Mascarpone

Green Beans with Sautéed Shallots

Cranberries and Cherries in Madeira sauce

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“The Cheese Cellar” Cheeses

Gorgonzola Hand Picked by Luigi Guffanti

Piave High Mountain Cow Cheese

Sottocenere with Truffles, Clove and Cinnamon Rub with Ash Rind

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Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote

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Chocolate Biscotti

Soft Amoretti Cookies Sandwiched with Chocolate Ganache or Raspberry Jam

Call for Papers: American Association of Wine Economists Mendoza, Argentina Meetings May 26-30, 2015

The American Association of Wine Economists will meet in Mendoza, Argentina on May 26-30, 2015. The National University of Cuyo, Mendoza is hosting the gathering.

The organizers have issued a “Call for Papers” on subjects related to wine economics and business including analyses in statistics, history, psychology, law, viticulture and enology. They are also open to papers related to beer and food.

Details can be found on the AAWE’s website. Those interested in participating should send a 500-word abstract to aawe@wine-economics.org by January 20, 2015.

Sababay Wines of Bali: New Latitudes, New Flavors, New Frontiers

BottlesThe Wine Economist’s chief Hanoi correspondent Ali Hoover recently visited Bali, Indonesia and volunteered to investigate the local wine sector, focusing on Sababay wine. Here is her report.

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A decade ago, one of my personal favorite wine celebrities, Jancis Robinson, wrote about a new breed of wine emerging on the market – New Latitude Wines. Joining existing wine region categories of Old World and New World, New Latitude’s name suggests it all: these alternate regions seek to break out from the +/- 30 to 50 degree latitude belt considered the bookends of quality viticulture, due in part to climate change, but also enabled through increasing human understanding of how and when vines grow and advancements in refrigeration and irrigation techniques. Jancis ended her article with hesitation, though, admitting “I still find it hard to believe that New Latitude Wines will ever be seriously good, but then that’s what was said about New World Wines not that long ago.”

Since then, wine has begun to pour into the international market from a myriad of unexpected places. I certainly didn’t think Kenya, Azerbaijan, or Thailand were producing wine, and apparently I’m not alone; the Wine Explorers estimates 80% of wine producing countries are poorly known to the general public.

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Among the surprisingly extensive list of non-traditional wine producing countries is equatorial Indonesia, and Bali in particular. After my visit to Bali last month, I’m happy to report it deserves the overuse of the word “paradise” in reference. Despite a confluence of tourists and a disproportionate amount of surfer types, Bali has preserved much of its cultural essence. The crowd favorite ‘homestay’ accommodation looks more like a new-purposed temple, replete with impressive stonework, koi ponds covered in lotus flowers, and breakfast served on sunny patios in the morning. Crystal blue water, lush green vegetation, infamous coffee shops, yoga retreats, and small boutiques have created a getaway nothing short of idyllic. The abundance of fresh fish and produce, coupled with the laid-back attitude and stunning views lends itself all to easily to a crisp glass of wine, but producing local wine posed its own difficult set of challenges.

The Sababay Project

At a mere -8 degrees latitude, low-quality grapes considered unfit for consumption flood the Balinese market, destined for the omnipresent sidewalk religious offering (pictured below). But it turns out climate wasn’t the biggest barrier to quality wine – education in farming sustainability and viticulture standards was. Seeking to use these advances in modern technology to contribute to their native homeland, Evy Gozali and her mother founded Sababay Winery and the Asteroid Vineyards Partnership. In exchange for agricultural & technical support, Northern Balinese grape farmers commit their yields exclusively to Sababay—the 175 farmers currently producing have experienced yield increases of up to 50% in the first year alone with the new viticulture practices, and some have even reported a ten-fold annual profit increase since engaging in the partnership.

bali

What struck me most was Sababay’s strong Indonesian identity, a true achievement in an industry with a constant tug of war between terroir and global appeal. Beyond their tangible contributions to local agriculture, Sababay produces wine to match the cultural preferences and local flavors. Marketing wine to the largest Muslim country by population in the world is no small feat, but the demand is growing, and Sababay provides an alternative to these new consumers who’re looking for a twist-top wine that tastes good with dinner. The resulting wines, designed to be poured young, are sweet, with low alcohol content, and are a perfect pair for the complex, spicy flavors of Indonesian dishes.

Think Global, Act Local

Sababay does not currently export its wines – they’re 100% focused on local consumers. In keeping with advancements in technology and understanding, they have machinery imported from all over the world and a French winemaker to make the magic happen, but in all other facets of their operation they maximize Indonesian involvement in their leadership, staff, production, branding, and promotion. Sababay’s focus is a wine for the people, as opposed to an award winning wine – though they’ve incidentally done that as well! Their sparkling Moscato d’Bali (my personal favorite) recently won the silver award at the WSA Wine Challenge 2014 in Singapore.

As wine expands its boundaries, both in terms of production and consumption, I believe local identity and alternative branding will play a critical role in New Latitude’s potential success. There are untapped demographics with unique preferences and flavors, and New Latitude presents an opportunity to break out not only from geographic constraints, but traditional flavor profiles as well. In our increasingly global world, it seems the time is right to engage these regions and step outside our delimiting 30/50. Rather than expecting New Latitude to produce “seriously good” wines by our preexisting standards, I think we ought to encourage them to create “seriously relevant and unique” wines that appeal to emerging demographics and engage local consumers. So keep your eye out for these intriguing New Latitude wines on your next vacation, it’s bound to shake up your wine experience and add an extra dimension to your cultural experience.

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Update: All of the Sababay wines entered in the Chine Wine & Spirits Awards competition have received medals.  The Sababay Pink Blossom received a double gold! Congratulations to Sababay on this international recognition. To see the details click on the awards link and search for Sababay.

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Thanks to Ali for her report. Here is a photo of Ali (red blouse) and the Sababay team.

I’m also impressed by the Sababay wines and also by the values they embody. Here is the winery’s mission statement (taken from the website):

Our mission is to elaborate local products of international standard that are accessible to all to enjoy and to give back to the land and to the local community.

  • Developing a diversified and performing agriculture in Indonesia with reduced impact on the land.

  • Recycling solid and liquid wastes at every steps of the production.

  • Social responsibility in the local community by creating jobs.

  • Constant training of the work force.

  • Harmonious relationship with trading partners and consumers.

 

Wine Wars Now Available as Audiobook

The audiobook version of Wine Wars has just be released by Audible.com.  Click on the book cover image to go to the Amazon.com page where you can listen to an excerpt, purchase the audiobook or get it free with a with a 30-day free trial of Audible.com.

Wine Wars is my first audiobook and I am interested to see how paper translates into an audio file.  It turns out that 261 pages of text take 8 hours and 31 minutes to read! Veteran narrator Clinton Wade is the reader and I think he does a great job.

Many of you who know me or have heard me speak have commented that you can almost hear my voice when you read the book, so I wonder if that holds up with the audiobook format?

If you have a chance, I’d appreciate it if you’d click on the image and listen to the audio sample for a few minutes. Use the comments section below to let me know if you think the book’s voice comes through effectively.

Plans are in the works for an audiobook edition of Extreme Wine, too. Watch this space for details.

Twenty Dollar Bill Wines

My new book Extreme Wine is now officially available and Wine-Searcher.com has just published an excerpt, so you can get a sense of the book’s style and content, both of which will be familiar to regular Wine Economist readers.

The editors at Wine-Searcher picked part of Chapter 4, which is titled “The Invisible Wine” and deals with wines that are for various reasons so scarce (or in some cases so ubiquitous) that they are nearly invisible. I probe a number of extremes in this chapter, but the editors asked to reprint the section on “Twenty Dollar Bill Wines.”  Here’s how the piece begins …

Twenty-dollar-bill wines don’t really cost twenty dollars, so you can put your wallet away. The name comes from a joke that is popular among economists and therefore essentially unknown to the rest of the world. The joke goes like this.

A non-economist walks into a bar and says excitedly to the bartender (who is an economist). ‘Wow, this is my lucky day! I just found a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk in front of your bar!’ The bartender takes a long look at the fellow, who is waving the bill in the air. ‘No, you didn’t,’ he says. ‘Yes, I did!’ replies the customer. ‘See, it’s right here!’ ‘Can’t be—you’re wrong,’ the economist-bartender coolly replies. ‘You’re ignoring rational economic theory. If there had been a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk, someone would have already picked it up. So it is logically impossible that you could have found one.’

‘But look—here it is!’ the customer exclaims. ‘Look, buddy,’ the bartender says, turning away, ‘What do you think I’m going to believe—your bill or my theory?’

The joke of course (sorry, but economists always explain jokes, even the obvious ones) is that economists tend to believe their theories even when they can clearly see refuting evidence with their own eyes. You would think that this makes economists different from regular folks, but in the case of rare wines, we are all pretty much the same.

There are many ‘cult’ wines that are famous for being impossible to buy. They are so scarce, the story goes, that they are all invisibly absorbed by the lucky few folks who years ago gained access to the wine-club distribution list. No one else ever gets a shot. They are as rare as rare can be. I call these the twenty-dollar-bill wines because if you saw one (at a wine shop or on a restaurant wine list), you would probably rub your eyes. Impossible! How could that be? Must be a mistake (or maybe a fake!). If they really had that wine for sale, they would already have sold it.

Now the dirty little secret of these wines is that they are sometimes quite reasonably available, but the myth of impossible scarcity is maintained because that’s how myths work and because no one can believe their eyes. …

Click here to go to Wine-Searcher.com to read the rest of the selection.

By the way, if you still think of Wine-Searcher only as a website that provides information on particular wines, their ratings, prices and availability (see this search for Opus One, for example), then you need to think again because the editors have created a really exciting website with news, features and a wide range of other wine enthusiast information.

There’s more to Wine-Searcher than the searcher part, so you should check it out. (And, yes, they do also publish my column on wine investment, so I have filed this post under “Shameless Self-Promotion.)

Thanks to Wine-Searcher for publishing the Twenty Dollar Bill wine excerpt. Enjoy!