Archive for November, 2008

The Last Corkscrew

November 26th, 2008 • No Comments
The Death of Cork?

The Death of Cork?

I was on Lindsey Gustin’s cooking show on Channel 10 in Fairfax (public access) yesterday (http://geocities.com/chefsrecipes/index.html) when I noticed that out of the 9 bottles of wine I brought on the show, 3 had screwtops also known as Stelvin closures.  Over at www.tastedc.com where I organize my many wine classes like the popular “Wine Basics 101” and also the exciting “Introduction to the Wines of Italy: Wines of Sicily and the South” on Thursday, December 4th, I often notice that the wines being served have changed from cork to screwtop.  For awhile, this was mostly Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, but I’m even seeing German Rieslings and the Shiraz from Australia had Stelvins too!

I’ve read alot about the cork vs. screwtop controversy (you can add in plastic corks too) and George Taber wrote a whole book on it “To Cork or Not to Cork” http://www.amazon.com/Cork-Not-Tradition-Romance-Science/dp/0743299345 which really covered the topic in depth.  In a nutshell, cork comes from the bark of a tree primarily grown in Portugal and Spain.  It’s a renewable resource, every 10 years bark is taken from the same trees and they continue to live and give cork bark for maybe around 200 years.  The problem is with the world demand for cork for wine, the cork industry has a tough time “curing” the cork so that it is free of offending organisms.  Something like 3% to 8% of all wines sold have a TCA problem also known as 2,4,6 trichlooanisole or cork taint.  The offensive odor can be noticed in very small amounts in solution, it has a very mildewy wet cardboard aroma. 

So if you manufactured a product and sold it to the public, but 1 out of 20 was defective, would you consider this an acceptable fault rate?  Probably not, but it is a reality.  And the solution seems to be just a better closure – and screwtops have been used successfully in many consumer applications and have worked very well.  A few other points to mention:

  • corks break and seep air; screwtops really do not,
  • if you store wines for more than a few months, you need to lay them down horizontally if they have a cork because if the cork grows dry, it will seep in air;  Screwtop wines are perfectly fine standing them up in storage,
  • corks are hard to get out and need some type of corkscrew; Screwtops you simply twist,
  • corks can be hard to get back into the bottle or you need to find another closure device;  Screwtops screw right back on,
  • corks rely on agricultural resources; screwtops are an industrial product.

The last point has caused some controversy–The World Wildlife Fund put together a PR release to protect certain animals that might lose their cork tree forest if demand for cork significantly changes because of new technology..but need I say more?  Kind of ridiculous on so many fronts–sure I want to protect the natural habitat, but the cork industry is just that, a business, and there are other ways to get businesses and people to be socially responsible–don’t force them to accept a 1 in 20 defective rate to save birds!!

Whooops, almost forgot, I had lunch today at Agraria in Georgetown and purchased a relatively expensive Pinot Noir from Oregon (Maysara) and yes, you guessed it, it had a screwtop!

I’ll cover more on cork and screwtops in the near future, and I will also cover the plastic closure – seems many TasteDC’s wine class attendees like the idea of some kind of cork being presented when they sit down to eat in a restaurant, I guess the breaking of the metal and offering of a screwtop just doesn’t cut it for them; but what will they do when box wines become better and more popular?

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler

Is It Impossible to Match One Wine With Thanksgiving Meal?

November 23rd, 2008 • No Comments


One of the most published wine articles in the U.S. is how to pair the perfect wine with the Thanksgiving Turkey and fixings.  This is truly next to impossible to do, what with the flavors at the table which go from subtle or even bland turkey (standard Butterball, Organic, Free-Range, Heritage?) to super sweet and fruity cranberries.  Add to this the fact that every family seems to have it’s own take on the meal: oyster stuffing, fried turkeys, sweet potato pie with marshmallows baked on top, etc..  So what is your best bet for pairing wine with this traditional meal?

I like to drink wine with pretty much every meal, but not everyone in my family cares for wine, in fact some family members don’t drink at all!  If you live in DC, most likely you’ve caught the wine bug and you love to drink with your meal, but maybe your Uncle Ted or cousin Martha is not really a wine lover and prefers jug wine or white zinfandel out of a box, so this is the first hurdle – who’s going to be sharing the wine with you?  My solution: provide a cheap $10 or under a bottle of wine that is a well-known brand, one bottle of white like Chardonnay and one bottle of red like a Cab or Australian Shiraz, and keep the bottle of wine you like under the table – it’s your private stash!  If somebody protests, simply give them a pour of your wine.  If there are other serious wine lovers around, by all means share, that’s what wine, family and Thanksgiving are all about!

So which wine goes best with turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry salad, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, etc..?  With such a myriad of flavors, no wine could match all the robust flavors at the table, so wine rule number 1 applies: simply drink a wine you really like..if you’re not satisfied with that answer, always choose wines in the middle range of flavors when you have a broad range of food flavors.  For example, a light white wine might get overtaken by all the fattiness on the table and a big Cabernet will overwhelm pretty much all of the subtle flavors.  On the other hand light-bodied to medium-bodied red wines like Beaujolais (Nouveau is fine for this meal), Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir are less tannic than Cabernet and often marry well with a variety of flavors.  If you like white wine, then Riesling with a touch of residual sugar (off-dry) really does a nice job with a variety of flavors like the sweetness and tanginess of cranberries and the wine’s acidity can cut through the fattiness of gravy.  Chardonnay will work in a pinch, maybe a less oaked one will show best, but I find if there are any smokey foods, than oaked Chardonnays work fine.  Gewurztraminer?  I’ve heard this goes with Thanksgiving a million times, but the fact that it’s such a rich and sometimes overwhelming fruity and can also be a bitter wine, I think it just overwhelms everything.  Plus, there aren’t that many affordable and good Gewurz’s sold, so why put yourself into a corner?

A good inexpensive sparkling wine definitely gets everyone in a great mood, goes really well with fatty/greasy foods, and sets the tone for celebration.  Rather than spend a fortune on good Champagne, go for a less expensive Cava from Spain or even a slightly sweet Prosecco from Italy – for under $15 a bottle you can enjoy them without breaking the bank!

On dessert wines – they tend to be expensive even when you consider they normally come in half-bottles.  If you’re having dessert sweets, skip the dessert wine as a pairing, I find dessert wines paired with sweets to be overwhelming and frankly take away the pleasure of dessert wines.  On the other hand, dessert wines make a nice nightcap if you’re not hitting the Scotch or Cognac, maybe a good idea if people are hitting the road!  BTW – please watch out for people who are drinking too much, especially if they’re driving – definitely make sure they don’t get in the car inebriated..

Have a happy Turkey from..

Charlie “I Drink On Job” Adler

Kosher Turkey Adventure

November 18th, 2008 • No Comments
Gobble - Oye!

Gobble - Oye!

Kosher Turkey Adventure
The life of a wine and food professional is often filled with unique experiences, and a recent article in the Georgetown Current lead me to a fascinating day on a small Maryland farm learning about turkeys, kosher turkeys that is !  The article was about Devora Kimelman-Block who began KOL (Kosher Organic-Raised Local – www.kolfoods.com) in order to satisfy the Jewish communities need for humanely raised meats – also known as « eco-kosher » – in the Metro Washington, D.C. area.  My interest was a bit different – I am just extremely curious about the kosher process of slaughtering (or if you prefer – harvesting) animals and the reasons these methods came to be.  In other words, I had to answer one question for myself – is Kosher slaughter in fact more humane for the animal ?  I had to go to find out !

I had only been to one slaughter before at Fauquier’s Finest in Bealeton, Virginia and I witnessed four cows/cattle and two lambs being « processed » over about a four hour period.  Although at first I was a bit queasy, the emphasis was that this was in fact a humane abbatoir and that the big slaughterhouses where most of our beef comes from is more like an industrial machine.  I was awed by the way the workers treated the animals tenderly before the final moment and how surprisingly much animals jerk and move even as much as 30 minutes after they are dead.  I’ve seen the PETA videos, but now I’m convinced that they’re totally misleading – an animal can seem to be alive a good time after it’s heart has completely stopped and consciousness is vanquished, too many Americans are brought up on TV where one gunshot completely stops all movement in a victim – this is simply not true.

OK, back to the Kosher experience.  We visited a small farm in Rocky Ridge, Maryland called Groff’s Content (www.groffscontentfarm.com) where Julie Bolton, the owner of the farm, Devora and a Rabbi who was to perform as the freelance shochet who applies all the Kosher rules of humane slaughter as well as carrying a really sharp knife that looks like a straight edged razor !  Our job for this day was to assist in getting the birds ready for their Thanksgiving ultimate destination – as the turkey on most likely a Jewish family’s table. 

I had a million questions for the Rabbi and was especially happy when the school boys from a local Yeshiva decided they had had enough after about 15 minutes of plucking feathers.  My first interest was to watch and understand the process where the Rabbi slits the turkeys throat – would I pass out, would I get squeamish, turn pale and pass out, or would it be like the animals I saw at Fauquier’s Finest where I felt they were treated well and this is simply what it takes to get delicious meat ?  I stood very close to the Rabbi and watched as the turkey farmer held the bird upside down by it’s feet, gingerly put its head through a hole in the chicken wires near the rabbi and the rabbi very efficiently sliced the throat at just the right position and moment.  Done..eerily, I felt fine, actually quite peaceful.  I asked questions to the rabbi about the meaning of Kosher slaughter and he explained to me many details – for example, if the throat is slit and something like a blade of grass is found in the throat, that bird can not be considered Kosher – the grass may have slowed down the process of death, and that is considered un-Kosher – wow !  The artery to the bird’s brain as well as the food and airpipe of the bird must be slit in one motion, or – you guessed it – it wouldn’t be Kosher.  Did the bird seem to be in pain ?  Absolutely not, or as the Rabbi said, once the artery is cut, the bird’s brain is not capable of feeling pain, there simply is no way for it to get a message.  Does the bird move after the cut ?  Yes, in fact, it jerks quite a bit even while the blood is draining out, in fact it shakes for a few minutes. 

Our job at this point was pretty simple, but very time consuming – and of course, many people who had RSVP’ed to help didn’t show, there were basically 6 of us doing most of the plucking and cleaning of the animals – we didn’t get to disembowel, this was done by Julie who swore that she couldn’t help grabbing the heart of the bird first, I guess that’s the most difficult part of the bird to pull out first ?  It was a pretty cold day and the barn we were in had no heat, so we were lucky and amazed at how warm the birds remained – in fact, it was very pleasant to pull the feathers off because it kept us warm.  We had to pluck manually because Kosher chickens must be dry-plucked and most plucking machines use water.  Chop off the feet, cut off the head, a few nips and tucks and some detail time on the little feathers and our job was complete – except it took about 6 hours to process all of these birds and my hands began to cramp ! 

After a long day of mostly plucking feathers, Devora had 28 turkeys that were almost all Kosher – a few didn’t pass the Rabbi’s strict rules including the before mentioned grass stuck in the throat, and one bird simply was internally sick, so that was a no-Kosher-go.  A few more interesting Kosher facts – all the birds had to be salted and no blood is allowed to remain in the animals – in fact, the heart of the animal can’t be eaten by Jews who stay Kosher because it still has blood in it – except the Yemenite Jews have a method to remove this blood.  There was one strange exception – you can eat the flesh of the birds even if they are never salted if you eat them within three days of slaughter but they must be broiled or cooked over an open fire.  A bit of a disappointment because I had considered smoking my turkey over low heat, but that wouldn’t be Kosher – geez, I was really caught up in all the rules ! 

My final conclusion – is Kosher more humane ?  Unfortunately, I have never seen a non-kosher slaughter of a turkey, so it’s impossible for me to say, but after talking intimately about turkeys with the Rabbi for many hours, I began to feel an awesome respect for Orthodox Jews and their customs – OK, I don’t intend to change my ways – I’m a pork and lobster eating Jew – but I now understand why even non-Jews often prefer Kosher products to non-Kosher – our People have thousands of years of time practicing very strict rituals.  The only negative of the experience was to realize that the average turkey weighed only a little more than 10 pounds once cleaned and at almost $8 a pound, ultimately I was paying closer to $14-$16 a pound for the actual meat.. having said that, I’m truly looking forward to eating my Kosher turkey and I feel the day plucking and talking with the Rabbi was a sacrifice of time well worth it.

Charlie « I Drink On the Job » Adler

Wine Basics – Getting Started Right

November 9th, 2008 • No Comments
TasteDC's Wine Basics 101

Every year around 1,000 people in the DC area attend TasteDC’s Wine Basics 101 in order to get a solid understanding of wine.  Over 11 years, 15,000 people have attended and I like to think that this has had a significant effect on Washington, D.C. both as a place to find many excellent wine stores and restaurants serving wine as well as a very wine educated public.  Originally, this class was taught by local wine professionals, but I teach it now because it is so important for people to get the basic message/premise of drinking wine at TasteDC – it’s all about pleasure and fun, snobbery can stay at home!

I’ve found after teaching this class for the last 5 years that many people are confused about wine, in particular:

  • Most people think that quality and price are directly related, but this isn’t true,
  • Try to “describe” wine with accuracy when this is relatively unimportant and misleading at best,
  • Spend too much on glassware and other accessories that don’t improve much the wine drinking experience,

This Thursday, November 13th is the next Wine Basics 101 class and my chance to cover the hot topics and important facts on wine.  If you know very little about wine or are looking for a refresher class, give us a try at www.tastedc.com.

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler