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14 September 2006

The Wine Decider

Several times a day, you might hear me mutter something like this:  "Stupid #$%@ Utah liquor laws @#$@ what the @#$%&!"  Indeed, one could pull out an entire head of perfectly good hair by obsessing about the inanity and strictness of this state's alcohol laws.

But these laws protect the children!  If by, "protecting the children" you mean raking in fat cash, then yeah - the state DABC is really, really, really protecting kids from evils of the demon drink.  To wit, last year's profit (not revenue) was a cool $47 million.   

The lone bright spot within the morass of Utah's liquor monopoly is the state's wine selection.  Sadly, there aren't great sales or case discounts.  However, the diversity and breadth of Salt Lake City's wine collection will stand up to any mid-sized metro area not named Portland.  For example, a Sherry lover like myself can easily find a Manzanilla or Fino.  Icewine from Austria, Germany or Canada?  Check.  Burgundy & Bordeaux?  Check again.  Out-of-state guests I've brought into Salt Lake's downtown wine shop are always impressed by the selection.

Brett Our good wine fortune is due to the palate of one man - the state wine coordinator, Brett Clifford (pictured, at right).  Some refer to Brett as the 'Wine Czar.'  Indeed, not a single wine hits Utah shelves without the approval of Mr. Clifford's palate.  In fact, Utah is the only full-control state that employs someone like Brett.  I've seen wines come and go.  Usually when I inquire as to why the current vintage of a particular wine isn't available, the response is, "Brett didn't think the new vintage was worth the price."

Naturally, many of us independent-minded wine lovers might debate the merits of hitching an entire wine-drinking population to a single person's palate.  Fortunately, Brett's palate is broad as evidenced by the collection.  Yesterday, I sat down for a short interview with Mr. Clifford.  We discussed his history with the Utah DABC, changes in liquor laws and a few of his favorite wine regions.  Download the interview (mp3) here.

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12 July 2006

The Big Blogcast: Back to Tradition With Schloss Gobelsburg

Schlossg2 Schloss Gobelsburg is one of the Kamptal's (1 hour west of Vienna) most prominent wine estates.  The Schloss, meaning 'castle' in German, made its first appearance in Austria's history in the year 1074 AD.  Up through the 16th century, this castle was home to 19 different royal families.  In the 18th century, the last aristocrats to own the castle instigated major renovations to the property.  The castle was torn down and rebuilt as a Renaissance manor house, and then later remodeled as a Baroque chateau.  Today, Gobelsburg still retains its Baroque beauty.

In addition to interesting ownership and architectural histories, Schloss Gobelsburg's wine producing history is equally as fascinating.  In the 16th century, Gobelsburg's vineyards were incorporated into a nearby Cistercian abbey.  The monks produced and stored wine in the Gobelsburg cellars up until 1994.  One cellarmaster, Father Bertrand Baumann, took it upon himself to honor Cistercian heritage by introducing Burgundy vines (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) into the Gobelsburg vineyards.  In 1996 partners Willi Bründlmayer and Michael Moosbrugger leased the estate and its vineyards from the monks.  Since that time, Michael has overtaken all winemaking duties, and instituted several interesting winemaking practices.

Schlossg Michael Moosbrugger takes the concept of terroir seriously.  His desire is to reflect not only vineyard conditions in the wine, but to also reflect the characteristics of Schloss Gobelsburg's location.  For example, rather than using French or American oak in Gobelsburg wine, Michael employs a local cooper to build barrels made from oak grown in nearby forests.

In my opinion, Michael's most interesting innovation, is actually a return to tradition.  As he tells it, a journalist asked him how the ancient wines of Schloss Gobelsburg may have tasted (at then end of second World War, all the wine was looted from the cellar by occupying armies).  This question planted itself on Michael's brain.  He began to investigate old winemaking practices.  He also questioned Father Bertrand, the last Cistercian winemaker at Schloss Gobelsburg.  The result of this investigation was a series of wines called, "Tradition."

Tradition wines are produced using old, labor intensive techniques.  For example, wine is naturally fermented in large oak casks without temperature control.  It is then racked (the process of removing sediment) by transferring 'clearer' wine to oak barrels every 3-4 months until the wine is completely clear.  The wine is then bottled after 18 months.  the result?  Mind-blowingly unique wines.  Overall, Tradition wines are exposed to much more oxygen during winemaking than their modern counterparts.  This process creates wines that offer unexpected scents and flavors. 

I was lucky enough to taste a few of these wines.  The 2003 Grüner Veltliner Tradition seems to be incredibly mature for its age.  In fact, I initially thought the wine was mislabled.  I asked Michael if the wine was actually from 1999 or 2000.  He smiled, and said, "No.  Tradition wines tend to taste mature at a young age."  This wine possesses scents of butterscotch and earth, where a modern Grüner Veltliner of the same age would offer up scents of spice and pear.  These wines are worth seeking out.  Currently both the Grüner Veltliner  and Riesling Tradition wines are imported by Terry Theise for Skurnik wines.

Blogcastlogo_2 All of Gobelsburg wines are of very high quality.  Even the $15 Riesling is a treat.  Listen to my interview with winemaker Michael Moosbrugger.  We chat about the philosophy behind Tradition wines, his journey from the hotel industry to winemaking and the similarities of some Schloss Gobelsburg wines to the wines of Burgundy.  Download the interview here (mp3 - right-click -> save as to download; left-click to play on your computer).  See my Schloss Gobelsburg photo gallery here.

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30 June 2006

The Big Blogcast: Stephencooks

Blogcastlogo Hi there & welcome to the Big Blogcast.  This is a new feature here at Basic Juice.  Each week I'll be chatting with the personalities behind my favorite blogs.  Today my guest is "Stephen" of Stephencooks.comAccording to his site, Stephen is a 'recovering architect,' maker of photo-based art and amateur cook living in Maine.  Stephen's wife, a bestselling author, is his kitchen partner (which is a nice way of saying she cleans up after

Download the interview (mp3; to download: right-click on link and select "save link/target as")
Part 1 - Stephen reveals he's cooking on an electric stove (gasp!)
Part 2 - Stephen discovers Chef-Boy-ardee Pizza Mix - and the rest is history
Part 3 - Quinoa doesn't do much for Stephen


Three of my favorite Stephencooks recipes

And a seriously, savagely good dessert:

Stay tuned for next week's Big Blogcast..

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