May 11, 200909:54 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Way back in those interesting and historic days of the 1960’s, when young people were finding their loud political voice and the wine industry had at best a muted cry, imbibers were growing weary of whiskies, beers, and idle, yet endless, conversations about the meaning of the cover of the 33 1/3 record album, Abbey Road.

There arose at this moment a whole raft of ersatz beverages, parading as “wine,” with manufacturers spending more bucks on packaging than on product.

The party-lexicon soon expanded to include the names of Riunite, Lancers, Italian Swiss Colony, and Carlo Rossi, who seemed to be invited to every social occasion, but in actuality you would not want to get within a full bar’s-length of this character.

At this time, they were also making an appearance were other beverages that entered into the American semi-conscious, including Valpolicella, Soave Bolla, Prosecco, and Lambrusco. There was also the ubiquitous Hearty Burgundy, but let’s leave that alone since it is neither Italian, which is where this conversation is centered, nor was it even close to being Burgundy.

The rush to cheaply quench America’s new-found search for fermented fruit juice caught the attention of a then little-known wine region in northeastern Italy, where many of these real wines originate.

The producers of Valpolicella, located in the province of Verona, felt that their red wines, by design light, fruity, and aromatic, would nicely fit America’s demands for uncomplicated, inexpensive grape juice. They began a marketing effort and turned up the production, churning out hundreds of thousands of gallons of pretty simple product.

Yes, Americans lapped it up…for awhile. The good news: Valpolicella wine producers from Verona sold the heck out of their wine. The bad news: as Americans continued to develop “real” wine palates, they turned their backs on the wines and the region.

To this day, the makers of Soave Bolla, neighbors of Valpolicella, continue to churn out simple, not complicated, and not particularly good wines.

Interestingly, many of the producers of Valpolicella came to their senses and now produce wines of structure and, in some cases, elegance. They even send some of their wines through a process known as ripasso, which means they air-dry fruit, then add other grape elements, like skins, to the first mix, achieve a second fermentation, and create wines of strength and layered flavors.

Many producers of Valpolicella recognized that short-term gains did not endear them to the consumer and did not position the business for succeeding generations. These winemakers heeded the call to make the best wines they could and they are doing some terrific work today.

It’s tough to turn around a brand-name, but they are doing just that. Yes, there are still some Valpolicella’s out there of lesser quality, but there are also some fine wines proudly wearing the name of the region. After short-cutting themselves to plenty of sales but reaping a mediocre reputation, they woke up and brought themselves to a better place.

The folks who make Prosecco, just up the road from Valpolicello, simply had their brand name taken from them and watched as sickening sweet wines with no character headed to market with their moniker.

To be sure, some Prosecco producers also played a role in cheapening their region’s efforts to make a quality sparkling wine, using the Charmat method, which is like making Champagne, but without the second-fermentation occurring in the bottle. Charmat creates its second fermentation in large vats and then puts the sparkling wine into the bottle. 

Importantly, Prosecco is a place, which should mean that only wines from that place can be called by the name of the place. Same goes for Rioja, Cognac, Champagne, and Burgundy.

But a good name does not stop marketers from “borrowing”.

What really is saving Prosecco right now is the miserable economy. As sparkling wine drinkers react with sticker-shock to the stratospheric pricing levels their beloved Champagne has achieved, they have sought alternative solutions.

Prosecco does have the advantages of 1) possessing bubbles; 2) having usually good quality bubbles; 3) coming in the familiar grades of sweetness, i.e. Brut, Extra Dry, etc.; and 4) not being anywhere near as expensive as their French counterparts, who don’t seem to want to catch on that there are economic issues being faced by just about every consumer.

In an odd sort of way, Prosecco would have continued to play a completely secondary role among people who can’t live without sparkling wine in their daily diet, except for the financial straits of many. Prosecco may, in actuality, owe a great debt of gratitude to Bear, Stearns, Shearson, Lehmann, and Citibank. The same may also be true of cavas, sparkling wines from Spain, but cavas never achieved the low market-esteem as Proseccos, because no one stole their identity in another era.

Either way, if you are “off” Valpolicella and Prosecco because of experiences long ago, perceptions and/or reputations, give them another whirl. Good work is being done in these regions. But don’t skimp on the price-point. That’s what started this whole mess to begin with.
 


Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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