Friday, March 14, 2008

Computers, Wine Wizard Bob & White Wine 101


Way back when Sea Shell Sal and I worked for computer companies. Back then computers were the size and cost of small SUVs (which hadn't been invented yet). If that weren't bad enough, they did less than the chip set in today's cell phones. We were newlyweds living in suburban Boston. We were into cooking and trying to learn more about wine. A co-worker of Crabby's at Computervision (a now defunct CAD/CAM computer manufacturer), told me about the brother of a college roommate who had a wine store.

Understand, this was pre-high tech, pre-real estate boom; Millis Massachusetts was "back of beyond", a gas station, a liquor store, a traffic light and a Dunkin Donuts.
In the midwest they're called "party stores", in the northeast we call them "packies". Millis Discount Liquor was an unprepossessing storefront in a non-descript strip mall next to a candlepin bowling alley on a secondary highway in southern Massachusetts. This was supposed to be where I was going to get wine insight?

CrabbyCook may be arrogant, CrabbyCook may be bull headed, but CrabbyCook is not stupid.

Brothers Bob and Peter Harkey had taken over Millis Discount Liquor from their father. Peter concentrated on beer and liquor, Bob on wine. As the area economy grew and expansion brought people out toward Millis, the wine section inexorably began to consume space.
The store is now called Harkey's Wines and Spirits, you can still get a 6-pack, a pint and a lottery ticket, but it has about 4,000 sq. ft of retail space dedicated to wine, and regular clientele from as far away as New York state.

Bob is 6'6" tall and north of 225 pounds. Brother Peter is 6'3" and is ridiculously handsome (Sea Shell Sal's words). Interesting side note, Peter appeared as a contestant on the TV show Survivor: Marquesas.

We became friends with Bob instantly. He would come over on Sunday afternoons. We would cook and he would bring a case of wine and a rack of glasses, we'd taste and learn. Everything we know about wine is from Bob. While it's probably impossible for everyone to recreate the relationship we have, I strongly encourage you to get to know your local wine merchant and have him or her help you learn. It's well worth the time, and the homework is fun.

Today's lesson is on white wine, here's Bob:

The 3 most popular white variety of grapes for wine in the USA today are, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Grigio is the one I take to someone's house when I don't know what is being served. The wine is neutral in flavor and average in body, so it's a great background wine to interesting food. The chef, crabby or not, gets all the credit. 2006 vintage is outstanding. Look for the small print, if you see the word Venezie, meaning from the Venice area, the Pinot Grigio tends to be smoother than the crisp ones from Alto Adige. A top line, reliable producer is Cavit, typically priced at less than $15.

Sauvignon Blanc is the dry white wine with the most "bite". Crisp and clean, it is wonderful with seafood dishes, creamy dishes and goat cheese. The ones from France tend to be snappier with a lime zest essence. The California ones are the least zippy due to a warmer climate, and have a grassy flavor. Nice with grilled seafood, but not with a butter or creamy sauce. The New Zealand ones have a tropical flavor that turns in your mouth to grapefruit zest as you are sipping the wine. I love them with shellfish. Look for Oyster Bay (New Zealand), Geyser Peak (California) both at <$15, or if you're feeling flush try the Groth (California), over $18.

Where the grapes are grown is almost as important as the variety of grape in the wine. An apple from Michigan, New England, or Washington state has a zip to go along with the sweetness because of the cooler climate. The apples you get in August from warm climes, tend to be mealy, without the nice burst of tartness. Chardonnay from California is creamy and buttery due in large part to the warm climate. Chardonnay from France, struggles to ripen so you get the nice snap in the wine. Serve the California Chardonnay with grilled seafood. The French Chardonnay is better with cream/butter sauces because the acid-snappy sensation, cleans your mouth from the cloying sauces. Louis Jadot is a consistent good producer of French Chardonnay. You can spend anywhere from $15 -$200 a bottle and you will get your money's worth. Chateau St. Jean still offers great value in California Chardonnay for under $15 a bottle. Also consider J. Lohr or Steele (both California) at $12 - $15.

That's it for today. For those of you in the Boston area:

Bob Harkey
Harkey's Wine & Spirits
1138 Main Street

Millis, MA 02054

(508) 376-8833

1 comment: said...

A member of crab Nation asked a question regarding the differences between the 2004 and 2005 vintages of J.Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon.

I'm forwarding the question to Wine Wizard Bob. In the meantime, quick research shows that 2005 was a hot year in wine country; excess heat typically drives "fruit forward". So without having the vintages side by side my first guess is that the '05 has a lusher, fruitier flavor and the 2004 is a more "classic" California Cab. Sauv.

I'll update the answer when I hear from WWB.

Thanks for asking.