Articles in Tradition
I first tasted St-Germain in 2010, while attending a wine and spirits trade show in London. There, amid hundreds of booths offering samples of every conceivable alcoholic elixir, a statuesque Belle Epoque bottle caught my attention. Once I tasted the delicate elderflower liqueur inside, I knew I’d stumbled onto something truly different.
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St-Germain is made in France, but the idea for the liqueur was born in England. While visiting London on business in 2001, a young American named Robert Cooper tasted a cocktail made with elderflower syrup, and became intrigued by its unique flavor. As it happened, Cooper was in charge of marketing for Chambord, the French raspberry liqueur, which was developed for the U.S. market by his father.
Cooper returned to the States with the idea of creating an elderflower liqueur, but soon found that the process was more challenging than he’d imagined.
“I began vigorously working on the project in 2003, and it was not in marketing until early 2007,” Cooper said. By then he’d left the family spirits business to launch his own operation, Cooper Spirits International. “It was quite difficult to make the macerations from something as volatile as a fresh flower.”
St-Germain is made from the blossoms of wild elderflowers that bloom on the hillsides of the French Alps for just four to six weeks in early spring. Once the flowers have been hand-harvested, the race is on to process the fresh blossoms before they lose their delicate aroma and flavor.
They’re immediately macerated to preserve their freshness, and each day’s macerations are successively combined until the blooming period is over.
“We make the maceration once a year, much like a wine, surrounding the elderflower harvest,” Cooper explained. That means there’s only one chance each year to get it right.
The ‘bartenders’ bacon’
Cooper’s dedication has resulted not only in a wonderfully delicious liqueur, but something of a cocktail revolution.
In the six short years since its release, St-Germain has become a key player in U.S. artisan cocktail movement.
“St-Germain came on the market when the whole mixology and cocktail scene was really starting to catch fire,” said mixologist Mike Henderson of Root Down, an upscale Denver restaurant known for its creative cocktails.
“I think one of the reasons it’s been so successful is that it’s got a unique ability to go with just about everything,” he said. “It works equally well with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, scotch and Champagne. It’s joked about in the cocktail community as being ‘bartenders’ bacon’ – it just makes everything a little bit better.”
Henderson includes St-Germain in three of Root Down’s signature drinks, including the Hummingbird (with Prosecco and sparkling water), the Spanish Estate (with rum, sherry vinegar and bitters) and the Pepper Blossom (with vodka, jalapeño syrup and citrus juices).
The complexity of St-Germain’s flavor, he said, is the secret to its versatility. “When you taste it, you get a lot of notes of lychee, pear and tropical fruit, and there’s some citrus in there,” Henderson said. “Because it’s got that depth and variety of flavors it has the ability to bring out whatever flavors it’s mixed with. For example, if you make a cocktail that’s got pear in it, St-Germain has this ability to bring out more pear. If you make a cocktail with kiwi in it, it has this weird ability to bring out more of that kiwi flavor.”
Global domination on the horizon
The wild popularity of St-Germain among cocktail devotees on both sides of the bar led liquor giant Bacardi to buy the brand from Cooper Spirits earlier this year, with the intention of turning it into an international brand “icon” à la Grey Goose vodka, purchased by Bacardi in 2004.
Although Cooper continues to work with Bacardi as St-Germain’s “brand guardian,” I can’t help wondering if global domination will mean a compromise in the liqueur’s artisan production process.
“I have been working diligently for the past three or four years on growing our capacity,” Cooper told me. “So long as we can procure the flowers in sufficient quantities, we can make more St-Germain.”
This spicy-sweet cocktail was created by Mike Henderson of Root Down, in Denver.
1¼ ounces vodka
1¼ ounces St-Germain
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce jalapeño-infused simple syrup*
2 basil leaves
Combine all ingredients except basil in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
Strain liquid into a lowball glass and garnish with basil leaves.
*To make jalapeño-infused simple syrup, add 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and a fresh jalapeño (cut in half with seeds removed) to a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool and remove pepper before using. Will keep in the refrigerator up to four weeks.
Top photo: Elderflowers bloom in the French Alps for only four to six weeks each spring. Credit: Cooper Spirits International
At Zester Daily, we scour the world for interesting food and drink stories to share with our fans. As luck would have it, we only had to drive an hour south to Orange County, California, to find our latest discovery: Best Wines Online, a new wine e-tailer we know you will enjoy.
We have trusted the talents of founders Kyle Meyer and Tristen Beamon since their years managing another wine store. Their well-earned reputations as wine sleuths able to sniff out values in the obscure corners of wine’s ever expanding universe are complemented by an encyclopedic knowledge of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Their picks reflect a preference for balanced wines that shine on the dinner table. Kyle and Tris take the time to learn the backstories of the wines they sell. With their guidance, wine shopping is more treat than chore.
When we learned this dynamic duo was opening a store of their own, we jumped at the chance to introduce the venture to Zester fans.
Discounts for hand-selected wines
Today, we are proud to announce that Zester Daily and Best Wines Online have launched a marketing partnership. Each week, Kyle and Tris will hand-select a wine they will make available to Zester subscribers at an exclusive 10% discount below the store’s already competitive prices.
Zester newsletter subscribers will find a Best Wines Online promotion detailing the weekly wine offer in our new Weekender newsletter sent out toward the end of the workweek.
On bestwinesonline.com, you’ll find detailed wine descriptions and a growing library of videos both from Kyle and Tris’ travels as well as interviews with winemakers who visit their shop. Their personal touch extends to customer service. When you call their store during California office hours, you’ll get a living, breathing human being on the phone.
They are limiting their stock to 1,000 labels — enough variety to represent the wide world of top-shelf wines along with stacks of tantalizing under $20 treats. Rare among boutique e-tailers, the pair also feature hard-to-get older vintages straight from the wineries.
We know you will enjoy getting to know Kyle and Tris and their particularly delicious take on fine wine at bestwinesonline.com. Sign up now for Zester’s newsletter so you won’t miss out on any of these delicious deals.
Top photo: Kyle Meyer and Tristen Beamon of Best Wines Online. Photo and video credits: Matthieu Silberstein
I wonder how many Americans realize their importance in the world of wine. The United States has recently overtaken France and Italy to become the globe’s biggest market, drinking a full 13% of all the wine produced on the planet, more than any other nation. While wine drinking has been declining rapidly in the European countries that make so much of it — France, Italy and Spain — we are amazed at how rapidly and firmly a wine culture has been established in the U.S.
In cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, you can hardly move for wine tastings, wine bars, wine courses and people who are parlaying their interest in wine into building collections, visiting urban wineries and taking wine tours. But even in the vastness of America between the coasts, wine has been catching on. We looked up wine events in Des Moines, for example, and were delighted to find at least one a month. What we like about this development is that these new wine lovers, many of them relatively young, are working out their own preferences rather than being spoon-fed a series of ratings.
ZESTER DAILY GIVEAWAY
Americans are among top wine producers
But it is not just as a consumer that the U.S. now leads the world. Americans overtook Argentina in the 1990s to become by far the most important wine producer outside Europe, with the total amount of American wine produced gaining on the amount made in France, Italy and Spain. The shifting balance is due in some part to a determined program to rip out surplus, low quality vineyards in the EU.
Robert Mondavi was always convinced that California could make wines that were the equal of Europe’s best. That point was made long ago, but what thrills us is that American interest is so great that wine is now being made in every state in the Union. Hawaii and Alaska have their own wines, and North Dakota has eight bonded wineries. We long ago recognized that California, Washington and Oregon could make great wine, but now is the time to check out what we call The Other 47.
Rieslings in the Midwest
The curious American wine lover would be well advised to investigate the less-celebrated steely Rieslings of northwestern Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York. In blind tastings of Rieslings from throughout the world, their offerings have been ranked among the finest. But perhaps the best Viogniers, Petit Mansengs and Bordeaux blends of Virginia would be an appropriate starting point for an exploration of American wine in view of Thomas Jefferson’s early efforts on his Monticello estate to turn Americans into a nation of wine drinkers. (It was the local phylloxera louse that scuppered his early plantings of the European vinifera vines, by far the most dominant vines in wine production.)
In some of the more inhospitable sites for grape vines, where the climate is too cold and the growing season too short to support European Vitis vinifera varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, grape breeders, particularly in Minnesota, have been developing cold-hardy hybrids that ripen their fruit relatively early and produce fully mature grapes that can be vinified into seriously good table and dessert wines. Look for La Crescent and Brianna whites, and Frontenac and Marquette reds. Older French-American hybrids, with names such as Baco Noir, Cayuga, Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc, remain important grape sources in the most challenging terroirs in the Midwest.
More options in the South and Northeast
In wet, humid Southern states, native Muscadine vines, which have adapted to the conditions, produce musky-sweet aromas and flavors that can be an acquired taste for some, but are embraced by others who have grown up drinking them. In New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the native Concord grape used so widely for juice, jelly and grapey wines such as Manischewitz, can taste pretty extraordinary to a palate not raised on Cabernet and Chardonnay. However, some American vine varieties — the Norton grape of Virginia and Missouri comes quickly to mind — can produce admirable wines without the rankness associated with Concord, wines that should appeal to any lover of fruity reds with character.
Then again, there are wineries in the U.S. that ship in grapes from sunnier climes (often California), and vinify and bottle them under their own labels. Despite movements across the country calling for only locally grown grapes to go into locally produced wines, importing West Coast fruit keeps many a winery tasting room financially afloat.
And in some parts of the country — Alaska, North and South Dakota in particular — vintners make their living selling wines made from vegetables and non-grape fruits. Pumpkins, rhubarb, berries, cherries, apples, pears, peaches, just about any produce that has natural sugar, can be fermented into wine. Many of them taste surprisingly good.
We feel strongly that the dramatic increase in quality of wines made in The Other 47 deserves more recognition. Be adventurous in your wine choices.
Photo: Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy. Credit: Michael Wright Studio
Lately I’ve been frustrating my customers, which is never a wise thing to do. We get asked all the time for analytical stats on the wines we offer and details about our winemaking practices. My catalogues tend to pass over such things, because I’ve reached a place in my drinking career where I find them otiose. This might seem snooty. So let me explain.
First, a wise quote from Peter Jost (of the estate Toni Jost), who said: “Judging a wine by its analysis is like judging a beautiful woman by her X-ray films.” Second, and further support for my theory, a remark I received from esteemed German winemaker Helmut Dönnhoff many years ago, when I asked him for the figures of a wine in my glass. “You don’t need these anymore, Terry,” he said. “Analyses are for beginners.”
But there are beginners, I must remember, and they’re curious, and it’s peevish for me to deny them the understanding they seek. If a drinker is interested in knowing how a wine was made, or in knowing what its acidity or residual-sugar or extract might be, this is entirely valid if she is trying to collate her palate’s impressions with the facts of the matter. That is a useful way of thinking — until it isn’t anymore.
ZESTER DAILY CONNECTIONS
The ecstasy of defeat
I well remember traveling with an earnest young colleague who sought to guess how a wine was made strictly from its taste. He was especially eager to identify cask versus stainless steel aging. I loved the guy, but I knew the perplexing denouement that quivered a few days down the road. For indeed, at one winery where all the wines were done in cask, my pal was sure they used steel, and yielded to his dismay; however hard he tried, he just wasn’t getting it. When I told him he’d crossed the Rubicon into a place of far greater wisdom, he thought I had a screw loose. I tried to reassure him that being right was reassuring, but being wrong invited epiphany; you ascended to greater understanding through your mistakes.
I remember, though, the urge to understand, to find explanations, to learn the causes and effects of flavor. We mustn’t frustrate that urge – it’s human to be curious and I think we should respect curiosity. But we also have to help drinkers understand the limits of this vein of knowledge. It is a closed system that gives the simulacrum of expertise while actually leaving us in an airless chamber of our minds. We feel terribly knowledgeable discussing the details of a wine, but there’s a big-picture glaring at us that this approach won’t let us see.
If you’re hungry for knowledge of how a grower trains his vines, prunes his vines, binds his vines; if you seek to know the density of plantings per hectare and the space between the rows; if you’re curious about which clones were used, how the canopies were worked, if and when the winemaker did a green harvest, if the grapes were picked by hand, with what-size teams and with one big bucket or several smaller ones, then these are things you ought to know. Shame on me for finding them ancillary and ultimately trivial.
More than the sum of its yeasts
If you want to know the wines’ total acids, the amount of its sweetness, the must-weights of the grapes at picking, whether it fermented with ambient or with cultured yeasts, how it was clarified, what vessel it fermented in and at what temperature (and if the temperature was technologically controlled), whether it sat on its gross or fine lees and for how long, and whether it was developed in steel or in wood — I don’t mind telling you. But it worries me some. Because I fear that for each one of you who sincerely wants to compare what his palate receives with what’s actually inside the wine, there are many of you who want to enact value-judgments prior to tasting, because you’ve decided what’s permissible and what’s despicable. (This nonsensical approach is rampant in Germany.)
I am decidedly not in favor of excluding tasters from any wine because they disapprove of the effing yeast that was deployed, or because they won’t go near a wine with more than X-grams of sweetness. Who wants to enable something so repugnant?
Nor am I willing to abet the sad phenomenon of people talking about wine with what seems like authority, because of the “information” they’ve accumulated, whereas they’re actually blocked from attaining true authority by the rigid limits of their approach. If you’re stuck in the “how,” you’ll have a rough time finding your way to the “what.” And that is where true wisdom lies. The wonky isn’t a bad place to be, for a while, but it’s a dangerous place to stop, because like all objects of beauty, wine is more than the sum of its parts. If you’re busily probing into technical minutiae, will you remember to consider not only the application of technique but the expression of a vintner’s spirit? Will you remember to pause for just a second and consider how a wine makes you feel?
Photo: Terry Theise. Credit: Anna Stöcher
On a recent trip through the Pacific Northwest, I spent a lot of time drinking wine. Not a huge surprise. After all, the area ranks as one of the nation’s top wine-producing regions. Plus, I’m all about sampling outstanding, regional wines. What intrigued me was how the drink was invariably poured — just like draft beer, the wine came straight from a tap.
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Back in New York, I started noticing uptown restaurants such as Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem and downtown gastropubs such as Spitzer’s Corner featuring tap wines on their menus. Was this a gimmick or the new norm? Just what was the impetus behind wine served from a tap?
The concept, I learned, isn’t new. By the third century, much of Western Europe dispensed its wine from wooden barrels. The Gauls supposedly used casks as early as the first century B.C. These vessels replaced two-handled jars known as amphorae, which the Ancient Greeks had created for storing, transporting and serving wine. Lighter yet sturdier than the Grecian ceramic jugs, a wooden keg could also hold more alcohol than its predecessor.
The evolution to draft wines
Over the centuries, as vintners and consumers developed a taste for aged, bottled wines, kegs became as passé as amphorae. That archaic status changed, in part, in the 1970s, when Australian producers began packaging some of their younger wines in collapsible bags and cardboard boxes.
Because the bag and box minimized the wine’s exposure to oxygen, these cask wines, as they were dubbed, kept longer than bottled. With them people could enjoy a glass of wine over a period of time without concerns about the flavor and quality diminishing within a day.
Cask wines also cost less and held more than bottled. For these reasons and more, I, and other wine fans, see more and more glasses coming not from a bottle but from a tap.
Similar to draft beers, today’s commercial cask wines run off tap systems. Reusable, 5-gallon, stainless-steel kegs known as Cornelius tanks house the beverages at controlled temperatures.
Dispensed through airtight systems using either nitrogen or argon, the alcohol maintains its freshness long after the first pour. In the case of sparkling wines, they also hold onto their bubbles. After being tapped, these wines may keep for up to three months.
At Dive Bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, owner Lee Seinfeld offers five artisanal, New York wines on tap. “This works much better for me than bottled. What I like is that I have fresh, good-quality wine all the time,” says Seinfeld, who installed his red and white wine taps last July and anticipates adding another line for Prosecco.
Presently, Dive Bar goes through eight kegs, about 40 gallons, of wine each month. That amounts to roughly 200 heavy, glass bottles that don’t need to be transported, stored, opened or recycled.
Kegs also eliminate the need for corks, labels and cardboard shipping containers. Minimal packaging results in less waste, lower fuel costs and a greener, cheaper beverage delivery. In the end, this means savings for both restaurant owners and their customers.
As an environmentally conscious consumer, I appreciate the green aspects of tap wines. I also welcome the lower cost on restaurant wine lists. Likewise, I love that I’m guaranteed a fresh beverage and not the dregs from yesterday’s bottle.
What continues to surprise me, though, is the caliber of local wines cascading from New York taps. Noted wineries such as Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard in the Finger Lakes, Brooklyn’s Red Hook Winery and Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton all offer high-quality wines on tap.
Beyond those that require bottle aging, most wines do nicely in kegs. “In theory they should all perform well. The keg is really just a mini-version of a stainless steel tank,” says James Christopher Tracy, head winemaker and partner at Channing Daughters. “But we tend to put wines that are poured by the glass and go through large volumes so fresh, often unoaked or lightly oaked white, pink and red wines …” Tracy says.
Although tap wines may seem novel or odd to the casual imbiber, their positive attributes should win over the skeptics. Good libations at a lower cost with a reduced environmental impact: What’s not to love about wine on tap?
Top photo: The wine region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Credit: Kathy Hunt
Like most wine writers, I’ve toured dozens of wineries, and seen the insides of more fermentation cellars than I care to recall. Vintners just love to show off their shiny stainless steel tanks, despite the fact that theirs look exactly like the ones at every other winery on the planet.
“You mean you have tanks?” they imagine us asking. “Well don’t just stand there, man, show them to me!”
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Just when I thought I’d seen every variation of fermentation tank known to winemaking, I came across something truly different: the concrete egg. Made of the same material as the average driveway and shaped like a giant chicken egg, the concrete egg began appearing in the cellars of West Coast wineries in 2003, and it seems to be hatching a legitimate winemaking trend.
Because concrete is porous, the tanks are said to be “breathable,” like barrels, but without adding any oak character to the wine. The egg shape plays a role, too, by helping to create a natural stirring effect during fermentation. And, some say, by channeling the celestial energy of the universe.
A concrete history
While egg-shaped tanks are a new invention, concrete tanks have been used in winemaking for centuries. Giant rectangular concrete vats were commonly used by large California wineries until a couple decades ago, when they fell out of fashion in favor of stainless steel.
But concrete vats continued to be used by wineries in Europe, including some of the great chateaux of Burgundy and Bordeaux. This caught the attention of Charles Thomas in the early 2000s, when he was the winemaker at Rudd Oakville Estate in the Napa Valley.
Thinking there must be something to this concrete thing, Thomas, now the head of winemaking at Quintessa in Napa Valley, went to see Marc Nomblot, whose family makes concrete wine vats in Burgundy. Nomblot told him that the egg-shaped tank was originally designed for French winemaker Michel Chapoutier, who, as a follower of the sometimes-mystical biodynamic approach to agriculture, believed there was special power in the egg shape.
“An upright egg is supposed to concentrate the energy vortex of the celestial energy,” Thomas said. “But it had already turned my head before Marc told me anything about the biodynamic philosophy.”
Thomas brought two eggs back to California in 2003. “These were probably the first new concrete tanks in Napa Valley in at least 40 years,” he said.
And so began a trend.
Physics or magic of egg-shaped tanks?
Once Thomas was able to test-drive his eggs, he discovered some unexpected benefits.
“My rationalization was that maybe I’d get the richness of a barrel fermentation without the oak character, and I did,” he said. “But what I didn’t count on was a greater level of complexity beyond what you would have seen in a stainless steel vessel.”
When Thomas moved to Quintessa in 2008, he began using concrete eggs for the winery’s Illumination Sauvignon Blanc. Now the winery has 13 of them.
“Stainless steel has a brightness and a purity of aroma and fruit,” he said. “Concrete also has purity of fruit, but with more complexity aromatically. In the mouthfeel, stainless steel is a bit leaner and tighter, and the concrete is going to have a little bit rounder, richer mouthfeel in the wine.”
Although some claim that the convection from fermentation inside the egg creates a vortex that continually mixes the lees, leading to better mouthfeel in the wine, Thomas isn’t completely convinced. “There are a lot of ‘true believers’ out there that go further with this than I would in terms of claims,” he said.
Anna Matzinger, winemaker at Archery Summit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, takes a more lighthearted attitude toward the alleged powers of the concrete egg. She has used one to make Archery Summit’s Ab Ovo (“from the egg,” in Latin) Pinot Gris since 2008.
“What the egg offers is this really interesting textural depth, and then you still get the precision of what you might get in stainless steel fermentation,” Matzinger said.
And a little magic can’t hurt, either.
“Those who follow biodynamics think (the vortex theory) is a terrific idea,” she said, “because a vortex is connecting the energies of the cosmos to the energies of the earth.”
Does she actually believe that stuff about the cosmos?
“Any time you can talk about the universe conspiring to help you do something better, why not just go with it?” she said. “I say that in jest a little bit, but I also think it’s kind of interesting. If you stood over any stainless steel tank of white wine fermenting, it’s kind of moving around in a circle. Whether it’s doing that differently in the egg because of the rounded bottom, and if it’s more connected with the cosmos because of that, I’m not quite sure. But I still think there’s something magical about the egg.”
Although concrete eggs are used primarily for white wines, they can also be used for reds.
Viader Vineyards & Winery in Napa Valley has used concrete eggs for a variety of wines since 2004. “I find it ideal for our Petit Verdot,” director of operations Alan Viader said. The egg-fermented wine is part of the blend for Viader’s V, which sells for $150 per bottle.
The egg contributes to the mouthfeel and weight of the wine, Viader said, while preserving fruit character and delicate aromatics. “Wines are usually better quality than the exact same lot of wine fermented in our square concrete tanks,” he said. “If I had the space I’d love to have dozens of eggs in all different sizes.”
At nearly double the price of an equivalent-capacity stainless steel tank, that could get expensive. But even so, interest in the eggs continues to grow, according to Steve Rosenblatt of Sonoma Cast Stone in Northern California.
“We began by selling exactly a dozen eggs the first year,” said Rosenblatt, whose company began producing them in 2010. Last year, he sold more than double that number.
Although that doesn’t exactly constitute widespread adoption, Rosenblatt predicts that more wineries will try the eggs as word gets around. “With any trend there are always the leaders and the followers.”
And the leaders tend to give much more interesting cellar tours.
Eggs in a row. Credit: Sonoma Cast Stone
It’s no secret that cider is booming. It is the fastest-growing sector of alcohol sales in the United States, with a more than 50% increase in the last year alone. After a century of decline, cider is showing sudden new growth, like an apple tree that lies long dormant and suddenly bursts into bloom. The popularity of craft apple cider is not a new phenomenon, but a return to America’s roots.
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In colonial days, cider was the most popular drink in America. John Adams drank a tankard of cider before breakfast every morning. Thomas Jefferson made enormous batches of cider every year from apples that he grew in his orchards at Monticello.
The majority of this cider is what’s known as industrial cider, cider made in large batches, and often made by beer companies. But there’s a steadily growing craft cider movement that depends not on massive sales but on small batches of carefully made product. The soul of cider rests in this craft cider movement, and my husband and I were determined to figure out how cider makers are bringing back the cider that helped feed Americans since Colonial times.
Terroir: Not just for wine
“Apple cider is wine,” Chuck Shelton said. “It’s not beer.” Shelton’s family owns Albemarle Ciderworks in North Garden, Va., less than 15 miles from Jefferson’s Monticello. On a rainy December morning, my husband and I visited the tasting room at Albemarle and sat down to talk with Shelton and operations associate Thomas Unsworth.
Shelton and Unsworth spent hours talking to us about the history of cider in their cozy office, schooling us on the basics of cider making. When we asked about the difference between “hard cider” and “sweet cider,” Shelton smiled and said, “We don’t use the term ‘hard cider.’ It’s cider! The real problem is educating people to understand what real cider is.”
Cider is fermented fruit, like wine. It’s not a fermented sugar from malted barley, which we know as beer. Making cider is very much like making wine. It depends on terroir, the term wine makers use to describe the soil, weather conditions, farming practices and winemaking style that give each wine its own unique personality. Often loosely translated from the French as “a sense of place,” terroir makes a wine what it is. The same can be said for cider-making.
To make a point, Thomas disappeared and returned with a glass of a light brown opaque liquid that turned out to be juice from a pressing of Winesap apples made only a few days earlier. The juice Thomas offered us was made from sweet, fresh heirloom apples grown with care and picked when fully ripe. This cider was — and ready to drink the moment it was pressed. My husband, a California native, described it as “thick, sweet, and nutritious feeling.” I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and this juice tasted like home to me. I don’t know a lot about cider or wine, but I growing up in the apple capital of Virginia means I know a fair amount about how apple juice should taste. This was the real deal.
Next, Thomas offered us a glass of their newest cider blend, a mixture of Winesap and Albemarle Pippins, which is scheduled for release in February under the name Red Hill. I’d never tasted anything quite like it. As I mulled over this unique new flavor, we continued our tour into the processing room full of gleaming metal tanks and past the old-fashioned press that Shelton had used in his early cider experiments. We ended up in the tasting room, where we ran into Shelton’s 92-year-old father, Bud. The elder Shelton talked to us about the humble origins of his family’s orchard, which began as his own retirement project. It apparently isn’t much of a retirement. He still drove the tractor in the previous week’s pressing, which netted nearly 1,600 gallons of fresh cider that would soon start its three- to four-week fermentation process.
Rooted in Virginia tradition
While we chatted, a friendly young woman named Jennifer served us three varieties of Albemarle’s cider: Royal Pippin, Jupiter’s Legacy and Ragged Mountain. My favorite was Royal Pippin, a single varietal made entirely from Albemarle Pippin apples. It’s common practice to make cider from a variety of apples to provide different flavor notes. But there’s something magical about the terroir of central Virginia that allows Albemarle Pippins to stand on their own. Several craft cideries in Virginia make a single varietal with this apple. Castle Hill Cider in Keswick makes one known as Levity. Jefferson himself grew Albemarle Pippins and created cider that was described as “champagne-like,” which is how I would describe Royal Pippin.
Perhaps it’s the purist in me, but I’m a sucker for Royal Pippin, which tasted like the real deal to me. I thought about Shelton and the life he’d created with his family on this farm. It too was the real deal, rooted in tradition and yet utterly unique.
Craft apple cider. Credit: Susan Lutz
Zester Daily readers have shown an appreciation for a stunning variety of stories over the past year. A quick scan of the 2012 reader favorites reveals a yen for Ruth Bourdain’s dishes, cuisine from every corner of the world, food preservation, photography, films, wine insider news and a treasured recipe for flavored marshmallows — as well as a critique of American taste.
Snippets of the 12 most popular Zester Daily contributors’ stories, plus the five most popular Soapboxes, are below. Follow the story links to read the complete text. Follow the contributor links to read more by each author.
The stories are listed in reverse order.
Top contributors’ stories of 2012
12. THE ORIGINS OF CURRY by Raghavan Iyer: Before I try to define the word “curry,” let me create an image for you from my college laboratory days in India where I pursued a degree in chemistry over 20 years ago. As I busied myself measuring crystals of …
11. OLD-SCHOOL SOY SAUCE by Manuela Zoninsein: There’s no one right ritual or rule to guide your eating extravaganza on Jan. 23. The Chinese New Year involves a number of great food traditions. Dumplings are reminiscent of coins in ancient China and will thus bring …
10. TEN BEST FOODIE FLICKS by David Latt: If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best …
9. HOW KERMIT LYNCH TAUGHT AMERICANS HOW TO DRINK WINE by Patrick Comiskey: Forty years ago, Kermit Lynch abandoned the handmade purse industry and opened a wine shop in Berkeley, Calif., and in doing so, became one of the great innovators of …
8. WINE’S ACCUSED GRIFTER, RUDY KURNIAWAN by Corie Brown: By the summer of 2006, when I first noticed Rudy Kurniawan at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, he had transformed the market for old wine from a sleepy backwater into a high-stakes free-for-all. Only the richest wine collectors knew him. Or thought they did …
6. EATING TO BEAT CANCER: DIET MAY PROVE TO BE A CURE by Harriet Sugar Miller: Last night, it was cauliflower curry on a bed of leeks while my husband grilled his own slab of meat. The night before I ate solo — and downed an enormous bag of kale chips (please don’t tell him) flavored with cashew dust and too much …
4. IN DEFENSE OF TRUFFLE OIL by Lynne Curry: Midwinter is high season for fresh truffles in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With the help of an experienced truffle hunter (or a trained dog), I could spend …
2. CANNING JARS FROM FAUX TO BEST PRESERVING CHOICES by Susan Lutz: About six months ago, I salvaged a beautiful marinara sauce jar that I intended to refill with home-canned sweet pickles made using my mother’s recipe. And if I hadn’t taken a 12-week course to become a certified Master Food Preserver, I might have …
1. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS MADE FROM SCRATCH by Charles Perry: When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions. If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is …
Top Soapboxes of 2012
5. DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS FOR AMERICANOS, TOO by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith: In the small town of El Paso, Texas, my siblings and I grew up at a unique intersection of Mexican and American culture. As kids, we traveled in and out of …
4. THE INFANTALIZATION OF AMERICAN TASTE by Michael Krondl: Though the plague of cupcake shops has not spared any city in this great union, it would be hard to find one that illustrates my point better than …
3. CALIFORNIA’S EXCITING NEW WINES BUCK THE MAINSTREAM by Eric Asimov: We live in the most wonderful era in history to love wine. Right now, Americans have access to a greater diversity of wines than ever before, wines made in more styles from more …
2. THE FORGOTTEN QUINCE by Jane McMorland Hunter: Nowadays most people hardly know what a quince looks like. Until the 19th century, it was a commonplace orchard fruit throughout North America and Europe; now it has become …
1. RUTH BOURDAIN DISSES AND DISHES WITH ZESTER by Ruth Bourdain: It’s been more than two years since the debut of Ruth Bourdain, the sensational and often raunchy Twitter persona whose name and sensibilities are a mashup/spoof of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The true identity of Ms. Bourdain is still under wraps, but her tweets show her to be ….
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And that’s our list for 2012 … Here’s to discovering Ms. Bourdain’s identity in 2013!
Photo illustration, clockwise from top left:
Ruth Bourdain. Credit: Ruth Bourdain
Indian spices (originally published in 660 Curries). Credit: Ben Fink
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood
Photo illustration credit: Karen Chaderjian