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I’m going to make it easy for you. The typical Thanksgiving dinner is a culinary hodgepodge and a sommelier’s biggest challenge. So the goal here is to wash it all down deliciously.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving dinner! My Mom, the Goddess of Thanksgiving, rocked it better than anyone. Her green bean casserole, believe it or not, was delicious. Mom’s stuffing was a delightful moist conglomeration of steer liver, onions, butter, toasted bread, and Bell’s Seasoning. I can still taste it. Her twice-baked stuffed potatoes were to die for, with their crusty paprika-laced exteriors that encased a garlicky, velvety, creamy lusciousness. And then there was her home-orangy-tangy cranberry sauce, OMG!

Here’s the key to selecting your perfect Thanksgiving wine. Any “sweetness” on the Thanksgiving table will clash with a “bone-dry” wine. Cranberry sauce is “sneaky.” It changes the entire dynamic of the meal. Every year for the last 44, I have risked life, limb, and liver to find the Holy Grails of Thanksgiving Wine.

Holiday dinner (Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash)

Check out shoparrowine.com, place an order and let us do the rest. We will even bring it to your car! We have designated free parking just behind Arrowine. What could be easier?

This list is foolproof. If you can’t make it to Arrowine, use my suggestions as a reference.

And the envelope please…

  • Le Berceau Blanquette de Limoux NV, France: $14.99

Every celebration should start with a fizz. And at $14.99, this dry and complex Methode Champanoise hits the nail on the head.

  • 2021 Domaine du Pas Saint Martin, Le Vent Dans Les Saules, Anjou France: $19.99

This 100% Dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley is brimming with opulent flavors of sliced apples, spiced pears, tangerines, and a vibrant palate-cleansing mineral finish.

  • 2021 Domaine Billard Bourgogne Aligote, France: $19.99

The “Other White Burgundy” on the nose is kumquat and nectarine, with just a hint of lemon zest. The palate adds lime and Japanese yellow plum with a refreshing cleansing and mineral finish.

  • 2020 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis, Sainte Claire: $31.99

This wine has soul; it’s richly flavored, mineral, and complex. The palate has laser-like flavors of wet stone, crushed seashells, and fresh sweet butter. The finish is long and lingering.

  • 2021 Margerum M5, Los Olivos, California: $25.99

This White California Rhône Blend is a “no-brainer” for Thanksgiving. A skillful and brilliant blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Picpoul Blanc with aromas of apricots, white florals, and flavors of apple and peach nectar with a zippy finish. Poetic.

  • 2021 Valle de Inez Pinot Nor San Luis Obispo, California: $21.99

Doug Margerum crafted this complex, bargain Pinot. It has structure and complexity and is drier than most — a “serious” Pinot from California at a price.

  • 2021 Ken Wright Cellars, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon: $29.99

This wine is a textbook Willamette Pinot. It checks all the boxes and more. Lots of cherry fruit, smooth and sensual. A delight to drink, delicious.

  • 2021 Domaine Laurent and Romain Pillot Bougogne, France: $24.99

My go-to Bourgogne for over 15 years, no one does it better, and a price that is impossible to beat for the “Real McCoy.” Supple, medium-bodied, and loaded with crystalline strawberry/mineral fruit. A winner.

  • 2021 Melville Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, California: $44.99

Complex and satisfying, Melville delivers. Lots of cherry/strawberry fruit and well-integrated oak make this supple Pinot a stand-out.

  • 2020 Lafond Lirac “Roc Épine” Rhône Valley, France: $22.99

If you like a gutsy Côtes du Rhône, this Lirac is richer and more complex. This wine is spicy, smooth, and a joy to drink!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Arrowine Family to yours,
Doug Rosen

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

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This column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

Welcome to the final installment of the “so you want to make wine series” or “what was I thinkin?” So today, we will finish with the maturation process of red wine. And, of course, a delicious suggestion for your table.

Any winemaker worth his salt vinifies every parcel and varietal separately. That allows you to dial in and elevate the quality of every Cuvee you make.

Some parcels are better than others or different. The easiest way to create several wines at several price points is to declassify some. The “Grand Vin,” or first wine, is the best of the best. Take Chateau Latour. Only the very best barrels go into “Chateau Latour.” The second wine, “Les Forts de Latour” is the next best and, finally, a wine they call “Pauillac.” All are good, and some barrels and parcels are less complex. You can kill two birds with one stone, elevate your “Prestige” wine and offer a slightly less complex wine for less money or create something just as good but different.

To get the wine in the bottle, you first must homogenize all the components into one cohesive unit. But there are still more decisions to make before bottling.

The use of sulfur and how much to use can get complicated and controversial. There is a misguided movement to reduce added sulfur to ridiculously low levels. But you can’t make wine “stable” without a reasonable level. Wine without sulfur is a crapshoot. The slightest residual sugar can spontaneously referment, bottles explode, cork pop, or if it gets here in one piece, it’s fizzy. Winemakers compensate for reducing sulfur by increasing the inert gas they add at bottling, and it’s the wrong approach.

It’s table wine, and it shouldn’t be petulant. Decanting a “still wine” to air is okay, but de-gassing one is nonsense. I’ve opened many a bottle, and it’s bubbling like a Coke! Then you must put your hand over the top, shake the hell out of it, release your grip, and hear the POP! It can take several tries to get rid of all the gas. That’s not great for table service, nor is it sensible. And it reduces the aging potential.

Wine Corks (Photo by Elisha Terada on Unsplash)

Next, what closure will you use? Natural cork (my choice), composite cork (crushed cork glued together), synthetic cork, or a “screw-cap.” Each kind of closure has benefits and problems. I’m a traditionalist. I will always choose a traditional good-quality cork. I know how it performs, and I’m happy to accept the minuscule failure rate. It’s part of the game.

This week’s star is a “Real Eye Opener.”

If you want to see just how far Virginia wines have come, look no further. The Washington Posts Dave McIntyre proclaimed: the 2020 Chatham Vineyards Church Creek Chardonnay ‘Steel’, “a great value” and “…an outstanding Virginia Chardonnay that’s worth seeking out.” And Dave got it right!

Here is a Chardonnay that kicks butt, a game-changer! And it’s from VIRGINIA! Be proud, people! Support your state.

This wine floored me. And it is nothing like any California Chardonnay anywhere near its price! It is the spitting image of a Village-level Chablis, dry, with excellent palate-cleansing acidity, delicious lemon butter and sea-shell flavors, and a stone-dust mineral finish. Try finding anything this good from anywhere in the U.S. at its price of $22.99. You can’t!

Hat’s off to Jon and Mills Wehner for making such an outstanding and affordable Chardonnay. Jump on this one — the wine disappeared after the Washington Post review hit. Jon was kind enough to save me his last 30 cases, as we had supported it long before the Washington Post discovered it.

Cheers,
Doug

Photo (top) by Elisha Terada on Unsplash

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This column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

I’m trying not to bore you by getting too technical. But it is critical to your enjoyment of wine to understand how straightforward yet complicated wine-making is.

Something to keep in mind: remember, in grade school, the three reading groups? Accelerated, on-par, and the group needing extra encouragement and or attention? Let’s say you were born in the Village of Pommard. Of its 300 souls, the vast majority have something to do with the wine trade. If you are lucky enough to be landed and the offspring of a wine-producing family, guess what you will do as a career?

Now go back to my grade school reading group illustration and think about it. Wine-making is one of the world’s most complex occupations, and if “Jean-Claude” isn’t in the accelerated reading group, Mom and Dad may start to worry. They might decide to sell the Domaine. But there goes the “family legacy.” A legacy can be a burden.

Now back to decisions that must be made, often on the fly and under duress. The growing season determines everything. First, do you inoculate with a select strain of laboratory-cultivated yeast (a sure thing, but it imparts a “flavor profile”) or use the indigenous yeast from your vineyard?

If you work organically or biodynamically, you have been cultivating your native yeast population to the point that it should be healthy enough to carry the fermentation to complete dryness. But there are no guarantees. I think native yeast is more transparent and yields a more complex wine. If you bottle and have unresolved sugar, the wine could become “sparkling wine,” or the bottles might explode!

The all-important maceration time with juice on the grape skins isn’t something you can look up on Wikipedia. You have to make the call: too much extraction and the wine is coarse, too little, and it’s wimpy. So you want to pull the wine off and press at the sweet spot. Then off to your barrels.

Wine barrels (Photo by Vince Veras on Unsplash)

New wood is expensive, as much as $1,200 or more per barrel. Most of my folks are at a 20-33% rotation, meaning you replace that percentage of your barrels yearly. And not all barrels are the same. The forest dictates the kind of oak, the tightness of the grain, the porosity, and the actual “flavor” profile. You can even request a certain toasting level or degree of internal char. Decisions, decisions.

Most winemakers experiment with anywhere from two to five or more barrel makers until they are satisfied with the mix and the results. And you better be friendly with your barrel maker or broker, or you could end up with the barrels that were going to go to Outer Mongolia.

Once the wine is in the barrel, you monitor its progress through alcohol (we are talking about a fine wine here) and then malolactic fermentation. I will explain the difference at a latter-date.

So let’s see, you have many barrels in the cellar, 200? Guess what you will be doing? Tasting, topping off every barrel regularly, and being vigilant. You watch every barrel like a hawk, tasting, smelling, and testing for and fixing any problems.

Wine of the week, you asked for an Autumnal suggestion, and boy, do I have a delicious one.

  • 2021 Domaine Serol Eclat de Granite Côte Roannaise — $24.99

I adore this wine, and it will surely be on my Thanksgiving Table! With 1/2 hour of air, Eclat exhibits a super-sexy silkiness. Its 100 Gamay is an absolute joy to drink. It pumps out ultra-pure flavors of raspberries, strawberries, and mineral spice with a long palate cleansing finish. It’s brilliant!

Cheers,
Doug

Photo (top) by Vince Veras on Unsplash

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This column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

So you want to make wine?

So you think you want to make wine?

What were you think’n? It’s 4 a.m., time to get to work. So you spent a month checking your parcels, monitoring ripeness by tasting berries to select or the perfect moment to harvest. A sudden forecast of rain sends shivers up your spine, sending you into over-drive to pick as fast as you can if you find people crazy enough to join you.

Armed with shears, working in oppressive heat, roasting under the hot sun, you carefully select only the ripest bunches as you swat mosquitoes; bees buzz swirling around you, only to land on the bunch you are about to grasp. You must continuously bend, stretch, and contort yourself while gently tossing a season’s worth of work into plastic bins. You schlep the countless plastic containers full of fruit while some escaping juice runs down your legs as you run to the receiving truck.

Alley up, throw them up to the unlucky harvester who must have pissed someone off to get stuck on the truck all day long in the scorching sun, humping plastic lugs full of grapes, bees, and what have you. Back and forth until your arms numb, and it’s just 9 a.m. Thank G-d it’s 9 a.m.

Time to stop for “casse-croute” or the French version of a “coffee break in the vineyard.” Bread, cheese, salami or pâte, and of course, a little liquid sustenance, i.e., wine. Just like the office. A quick snackeroo, and back you go!

Grapes (Photo by Thomas Schaefer on Unsplash)

The fruit arrives at the winery. So you undo what you just did. Thankfully you are after twenty or so bee stings; you hardly feel them. But at least you are given a cot to sleep on in an unairconditioned barn, attic, or old kitchen with 20 strangers. But the food is good, and there’s plenty of wine.

Time for “triage” or sorting the fruit either by hand or with a fancy vibrating table that does it for you. The aim is to remove any malformed, damaged, or unhealthy clusters, even down to individual berries, along with any leaves, bugs, and the occasional cigarette butts.

Many growers refrigerate the fruit for 8 to 12 before fermentation to preserve freshness. Then off to the de-stemmer, where the bunches are relieved of their berries. So from here on, we are talking about the fermentation of red wine.

Decision number one, do you destem, all or partially or entirely? Under-ripe or vintages with less than perfect fruit are usually wholly destemmed — no need for unripe raspy green stem tannins. If the stems are mature, fermenting a portion of “whole clusters” is an option. Adding stems brings complexity, but be careful of the proportion you use. Stems are also a source of tannins.

The crushed grapes, juice, and skins head into a vessel of the winemaker’s choosing (I’ll talk more about this next week) to settle and macerate. The temperature can be controlled by using refrigeration. Cold retards the yeast activity. You don’t want the juice to ferment straight away. This maceration also has the benefit of reducing the sulfur needed to keep the demons away.

The time that the skins are in contact with the juice is critical. Think of making tea; the more you seep, the more color and tannin you extract. Healthy, clean skins allow for extended mingling in juice with great benefits. The skins are the aromatic heart and soul of the wine.

Everything comes from the skins (in reds.) The winemaker decides when the “right” level of extraction has taken place, and then it’s off to the races — more about that next time. If I’m “nerding out,” please tell me!

Cheers,
Doug

Photo by Thomas Schaefer on Unsplash

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This column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

What if, during your life, you could only practice your chosen profession 45 times? Well, that’s winemaking! Think about it: 45 times, that’s it. And you have to get it right each time, no matter the circumstances. Mother Nature is rarely consistent, perhaps never. Every year a winemaker has to make an enormous amount of decisions based on what the vintage gives them to work with.

Let me explain: we discussed the notion of “terroir” before. A “successful” wine must transfer or speak of the place it is from; that’s the whole enchilada, nothing less, or why drink wine in the first place?

We choose a particular varietal, a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, from a “specific place” with an expectation of what it will taste like and how it will work with a particular food or moment. But how do we form these expectations?

Glass of wine at a winery (Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash)

The winemaker’s job is to seamlessly get the land’s soul into the bottle without screwing it up. And, to capture not just the particular varietal or blend but to bottle “the vintage,” to pleasantly give you the flavors or expression of that particular growing season, that is the Art, my friends! And great winemakers embrace this challenge.

They know they are working with a product that doesn’t lend itself well to intervention, manipulation, or strongarm tactics. As a winemaker, you listen to the grapes, they don’t listen to you. No matter what you could do to change the nature of the fruit (technology today allows for this, lipstick on a pig), a cosmetic. Trying to change the soul of the wine is a fool’s errand.

I took 25 clients on a river cruise five years ago. I planned each visit, and when I sat back and looked at each winemaker I selected to visit, women ran 80% of them! Some of you might disagree, but I believe women are better suited for making wine. Women seem to approach winemaking from a more cerebral, nurturing perspective. They are more apt to deal with the realities of the vintage, to let the vintage speak, allowing the wine to be what it is intrinsically, and not forcing it to do or taste as they “think” it should. Perhaps it has something to do with maternal instincts. I’m not a psychologist, so I can only guess.

Now for the nitty-gritty, decisions, decisions. It all starts with picking the harvest date. The hard and fast rule is harvest takes place 100 days after flowering. But it’s not that easy; here’s why; when I started in this business 45-plus years ago, “Brix” were everything. People harvest according to the sugar content of the fruit. Winemakers squished a grape, placed the juice on a refractometer, and read the sugar content of the juice. That told you the potential alcohol level, and when you hit “your number,” you picked. Today winemakers get more up-close and personal. They go into the vineyards weeks before the harvest and observe.

They examine the stalks. Are they ripe, woody (overripe), shriveled, or green and healthy? Then they look at the all-important skins (healthy mature skins are everything in making red wine, especially). Grape skins are the primary source of tannins, allowing the wine to age gracefully. The all-important skins also contain phenols or compounds that enable the wine to develop complex aromas. Are the skins ripe and not bitter when you bite into them? Are they fragile, easily broken, damaged, or sunburned?

Then comes tasting the entire berry, not just for sweetness but maturity; the skins, the flesh, and the pips. Then you are ready to go, or maybe not? More on that next week!

Cheers,
Doug

Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash

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This column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

Hello again! So, many of you participated in our cleaning the glass experiment? Shocking, isn’t it?

Now you are on your way to better-tasting, terrior-driven wine. And what do I mean by that?

Well, it’s a little complicated, but I do my best. The only reason to drink wine is for pleasure, period! And that means more than just “it tastes good.” A well-made wine is a companion, a friend, sometimes an antagonist, but always a good conversationalist. So it must speak eloquently of its birthplace. When tasting it, I need to recognize the lineage, that exact spot on the globe.

Unlike our ancestors, drinking wine today is an option, not a necessity. We don’t need wine anymore to survive. Fresh water is abundant, so wine is now optional. We don’t drink wine to live. Instead, we drink fermented beverages because they enhance our culinary experiences and please us.

What gets to me is no one talks about wines’ dirty little secrets. Sometimes, I feel like Frank Serpico; I just dated myself, but I love classic movies, so who cares? It’s a good analogy. When did speaking the truth become a liability? We are talking about wine, not national security. I don’t tolerate lazy, sloppy, or greedy winemakers. If you care, you are vigilant and proactive. We deserve a clean wine that speaks to us.

Today’s wines are cleaner and fresher than we drank forty years ago. And they should be. When you embrace science, you preserve terroir, which means uniqueness. Modern science allows a bottle of wine to reflect the exact spot it came from. So a well-made wine speaks to and talks to you like you have been there.

If a wine doesn’t smell and taste like fermented pure grape juice, meaning “grapey,” you have a problem! Wine is NOT supposed to smell like leather, mushrooms, wet-basement, barnyard, burnt tire, green pepper, bandaid, cloves, nail polish, green peppers, or dirt! But, if it does run, I will expand on the causes of faults in a future column.

There are tricks of the trade that remain “trade secrets,” and that’s a problem. For example, did you know your California Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Zinfandel can be technically sweet? The question I’m most frequently asked is, is it “dry?” Well, that depends, and it’s not as simple a question as you think.

Table wine should be dry unless the cuisine has a note of sweetness, which I’m sad to say is far too prevalent today. A winemaker can leave unfermented sugar in the wine to make it easier to drink — think Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, it was deliberately bottled with a slight but perceptible amount of residual sugar to make it appealing to the masses.

Classic European cooking has little, if any, sweetness. Therefore a dry wine is needed. A New World wine is in order if there is any hint of sweetness. Wines from the New World tend to be higher in alcohol from all the sun. Thus energy the vines receive. In the New World, we plant for “commercial” reasons and ensure success, so we grow grapes where we know they will ripen. If not, over-ripen.

Our ancestors weren’t so lucky. So they planted where they stood and had to figure the rest out. Unless you had well water, you couldn’t be sure the water floating downhill was pure enough to drink. Fermented beverages were necessary for survival, lucky us.

Cheers,
Doug

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This column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

Hello again, it’s your favorite neighborhood wine merchant, Doug Rosen.

In my previous article, I stated there was one simple thing you can do that is guaranteed to heighten your enjoyment of drinking wine (or anything else)! And it’s easy.

Rule number one: thoroughly wash your glass with soap and water before using it! Why is it so important?

The culprit is the sealants used to protect every kitchen cabinet’s interior. For example, suppose you take a glass from your kitchen cabinet without the critical step of first washing your glass thoroughly before using it. In that case, you unknowingly add the flavors and aromas of your cabinets to whatever you pour into them. Allow me to prove my point.

Grab two glasses from your kitchen cabinet, take a whiff and you will immediately see what I mean. Wash only one glass thoroughly with soap and water until it smells like fresh tap water. If the glass has been in the cabinet for a prolonged period, it might take as many as five washings to get the funk out. Make the extra effort to get the glass to a pristine state. Don’t worry about chlorinated water; the wine will pour right over it. And no, using wine instead of water doesn’t work! The sealants are “water soluble” and formulated to bond with water, not wine.

Next, grab a bottle of wine you know to heighten the drama, open your libation and pour about an inch of it into each glass. Swirl, take in the aromas and then taste. I just rocked your world, didn’t I?

The culprit is the micro-particles of the sealants. I’m not a scientist, but this is how it was explained: Wood breathes, as we already know. That’s why wine is aged in barrels, not to season with the wood, like adding salt or pepper to your food but to allow the wine to experience micro-oxidation. This mico-oxidation softens the tannins, making the wine less raspy and smoother on the palate.

The respiration inside your kitchen cabinets allows microparticles of the sealants to fall into your glasses. They stick to the surface like glue, causing the glass to smell like your kitchen cabinet and impact the flavor of the wine. Now your wine smells and tastes like the cabinet! Yuck and double yuck.

Try this experiment at home and report back. I already know how it will go, and you can thank me later.

Rule number two, expect a wine to be shy within 24 hours of a storm, rain or snow, or turbulent weather. Like Willard Scott, I can tell if we will get any precipitation within 24 hours just by tasting wine. I have fascinated multitudes with my accuracy; it’s no parlor trick.

When a storm front approaches, a wine will close up or shut down, making the wine “less fruity” and much less enjoyable. Luckily there is a 1/2 remedy; open a bottle of 14.5% plus alcohol, or better still, a sparkling wine. Those wines are less affected; they will still be shy, but if you’re having a dinner party before a storm, you have an alternative, albeit an imperfect one.

My business partner Shem Hassen and I were in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris, to attend a tasting of 140 wines — we only had that day. We began the tasting with the tenth wine; we looked at each other and asked ourselves, “when is it supposed to start raining?” So we had four hours to kill.

We walked into a nearby Armenian Cemetery, looked at the tombstones, and paid our respects until the rain started. When we returned to the tasting, the wines had opened and tasted as expected. True story.

Cheers,
Doug Rosen

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This sponsored column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup or in-store shopping. Have a question? Email [email protected]arrowine.com.

Few subjects provoke more angst than wine. For many, wine is a great mystery, a secret handshake, or a password. It doesn’t need to be.

My job with this bi-weekly column is to help you safely navigate the complex world of wine without intimidation or nonsense. You are in control.

If you take a moment and read my musings, hopefully you find them valuable, educational, practical and perhaps even entertaining. I will be trying to get you to engage and ask questions, make requests for future articles and reach out. I’m listening but know I’m an excruciatingly bad typist and have learned to use the fewest words possible for practicality’s sake.

Let me begin with a little about myself. I am 64 years old and have been in the wine biz since, and I hate to say it since 1977; I began my career in the very spot that Arrowine currently occupies. In those days, you “old-timers” out there might remember the “old” Cheese and Bottle.

I’m not just a fine wine retailer but also an importer within the confines of the laws of the State of Virginia. I have traveled extensively throughout France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, The New Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Israel, South Africa and Argentina in search of the best wines these places have to offer. I also hunt for “new-growers” whose work has yet to be discovered or who are not currently represented in Virginia or our region.

I proudly support Virginia’s Wine Industry. Did you know we are now the fifth largest producer of wine in the USA? Virginia Wine is no longer an oddity; we produce the best wine on the East Coast. And many Virginia wineries are “World Class!”

Doug Rosen of Arrowine with Gérard Boulay of tiny Village of Chavignol, in Sancerre. His family has been growing grapes there since 1380. (photo via Doug Rosen)

I have extensively traveled throughout Oregon. I’m long overdue for a California and Washington State road trip, but I have a store to run. Pre-COVID, I usually took six buying trips a year. That’s a lot of miles, moving daily, staying in small hotels with no elevator or A/C. And despite what people might think, crappy food. So I usually travel to the countryside, and there aren’t many resources in the middle of nowhere.

All that said, I wouldn’t change a thing. You need to go where the wine is! I’ve met many humble, hard-working families, men and women who are genuinely jack-of-all-trades; they grow grapes, transform the juice into something delicious, and then market it in many cases worldwide. They only get to practice their craft 40 or so times in a lifetime! So you have to be a quick study. How many occupations are this demanding?

I am the ambassador of these families. My job is to tell their stories and, when appropriate, convey how much risk there is at every step. A career in agriculture is like walking on a tightrope without a net. There is so much out of your control, precocious flowering and then a late frost that can wipe out your entire harvest, hail damage, too much rain or not enough, excessive cold or heat, insect infestations, wood diseases and the list goes on and on.

And then you have to ferment the juice and try to get it into the bottle without screwing it up. Sell it and hopefully get paid. Making wine from your own grapes is not for the faint of heart. Trust me!

Congratulations if you made it to the end of my ramblings, I have a secret to share with you. It is the one simple thing guaranteed to heighten your pleasure of drinking wine or anything else.

Never and I mean never, use glass without thoroughly washing with soap and water before using it! I’ll explain why in two weeks and give you a little experiment to perform at home.

Cheers,
Doug

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This sponsored column is written by Todd Himes, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup.

“Aroma of skunk, musty, can be similar to burned rubber or cat musk.”

That definition of the lightstruck off-flavors in beer comes directly out of the Cicerone study resources.

But what is lightstruck beer? When certain hop compounds react to UV light, they create 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, or MBT, which you may know as the culprit behind that odorous character often found in some “top-shelf” imported lagers — or late nights on some dark country roads.

Brown glass bottles would filter out most of that UV light where green and clear bottles would let UV wavelengths pass through with greater ease and thus green and clear bottles received a reputation for “ruining” many a beer and changing the flavor of what its brewers would have intended.

For years I bought into that — it even became one of the tenets of my strong support for putting more beer into cans. If some light was bad why not eliminate all light? Somewhere along the way, though, I’ve been introduced to thinking those green bottles unfairly got a bad rap.

Many of my favorite Belgian breweries have been bottling their beers in green glass for longer than I’ve certainly been drinking them. Even after I’d learned the hardline “green is bad,” I longed to try the lambics of Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen and Boon, all of which were shipped across the sea in verdant vessels.

The first Belgian in green that crossed my lips was Saison Dupont. Upon uncorking that bottle, I was struck by the aromas that were decidedly “farmy” before farmhouse ales were truly on my radar. But nowhere was I thinking about skunks or tire fires, just-cut hay, horse stalls and dank grasses. Saison and lambics became some of my favorite styles, and I even saw a noble art in what I saw as the unknown and unpredictable effects of wild yeasts, spontaneous fermentation and wood aging.

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This sponsored column is written by Todd Himes, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup.

This weekend is going to be a snack food extravaganza with plenty of commercial breaks, a whole lot of Snoop Dogg (performing in a halftime show and hosting/coaching the Puppy Bowl!) and rumor has it there will also be a football game going on around all of this.

There’s also going to be plenty of beers to go around, both in those commercials and in many of our hands. The sort of light lagers you’ll mostly see advertised will certainly have their place at many parties and on bar tops but if you’re interested in stepping up a few of your pairings I’m here with a few suggestions for you. Now, I’ll say a great craft lager or your favorite IPA could just as easily go with any of these foods and you can feel free to mix and match any of these as well, but I’m going to throw out a few of my favorites and give what you’ll hopefully find to be inspired pairings.

Nachos and Witbier

This pairing works incredibly well because the Wit will introduce a bright and fresh element with some citrus and spice. If you’re loading up nachos with fresh guac, pico de gallo and lots of shredduce, a tasty witbier can compliment all those flavors. If you prefer your tortillas smothered in queso, refried beans or chorizo then the higher than average carbonation of the style can cut through those denser, rich flavors.

Beermonger’s Choice — Port City Optimal Wit

Chili Con Carne and Smoked Lager

I really love this pairing because the smoke flavor really incorporates well into chili but a crisp lagered finish can help keep your palate from getting overwhelmed. There’s lots of suggestions out there for porters and stouts here which I love, but in the interest of keeping this party going until at least when the halftime show is over I like the low ABV options.

Beermonger’s Choice — Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier

Pepperoni Pizza and Brown Ale

Plan ahead if you’re looking to get delivery on this day since it is one of the busiest of the year for pizza shops or if you’re like me grab some of the Calabrese Salami from our deli and make your own spicy take at home. Brown ale is going to really pair well with the crust, cheese, sauce and meat without overpowering any of them. It can be tempting to grab an IPA or Pilsner here as well but when the cured meats start to join the party I really enjoy the toasty malty compliment here.

Beermonger’s Choice — Bingo Brown Ale

Wings and New England IPA

Hops are going to play up the spice here but a juicy IPA with low bitterness will keep you from burning your tongue off. I really enjoy the way the heat can play with some of the super tropical or citrusy hop varieties. The nice thing with this pairing is neither one of these are particularly known for their subtlety, the big flavors here can go up against each other for the entirety of four quarters.

Beermonger’s Choice — Commonwealth Big Papi

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This sponsored column is written by Todd Himes, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup.

January is always a strange time in the beer world.

You have a sizable portion of clientele who are participating in a Dry January (or at least taking a few weeks off) but we also see two of the years mostly anticipated releases in Troegs Nugget Nectar and Bell’s Hopslam (at least in years when the national supply chain issues don’t hold up its arrival in Virginia.) In years past this is a typical time to see many folks in the industry changing jobs and this year that’s meant seeing a few familiar friendly faces stopping in representing some of the bigger craft breweries in the market.

When we start back up our tastings you’ll be sure to see some veterans repping new brands. January is also a great time to take a look back at the previous year and make a few guesses as to what the upcoming year may hold.

Starting off, it was absolutely no surprise to me to see that no matter which way I sorted the numbers, our number one beer of 2021 was Bingo’s Classic Lager.  Dollars, units sold, cans crushed by our cheesemongers — this one led them all. Was it the clean, refreshing, quaff ability of this beer that propelled it to the top spot?  The fact that you get a six-pack of 16oz cans of craft lager at what has quickly become the starting price point for many 4 packs?  Maybe it is just the understated beauty of the blue and white cans.

I’m not one to complain whatever the cause was, this beer was one of my favorites. In fact, a couple of cans were among the first beers to go in the fridge at the new house when I moved this past week. A perfect beverage to sip on while unpacking. While I don’t think that craft beer prices are going to come back down, I do think that a number of brands with the ability to produce solid options at this price point will take hold.

Recently Asheville, North Carolina’s Hi-Wire brewing announced plans to move all of its core beers into the six pack 16oz format and their Hi-Pitch IPA is quickly staking its claim to a top spot for 2022’s numbers here.

In the world of IPAs the talk might be all about the Hazies, but whether it is the never ending quest for the new or maybe a shift in overall preferences the top spot belonged to a newcomer for 2021 — Vibrissa’s Gracious Living.

The dream of the nineties is alive in Front Royal with this flagship West Coast styled IPA nestled alongside a series of delicious lagers, English bitters, milds and *gasp* more West Coast IPAs. Many see West Coast IPAs making a clear comeback in 2022 and I’m already hearing from brewers and sales reps that there are going to be some of the same types of innovations coming to the style that helped drive the Haze Craze of the past few years.

Hops in all their forms and citrus additions have already played a big part in the West Coast style’s history but look for talk of thiols and terpenes to join the conversation. We probably won’t be seeing any Frankenberry Milkshake 100 IBU DIPAs quite yet though.

Rounding out our top three for the year and certainly the one that caused the most excitement in its immediate arrival was 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust. We had our phones ringing off the hook when this first came into the shop, of course that was one of the only ways to reach us at the time since we had yet to re-open our doors at the time. The excitement of a long storied brand arriving really lit a fire for many of you. That excitement continued throughout the year as well and we were consistently moving through cases of the one time top rated brewery in the world.

What will be the next brewery to make its way to Virginia’s shelves?

There’s some STRONG contenders in the New England area that I know many of you are clamoring for and a number of California breweries that make the occasional appearance when some of the major beer festivals in the area are happening. If I had my druthers though we would finally see the return of some of my favorite Belgian breweries that have had their distribution rights in limbo for a few years.

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