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Constant, incessant, non-stop, unrelenting heat and drought…  It was so bad that even I cut my usual intake of big red wines.  Clearly, it was a near-emergency situation.  Yes, I survived, but only with a shift toward iced tea, “pool wines”, and icy cocktails.  But as with most things, the cycle turns and now it’s time for football and falling leaves (and no, not because the tree dried up and died).  And, so, we can return to more robust and invigorating drink.  Time, too, to emerge from our air-conditioned bunkers and share these things with friends.  

With that backdrop, my thoughts have turned to consider nature’s cycles.  Some of them we like, some we shy away from.  Variations.  Seasons.  Evolution.  This notion is the common thought through our next events:


10/13/09 | A Visit from the Green Fairy 
Tue | at   Péché         208 W. Fourth Street          495-9669              www.pecheaustin.com
7:00PM | $50 members  &  $60 non-members       (all inclusive)

Some changes span decades or longer…  At the Darwinian level, things adapt and change over longer time.  As good Texans and wine lovers, I realize that most of you know (and may have likely extolled, after significant consumption of the fermented grape) the story of T.V. Munson and how native Texas rootstocks saved the European wine world from the ravages of phylloxera.  OK, the story does lose some of its “knight in shining armor” tone in the telling, if you also mention that the blight also first went across the ocean from the New World.  But, while many know the story of man’s intervention into evolution and the eventual triumphant return of wine, few recall what occurred in Europe, particularly in France, during those decades of little wine.  

As you might have guessed, people did not quit drinking.  The French, it seems, switched primarily to a flavorful distilled spirit, Absinthe.  You see, it wasn’t just one-eared, post-impressionist painters that drank the libation, known as the “Green Fairy”; it was most everyone during the period of the Belle Époche.  It replaced wine so completely that it became the ‘national drink’ of France during those decades.  Not only was it drank via the classic method using an ice-water drip from an artistic “Absinthe fountain” (which creates a lovely creamy louche), is was a key ingredient worldwide in that new invention, the “cocktail”.  If it was that good, it seems that we equally fervent wine lovers should drink it, too.  

What, do I want you to go blind?  It seems that it wasn’t just your mother who employed this idle threat in an effort to keep you from an enjoyable activity.  Once the wine industry recovered production, they employed this fear and other scurrilous tactics to dislodge the by-then ubiquitous distilled replacement.  (They did base this on ‘scientific’ evidence from the ill-effects suffered by small animals who were injected with concentrated essences of wormwood and other flavorings.)  Just as today, such ‘facts’ placed in the well-greased palms of the politicians pushed this wonderful libation into illegality and then obscurity.   

Is it legal?  Yep.  The drink never lost fans.  Due to their love and devotion, new and real scientific testing proved the absolute safety of the drink.  More impressively, their continued pressures eventually overcame prejudices and old laws, which were eventually changed.  That happened in 2007, here in the ever forward-thinking U.S. Government.   

Will you like it?  Well, that depends.  Getting its aromas and flavors from a wide array of botanicals, it depends on whether you enjoy those ingredients.  One significant and most-common flavoring agent is a component of most all of the great infused spirits of the world, anise.  If you have a strong dislike of anise, you likely won’t like Absinthe; although it is but one of the myriad of wonderful exotic elements.  I, for one, love it.  But for you, there’s really only one way to truly learn, the same way that we in LADV learn all valuable lessons.  We’ll have to endure an experiment of drinking only the best, paired with wonderful food, in the company of other adventurous souls  So, if you haven’t guessed, our one non-wine event of this period will be a tasting of Absinthe.   

Given that Austin actually is forward-thinking, we are fortunate to have a perfect venue.  Péché opened a few months ago with a focus on Absinthe and pre-Prohibition style cocktails prepared by a staff of skilled mixologists.  The atmosphere of Péché, which means “sin” in French, evokes the style of the Belle Époche in a comfortable setting.  The kitchen, led by chef Jason Dodge (most recently chef at Vespaio), is going to prepare some wonderful dishes to highlight four of the best examples of Absinthe (including Pernod and St George), which will be presented both in cocktails and in the classic drip preparation. 

  Duck Liver Gougheres Corpse Reviver  (with Lillet, Cointreau, Gin, and Lemon)  
  Daily Tartar Absinthe Silver cocktail
  Fish Stew, with sausage, potato, and white wine Absinthe drip
  Chaumes Crème Brulee Absinthe drip

Being required to try this beforehand, for both your safety and satisfaction, I was amazed at the way the myriad of subtle flavors in the drinks both highlighted and complemented aspects of the food.  Much the same, but with different notes, as does great wine.  Like the first cocktail of the evening, this event will be the perfect way to kick-start our Fall season.  Don’t miss out.


11/19/09 | Celebrating the Harvest and More 
Thur | at  Aquarelle Restaurant Français          606 Rio Grande        479-8117            www.aquarellerestaurant.com
7:00PM | $70 members  &  $75 non-members       (all inclusive)

Some changes come with the change of seasons…  While I feel like having a party because of the shift to cooler weather, traditional celebrations this time of year are most-often about the success of the harvest.  Well, OK, those in the northern hemisphere anyway; Fall and harvest occur six months later in the southern hemisphere; well, and some things are not harvested in the Fall - - but I digress.  Certainly, as wine is a product of farming, a bountiful and high-quality grape harvest is something to celebrate.   

The most renowned wine-related harvest event that I know of is, of course, that associated with the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau that occurs every year on the third Thursday of November.  In that appellation, the winemakers employ a special process to turn a small portion of their harvest of Gamay grapes into a wine which is quite palatable, though not stellar, only a few weeks after the grapes are picked.  While one can discern some quality traits in this vin de primeur, its real purpose is as the basis for a celebration (and also to the wineries as a marketing tool).  And, although the outlook for the 2009 vintage is for lower yields but very high quality (picking only began the beginning of September), a few glasses of pleasant quaffable wine is a good start, but is not sufficient for an entire event.  

Fortunately, there is more.  When most people hear “Beaujolais”, sadly their only notion is that of the nouveau wine.  True wine lovers, on the other hand, think first of the “cru” wines of the region, and thrill at the names of Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Saint Amour, Morgon, and Moulin à Vent.  The better grapes undergo a ‘normal’ winemaking process, to produce what the French consider to be “Burgundy light”.  The Beaujolais appellation, which adjoins the southern border of Burgundy, produces fabulous medium-bodied wines from the Gamay (not to be confused with California-produced “Napa Gamay” which must now be legally labeled as “Valdeguié”).  And, like its cousin the Pinot Noir, the vine is sensitive to its terroir and produces wines with characteristics that change depending on which of the ten sub-regions it originates from.  Because they are not as well-known, these wines also tend to be great bargains.  One needs to know and drink these wines, so let’s do it.   

OK, a harvest celebration plus a chance to explore some seriously-good value wines, that should make a really good event.  Only one more thing could make it great.  French-themed surroundings and great food would truly ice the cake.  So, a plan for an event has come together.  Join me, along with our hosts Terry and Jacques, at the newly redecorated Aquarelle restaurant.  We will begin the evening casually, sampling three different 2009 nouveau bottlings alongside appetizers.  The main course will be accompanied by a variety of three fairly-recent cru Beaujolais wines, chosen to demonstrate the range of aromas and flavors that spring from the differing cru terroirs which bore them.  And, just to show you that these are, in fact, ‘real’ wines, we will wrap-up with a nice cheese course served alongside Beaujolais with a few mores years of aging.   

So make plans to roll up your sleeves and combine an evening of learning with a celebration of the harvest.  You may soon end up like me, seeking out these great values and treating yourself and friends to yet another wonderful wine experience. 


12/09/09 | Infrequent and Incredible 
Wed | at  Twin Liquors Marketplace at Hancock Center          451-7400            www.twinliquors.com
6:30PM | $15 members  &  $25 non-members      (all inclusive)

Finally, there are events that occur more frequently than paradigm changes, but far less frequently than annually…  Such is the case of the truly “great vintage”.  Because technological improvements in both grape growing and winemaking have leveled much of the variability in wines, many wine drinkers almost dismiss the importance of a wine’s vintage.  And more, I admit that those of us with brain-overload or approaching senior-ility simply don’t want to take on the burden of remembering better and lesser years (all those numbers just run together, and they keep changing!).  Finally, in this world of marketing hype where producers and pundits make claims like ‘vintage of the decade’ every other year, it is actually difficult to distinguish when one actually occurs.  But, to dismiss the importance of vintage can be worse than not remembering wine producers that you like.  Vintage is a Big Deal.  

More than just determining whether you get a better or worse wine, paying attention to vintages also effects your pocketbook.  The distribution system for wine is really not built to adjust pricing much based on vintage; heck, many cogs in that machine don’t even track it.  (If you want to get me wound up, take me to a restaurant that claims to be really big on wine, and have them hand me a wine list that doesn’t show the vintages!  Well, hell, why not hide the winery name as well.  I could go on, and if you ever get me started, I will…)  Because of this and other factors, prices seldom fluxuate much as years change; well, except to steadily ramp up every year.  So think about it; if you’re not avoiding “off” vintages, you’re paying more than you should for mediocre wine.  Perhaps more important to we lovers of wine, not finding and drinking outstanding vintages means that you’re not only missing bargains, you’re completely missing the chance to drink some great wine.  In an extreme situation, that’s like not paying attention to whether you pick a bottle of Tott’s or a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that are priced nearly the same!  Now do you get it?  

So, if you’re a fan of my favorite grape, Pinot Noir, then 2007 was a vintage in California that you do not want to miss.  Let me explain my rationale.  First of all, there’s no doubt that the general trend in quality of California Pinot Noir has risen steadily to its current ‘world class’ position since the jump-start which came two decades ago from a handful of great producers like Burt Williams, Joseph Swan, Tom Rochioli, and a few other pioneers.  Now, in addition to that improvement coming from vine propagation, site selection, and vinification techniques, came a near-perfect growing season in many areas.  It’s as exciting to me as to a golfer whose worked on their swing, bought great new equipment, hit a shot that would have made the green… then to have a puff of wind unexpectedly push the ball so that it actually ends up bouncing into the cup!  

Many of you are probably already aware of this.  It’s hard to miss cover headlines like “Best Ever California Pinot Noir” on the Wine Spectator.  But it’s one thing to know about it, and something else to actually give yourself the opportunity to experience it and even perhaps capture a bit of it for yourself.  While it’s available, what d’ya say we sample about fifteen of the best?  If for no other reason than to be sure that they’re not pulling our leg (or insert some other idiom of your choice, but not the one about making a monkey, please).  

Experiences to-date have taught many of us that one of the best places to really focus on the wine and minimize distractions in the classroom at the Twin Liquor Marketplace.  As we have before, I’ll provide enough bread, cheese, and other snacks to keep your palate refreshed.  In our long-standing tradition of cutting out hype completely, the wines will be ensconced in those fashionable brown bags.  As great wines are still coming into the market, I’m not going to lock them all in for another couple of weeks, but I’ve already got my eye on a whole set of highly-rated wonderful wines, which (at least at this moment) will be presented in flights based on appellation / region, allowing us to gauge them in the company of other wines with similar attributes.  I think by now you can trust that you won’t be disappointed.  If you can’t make this event, I encourage you to go to your favorite purveyor (like our great partner Twin Liquors) and snag some of this bounty.  If you can, come and celebrate this with us… 



Let me remind you that space is always very limited at these events.  I do apologize that so often I have to inform people that a particular event has filled.  For most every event, once all available seats have been reserved, I'll start a 'wait list' for those that can be somewhat flexible and are willing to adjust their plans if we get cancellations. 

As always, call  925-3985 or e-mail: reservations@ladv.org  to make reservations and to keep them accurate.  If you are lucky enough to have confirmed reservations, PLEASE CALL IMMEDIATELY if your plans change.  Communicating changes early provides an opportunity to any who may be on the wait list.  Further it will assure we don’t have to pay for wine and food that was reserved for you, and in turn, that we won’t have to contact you afterward to pass on those costs.  The normal final cut-off for making changes is two “business days” before an event (that is, 48 hours not including Saturday and Sunday when they can't get deliveries); for some events it may be longer and you will be informed when your reservations are confirmed. 

And if you've forgotten, in order to keep the event prices as low as possible we have not invested in credit card processing services; you should always plan to pay with cash or a check at the events. 

I look forward to seeing all you Friends of Wine at an event soon...