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Exotic Fruit Introduction to U.S. Expands Our Palate?

My introduction to the Pomegranate was, no kidding, in 7th grade social studies.  Our teacher brought in a pomegranate as a part of lesson on fruits that settlers of the Americas enjoyed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  In the mid-80’s it was an uncommon fruit not frequently found at the local supermarket and a bit of a treat to see this “living history” up close.

We passed the pomegranate fruit around the class as each student carefully extracted a couple of the seeds to taste and ponder.  It was an exotic treat (and a staining treat as well; a couple of kid’s shirts did not come out of the fruit interaction unscathed—despite the teachers’ warnings).  Assuredly, this pomegranate eating was much more exciting then the firefighters delivering apples in October. Early palate training, it was. 

In the intervening years between then and, say, 2004 I didn’t hear much about the pomegranate.  It remained a seldom seen fruit, a relic in my childhood memory bank.  Then, it seems, marketing took over as pomegranate juice and pomegranate flavored everything exploded onto the market.

Nowadays the Pomegranate and its various derivations from juice to jam are commonplace.  And, as a result, based on the palate training of enjoying this once seldom seen and now oft eaten fruit, you now see pomegranate show up in tasting notes more often.  It seems only natural—the hundreds of flavor nuances you can find in various grape varietals will lend themselves to flavor matching once our palates are adept at picking them up.

The Litchi (or lychee as it is also known) shows up occasionally, as well.  This exotic Asian fruit is increasingly seen fresh and canned in grocer’s international foods aisle. 

While shopping this past weekend and subsequently doing some studying in the Macmillan Visual Food Encyclopedia (a must for any home kitchen worth its sea salt) I think we’re on the cusp of another wave of fruits that will find their way into our kitchens and subsequently our wine tasting lexicon.

If I’m buying starfruit and horned melons in Indianapolis, IN then I know these exotic fruits are “Playing Peoria.”

Herewith, a list of five fruits to get acquainted with as you’ll want to familiarize yourself with them and add them to your flavor memory:

Mangosteen: a Southeast Asian fruit with a unique taste, with subtleness to its strawberry-ish and peachy cream flavor

Starfruit:  A Latin American fruit, and grown elsewhere, as well. It’s acidic with a sweet-tart flavor that has the consistency of an apple with pineapple and kiwi notes with less overall sweetness

Horned melon:  Native to New Zealand these peculiar looking fruits taste like cucumber tinged with pleasant lemon. 

Uniq fruit:  Native to Jamaica, you may have seen this in your citrus section as the “ugli” fruit.  Naturally, I think the marketers are working on changing that to “uniq.”  This is a juicy citrus fruit with a nicely sweet citrus taste that reminds you of a mandarin orange with a little more zing.

Cherimoya: Another Latin American fruit, the Cherimoya has a firm texture allowing it to be eaten like an apple, with a flavor profile that is much softer—nicely tropical, but not definable. 

Of course, there are other fruits that are gaining in exposure—fruits that we’re familiar with by name, if not by actual taste—gooseberry, guava, kumquats, quince and jujube, amongst others.  Check these out, too.

Life is an experiment.  Next time you’re in the produce aisle pick up a couple of these exotic fruits if for no other reason than palate training.  And, look at my tasting notes in the future—I’m dying to work in a Cherimoya reference. 


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‘04 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc

Here at Good Grape, I have a couple of wine quirks—peccadillos, if you will.  They include my disdain for Rosé, my favor for a nice, local cordial fruit wine (i.e. sweet) when the occasion calls, my belief that Moscato d’Asti and Lambrusco are under-appreciated and that Chenin Blanc is, likewise, un-necessarily not understood in the US marketplace.

I’ll save for another day the fact that I love Barbaresco’s and Barolo’s and can scarcely afford either one of them on a regular basis; my dichotomy between high and low brow, especially amongst Italian wine, is sufficient enough to merit some psychiatric review, I think, but, hey, I can do spaghetti and meatballs alongside northern Italian, as well. 

Of the aforementioned pecadillos, the one that I think has the greatest opportunity to NOT brand me a typical ‘Ugly American’ with a sweet tooth is Chenin Blanc, though it too can be made off-dry or demi-sec.  However, as one of the Loire Valley’s notable contributions to the world of wine, Chenin Blanc is incredibly versatile and is poised to grow in the U.S. from its previously dismal acreage under vine and under the auspices of being a dry wine with high acidity. 

Unscientifically, it seems that with the increasing move towards conscientious food friendliness in wine and some of the steam we have seen in the marketplace with Viognier is also benefiting Chenin.  It does not hurt that Int’l producers are producing some very lovely Chenin Blanc, joining Dry Creek Vineyard, the only domestic producer that comes to mind that makes a something a cut above plonk and a wine that has long been an insiders “value” buy.

Dr. Debs had a nice post the other day on cross-training your palate.  I’ve been really into whites this winter for some reason and one of the best things I can think of is to cross-train for the spring time, when reds become a bit heavy and you’re searching for something different.  I happen to be doing this now, and I’m recommending you do the same.  Set aside the Sav. Blanc., go easy on the Chardonnay (even if it is un-oaked) and try a Chenin Blanc, I think you’ll come away with new appreciation for a growing varietal and you’ll be months ahead of the game come April when you’re thinking about whites.

*Note*  Chenin Blanc is very susceptible to too much cold muting the nose and the flavor profile.  Do not overchill your Chenin.  Cellar temperature—55 degrees is sufficient to let the flavors bloom in the glass. 
My review for the ’04 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc is here.


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The Green Hope for ‘08

Green wine, the catch-all organic kind, not to be confused with the other “green wine,” Vinho Verde, the sprightly Portuguese white, continues to grow in momentum and consumer acceptance.

My hope for the coming year, amongst other things, is that the greening of our wines will also include a healthy dose of understanding and unity for the types of “green” standards.  There is already too much confusion and obfuscation in the marketplace to add another level of complexity to the wine world.

As a consumer, I want to send a message to all wineries:  marketing can be viewed as education and that’s not a bad thing. 

Can you imagine “Susie Homemaker” or even “Joe Enthusiast” standing in the aisle reading the back label trying to figure out the difference between “organic” and “made with organic grapes?”  Chances are he already is, and no, he doesn’t know the difference. 

Wine Business Monthly wrote an article on the subject about two years ago, their timing is always right on trend, and now some two years later, it would be nice if the wine industry took their assumptive knowledge and translated that into some kind of industry wide barometer reading … an easy-to-read label continuum of sorts.

Hmmm … who could take the mantle of leadership for this initiative?

Randall Grahm, I’m paging you.

I’m thinking of something like the technical sheets that Jeff from Twisted Oak does for his wines, except this would be specific for organic.  Your standard garden variety normally cultivated wine from a winery that has green practices on the left hand side and “I’m over the moon bananas about BioD” is on the right hand side—markers for other variations in between.  Or, wait, given our country’s predilection for marking political ideology “right” and “left” perhaps the BioD goes on the left hand side …

If there is a continuum implemented, and plenty of wine label changes are coming anyways, at least a consumer could mentally categorize themselves against other consumer types and decide to buy the wine, or not, if for no other reason then your own personal wine buying coda for all things organic.

The recycling gal might not want the BioD wine whereas the Mother Jones-types might be all for the dung in cow horn Biodynamic program.

Thanks to About.com wine guide, I now know the following:

Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers; bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.”

Types of Organic

100% Organic - Refers to wines that are produced with grapes that are certified 100% organically grown and do not have any added sulfites.

Organic - Refers to wines that have at least 95% of their ingredients from certified organic sources. These wines may have an additional 100 ppm of sulfur dioxide added to them.

Made with Organic Grapes - Refers to wines that have at least 70% of their grapes from organic sources. These wines may have sulfur dioxide added as well.

Biodynamic, obviously, is a supplement to the above.

The point is, with wine consumption growing, almost in spite of wine marketing (critter labels don’t count for anything good), it seems high time that the introduction of new elements to the wine marketing canon be treated sensibly and with some notion towards helping create a shared understanding.

Not all wine lovers are linear dolts, but sometimes its good to treat us like that, animals on labels notwithstanding.


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Wine.com Postscript is too Good Not to Post …

Alder at Vinography.com wrote a post on some scurrilous activity by Wine.com last week.  I followed on with a similar post.  Alder’s post has generated a firestorm of comments one of which is so fantastic that I’m reproducing in full (and I hope the folks at Winemonger.com don’t mind) because it’s a monologue that would make both the screenwriter AND Jack Nicholson from “A Few Good Men” fawn in admiration.

In fact, if you watch the “A Few Good Men” snippet on YouTube (linked above) you should smile at yourself over the parallels ...

To Wine.com:
As a fellow online retailer who abides by the rules and pays dearly for it every day, we do understand your frustration with those who take illegal shortcuts. We also cannot side with those who call for civil disobedience in this matter. It is an uncomfortable fact of life that our social contract comes with a set of rules that are put down as laws, which at times do grow to be outdated, senseless, archaic and only remain in place to benefit the selfish interests of a few. Freeing the grapes, promoting free trade, and freeing bottles of wine from their legally imposed incarceration are all noble quests, but they hardly constitute a good case for civil disobedience. Furthermore, breaking these laws does, as has been pointed out, only play into the hands of those that profit from them (and pay millions to keep them in place).

However, this argument against those retailers who choose to break the rules has to be kept strictly separate from the path you have chosen. Going vigilante and taking action against those retailers by setting up a sting operation is not only a well-deserved act of PR self-mutilation, it is also just a despicable thing to do. Let’s take Alder’s freeway example a step further. Your action is like tossing nails out onto the freeway and then speeding away ahead of them. All of us online retailers who rely on markets to stay open will get to feel the repercussions of your selfish action.

You state that fairness was the goal. Where then is the fair open letter to all online wine retailers asking them to abide by the rules so we can strip this market from its medieval chastity belt together? You could have even gone so far as to invite everyone to get on board by a certain date and announced your plan to be the monitor of this club of white hat retailers, and then this group of dandy lads could then have jointly approached the authorities and asked to be recognized as those who abide by the rules voluntarily. By process of elimination the trade enforcement authorities (not you but those other guys who actually work for the government) would have then known where to look. You could have been the leader of this noble band of brothers and come out of your quest for a level playing field smelling like a rose (or at least like a carnation). Instead, you chose the way of the sneaky tattle-tailer that everyone couldn’t stand at school and you pissed on yourself.

We adhere to the rules and ship only where we can legally ship to. We are probably one of the smaller online retailers by virtue of importing the wines we sell ourselves rather than buying them from wholesalers who bought from other importers. We, as you, do also work with wholesalers at times, only they are our customers and not our vendors. Meaning we too have an interest in getting along with them. BUT, we will not side with those who have no love for wine and no interest in allowing the free trade of it. Fortunately there are a lot of good distributors out there with their wine hearts beating loudly for those amazing wines that some producers make for the world to enjoy.

So apparently you were the Washington customer that we recently had to refuse to sell wine to. We do want to help you get the wine you requested, and here is a way around the law that is perfectly legal. Instead of shipping your wines to yourself in Washington, send it to your aunt in California or any of the other 26 states we can legally ship to. Then have your dear auntie bring those bottles along the next time she visits you.

In fact, we have put together a special flight of wines for you. It’s called the “Sting Op 007” and is comprised of some of our best Gruner Veltliners, Rieslings, red wines and award winning dessert wines. And if you act now, you will enjoy a special 15% discount, PLUS we will give 10% of the proceeds for all the Sting Op 007 cases ordered by anyone to the SWRA. Just enter ISUCK as a discount code at checkout. Enjoy.

Cheers from Stephan and Emily at Winemonger.com

Beautiful.  Just beautiful. 


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A Joel Gott Double-Header Wine Review

You have to hand it to Joel Gott.  He’s a thirty-something small business titan with his hands in so many projects that it would make the likes of Donald Trump proud.

Based on a very cursory and un-fact checked search of the web, Gott is a partner in The Rebel Wine Co. which produces “Three Thieves” and “The Show” wines, he has his own label called, duh, Joel Gott Wines, he runs Taylor’s Refresher, a retro-cool burger stand on highway 29 in the valley, he co-owns the Palisades Market in Calistoga, and apparently he also runs a couple of other things as well like a car wash.

Phew.  Got all that?  I try to make it through the workday and find time to blog while keeping my wife happy by taking out the trash. 

There’s a lot to like about most of the projects Gott is involved in … the burgers are tasty at Taylor’s Refresher, his Joel Gott line of wines are notably lauded in some years, in some varietals, for being exceptional values and ‘The Show’ wines in which he is a partner have some amazing graphical label appeal, having the label designed by world-renowned print shop Hatch Show Print, of which I am a big fan. I still think that there is a viable online business for somebody to design hip rock show posters for wine properties in their traditional 11 x 14 format and sell them online for Gen. Y oenophiles.  In fact, I would do it myself if I didn’t try to make it through the workday and find time to blog while keeping my wife happy by taking out the trash.  Wait, I think I already mentioned that … but you get the point.

Because of Gott’s overachieving ways, I decided to review both his 2005 Cabernet’s from ‘The Show’ line-up and Joel Gott wines.

Both wines showed admirably, and you can stylistically see the difference between the two—‘The Show’ is a party Cabernet where his Joel Gott line is more classically styled as a meritorious California wine—fruit forward, but with more complexity.  Unfortunately, his eponymous label, despite showing broader character came up number two in the two horse race based on its short (non-existent?) finish.

Cheers to Joel Gott for being a being a man with his hand in many cookie jars, and a spirit towards making reasonably priced, creative wines.  And, another cheer to him for doing his wine work in the midst of a bunch of other projects.  Multi-taskers, in addition to wine lovers, everywhere should rejoice with a kindred spirit.

My tasting notes and review are linked below.

2005 The Show Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon


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