Sunday, January 15, 2012

Even Non-Wine Drinkers Like Italian Spumante:

Why Spumante?
Spumante (also called Asti wine or Asti Spumante) is a wine for nearly everyone.  Don't like dry wines?  Don't like the bitter taste of alcohol?  Enjoy bubbles?  This crisp Italian wine pleases nearly everyone.

Feel free to learn about the history of Spumante from any number of websites.  I won't subject you to redundancy here.  I have two brief stories about why it's important to me, and it is to those that I'll subject you. 

  • During the second World War, my grandfather flew bombers over the European front.  Stationed in Italy, he did what most young men at war did - he drank.  One of the local beverages was Spumante, which was (to my knowledge) then not imported to the United States.  He brought some back, and my family has been consuming the sweet effervescent drink ever since.
  • When I traveled to Italy as part of a summer class in 2003, one of the first nights there, a group of girls and I decided to head out to eat at an upscale local restaurant.  We all wanted wine, but since none of us spoke Italian, no one could figure out the difference between the wines on the menu.  I was up for anything, but two girls said that if the wine wasn't sweet, they wouldn't drink it.  I told them I recognized "Asti Spumante" on the menu, and assured them it was sweet.  One girl argued, "I know all about wine, and Spumante is a red wine."  I informed her that she must not, in fact, know much about wine as it is not.  After more irritation, I finally said that I would buy the bottle, and anyone who enjoyed it could contribute toward it, and those who didn't enjoy it didn't have to.  Sure enough, the wine was pale, and the girls contributed to the bottle (not her, though, since she then claimed it wasn't "sweet enough").  
There are many brands of Spumante available in the United States.  It even comes in pink!  This is an inexpensive beverage.  A bottle could run anywhere from $4 to $20 (and I'm sure there are some that cost more).  Feel free to grab a bottle in the $8 to $12 range, and don't worry that you're getting the lesser sort. 

Here's probably my favorite brand:  Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante
It also comes in half bottles, but I don't know who would want those.
I do, however, advise against the brand below, unless you're mixing the Spumante with orange juice or cranberry juice.

Spumante is NOT the Italian version of champagne.  It doesn't taste the same, the process isn't the same, the grapes aren't the same... you get the idea.  It is a fun, fizzy wine all its own.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Like the Smoke of a Distant Fire:

Keeping with our theme of seasonal beers, I am currently imbibing a beer formerly unknown to me:  Sam Adams Bonfire Rauchbier.

Why Bonfire?

Well, it came in the Harvest pack, which is the usual way of trying odd/rare SA beers.  The name "bonfire" sounds smokey to me, and I like smokey beers (Shiner Black is an outstanding example of an under-appreciated smokey beer).

My Bonfire was poured into a chilled glass having a narrow bottom and wider mouth.  The head was unremarkable; in fact, less than most Sam Adams.  It doesn't smell hoppy (which makes me happy).  Cloudy amber in color, it presents a distinct aroma of subtle spices.  Unfortunately, I'll have to go look up what they are.

I seldom drink beers super cold, so I enjoyed mine with a spicy meal.  That was a mistake, since the Mexican chilies overwhelmed the beer until all I tasted was bitter seltzer water.
I went back to the beer after dinner when it had warmed a bit, and at first taste I sensed a hint of smoke at the back of my tongue, as if catching a hint of distance campfire on an evening breeze - unmistakable, but gone with the next gust of wind.

By Adirondack contemporary artist Michael Ringler
Over at the Sam Adams site, I learn this is the first year for the Bonfire brew.  Apparently the spices I thought I detected are only assorted malt blends. 
Not bad for a new, simple beer.  Not my favorite, but I'd have another pint, only this time, I'll pair it with mild cheeses and a summer sausage.

Cost:  I have no idea because I'm fairly certain it isn't sold by the 6-pack.  Buy the Harvest Collection, and receive two bottles.

Crisp October Days Need Crisp Pumpkin Brews:

Even the casual beer lover knows this is the time of year for the harvest-themed brews.  Hundreds of companies get into the autumn spirit by pumping their beers full of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and/or pumpkin.


I've tried several, and I have never been overly enthusiastic about any of them (however, the Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale is quite good).  This year, I tasted two new (to me) pumpkin-based beverages:

Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider & Shipyard Brewing Company's Pumpkin-head Ale

Why Woodchuck?
The box is ready for hunting season.
I like this Vermont brewery, but most of their products are a bit sweet for my taste, so I mix them with Harp (known as a Snakebite to most Brits).  I've never had pumpkin cider, and the lady at the store informed me this private reserve is only made for less than 24 hrs, so they don't receive many cases.  A review at the Washington Post mentions that Woodchuck's president claims he secures the pumpkin mash “from the pumpkin patch of an employee who lives 10 miles away."  At 6.9%, the alcohol content is high for a cider, but I couldn't tell.  I'll be honest, this is good, but was a little disappointing.  "Pumpkin/apple-flavored water" might be a good description.  The carbonation was light, the amber color was nice, but upon swallowing the flavor disappeared. 

Cost:  I payed around $10 for a six pack, including tax.  May be cheaper in Texas or in the Northeast.

Why Shipyard?

Good God, why not?  That's what I thought after first sampling Pumpkinhead Ale at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival in Florida this year.  While Beer Advocate gives this light-colored brew a dismal rating, my husband and I were frankly surprised.  Eleven pounds of pumpkin truly impart a pumpkiny flavor, without all those superfluous spices getting in the way.  Sure, sometimes I want a beer with hints of cloves and ginger.  If that's the only sort of harvest beer you like, you won't enjoy this.  God and Maine intended this 5.1% ale to be enjoyed on a warm Indian-summer fall day. I've tried this out of a room-temperature glass, out of the bottle like a heathen, and out of a frosty glass.  I recommend the room-temperature glass, as the flavors have a chance to warm to full potential.

Cost:  I only bought it in Florida, where the price was very reasonable (around $5 a bottle in a restaurant).