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Before wine, it was coffee. My coffee career started in the early nineties when I took a barista job at a Starbucks in the Seattle area. This was before the company required you to actually mark down all those thousands of descriptors available with every beverage (half-caff, non-fat, no foam, etc), so I took great pleasure in the art of being able to mentally retain a long list of 30-40 drinks at a time. How did I do this? There was no real trick, it was sink or swim in those situations, and memory is a muscle that can be exercised like any other.

After dazzling drinkers for a few years with my barista tricks and savvy, I decided to go south to San Francisco and take a position at one of only two Starbucks in Northern California. Yes, this is so hard to fathom today; there were only two!  So, I packed everything I owned into my olive-green 1978 Buick Skylark and moved to Berkeley. Moving up quickly to Corporate Trainer, I taught a lot of seminars, trained a lot of new baristas and– you know the story–helped open a lot of stores.

One of my favorite memories out of that period was being able to conduct blind French press tastings with Alfred Peet, the “grandfather of specialty coffee.” He was soft-spoken, focused and approachable. Despite his vast knowledge, he kept it real, rather than burying his listeners with lofty jargon. I learned all about intensity of aromas, identifying kinds of aromas, acidity, weight, balance all came into play. For example, Central American coffees tend to be lighter-bodied with fruity or nutty notes, whereas Indonesian coffees are wild, full-bodied and exotic. The French press is the perfect brewing method for such tastings because of its quick steeping time (4 minutes and plunge) and the fact that the essential oils and flavors don’t get filtered out through paper. Pure, undiluted coffee terroir.

I didn’t realize it at the time (nor did I know that twenty years later, it would be wine and spirits), but I adopted his approach and philosophy: Let the beverages do the talking!

At a retail tasting a couple days ago, I encountered a wine on the shelf that was advertised as being ‘THE wine of summer 2012’. Seduced by such an intriguing pitch, I couldn’t resist. I just had to taste it.

The wine of which I write: H&M Hofer Grüner Veltliner Osterreich Landwein 2011

First of all, one need not be intimidated by its lengthy name, let’s parse it:

  • Grüner Veltliner is the grape (pronounced grew-ner VELT-leaner), a variety that is native to Austria
  • Österreich (OESS-stir-rike) = Austria
  • Weinland (pronounced VINE-land) = a regional country wine

The wine was indeed tasty. It had all the classic aromas of this variety: savory herbs, lemon citrus, thyme and white pepper, dry on the palate with more notes of savory herbs, lemon zest and a pleasing streak of minerality. Yet when so classic in profile, how could it be the summer wine of 2012? Why differentiates this wine from any other??

The reason may lie with the packaging. The wine comes in a one-liter bottle at a very attractive price (25% bigger than a standard 750 ml) and comes crown-capped (like a coca-cola bottle), which makes it picnic perfect for more people … ultimately, more bang for the buck (25% less expensive).

And there are other unusually packaged Gruner Veltiners out there of amazing value. Steinschaden Grüner Veltliner Bag-in-Box comes in a little green box that holds the equivalent of two bottles, or 1.5 L, for the price of one! Plus it stays fresh for months in the fridge if you are more likely to drink only one glass a week, rather than a bottle a day. Oh, and the wine is delicious to boot.

And given all the Euro turmoil, Facebook IPO woes, and general financial unease of our summer, these exceptional Grüner Veltiner values truly do capture our seasonal zeitgeist. Something to ponder…

The adage ‘you are what you eat’ applies to what you drink too!

My aim is to help you to drink responsibly — by actually paying attention to what’s in your glass, mug or stein.

When you take the craft, culture, history and science of drink into consideration, you are not only catering to your senses and appetites, but your intellect too.

It’s an enlightening exploration, a knowledge quencher for all those with a thirst for the good stuff whether the good stuff means wine, spirits, coffee or tea. We’ll dive deep into the world of premium, crafted drinks. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey, saluté!