I Have a Cigar… Now What?

•April 9, 2009 • 1 Comment

Cigar PairingI’m guessing we’ve all seen a humidor at our local fine wine shop and thought, “hmmm, maybe I’ll get cigar tonight and try that out.  But how do I pair a cigar?  Or do I even need to?”  Well firstly I’ll say ‘yes’ you should get something to pair your cigar with.  Aside from providing a good compliment to the cigar flavors, a drink also cleanses your palate and helps you avoid a lingering bitterness that often builds up throughout the course of smoking.  This is especially true if you’re like me and very rarely smoke.

But before we get into pairing advice, let’s take a look at a few things you’ll need to properly smoke a cigar:

  • hole puncher/cigar cutter You are probably already familiar with cigar cutters if you watched just about any mobster movie in the late 80s/early 90s, as they were invariably used to cut off some poor schmuck’s finger.  Surprisingly they can also be used to cut the tip off the smoking end of a cigar.  Hole punches are similar to cutters, but have the benefit of creating a much larger surface area to pull smoke through, and thus making your cigar easier to smoke.
  • smoking jacket You may think this is a joke, but if you don’t want to spend the rest of the night reeking of cigar smoke, you should seriously consider wearing a smoking jacket.  So where do you find one?  Well I’m sure you could find one at your local big-game hunter supply store.  Or you could build a time machine, go back to 1870, and borrow one from the first banker you stumble across.  Or you could just put on a jacket or sweatshirt that you don’t plan on wearing for the rest of the night.
  • monocle/top hat Okay, this is a joke.  No one needs a top hat or monocle, but if you build that time machine it could help you blend in.

Okay, now that we’re all set on the cigar side, let’s talk about pairings.  In the case of cigars, one should really be thinking “like with like.”  Cigars are strong and bitter and can easily overpower most beverages.  This is why the traditional pairing with whiskey or port is so prevalent.  They are both fantastic pairings.  Regarding whiskey, a good single malt from Islay brings a bit of peat and smoke that naturally compliments the character of  a cigar and particularly the stronger maduros.  If you want to take more of a “contrast” approach or are looking for something a bit sweeter, then you may want to go with a Highland/Lowland Scotch or Bourbon.  Ports add a large amount of sweetness and a strong rich fruity character.  They certainly have the intensity to match a cigar, but are a bit too rich to provide the palate cleansing effect.  But if you are already a fan of port, that probably won’t be much of an issue.

Those are all more traditional pairings, and with good reason.  However I have to say that the most intriguing pairing for me lately has been beer.  Your first thought may be that beer is too weak to handle a cigar, but I beg to differ.  Beers with a lot of hops, roasted malts, and/or higher alcohol can be extremely hardy and certainly up to the task at hand.  Some recent pairings I’ve had some great success with are Rogue’s Brutal Bitter and Chocolate Stout as well as the Old Rasputin Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewery.  All of these are American brews, which tend to be very hoppy and in this case is a big plus.  But don’t count out similar styles from other countries and the darker ales form Belgium such as the Delerium Nocturnum or Chimay Blue.  Additionally the relative low cost of beers allow you to experiment with ease without have to shell out $25 – $50 for a good bottle of port or whiskey.  Just buy and single and go for it.


For the Weekend: Seaview Brut

•August 28, 2008 • 1 Comment

Good inexpensive sparkling wine is one of the greatest things on planet Earth.  That and a good bottle of Sherry are hard to beat in my book.  And you may be surprised to learn that in the world of food pairing sparkling wine is one of the most versatile pairing options, and it bridges an important gap between wine and beer (think about bubbles).  But that’s a post for another day.  One of the most consistent tragedies in the wine world is the American obsession with sparkling wine being appropriate only for special occasions.  Which means most wine drinkers are only thinking about sparklers two or three times a year.  This is heresy I tell you!  If you brought that attitude to Champagne, they would laugh you right out of town.

The truth is anytime you enjoy drinking wine is a good time for sparkling wine.  With food, by itself, at a party, changing your oil, reading a wine blog… whenever.  It’s just that simple.  And if you’re not already on this bandwagon then let me get you started with one of my favorite inexpensive sparklers.  Seaview Brut is an Australian wine made in the traditional method (the first in AU to use this method) and has many characteristics of a good French cremant.  It’s lively lemon citrus and acidity are well met but a touch of creaminess making for an all around pleasing wine that can often be found for about $11.  I often take it to parties that are BYOB, but it’s just as great with some take home sushi.  So for the weekend give it a try, and while you’re at it raise a glass to Seaview founder Ben Chaffey who recently passed at the ripe age of 93.  Cheers to you, sir.

The Chinese Market and Your Wallet

•August 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I recently read this great post on Slate that summarizes the growing fear that China’s surging demand for big name wines will drive prices through the roof.  The idea is simple.  The demand for high end Bordeaux and Burgundy is already high, and estates like Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Lafite cannot magically make more land to produce more grapes and therefore release more wine to meet that demand.  Most winemakers in sought after regions are making as much wine as they can and probably ever will without compromising their standards or somehow acquiring new land in their region (ask a winemaker in Burgundy how easy that is.  But before you do, you may want to beef up on your French cussing).

So now add the thousands of wealthy Chinese collectors to this market, and now we have an unprecedented number of wines poised to break the $1,000/bottle mark.  Granted these are all wines that were prohibitively expensive to begin with, but remember the Chinese market is in its infancy.  Only 30 years ago, America was in a similar situation where serious wine lovers would hardly touch a wine if it wasn’t from a venerable region like Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne.  Our consumption of anything above American jug wine, Liebfraumilch, and basket Chianti was very low.  And today Americans are in a full on renaissance of education and demand.  Wines from small producers in relatively unknown regions such as Savoie and Puglia are coming in and thriving even in my small state of Arkansas.

American consumers are becoming very savvy and I suspect the Chinese will follow a similar trend as long as their economy remains stable and the middle class is allowed to grow.  What this means for me and you (assuming you are not Chinese) is that the skyrocketing prices expected for well known collectibles could be extended your local $15 Languedoc reds, $25 Oregon Pinot Noirs, and $20 Mosel Rieslings.  China has the population to make those prices a distant memory, but as Slate points out they also have the arable land to mitigate a great deal of that demand.  Wineries and vineyards there are small and young, but the potential for quality winemaking seems real enough.

And honestly there is so much wine out there to drink, I believe there will always be undiscovered gems to find on the cheap.  It may become harder and harder to afford names you recognize, but I find hunting through unusual regions and obscure winemakers to be at least half the fun.

Monday Discovery: Able Grape

•August 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’m not posting this as a tried and tested recommendation but rather as an interesting concept to play around with and explore.  Able Grape is a dedicated wine search engine that is relatively new but could end up being very helpful for those seeking fast and specific information regarding wine.  I often use Wikipedia or try my luck with Google when I’m not willing or able to break open the reference books.  This works for the most part, but there are many times when I’m trying to get information on a very small specific region (take Savenierres for example), and I just cannot easily find good info through regular searches.  Having a dedicated site for wine seems like it could solve that problem, but let’s not forget that the number one job of a search engine is to bring you quality relevant results.

That’s how Google came to dominace and I hope that’s what we’ll see from Able Grape.  I like that they will exclude retailers from much of their results.  I find looking up a specific wine or winemaker usually yields one or two articles and dozens of retailers.  That’s helpful if I need to price wines, and that’s about it.  Also it seems they are looking to get users very invovled with feedback that goes into tweeking the engine (I’m not usually a sucker for contests, but offering a ’64 Gaja for the best feedback works for me).  Still my one concern is whether they have the right programmers on the backend to properly implement such changes and truly make the site a valuable resource.  I certainly hope so, because this is something I can use.

Fall Time Pinot

•August 22, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Finally some cool weather has arrived and I can already feel the urge to start into some fall reds.  Although I’ll probably still cheat and drink whites all through the winter (I love white wine, what can I say?), I do enjoy the change of pace cold weather brings and the opportunity to dive into some hefty reds.  So right now I’m easing in with the Faiveley 2005 Mercurey Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet.  The esteemed Faiveley wines have just made it into my area, and I’ve been craving a light, subtle, complex red to wrap my mind around.  So this Pinot Noir from Mercurey in the Cote Chalonnaise region of Burgundy seemed like a potentially great fit.  By the way you can check J. Faiveley’s obnoxiously flash-laden site here.

Note to winemakers:  please stop cluttering up your sites with silly flash animations that make your site twice as slow to navigate through.

-A. Blogger

Anyways back to the wine.  The Faiveley is delicious and certainly a testament that the Mercury region can be a great place to find affordable red Burgundy.  However, I would also say the high acidity combined with young tannins make this wine a good candidate for some short term aging.  Unless you’re an acid-head, you may find the wine to be a bit cloying.  Right now all I can think about is pairing this with food.  The nose brings a healthy portion of underripe cherry and a very nice cinnamon-driven spice box component.  Both of which carry over to the palate.

In terms of seasonal drinking, I think this wine stradles the summer and fall nicely.  I could see pairing this with a chicken and mardarin orange salad as easily as a tangy pork dish or even gamier meats like duck or rabbit.  This would not be an easy Pinot to overpower.

Monday Discovery: Decanter News

•August 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

If you are in the wine business or simply love wine enough to follow recent developments, then Decanter’s news page is an excellent place to get the low down on harvest conditions, winery acquisitions, and just about everything else that happens to wine before it gets to your glass.  Certainly no one will accuse the site of being too pretty, but what you will find at Decanter is a level of journalism that is rarely matched by the largest blogs and even comparable magazines.


Monday Discovery: Winelibrary TV

•July 28, 2008 • 1 Comment

FYI, Every Monday I’ll be putting up a new site or online show that you may find fun and useful in your oenological and gastronomical journeys.  This week’s recommendation is an old favorite that many people still have not seen: Winelibrary TV.  Love him or hate him Gary Vaynerchuk is a pioneer in the wine world and has managed to present a completely fresh face to wine appreciation, which is commonly characterized as snooty, anachronistic, and boring.  His over the top attitude is a bit much for many wine lovers, and he is the first to admit that, but his boundless energy is well matched by his extensive knowledge of wine, formidable palate, and an ability to educate.  I should say that watching his show online two years ago was the main inspiration for me to create my own wine site and focus on wines that appeal to my palate; not Robert Parker’s, Steve Tanzer’s, or even Gary Vaynerchuk’s.  Gary V has always stressed trusting your own palate and being comfortable with what tastes good to you.  And that’s a great piece of advice.

You can find his show at tv.winelibrary.com.  There’s plenty of shows to check out (the man has done over 500), but I highly recommend this episode with Mad Money’s Jim Cramer.  Their energy is great, and if you’ve ever been interested in investing in wine, then this is the show for you.