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Jay McInerney talks The Juice at USQ! To promote his newest wine book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas, Jay McInerney held a wine tasting and book reading in conjunction with The Strand and USQ. Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine, also joined the party and discussion. Check out more photos here.

Jay McInerney talks The Juice at USQ! To promote his newest wine book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas, Jay McInerney held a wine tasting and book reading in conjunction with The Strand and USQ. Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine, also joined the party and discussion. Check out more photos here.

I Want To Be a Master Wine Blender…When I Grow Up

What does it take to be a master wine blender? A lot of patience and anxiety, it seems. USQ hosted winemaker Andy Erickson, known for his work at for Ovid, Arietta, Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Dancing Hares, and his own label, Favia, for an Art of Blending seminar. The interactive session, complete with five barrels samples of 2011 Napa Valley grapes, pitted three “teams” against one another to come up with unique red wine blends based on Erickson’s own Leviathan. Oh! And USQ made a blend too.

If you want to be a master blender, start off by perfecting your palate. Then gather a bunch of beakers and brush up on chemistry. Might want to learn the metric system. And math, you know, since the percentages of each grape in the blend should add up to 100 percent. After tasting through barrel samples (so fresh they haven’t even been RACKED yet) of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon (191 and 337, for the record), Erickson discussed the attributes of each with the group. He mixed a blend on the spot, but assured us that the final percentages always change, as the wines each evolve in their French oak barrels.

On group wanted more Cab Franc and another pushed for Merlot, while the third group wanted a blend much like Erickson’s. USQ? We said toss in 45 percent Syrah (!) just to mix it up. We ended up with a selection of shockingly different wines, each with their own pros and cons. The key to balance is working with blending ideas throughout the aging time, so by the final round, you have some idea how each grape’s elements change over time. Our blend featured a bit too much Syrah for elegant balance, but hey, never know how the Syrah will taste in a few months!

Missed our Duero to Rioja event with Maria López de Heredia last week? Listen to what she has to say about her family’s famous bottlings of white and red Rioja, including the 1991 Viña Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva, 2003 Viña Bosconia Rioja Reserva, and 2001 Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva.

Video courtesy of our friend at The Zinfidel. Check it out!

Going Vertical: Kanonkop Pinotage From 1998 to 2009

What does a 1998 South African Pinotage taste like? Oddly enough, like a musty, saddle leather-driven Rioja—at least the bottling by Kanonkop.

This week, we tasted ten Kanonkop Pinotage bottlings spanning 11 years with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. Kanonkop is a historic wine estate in the Stellenbosch region, run by the same family for four generations. They grow Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in the 1920s), as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But Pinotage and its attempt to overcome a negative stereotype in the eyes of the American consumer took precedent during the recent tasting led by Beeslaar. (That’s USQ’s Tom Smith tasting with Beeslaar above.) He noted that wine drinkers tend to judge the variety over the producer, when in fact, we should be judging the producer not the variety. And after tasting stellar examples, such as the 1998, the earthy and complex 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage and the juicy, red berry-focused 2009 Pinotage, his words hit a homerun.

We could bog you down with copious notes on each wine, but overall, the wines showed a variety of red wine descriptors, from tints of deep cherry to aromas of smoked meats to flavors reminiscent of classic Burgundies. The 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage, designed specifically for auction by winemakers invited to the guild, stood out with its 100 percent new oak aging, dark, earthy nose, and complex brown shoe leather and dark fruit notes on the palate. It seemed quite similar to the 1998, with its musty funk and still juicy fruit cocooned with strong earth and leather notes. One person even joked that it was like Chateau Musar, the infamously wine geek red wine blend from Lebanon. Yet even the young, but “will mature beautifully” 2009 had many fans, thanks to its powerful structure, red berry flavors, and balanced tannins. If we’re going to judge Pinotage, we’re going to rule in its favor, at least when we’re talking about Kanonkop. -Stephanie Cain

Get the 2009 Kanonkop Pinotage here.

Jay McInerney Talks The Juice with Wine Critic Ray Isle: Book Reading & Wine Tasting

USQ and Strand Bookstore host Jay McInerney as he reads from his latest non-fiction book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas, followed by a chat with Ray Isle, executive editor of Food & Wine, and wine tasting. The Juice features more than 50 articles of McInerney’s adventures in oenology, hilarious anecdotes, and invaluable wine advice. Sip, listen, and talk vino during our Q&A session and wine tasting, featuring bottlings highlighted in the book.  If you’re familiar with McInerney, you’ll know he’s currently a wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal and author of eight novels, including his heralded debut Bright Lights, Big City and previous wine publications, A Hedonist in the Cellar and Bacchus and Me. He describes Thomas Jefferson as “the founding wine geek,” writes that a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay tastes like a “deconstructed margarita…wowsah,” and calls the Sonoma Pinot-craze “the bizzaro-world antithesis of planet Napa Cabernet.” Want more? We’ll see you on May 10!

Reservations are required to attend this event. Tickets are sold ONLY through Strand Bookstore. Cost: Buy The Juice book or a $25 ticket, which includes a $10 voucher toward purchases at USQ the night of the event. Buy tickets here.

Earth Day, Brought to You by Jars of VeeV

Every time I fly Virgin America (which is often, NYC > SFO), I end up with a VeeV cocktail. But that’s hardly the only time I sip the açai spirit. Heralded for its earth-friendly approach to all-things alcohol, VeeV is distilled from the Brazilian fruit, açai, known for its healthy properties. (Surfers say so, at least.) It makes a good substitute for vodka- or cachaca- based drinks, or just simply mixed with juice.

Given Earth Day, though, we have to spotlight VeeV’s green efforts. The company was the first alcohol brand to be certified carbon neutral. The distillery is powered completely by renewable wind energy. Their innovative distillation process uses 200 percent less energy than traditional pot still. On top of all that, VeeV donates $1 from the sale of every bottle to rainforest conservation efforts. Wow.

If we really need to further win you over with the spirit, though, mix it up in one of these signature cocktails. With the Greenmarket only steps away from USQ, you’ll be eating AND drinking local. Then you’ll be ordering it on your next flight too!

Herbal Advice 
Who doesn’t love a mason jar? Just what we thought. We’re giving you a bit of Herbal Advice with this cocktail: Go Green.

1 ¼ oz VeeV Açai
2 lemon wedges
½ oz simple syrup
2 oz club soda
fresh cucumber, sliced thinly
sprig of mint

Pack the mason jar with ice. Add all of the ingredients and seal the top. Shake and serve, tableside.

Brazilian 57 
Forget Skinny Girl Margaritas. This 125-calorie (not that we are counting, we drink wine and spirits for a living) champagne cocktail should be swapped for that boring mimosa at any Sunday brunch. Including April 22, Earth Day!

1 ¼ oz. VeeV Açai
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
lemon twist, for garnish

Shake the first three ingredients well with ice and strain into a Champagne flute. Top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

We’ll be tasting VeeV and VeeV-based cocktails this Saturday at USQ during our Go Green Organic Tasting. Stop by. More details here.

Vintage Vodka?

Terroir is a common term for wine, but you don’t hear it so much for vodka. Well, EVER. That’s about to change with Karlsson’s Gold Batch 2008, a vintage vodka distilled from one specific type of potato. And you thought vodka had to be odorless and tasteless?

To catch you up to speed, Karlsson’s Gold is a collaborative project between master distiller Börje Karlsson, the guy who helped launch Absolut, and a group of Swedish potato farmers. Concocted as a blend of seven varieties of virgin potatoes from Cape Bjäre, Sweden, the vodka is distilled only once (as opposed to around seven times, like most commercial brands) to preserve the character of the potatoes.

Karlsson didn’t stop there, of course. He took it to the next level with his Batch series, debuting with the 2008 harvest. Made exclusively from the Gammel Svensk Rod (“Old Swedish Red”) new potatoes, the bottling has a distinctive sharp and complex, earthy and peppery flavor that sets it apart from blended vodkas. The label displays the name of the farmer, Bertil Gunnarsson, harvest property, and the bottle’s edition. Only 1,980 bottles exist. 

Swing by USQ every Saturday in April, from 6pm to 9pm, for sips of the Batch 2008 and Karlsson’s Gold Vodka. Both bottlings will be for sale. Find out more information here.

Sake to Me: Masumi’s Arabashiri Sake

USQ welcomes the Masumi Brewery back to the Salon tonight, 6pm to 8pm, for an evening in celebration of the newly minted Arabashiri sake, which will be unveiled for lucky attendees. This unpasteurized nama sake heralds the spring season and is among our most anticipated sake arrivals each year. Join special guests Katsu Miyasaka and Keith Norum as they present this year’s Arabashiri alongside five other delicious sakes from the Masumi Brewery.

Admission to this tasting is free, and reservations are not required.

Oregon’s Montinore Estate: An Evening with Rudy Marchesi

Join USQ as we welcome our good friend Rudy Marchesi to the Salon tonight, from 6pm to 8pm, for an evening of top-flight wine from his Willamette Valley-based Montinore Estate. Attendees will enjoy luscious white wines like the honey-scented Pinot Gris and Borealis, a unique blend of Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. We’ll also uncork four Pinot Noirs, including two single-vineyard offerings from the superb 2008 vintage.

Since purchasing the farm in 2005, Rudy has turned the estate into one of Oregon’s finest producers of organic- and biodynamically- farmed wines. A staff and customer favorite of ours since 2006, we feel the wines at Montinore have never been better. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet and mingle with Rudy Marchesi during this limited two hour tasting event.

Admission is free, and reservations are not required.