Mayim Bialik Asked About Kosher Wine

Mayim Bialik at the FabLab press event
Mayim Bialik at the FabLab press event

It has been a long while since we did a Celebrity Wine FAQ, mostly because Anne got out of the TV critic biz a couple years ago. However, when she recently got a press release about Mayim Bialik joining the new show FabLab (weekend mornings, check your local listings), it reminded us that Anne had done an interview with Ms. Bialik a few years ago and we’d never run it.

FabLab, by the way, sounds pretty awesome. It’s a news show for teens and tween girls looking at how science makes the world better. The idea is to encourage girls to get into science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM) and, hopefully, even out the numbers in these male-dominated fields. Which does have a connection with wine, since it does take a certain amount of science to make wine.

What Mayim Bialik asked us

For those of you new to this blog, a Celebrity Wine FAQ is where the celeb gets to ask us a question about wine. We’re posting Ms. Bialik’s question because it’s pretty relevant this week, thanks to the start of Passover.

“It’s one of the thing we always ask,” she told us. “It’s one of the Urban Myths about Manischewitz. So why is Jewish wine so darned sweet? I’ve been told that there’s some history to the vineyards where the Jews moved in this country.”

And, as it turns out, there is a bit of history. With most of the immigrant Jews arriving and staying on the East Coast in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, that’s where they planted vines. And because it grows so well there, those vines tended to be Concord grapes, which produce a very bitter wine that must be sweetened to make it palatable (and we may be using that last term a little loosely).

But wait, there’s more to this.

We also checked in with our blogging friend and colleague Alleigh of A Glass After Work, who not only posted this cool explanation of how kosher wine is generally made, she explained that a lot of kosher wine is meshuval. For a wine to be kosher, either it has to be produced completely by Jews, from the grape growing to the bottling and transporting to stores. Or it can go through the meshuval process, in which the wine is heated just enough to make it kosher without inducing a full, rolling boil, which would evaporate the alcohol. But this boiling process also makes the wine sweeter.

Alleigh also pointed out that because people have come to know Manischewitz and similar labels as the very sweet wine it is, they haven’t changed that.

“Some kosher wine makers go for that sweetness factor simply because people expect kosher wines to be sweet,” Alleigh wrote in a message.

By the way, there are a lot of very good dry kosher wines out there both from France and Israel, and we’ve heard there are even some kosher wineries in California, but we haven’t been able to find them. Yet.

Oh, and a blessed and happy Pesach to everyone.

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Does Terroir Exist?

CameraZOOM-20140304165510327 So Fox Networks is getting all excited about Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, the re-boot of the Carl Sagan mini-series from the 1980s, and Anne gets invited to the gala premiere screening and party (good food, decent wine). Fox is premiering this new mini-series on Sunday, March 9 at 9 p.m., and National Geographic Channel is premiering it on Monday, March 10 at 10 p.m., with it also airing on pretty much every channel Fox Broadcasting owns.

The mini-series features Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of the Hayden Planetarium, and during the post-screening Q&A, Dr. Tyson noted that he enjoys wine.CameraZOOM-20140304180551970

“I drink wine that’s a little bit more expensive than it should be,” he joked.

But it reminded Anne that she did get a wine FAQ from Dr. Tyson a couple summers ago that we never ran for some reason. Maybe we were waiting for this event. More likely life just got in the way. Oh, and Dr. Tyson didn’t really have a question.

“As an academic, any time such a question exists I then find the answer myself,” he said.

But we did have a question for him, because at the time, there were a bunch of scientists who were saying that terroir, doesn’t really make sense. Now, terroir is the French word for earth and you hear it a lot in wine circles, and in that context it’s the concept that the earth the grapes are grown in makes the wine subsequently made from those grape taste unique. In short, wine made from cabernet grapes grown in Bordeaux, France, tastes different than the wine made from cabernet grapes grown in Tuscany, Italy, or anywhere else in the world. The catch is, certain scientists say that it can’t be because there’s no way that different minerals or elements of the soil are going to get into the grapes from the ground.

CameraZOOM-20140304165619045Well, Dr. Tyson believes that terroir exists, even within districts within France.

“From Pauillac to St. Emilion, same grapes, but the wine tastes different, so there’s terroir going on there. Period,” he said. “Why even debate that?”

That doesn’t mean he understands how it works – perhaps no one does.

“I don’t care what the mechanism is, but what’s true is that different plots of land produce wines that taste differently,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy to accept what I know is true without knowing why it’s true. You get the same blend, the same winemaker and there’s two different plots of land and the wine tastes different. That’s terroir. I’m good to go with that.”

And we are, too.




Celebrity Wine FAQ – Brooke Burke-Charvet Wants to Know About CA Vintages

Brooke Burke-Charvet
Brooke Burke-Charvet

Dancing With the Stars is a major guilty pleasure here at The Old Homestead, and there’s little we love more than settling into our easy chairs with our glass of wine, our phones and some popcorn, and critiquing along with Len, Bruno and Carrie Ann. So we decided that with the show starting the semi-finals for this season on Monday (Nov. 18), it’s time for another Celebrity Wine FAQ.

We’ve got DWTS co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet today. She told us that she and her husband, David Charvet, are building a cellar.

“We’re very passionate about wine. My husband is French,” Burke-Charvet said. “He’s a wine snob, whereas I’m more open to California wines. He likes the big French Bordeaux.”

They do have a goodly collection currently.

“The problem is, we drink so much wine, we’re having a really hard time buying smart and saving and collecting,” she said. “You know, ideally, you can buy a $30 or $40 bottle now and in 10 years, you’re drinking a fabulous wine.”

Ah, yes. The joy of collecting and saving wine. Collecting is a fun thing to do if you’ve got the right storage conditions, which can vary for types of wines. Generally you want a container or room where you can keep the temperature consistently cool. That’s why people like basements or literally, cellars, to store their wine. And as Burke-Charvet noted, if you buy wine when it’s first released, and lay it down in your cellar (which may be a 40-bottle fridge or a whole basement) for 10 years or so, you can have a truly transcendent experience.

But then there’s also the issue of vintage – as Burke-Charvet noted, lots of folks are excited about the California cabernets from 1992 to 1997. Are they worth it? We have no idea. Wine Enthusiast magazine has a vintage chart here that can help you decide if your particular wines are ready to drink, but there are no guarantees.

Also, truth be told, when it comes to California wines, vintage is not quite the same issue it is in France, where the weather varies a lot more from year to year. In France, it’s not that unusual to have really good years and not so good years for wines. In California, there’s a lot of consistency from year to year, so you don’t get “great years” in the same way as France. That doesn’t mean we don’t get great wines. It’s just that with California wines, it’s more about how old they are than which year is better than another. So a good vintage chart can help you avoid breaking into that gorgeous super-expensive cab before it’s ready.

And here’s to another great competition this season.

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Giancarlo Esposito

Giancarlo Esposito as Tom Neville in NBC's Revolution. Courtesy NBC
Giancarlo Esposito as Tom Neville in NBC’s Revolution. Courtesy NBC

Congratulations to Giancarlo Esposito – he found out this week that he’s going to be working next year. It was just announced that his NBC show Revolution, in which he plays the less-than-nice-love-to-hate-him Tom Neville, is going to be back on the schedule this fall. Esposito has been working for some time, but got a lot of notice playing Gus Fring on Breaking Bad, and of course, Sidney Glass, on the first season of Once Upon a Time.

Anne got a chance to chat briefly with him recently, and he had several questions for her (so we may be seeing him in this capacity again). Actually, Anne wasn’t sure if he was quizzing her or not, he had so many, but we love that in the folks we talk to.

We’re going to feature Esposito’s question about a very well-known label, Cakebread Cellars. This is a very high-end label and the wine is very, very good (Anne got a lovely glassful at a press event last January).

“What do you think about Cakebread’s wine, the chardonnay?” Esposito asked.

We love it. The chard is wonderful – almost a textbook perfect chardonnay, light and crisp with just a hint of butter.

“That was a wine that when it first came out, I bought it for probably $20 a bottle and it’s now $75, $100,” Esposito said. “How does that happen?”

Because while Cakebread Chard is lovely stuff, it was, at one time, way 0ver-priced. We recently saw it online at prices from $29.95 to $39.95 , and, if you follow the ratings (we don’t) they range from 85 to 90 points over the last twenty years. So there’s a consistency factor that means you know what you’re getting in the bottle. It got  over-priced a few years ago (at the prices Esposito was quoting) because the label produced such beautifully made wines that folks starting thinking they were the end-all, be-all. Unfortunately, there is still the impression in the wine world that the higher the price, the better the wine. And certain wines, like many things, get a rep as being very high quality, and winemakers, who want to make a living in an insanely competitive market, take advantage of that and jack up the prices. You can’t really blame them.

That being said, there is absolutely no correlation between price and quality when it comes to wine. In fact, the Melville Chardonnay (at a still-steep $35 a bottle) is at least as good as the Cakebread at roughly half to a third of the higher price. Granted, you’re not likely to find a chardonnay that good at $5 a bottle – and if you do, we want to know about it ASAP. But still, you can find some really, really good chardonnays at $10 a bottle.

So the bottom line is that while we love any excuse to drink Cakebread chardonnay, we’re not going to pay $100 for a bottle of wine. If you want to, fine. Just be aware that you don’t have to. Right, Mr. Esposito?


Celebrity Wine FAQ – Michelle Dockery

Michelle Dockery being interviewed at the TCA Summer Press Tour, 2012, courtesy PBS

Okay, maybe it’s a little late after the Downton Abbey Season 3 finale to be posting this, but it took us this long to recover from that all too shocking (and annoying) ending.

We talked to Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary on the series, last summer at the TV Critics Press Tour and asked our usual question. Dockery’s was a doozie.

“What’s your favorite wine?” she asked.

Our favorite? All of them? Okay, Anne doesn’t particularly care for overly fruity or sweet wines, while Michael is a little more universal in his tastes. And dry pink sparkling wine is getting Anne more excited that anything else, although an elegant pinot noir will make her drool, as well. As for Michael, it depends on the day of the week, which way the wind is blowing and what’s in his glass.

You’ll note we’re not mentioning any labels here. That’s because the reason most people ask a question like Dockery’s because they want to know what wine to buy. It’s still an unfortunate reality that people think that you have to buy the “right” wine and those are very limited and expensive. Neither is true. In fact, these days, it’s hard to find a bad wine, even in the cheaper ranges.

Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t find wines that you like better than others. And, yes, it can be a little intimidating to look at a long series of shelves at the supermarket and try to figure out what you want. But that’s more because you have so many options, not because you need to ferret out the one or two “good” wines out of the bazillions there.

At the supermarket, a couple rules of thumb and you’ll probably pick something reasonably drinkable and maybe even darned good. First up, avoid the jugs, magnums and boxes. Those are usually the lower quality genuinely bad wines (although there are exceptions) that most people think of when they start stressing out about buying wine. Secondly, avoid the very expensive wines, usually the ones on the higher shelves. Because people don’t buy these as often, they’ve probably been on the shelf longer than the others and supermarket shelves are hardly ideal storage spaces. Look for a brand you know and like – should be easy because supermarkets do carry more familiar brands from the larger wineries. Fetzer is a brand we generally trust, as are Geyser Peak, Blackstone and Meridian. Callaway isn’t that great, but it is drinkable and frequently available. Finally, look for wines from areas you like, such as California’s Central Coast. The smaller, more specific an area, the better the wine is likely to be.

And who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite. Like pink bubbly.

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Scandal’s Bellamy Young

Bellamy Young as Mellie Grant, courtesy ABC

Actor Bellamy Young has been a journeyman actor most of her life – you may remember her as Ellen Darling in Dirty, Sexy Money. But she’s nabbed a fun role as the scheming, perfect First Lady Mellie Grant in ABC’s Scandal (airing Thursday nights at 10 p.m.). It’s a fun role, and as Young puts it, Mellie’s one of those characters who’s been trained to serve the people.

Young also had a great question for us.

“I just threw a friend a baby shower,” she said. “And we had extra champagne because we had a lot of pregnant people and driving mommies. We well-stocked everything. Can champagne that has been chilled go back to room temperature and then be chilled again? Or do you have to keep it cold once it’s cold?”

It was a very nice shower, apparently. Alas, however, the bottles were still in Ms. Young’s fridge and she needed to put other things in there.

It is true that sudden and frequent temperature changes are not that good for wine, and if the champagne Ms. Young was talking about was an old vintage champagne, we might suggest some extra care in its handling.

However, this was not the case, and the situation Ms. Young was talking about is one we’ve found ourselves in any number of times. Well, not the shower part, but having cooled down more bubbly than was needed for the party or event. And we’ve put the unopened bottles right back into the nano-cellar at home, then chilled the bottles singly as we got around to drinking them. Bubbly does not tend to last long at the old homestead.

You don’t want to open the bottles then put them away. Open bottles should be kept cold and drunk as soon as possible. But it’s perfectly okay to take unopened bottles of bubbly – or any wine – out of the fridge and put them away in your favorite storage spot, preferably one that’s rather dark and keeps a reasonably even, coolish temperature, like a closet or a pantry. Then you can chill them again, as needed, and enjoy.