October 2018 Feature

Up until now, I have been focusing on wine, in one variation or another, for our monthly beverage feature.  October seemed like an appropriate time to expand “Drink, Drank, Drunk” and explore, if you will pardon the pun, the Spirit world.  In the beverage industry, Spirits are distinguished from other types of liquor by the fact that no additional sugar is used in the distillation process.  Why the ethereal moniker though? Apparently, before science explained away much of the magic and mystery of things, it was believed that hang-overs were caused by evil spirits residing in the cup of the consumer.  This is also the origin of the tradition of clinking glasses as part of a toast. It was believed to be beneficial to knock those malignant spirits out of your cup. While bashing your drinking horn or tankard against your dining board may have been acceptable for rough heathens, with the onset of finer society and drinking vessels, the more genteel practice of merely clinking glass or crystal replaced the brutish practices of old.

Many of the great horror stories in literature were penned towards the end of the 19th century.  One truly ghastly story was not fiction, however. During this time, European vineyards were ravished by an aphid like insect known as phylloxera. This pestilence nearly wiped out the vitis vinifera of France especially.  In less than two decades, France’s production of wine was cut by three quarters. Some estimate that as much as two-thirds of European vineyards as a whole were destroyed by this plague, leaving a huge void in consumer availability of wine.  People sought out suitable substitutes for the absent fruit of the vine. One such substitute that skyrocketed to popularity during this time was Absinthe. Not unlike the monsters portrayed in the gothic fiction of the same era, Absinthe was misunderstood, much maligned, and believed to be far more dangerous than it actually ever was.  

Botanicals including Anise, Sweet Fennel, Angelica, Peppermint, and most notoriously Grand Wormwood are macerated and steeped in a neutral spirit for up to two days.  This is followed by a secondary maceration stage where typically Hyssop, Melissa, and Petite Wormwood are added and warmed. This process lends unique botanical flavors, as well as the infamous green tint that earned Absinthe it’s nickname, La Fe Verte, or The Green Fairy.

For many years, it was commonly believed that the Wormwood in Absinthe was hallucinogenic, or at the very least, narcotic.  As it turns out, this is a fallacy, and has been debunked in a fairly recent article in the Scientific Journal. In order to maintain the chemical structure of the naturally occurring chlorophyll, which is the true source of that green tint, the Spirit must be at least 60% ABV.  This high alcohol content, perhaps coupled with the fact that consumers of Absinthe were known to dose their beverage with a laudanum soaked sugar cube, was the true source of the trippy reputation Absinthe received.

Absinthe developed such notoriety during its peak of popularity during the Victorian era, that its production and distribution was banned in most of Europe in 1915.  This ban was only lifted by the EU in 1988. In the United States, Prohibition swept the legal distribution of Absinthe out the proverbial door along with all other alcoholic beverages in 1920.  However, when the Volstead Act was effectively repealed in December of 1933, Absinthe remained banned. The ban on Absinthe was not lifted in the States until as recently as 2007, when the French brand Lucid obtained a COLA (or Certificate of Label Approval) allowing it to be the first genuine Absinthe to be marketed in this country in almost a century.

“After the first glass you see things as you wish they were.  After the second glass you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”  Oscar Wilde is here describing his (apparently vast) experience with Absinthe. As often happens during particularly conservative times, there develops a counter-culture of artists and free-thinkers. This was the case during the notoriously buttoned-up Victorian Age.  Due partially to the shortage of wine available, artists, authors, and other socialites turned to other forms of intoxicants. People who were seeking altered states of reality to expand their minds, and stimulate their muse, would do things like chase the dragon or court La Fe Verte, often combining the two.  These trips into altered states by authors such as Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and the above quoted Oscar Wilde, resulted in some of the greatest gothic horror literature of all time. Monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein that have haunted our collective imagination for generations were quite likely the result of Absinthe soaked, opium induced hallucinations.

 Absinthe has been scientifically proven to be no more dangerous than other high octane Spirits.  Perhaps due to the dark, romantic, and forbidden aspects of it’s consumption as portrayed by famous (and infamous) consumers in art and literature, the mystique surrounding Absinthe yet remains.  

September 2018 Feature Wine

Due to the tragic brevity of Autumn here in Alaska, I have often joked that we should change the name of “Fall” to “Fell.”  What Autumn lacks here in longevity it more than makes up for in beauty and bounty. As the sun gradually turns its face from these northern lands, the foliage and fauna, all too briefly, transform our forests and tundra into the brilliant shades of burnished bronze in candlelight.  Night returns to the Interior, and with it all the celestial glory of the moon and stars. Once again, our breath becomes visible, and is taken away by the Aurora’s elegant dance. The air itself changes, becomes crisp, and bares the haze of chimney smoke and the sweet tang of berries rotting on the vine.

This far north, September pretty much marks the end of the harvest season.  Folks are busy picking, canning, pickling, and bottling the years crops in preparation for the inevitable long Winter ahead.  As I rotated my flannel shirts to the forefront of my wardrobe, it occurred to me that this would be the ideal time to shine a spotlight on the charming subject of “Country Wines.”  Simply defined, “Country Wines” are wines that feature ingredients such as berries (and other seasonal fruits), herbs, flowers, and even vegetables as their primary ingredient, instead of (or in addition to) the traditional grapes.  

Vintaculture has never been a poor man’s task.  Throughout history folks, especially in rural areas, have been making intoxicating beverages from whatever produce they happened to have on hand.  Just the term “Country Wine” conjures visions of a quaint cottage with drying herbs dangling from the rafters, and shelves strewn with jars labeled things like “Rabbit’s Foot,” “Lion’s Tooth” and “Weasel's Snout.”  As fanciful as this may seem, this sort of scene is not far from being an accurate depiction of the origin of “Country Wines.” Despite the fact we apparently have lost our collective imagination for naming herbs (for example;  “Rabbit’s Foot” is simply clover, “Lion’s Tooth” is nothing more than dandelion heads, and “Weasel’s Snout” refers to nettles), these ingredients remain popular choices for “Country Wines.”.

Herbalists and apothecaries cultivated, collected and concocted “Country Wines” for centuries.  Before modern pharmaceuticals, these erstwhile potions served a dual purpose. Not only were they consumed for their salubrious effect, but they were also considered medicinal. The people (typically women) who brewed them were deemed the village wise ones (or witches).  Modern science has proven that many of these old wives remedies indeed have various health benefits. For example, dandelion wine is an effective liver tonic, daisies break up phlegm and thus make a great cough suppressant, rosemary improves circulation, and clover is fantastic for menstrual symptoms since it regulates hormones, and promotes healthy blood.   

Should you find yourself with an abundance of berries this Autumn, or perhaps the rhubarb is taking over your hedge, I would encourage you to try your hand at creating your own “Country Wines” from your harvest.   Everything you need, from fermenters, to bottles and corks can be found on our shelves. If you do not happen to have your great, great grandmother’s grimoire stashed in your attic somewhere, the internet is full of recipes for homemade wines.

If the double, bubble, and toil seems like too much trouble, we also feature several scrumptious selections from our own, local (to Alaska) “Country Wine” producer, Bear Creek Winery.  Located in beautiful Homer, Alaska, Bear Creek Winery has been in the business of producing locally sourced “Country Wines” for public consumption since 2003. They are a family owned and operated winery that is quite literally supported by their community, since they purchase what berries and other produce they do not grow themselves, from local farmers and pickers.  

There is certainly something old-world magical about creating “Country Wines.”  Recipes tend to be passed down within families for multiple generations. Growing or foraging for the ingredients is a labor of love that connects us with the seasonal harvests.  Brewing “Country Wines” can be a heart-warming, family or community effort. The resulting intoxicating beverages can be both beneficial to our health as well as a unique and bewitching tasting experience.  



August 2018 Feature Wine

The year was 1964, and the location was Queens, New York.  The event to see and be seen at was the World’s Fair, and the citizens of the world lined up to see a multitude of marvels and mind-blowing new innovations. Disney unveiled their “It’s a Small World” ride and permanently infected the populace with their ear-worm of a jingle. Ford unveiled the Mustang for the first time, and motorists paid an unbelievable 30 cents/gallon to fill the tank of this quintessential American muscle car.  Attendees of the Fair observed men zipping around the sky wearing jetpacks and like a scene right out of the Jetsons, folks were able to video-chat with people living across the continent for the first time.

The beverage that was all the rage at the Fair that year could be found at the Spanish Pavilion.  It was a concoction that primarily featured a dry red wine from the Rioja region of Northern Spain.  Other ingredients included brandy, and orange juice, with slices of fresh fruit floating throughout this adults-only punch.  Since it’s high profile introduction at the World’s Fair, Sangria has only been increasing in popularity on this continent for the past half century.  However, the origin of this beverage has veins that reach centuries into the past. This is fitting, since its name, “Sangria” translates quite simply to English as “blood.”

Tempranillo is the blood red wine traditionally used to make Sangria.  The root word, “Temprano” means “early,” which describes this grape’s tendency to ripen earlier than other Spanish grapes. In Rioja’s neighboring Spanish regions, Tempranillo goes by a variety of names, among them; Tinto Fino, Cencibel, Tinto del Pais, Tinto de Toro, Tinto de Madrid, and in Portugal (where it is used to make Port), it goes by the moniker Tinta Roriz. Tempranillo is considered one of the nine red noble grapes.  Believed to have been introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians more than three thousand years ago, Tempranillo also has the distinction of being one of the longest cultivated grapes in history.

The winemakers of the Rioja region take the production of their flagship varietal very seriously.  So much so that in order to ensure quality consistency, in 1926 they formed a wine control board called the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja. There are four categories that the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja uses to define the quality and aging of a bottle of Tempranillo, and here inlies this month’s pro-tip for selecting the perfect bottle for your taste palate.  

Tempranillo’s taste profile features cherry, dried figs, cedar, dill, tobacco and leather.  If you find a bottle that has no further indicator other than the region of Rioja, you can assume that the bottle in hand is going to be a youngster, and that the fruitier aspects of the grape will be prominent. This bottle has spent no time aging in oak casks, and little to no time aging in the bottle.

The second tier is known as “Crianza.”  Roughly translated, crianza means “nurtured” or “matured”. What that means for the bottle you find on the shelf is that it has spent at minimum one year in (typically) American oak casks, and a few months aging in the bottle before being released for retail.  Though still fruit forward, Crianza will start to exhibit the full-bodied flavors of Tempranillo, with medium tannins. This table wine would probably be my pick for a Sangria base.

“Reserva” refers to the third tier of Rioja Tempranillo.  Also aged in oak casks for at least one year, this chewier red must also spend at least two years aging in bottle before it is ready for the shelf.  Probably the most popular version of Tempranillo, Reserva features all the rich leather and tobacco notes that experienced Rioja consumers are looking for,  while still remaining accessible to novice consumers.

“Gran Reserva” could also be called the Grand Poo Bah of Tempranillo. Only the highest quality grapes are used for this tier of Tempranillo.  The wine then spends at least two years in cask, and no less than three years in bottle before being released for sale. Because Gran Reserva has the highest tannin structure of the Tempranillo options it can be laid down for up to three decades.  Not for the faint of heart, this rich, rustic, and leathery wine definitely benefits from a decanting prior to quaffing.

So, who’s bright idea was it to come up with the fruit punch known the world over as Sangria?  Once again, we must raise our collective glasses to the innovative drinkers of the Mediterranean.  The Greeks (later copied by the Romans) mixed their wine with sugar, and spices like cinnamon, ginger, and even peppers.  They would also water it down a bit, probably so the could “day-drink” all day, every day. This concoction was known as “Hippocras” and was so called after the 5th century (BC) Greek physician, Hippocrates.  Hippocras remained a popular beverage throughout the Middle Ages, and eventually evolved into both Sangria, as well as the Holiday favorite, mulled wine.

It is amusing to look back at the “innovations” that were unveiled at the 1964 World’s Fair.  We may not be getting around via jetpacks, and gas prices have increased more than tenfold. “It’s a Small World After All” may still be stuck in our collective head, but Disney’s annamatronics now seem charmingly antiquated. However, thanks to the internet, video-chatting is commonplace, and on the internet we can find endless variations of the recipe for the ever-popular Sangria. Today, you even have the option to try pre-fabricated Sangrias.  Personally, I recommend you try the time tested fresh fruit infused recipe that was introduced half a century ago to the refreshment and delight of the attendees of the World’s Fair.



July 2018 Feature Wine

The month of July is named for the man who coined the phrase: “Veni, vidi, vici.” Two years ago, when I observed ancient aqueducts, and the breathtaking vistas of Tuscany through a train window whilst travelling through the Gallic lands that Julius Caesar once subdued under Roman authority, this phrase became something of a mantra. Perhaps it was because my travel companions were a gaggle of energetic teenage girls. Or maybe it was due to the fact that our whirlwind tour of Italy included stops in Milan, Florence, Rome, down to Pompeii, on to Sorrento, with a day trip to Capri, all in less than a week!  Regardless, I certainly felt like “I came, I saw, I conquered!”

    July in Italy is many enchanting things, but above all it is HOT!  As we trekked upwards of ten miles a day, packing in as much sightseeing as we possibly could, this Alaskan gal was melting in the humid, 90+ degree climate.  Now, I love a good spaghetti red Italian table wine as much as the next signorina! However, I could not bring myself to drink (much) of it as we toured the lands of Cicero and the Caesars. I needed to find a revitalizing substitute that was low enough in alcohol content that I could maintain the veneer of responsibility that a chaperone on a Girl Scout trip needed to maintain. The solution came to me after a particularly sweltering day of traipsing up and down the seven hills of the Eternal City.  In a scene that could have been cut directly from a Fellini film, I found myself at a quaint outdoor cafe nestled in the shadow of the Colosseum. As I settled in with a drink menu I could not read, I noticed an impeccably dressed local near me sipping a beverage that was the color of the setting Tuscan sun. When I clumsily, and in true Americano fashion indicated to my server that I just had to try the elixir I saw at the next table over, he graciously introduced me to the Spritz. It was amore at first sip! Bellissimo!

    There are a number of ways to make this refreshing, Prosecco based cocktail.  The concoction that I quaffed nightly as we continued down the Amalfi Coast was three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, with a splash of soda water, and garnished with either a slice of orange, or a strawberry.  If you want to crank up the tartness, Campari can replace the Aperol. Or, if you prefer lemon zing to bitter orange, try substituting the Sorrento based liqueur, Lemoncello. Whichever you choose, these Italian Spritzes are a sure-fire way to tap into la Dolce Vita!

    Like it’s French counterpart (Champagne), the name Prosecco is strictly a geographical indicator, named for a charming village in Northern Italy.  The primary grape used in the production of this sparkling white wine is Glera. Prosecco tends to be cheaper than Champagne, due to the fact that the Charmont-Martinotti method is used in its secondary fermentation process.  The use of stainless steel tanks cuts the cost of the production process significantly. Prosecco is not intended to age or ferment within the bottle, and should be enjoyed within three years of its vintage.

    Prosecco is light and crisp, with notes of stone fruits like pear, apricot, and yellow apples. Always served chilled, Prosecco can be intensely aromatic, and quite delicious on its own.  It is also lower in alcohol content than other sparkling wines, averaging only 11%-12% alcohol volume per bottle. This makes it a perfect base for a fun, spritzy cocktail.

    The Italians have another phrase that I have grown to love; “Anni, amori e bicchieri di vino… nun se contano mai.”  It means; “Years, lovers, and glasses of wine… these things must not be counted.” Allow yourself to be seduced by one of these Italian Spritzes today!


Ciao Bella!



June 2018 Feature Wine

Allow your imagination to transport you several thousand years into our prehistoric past.  Somewhere in Northern Europe, a thirsty nomad treks through wheatfields and comes across a honeycomb that had been saturated by rainwater.  Unbeknownst to him, the natural yeast in the air from the nearby wheat has caused the honey in the comb to ferment. This happy accident thus created a magical ambrosia that, as he gulps it down, imbues him with feelings of euphoria, godlike wit, heroic courage and great strength.  

It is unknown exactly which ancient culture first discovered the process of making Mead, but this “nectar of the gods” literally flows through myths, legends, and literature across continents, and all through recorded time!  The Vikings believed that the “Mead of Poetry” was made from the blood of one of their gods (Kvasir), and when consumed, inspired the composition of epic poems like Beowulf. The opening scene of Beowulf itself is a bragging competition that takes place in the Mead hall of King Hrothgar. The pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales find the courage to spin their yarns in a bottle of Mead.  When the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon drank each other’s good health it was with T’ej (Ethiopian Mead). Remember King Midas and his golden touch?  Apparently, his actual tomb was found in Turkey and when it was opened, residual traces of Mead were found in his golden drinking vessels.

One tradition involving Mead has endured until modern times, and serves as my inspiration for featuring this natural aphrodisiac for the month of June.  It is Summer in the Interior, and that means wedding bells are chiming throughout the land. Nowadays, couples court and fall in love before tying the knot.  For many centuries however, marriages were arranged affairs, and rarely based on any romantic feelings. In order to encourage the bridal couple to get about the business of procreation, they were absolved of any communal responsibilities for a lunar month. To further aid the bridal pair with overcoming any bashfulness, it was expected that the bride’s dowry include enough Honey Wine (Mead) to last them those 27 days. Thus the origins of the Honeymoon!

Mead is a naturally gluten free beverage, and has been used as a vehicle for medicinal herbal remedies for centuries.  This variety of Mead is called “Metheglin.” Mead varies in flavor and color depending on the diet of the bees whose clover is harvested for its creation. When Mead serves as a delicious base for an endless variety of fruit juice enhancements, it is called “Melomel,” and when made with maple syrup, it is called “Acerglyn.” These tantalizing varieties are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg!

Like beers and ciders, Mead is also enjoying a resurgence in craft brewing. Case in point, we are fortunate to carry the Alaskan Meadery’s offerings; Razzery and Belgique. As the name implies, Razzery is infused with Alaskan raspberries, along with sour cherries and apples, so thus falls into the “Metheglin” category.  Belgique features notes of orange peel and coriander, and is described as having a marmalade flavor with a dry, balancing finish.

 Formerly Celestial Meads, Alaskan Meadery is a fairly new acquisition of the Denali Brewing Company.  Mike Kiker was the wizard behind the curtain at Celestial Meads, and he has been advising the cider makers (as to how to make their own delicious Meads) at Denali Brewing Company as part of the transition.  We are still fortunate to have a number of his Celestial Meads on our shelves. However, they are officially limited offerings!

For millennia people have been celebrating with and enjoying Mead.  It has been the beverage of choice of epic heroes, royalty, and gods.  Join their ranks today, and take home a bottle of this ambrosia for yourself.  Or, bless a newlywed couple with a bottle for their honeymoon.



May 2018 Feature Wine

In the interest of getting a little content up on this blog, I am going to post a couple back-dated wine features I have already posted at the store.  Moving forward, it is my intent to continue to have a monthly featured wine at Gavoras Fine Wine and Growler Bar, and to post these little write-ups here as part of "Drink, Drank, Drunk."  Here is the one I did for May...

Galileo once said that "wine is sunlight held together by water."  If this is true, then Miraval Provence is the last blush of the setting sun as it dips below the picturesque vineyard terraces of Southern France.  The region in which Chateau Miraval is nestled has been home to winemakers since the Romans were expanding their empire.  The fact that it is situated at an altitude of 350 meters, and subject to consistently warm Mediterranean days, and cool coastal breezes at night, lends to an ideal climate to produce the Rhone style grapes (Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle, & Syrah) that are hand selected, and strictly morning harvested for the production of this well-balance Rose.

Should you feel inspired to listen to Pink Floyd, Sade, or Sting after opening a bottle of Miraval Provence, there is a good reason.  Chateau Miraval itself has long been a haven for artisits, musicians, and actors.  In the 1970s, it was converted into a recording studio by then owner and famous Jazz composer, Jacques Loussier.  The musicians mentioned above are among the artisits that have recorded within its romantic stone walls.  Currently, the Chateau is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and served as the location for their wedding, and as their summer home.  It was they who, starting with the 2012 harvest, employed the renowned winemaker, Marc Perrin to craft their organically grown, award-winning Rose.

On May 13th, we honor our mothers.  My intention was to select a feature wine for May that was both feminine and fierce (like the woman who raised me).  Miraval Provence seemed to me to fit the bill precisely.  Don't be fooled bit its undoubtedly feminine color.  This Rose has subtle complexity and (like my mother) should not be underestimated!  Its floral aroma, bright berry flavors, refreshing acidity, and balanced, saline finish give it true substance.  Indeed, it was the only Rose to make Wine Spectator's prestigious Top 100 Wines list (2013).

Perfectly suitable for your Mother's Day brunch or graduation celebrations, Miraval Provence Rose truly represents springtime in a bottle!




What do I know?

Growing up in an Italian family in Northern California, I cannot recall a time when wine was not a part of my life, as bottles of it always graced our expansive family table.  In the mid 80s there was not much in the San Joaquin Valley besides dirt farms and drive-thrus. Now, one cannot throw a dirt clod without hitting a vineyard, and people recognize the name of Lodi from more than just a CCR song lyric.  Chances are, if you pick up a bottle of Zinfandel, it will be from the part of California I called home as a child.

My father was a man ahead of the times.  I recall on one hot summer day, a truckload of grapes backing up to our barn.  Perhaps in an effort to mitigate the cost of consuming it, Dad had decided he was going to try his hand at making wine! In the category of "go big or go home" he had several large barrels that soon housed his vintage tucked into a "cool" corner of our barn.  Mom had her doubts... And I am pretty sure that he still blames her "sour grapes" take on his pet project for the outcome.  As it turned out, Dad lacked the know-how to create a viable vino.  We did however, end up with multiple gallons of fairly decent vinegar.  And our barn never smelled the same again!

Fast forward a decade or so, and I found myself employed at a quaint wine and tapas restaurant here in Fairbanks, AK.  It was at Cafe Alex that I truly received my (albeit informal) education in wine.  Owner and visionary, Alex Mayberry, was determined to feature fabulous and affordable wines on her house list.  That list would also change with the seasons, and every time the list changed, Alex would host a private tasting for her staff. 

It was at these tastings, typically hosted by either Mark Winans or Paul Rossi, that I learned the language of wine.  Prior to this time, my wine lexicon was limited to expressions like "yummy."  While accurate, this term was hardly expressive of the multi-dimensional art of enjoying wine.  I quickly learned that my tips were directly proportional to my knowledge of the wine I was selling table side.

So I paid close attention to the terminology used by the pros!  What I found is that describing wine was very similar describing a love affair.  Terms like "rich", "decadent," "well-balanced", and "full-bodied" were used with enthusiasm.  I decided to be more bold and even sexy with my description of wines, and my customers loved it!

During this same time period, I was fortunate enough to take some weekend wine classes with a couple local wine aficionados that sadly, are no longer with us.  The first was self-professed "cork dork," Paul Rossi.  You may recognize the name since LaVelles posthumously honored Paul by naming their expansive cellar after him.  Paul always had a sparkle in his blue eyes that came from his genuine love for life.  This joy definitely came through in his lectures on wine.     

The second gentleman that I was lucky enough to learn a thing or two from also has a name that is very recognizable, since our cancer center here in Fairbanks bares it.  Dr. Michael Carroll had a private cellar that was a bit of a local legend.  I was never invited to any of his infamous wine dinners, but I did spend a weekend tasting wine under his tutelage out at Two Rivers. 

There has been nothing formal or fancy about my wine education.  There has been a long string of experiences though, with family and friends, opening and emptying bottle after bottle over the years.  Every one of those empty bottles represents love, laughter, and the joyous celebration of life.  As I wrap up my introductory blog, the thought I want to leave you with is this: one does not need to spend a fortune on a bottle of wine to enjoy one of the finest things in life.  The people we share it with and the memories made over those glasses of wine are the true treasure.