Enth Degree July 2006

News and notes from the world of wine.

The Enth Degree – July 2006

Tea Into Qi


New liqueur takes distilled spirits in an exotic new direction

A former Disney producer had the idea. A former vintner had the connections. A self-described "alchemist" discovered the formula. The result is Qi (pronounced "chee"), a liqueur unlike any other.

Qi’s base is Lapsang Souchong, a cedar-smoked black tea from the Fujian province of China. Master Distiller Lance Winters worked on the recipe for Qi for a year and a half before trying tea as a base. "Once I stumbled onto Lapsang Souchong, everything else began to fall into place," he says.

Qi’s other ingredients include barrel-fermented Chardonnay brandy, Mandarin orange peel, Tahitian vanilla, orange blossom honey and essential oils. These soften, sweeten and add spice to the pungent smokiness of the tea. If you like single malt Scotches from Islay, Qi should be right up your alley.

Qi’s originator, Brian Backus, wanted to restore the ancient practice of making herbal liqueurs and took the idea to John Scharffenberger. He in turn brought in Winters, whose St. George Spirits company also makes Hangar One vodka. Three years later, Qi is arriving in stores and restaurants.

"We designed Qi not to intoxicate, but to transport," Winters says. "It should take you someplace exotic, warm, and perhaps a bit dangerous."

To find Qi in your area, contact Qi Spirits at 415.437.2250.

—Thom Elkjer

Biodynamics: Why Bother?

If "biodynamic" happened to be the name of a popular American song rather than a holistic method for growing wine grapes, it would currently be rocketing up the charts like a bullet. How else to explain the standing room-only audience in early April at the first annual BD (as in, "BioDynamics") Forum in San Francisco’s Presidio, attended by more than 300 members of the trade and media?

Moderated by wine writer and consultant Thom Elkjer, the one-day event brought together half a dozen panelists, including green-viticulture veterans Paul Dolan (Mendocino Wine Company), Jim Fetzer (Ceago Vinegarden), Grady Wann (Quivira) and biodynamic guru Allen York, in conversation with one another and with enthusiastic audience members. As Elkjer noted, the number of American wineries, now about 30, that is either certified or in transition to Demeter certification, has doubled in the past year. The figure is four times what it was five years ago.

The intricate methods used in biodynamic farming go well beyond chemical-free organic agriculture; they seek to bring viticulture into balance with nature’s cyclical rhythms (lunar cycles in particular) in order to enliven the earth and produce vines whose vibrancy and purity reflect an authentic sense of place. That effort takes diligence and hard work: Minute quantities of nine different "homeopathic" preparations are sprayed over the soil. Extra materials and labor costs typically add about 15 to 20 percent to the wine’s retail price. For logistical reasons, smaller family-run wineries at the moment tend to lend themselves more readily to these practices than larger organizations.

Why bother? For the health of our planet, our vines and our vineyard workers, said the panelists. Mike Benziger, winemaker at the biodynamic Benizger Family Winery on Sonoma Mountain, noted that his most receptive customers as he travels the country are 25- to 35-year-old wine directors. "They’re the gatekeepers," Benziger said. "Eco-values and authenticity play a huge role in their choices. But that’s not enough. The biodynamic difference also has to be in the bottle."

Following the discussion, 19 biodynamic producers from California and Oregon poured their latest releases. "These wines are alive!" exclaimed Lou Preston, proprietor of Preston Vineyards in Dry Creek, expressing a common consensus. To Elkjer, biodynamic methods simply confirm what our ancestors knew: that farming organically in harmony with the rhythms of nature produces the most flavorful, robust crops. "We’re at the cutting edge," Elkjer observed, "of a very old wave."

—Stephen Yafa


Destination: Salzburg


Celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday with Festspiele and Sachertorte.

Salzburg is alive with the sound of music as the celebration of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 250th birthday continues, with gala banquets and concerts planned throughout the year. During the annual late summer Festspiele, all of his 22 operas will be performed. But this Baroque city, which straddles the Salzach River and is crowned by the fairy-tale Hohensalzburg fortress, may be just as famous for Maria and the von Trapp family, much to the bewilderment of locals—the film was never a hit in Austria.

How do you solve a problem like…where to eat? Down the street from Mozart’s birthplace is Carpe Diem Finest Fingerfood (Getreidegasse 50, tel: 0662.848800), brainchild of Jörg Wörther, the first Austrian to win Joël Robuchon’s "Chef of the Decade" award. This two-storied dark wood and leather-accented kitchen of the future attracts the Champagne and cappuccino set, who come to sample Wörther’s "cone" foods, which include Austrian signature dish Tafelspitz (tender boiled beef with horseradish), served in a savory cone.

No wine is produced in Salzburg, but enophiles head to the vinothek at Magazin (Augustinergasse 13, tel: 0662.8415840) to sample Zweigelt or Grüner Veltliner from other parts of Austria. Wine glass in hand, you can browse through their boutique for quirky kitchen items, dining afterward in the glass-walled restaurant, where specialties include fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with scallops.

After investigating the new Museum der Moderne, the inviting mountainside terrace at M32 (Mönchsberg 32, tel: 841000) is the perfect spot for coffee. You don’t have to part with the view indoors, where the Schicki-micki ("in crowd") gathers to partake of delicately poached dorade, and almochsen, roasted ox from free-range Alpine herds.

Salzburg upholds the Viennese tradition of kaffeehaus culture, and nowhere is this more evident than at Tomaselli (Alter Markt 9, tel: 0662.844488). Open since 1705, this Salzburg institution claims that Mozart was a regular, perhaps because his bride-to-be, Constanze, lived next door. Rodgers and Hammerstein may not have known that schnitzel isn’t served with noodles, but the crisp apple strudel here is right on the mark.

Chocoholics shouldn’t miss the famous dense chocolate Sachertorte at—where else?—Café Sacher (Schwarzstrasse 5-7, tel: 0662.88977555), located in the Sacher Salzburg Hotel, where tourists rub elbows with mink-coated regulars in an atmosphere of red velvet and gilt splendor.

If you dream of living like a kaiser, Salzburg offers several imperial choices. Adjacent to the Mirabell Gardens is the Bristol Hotel (Makartplatz 4, tel: 0662.873557), built in 1892 and offering sumptuous fin de siècle rooms with swag curtains. Christopher Plummer used to play the piano in the bar after hours during the filming of The Sound of Music. Atop the Mönchsberg is Schloss Mönchstein (Mönchsberg Park 26, tel: 0662.8485550), a regal confection of a castle hotel reached by car, or by an elevator built into the mountain.

In the city center are two mid-priced hotels that have recently been renovated. The 400-year-old Arthotel Blaue Gans (Getreidegasse 41-43, tel: 0662.8424910) combines the Old World charm of crooked stairways and winding passageways with modern guestrooms featuring skylights and works by local artists. At the base of the Kapuzinerberg is the super-sleek Hotel Stein (Giselakai 3-5, tel: 0662.874346). Guestrooms are mostly cool minimalist in design, with leather headboards and zebra-stripe bedding, but a few offer the odd piece of Louis XV-style chairs and bedside tables. In summer the rooftop terrace bar and lounge is the place to be, with spectacular views across the Salzach to the Altstadt and fortress.

For visitors fancying the kind of getaway that brings to mind a glass of wine before the fire at a cozy Alpine chalet, a 15-minute drive from the city will take you to the Gersberg Alm (Gersberg 37, tel: 0662.641257), on the slope of the Gersberg. Each contemporary guestroom has a balcony with stunning views that may tempt you to climb every mountain.

—Bonnie Dodson

Published on June 14, 2006