Sunday, May 31, 2015

Syrah-Shiraz - What's the difference?

  If you've ever been puzzled by the confusing wines with similar sounding names, Syrah and Shiraz, this recent explanation by Ed. Kraus, a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and  owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999, is one of the most insightful I’ve come across.  E.C. Kraus sends out periodic emails that have a lot of interesting information for amateur wine and beer makesr. You can read some of his latest releases and get on his email list by going to, then click on blog in the header, scroll down to the bottom and enter your email address.

Syrah and Shiraz - Vive La Difference

    This is a story of two wines, Syrah and Shiraz, and how they both are the same, yet different. On the surface it seems to be somewhat of an exercise in semantics, with their names being the only difference, but after taking a closer look, it starts to become clear that there is much more to the story than just names.
    The difference between Syrah and Shiraz teaches us a lesson, one that illustrates how a grape's environment and the way in which it is processed can influence the outcome of a resulting wine.
    Any wine expert will tell you that Syrah and Shiraz are two varietal wines that are made from the exact same grape. If you analyze the DNA of each of the grapes used to make these wines you will find that there is no difference between them.

Then Why The Two Names?
    The French refer to the grape and the varietal wine they make from it as Syrah. Other parts of the world such as South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States refer to the grape and the wine as Shiraz.
    But there is something more than just a difference in name. There is a difference in style as well. While both wines are very assertive red wines, a Syrah tends to be a little more elegant and complex. It usually has more of a smokey, earthy character with flavors of plum and spicy pepper. A Shiraz on the other hand is crisper and fruitier, less layered with slight, jammy flavors of berry as compared to a Syrah. This is a very wide generalization of each wine, but even so, it would be safe to say that if you tasted both wines side-by-side you would notice more differences than similarities between the two.

So, Why Is There A Difference Between Shiraz And Syrah?

    While the grape remains the same, in each wine there is so much else that is different. The soil, the climate, the cultivation, and the fermentation all vary to make a Syrah a Syrah and a Shiraz a Shiraz.
    While different soils can not assert their own character onto a grape, they can guide the way in which a grape develops its own flavor. This is referred to as the terroir. The French vineyards are heavy in limestone which can hold moisture better and deeper than most soils. This forces the vines to get more of their nutrients from deeper soils. The result is a wine with more layered, complex flavors.
    The French are not allowed to use irrigation or fertilization on their vines, either. This stems from governmental laws designed to keep the grape production limited, which leads to stressed vines with fewer berries, but with each berry packing more flavor.
    This is all in contrast to places like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand where Shiraz grapes are produced in sandy soils with plenty of fertilization and irrigation. The cultivation is abundant. This creates a wine with a more even character than a Syrah and with the ability to mature more quickly.
The Syrah is also grown in France's cooler climate. This lends to the plum-like, smokey character of this wine. This is in comparison to Shiraz which is grown in warmer climates which makes the wine more jammy and berry-like.
   Even the rate of fermentation plays some role in the flavor development of the wine. A Syrah is fermented  slower so as to increase the time the pulp can stay on the fermentation. A Shiraz is fermented at a faster, more-normal rate which helps to make the wine, in general, fruitier.

    As you can see there is much more than just the grape when it comes to bringing a wine to fruition. While a wine's character always begins with the grape, it ends upon many other factors, including the human touch. There are many other examples of how this is true, but most not quite as clear as the difference between the Shiraz and Syrah.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pick of the Week - Madama Butterfly

    Look for striking visual effects in lighting and costuming for Undercroft Opera’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, scheduled for May 28-31 at Carlow University’s Antonian Theatre, and performed in Italian with supertitles.
    Stage director Rebecca Antal notes Puccini’s “sweeping music completely lifts the relationship between the characters off the page and into tangible emotion.”
    WQED’s Anna Singer and Undercroft regular Katie Manukyan are double cast as Cio-Cio San, the principal character of this tragedy about a young girl who believes she is married to Colonel Pinkerton, an American soldier stationed in Japan.
    Pinkerton returns to the U.S. and marries legitimately, only returning to Japan after learning he and Cio-Cio produced a son.  Cio-Cio’s final aria is her heartbreaking goodbye to the son and his father, whose departures she cannot bear.
    Undercroft regulars Seth Gruber and William Andrews are double cast as Colonel Pinkerton. Double cast as Suzuki, Cio-Cio’s maid, are new members of the Undercroft family, Kati Richer and Hilerie Klein-Rensi.
    Madama Butterfly first took root in 1887 in a French, semi-autobiographical novel authored by Pierce Loti,  entitled Madame Chrysantheme.  Nine years later, John Luther Long based his short story Madame Butterfly on this novel and Puccini’s opera, which drew from these works, premiered in 1904, with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa.  Puccini subsequently revised it several times.  The fifth and last has been the standard revision and is the one Undercroft is presenting.
    Madama Butterfly is a familiar opera to many, as it has been represented in popular culture many times. The musical Miss Saigon is based on Madama Butterfly. The film Fatal Attraction pays homage to the opera with references in the story and with its usage of the Puccini score. Weezer made an album called Pinkerton which is based loosely on the opera. Cio-Cio’s aria, “Un Bel Di”, or “One Beautiful Day”, is often used in television advertisements.
    Undercroft is pleased to announce this production is supported, in part, by Opera Volunteers International and the Heinz Foundation.
    Tickets are available online at

"Admission" - A Dance Premier at Off the Wall Performing Arts Center

 L-R  Cammi Nevarez, Jenna Rae Smith, Glenna Clark, Sara Cohen, Elisa-Marie Alaio Photo Credit: Grace Cohen
    The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “admission” (\əd-ˈmi-shən, ad-\) as “ the act of admitting or allowing something; a statement or action by which someone admits a weakness or fault; the right or permission to enter a place.” Choreographer Elisa-Marie Alaio’s newest dance show “Admission” portrays these meanings, and so much more.
    Admission is an energetic dance production with music by Rick McMasters that explores the various facets of womanhood. Interpreting aspects ranging from the mysteriousness to the emotional to the chaotic ‘order’ that at times permeates our lives, along with the need to both challenge and support one another, Elisa-Marie brings a depth of thoughtful representation to the myriads of women.
     Only when we admit our flaws and weaknesses to ourselves, are we truly able to accept the helping hand of others, to allow others to support us through our ups and downs. Through dance, “Admission” demonstrates the intense power of lifting each other up.
    “Admission” is a celebration of the incredibly strong spirit of women. Every woman is unique and every woman has her own story. On the stage of the Off The WallPperforming Arts Center, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie, the audience will see six unique women, each with their own story. Only after they have embraced their weaknesses and admitted their need for support from their sisterhood, do they truly achieve their final admission – the right to enter a place, and that place is one of empowerment.

Together, standing strong, these six women represent the power of admission. Together they embody empowerment; together they represent their own unique selves. And to truly have one, you must have the other.

May 29-30 @ 8:00 p.m.; June 4-6 at 8:00 p.m.
Matinee May 31 at 3 p.m.
Tickets $ 5.00 students, $ 15.00 Seniors, $20.00 general admission.
Tickets online:

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Midsummer" - A Tale of Reluctant Romance

Randy Redd as Bob and Carey Van Driest as Helena Photo Credit Kristi Jan Hoover
    Like antagonists in a duel, Bob and Helena face each other midstage, guitars strapped to the backs, then break into a lilting ballad.  It a fine way to start "Midsummer (A Play with Songs)," now getting its due at the City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side
    Not that the tunes written by Gordon McIntyre, founder of indie band, Ballboy, are meant carry along the narrative line of playwright, David Grieg’s antic script. Rather they seem to provide refreshing interludes that underscore the sentiment of the moment and add depth to the characters, all two of them who carry the show through its event packed weekend in Edinburgh.
    Unlikely candidates for a romantic tryst let alone a long term relationship, Bob is a boyish 35, lithe and nimble, a black-haired, good-looking neer-do-well working on the fringes of organized crime while Helena is a divorce lawyer with a penchant for adulterous escapades that feature other women’s spouses.
    The two meet by chance in a wine bar, and it’s Helena who makes the first move. Ironically both are 35, near the midsummer of their own lives, and it’s touch and go at first, but with wine-infused inspiration, the couple inevitably head off for a night of erotic exploits at Helena’s flat.
    As Bob, Randy Redd is an affable sort on a sordid mission to close on a stolen car deal but with the ultimate goal of just busking around Europe for a year playing guitar for small change. Helena, statuesque and more mild-mannered, her long auburn hair flowing over her shoulders like some Celtic goddess, is a bit more pragmatic and reality grounded. Both however, wake up the following morning with gigantic hangover and a guilty resolve to part ways.
    But fate has it otherwise as both end up floundering through an action packed weekend together, she with an embarrassing incident in front of the church where she’s late for her sister’s wedding, he with a arrival at the bank too late to deposit his ill-gained loot.
 Carey Van Driest and Randy Redd star in "Midsummer"
Their subsequent fling through the city is bankrolled by the illicit money expected by the mob boss but, like adolescent profligates, they decide to spend it all, check into a posh hotel, fill up their cart at the liquor store with pricey libations, party with teen Goths who introduce them to a club where they get entangled (literally) with a Japanese rope bonding master. There’s even a chase scene in which Bob is pursued by the mob boss enflamed by the loss of his money and intent on homicide.
Narelle Sissons’ sparse set is adequate enough to serve as the couple’s love nest yet indistinct enough to allow the various locales of the couple’s many weekend adventures to be created in the imagination rather than physically onstage. As the director, if Tracy Brigden can claim credit for conceiving the ingenious way the couple’s sex scene is staged, she deserves a big pat on the back for its over-the-top ( and comic) creativity. Ditto for Grieg’s inventive dialogue that has Bob carrying on a conversation with his private parts.
    With what’s left emotionally and physically after their binge weekend, you’d think that both Helena and Bob would experience emotional burn out. He’d be left with no money and a desperate situation, she’d come to her senses and resume her career thus ending their extemporaneous relationship.
    But, like in Shakespeare’s Midsummer prototype, there’s magic floating through the air, and the playwright throws a handful of pixie dust on an ending you might not have seen coming.
    "Midsummer (A Play with Songs)" is at the City Theatre through May 31. Phone 412-431-2489 or

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pick of the Week - Streetcar Comes to Pittsburgh Tuesday

Tama Barry as Stanley and Sophie Martin as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire Photo Credit: Andrew Ross
    One of Tennessee Williams’ most powerful dramas is getting a dance adaptation that should prove as provocative and exciting as its theatrical prototype. On the Byham Theater stage, Stanley and Blanche and Stella will act out their emotional pyrotechnics that end with a  gut wrenching climax and  Blanche’s memorable, piteously ironic  statement that she has “always depended on the kindness of strangers.” It should prove a ride you'll never forget.
    Pittsburgh Dance Council, a division of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, will present Scottish Ballet’s staging of A Streetcar Named Desire on Tuesday, May 19, at 8:00 p.m. at the Byham Theater, 101 6th Street, downtown Pittsburgh.
    Award-winning theater/film director Nancy Meckler and internationally-acclaimed choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa collaborate to create a powerful, iconic and heartbreaking tale of human frailty is set to a saucy, jazz inspired score and aptly dressed in striking vintage-styled costumes. The retelling of Streetcar is exemplary of Scottish Ballet’s niche for re-imagining classic stories with fresh relevance for contemporary audiences.  Their company’s presentation of Streetcar won the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards for Best Classical Choreography by Ochoa in 2012.

Claire Robertson as Blanche with the Company.Credit: Andrew Ross
 “Thrillingly persuasive,” The Independent comments. “Not only does it crackle with Southern heat and sexual tension, but it's a model of storytelling. No need to have seen the play or the film: everything is here, from the big themes of masculine-feminine, earth and air, to the smallest detail.”
 The Scottish Ballet, Scotland’s national dance company, was founded by Peter Darrell and Elizabeth West originally as Western Theatre Ballet in Bristol in 1957. The Company was renamed Scottish Theatre Ballet in 1969 when
Adam Blyde as Mitch and Eve Mutso as Blanche  Credit: Andrew Ross

    For more information visit,

Tickets ($19-$55) may be purchased online at, in person at the Box Office at Theater Square, or by calling 412-456-6666. Subscribe to the 2014-2015 Pittsburgh Dance Council season by calling 412-456-1390 or online at

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Happenings Around Town This Weekend

    Looking for something special to do this week? Check out below just some of the activities planned for our vibrant area.
Bachday Bash at the National Aviary
    From 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, May14, join in the fun at the 7th Annual BACHday Bash at the National Aviary, 700 Arch Street, on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
    Billed as a  great party with terrific food, drink, entertainment and a wonderful silent and live auction, the     bash will allow patrons to rub elbows with the Bach Choir’s artistic director, Thomas Douglas, and chat with our effervescent emcee Jim Cunningham.
     All proceeds support the Bach Choir and its innovative approach to choral music presentation. Tickets are $85 and $135 for the VIP pre-party at 6 p.m. that includes wine tastings and cheese. Tickets are available at the door or online at www.biddingfor

Detroit, A Play by Lisa D’Amour
From May 14 - 30, 12 Peers Theater will stage "Detroit," a play by Lisa D’Amour at The Maker Theater, 5950 Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.
    A brief synopsis: In a first-ring suburb just outside a city that might be Detroit, Ben and Mary see sudden signs of life at the deserted house next door and invite their new neighbors Sharon and Kenny over for a barbecue. As the action unfolds we learn that Sharon and Kenny met at rehab, neither is employed, and they don't own a stick of furniture. The quintessential American backyard party quickly turns into something more dangerous—and filled with potential.
    Directed by Vince Ventura, the cast includes John Feightner, Sara Fisher, Larry Herrmann, Alyssa Herron and Brett Sullivan Santry  Billed as a comedy the explores the ins and outs of suburban angst, "Detroit" will close out 12 Peers fourth season. Tickets are $17 online at, $20 at the door/$15 with a student ID. There is a special pay-what-you-can performance on Monday, May 18, at 8 p. m.

Culture Club: Tracing Outlines
    Open from 1941–1947 in downtown Pittsburgh, Outlines Gallery was one of the most cutting-edge art galleries, not only in Pittsburgh, but in the entire country. Tracing Outlines uncovers the untold history of this important venue. Join director Cayce Mell and producer Scott Sullivan for the first Pittsburgh screening of their groundbreaking documentary feature!
    In 1941, 21-year-old Betty Rockwell established Outlines gallery in Pittsburgh. Throughout its six-year run, the gallery would sit squarely at the forefront of the avant-garde movement, showcasing exhibitions by then-emerging artists such as Alexander Calder, John Cage, Maya Deren, and Joseph Cornell. In 1941 alone, art passing through Outlines Gallery included works by Georges Braque, Marc Chagal, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Amendo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Rousseau.
    Tracing Outlines follows Betty Rockwell’s granddaughter and filmmaker, Cayce Mell, as she tracks down artists who exhibited at Outlines, and compiles the first-ever complete chronology of the six-year-long run of the gallery. Narrated by renowned street artist Swoon, and featuring interviews and commentary by artists including Philip Pearlstein, Saul Liter, and Jens Risom, and by Guggenheim Foundation Director Richard Armstrong, 2013 Carnegie International Curator Dan Byers, author and columnist Blake Gopnik, The Andy Warhol Museum Director Eric Shiner, and Robert Manley of Christie’s.
May 21, 5:30–9 p.m; 6:30–8:30 p.m.: Screening and Q&A at the Carnegie Museum Theater in Oakland.

$15 / $10 members, includes one drink token.

City Theatre's "Midsummer" (A Play with Songs)

Randy Redd in "Midsummer
Cary Van Driest in Midsummer

    City Theatre continues its 40th anniversary season with Midsummer (a play with songs), on the Mainstage May 9 – 31. The play is written by David Greig and singer-songwriter Gordon McIntyre, and is directed by City Theatre Artistic Director Tracy Brigden.
    Midsummer in Edinburgh turns into a weekend of wild abandon when divorce lawyer Helena meets small-time crook Bob in a wine bar. With a wad of ill-gotten cash in hand and a local gangster on their heels, the unlikely pair goes on an alcohol and adventure-filled romp, discovering that there are second chances at life—and love.
    “Midsummer is all about new beginnings,” says Ms. Brigden. “David has given us a wonderfully truthful script with characters we can identify with, but he skillfully avoids the sappiness present in most of today’s ‘rom-coms’. This play is also enormously theatrical – the designers, our cast, and I really get a chance to flex our creative muscles!”
    Midsummer features Randy Redd and Carey Van Driest, each making their City Theatre debuts. The creative team includes Narelle Sissons (scenic and costume design), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting design), Elizabeth Atkinson (sound design), Doug Levine (music direction), and Don Wadsworth (dialect coaching).
Sipping Sunday – May 10 (7:00 p.m.)
Sunday Talkbacks – May 17 and 24 (following 2:00 p.m. performance)
Greenroom Young Professionals Night – May 29 (post-show reception)
City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 (South Side)
TICKETS: $36 to $61 Phone 412-431- CITY (2489) or

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Owlscribe Goes Vegetarian - err Somewhat

Sweet Potato Burritos Credi:"
    After watching a spate of films dealing with food, health and nutrition, I've decided to go vegetarian. An addicted carnivore, I know I'd not be able to give up meat on a daily basis, but after watching "The Future of Food," "Food, Inc.", "Fed Up," "Dr. Andrew Weil: Guide to Good Eating," "Secrets to Good Health" and "Super Size Me" (all available on Netflix), I decided to go vegetarian - one day a week.
   Another thing that made me reconsider my eating habits is the reports of how inhumanely the food industry is raising animals like chickens and hogs. And programs on WQED featuring food gurus and health experts also contributed to my decision.
    Last week, I had my first completely vegetarian day and I didn't miss the animal protein. I made a recipe for sweet potato burritos I had lying around for quite a while from and while good, I decided to add cilantro to the mix the next time I make them. If anyone has a knock-out vegetarian dish and would like to share, email it to me at
    For those interested in the recipe, here goes:

Sweet Potato Burritos (Makes 12)
1 Tbls. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups canned kidney beans, drained
2 cups water
3 Tbls. chili powder
2 Tsp. ground cumin
4 Tsp. prepared mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
3 Tbls. soy sauce
4 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
12 (10-inch) flour tortillas, warmed
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream, salsa and chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in medium skillet and saute onion and garlic until soft. Stir in beans and mash. Gradually stir in water and heat until warm.Remove from heat and stir in chili powder, cumin, mustard, cayenne pepper and soy sauce.
Divide bean mixture and mashed sweet potatoes evenly between the warm flour tortillas. Top with cheese, fold up tortillas burrito style and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven and serve. Top with sour cream, chopped green onions and salsa.