Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Sparkling Wine Tips (in a language I can understand…cartoons)

December 31, 2009
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It’s the last post of the year, so I figured I’d blow it out with some cartoons and a showcase of my incredibly sub-par musical skills. Been thinking about doing more of this. If you want more, please oink. If not, hiss like a garden snake.

Whether oinkin’ or hissin’, I hope all of you have a very safe and Happy New Year! See you in 2010 (if I’m not killed by a flying cork)!
Oh, and Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Just grab ’em in the biscuits

December 29, 2009
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Not just an immortal line from Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance”, but an intimidating call to action for someone who was reared in the South by a Midwestern family, devoid of the knowledge guarded by the Secret Society of Southern Grandmothers, Grammas, Memaws, and Nanas. How much fatback to put in the green beans. How to fry absolutely every vegetable that is put on the plate with the fried meats and not suffer terrible and unyielding gastrointestinal discomfort. How to make a perfect biscuit. Trade information that I do not have.

Indeed, the biscuit (in the sense that we know it in the States; British Empire definitions need not apply here), although being defined as a “quick bread” (perhaps suggesting a simplicity in preparation), is to me like many foods. Few ingredients, minimal prep, and yet a food that can manifest itself on so many levels of success: from spectacular to craptacular; the product always indicative of the hand that crafted it. In this vein, I equate the perfect biscuit to the perfect noodle, the perfect martini, or timing Mario’s jump on the koopa troopa just right on level 3-1 of Super Mario Bros. so as to earn enough extra lives to remember the stupid labrynth sequence in level 8-4. Man, I hate 8-4!
Beware of these little guys…

So- biscuits. Simple, but not easy. I thought I’d give them a crack on Christmas morning, surrounding the perfection that is a fried pork chop.

Oh, I forgot to mention that my wife’s family is from South Carolina, and I’m not talking first generation. They have a “brown food group”, dedicated to fried delights. I’m serious. More pressure.
Anyway, here it goes. You may sing along if you like…

The verdict? I think the flavor was good, but they were a little dry. I’m going to try for a stickier dough next time, as it absorbed a bunch of the flour when rolling out. Also, I did not shake my baking powder before spooning it out. Word on the skreets is that you’re supposed to do that. Yeah, these were pretty good, but I have a long way to go for perfection. However, I will gladly praise the Lard and continue to tweak the recipe to meet that end…
…my relationship with the in-laws just might depend on it.

Napa Eve

December 28, 2009
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“Atlanta – 91 miles”

Anniston, AL – We were hurtling down I-20 in my brother-in-law’s 4-wheel-drive sleigh, returning from a Christmas Eve visit to relatives in Birmingham. Had a wonderful time with the wife’s family…copious amounts of ham, quality time with my adorable- if not overly vivacious- niece, and a showering of gifts, including a sleek Vinturi instant aerator (more experimenting with that later).
But my gears had already switched from laser-focus on ham and family (let’s call it “hamily” for short) to the neighbors’ annual Christmas Eve party. I could already taste the reserve wines we always bust open to celebrate the season. Anniston, Alabama might has well have been China. Was the first cork being popped? What was I missing? Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? (the last question had little to do with the moment described, but I’m still unclear about it.)

Eventually, we got there, met with the expected level of revelry/joviality/hullabaloo/mirth: an already well-lubricated crowd, unusual treats (including big Bill Blank’s famous chopped liver paté and steamer clams– lovingly referred to as “piss clams”- to be shelled, dipped in broth to remove the sand, and sloshed in melted butter before devouring). Liar’s Dice games were heating up (which- for the record- we were playing long before A Really Goode Job). Dean Martin crooning over the speakers…oh, and the wine.
Seems like Napa Valley was the focus of the evening.

The first one opened, which I missed, was a 2004 Rubicon Estate Gustave Niebaum Captain’s Reserve Merlot, 2004. This is a wine from the Niebaum-Coppola (as in Francis Ford Coppola) family of wines…FFC has some ownership in Rubicon Estate, which is known for some pretty heady and expensive wines. However, not only could I not get a taste of it, but I couldn’t find any information, pricing, or anything about it online. I’m pretty sure it’s expensive, though. If you had some, tell me about it, you wine hogs.

The next bottle to go through the paces was a V. Sattui 2005 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I know the ’04 got a score of 93 in Wine Spectator, so- despite my distaste for wine scoring- I hoped it’d give an indication that this was pretty good. Oh, and the $50+ price tag added pressure to the wine’s success.

Baby Steps – When the label of an American wine designates a vineyard (in this case, “Morisoli”), then 95% of the grapes used to make the wine have to come from that vineyard. When an AVA, or “American Viticultural Area” is listed on the label- in this case, Napa Valley- then 85% of the grapes have to come from vineyards within that AVA. When the varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) is listed, 75% or more of the wine must be from that grape. Finally, when a year is listed (2005), 95% of the grapes have to come from that growing year. Confused? Wait until you start learning about French wine! Anyway, from the label, we can deduce that 95% of the grapes came from Morisoli Vineyard, within Napa Valley. Of those, at least 75% had to be Cabernet Sauvignon, and 95% had to be grown in 2005. However, I’m guessing 100% came from Morisoli in 2005.

Okay, now I have a headache. Anyway, this Cab from Morisoli demonstrated flavors typical to the “Rutherford Bench” area of Napa Valley: peppery, spicy, and herbaceous, but with complex dark fruit layers underneath. The wine was incredibly concentrated and extracted, which I’ve noticed is a pretty consistent theme with Sattui’s wines. The tannins were still pretty fierce, and I think it could have gone another few years in the bottle, maybe more. That being said, I think it was very good, but probably better with a big piece of lamb or beef than by itself.

By this time, the dice game was getting intense. We needed something a little less complex. We went for the Provenance Vineyards 2004 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Total fruit bomb, but with a nice balance of tannin, alcohol, and oak. Good wine, and probably worth the $40, but I have a hunch you could find something from Australia with a similar profile for ten bucks less. Regardless, I know Provenance has a very good pedigree for Merlot and Cab, and I think this strong effort was no exception. It was also interesting to compare a 2004 Cab and a 2005 Cab made with grapes from regions very close to each other. Was it vintage or winemaking defining such different styles? One of the many reasons why the grape on the label can sometimes say very little about the wine inside.
All in all, it was a perfect way to end the evening and put a bullet on the joyous occasion…
…yet, another notch in the (expanding) belt of excess. The January purge can’t come soon enough.
Okay. Yes it can.

‘Tis the Season…

December 27, 2009
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…for a borderline-frightening orgy of drink and food. I really hope LDL and triglycerides take vacation like the rest of us at the end of December. I capped off a week of Nero’s Rome-like decadence this morning with some homemade hashbrowns smothered in sauteed onions, Rotel tomatoes, and melted Velveeta. Please don’t tell my doc. He doesn’t own stock in Velveeta.

But there was one thing that clearly set the tone for my decline into lipid-induced shame and lethargy during this past Christmas week:
To set the scene, our neighborhood has a Progressive Dinner around the holidays every year. Basically, a concept where a group of folks move from house-to-house; first house hosts appetizers and cocktails, then main course at the next house, then dessert, and then, well, tater tots. Okay, more generally, late night snacks. And, clearly, if you harken back to your younger days, what were you eating at 2, 3, 4 in the morning? Watercress sandwiches? Waldorf salads? Hell no! Gorgings at Waffle House, IHOP, Krystal/White Castle, or Taco Bell were the modus operandi; anything to suppress a sustained binge of well-liquor shots and Natural Light. Those meals- perhaps- saved the life of many a college student.

So it was manifested: the tater tot bar. A cornucopia of golden-fried jewels of shredded potato, along with any condiment that could be mustered: chili, nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, bacon bits, chives, salsa, BBQ sauce, assorted hot sauces, more cheese…getting heartburn just reading? Clearly not haute cuisine by any stretch, but- somehow- satisfying, comforting; a perfect nightcap to calm our mature bellies, now full of fine wine, craft beers, and single-malt scotch…

Yet, despite the sophisticated nature of the cocktails creating the need for the late-night snack, said snack has remained a constant: crap food that could be replaced by nothing else, being the only feasible option to satisfy at this late hour. I really think food has the unique ability to connect us with the past; the smells, tastes, and textures remain in our memory banks more clearly than anything else. Ergo, it’s only natural that when one finds himself with too many drinks in the belly late at night- whether fancy drinks or swill- the sustenance desired is pulled from our collective memories, and junk food registers as the antidote. Pretty amazing.
In the same sense, I think when Christmas week comes around, my sensory memory tells me that every day is a reason for a feast. And so it happens, leaving me in this gluttonous, shameful state (the detailed means to the end shall unfold on these pages soon). And I can’t do anything about it until after Jan. 1st…my subconscious tells me that New Year’s celebrations require more debauchery and food.
Oh well…I can either fight it or raise my glass. How ’bout the latter? Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2009
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Hopefully, you’ve got some friends or family to spend time with today. I slop Christmas eve into the same bucket as Thanksgiving: a gathering where tasty vittles and powerful libation converge upon the merrymaking of festive souls.

Pretty much, it’s the best thing ever (I’m starting to think I refer to everything as “the best thing ever”…beats being a curmudgeon, I suppose). We break out the good stuff; the fine Bordeaux, the cult Napa Cab, the Burgundy, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the Barolo, the super-Tuscans, the Champagne.
We cook roast beasts and exchange gifts and put on 5-10 lbs. without fail. Why not the real butter today? More gravy? Sure. We’re all going to hit the gym hard in a week, right?
Most importantly, we laugh until snot comes out of our noses. We hug and give headlocks and sing Irish drinking songs. We come together to celebrate, reminisce on the year behind us, and look forward- eternally optimistic- to the year ahead; the year where things are “always going to really come together.”
I hope the warmth of the season touches all of you as well. At the very least, I hope you find your glass full, at least full enough to toast the season: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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Joyeux Noël

December 21, 2009
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It was not quite cassoulet, copious amounts of goose fat, and cartons of Gauloises, but this year’s Christmas party celebrating the food of France went over like Jerry Lewis on a Parisian late-night TV marathon.
One of the greatest things about the holiday season is not only the honoring of old traditions, but the making of new ones. For the past three years, the better-half and I have gotten together with our folks and some of their neighbors for a celebration of the foods of the world. It started off with a “festa dei sette pesci,” or Italian “feast of the seven fishes.” From there, we moved onto Ireland: whiskey, bi-valves, stout, lamb stew, and whiskey. This year, we just tried to do a meager bit of homage to the gastronomic capital of the world…a tall order, indeed.

The Day After Yesterday

December 17, 2009
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It’s 6:41 in the morning. I’m on a plane to Philadelphia, with the ability to access my portable electronic devices. That means we’re at least 10,000 feet up. That means we’ve been taxi-ing (taxying?), boarding, herding through security, walking miles from crappy parking spaces, and driving across the universally-expanding urban sprawl that is metro Atlanta. When your home city has one airport, and it’s consistently the world’s busiest, you have to wake up early. In order to be in the air, writing to you at 6:41 (now 6:45) in the AM, I had to roll out of my cozy, amniotic sac of a bed at 3:30 AM. I’m off to work, and I’m pretty sure Lindsay Lohan is just settling into her first line of coke for the evening.

Oh, and thanks a lot, smelly old lady in front of me for smacking me in the head when you slammed your seat into recline (before the allowable altitude, no doubt). Aren’t you supposed to be up at this hour anyway, complaining about the price of coffee at the local Burger King?

I suppose if it’s not evident from the tone of this post, I’m not an eternally cheerful morning person. Worse, I’m trying to force my square DNA into a round hole and become one. That’s why I requested the 6 AM flight for my business meeting today. What the hell was I thinking?!

Alas, all is not exasperating. My final destination is not Philadelphia. I’m connecting there and heading to Binghamton, NY, a little town an hour or so south of Syracuse, made famous by IBM, Endicott Johnson, carousel horses, and extremely disgruntled Vietnamese ex-pats. Not a bad place, but no Las Vegas. To it’s credit, Binghamton sits just southeast of the Finger Lakes, which is one of the most notable wine regions in the States. However, unless you live in New York or are a bit of a wine nerd, the American Viticultural Areas of the Empire State are often of little notoriety.

I see wine progression in novices occur this way (at least it’s how things happened for me): I became familiar with the wines of California, then Oregon (because it’s a hot-bed of Pinot Noir, the grape thrust into the limelight by 2004’s Sideways). Then Washington State, covering the west coast, aka (incorrectly), the “only places to get good U.S. wine”. What many may not realize is that New York bests Oregon in overall wine production. In fact, New York sometimes beats out Washington as the #2 producer in the nation.

photo courtesy of

Granted, the climates and micro-climates of Nueva York (I’m running out of aliases) are vastly different from the west coast, so you don’t see incredible success with grapes like Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc. What is creeping up the trellises is Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, noteworthy Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes region, near Lake Erie, in the Hudson River Valley, and on Long Island. Also, lots of vitis labruscanamely Concord, American hybrids like Catawba and Niagara, and French-American hybrids like Seyval and Vidal Blanc- abound.

From what I’ve gathered, the wines of the Finger Lakes region are among the finest of New York. Sadly, distribution, well, sucks in my hometown (and we’re not talking about a one-horse town here). Even at the largest and most well-stocked wine shops, I often only see one or two bottles hidden away in the dusty corners of the stores, cavorting with other un-marketable bottles like Carolina muscadine and the wines of Ed Hardy.

So, optimism abounds. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to finagle a few tastes of the local. It would be another opportunity to expand my palate, and hopefully- provided the juice is worthy- to start a little grassroots movement to get more access to these wines.

At the very least, the experience would soften the blow of the early morning, the airport hassle, the drink lady’s lack of juice or anything with caffeine AND sugar in it, the smelly old lady who has me crammed in this seat like Rush Limbaugh in hot pants, and the guy next to me who’s suddenly decided to play footsie with me in his sleep. Raise your glass to air travel…or your middle finger.

It’s that time of year again…

December 11, 2009
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…for not-so-much heart-warming Christmas and holiday carols, but more the kind that might- well- be a little “off”. Remember when David Bowie and Bing Crosby got together for “Little Drummer Boy”? I posted it a year ago. Notoriously abusive father teams up with cross-dressing prog rock icon, bringing you the warmth of the season. Doesn’t quite work, but maybe that’s why it’s so awesome.

Frankly, I appreciate it. How many times- really- can you hear Nat King Cole sing “Oh Holy Night”? For this year’s submission, I think we need something a little more saucy. And when you think “saucy”, surely there’s only one thing that comes to mind…George Michael.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Kool Kwanzaa, Decadent Diwali, Wonderful Winter Solstice, Rad-ass Ramadan, and Bountiful Boxing Day!

The Nitty Gritty

December 9, 2009
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There are a ton of great wine blogs out there. Food blogs as well. To see some, check out the blog roll (to the right –> …okay, down and to the right).

I imagine some of the best come from folks in the industries. Being surrounded by great wines all the time perhaps lends itself to constant subject matter. Furthermore, some who are not in the industry (avid collectors, for example) are knocking back great bottle after great bottle every night. Such actions put to paper (or blog) oft leave us dreamers in a lusty trance; pining for the gems afforded to those who have rightfully earned them.
Others make a blog “living” off of the spoils of the workplace. Business trips to New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, and the like lend themselves to bountiful, wine-soaked meals at the finest restaurants in the land…all a painless luxury on the corporate card.
I’m not envious. I’ve been able to get a little piece of all of this. Even been able to weasel my way into some “wine-trade-only” events, one of the rare perks of being a “wine blogger of some notoriety”. Okay “slight notoriety”. Okay, I bribed someone. Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?

However, much of the day-to-day is far from sexy, probably for most of us. Industrial parks, one-horse towns reminiscent of the Kevin Bacon/Michael Gross opus Tremors, and places- so devoid of good food and drink that the meal planning process comes down to deciding whether the Hess station or the Shell station has the freshest pack of “Ho-Ho’s“- are the norm, rather than the exception, in my line of work.
Tonight, the legitimate restaurant where my business associate and I ate had 5 wines on the list, and four were from Sutter Home. Listen, I’m not being a snob, but the opportunity cost of reading a blog post about a Sutter Home wine is probably more expensive than running down to the local truck stop and buying one yourself.

I guess I need to get to a point here. Writing on this blog, whether folks read or not, is an outlet, and it is especially rewarding when I do get some comments or encouragement from the great folks I’ve always known or met over the past year. While we want to write about legendary wines and incredibly sumptuous foods all the time, “real life” makes it difficult- nay, impossible- to do so…simply not enough exposure to “livin’ high-on-the-hog” for regular content. However, rather than bemoan this inconvenience, I hope it makes us take a step back and realize how truly fortunate we are if we’re able to partake in any of it. Most in the world aren’t, so being thankful is so critical, even more so in today’s economic climate…
…and especially when sucking down white zin in a podunk town.
To the fortunate times, and the other times that make them seem so much more: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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Root-y, Root-y, Root-y!!!

December 5, 2009
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What a terrible title for the post. But I did find myself chanting it, and then my wife joined in, and then, before we even knew what was happening, Sean Astin showed up at our house in full, mid-to-late seventies football gear, and got a quarterback sack.

I’m pretty sure I shed a tear. Listen, guys are allowed to cry at sports accomplishments in the face of overwhelming odds. I’ll probably lose my man-card for disclosing this.
Anyway, if Rudy had listened a little more carefully, he’d heard that I was singing the praises of root vegetables.
It all started a couple weeks ago while I was attending Primal. After downing bacon, lamb liver, smoked fatback, and bull testicles, I had the crazy urge to eat some vegetables. I found someone serving pan roasted rutabagas and other assorted tubers. They were delicious and satisfying and…
…yes. Bull testicles. Proof here.
So, with cold weather infiltrating the Deep South- bringing with it a need for hearty fare- I grabbed a rutabaga, a sweet potato, and a fistful of assorted fingerlings (of all different colors, shapes, and sizes; indeed, a very ethnically-diverse fistful of taters). I dissected everything into about 3/4″ cubes (almost including a finger or two…them rutabagas is wily!) and threw them in a mixing bowl. Also added an onion I quartered. Then, despite wanting to use more fresh stuff, I went with what I had on-hand…threw a tablespoon of garlic powder in the bowl, a tablespoon of ground sage, a tablespoon of smoked paprika, some dried oregano, maybe a teaspoon of celery salt, then added sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and olive oil to coat. Tossed it around in the bowl like a madman drunk on adrenaline, threw it all on a pan, into a 350 degree oven for about an hour, and voila!
No crazy garnish or plating flourish, but c’mon…do you really plate anything all fancy-like when you’re just eating at home? This is what the kids call “keepin’ it real,” I’m told. Yep, plastic fork too. Don’t worry, hippies. I’ll reuse it.
Anyway, the dish was texturally great: potatoes soft with a bit of bite, rutabaga with a bit more tooth too it, and the sweet potatoes were almost creamy, yet all had crunchy edges and lots of tasty caramelized bits (or maybe they were Maillard-y bits…help me out, food scientists). Once again, totally satisfying. Sometimes (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), you just don’t miss the meat.

To wash it down, I cracked a 2006 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot. From the kingpin of Napa, I would expect one of Napa’s greatest grapes to do its best in this situation. With big dark fruits, warm spice, and a good backbone of tannin, it displayed the lushness that is California (especially Napa) Merlot. Granted, I would probably decant it for a couple hours before consuming next time. Regardless, the fruit in the wine worked well with the rustic heartiness of the root veggies. “Rustic heartiness”??! I’ve been reading too many food magazines.
Perhaps the best part about the wine, however, was the label. Mondavi’s higher-end bottlings feature incredibly thick paper on the labels. While I’m not one to buy a bottle based on the label, a nice fluffy one comes in handy when you take down the whole bottle, and then the whole bottle takes you down. Ah, the ironing is delicious.

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