Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Ashy to Classy: The Wine Blogger Dinner

January 31, 2010
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Obviously through some clerical error, yours truly got invited to an Artesa wine dinner at Bone’s Restaurant the other week. For those of you not from Atlanta, Bone’s is an institution: incredible steaks, totally old-school, great service, massive wine list…the place you’d go for a big-deal power business dinner, to take Mom out for Mother’s Day, or to bring a date if you think you’re gonna score, justifying such a lofty bill.

And they wanted me there. Invited me. Fo’ free (take that, lawyers looking for my “DISCLOSURE” statement)! Maestro, cue the theme from “The Jeffersons”.
Kidding aside (I know that’s tough for me), I really appreciate the invite by Artesa’s folks. They’ve reached out to the blogging community, wisely deciding that they’re marketing need not be limited to Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, etc. While I have tremendous respect for the knowledge and the palates at those heralded institutions, they’re hitting a pretty tight demographic. Many of my readers are wine folks, but the other many are folks who just want to read something during the day when work gets boring. They drink wine, too, and might be influenced more by a non-threatening blogger than a rather intimidating tome of the wine aristocracy. By the way, this latter group is a sampling of who most people are. And those people spend a lot of money, even on wine. See what I mean?
But back to the story. As this was a blogger dinner, I had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with local like-minded oenophiles (please don’t take “like-minded” as an insult): Ed from Wine Tonite! (becoming a regular on the “Suburban Wino” scene), Kevin from Atlanta Wine Guy (who- to my chagrin- is probably the #1 wino in Cherokee County), and Elizabeth from Wine For Normal People (a lovely dinner companion and conversationalist who knew her stuff and didn’t seem in the least bit unnerved by my signature crude and uncouth disposition). And yes, we all rubbed elbows. Literally rubbed our elbows together in a circle. I thought is was a little weird too.

Anyway, I’ve linked to all their posts about the evening, put out in a timely fashion. Me? I like to come in late for all the scraps. Call me “mantis”. Great job to whoever gets that one.
Supposedly, there were other bloggers there. I didn’t meet them. I didn’t talk to them. I was too busy making eyes with an enormous plate of lobster claws, king crab legs, and shrimp the size of Andre the Giant’s fingers. Outside of wondering what constituted adultery as I ogled this mound of regal shellfish, I hoped I would get some whites that had enough body for the sweetness of the lobster, but still a good whip of acidity to brighten the subtle flavors. What followed was a veritable orgy of Caligulan Rome-proportions:
Lobster, King Crab Legs, Jumbo Shrimp on ice, served with the 2008 Artesa Chardonnay Carneros and the 2007 Artesa Reserve Chardonnay Carneros. The former had really pure fruit (Chardonnay, being prone to manipulation, can often taste too much of oak), a good balance of oak, and enough acidity. The latter- which experienced more new oak aging and sur lie aging (sitting on the dead yeast)- was a powerhouse: big flavors of butterscotch, more breadiness (?), and more tannin. I thought I could definitely drink this with a steak. Damn good, but I preferred the ’08 with the shellfish.

Kobe Beef Carpaccio with 2007 Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros and the 2007 Artesa Reserve Pinot Noir Carneros. While raw Kobe beef needs no accompaniment, these fruit-forward Pinots were not totally unwelcome. Both of these 100% Pinot Noirs had nice cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors, but the Reserve really stole the show here. I got some smells of root beer and fennel on the nose, and this beast was clearly more extracted. It had a pretty serious tannin structure, and- as brand manager Tim Shippey noted- it was not quite ready. However, snag this one if you see it. Set it down for a year or two, then get ready to turn on some Ronnie James Dio and rock out. Tasty wine, friends.

N.Y. Strip, Spinach, Whipped Potatoes with 2005 Artesa Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Ridgeline Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (“Ridgeline” being a sister property of Artesa). As usual, by this time, my notes become non-existent as I was fully absorbed in the experience. We all know steak and Cab go together swimmingly, and either of these would fit the bill. The Alexander was a bit softer than the Napa, but both expressed the prevailing fruit-forward style, but with enough balanced acidity and tannin to get busy with a dry-aged piece of cow. I recall leaning towards the Ridgeline Alexander, but I would kick neither of these off my table.
I’d say I was satisfied. Call it a night. You’ve done it, guys. You’ve wined and dined me enough.
“Hey, I’ve got some single-vineyard Cabs in my car,” says an increasingly mirth-some Tim. “You guys wanna try them?”

And so we did (who turns down free wine, and single-vineyard at that?). While these wines are sure to be outside of the everyday price range of a lowly suburban wino (around $75, according to Elizabeth), they were a rare treat. The 2005 Lone Pine Vineyard (Alexander Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Standing Bear Vineyard (also Alexander) Cab were damn good. The former, comprised of 81% Cab Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc, was softer and more aromatic than the latter- a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. If you’re looking for a special-occasion wine that is- quite frankly- cheaper than many Napa/Sonoma single-vineyard Cabs, you could do a lot worse.
Fully; overly satiated, I boogied on out of there, dreaming of future dinners. I want to give a big thanks to Artesa; to Tim Shippey; to new winemaker Mark Beringer (formerly of Napa powerhouse Duckhorn)- from whom I anxiously await great things; and to you, the reader, for getting to this point in what has become an incredibly long-winded post. I love you guys. You interpret that how you want. Cheers!


January 28, 2010
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Tomorrow (which is practically today…I need regular sleep patterns), I will find out what the sex of my unborn child is (our first). Very exciting time. Betting pools will be paid out, nursery colors will be decided, and we’ll finally be able to quit calling it “it”.

I always figured that I’d buy a Jeroboam (that’s 4 750-ml bottles worth) of nice Champagne for the birth day (sometime in June), but then I thought (as I often do…some may argue that’s a lie), “maybe I need to get a celebration bottle for the boy/girl thing…”

So, I was wondering, oh 3 loyal readers: what’s the prototypical “male” wine and the corresponding “female” wine? Red Bordeaux vs. Red Burgundy? Zinfandel vs. Pinot Blanc? If the kid is a hermaphrodite, do I need to buy a Rosé?

Just fishing for ideas and suggestions. I think this could be a fun experiment to see how everyones’ thought processes go down. Points for creativity, humor, and reasoning.


Classic Pairings 103: Syrah-lence of the Lamb

January 27, 2010
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PETA advocates, raw foodists, and vegans need not apply. As Bourdain often says [paraphrased], “if you’re slower than me, dumber than me, and tasty, then you’re fair game.”

No truer statement could be made about the glory that is lamb. And while I’m not here to argue the land speed record of a galloping lamb or challenge said beast to a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit, I can say with full, experienced confidence that it is mighty delicious…

…okay, no more defending the virtues of eating red meat. It just seems…well, a little creepy. Seriously, I’m starting to feel like Jame Gumb over here (better know as Silence of the Lambs“Buffalo Bill”). “Would you eat lamb? I’d eat lamb…” (somewhere faintly in the distance, I think I hear Q Lazzarus “Goodbye Horses”).
We’re derailing. Focus, Joe! Anyway, there’s something about lamb: the richness of the red meat, the slight gaminess lent to it from the presence of lanolin; it can stand up to just about anything. Then, slather the lamb (in this case, the tender but more affordable leg) in herbs, garlic, and spices, roast it to a crusty exterior in the now-infamous Showtime Rotisserie, and it just begs for a table on a cold winter’s night, paired with a wine equal in robustness and machismo.

Syrah (otherwise known as “Shiraz” in parts of the New World, especially Australia) is a wine dominated by complex bouquet, intense flavors, massive tannins, and- at times- absurd alcohol levels that shame Hannibal Lector’s wimpy Chianti and overpower those outmatched fava beans.

My victim- er- wine choice for this pairing was a 2004 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage. This AOC in the Northern Rhône Valley of France (a Syrah hotspot) is know for wines that are complex, elegant, powerful, and yet more approachable in youth than big shot neighbors Hermitage, Cornas, and Côte Rotie. Furthermore, at a very reasonable 12.5% ABV, I had confidence this bottle would work well with food, rather than suffocate it with alcohol (and I’ve had Aussie Shiraz at 16%+).
Bottom line: the wicked nose of pepper, smoke, flowers (perhaps violets, but I don’t exactly know what a violet smells like…it was floral, okay?), plums, blackberries, and meat- yes, roasted meat, progressed into a mouth-filling flavor of fruit, herbs, and more pepper. The tannins (which usually dries your mouth out and/or makes it feel “fuzzy”) were pretty smooth. What pleased me the most was the good dose of acidity, giving the juice freshness, and making my mouth water for food…

…in particular, lamb fat. Yeah, the meat was good…medium-rare, juicy, flavorful; the crust of black pepper and crushed garlic and sea salt and Herbes de Provence got busy in a PG-13 sorta way with the herbal, peppery nuances of the wine. But all those smooth tannins and acidity just CRUSHED with the melt-in-your-mouth, velvety veneer of lamb fat (and we’re talking R-rated plus, folks). Perhaps you just had to be there. The richness of the lamb, the spices, and the all-of-the-above of the Crozes. Man, this might’ve been the best food/wine pairing in the universe.
So, to try and sum this up: Syrah and Lamb are a classic pairings for reasons that can barely be defined by words. You just have to go try this one. Come on over…I’ll cook it all again. I don’t care about lotion in the basket. I don’t care if you’re a size fourteen. I just want you to experience this combination. Yes, it may be an obsession, but it’s probably not one that will land me as a character in a disturbing movie.
Speaking of disturbing movies, check this out (actually, I have to boast that I think this is my best work yet. Cheers!):

Bordeaux Wine: Sooo Three Years Ago

January 26, 2010
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Out of style? Hardly. I was just talking about the 2007 vintage. Bordeaux, like so many of France’s wine regions, is as classic as it is timeless. Like the one-button Tuxedo jacket of the wine world. The James Bond. The 1 lb. bacon, egg, n’ cheeseburger, sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwich-buns…

Okay, bad example. Not a classic. But worth a picture at a nearby table, when Ed from Wine Tonite! and I ended up at The Vortex for some serious burgers (not this serious). Alas, that was the end of the evening…
…it began at a tasting hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (disclaimer: I was invited as a member of the Society of Wine Educators). We got to taste from among 80+ châteaux from the Bordeaux region*, including the Médoc, Graves, Sauternes, Barsac, St. Émilion, and Pomerol. Not too shabby for a snot-nosed kid from the sticks.
*Baby Steps: Bordeaux is a famous wine region in Southwest France, known for some of the most expensive and long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines, as well as some of the richest (in more ways than one) sweet wines from Sauternes. The red grapes allowed in this region are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec (called “Côt” here), and Petit Verdot. The white grapes allowed are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.

My (extremely brief) impression of the vintage was that 2007 made for some very approachable wines. Some Bordeaux vintages are built to age for 20, 30, 50+ years (like 2005). These, although still having some grip of tannin (particularly those from Pauillac and St. Estèphe, suggesting aging potential), showed good fruit, and I felt many were ready to drink (some of the Margaux and St. Julien in particular). And the Sauternes and Barsac….[insert Homer Simpson-style gurgling noises here]. Incredible noses of honey, apricots, and ginger gave way to the wines that I just couldn’t manage to spit out.
Anyway, you can find much better detailed glimpses into the tasting at Wine and I and Wine Tonite! I- however- felt I would best do this tasting homage by taking some clips and dubbing them over with sassy electronica…Sacrebleu!

Preyed Upon by Infomercials

January 24, 2010
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Remember this snake-oil salesman?

Yes, it’s Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, and crown-prince of spray-on hair, food dehydrators, and the Showtime Rotisserie, a device whose 3 AM infomercials have surely given many a college stoner a food-motivated stir in the britches.

Shamefully, I too fell victim to the sweet siren’s song of cooking a whole turkey, baby back ribs, hot dogs and sausages for the whole neighborhood….oh…I’m hyperventilating. How could I survive without this ultimate kitchen gadget?! Set it, forget it, and become the champion of the kitchen: envied by men, and adored by women for my roasting prowess.
This was eight years ago. I saw a deal online…$99 bucks, and I would become an Iron Chef in my own mind.

Needless to say, it was used a couple times, then boxed up; set aside; shunned for years and years. But, like a phoenix from the ashes, we pulled the rotisserie out of mothballs this weekend and thought we’d give it another go. I’d procured a few bottles of freshly opened, then recorked Bordeaux (disclaimer: I got these as part of a tasting hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux…more on that later). While Cab is often a little hefty for roast chicken, I found these 2007 Bordeaux to be quite approachable, and I had chicken at home. What? You think I should’ve gone out and purchased something more appropriate? Who am I? Charles Montgomery Burns? I’m broke, son! Maybe if you’d click a link once in a while… 🙂
As it turned out, the chicken was great. I actually split-tested it against another chicken that was pan roasted in butter and its own juices. The rotisserie chicken was more flavorful, juicier, and had crisper skin. Oh, Ron Popeil, you rascal! You’ve done it again. We were so delighted with the results that I ended up doing a half leg of lamb in it the following night.

I think the secret is to use something small enough to not crowd the cooking area (the chicken was under 5 lbs. and the lamb was 2 lbs.), as well as trust your own instincts (or a meat thermometer), rather than the “catch all” cooking times on the side of the Showtime.
So, my hat is off to you, Ron (oh, and I need some of that hair spray). In my mind, you’ve been upgraded from “snake oil salesman” to “P.T. Barnum-style rejuvenating tonic peddler”, like this guy:

The Bottling Process

January 23, 2010
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A curious question to all my winemaking friends and audience: this is exactly what the bottling process is like, right?

Back in the Groove

January 20, 2010
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The biggest problem with business travel is that it can be, well, unsettling. It can throw you out of your groove. Your rhythm; your routine…ruined. And then, John Candy is spooning you.

Neil Page: “Where’s your other hand?”

Del Griffith: “Between two pillows…”
Neil Page: “Those aren’t PILLOWS!!!”
I spent last week touring the small metropolises (metropoli?) and county highways of Southwest Georgia, recruiting for and bolstering the day job’s advertising dealer network. It’s a road paved with 15 hour days, ruthless negotiation, fast food meals, and very little wine. Furthermore, sequestering oneself in another hotel room, half-bagged from the medicating whiskey at dinner and wrangling a molasses-slow internet connection, one’s food and wine writing tends to be forced; uninspired.

Such was the case last week. Little to write about, and little time/energy to do so. Happily, this week proves better. I’ll be meeting with Artesa’s winemaker, Mark Beringer. I’ll also be sampling the 2007 Bordeaux vintage. I’m looking forward to hanging out a little with Ed from and Kevin from The New Orleans Saints and NY Jets will earn my allegiance on Sunday, hopefully in the presence of finger foods and cold beer. Hell, I may even get to eat a home-cooked meal.
Sleeping in my own bed is nice, too. And, I’m getting to kiss my wife every day, and I’m around to rub her belly…safely harboring our first child.
Yep, there’s a lot to write about this week, and a lot to inspire it…
…and no spooning strangers.

Cabernet Sauvignon: the Bono of Grapes

January 19, 2010
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Experimenting with two loves of mine: wine and music (booze and rock n’ roll together at last…who knew?!).

Anyway, I’m hoping my first installment is entertaining. I’m pretty sure it will simultaneously delight and offend both U2 and Cabernet Sauvignon lovers. Believe me when I say that I did it all in the name of love

Classic Pairings 102: Chianti & Pizza Pie

January 18, 2010
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Originally, it was Coke, Sprite, or root beer. Then, somewhere along the way, the “root” was lost in translation, and the harder stuff- likely a cheap domestic brew- became the poison of choice. Sure, by themselves they were adequate (especially the beer, in quantities I wish not to, nor probably can I, remember), but when paired with the quintessential gathering food- pizza- our drinks become more than thirst-quenchers or buzz-generators. Pizza has always been Friday nights, college post-bar scene, simple, honest, rustic, and satisfying. Seems fitting the drink along with it would fit the bill as well.

Perhaps that’s why Chianti has long been the perfect match for a flat of dough with some stuff on it. With all due respect for malted barley and hops, Chianti, and the Sangiovese grape from whence it’s vinted, tends towards rustic, honest, and unpretentious. And I guess that’s why the two make such a classic pairing. Either that, or like so many groups of students scarfing down slices at 4 AM seeking one last shot of loudmouth soup, some Italian kids found it in the pantry as a last-resort libation, and the rest- as they say- is history.

Not quite as desperate, but equally as hungry (as is often the case), we fired up the oven to its inadequate 500+ degrees, procured some dough from a local bakery (I’m not confident enough in my homemade dough, or baking in general at this point), and sourced a cornucopia of fresh veggies and tasty, fattening meats. A quick preparation of canned Italian plum tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, dried oregano, pulverized fennel seeds, salt, pepper, and sugar (in secret proportions, or more accurately, in quantities I neither remember nor wrote down) yielded a flavorful base-coat for our discs of punched-down and flattened out dough (none of which ended up on the ceiling, as far as my wife knows). We then went to work- Picassos and Rembrandts in our own minds- layering buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, hot sausage, sopressata, pepperoni, cappicola, spinach, onions, green pepper, kalamata olives, anchovies, hot peppers, sliced tomatoes, dollops of marscapone, or whatever else we could find. Brushed the edges with some extra virgin, a sprinkle of salt or crack of pepper, and into the blistering oven for 8 minutes (convinced a wood-burning outdoor oven that reaches 1000 degrees would be a necessary purchase in the future).

In the end, given the equipment, the pizzas turned out great. Especially the crust, which really in the most important part of a good pie. Ours were crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The flavorful sauce, rich meats, and runny cheeses melded to create a familiar taste of comfort. They called for a wine of equal simplicity. We poured Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico, and the clear (but subtle) cherry, orange peel, and herb flavors, along with bright acidity worked great to counterbalance the firecracker of tangy tomatoes, italian herbs, yeasty dough, spicy meats, charred veggies, and unctuous cheese…

…I thought I’d never use the word “unctuous”. I struggled for ten minutes trying to think of something else. Sorry.

Anyway, this was no time to dwell on the flavors and aromas of the wine. Chianti is meant to be DRUNK, much like pizza isn’t often savored like haute cuisine. All the more reason why the two go together so well. Acidity brings flavors out of food, and it helps balance fat. Needless to say, pizza has both in spades (flavor and fat), and Sangiovese is- like many Italian wines- big on acidity. They’re designed for food, and they deliver big time. Maybe not the best wines on their own, but as a “condiment at the table” (as one Italian winemaker once described it), Italian wine, and Chianti especially, finds its comfort zone….

…just like a 2nd year journalism major on a couch in a stupor at 4 A.M., half-eaten box of Domino’s by his side.

Cheap Wine Challenge!

January 15, 2010
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Are you cheap? Do you shampoo with dish soap? Have you ever taken a date to an “Early Bird Special” at the local cafeteria? How ’bout ten bucks? Is a sawbuck enough to quench your insatiable thirst for the bounty of Bacchus’ teat?

(Bacchus’ teat?! It’s been a long week.)
Anyway, thanks to Raelinn Schmitt ( @raelinn_wine on Twitter and head honcho of Wine Ophelia), the simplistically brilliant idea of the Cheap Wine Challenge was created. The rules were minimal:
1) The wine can be found nationwide
2) The wine retails under $10
And so, the gauntlet was thrown down. I wanted in on this action. I was raised on the mean skreets of Carlo Rossi, son! But the Central Valley of California was not where I suspected to find gold dust. These days, when I think of value, I go straight to the Iberian peninsula, otherwise known as Spain and Portugal.

My pick- less by choice and more by necessity (I was out of town, but desired Iberian wine)- was 2007 Bodegas Luzon Jumilla. Jumilla is a region in southeast Spain. The red wines are most likely made from Monastrell (otherwise known as Mourvèdre), Cencibel (otherwise known as Tempranillo), and Garnacha (otherwise known as Grenache). This wine (otherwise known as vino) was purchased at an impressive Columbus, GA package store (otherwise known as southwest Georgia) while I was traveling for work (otherwise known as being a sucker). It retailed for $8.99 (otherwise known as 899 cents).
The nose was an all-out Battle Royale of raspberries, smoke, olives, chocolate, pepper, veggies, licorice, and mint. But the madness spilled out of the ring and into the crowd, aka, my mouth (what a terrible wrestling metaphor, but screw it, it’s late). Decent, subtle fruit, earthiness, and acidity led to a smooth finish with a little bit of heat from the alcohol. I managed to acquire a nasty stuffed nose right after I opened the wine, so my senses were a little off. That being said, it tasted like it drank beyond the meager $9 pricetag.
In the end, it was nothing earth-shattering, but for $8.99, I will proudly submit it for approval in the Inaugural Cheap Wine Challenge. And, like a wrestler hopped up on too many performance enhancers, “I CHALLENGE YOU, BROTHER, TO BRING YOUR WINE TO THE TABLE AND SEE IT EXPERIENCE THE PAIN AND HUMILIATION OF THE ‘DESTEMMER’, BROTHER!”
Okay. I’m going to bed. This is ridiculous.

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