Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Sense of Place (part 1 of 2)

March 30, 2010
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Goût de Terroir (French): a taste of the earth


The only taste I have in my mouth now is that of stale gas station pizza and a $0.99 16 oz. can of Pepsi. It’s 8:15 AM on a Saturday. Breakfast of champions, right? Perhaps my only option; waking up early on a weekend to hit the road leaves little time for the pleasantly lethargic ritual of a leisurely cup of coffee and a slow-simmered, comforting bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Nope; an empty tank of gas means an obligatory stop at the BP, and after several moments of internal struggle, out the door with a cold can of corn syrup and a pizza that would make even Chef Boyardee blush with shame.
As Jerry’s haunting guitar melodies mingle with Phil Lesh’s effortless bass riffs in a ethereal rendition of “Dark Star“, I fall into the trance one only knows if on the road often. As city fades into countryside, my vehicle and myself have become one…anticipating the destination would only delay arrival, as a watched toaster never pops when one is hungry. The destination is Clayton, GA; practically an annex of North Carolina, as it’s tucked into the furthest northeast reaches of the state, over 2 hours ride from metro Atlanta. Clayton, besides being one of the outposts of the Peach state, also happens to be home to one of its most cloistered vineyards: Persimmon Creek. I crest over a hill to face the imposing wall of the Appalachian mountains. Not far now.
Through winding mountain roads and country lanes, I meander closer to my destination. You know you’re in another world when trout streams outnumber traffic lights and road names like “Slop Bucket Lane” manifest themselves. As I pull up on the gateway to the Persimmon Creek vineyards, I relish in the seclusion. It’s very liberating to get away from the 4-lanes and soak in the crisp air and natural beauty of the North Georgia mountains.

Past the gate and beyond a row of Riesling vines (more on that later), I pull up to the house of Mary Ann Hardman, proprietor of Persimmon Creek. Hardman, an attractive yet understated woman in her early forties, greets me warmly in the kitchen of her on-property home, sporting a mild yet distiguishable accent- I’m not the only Georgia native here.
After a brief glance over the grounds from the upstairs porch, we head downstairs, through a barrel room full of French, American, and Hungarian oak barriques, and into a private tasting room, also redolent of the vanilla-and-toast aromas of wood-aging wine. In my mind, this is a detour. Usually, the vineyards and property are put on display first, and the wine tasting- always the climactic moment of any vineyard visit- ties up the experience. In the end, it’s all about the wine, right? Alas, this was not shaping up to be a typical winery, nor a typical host…
To be continued

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Even this is starting to look good…

March 29, 2010
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Wine Blogging Wednesday #67: Seeing Red for the First Time

March 24, 2010
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Like General MacArthur returning to the Pacific, Julius Caesar’s triumphant arrival back in Rome, or the elusive reappearance of the McRib, I’m happy to get back into writing for “Wine Blogging Wednesday”. The concept was started over 5 years ago by New York wine authority Lenn Thompson, and is- this month- being hosted by wine-blogging supernova Joe Roberts. As both gentlemen are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, and Ben Roethlisberger prefers to engage in shenanigans in my home state of Georgia, I feel a certain connection here. Maybe Lenn, Joe, Ben and I will get together for a McRib sometime. I hear the McDonald’s in Milledgeville is pretty good.

Okay, while I can’t apologize for their quarterback, I do tip my hat to the guys for continuing a great tradition. WBW centers around a theme picked by the month’s host, and it’s a terrific way to bring the wine blogging community together to “compare notes”. Think of Wine Blogging Wednesday as a virtual round of McRibs, but replace wine writing for the meat-type substance of unknown providence slathered in sauces and toppings to mask the unspeakable horror.
Fortunately, the theme this month is devoid of horror. “Seeing red” is all about finding the red wine you’d utilize to welcome a white-wine drinker to the dark side. As tinted vino often has a flavor profile much different to the typical “white wine drinker’s” drug of choice (likely being California Chardonnay), this can be a tough sell. The heavier flavors, often lower acidity & higher alcohol, and- what I think is the biggest aversion- a prevalence of tannins in many red wines spit in the eye of the butter, tropical fruits, occasional crispness, and moderate alcohol of your standard-issue Chardonnay (though many from California and Australia can be quite high in booze levels). As I am an unbiased lover of all wines (or pretty much anything that can be consumed and put in my gullet), I needed a test subject:
Meet Ashley, friendly neighbor and wine consumer (and, oddly enough, Pittsburgh Steelers fan). While I have seen her knock down an occasional red, Ashley’s been a pretty loyal patron of a particular brand of California Chardonnay. And, being a trooper, she even “volunteered” to have a glass of her favorite go-to in the name of scientific research. Furthermore, I tip my hat to Ashley’s intrepid spirit, sacrifice, and teamwork when her arm was firmly twisted into drinking free wine. You tops, kiddo!
Now, what strategy would I employ in willing this mild-mannered test subject towards seeing red? In my analysis, I came up with two possible strategies:
1) Find a wine with very similar attributes to a Chardonnay (or other popular white wine)
2) Go for the “knocking off of the socks”, if you will, by finding a red wine that would be nothing like the incumbent product, impressing an inevitable “what have I been missing?!” reaction.
Well, I caved. The second option seemed so cavalier, but I didn’t think I could pull it off. That being said, I did go for perhaps an original angle (at least on my first try):
Grateful Palates 2008 “Bitch” Grenache, South Australia:
Okay, perhaps I was going for sassy marketing to soften the blow of consuming red wine. However, I thought this one might fit the bill. Here’s my half-witted reasoning:
1) Grenache is a grape that is medium-bodied, generally lower in tannin, and high in strawberry flavors.
2) Australian wines- since they are so reliant on export- need to be marketable. For this reason, many are more fruit-forward and low in tannin.
The verdict: Ashley didn’t like it as much as white wine, wouldn’t pay the $12 for it, but also wouldn’t be upset if it was served to her. When told she could pour it out to try the second wine, she said, “c’mon. It’s not THAT bad.” Regardless, I think I failed with this one. Frankly, either I didn’t like it at all or the bottle was bad. It had that rubber ball smell I’ve been getting lately in many wines, suggesting there many have been an issue with sulfuric compounds in the wine.

2007 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages:
My first instinct was to go with Beaujolais, but I didn’t think it’d be very original, so I got myself in that “bitch” of a situation above. Why Beaujolais? Well, this French wine is made from the Gamay grape, often employing a fermentation technique known as “carbonic maceration” (I won’t get into the science…link if you’d like), which essentially preserves fresh fruit flavors and keeps tannins low. These wines also do well with a bit of a chill on them, have nice acidity, and make perfect picnic wines (sorta sounds like a white wine, huh?).
The verdict: my subject found this one to be “much better”, but then she “had to leave because her kid was getting tired and it was time for dinner” (a classic “I’m going to get a McRib but I’m too embarrassed to admit it” excuse). Luckily, one of our other companions said, “if you closed your eyes and tasted this, you could definitely mistake it for a white wine.” Boom. I’m chalking that up as full success.
I feel bad the “Bitch” didn’t work out, because I think lush Aussie Grenache would’ve been a more interesting victory. However, if you are a white wine-loyalist reading this post, I highly encourage you give some Beaujolais-Villages (or Beaujolais) a try. Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes, and enjoy it with whatever you’d usually have with your standard white, whether that be grilled chicken, flaky fish, or- of course- your weekly rib-flavored crap sandwich. Just please don’t be hesitant to try something new. You may never know what you’re missing.
And to that, I’ll bring back the toast (with a new Russian one I learned): Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, Nostrovia, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Seeking clever ways to work the word "groovy" into the title of this post

March 21, 2010
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My first- particularly terrible- instinct was to title it “A Groovy Kind of Love”…

C’mon, Phil! Pictures like this and songs like the aforementioned-and-wisely-avoided potential title make me not want to think you’re totally awesome. Can’t we avoid the heartfelt cheese of the balladier and the artistry of a sternly-intense superimposed headshot and get back to the free-wheelin’ Phil Collins? The free-wheelin’ Phil Collins’ mullet and the free-wheelin’ days of “No Reply At All” and “Sussudio”? Okay, okay. I know “A Groovy Kind of Love” came out in 1988. So it’s not like you’ve recently jumped the shark. Any I know the hair won’t grow back. I have intimate knowledge of that depressing phenomenon. Maybe I’m just holding onto the past too tightly. Hey! I bet Phil Bailey’s not doing anything…maybe a remake of “Easy Lover” with some auto-tuned T-Pain??

I can’t believe I went off on a tangent. That never happens. Anyway, the whole “groovy” thing stems from a recent dunking o’ the whiskers into several different bottles of Grüner Veltliner…an intimidating-sounding wine grape that is often referred to by the much “cuter” name of GrüVee (pronounced “groovy”), thus softening the awkward Germanic name (and lessening thoughts of robots dancing to techno music. Am I right?).
As I was (eventually) saying, Grüner Veltliner is basically THE white wine grape of Austria. The wine-growing regions of Austria are in the eastern part of the country, in and around Vienna. GrüVee makes food-friendly wines with flavors and aromas of minerals, pepper, herbs, peaches, and citrus. It’s not Riesling. It’s not Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a pretty unique grape that makes awefully unique wines. But, yes, the name can be confusing. In fact, the German word for wine is “wein” and the word for Vienna is “Wien”, thus easy fodder for mix ups. That being said, the German word for Viennese is “wiener”, so a Viennese wine label written in German is a slow-pitch softball when it comes to sophomoric humor (see video below for details).

Getting back to the evening at hand, four said bottles of “GrüVee” (the umlaut is still a little intimidating) were graciously donated by Austrian Wine and the other three by Matt from Wine and I (thanks, chaps!). Not quite having the intestinal fortitude to down seven bottles myself, I called on the eager palates and steadfast livers of local Atlanta bloggers Ed from Wine Tonite!, Jimmy from Eat It Atlanta, and Broderick from Savory Exposure. We ranked four of the bottles (as part of a national blog-wide event called the “GrüVee” olympics…results HERE) and simply enjoyed the three from Wolfgang. As always, it was a great time, better represented in moving pictures than words on a webpage.
To protect the innocent, I’ve omitted the following transgressions from the video below, which is a brief recount of another fun and wine-soaked evening at Chez Wine Tonite:

1) Jimmy raising the roof (but I still have video evidence for the highest bidder)
2) My consumption of cured meats, in direct violation of Lenten observance
3) Ed’s and my utter perplexity at the existence of a Sonoma winery’s cork in a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin, along with the Burgundy’s cork. Also eliminated are our hypotheses on counterfeit bottles and how this crazy coincidence could’ve occurred (Ed realizing the next day that the Sonoma cork was on his opener, and our hazy opening of the Gevrey had simply pushed the original cork down into the bottle. As my friend Disco Stu used to always say, “oh, sooo dumb.”)


What’s a Seven-Course Meal to an Irishman?

March 17, 2010
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Saint Patrick was a gentleman, who through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland, here’s a toasting to his health.

But not too many toastings, lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick and see all those snakes again.

‘Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!’ Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


St. Patrick’s Day Eve: The Anticipation-Equivalent of Christmas Eve to Charlatans and Drunken Buffoons aplenty (or "What to Drink on March 17")

March 16, 2010
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an excellent example of charlatans and/or drunken buffoons in their natural habitat

As soon as March 1st rolls up on my “Best of the Thundercats 16 month calendar”, I become obsessed with Irish music. Not just the traditional pub stuff- featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle, fife- but the incredible rock-influenced stuff, too: Flogging Molly, The Pogues, The Waterboys, and downright punk rock like the Dropkick Murphys. Maybe it’s the red beard. The pale complexion that puts a glass of Vinho Verde (more on that later) to shame? Perhaps the (very Irish) notion that strong drink, hearty food, good music, storytelling, and merrymaking are quite near the apex of existence. Whatever the case come March, I’m just shot out of a bright green cannon with shamrock-shaped sparkles and a smoke cloud that smells faintly of cut potatoes and leprechaun musk.

Therefore, while I’m sure St. Paddy’s has gone the way of Cinco de Mayo (which has nothing to do with Mexican Independence), it’s also still an excellent excuse to celebrate. One of the “greatest” traditions in the States is the consumption of “green beer”. Nothing gets my taste buds more horny than the thought of flavorless, low-calorie lager infused with food coloring.*
*denotes sarcasm
Rather than bow to the sour and insipid regurgitation of a dirty tap, celebrate with something slightly more traditional:

Stout: a term used in England and Ireland to denote “strong” beer as far back as the 17th century, stout has come to generally mean a dark beer whose color is derived from the use of dark roasted malt in the brewing process. While there are Oatmeal Stouts, Imperial Stouts, Chocolate Stouts, Coffee Stouts, Milk Stouts, and even Oyster Stouts (I’m not ready for that one yet), the Dry Irish Stout is what many hoist around the world on St. Patrick’s Day. The most popular example is- of course- Guinness, but Murphy’s and Beamish also make good examples of Irish Stout. Many (especially the neon-green beer drinking crowd) are put off by the “heaviness” of a stout, and- yes- the name suggests as such. However, 12 ounces of Guinness Draught (the stuff you get out the tap or in the cans with the weird device in them) only have 4.0% alcohol by volume, 125 calories, and 10 carbs. Compare to your green Bud Light, which has 4.2% ABV, 95 calories, and 6.6 carbs (source: realbeer.com). You could make up the difference with just one surly bar fight flurry of punches, and you’d have your wits about you by .2% alcohol, all while drinking something that has taste and pairs a hell of a lot better with your lamb stew or (not surprisingly) beef n’ Guinness pie.

Irish Whiskey: Somewhere along the line, the term whiskey came out of the old Gaelic phrase “uisce beatha”, which translates as “water of life”. So, next time Mom is giving you grief about how drinking is bad for you, simply explain that a bunch of old dead people referred to it as a necessity for living. “Then why are they dead?” Mom says. Dang, she always wins. Anyway, Irish Whiskey is an incredibly smooth and clean-drinking whiskey (or “whisky”, but not spelled that way in Ireland), due much to triple-distillation. Not as smoky as Scotch; not as sweet as Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey, but really darn good, and life-giving (disclaimer: Suburban Wino Industries makes no claims to be an authority on human health). Solid, easy-to-find examples include Bushmills, Jameson, and Tullamore Dew. The single-malt stuff is a little more elusive, but like scotch, it’s more complex, and may actually be the “water of life”.

Wine: Yes, I can already hear Kyle Broflovski’s mother screaming, “what, WHAT, WHAAAAAAAT?!!” Hang on. Bear with me. You can drink wine on St. Paddy’s, and this especially works if you’re hung up on the whole “green” thing.
Option 1: As mentioned earlier, Vinho Verde is a Portuguese still white wine that literally translates to “green wine”. While the name alludes to the wine’s freshness and youth (as opposed to the color, which is almost clear in many cases), hey, this is a wine blog, so I had to take a crack at it.
Option 2: Perhaps more half-baked than the Option 1 argument, but here it goes anyway. Look for organic wines, organically-farmed wines, or wines from sustainable or biodynamic vineyards (which don’t necessarily qualify as “certified organic”, but that’s another post). Anyhoo, the overused buzzword for good-for-the-environment is “green”, so…well, there you go. And while these wines aren’t required to say anything on the label, many probably do, as it is fashionable marketing these days. No longer total crap, there are many quality producers these days. Ask your local trusty wine shop for recommendations, and remind them that if you’re making a sacrifice for the environment, then you don’t need the dusty organic wine that they brought in on a whim and now can’t sell. Another option is to check out different wineries’ websites. They’ll be preaching all this stuff if they want to sell more.
So, surely you’re more enlightened and ready to take your March 17th irresponsibility to new heights (dare I say, responsible irresponsibility if going the sustainable/organic/biodynamic route). As for the bright green beer? The only things that should be that color are lime jello and antifreeze, and neither are safe for consumption.
Sláinte!


Wine Marketing

March 14, 2010
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This video those Crazy Bear folks came up with is incredibly hilarious. When you’re in marketing, these stinkin’ buzzwords get thrown around ad nauseam. Great job, guys!


Slippery Slopes. Slippery Slopes Aplenty (3 weeks in).

March 10, 2010
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Three weeks in. Vegan’s pretty much been thrown out the door. You people are nuts. Actually, with all due respect, I do think you have to have some sort of “cause” or philosophical conviction to be vegan. I just can’t eat beans and rice every day. Besides, when traveling, too much stuff is served with cheese. At this point, I’m just eating the cheese. I probably need the protein and the calcium. I’ve have no time for brittle bones and rickets. You know, as long as it isn’t made from human breast milk. What else can I say? Ewww.

Furthermore, when Dave from eatbufordhighway.com (great Atlanta food blog) posted this video (a while back, but I revisited it), I knew that I would be powerless to the cheese’s awesome power:

Other than my concession to dairy (shamefully, I don’t like eggs, so they’re a non-issue), I’ve been pretty good. Once I dropped vegan and went vegetarian, things got a LOT easier. Since the now-infamous “CarnivoreFest” debacle, the eating has been pretty spartan, devoid of pork, beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, duck, and Rodents of Unusual Size. That being said, a slippery slope manifested itself on one of my latest (of many) beeswax trips to Mobile, AL.

“If it can’t run away from you, fly away from you, or swim away from you, then it’s a vegetable. Think about broccoli…there it is, just sitting there. Oyster? Same thing.” -quote from a very convincing co-worker of mine

The oyster po-boy is a regional delight of the gulf coast…deep fried gulf oysters on a french roll with lettuce, tomato, and remoulade. And on that last trip to Mobile, there was a Wintzell’s right around the corner, so I had to act on impulse…and excellent reasoning on the providence of oysters.
Okay, and I also at a lobster. It was amazing. And some canned tuna. So, an oyster po-boy, a lobster, a can of tuna, and some cheese. Other than that, I’m still on the path of righteousness. By next week, I’m sure I will have rationalized that all seafood does not count as “animal”. Can someone provide more folksy wisdom to bolster this concept?

Coyote Callers Agree: Sauvignon Blanc is not just for Twitter Tastings anymore!

March 9, 2010
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Last Thursday marked a pretty incredible event….a worldwide Sauvignon Blanc tasting on Twitter. This thing was started by wine guy, social media marketing extraordinaire, and all-around nice guy Rick Bakas, and the word spread fast.

The idea was to connect wine lovers around the world with wineries, distributors, retailers, and other oenophiles in open discussion about arguably the Tubbs of the white wine landscape (to Chardonnay’s “Crockett”, of course). That is, the #2 out there. Nothing wrong with Tubbs. Some prefer Tubbs. Just meaning that Don Johnson’s star rose a little higher. Maybe the marketability of his sassy fashion-sense. I don’t know. I wasn’t allowed to watch Miami Vice as as a kid. Nor could I drink wine. Geez, my folks were real mennonites, huh? Maybe I need to start over. You see, Sauvignon Blanc is the “other guy in Wham!” to Chardonnay’s “George Michael”…
…enough of that. Anyway, folks would hop on Twitter and comment about the wines, adding the hashtag #sauvblanc. Then, by searching said hashtag, participants could view all the comments from all other Tweeters out there. Honestly, pretty amazing to see folks in North America, South America, Europe, New Zealand, Asia, and beyond connect so effortlessly. ‘Twas a true demonstration of the power of technology and social media. In fact, Twitter shows a list of the top-ten trending topics on Twitter (worldwide), and #sauvblanc made the cut about an hour into the event. Incredible!

Swelling with a feel-good vibe of world peace, I opted- once again- to patronize the wines of Chile in the wake of their recent earthquake. Chilean wines are neither the Crockett nor the Tubbs nor the 3rd most popular character on “Vice” in my mind and experience, but I continue to give them a try. Furthermore, they’re making a lot of Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s easy to find on most retail shelves.

Sadly, neither of my selections on #sauvblanc eve were earth-shattering (yikes, that’s a bad choice of words). The 2008 Palo Alto Maule Valley Sauvignon Blanc Reserve (not pictured) couldn’t even get past my nose. It had a very unpleasant smell of rubber and a whiff of rotten eggs, suggesting excessive sulfur compounds in the finished wine. Sulfur dioxide is a common addition to wines (notice most bottles say “contains sulfites”) to prevent spoilage and oxidation, but it can sometimes be overdone and cause reactions that ruin the wine. I’ll give it another try, because I don’t think this is what the winemaker intended. “What? You don’t love my burnt rubber/rotten egg nuances in the wine?!”
The second one was MUCH better. The 2008 Chilensis Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc Reserva had a subtle nose to it, but there were the thumbprint aromas of gooseberry (I’ve smelled enough SB to assume I know what the hell a gooseberry smells like), grapefruit, cut grass, and some stone fruits, with a bit of toast from the oak aging. So far, so good. However, it fell pretty flat in the mouth. While SB is renowned for a nice dose of acidity, this one was just…well, watery. Not a lot of flavor; not a ton of acidity. Honestly, if this had been a $10-12 bottle, I would’ve been perfectly happy with it. The fact that it cost $17, and it was from Chile, where wines are supposed to over-deliver for the price, well…it left me feeling as flat as the taste of the wine.

So, I dumped the Palo Alto and put the Chilensis in the fridge, hoping it’s time would come. Fortunately, the suburbs- at times- have a way of making the nuances of a bottle of wine take backstage to its undeniable ability to be no more than a vessel containing alcoholic beverage. Sitting on the back porch with neighbor Van Burin, piping Varmint Al’s coyote sounds through the outdoor speakers at 1 AM (all in an attempt to get a response from the large pack that inhabits the woods in our neighborhood), I must admit that the Chilensis- pulled straight from the bottle- was mighty good.

Curry

March 8, 2010
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To all the fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue, and- of course- Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, I apologize. This is not a post about actor Tim Curry. Sorry to lead you astray in your quest, and I wish you luck in finding more info about Tim Curry. I’m not here to judge. While I have no idea why you would be searching for Tim Curry, my presumptions about your interest in Tim Curry are none of my business.
Rather, I meant to talk about curries…found all over the world; a generic term for spices mixed into a sauce with vegetables or meat. Oddly, as curry powders and pastes are combinations of said spices, the word from which “curry” is derived translates to “sauce” or “gravy”, instead of “spice”.
In any case, when meat is not an option (an update on that later), intense flavors are critical. Furthermore, many Asian curries employ coconut milk, a tasty, fatty base for sauces that is very filling.
Making this one was incredibly easy (outside of the endless chopping…get a good knife and it’s actually fun). I quickly wokked the veggies in hot oil, mixed in curry powder and coconut milk, and served over steamed jasmine rice. Totally satisfying, and not nearly as creepy as Tim Curry.
FYI: While I didn’t have any wine with this meal (cries of “HERESY!” are heard in the distance), I think the perfect pairing would be a Gewürztraminer. “Gewurtz” often has aromas and flavors of exotic spices, and the off-dry versions will have enough sweetness to temper the peppery heat of many curries. Look for great ones from Alsace, Germany, Washington State, and Oregon.


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