Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Stuck on First Impressions

July 6, 2011
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When someone tells me he doesn’t like wine, I sort of get it. It’s simply a case of a bad introduction.

Not so oddly (bear with me), I credit George Harrison with this surprising measure of leniency/understanding. For anyone who has lived under a rock for the past 50 years (or, for the legal-drinking citizens reading this blog who were born in 1990… cripes!), Harrison was one of the original Beatles, an accomplished songwriter, an amazing solo artist, and a ridiculous guitarist. I mean, the guy wrote “Something”, dammit. And- of course- he put together All Things Must Pass, perhaps- in this guy’s humble opinion- one of the finest rock albums ever compiled in the history of popular music. George Harrison was masterful; an icon. Rock & Roll history must be re-written without him.
Alas, this was not my first impression of the “quiet one”.
In 1987, I was eight years old. My older brother- sort of a rock & roll appreciation savant– kept a healthy dose of MTV and VH1 on the tube at this point. Amidst the extraordinary cheese being pumped out by ailing acts like Billy Ocean and Mr. Mister, I distinctly remember a particularly-creepy fellow with an awful mullet and a penciled-in five o’clock shadow playing campy guitar riffs while some 80’s jerk-ass tried to get a prize out of one of those jerk-ass claw games at some jerk-ass arcade for some jerk-ass 80’s dream girl. I further recall that stupid song being played during elementary school physical education classes, usually involving me having to dance with girls. At eight years old. Not cool.

Alas, the artist was George Harrison, and the song was “Got My Mind Set On You”, a cover of a James Ray R&B tune from 1962. I don’t remember much more than I’ve already described, but one thing was (and still is) clear: it sucked. The day I found out Harrison was the lead guitarist for the Beatles, I was stunned at how one person could fall so far from grace*.
Unfortunately for this little tike, I harbored quite a lot of ill-will towards a great musician, based solely on a first-impression that painted a very atypical picture of the body of work. Such is- far too often- the case with wine.
Some people love Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay. That’s fine. More power to ’em. Yet, some find it to be vile, nay, unholy. Here’s the rub: I posit that rather often, folks’ first impressions of the noble Chardonnay grape is in the form of a bottle of TBC (or equivalent) at a backyard cookout, a tailgate, an engagement party. I further suggest that a good measure of these people think it does not taste very appealing. At that point, they make a broad-brushed declaration that Chardonnay is no good, and not for them (or even worse, wine in general).

Sadly, Two Buck Chuck is a widespread and easily-acquired ambassador of a grape that produces some of the most expressive and complex wines in the world. However, because of an unsavory introduction, a stigma has been created; one that can be difficult to shake for some. However, I can imagine how this situation could be completely reversed. What if a person’s first taste of Chardonnay was in the form of an incredible Puligny-Montrachet, for example? One chance encounter (unfortunately, leaning heavily towards the cheap stuff, based on availability and price) could mean the difference between a wine-hater and an instant oenophile.
Here’s my point: those who have made up your mind, open it again. Like in the world of music, even the same artist- hell, the same song- can be manifested in dozens, hundreds of styles and expressions. And if you still can’t make peace with Rock & Roll’s Chardonnay, there’s always Techno’s Riesling, Classical’s Pinot Noir, Reggae’s Roussanne, and Hip Hop’s Mourvèdre.
*for the record, I don’t hold George Harrison responsible for that crap. I blame Jeff Lynne, that over-producing sunuvabitch. Keep your ELO** away from my Beatles, you curly-headed freak.

**actually, I kinda like the Electric Light Orchestra.


Joe Versus the Movie Pairings, part 1

May 2, 2010
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While wine pairings are- to many consumers- a point of substantial anxiety, for others, they’re a creative and engaging exercise. Pulling together the food and the drink that so perfectly complement each other is a rush, sparking a “eureka!” moment that begs to be repeated…
But does the challenge of the perfect pairing become addictive? Have folks gone too far? I’ve seen wines paired with everything, from breakfast to shoes. I used to think that pairing wines with the music you’re listen to while imbibing was a cool idea, until I realized finding a wine/music pairing is about as rare as finding a Hall & Oates song on a random iPod. I think I heard a comedian once say that iPods probably come preloaded with at least one Hall & Oates hit. I’m starting to think this wasn’t a joke. Anyway, this concept is allegedly so overblown that it’s caught the ire of the magnificent Hosemaster, officially relegating it to “stay away” status, for fear of a lampooning.
However, pairing with a smattering of bad 80’s movies is something I’ve yet to see, and something that I feel must be done. Not only because I think it’s got entertainment value, but also because a participant on the Facebook opus solicited the challenge. The original plan was to pair one red and one white with each, but I feel there’s a unique style that defines each of these films. So, donning my Hypercolor t-shirt and best pair of acid-washed, tight-rolled jeans, I attempt part 1 of 2 (because I got a list of too many movies):

Roadhouse: when things get out of control at the Double Deuce and Dalton’s not around, you’re only hope to survive is to smash a bottle over someone’s head. Go with a sparkling Blanc de Blancs. Made from 100% Chardonnay, “Blanc de Blancs” means “white from whites”, meaning a white wine from white grapes. More critical to the situation, though, is that a Champagne or sparkling bottle is substantially thicker than a still wine bottle so it can hold the 6 atmospheres of pressure built up within. This extra-thick glass might hold up, allowing for multiple head smashings. Furthermore, the wine held inside the bottle is very nice. And it’s important to always be nice.

RoboCop: Cabernet Sauvignon. This authoritative grape is a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc (yes, a red grape and a white grape combined to make a more powerful red grape…makes about as much sense as combining man with machine). Highly respected and often feared by those with soft palates; yet this grape can produce wines that are incredibly powerful, but also display finesse and precision. Unfortunately, some Cabernet Sauvignons can command incredibly high prices, so the odds of them being affordable in futuristic Detroit are highly unlikely.

Sixteen Candles: Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. What else would you drink when 16?

Joe versus the Volcano: Sierra Foothills AVA Zinfandel. As many parts of Amador and Calveras Counties in California rate as “Zone 5” on the Winkler Scale (a way of measuring heat for the purpose of growing grapes), many of the grapes get very ripe, producing lots of sugar, which is converted into alcohol. Zinfandel, also notorious for ripening unevenly, is often left on the vine until the slowest grapes hit peak ripeness, and the early ones have pretty much turned to raisins. This- in turn- presents more sugar for the yeast to metabolize, producing higher alcohol levels as well. Many Zinfandels from California’s hotter growing regions have alcohol levels of over 16% printed on the labels (with state law allowing a varience of 1% at these high percentages…meaning wines with potentially 17%+). But why all this talk about ripeness, fermentation, and high alcohol levels? Because you’re gonna want to knock yourself out as quickly as possibly while watching this crap movie.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: German Riesling. Many are bottled with residual sugar present, so- as this has not been converted to alcohol during fermentation- the ABV tends to be lower, often around 8%. You’ll be able to keep your wits about you longer and not be lulled to sleep. However, the ripping acidity of the Riesling grape may feel like Freddy’s clawed hand across your tongue.

The Little Mermaid: if you’re looking for a wine to pair with Disney cartoons… #justsayin

The Breakfast Club: A brain. And an athlete. And a basketcase. A princess. And a criminal. No grape fits this description better than the enigmatic Chardonnay. A brain, capable of beautiful and thought-provoking expression, particularly the wines of Burgundy. An athlete, globetrotting the world as one of the top grapes covering acreage under vine. A basketcase, taking on multiple personalities depending on climate, region, oak regime, malolactic fermentation, battonage, and/or sparkling production. A princess, gaining the admiration of perhaps more white-wine lovers than any other grape. And, a criminal, sometimes committing unspeakable atrocities when bottled in its cheapest and most manipulated forms. Sincerely, The Breakfast Club.

To be continued…

Taking Flight at Montaluce (at last, Georgia Wines part 4 of 4)

September 20, 2009
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Dedication can be a tricky thing. Last thing I’ve wanted to do today is sit down and write a post. Football season can really wear one out, but a fan feels compelled to watch every minute of his favorite teams, even if the games run late into the night, sap all his emotional energy, and occupy his every waking minute from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. Call it, uh…dedication to the team. Unfortunately, the blog needs it’s attention too, so dedication need be mustered again (somewhere, an English teacher is cursing me for using the same word three times in a paragraph).

Furthermore, I feel compelled to write about the wines being produced on the Dahlonega Plateau. These guys put in a lot of hard work and- do I even need to say it?- into what they’re doing, especially at Montaluce. The folks there dropped everything to speak to some inquisitive boob from Woodstock, GA, so the least I can do is write about it. If you want to read my article about Montaluce, click here. For the purposes of this post, I’m sticking strictly to the wine:

2008 Risata: Three cheers for good winemaking. This Sangiovese-based effort was originally intended to be a red wine. When the grapes didn’t come in the way the winemaker wanted, he turned it into an intriguing Rosé. Nice move. I was met with a very pleasant nose of roses, orange peel, herbs, that Georgia “grassiness”, and rainbow sherbet. Yeah, the red, green, and orange stuff. It was dry and crisp in the mouth, with good acidity. A really nice wine.
2008 Chardonnay: A nice, buttery, earthy nose (maybe “grassy” again?) with some telltale Chardonnay aromas of green apple and citrus. In the mouth, there was once again good acidity (which you’d expect in a cool-climate, but not in the Deep South…nice). This wine also had a nice, long finish. It was not my favorite of the bunch, but that could be a personal problem. Why am I saddling you with my problems? You’ve got enough on your plate, and I respect that, valued reader.

2008 Viognier: A variety of grape that I’m seeing a ton of in Georgia, for which I am very happy (Viognier is SOOO good when done well). Montaluce’s- yet again- had a very interesting nose…extra virgin olive oil (or “EVOO” if you’re into terrible Rachael Ray references) was the first thing that jumped out at me. I also got apricots, peaches, and honey in my snout. Nice tangerine and spice in the mouth. Bought a bottle; what else can I say?
2008 Merlot: Another good nose. Herbs, green pepper, and berries dancing around in the glass. As I swished it around in my cheeks, this light-to-medium bodied red had a huge kick of strawberries, which never sucks. Really, what’s impressive about the Montaluce wines is the depth of flavor that I haven’t really seen in the other Georgia wines I’ve had. They’re more complex, and this Merlot is no exception.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: I think by this point, I was jaw-jacking with Rob Beecham, and I didn’t write down any notes. Nice one, Joe. Anyway, what I do remember is that it was pretty good: medium-bodied, good fruit, that signature Georgia “grassiness” (which may sound bad, but it’s not. It’s the “Georgia” in the wine). Sorry, Cab. I meant well, but failed to give you the respect you deserve.
So, there it is. This edition of my Georgia wine oddyssey is closed- for now. There’s a lot more going on up in the hills, so I’m sure I’ll be back…
…just like I’m sure I’ll be sitting on the couch again on a Sunday night, trying to avoid writing a post. But if they keep busting their butts to make the best wine possible, I’ll get off mine and write about it.
To dedication, even when it’s not the easy thing to do: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Bombs over Negotino: Macedonia and the Dirty South, together at last

July 28, 2009
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Refreshing, full disclosure: the wines tasted in this post were samples provided by the fine folks at Two Friends Imports.

Macedonia. Just the whisper; the mere utterance of the word makes any wine lover go “huh?” Yeah, we all think of France, Italy, Spain, and Germany in the grand pantheon of European wines, but rarely this small Republic that was once part of what made up Yugoslavia. Odd we don’t know anything about this wine region: while the “big four” have been under vine since the Roman times, the folks in Macedonia were kicking viticulture when the Greeks ruled the world- long before Julius Caesar got worked over like a pack of smokes at an A.A. meeting.
So, with all this history of winemaking, surely they’d be making some good stuff? Well, the locals are certainly giving it a go, especially in the Tikveš‎ region, near the town of Negotino. How ’bout a handy map:

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Here, in the central part of Macedonia, they’re dealing with primarily a “Mediterranean” climate (read: hot and dry), which is perfect for grape-growing. Along with popular local varieties like Vranec, they’re growing many “classic” varieties, such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, thanks to the intrepid efforts of the guys at Two Friends Import Co., we’ve got these unusual wines in Georgia (thus, the clever Macedonia/Outkast theme of the post. Li’l Jon would’ve also been acceptable, but I didn’t know how to say “YEAH!” in the local tongue).

Anyway, I got to dunk my whiskers into a couple bottles over the weekend, and here’s what I thought:

Bovin 2008 Tikveš‎ Region Chardonnay: Bovin has been making wine since 1998, and they’re currently producing about 80,000 cases annually. Among those, this 13.7% ABV Chardonnay.

Nose: Lots of fruit: cantaloupe, ripe apple, pineapple, grapefruit, plus a VERY pleasant honey-butter aroma, and just a hint of oakiness and minerality. I’ll tell you, I’m not generally a big fan of Chardonnay. Too often, it reeks of oak and vanilla, and this just masks fake-smelling fruit flavors…probably why the cheap stuff is served ice-cold so you can’t smell the shame. But this nose is just pretty…everything is balanced and subtle (but definitely there), and- dammit- it just WORKS, at least for me.

Taste: Admittedly, my smellin’ notes are usually better than my tastin’ notes. We’ll give it a go anyway. This wine is silky, with flavors of lime, buttered (slightly burnt) toast, and grapefruit. The finish was nutty (almonds, maybe?), and I counted to 20 before I couldn’t taste the wine anymore. I thought it was a little hot (alcoholic) on the finish, but overall, things were in nice balance. I even came back and drank some at room temperature the next day, and things were still balanced and there was no evidence of flaw…it was actually incredible the next day.

Verdict: knowing that this wine retails for under $15, it is an ABSOLUTE STEAL. There’s so much underwhelming Chardonnay from California at that price point (or more), and this drinks much more like a $25-35 bottle. That’s one of the great things about lesser-known countries: good quality for a great price. If you see this one, pick it up, and snag a bottle for me, you handsome devil.
Bovin 2006 Tikveš‎ Region Cabernet Sauvignon: At 13% ABV, I expected this to be lighter-bodied. However, coming from a region that regularly hits 104° F, I thought I’d get something that kicked me in the teeth. Frankly, I was torn on what I would get. Luckily, that mystery was about to be solved.

In the glass, this was one of the lightest-colored Cabs I’ve seen in a while. It almost looked like a Pinot Noir.

Nose: Heinz 57, raisins, pickles, black currant, herbs, creamed corn, and a serious kick of raspberry sorbet. Trust me: this nose looks weird, but it’s really cool to get all sorts of interesting things out of the aroma. The nose was really bright and rustic. Didn’t remind me of Cab so much, but it was still quite pretty. Basically, between the color and the nose, this wine would’ve kicked my @ss in a blind tasting.

Taste: I wrote down “Cab for Pinot lovers.” It was a little dull and flabby (as in “lacking acidity”) at first, but I think this is just because I’ve come to expect big flavors, tons of tannin, and high alcohol from a Cabernet. The flavors were there: mostly berries and dark fruit. But the tannins were so soft; more like a new world Merlot. I feel like I could drink this on a hot day and not sweat my face off (the usual, flattering side-effect of me drinking a heavy red wine). It’s officially “summertime Cabernet,” and while it really threw me off, once I took it for what it was, I enjoyed it a lot more.

Verdict: Not quite the freight-train that the Chardonnay was, but a nice wine that I would take down with some roasted chicken (or by itself). Also priced in the teens (I believe… someone please correct me if I’m wrong here), I think you could do a lot worse.

My final analysis: if this is the first stuff coming to the states from Macedonia, we’ve got a lot to be excited about. This quality, at these price points, is exactly how you can still drink good wine in a tough economy. But most importantly, it’s great to try new things. You can really surprise yourself sometimes and find some gems. And if you buy a bottle of Macedonian wine (click here for a list of spots in Georgia), someone in that country will probably do a dance…and I bet they’ve got some pretty sweet dance moves there.

Until next time, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Cut that umbilical cord!

June 15, 2009
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This post is in response to this Wall Street Journal article posted by @kevinzraly on Twitter. Aren’t on Twitter? Give in to the peer pressure and follow me here

Like an old, reliable baseball cap that you can always go to when your hair is just not styling the way you want (see right), all too often, I see white wine drinkers opt for the warm, familiar beanbag-chair-of-wines that is Chardonnay. One of the most widely planted varieties in the world (second only to Airén, a Spanish white grape), Chardonnay has also flourished in myriad climates, from the brutal heat and drought of Australia to the rather cool climate of Champagne, France. For its adaptability, there’s no doubt why it became so popular in California; and it’s Burgundian pedigree no doubt armed it with marketability-galore…like that kid back in high school who had little going for him but always got the Hypercolor t-shirts. Man, I wanted to hang out with that kid and his fancy-schmancy shirt.

Yeah, my mom made my clothes. I had homemade Jams. Wanna fight about it?! Just don’t rip my clothes. It took mom a long time to make them.

The point I’m trying to make is that Chardonnay, of itself, is a pretty boring grape. It doesn’t have a crazy flavor profile. Its acidity tanks in warm climates, creating what wine-nerds call a “flabby” wine, and what food nerds call a “terrible wine to go with food” (as acidity generally heightens the flavors of foods and cuts through richness. Ask an Italian. He’ll break down the food/wine importance thing).

“But Joe,” you say, “I’m not gonna take wine advice from a guy in homemade clothes. Anyway, I’ve had some AMAZING Chardonnays from Chablis, Mersault, and all them Montrachets in France.” Indeed. This is true. Why? Because where Chardonnay really shines (aside from the fact that it will grow anywhere) is that is a blank canvas for a great winemaker to show his art (and enough with the clothes). Does the wine get aged in oak, creating vanilla and butterscotch flavors and aromas? Is it American oak or French oak? What forest did the French oak come from? Will the barrel be new or used? How much will the barrel be toasted? Will the winemaker encourage malolactic fermentation, which causes the tart, apply malic acid in the wine to change to silky, buttery lactic acid, creating a creamy mouthfeel? Will the winemaker employ batonnage, or stirring the lees to add more flavors?

Listen: you get the idea. And in the hands of a great winemaker, Chardonnay can be inspired and, uh, bitchin’ (sorry, thought this post was getting too high-brow). But, as the WSJ article bolstered, too many wineries are taking bad grapes, manipulating them with so much oak to hide that bad flavor, and shipping them out to our unsuspecting gullets. And, all the while, tons of INCREDIBLE white wines are sitting on the shelf, like the totally hot nerdy girl in all those 80’s movies who was one makeover away from Prom Queen, but the captain of the football team couldn’t see it. You saw it, though. And you could’ve probably hooked that up, because she was a nerd, too. Bet she dug guys with unhealthy obsessions with viticulture and food science. …and dinosaurs. Amazing dinosaurs.
When was the last time you had Sauvignon Blanc? Riesling? Pinot Gris? Gewurztraminer? Viognier? Torrontés? THESE ARE ALL WHITE GRAPES! There are a bunch more, too! Go try one. You might be surprised how good they are. And, if you’re a creature of habit and unwilling to stray, at least give California a break and try something from Chablis, Mâcon-Villages (a great value), or splurge a little more and try something from Mersault for around $40.
Just get out there and try something new! You won’t regret it. And even if you don’t like it, what have you got to lose? Fifteen, twenty bucks? You could save some much more than that by having mom make your clothes.
Let me know about your adventures! Tell me what you tried and if you liked it!