Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

The "Smackdown" Cometh

August 17, 2011
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It’s a slang term-staple at Kid Rock concerts, on Kid Rock albums, at Kid Rock cover-band shows, and probably anywhere Kid Rock fans flock (including Kid Rock concerts, Kid Rock cover-band shows, crystal meth dens, WWE Summer Slam- especially if Kid Rock is presiding, Departments of Family and Childrens’ Services, Univerity of Florida tailgate parties, episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras, and Burger King).
Rarely, if ever, is the term “smackdown” nestled into the haughty company of fine wine.
But, when the competitive spirit of the human animal is interwoven with a subject-matter of great debate, we droop- like Ric Flair’s aging man breasts- to the basest of lows (especially men). We boil it down to “we’re better than you”, whether it be sports, politics, or… Pinot Noir.
This red grape, often praised for its uncanny ability to express the place from whence it came, really only thrives in some distinct pockets of the world. However, due to it’s ability- when shepherded properly from vine to glass- to create complex, elegant, even haunting wines; wines that perform as perfectly by themselves as they do with meals, these specific growing areas are limited, but prolific. The extraordinary demand requires availability.
Outstanding examples of Pinot Noir-based wines are found in Burgundy (France), Oregon, California, Canada, New York, Washington State, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Chile (and probably somewhere I missed). So many great Pinots out there… and so many opinions on which are the best.
Naturally, we need to fight about this. To quench our primal urge for combat, the Pinot Smackdown was created. However, despite rampant jibs and jabs, the Smackdown is more-closely akin to professional wrestling: fake competition in the spirit of entertainment for all. Ultimately, if the whole world is united with a glass of Pinot Noir on Thursday, August 18th (via the Twitter community), then there are no losers…
…except those who don’t participate. So, if you do have a glass of Pinot Noir in your hand on Thursday, and you like to make magic on the Twitters, just join in the conversation:
1) Get some Pinot Noir. Drink it with friends. Drink it with Ric Flair. He might put you in a figure four leg-lock and steal your wine. Which sucks. You’ll need some to dull the indescribable pain.

2) Use a site like, or free software such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic to create a flow of tweets containing the hashtag “#pinotsmackdown“. You can see the conversation from around the world.

3) Tweet, if you wish. If you do, make sure to tag your tweet with #pinotsmackdown. Furthermore, if you’re drinking a wine from a certain region, throw an additional hashtag in for the region! We’ve simplified things this year, so make sure you keep it at a high level, in order for the number of referenced tweets to be collected (for example, don’t tweet “I like this Sólena Pinot from Willamette Valley… #pinotsmackdown #WV”. Say, “I like this Sólena Pinot from Willamette Valley… #pinotsmackdown #OR”). Keep it simple, and unify for your favorite region.
4) Go crazy with it! You can “vote” as often as you want with tweets, and for as many regions as you please (fake wrestling, remember? Very few rules). You can see the details HERE, or I’ll just break down all the qualifying regions for you now, because I think you’re attractive:

#OR – Oregon

#CA – California

#WA – Washington

#NY – New York

#46 – U.S. The “Other 46,” outside of the Big Four

#FR – France

#IT – Italy

#DE – Germany (Deutschland)

#EU – Europe, beyond France, Germany, Italy

#CN – Canada

#NZ – New Zealand

#CH – Chile

#AR – Argentina

#AU – Australia

#SA – South Africa

#WD – World, as in none previously listed
5) Most importanly, enjoy the wine. That’s really why were all here. It’s a very elaborate excuse.
And seriously, Flair. I learned a long time ago, at my tender age, to keep my shirt on. Time for you to do the same. Them’s some flapjacks, brother.


June 20, 2011
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Leftovers are a drag.
To some, this is an inflammatory statement. Akin to saying, “I can’t stand Glee.” (btw- I can’t stand Glee).
So, before I’m verbally smacked in the face with an open-faced meatloaf sandwich (or accosted my a rabid army of Gleeks), let’s break this down:
1) Eating the same thing in sequence is very boring. This is why I’m not in the military, avoid prison, and run through failed diets like a pack of smokes at an Al-Anon meeting.
2) Many foods, though delicious initially, lose a whole lot of luster when refrigerated and reconstituted.

Eating leftovers- ones not meant to improve overnight like a pot roast or a soup- is like fighting a gustatory battle against the evil forces of hunger with a decimated officer Alex James Murphy, pre-Robocop enhancements.
But, even when dealing with the most-ravaged of leftovers, a little culinary surgery can turn the most lifeless Steve Austin into the Six Million Dollar Man.
Take, for example, the low country boil (or “frogmore stew”, “shrimp boil”, or any number of regional names). This southern, coastal delight is a mash-up of shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage, boiled together in seasoned water (most traditionally, in straight-up seawater). Generally made for a large crowd, the one-pot feast is dumped onto a table covered with newspaper, and devoured by famished, often-tipsy, party or tailgate guests.
When the crowd has been eating all day, the chance of leftovers is more palpable. What’s left? A fridge full of Murphys and Austins:
Cold, greasy sausage, enveloped in a film of congealed pork fat. Wrinkled corn. Potato mush. And, of course, shrimp that have already been cooked once. And overcooked shellfish is an abject disaster.
Alas, at times, fiscal responsibility outweighs the desire to discard. With a few ingredients and some basic know-how, you can rebuild it. You have the technology.
Six Million Dollar Pasta (or Robocop Pasta, if you prefer)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil, or a combo of both
1/2 lb. smoked kielbasa (about the equivalent of 1 link), cut into 1/4″ half-rounds
4 scallions, chopped (greens and whites)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2-3 heads of garlic, minced
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Cup whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 lb. cooked large (30-35 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb. (1/2 box) dry pasta (in this case, linguine)
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) Melt butter, or oil, or combo of both (I like that one) in a pan. Add the kielbasa sausage and sauté on medium heat until the sausage has given up some fat.

2) Add the scallions, celery, garlic, peppers, and cajun seasoning. Sauté until veggies are a little soft (3 minutes)

3) In the meantime, get at least a half gallon of water a’boilin’. Salt and keep bubblin’. Yes, I hate the letter “g”.

4) Add the flour and mix into the goodness. Once the flour is incorporated and has absorbed the fat, add the milk. Put the spurs to it and crank the range to high (the flour will thicken the milk into a sauce, but only once the liquid boils (don’t ask me the science on this). If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk, a bit at a time. Bing bang boom.

5) Add pasta to boiling water after the milk goes in.

6) Once the cream sauce is how you like it, add the shrimp, basically just to heat them up. Salt and pepper to taste.

7) When the pasta is ready, strain it and dump into the sauce (I also like to add a small ladle of the pasta water to the sauce).

8) Garnish, or don’t garnish. I don’t care. And who am I to influence your garnishing decisions?

I know your first instinct is to drink a tall glass of whole milk with this. However, since there’s already a bunch of whole milk in the recipe, do something wacky and drink wine. In the case of this dish, containing both a seafood element and some sausage, I figured there may be opportunity to go either way- red or white- with the wine. Fortunately, PR pal Constance had slung me some sample New Zealand beauties recently (okay, it was a long time ago. PR folks: I’m a really terrible person to send wine to). In any case, they fit the bill: A Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir. White and Red. It was meant to happen this way.
The wines of New Zealand always tend to be great with food, especially from the Marlborough region (on the South Island). The significant distance from the equator and the maritime influences ’round those parts make for bottlings that aren’t too heavy, are crisp and clean, and bonzer with chow (though I think “bonzer” is an Aussie saying, and now I’ve lost my entire Kiwi readership). Although many other wine grapes are grown in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are definitely the ambassadors for white and red, respectively, and neither of these offerings disappointed.
In the end, the acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc balanced the rich pasta dish, with pronounced grapefruit goodness to tame it’s fiery cajun soul. The Pinot Noir, although tasty on it’s own, didn’t jive with my lofty aspirations of a colorblind meal…
…but it was bionic; resurrected from a refrigerated tomb to bring hope to generations of leftovers.

The Way We Were

June 2, 2011
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No rapture last week, but is it a sign of the Apocalypse that I’m posting a pic of Barbra Streisand on the blawg? Nah, I was just reminiscing about the way we were… that is to say, the memories. That’s what we have on Memorial Day, right? And, as I wage war with an unbeatable foe- named “acceptance”- over the rapid deforestation of my scalp, thinking about “the way we were” spurred me to splice in a pic of myself, back in the days of glorious hair. This gambit would furthermore prevent me just posting a straight-up pic of Barbra, which would relegate this wine blog to the equally-overcrowded-and-unpleasant realm of Streisand-fan blogs.

As I was saying: memories. Memorial Day is ideally about paying respect to those who have fought and died for our freedom. However, to more than a few of us, Memorial Day is about eating meats, drinking booze, and recalling the debauchery of Memorial Day weekends past. As the great Jay Thomas said on his SiriusXM radio show, “there’s probably some guy in a trench thinking, ‘I hope those [expletive] back home are enjoying their ribs.'”
As for this past Sunday (spilling into Monday), I do recall several memories of the purely civilian nature… that is to say, gluttonous ones. Alas, this is the way we were, Memorial Day, 2011:

– I can’t wait to make the Lemon Confit from Francis Mallman’s ridiculous cookbook, The Seven Fires. Yes, I made Lemon Confit… mostly. Then I never got around to finishing it. Then I threw it away. Nincompoop!
– Ghee (clarified butter) + Lemon Juice + Chicken Stock + Garlic Powder makes an exceptional injection for chicken. Also a great mouthwash, mixer, gargle, bathing liquid, intravenous injection.
-A bottle of Vinho Verde goes down way too easily on a warm day. Yeah, I was inside at the time, comforted by air conditioning, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a scorcher outside, where I was not… … … work with me here.
– (not gluttony-related) My daughter looks so stinkin’ cute in her bee bathing suit. Cue Blind Melon’s “No Rain”, please.

– When roasting a chicken, Rosé does the trick. You know, to drink while the chicken is roasting. It’s also good with the chicken. As is Oregon Pinot Noir (Bergström delivered the goods this day), and especially White Burgundy (made from Chardonnay). Olivier Leflaive’s “Les Sétilles” (a blend of grapes from Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault) is a ridiculous value for you Chard lovers for under $20.
– Ever dipped beef jerky into guacamole? Get ready to live, kemosabe.
– My next door neighbor has started experimenting with homemade hard cider. It’s certainly not bad. Next time, I won’t throw him under the bus by breaking out two bottles of Diane Flynt’s incredible Foggy Ridge Cider from Virginia after tasting his efforts. Diane had nothing to do with getting me these bottles. If you in Virginia, buy some. Or do something illegal. We’ll never know which route I took.
In retrospect, and in homage to the post title, I probably should’ve set the day’s compilation video to the song “Barbra Streisand”, by Duck Sauce. But this was a day for fowl of a different feather, and duck sauce has no place in the presence of chicken.
Ah, the memories…

P-Day +3

July 18, 2010
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The #PinotNoir twitter tasting is behind us. It took me 3 days to recover and gather my thoughts, purge my fingers of excessive hashtag residue, and wring out my liver.

First off: congratulations to the Willamette Valley, the 2010 Grand Champion. No question that the wines coming out of Oregon are spectacular, and the support garnered was no shock to this guy. To this end, all Oregon bloggers, wineries, supporters, etc. have earned the right to place this decidedly tacky, yet impressive medal of achievement on their sites. Link to it and download HERE, at the risk of your winery, your blog, or your wine-centric website losing all credibility from the “serious” wine aficionados. If this shows up on Matt Kramer’s facebook page, then I know wine- as a whole- has jumped the shark.
In the wake of the whole event, after soaking in the experience of our live Atlanta event, watching the hyperactive Twitter feed like a scrolling marquee, and digesting Ed Thrall’s analysis of the worldwide tasting, I’ve come to a few conclusions:

1) The whole “live event + tweeting” thing is cool, unless you’re working at the event. Okay, I still had a lot of fun, but it was very difficult to interact with everyone to the level I wanted to on the Twitters while pouring wine for 80+ ravenous Pinotphiles. As one of the “hosts” of this worldwide Twitter tasting, I feel I should have engaged more people. Maybe I’m not good enough at multitasking. Homo sapiens has a large brain and 2 arms. The common octopus has a small brain and 8 arms. The ironing is delicious.
2) People love Pinot Noir and Social Media…to the tune of more than 300 unique participants and over 2000 tweets- in the span of two hours. These numbers exclude the probable hundreds of folks who participated in live events and did not tweet. I’m not much of an egghead, but Ed Thralls did a great job breaking everything down on his site.

3) The Kiwis are awesome. Despite the live event running from noon to 2 PM- on a workday- in New Zealand (some may call that “business time”), those krazy kiwis made a hard push and ended up 2nd in the standings, only behind Willamette Valley. Not bad for a country where sheep outnumber people. Oh, and they make some mighty fine Pinot as well. I really hope folks go out and seek the efforts from Marlborough, Martinborough, Nelson, Waipara/Canterbury, and especially Central Otago.
4) Price tag simply has to affect perception. By far, the top pick from paper votes at our live event was the 2008 Belle Glos Las Alturas SLH Pinot Noir. Coincidentally, it was also one of the most expensive. I know I’m probably as guilty as anyone to see the price and think, “well, this MUST be good,” but I wonder if it would’ve been the “hands down” favorite if retail prices had not been on display. Personally, I thought there were better wines there for nearly half the price. Hmm. “Suburban Psychologist” blog pending…

5) There are still some diamonds in the rough. While Willamette, Los Carneros, Russian River, Burgundy, etc. dominated the volume of hashtags, I saw tweets for #RV (Rogue Valley, OR), #SA (South Africa), and #BC (British Columbia). I can’t say what the “next big region” for Pinot Noir will be, but I look forward to digging into examples from non-traditional (at least from the American perspective) vineyard areas around the world.
6) Oregon bands together. I feel like Sonoma County could’ve taken this thing; there are great examples coming from the Sonoma Coast AVA and Russian River, among others. However, I suppose a fierce defense of terroir caused splintering of the clans. In fact, Green Valley- a sub-AVA of the Russian River AVA- supporters requested a separate hashtag. Willamette, on the other hand, stuck to one hashtag. Although individual ones were set up for McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Eola-Amity Hills, and the Chehelam Mountains, the wily nor’westers stuck with a unified vote, and they ran away with it. Maybe there’s a sense of unity that can only be fostered by those who made it through certain dysentery-related death on the Oregon Trail.
7) I’m giving Pinot Noir another shot. I’m a notorious skeptic of Pinot. I think Elizabeth from Wine for Normal People mirrors my thoughts better than me being repetitive. But after tasting some great juice in Willamette recently, along with several fine examples at the Atlanta tasting, I’ll quit being such a curmudgeon and tuck in.

#PinotNoir Hashtag Decoder Ring free in Every Box!

July 12, 2010
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Ah, it seemed so simple at first. Let’s get everyone on Twitter and drink some Pinot Noir. Ed Thralls suggested California’s Russian River Valley vs. Oregon’s Willamette Valley…a nice little border war, if you will. Me, being one to overcomplicate things, said, “well, don’t forget about Carneros. Their wines can be pretty solid. And I just got back from Santa Barbara. I wasn’t pissed off with their efforts, either…”

Such is the pleasant madness that is having a conversation via Twitter. Not a moment after I whispered “Carneros” did Jenn of Thomson Vineyards come barreling into the discussion, primed for fisticuffs. The rest, as they say, is history (in fact, the origins of Thursday’s event have become the stuff of legends, sort of like grandpa’s fish story. The 8 oz. bass has become a 1200 lb. marlin). So, with Ed (our Doug Flutie) at the helm, we created the #PinotNoir Twitter Tasting Smackdown.

Ed and I (along with the help of West Coast organizer Tamara of Sip With Me!), settled on eight, relatively general Pinot-producing regions of some notoriety: Willamette Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Mendocino County, Los Carneros, Santa Barbara County, Burgundy, and New Zealand. As the word spread, I was bowled over by the response and the passion for everyone’s favorite growing areas. Or, more accurately, the fierce defense of terroir, of which Pinot is particularly adept at expressing in the final wine.

So, as folks (with good reason) insisted that their regions be included in the vote, the list of potential hashtags grew (for a crash course in how to vote during this tasting, see Ed’s blog, Wine Tonite!). In an effort to maintain consistency during the 2-hour voting period, I’ve compiled a list of all the regions I can muster. This should be pretty comprehensive, and any of these hashtags will count.

While the list may appear daunting, please remember that this is all for fun, and if the process seems complicated, there is- at the end of the night- still delicous wine in your glass.

Now where’s that Michael Buffer character? I need a “let’s get ready to rumble”, stat!

All eligible tweets for the voting should include the #PinotNoir hashtag, plus one of the following. The list is indented if the region is within a larger region. I’ve also included some countries and states that make #PinotNoir, but are lesser known by most folks. They are more general, but at least they’ve been recognized. Please don’t hesitate to comment if I’ve made any glaring mistakes:

#CA (California)
>#NC (North Coast)
>>#MN (Mendocino County)
>>>#AV (Anderson Valley)
>>#SO (Sonoma County)
>>>#RR (Russian River Valley)
>>>>#GV (Green Valley of Russian River)
>>>#SN (Sonoma Coast)
>>#NV (Napa Valley)
>>>#CN (Los Carneros…yes, I know it’s Sonoma AND Napa. Work with me here!)
>#CC (Central Coast)
>>#SC (Santa Cruz Mountains)
>>#MO (Monterey)
>>>#SLH (Santa Lucia Highlands)
>>#SLO (San Luis Obispo County)
>>#SB (Santa Barbara County)
>>>#SM (Santa Maria Valley)
>>>#SY (Santa Ynez Valley)
>>>>#SRH (Sta. Rita Hills)
#OR (Oregon)
>#RV (Rogue Valley)
>#UV (Umpqua Valley)
>#WV (Willamette- rhymes with “dammit”- Valley)
>>#CM (Chehelam Mountains)
>>#DH (Dundee Hills)
>>#EA (Eola-Amity Hills)
>>#MC (McMinnville)
>>#RB (Ribbon Ridge)
>>#YC (Yamhill-Carlton)
#WA (Washington State)
#NY (New York)
>#FLX (Finger Lakes)
#VA (Virginia)
#FR (France)
>#BU (Burgundy)
>>#CDN (Côtes de Nuits)
>>#CDB (Côtes de Beaune…not to be confused with the “Charlie Daniels Band”)
>>#CCH (Côtes Chalonnaise)
#NZ (New Zealand)
>#CO (Central Otago)
>#MT (Martinborough)
>#ML (Marlborough)
>#NL (Nelson)
>#WP (Waipara/Canterbury)
#BC (British Columbia)
#ARG (Argentina)
#CL (Chile)
#SA (South Africa)
#GM (Germany)
#IT (Italy)

Got it! Good. If not, just have fun and don’t worry about it. Enjoying wine should never be work!

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

July 1, 2010
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I’m wondering if the use of a Dr. Seuss reference as a post title for summarizing several days of very adult consumption is sacrilege of sorts. Perhaps, but I took 10 minutes drawing that crappy cigar and glass of wine with my mouse, so we’re gonna go with it.

The past week, I’ve poked around some of the most fascinating, if not still somewhat unknown, wine regions in North America. A pilgrimage was made from Atlanta, through Denver, into Portland, southwest to the Willamette Valley, north towards the Yakima Valley, through Prosser, east over to Walla Walla, then west to the most remote corner of the lower 48- Seattle- to sit on a tarmac for two hours, pores exuding perhaps pure wine at that point. Into Atlanta, straight to work, dreaming of my next trip west.

To be a “wine enthusiast” and say you’ve been to Napa Valley is akin to a “movie enthusiast” claiming he liked The Godfather. Yet, as my vine-centric adventures amass, I feel very privileged to have visited regions that not only are as impressive, but are perhaps unknown to the general public as wine Meccas.

Willamette Valley:

As you can see to the right, this area is known for its rain…

The Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) Valley’s north end lies just west of Portland, and it runs down from the Columbia River to just south of of Eugene, OR. Framed on the west and the east by the Coastal Range and the Cascades, respectively, this area is known for cool, rainy winters and warm, dry summers (though the region rarely sees temperatures above 90˚, relatively cool by grape-growing standards). For this reason, the area is known for Pinot Noir, a cluster notorious for difficult growing. It’s sort of like the Lindsey Lohan of grapes: don’t supply it with constant attention and monitoring, and you’ve got a hot mess on your hands. Fortunately, the relatively mild and consistent temperatures of the Valley (particularly the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the north end) acts as a controlled, low-dose narcotic to Pinot’s Lohan, thus keeping the grapes happy and thriving, resulting in some of the finest examples of Pinot Noir wine in the world.

Yakima Valley:

Head up north from Portland, then east over the Cascades, and you see the real effects of a “rain barrier”. With Mount Rainier forming the highest point at over 14,000 feet, most moisture that tries to get past the mountains is forced so high into the air, it freezes and precipitates out of the atmosphere atop the mountains. What’s left to the east is a virtual desert, as the Yakima Valley receives about 6-9″ rain a YEAR, compared to Seattle’s 37″. Fortunately, dry and hot can be a pretty damn good thing for growing grapes, among other things. Cherries, hops, apples, peaches, etc., etc., etc. all thrive in the Yakima Valley. As for wine grapes, I saw Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec…well, there’s not much I didn’t see. Most of the wines tasted of the heat (though the typical climate is more temperate, allowing cool-natured grapes like Riesling to flourish here as well), with high alcohol, lots of tannin, and big fruit flavors. From my limited experience, I consider Yakima the South Australia of U.S. viticulture, sans marsupials, crocodile boots, and a low-tannin approach famous in quaffin’ Aussie wines.

Walla Walla Valley:

Another valley carved out by the massive, prehistoric Missoula flood, W-squared lies southeast of the Yakima Valley, and the AVA actually crosses into Oregon, which has always made for an awkward situation for WW’s allegiance when the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and now-defunct Portland Fire used to lock horns. Oh, Portland Fire…we hardly knew ye.

Anyway, upon hearing that Walla Walla had both a proud winemaking tradition AND a large state pen, I stocked up on canned fruit cocktail, oranges, ketchup, loaves of bread, and Zip-Loc bags, eager to learn the secrets and subtleties of expressing the Walla Walla terroir in a fine Pruno. Instead, I found much of the same as in Yakima: a focus on reds, especially Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, many of which were blended in what some call the “Aussie Meritage”, or a “CSM”. Also found a good bit of Grenache and Mourvèdre, but mostly for the sake of blending with the Syrah to create Rhône-style blends. Also big in fruit, extraction, and alcohol, I did find the Walla Walla reds I tried to be a bit more restrained than the tooth-stainers from Yakima.

So, that’s where I’ve been. I think many knew what Willamette has been bringing to the table, but Washington isn’t on the rise for nothing. I’ll delve into some of my favorite wines- and favorite people- down the road a bit. For now, find a bottle, crack it open, and pour a little out for the Portland Fire…and Dr. Seuss.


June 21, 2010
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Like a master blender, putting together the assemblage for a perfect representation of one Champagne producer’s house style, 0r like a drunken clown trying to say his A-B-C’s backwards to a suspicious traffic cop (the latter probably better echoing my level of sophistication), I am laser-focused on two things this week:

1) The worldwide #PinotNoir Twitter event, hosted by Wine Tonite!, Sip With Me, and myself, on July 15. More on that later, but there are more details at
2) The 2010 North American Wine Blogging Conference. Clearly by some clerical error, I’ve been selected to host a panel on “Top Gun” blogging, along with Drew from Vineyard Vlog and Ben from Vinotology. Frankly, I feel left out in the fact that my blog title does not contain a single “V”. However, despite my delusions of exclusion, I guarantee all those attending “Top Gun Blogging” a humdinger of a time (or is it a hootenanny?), or no money back!
Why should you attend “Top Gun Blogging”? Here’s why:
See you in Walla Walla…

Clogged arteries, blurry photos, and creepy video documentation

April 21, 2010
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Last Sunday saw me rubbing hooves with the “high on the hog” socialites of Atlanta at Cochon 555.

5 chefs.
5 hogs.
5 winemakers.
5 years off my life: with items like “Pork fried funnel cakes with lard powder and lard caramel”, how could one expect a clean bill of health when waddling out of this pork-centric mecca to excess? Pour on a generous plying of booze (mostly Pinot Noir, a great pairing for piggies, if not still a little too “fashionable” in my book) from good folks from Domaine Serene, Buty Winery, Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, and a familiar face: former Atlanta native Boyd Pearson, now with the Willamette Valley’s Anne Amie Vineyards (definitely one worth seeking out in town for those price/value seekers).
Yeah, I know that’s only 4 winemakers. Gamble Family Vineyards called the audible and didn’t show up. From the name of the winery, could the organizers have expected anything less?
Luckily, most of the portions were bite-sized, and I didn’t gorge, feeling sheepish and ab-challenged while hanging out with milk-drinking stallions Wine Tonite! and Eat It, Atlanta. Despite my curves, ’twas a great time had by all. Chefs Kelly English, Todd Mussman, Kevin Rathbun, Mike Lata, and event winner Sean Brock (and their crews) delivered, and the wines did not slouch either. While Pinot Noir was the focus, watch out for great Bordeaux blends (both red and white) coming out of Washington’s (Walla Walla) Buty Winery, who may have slipped in under the Pinot-stained radar and stolen the show.
I’ll tell you who didn’t deliver: my camera. All too apparent that the new Canon I’ve been pining for gets kicked up the priority ladder. Sorry cholesterol meds. I’m sure you see this post as a thinly-veiled flirtation to be “more than friends”, but the fancy camera’s wearing the shorter skirt right now. Luckily, some decent video from the Flip MinoHD and a little help from Roger Waters made for my most disturbing video yet!

Burgundy’s Greatest Grape Sells Out

October 2, 2009
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It’s been staring me in the face for months now. Innocent? Perhaps on the surface. But, oh so disturbing. Like the two twins (is that redundant?) in The Shining“come play with us, Joey, forever and ever and ever…” That “Kirkland Signature” logo emblazoned on the wine label, as if to say, “the product contained within this vessel may only be consumed after you’ve signed over your soul, your palate, your integrity. Sell your small-production friends down the river, and join us in an eternity of consistency, predictability, and economically-friendly bliss…MWAAAA HAAA HAA HAA!!!!*”

*denotes the sounds of sinister laughing. The “MWAAAA” at the beginning is a pretty good indication that the laugh is evil, as opposed to jocular and cheeky.

I admit. I shop at Costco once in a while. Let’s face it: you can’t find a value like that on 10 pounds of nutmeg (obscure Simpsons reference!). But one of the things that always has me taken aback is when I get to the wine section. Costco is the world’s largest buyer of wine, and they tend to have a pretty darn good selection there. I try not to buy too much wine there, because I’m sure they’re beating the hell out of producers to drive the price down. And I expect that logo on paper towels, topical ointments, and pretzels, but on wine? Alas, the “Kirkland Signature” (Costco’s generic brand) wine just got too intriguing for me to resist. Sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was “Kirkland Signature California Merlot” and “Kirkland Signature White Zinfandel”, but I’ve seen some crazy stuff: Champagne (I mean, AOC Champagne!), Chateauneuf-du-Pape, even Kirkland Bolgheri! Yeah, Costco’s making super-Tuscans now!
What finally broke me down was “Kirkland Signature 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir”. Yeah, true AVA Pinot for about $15 smackaroos. We’re not exactly raking in the dough these days, so whenever I can fast-talk the wife into letting me feed my wine fetish, it’s gotta be something value-priced. RRV Pinot at that price isn’t that common.

Baby Steps (new thing I’m doing…little education for interested novices. Wine pros can skip this part if they want): Pinot Noir is a red wine grape (vitis vinifera) native to the region of Burgundy, France. The grape is notorious for being thin-skinned, and it’s really vulnerable to harsh weather patterns, so it only grows well in certain little pockets of the world. Russian River Valley is an American Viticultural Area (or AVA) in Sonoma County, CA, about an hour north of San Francisco. The cool currents and fog of the nearby Pacific Ocean flow up the river valley and keep this area’s temperatures cooler than most of Sonoma County. This allows finicky grapes to ripen slowly and evenly, and the cooling effects also allow the grapes to maintain acidity, making the final wine more balanced (as grapes ripen, acid levels and sugar levels are teetering in opposite directions…heat generally causes quicker ripening, so too much heat can cause grapes to be too sweet and low in acid, creating wines that are too fruity and alcoholic without acidic balance…you’d hear a wine nerd describe this as “flabby”). Pinot, also being known for it’s “brightness” (read: good acidity), benefits further from the cool climate.

So, soul freshly minted and handed over to corporate America, I tucked tail and left the mega-mart, wine credentials hidden and cyanide pill in my mouth- at-the-ready, in case another local wine aficionado recognized me with my contraband.
I’ve cracked it open tonight, deciding not to delay my damnation any longer. Feeling as if I’m browsing internet porn at the workplace, I pull the (sure to be plastic) cork out. Hmmm…composite. Didn’t expect that. I pour it into the glass (obviously, it’s going to have been cut with Syrah, or Petite Sirah to give it more color, extraction, and fool the rubes into thinking it’s higher-quality, because market research shows that darker color is perceived by XX% of Costco’s target demographic as better). Well, it’s pretty light in color. Almost like an Oregon or- dare I say it- Burgundian Pinot. And on the nose, I get tons of red fruit- strawberries, raspberries, cherries. Rose petals, and also a tiny bit of “cheesiness”…kind of like a touch of what I tend to smell in Cru Beaujolais. Maybe a bit of Syrah or PS in there, but it’s clearly Pinot. There isn’t much earthiness to the nose; it’s definitely very fruit-forward, probably because that’s what the average consumer likes. That being said, the nose is quite pretty, and I’m pleasantly surprised.
In the mouth, I get more of that fruit-forwardness, herbs, decent acidity, and a good bit of peppery-ness (further bolstering my Syrah-spiking suspicions. Say that 5 times fast!). Nice fruity mid-palate, and a medium finish. Furthermore, it holds up Pinot’s promise of a nice, silky mouthfeel. Overall, this wine is not too bad, especially at the price point…
…of course, that may just be the demons talking. If my next post is pontificating on the musical brilliance of Limp Bizkit or crowning Michael Bay the next Stanley Kubrick, you’ll know that my soul-less form is too far gone, and you may quit constantly telling your friends to visit my site all the time.
What do you think? Have I sold out, or am I just a little buy-curious? To your thoughts! Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Lunker Bass, Single-Vineyard Pinots, and Ugly Orange Tank-Tops

August 27, 2009
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Every August marks another notch in the 38 to 40-sized belt of the leisure sport circuit. Neighbor, friend, and Jim Mora Jr. look-alike Michael “Bliggity” Blank hosts his annual Blankmasters Classic, bringing together some of the most non-notable names in the world of fishing. Basically, teams of two try to catch-and-release as many fish as possible in a 3 hour timeframe. The teams are also in the running for “best team name”, so coming to the plate with a good one is as important- if not more- than winning the tournament. And with all due respect to this year’s winning team name (“Weapons of Bass Destruction”), I feel my teammate and I hit the jackpot 4 years ago with “Nuclear Fishin'”, so we’ve been hesitant to change. Plus, a new team name means we’d have to spend money on new shirts, and that just ain’t happenin’.

Four years ago, I felt great. I thought my teammate- The “Bathunter” (long story)- and I had it in the bag. I’ve fished a good bit in my life, and I thought BH would surely come to play. Long story short, he showed up drunk, fell in the pond, and we didn’t catch a fish. In fact, my esteemed partner was honored with the booby prize: 2006 Worst Angler.
No big deal. We’d bounce back in 2007. Confident and cocky, we put our best foot forward. The result: see to the left. I was awarded 2007 Worst Angler. “Nuclear Fishin'” was two-for-two. And yes, that’s a trophy of a horse’s ass. Salt in the wounds, Bliggity.

2008: Maybe it was the bait. Nightcrawlers? Don’t bass love nightcrawlers? I guess not. Suddenly, a streak was going- a somewhat impressive streak, for all the wrong reasons. 3 years without a fish.
2009: Earlier this month, redemption was upon us. Hagood (aka “The Bathunter”) couldn’t catch a cold. Me? I threw my pole in the water on a cast. After retrieving it, the next cast ended up in the shorts of my friend Tony. Perhaps a low-point in “Nuclear Fishin’s” forgettable run? Well, if it’s any consolation, I did receive a trophy.
Screw you, Mike (and Matt, and Mark…the other two “referees”, who deemed me the pariah yet again).
Seriously, I hold the trophies in pretty high regard. In the end, it’s all about fun, and my dubious distinctions are there to remind me that it’s always a good idea to laugh at myself once in a while (or often, I guess).
My role in the day transcends bad fishing anyway. Being the only ones in the neighborhood left without kids, the wife and I host the after-party. While I tend to complain about it, I do enjoy it. Any excuse to have some friends over, crack some wine, eat something, and bust each others’ chops all night is one worth using. For anyone who thinks drinking wine has to be a sophisticated affair, let the following pictures dismiss that immediately (if the orange tank-tops didn’t already). Furthermore, like spotting a snow leopard in the wild, you- the audience- will get a rare glimpse into the disgusting glory that is a “Big Bite Contest”:
A motley crew of some great friends, always worthy of a great bottle of wine. Ben, aka Bathunter, is quite a wine geek himself, as you can see by his infatuation with the glass of Petit Verdot.

St. Supery 2005 Petit Verdot…a concentrated, heavy-duty prelude to what was to come: Pizzapocaypse.
I think there were maybe 10 people there. We ordered 10 pizzas. And while Domino’s is not my drug-of-choice in the world of pizza, they were $5 each, and happened to hit the spot at this late hour.
Some tasty single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Kokomo really worked well with the pizza. Really, anything worked well.
Great camera work, huh? I need a new one. Anyway, more Kokomo- this time, the Dry Creek Zin. Add sausage pizza. Enjoy. Repeat.

And of course, as promised, the infamous “Big Bite” contest…who’s gonna eat a whole piece of pizza in one bite? The tension is palpable. So, to occasional gluttony as a comedic device, I say Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

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