Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment


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.


Stop Being a Red Wine Racist

April 11, 2011
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Is it unbelievably offensive to compare a wine drinker’s bugaboo with a despicable social phenomenon that has plagued our nation for centuries? I’m not really sure, but I guess I’m going to find out soon enough.
But, when I have an axe to grind, and my mind’s made up on how I’m going to do it, then a picture of that buffoon David Duke in front of a confederate battle flag shouting in log cabin font appears. And I’m pretty sure all racists talk in log cabin font, the most racist of all fonts.

It’s nothing new. I hear the “I only drink red wine” proclamation from lots of folks in package stores, at wine tastings, on twitter, etc. I’ve seen the trends, too. People will start drinking wine; cutting their teeth on Sutter Home White Zinfandel or something like that… chilled, fruity, sweet, and refreshing. I get the appeal. But then, eager to see where it all comes from, someone will take a trip out to Napa or Sonoma or the Willamette Valley. And- with the exception of a few Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and Pinot Gris here and there- these areas are dominated by dry red wine. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry Creek Zinfandel. Willamette Pinot Noir. Based on these visits; considering what shows up on the “reserve” tasting lists; seeing which wines go for the prettiest pennies; well, I can deduce how one would build a perception that all the “great” wines are red, and dry. This is not supposition. I’ve experienced it first-hand. Man, I’ve been there.
But I didn’t go to the extreme. I know folks who take this attitude too far. They consume all these reds, then determine that red wine is the only acceptable answer. Whites are all served too cold and taste like butterscotch and pineapples, right? Why look the fool wasting time with those rotgut bottles when all the true aficionados are sipping on Silver Oak Cab?
Call them elitists. Call them closed-minded. Maybe they’re a bit snobby. But I have another way to describe these folks.
They are red wine racists.

I posit that these wine racists choose to avoid whites because they think that white wine is of lower quality. They believe that white wines lack complexity, taste fruity and oaky, come served ice cold, and don’t pair well with steak. Essentially, because the ubiquitous California Chardonnay doesn’t suit their palates, all white wines are inferior. Okay, I guess this is more “wine stereotyping”. But that just doesn’t have the inflammatory, yellow-journalistic sizzle that “wine racism” espouses.
It’s really a shame that Cali Chardonnay seems to be the far-and-away ambassador of white wines served at popular restaurants, wedding receptions, birthday parties, tailgates, swingers’ clubs, Krull conventions, derailed Al-Anon meetings, and pagan goat roastings (I’m more familiar with the first four than the last four). Truth is, there are some many AMAZING white wines out there that should be at least considered by reforming red wine racists. Compound that sentiment when one considers food. Many of the world’s white wines offer reasonable alcohol, subtle fruit, and zipping acidity that heightens the flavors of nearly any cuisine:
Crisp, minerally whites like Muscadet (region name and grape name), Sancerre (region name, grape is Sauvignon Blanc), and Albariño (grape name) will give ice cold beer a serious run for its money when set up with a plate of oysters on the half-shell and some steamed peel-n-eats.
– Beautifully aromatic, insanely acidic Rieslings (grape) work with tons of different foods. Plus, the German examples (especially bottles marked Spätlese or Auslese) often have a bit of sweetness to them. Nothing- and I mean nothing- goes better with spicy food. Hot wings and wine? You damn skippy!
Gewürztraminer, Torrontés, and Viognier (all grape names) bring some serious sniffin’ firepower to the jamboree. These will kick a red wine racist’s thought of “what white wine smells and tastes like” on its racist ass.
Hell, even Chardonnay works its way into the game. France kicks out some killer stuff, and the Chablis (add to that oyster list) and other white Burgundies not only destroy a Chardonnay prejudice, but they can also empty a bank account quickly. There’s a reason why these wines can be so expensive: because they’re the shit. Oh, and some Meursault will pair with that steak just fine.
Let me put it this way: when my friends in high places decide to pull the wine equivalent of “making it rain” by emptying their cellars for guests, the best stuff coming out is almost always top-end white Burgs and German Rieslings. And they’ve drank it all.
The ugly truth is that racism is widespread. It is ignorant. Racism is illogical. I don’t know if it will ever go away, and that’s very sad to me. I hope people can someday see beyond historic differences and skin color.
But red wine racism is easily defeated, if these misguided folks will be willing to try something new and look past the color of the grape’s skin.
It won’t change the world, but it might be the first step towards vinous peace & love.

Drink like a Robber Baron

March 21, 2011
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You’ve heard the names: Latour, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Cos D’Estournel, Palmer, Pétrus, Cheval Blanc
And if you haven’t heard the names, we’re talking wines that fetch $500, $800, $1200 dollars… a bottle. Basically, if you took a blogger salary, multiplied it by ten, then added $1200, you’d have enough to buy a $1200 bottle of Château Pétrus.-
These are the legendary, age-worthy Grand Cru reds of Bordeaux. Powerful, elegant expressions based on Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. They are the wines of English royalty (Bordeaux was under British rule from the mid 12th century to the mid 15th century), presidents, dignitaries, captains of industry, railroad tycoons, and robber barons. Got a fistful of dough and want to make a statement? Nothing says “power lunch” like a lion standing atop a fortress; the trademark of a commanding bottle of Château Latour.

However, most of us are not named Andrew Carnegie or C. Montgomery Burns. We own no hotels on Boardwalk, nor do we go swimming within the gilded confines of our Money Bins. How can we get our grubby, unmanicured mitts on these treasures?
Rather easily, actually. As it turns out, the Grand Cru wines account for a very small percentage of red wine production in Bordeaux (red representing 89% of total wine made). 50% of total production falls under the “Bordeaux AOC” or “Bordeaux Supérieur AOC”, the latter basically meaning 1% higher required alcohol. These designations constitute wines that can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the Bordeaux appellation. While not as age-worthy, complex, or expressive of unique bits and pieces of terroir (a “sense of place” that the French hold in much higher regard than the fruit used- thus, the reason why most wines are labeled by region, not by the variety of grape), these gems can offer great value.
Exceptional value, really. I know this, because I’ve been nursing 5 bottles (lovingly sent to me as samples by Balzac Communications for a “Planet Bordeaux” tasting) all weekend, and I hate that they will eventually go bad. Listen: I’ve been stuck at home with the baby all weekend, and drinking five bottles of wine by yourself is hard. Especially when you know you’ll be waking up at 7 AM to hungry whimpers, no matter where you fell the night before.
All of these wines- spanning a few different vintages- are either 100% Merlot or Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends. Much of the Cabernet Sauvignon sits on some blue-blooded real estate in Bordeaux, while Merlot gets around like Tiger Woods on ecstasy; the most widely-planted grape in the region. Cheaper land = cheaper grapes = more affordable wine. Ergo, these bottlings are Merlot-heavy (and that’s okay). They run the gamut from fruit-bombs to earthy, acidic and tannic, explosively aromatic to as subtle as an outdated and misguided attempt at golf humor.

But while many offer more fruit-forward nature than is typical in lots of “old world” (European) wine, they all demonstrate a “food friendliness” and balance- slightly lower alcohol, more restained fruit, higher acidity- often not found in the wines of California, Australia, or Argentina at this price point… between $12 and $20. I can’t say many wines from the ubiquitous California producers seen in every store and at every party can offer this level of quality and balance for around $15. Oh, you French. Spectacular winemakers, terrible marketers.
Regardless, I applaud their latest efforts to get these wines in the hands of American consumers. In fact, this weekend’s samples represent the second batch of “value” Bordeaux wines I’ve received in 7 days (the remains of the former allotment dispatched after evaluation, courtesy of some large-livered friends). I hope that one or two folks make it this far into the post and feel compelled to try something new.
If you’re one of those people, screw the “buy American” ethos that a global economy has nearly obsoleted and take on chance on a bottle of Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur. You’ll be sure to find value, quality, and hopefully a new favorite.
If anything, you’ll be able to brag that you at least drink like a tycoon.

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!

Perfect Strangers

November 30, 2009
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Disclaimer: the wine I’m writing about in this post was given to me as a sample from the very smart and handsome folks at Two Friends Imports.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the Dynamic Duo. They’re the Gruesome Twosome. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, meat and potatoes, catfishing and MGD, pulled pork and coleslaw, cocaine and Lindsay Lohan, football and chicken wings, and/or Ponch and Jon. Yeah, you know: your favorite CHiPs, keeping the highways safe, the streets clean, and the ladies frisky. And they do it in perfect harmony with one another…Erik Estrada’s powerful and undeniable machismo paired with Larry Wilcox’ smooth-as-Parkay, California-surfer cool. Power and Smoothness. Sounds like Cab and Merlot to me.

Okay, this is gonna get weird, so bear with me. Let’s say you take Ponch and Jon and combine them into one entity. Cab and Merlot so often work together in the wine world, so it’s not too much of a stretch. Now let’s draw a very odd metaphor, calling this single entity “Larry Appleton” (aka Mark Linn-Baker’s character on Perfect Strangers). Sure, Larry was neurotic and not quite the milk-drinking stallion you’d expect from a Ponch/Jon love child, but the metaphor has to work. Why? Because you then take this Cab/Merlot/Larry Appleton creation, and throw a proverbial Balki Bartokomous into the mix: Vranec. Awkward on the surface (and difficult to pronounce), this pairing, in the end, is really a case of “perfect strangers” (see, it all came together neatly…sort of).
Such is the 2006 Bovin Alexandar. A proprietary (basically, meaning I don’t know the percentages) blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vranec from the Tikves wine region of Macedonia. Thanks to the generosity of Two Friends Imports, I’ve been able to post about Macedonian wines a couple times: here talking about Cab and Chardonnay, and here talking about a varietal Vranec bottling (and Ravishing Rick Rude). Overall (especially for the price points), I’ve been pretty impressed at all the Bovin offerings, and I’d not hesitate to purchase them for serving to friends or giving as gifts. That’s an honest opinion, not a sell out. I’d hope my integrity’s worth more than a $13 bottle of wine (okay, barely).

In the snout, I got some serious barnyard at first. Barnyard, aka “horse blanket”, aka “poop”, is not really a bad thing in wine. To me, it’s an expression of terroir, and it’s something that can be pretty common in “old world” (meaning “European”) wines. Shortly after, that barnyard blew off a bit and opened up very pleasant smells of blueberries (something I get from Merlot a lot), blackberries, cassis (basically, the smell of Cabernet Sauvignon), earth, charcoal, dark cocoa, and spice. I also got this really distinct smell of concord grapes, as if I was smelling a glass of Welch’s grape juice. Sure, it doesn’t sound very impressive to say a grape-based spirit smells like grapes, but I’m not a very impressive person. It was there, okay? Get off my back.
In the mouth, the wine was very dry, with restrained flavors of black fruits (blackberries, plums, etc.), with some pepper mixed in. It was pretty smooth, but structured with some tannins (courtesy of the Cab and Vranec, no doubt). It was actually pretty austere and reserved in the mouth, and a little hot (alcoholic) and bitter on the back end. Although I drank it alone (as in without food…okay, I was by myself too), the wine’s subtleties told me that it would be very good with a meal. Preferably a meal with meats. Tasty red meats. The kind your doctor tells you not to have all the time. He’s probably telling you not to have wine all the time, either, so binge all at once, then go eat a carrot or something.
So, once again, Bovin brings some nice value. For a bottle priced in the low-to-mid teens, you could blow the lid off of a California wine with a marketable name. If you’re into big, fruity wines (Red Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet), the Alexandar will certainly be a change of pace. However, the more you get into wine, the more you may appreciate more elegance and terroir in your glass (especially if serving with food).
Distribution’s still pretty sparse for Macedonian wine, but if you’re in Atlanta, you can find Bovin Alexandar (and other wines) at The Mercantile, Cheers Beer & Wine, and Your Dekalb Farmers Market. You can also ask for it to be ordered at Whole Foods or Harry’s Farmers Markets.
If you’re well-heeled and get to eat out (I’m pretty much no-heeled at this point), ask for Bovin at Vinocity Wine Bar in Kirkwood or Parker’s on Ponce in Decatur- what I’m told is a very good and locally-owned steakhouse (I’d have more info if I’d been there…refer to “no-heeled” comment).
Bottom-line: if you get your hands on some of this wine, you may do the “Dance of Joy” (it’s a Balki thing). And I will toast you: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!