Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Sports for the Under-Coordinated

January 28, 2014
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In a recent ransack of the parents’ attic (I was looking for old Battle Beasts to sell play with), I came across my war-chest of athletic accolades and trophies from childhood.  Locked away for years, these triumphant physical endeavors unfolded like a long-awaited Hall of Fame speech:

  • My “2nd Place:  Roswell Rec Dribble & Shoot Contest” trophy, the proverbial Lombardi Trophy of the lot.
  • An entire shoebox of obscurely-colored Mountain Creek Swim Team (go Dolphins!) ribbons.  Purple meant 5th place.  There were lots of those.  And- ah- glorious Green.  4th place.  Not as many, but they were hard-earned, still stinking of sweat and chlorine.  I didn’t see any Blue (1st place) or Red (2nd place) ribbons.  Primary colors are for idiots anyway.
  • There were several Tritt Elementary (go Tigers!) Field Day “Participation” ribbons.  Some may say that everyone gets those ribbons.  But that one kid with head lice didn’t participate, per the school nurse’s decree.  No ribbon for that poor little bastard.  But, seriously, he was lousy with parasites.
  • The Presidential Fitness “Merit” Award, signed by the Governator himself.  It was the certificate given to kids who were a step-down from the star athletes.  I can still imagine Arnie yelling at me to this day… “IF ONLY YOU COULD HAVE DONE ONE PULL-UP, YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN THE ‘ACHIEVEMENT’ AWARD, YOU FLABBY, GIRLIE-ARMED SISSY!  HAVE ANOTHER STREUDEL, OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU FAT AMERICAN KINDER EAT!  KROM LAUGHS AT YOUR FOUR WINDS!”  
Okay, so I basically sucked at athletics.  Can’t help it.  While others were out playing soccer, I was reading cookbooks.  And the one time I made ten free-throws in a row in the driveway?  It took 8 hours, and I only did it because my mom promised I could get whatever junky sugar cereal at the grocery store if I succeeded.  Guess she just really wanted me out of the kitchen, reading all her cookbooks.
And what kind of neighborhood kids were playing soccer anyway?  This ain’t Paraguay.
The point is, like any red-blooded kid, I had a desire to compete, but had to find alternatives that didn’t require athletic prowess.  To this day, you probably don’t want me on your church basketball team, but if your church organizes a horseshoes league, beer pong tournament, or rib cook-off, I’m first pick.  And I want to join your devil-may-care church community.
I think my affinity- and success- with leisure sport is part of the reason why I’ve become so enamored with blind tasting wines lately.  On the surface, blind tasting probably appears to many as a stupid parlor trick with very little practical application.  And, if you are using it primarily to pick up chicks, it really is.  Unless it works.  Which it doesn’t.  Trust me.
Blind evaluation of wine is one of the three components of the Court of Master Sommeliers examination structure, and perhaps the most harrowing to the general public; as it was portrayed and popularized in the recent cult-documentary, SOMM.  Observing a bunch of guys taking six glasses of unmarked wine and- with nothing other than their superior senses- pegging them down to the variety, region, and freaking vintage can seem almost super-human.
However, as impressive a feat as it may seem (and not to discount… it IS impressive), these top sommeliers were not necessarily born with magical noses or freakish taste buds.  Sure, scientific research has discovered that certain individuals may have greater sensitivity of taste, but the methodology (and there most certainly is a method) is one that is LEARNED.  Acquired with a great deal of practice?  Sure.  But it can be learned, if you are psycho enough to pursue it.  And, by “psycho”, I really just mean willing to taste a lot of wine.  And study a bit.  That’s not so bad.
Take me.  It’s my blog, so I’m gonna bloviate about myself.  Deal with it.  Five years ago, I couldn’t tell you if I had Merlot or Pinot Noir in my glass.  Now, not only can I tell you it’s Merlot, but can probably tell you generally where it’s from, and roughly how old it is.  I’m not saying this to boast, but mentioning it to encourage those who have zealous interest in wine.  I don’t have a great nose (in fact, I can barely breathe through it), nor a hyper-sensitive tongue.  But I have invested time (and perhaps a bit too much money) in learning about the classic wines of the world, and that studying has done wonders for discerning what’s in my glass.  How does thin skin affect the color of a wine vs. thick skin?  What does age do to a wine’s color, aroma, and taste?  Where do they predominantly use French Oak, and what are its flavors?  What about American Oak?  How does climate affect levels of acid, sugar, and alcohol?
So, circling back to the practicality of blind tasting, we come to find that “getting the wine right” is only a minor component in a much grander scheme.  Practicing blind tasting requires that one learn about grapes, regions, aging requirements, climates, soils.  It dictates we come to better understand the esoteric concept of flavor.  How sweet, sour, and bitter come into- or fall out of- balance on the palate.  For a fat kid reading cookbooks as a kid, this is straight Jedi stuff.  And all this homework not only helps with tasting, it improves one’s general understanding of wine.  If you truly are a student of the fermented grape, this is a good thing.
And, admittedly, being able to work through the components of a wine using all the knowledge and practice one’s amassedto ultimately “get the wine right”, well… that’s rewarding.  And a bit sporting.  Hell, some of us may have never had the moves.  But we all have competitive spirit.
So, how does one navigate through a wine?  Come back next year, and I’ll write about it.
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Posted in blind tasting, wine

Olympic Spirit(s)

July 31, 2012
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What if the medals won by wines actually meant something?

With the 30th games of the Olympiad now underway, my television will be on at all times, showcasing young people in peak-physical condition participating in a collection of competitive sport, meant to spread goodwill worldwide.

Sitting on my couch, observing the physical perfection of superior athletes who likely spend very little time on the couch, I immediately feel inspired to raise my game, go out for a run, eat better, and make positive changes in my life…

…and then I get to thinking about how I can incorporate booze into watching the Games.  Being a man of purity of focus, the latter consumes my thoughts and energies.  “Wasn’t I supposed to exercise or something?  Nah, I’m good-looking enough.”  Either that, or I’ve long ago given up.  Leave the washboard abs to those young bucks in the Olympics.  Sleek, swimmer’s build looks ridiculous in a Tommy Bahama shirt anyway.

But I digress.  Every four years (two, if you count the Winter Olympics, kind of the “New York Mets” of Olympic games), countries around the world present their greatest champions to compete for gold and best-represent said homelands.  Which got me to pondering:  if each country could just put one wine forward to challenge the rest of the world’s wares, which bottles would complete the field?  No “one red, one white, one rosé” or any diplomatic crap like that.  One shot for each country to flog its best wine.

We’re not talking about the contrived, everyone-gets-a-prize medals from hundreds of wine “competitions” around the country.  These accolades would result in the kind of national pride one wants to shove down other countries’ throats.  One wine in the world gets the gold.  One gets the silver.  One, the bronze.  The rest of the countries can suck it.

Sorry, Jamaica.  We’re talking wine, not bobsledding.  You’re hosed.  And with all due respect to the host nation(s) of Great Britain, I’m not allowing Bacchus into this competition.  Just the best of the best gets invited.  You’ll get consideration when I do the “fish n’ chips Olympics” (pending).

Let the parade of nations begin (and the parade of controversy):

  • Argentina – With all due respect to the monolithic Mendoza Malbec, Torrontés Riojano from Salta is uniquely Argentina’s own.  Somewhat creepily, I also feel it would look good playing beach volleyball.
  • Austria – While I’m cheering for underdogs Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch (the red-skinned stepchildren, if you will), Grüner Veltliner from Wachau/Kremstal/Kamptal muscles its way through the qualifying.
  • Australia – Shiraz is king here.  An easy pick?  McLaren Vale?  Barossa?  I’m going to throw a boomerang (I wanted to say “throw a curveball”, but at least respect my regional metaphor) and go with Eden Valley Riesling.  Have had some stunners from there.
  • Chile – I love some of the stuff coming out of Casablanca Valley, but I have to concede to Chile’s adopted only son, Carménère.  From the Maipo Valley.  But not the crappy stuff.  The good stuff that’s hard to find.
  • France – Tough call.  Lots of champion athletes of Gallic stock.  I’ve had Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault that have almost made me cry (almost… I’m too tuff to cry).  Sauternes can be a thing of beauty.  The Loire and Rhône are breeding grounds of excellence.  Bordeaux and Burgundy are as decorated as Mark Spitz.  But Champagne- especially great, grower Champagne, is unlike anything else on Earth.
  • Germany – I like saying “Bernkastler Badstube”.  And if there’s Eiswein from there, I’m slapping it in a speedo.
  • Greece – The birthplace of the Olympics has been making wine for a long time.  Much of it bad, but the training program has been on the rise lately.  Traditionalists would say Retsina, but we can use that to clean the locker room afterwards.  Rather, I want to nominate minerally, almost-salty Assyrtiko from Santorini.
  • Hungary – Tokaji Essencia.  Like a ZJ, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
  • Italy – I’ve narrowed it down to Barolo, Amarone della Valpolicella, an Brunello di Montalcino.  Reluctantly, going with the latter… Italy’s most rustic and classic grape expressed in its most ethereal form.
  • New Zealand – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but there are some solid Pinot Noirs, too.  I’m not sure the Kiwis have enough firepower to compete on the international super-stage (being known for phenomenal value wines), but they’ll always have the toothbrush fence.
  • Portugal – You may pay more for some amazing vintage Port, but 40-year Tawny will always perform.
  • Spain – It’s not the most expensive, nor the most age-worthy out of a sea of wine in Spain, but I’ve heard whispers about the Albariños of Rias Baixas.  You know, the ones they don’t send over here.  I want those.
  • United States – ARGHHH.  It’s easy picking the other countries.  I don’t really care about them. Call me a xenophobe or an isolationist.  But what am I sending to London to represent my home nation?  Many call Zinfandel America’s own.  But it’s really a genetic equivalent of Croatia’s red grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski.  About as American as the U.S. team’s opening ceremony uniforms.  Norton is certainly a purely American grape, but the finest of Augusta, Missouri on the international stage isn’t scratching me where I itch.  I think I’m going to pull a 1980 and boycott the U.S. team.  Or, let’s pump wine up with some anabolics and submit Bourbon.

Honorable Mention (countries who could put up an accolade-worthy wine):  Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Israel, Macedonia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Uruguay.

Disagree?  Make you arguments.  I will be too lazy to respond.  Sitting on the couch takes a lot out of me.

Posted in olympics, wine, ZJ

Great White Sharks love to eat people, and they’re baiting us in with wine (and I have the proof!)

July 9, 2012
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ATTENTION:  If you drink wine, this post may save your life.

Are elephant seals being mistaken for Robert Parker?  Or, the other way around?

Forget the French Paradox.  All the medical study suggesting that a little bit of wine may be beneficial to your health.  All that crap is a bunch of dinky doo, propagated to sell health magazines and bottles of wine.  Wine- in fact- is the deadliest of all beverages.  It will most likely kill you before your time.  Drinking wine is- without a shadow of a doubt- extremely hazardous to any human being’s health.

There have been rumors that this blog was shut down.  Things have gone very stale.  Maybe I got sick of being lost in the shuffle of thousands of other wine blogs.  Perhaps- after nearly five years of pecking away at the keyboard- I’d lost the desire to write.  Or, simply being in the business of wine sapped all my passion for what has now become a widget on a balance sheet.

Bollocks!  For the past several months, I’ve spent every waking hour painstakingly tracking a correlation between wine tourism and great white shark attacks.  After noticing a swell in stories like this over the past year, my convictions solidified.  Wine consumption is on the rise domestically.  As are  white shark sightings, on both coasts.  My mind began swimming like a foolish California sea lion, as I sifted through data at the National Shark Attack & Wine Tourism Command Center I set up in my garage:

A comprehensive analysis from our collection of massive, 1980’s-style super-computers offered the following, indisputable conclusions:

1)  Sharks love to eat people (we already knew this, but confirmation from an expensive bank of 1980’s-style super-computers bolstered validity)

2)  People love to drink wine, as evidenced by projected meteoric rise in consumption.

3)  Great white sharks frequent cooler waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, Australia, South Africa, Chile, and New Zealand.

4)  Some of the world’s greatest wine growing regions exist near the coasts in California, Oregon, Australia, South Africa, Chile, and New Zealand.

After digesting the data, I took a large, nervous swig from my glass of cool ocean current-influenced Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.  I detected aromas of cherry cola, red fruits, earth, water, bloodlust, pelagic skin, death…

My hand began to tremble.  My glass dropped to the floor, shattering as if it were my foolish dreams of chugging a bottle of Margaret River Cab while surfing off the coast of Perth.  Now… I knew.

GREAT WHITE SHARKS ARE BAITING US IN… WITH WINE.

The town of Stellenbosch, epicenter of South Africa’s greatest wine growing region, lies a mere 20 miles from False Bay’s Seal Island.  Some of California’s finest product is grown in Sonoma County, Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County, and Santa Barbara County.  All counties hug the Pacific coast… a coast teeming with hungry, hungry sharks.  Australia sees the most fatal attacks in the world.  Perth, Melbourne, and Adelaide are the closest major cities to the sites of these attacks.  Not at all coincidentally, so are heralded regions like Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Barossa, McLaren Vale, and Eden Valley.

And, of course, Jaws was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, MA.  Conveniently, nearby Long Island’s wine industry is on the rise.

It’s such a simple, sinister plan the sharks have laid out.  Go to wine country, become inebriated in its beauty.  Then, tuck into a few bottles.  “Wow, the nearby ocean seems so inviting.  Let’s take a bottle of this maritime-influenced Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc to the beach and take a dip…”

Scientists claim a seal can elude the attack of a fearsome Great White.  But a seal can’t drink a magnum of 16% ABV “cool climate” Bien Nacido Pinot Noir.  Drunken on both hubris and wine, we feel invincible as we sink below the depths, equipped with the awkward, minimal swimming abilities of land creatures.  It’s all too easy.  Bellies swelling with fermented goodness, heads swimming with cloudy visions of elusive 2 oz. tasting pours, livers bloated like foie gras…  It’s not because we look like seals.  It’s because seals look like us that the sharks attack without remorse.

So, dear reader, only because I care about you, I’m offering this advice if you value your life:

1)  Don’t drink wine.
2)  Stay the hell out of the water.
3)  Tell your local winery to move inland.  The hot climate will wreak havoc on the wine, but what good is wine if everyone you hope to buy it is dead?

Once the sharks no longer have a steady supply of booze-saturated humans to feast upon, they will go into alcohol withdrawal and resort to cigarettes.  Yet, with the water soaking the tobacco and making the use of lighters and matches futile, the pangs of said withdrawal will be too much for them.  Plus, they won’t be able to get on land to buy cigarettes.  And, their flippers can’t flick lighters.  And cigarettes are like $8 a pack in California.  And all the California oceans are probably designated “smoke free” anyway.  The sharks will flee.

It has to work.  And it you don’t believe me, see if you can find any videos on Youtube of shark attacks that occurred during prohibition.

I didn’t find any.


Warranted Outrage

May 2, 2012
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Recently, CNBC ran a special about Costco (The Costco Craze:  Inside the Warehouse Giant), the now-ubiquitous chain that is virtually cornering the big-box retail world.

As part of the special, Costco’s wine buyer, Annette Alvarez-Peters was interviewed.  During the course of the segment, the world’s most powerful buyer was quoted as saying that wine is really no different than toilet paper, spurring outrage from the wine-loving blogosphere.  She suggested that- in such a position- viewing all products as commodities is how an operation like Costco succeeds.

Such vitriol is completely warranted.  We’re talking about a product that comes in so many different styles.  A product that elicits an emotional response; something that comforts us, something we share with our friends when they come to visit.  Something that is infinitely personal.  And Costco’s head buyer has marginalized it.  A thing that many of us cannot live without has been relegated to commodity status.  THIS IS BLASPHEMY, MS. ALVAREZ-PETERS.

Honestly, to say that toilet paper is all one-in-the-same pisses me off to no end.  Yet the Costco buyer has the gall to compare it to a homogenized beverage like wine.  Toilet paper is as varied as the individuals who feel its plushness daily.  It helps frame our emotions.  Toilet paper comforts us in our time of greatest need.

There’s the cheap single-ply stuff.  Takes me back to the college days.  Boy, were those good times. When I feel its coarse, sandpaper-like touch- my fingers ripping through its gossamer structure, I recall a simpler time:  when having plenty of Old Milwaukee in the fridge trumped my need to avoid a chapped butt.

But we’re just scratching the surface (pun intended).  Double-ply, even triple-ply fills the shelves, serving high-rollers with powerful flushing mechanisms.  Do I want my toilet paper quilted?  Maybe with ripples?  I can get it.  From “Over the Hill” to “Shit Happens”, the customized prints of any roll are limited only by one’s ability to get to the mall and pop into Spencer’s Gifts.

When the toilet paper runs out?  When it has fallen off the roll into mystery “water” in a public bathroom?  Even when it’s draped over-the-roll when we prefer it under-the-roll… all these dire situations affect our emotions.  The difference between a tremendous day and utter hell is often dictated by the morning pit stop, and the subsequent T.P. situation.

Point is:  there are millions of toilet paper enthusiasts out there, many of them Costco shoppers (myself included).  If this thoughtless monolith wants to continue to retain our business, I suggest Ms. Alvarez-Peters, et al, choose their words more carefully next time they decide to compare a multi-faceted plethora of personal choice to something as simple and interchangeable as wine.

Shame!


This Used to be Easy

October 12, 2011
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Used to sit down at this now-overburdened laptop and bang out some drivel about how the A-Team is a perfect metaphor for the four most noble grape varieties of Alsace.  
Riesling, the ring-leader and mastermind of Alsace’s vinous fame.  Some might say the ranking officer.  Assertive but balanced, smart and thought-provoking, and prone to aging well.  A regular Col. John Hannibal.  That handsome devil.
Pinot Gris, the full-bodied muscle of Alsace.  B.A. Baracus, perhaps?  Don’t know if it hates flying, though.  But I’ll have to admit that Pinot Gris has knocked me on my ass before.
Muscat, a smooth and aromatic experience.  Suave.  Just like Templeton Peck, aka, “Face”
And, of course, there’s bat shit-crazy Gewurztraminer.  Smells sweet, often tastes dry.  A brilliant and polarizing mind-bender of a wine.  Call it “Howling Mad” Murdock in my book.
Piece of cake.  “Tell me about Alsace,” folks might’ve said.  People on the streets.  Everyone wants to know Alsace.
“No sweat.  You like the A-Team?  No?  Okay, let’s work with the fact that you’re wearing that Oingo Boingo t-shirt.  See, Danny Elfman is a lot like Riesling…”

Lately, though, it seems every post has been a struggle.  I feel like a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters… but the typewriters are out of ink, and the monkeys; well, the monkeys are just too busy flinging poo to do my bidding at the keys.

Wondering if it’s writers’ block.  Possibly.  Not much time to write.  Or even think about writing.  Such can be life for the swinging international playboy that is a marketing goon for a wholesale distributor of air conditioning products.
But I think “writers’ block” is a lazy and convenient excuse.  Rather, I’m starting to think that when dealing with a subject so vast, generalization gets tough.
Wine is a rabbit-hole.  It keeps going.  One’s pursuits- real obsessive pursuits- of wine appreciation must be similar to what Lewis & Clark felt when they crested the highest point of the Rockies… only to see more, endless land.  “Where’s the damn ocean, already?”  Of course, when dealing with wine, rather than getting dysentery from a pre-pasteurization expedition, you get a tasty beverage and perhaps a little buzz.  
Okay, sometimes you get dysentery too.  Stay away from wines sold at gas stations or on the Denny’s wine list.  Everyone knows a “Grand Slam” breakfast goes better with beer anyway.  ‘Cause we all know you’re hungover.
Here’s the point, I think:  I don’t want to scare anyone away from wine, because it really is wonderful.  Oversimplification might do the subject matter a disservice, and complicating what is- essentially- a food product with tons of geeky facts and oh-so-awful descriptions of aromas and flavors can do even more damage.  As soon as people are stressed out by the beverage that is meant to relieve stress, I believe they’re going to stick with what’s comfortable- be that the same wine over and over again, or the reliable 12-pack of domestic brew.
So, to those still reading:  thanks.  I’m working on it.
And yes, Alsace wine is much more than a cast of characters from a particularly awesome 80’s action drama.  But it ain’t friggin’ nuclear physics either.  And I think- now- you know that…
I love it when a plan comes together.

Posted in A-Team, Alsace, wine

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 twitterfall.com, 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.

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.


Resurrection

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.


Werewolves of Lyon

June 8, 2011
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I recently drank some pretty good Roussanne. Thus, a picture of Scott Howard “wolfing out” leads.

Here we go again. Hang on… let me explain.

During a gut-busting, teeth-staining wine dinner (paid my way… take that, disclaimers) featuring the luscious vittles of Atlanta hotspot Local Three– cozied up with a fierce lineup of juice from Central Coast California producer Qupé– I decided I wanted to write about Roussanne.

Why? Because it’s the jam. And it needs some publicity (particularly Qupé’s masterpiece: a prototype of the difficult balance between fruit, acid, oak, and alcohol).

Before I go completely off the rails, here are some basics: Roussanne is a wine grape that hails from the Rhône valley of France (which basically starts south of the city of Lyon, thus, the painfully-forced title). In its most-recognizable manipulation from vine to glass, Roussanne makes aromatic, medium-to-full-bodied whites that are somewhat akin to the slightly more-popular wines from Viognier (grape). When being as recognizable as it can be, Roussanne is found in bottles from the appellations of Hermitage (region), Crozes-Hermitage (region), and Saint-Joseph (region) in the Northern Rhône, and most notably in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (region) in the Southern Rhône (where it can be used in both white and red blends labeled as Châteauneuf-du-Pape). The grape is also found in the States, often either blended with Viognier, Marsanne (grape), and/or Grenache Blanc (grape), or sparsely varietally-bottled, as in the case with Qupé.

As I tasted the rich, oaked-but-not-over-oaked nectar, featuring a reasonable alcohol of about 13.5%, and good acidity and fruit, I thought, “Chardonnay lovers would really go for this bugger.”

So, I set out on finding the perfect pop-culture metaphor. Due to Roussanne’s relative obscurity among the palates of most folks, I had to go with a “diamond in the rough” angle. Maybe a rock band that was awesome but never quite made it?

No, I needed something with more T&A (perhaps I’ve been reading too much Samantha Sans Dosage). And is there anything more (or less) deceptive than the Hollywood typecast of the weird/artsy/misunderstood/nerdy chick who is actually super-hot under all that frumpy flannel and vision correction? With that, the haphazard search began…

Velma Dinkley from Scooby-Doo? Nah. Already used her once. But worth another gander. Perhaps the hottest/nerdiest of them all.

That girl who played the lead character in She’s All That? No. Not even Roussanne is obscure enough to be compared currently to Rachel Leigh Cook. Plus, even a brief mention of the movie She’s All That would imply that I’ve seen She’s All That

…dammit. Anyway, Rachel, or Rachel Leigh, I’ll come calling when we write a post about Rhoditis or something. Damn, that’s some bad wine grape humor. Er, moving on:

What about Lisa “Boof” Marconi, from Teen Wolf? Had some potential, extraordinarily frumpy, and not exactly the popular girl. I seemed to be on the right track, but in my chaotic brainstorm, the clouds parted, and I realized my sophomoric quest for sex appeal had shrouded the clearest metaphor of all:

Roussanne is a teenage werewolf. A teenage werewolf played by actor Michael J. Fox in a hit 1985 film. And here’s why:

Roussanne is volatile: Scott Howard’s father- Harold- learned to control the wolf. Scott himself was still a little off-the-handle. Any vineyard manager with a field full of Roussanne has to have a little Harold Howard in him/her as well. The grape is known to ripen unevenly, yield irregularly, and is susceptible to the ravages of wind and powdery mildew. However, for the intrepid souls who succeed in hedging these risks and wrangling the wolf, payoff is inevitable.

This unassuming grape has some serious game: Scott Howard- the basketball player- had heart, and was an adequate court general, yet lacked size and ability. When Scott unleashed the wolf, he because a human (canine?) highlight reel. Under the proper circumstances, Roussanne can also unleash some wolf, bringing incredible aromas, power, body, and acidic balance. There’s a reason why Qupé’s varietally-bottled Roussanne sells for $40.

Roussanne has always been “in” among the “out” crowd: Boof had undying love for Scott Howard, wolf or not. Intuitive guys like me just notice these things. She was like a wine nerd, going the distance to show affection for a soul outside the realm of widespread popularity. When I get together with my fellow geeks (we’re talking some folks who have an unhealthy zeal for wine), a bottle of white Hermitage is greeted with extraordinary reverence. ‘Tis often not the case in most other crowds…

Roussanne has some really stylish friends: when blended into “Rhône-style” blends, Roussanne is found mingling with other top-notch grapes like Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul, etc. At least a few of these deserve there own posts as well. Either that, or I really wanted an excuse to feature the picture to the left. Oh Styles, we hardly knew ye.

So, the next time some friends want to get together and have some booze, seek out a bottle of Roussanne. When your friends say, “what the hell is Roussanne?,” you can reply, “Roussanne is the teenage werewolf of wines.” Then, when they look at you like you’re crazy, you can simply say, “what are you looking at, dicknose?”Get past the heated exchange, and I promise a well-made bottle will make them all happy. Even dicknose. But not happy about his nose. That seems like something that would make me pretty grumpy, too.


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…


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