Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Well Aged.

October 6, 2010
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I’ve heard it said that a finely-aged wine is like Sophia Loren: rare, classic beauty that only improves as time passes (within reason…she’s not really doing it for me at this point). The comparison is heightened by the existence of massive, extracted, fruit-monsters that are so popular. They can definitely be bombshells in their youth, but all the airbrushing, makeup, and silicone (that is to say, abuse of mega purple, excessive fining, micro-oxygenation, etc.) usually ends badly. And while I don’t intend to poke fun at Anna Nicole Smith’s tragic story, there’s no denying she went from sex pot to train wreck faster than you can say “Aussie Shiraz”.

To be fair to the ladies (since I don’t know a single one who appreciates the virtues of a youthful Anna Nicole), think of it this way: I don’t suspect we’ll ever see milk-drinking stallion Zac Efron peddling aftershave when he’s knocking on death’s door. I bet Zac Efron needs some fancy cologne to tell him he’s a man. But not Jack Palance. RIP, you handsome bastard. Confidence, indeed, was very sexy. Even if my wife gags when I splash on the Skin Bracer. Guess I need to tack on about 40 years and try again.

Enter Ridge Vineyards. A stalwart in the wine world. One of the two names (along with Seghesio) that put dry red Zinfandel wines on the map. As it turns out, they have some vineyards at Lytton Springs in Healdsburg, CA. I happened to be out there and managed to weasel my way into a vertical tasting of several vintages from Lytton Springs, along with a few from Monte Bello (south of the Bay Area). Right place at the right time, I suppose. Or maybe it was the confidence I had from all the Skin Bracer I put on that morning. I’m going with the former.

Courtesy of the dapper Chris Watkins (who totally pull off wearing a sweater and jacket in 105 degree weather), I tucked into the 1987, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007 Lytton Springs bottlings, along with 3 Monte Bellos from the early 90’s (’91, ’92, ’94).

Sipping on these beauties on the Ridge crushpad, surrounded by formerly twitter handles, facebook profiles, and blog editors (now friends who I have connected with in person…who says social media is impersonal?), I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of enjoying some maturity in the glass.

Like child actors, most wines aren’t meant to age…their values are all in their youth. If cellared too long, they become awkward and unmarketable. Why is this? The answer lies in preservatives. Natural preservatives- namely, phenolic compounds and acids (and high alcohol in fortified wines, but that’s another story altogether…like Mickey Rooney). Phenolic compounds include anthocyanins, tannins, and non-flavonoids like resveratrol (among other stuff) found in the skins, seeds, and stems of the grapes, and also in oak. Tannins in particular act as natural preservatives, and give many young red wines (especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and Tannat) that dry, fuzzy feeling in the mouth. They are also quite astringent, so very tannic wines can taste bitter. However, as a wine ages, the tannins bind to form larger molecules and eventually get too heavy, thus precipitating out of the wine. The anthocyanins also bind and precipitate out. Since they’re responsible for the red and blue hues in red wines, this is why aged reds tend to lighten in color over time.

Acidity plays a big role in preserving wines, and is the key reason why many cool climate whites (which- unless heavily aged in oak- are usually devoid of much tannin due to very limited skin contact during fermentation) can be aged. Fine German Riesling, in particular, is known for its searing acidity and its chops for cellaring. Some of the great White Burgundies (made from Chardonnay) and crisp Champagnes have also managed to mature nicely.

However, most consumers these days don’t want to sit on bottles for 5-10 years before consuming, nor do they have the proper storage to do so. So many producers have found ways to “artificially mature” wines so they are more approachable in youth. Fruit is picked when riper, offering bigger fruit flavors (but as fruit ripens, its acidity drops). Food additives such as mega purple enhance the color and mouthfeel of wines in lieu of extracting these properties with skin contact, resulting in “desirable” attributes without the side-effect of heavy tannic fuzz and astringency. Chemical processes like micro-oxygenation introduce oxygen into fermented wines, helping polymerize tannins (which gives a “softer” mouthfeel, but hastens the life of the suspended tannic compounds).

I guess what I’m saying is that the bottle of 1997 Yellow Tail Cabernet your folks have been “storing” in the basement isn’t going to taste any better than it did the year it was made. In fact, all those processes have crippled the wine’s natural preservatives, so it’s very likely not been able to fight off the inevitable infitration of oxygen into the bottle through the cork, and you’ve probably got a bottle of vinegar. And I like my wine vinegar from purposeful Italians, not accidental Australians, thank you very much.

But good age makes you quickly understand why folks pay high prices and exercise tremendous patience. The softer tannic presence creates smooth, velvety wines. The nose reveals totally new flavors that have emerged from continual chemical reactions in the bottle. Even a bit of oxydation can create nutty, caramelly (is that a word?) aromas and tastes. It’s a totally unique experience to those who thought they’d really knew wine before (present company included).

I recall really digging the Ridge 1992 and the 1996 Lytton Springs (primarily Zinfandel blends). All the Monte Bellos were awesome (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc). I hope you get a chance to try these. Or, grab a recent vintage and let it sit for a while (away from heat and sunlight). Your patience will be rewarded, like a child star getting an adult gig. Meh, I guess Rick Schroder was pretty forgettable on “24”. Bad example.


Real American

July 3, 2010
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As Rick Derringer’s “Real American” blares through my speakers for the 5th time in a row, I’m hopped up with pride. Yes, I recall vividly from my history classes how the U.S. finally gained its independence … [dream sequence] … it was March 29, 1987, in Detroit, Michigan. Against all odds, Terry “Hulk” Hogan bodyslammed the enormous André the Giant, finishing him off with a signature Atomic Leg Drop. As the Frenchman’s massive body hit the canvas, so too did 500 years of ruthless French dominion over the States. My only question is: if this was in March, then why we celebrate on July 4th?
On an unrelated note, did you know that Georgia public schools rank 41st in the nation??! But I’m am much more smarterer than that. It’s unpossible to think me did school in places that bad.
So, back to real Americans. Terry “Hulk” Hogan certainly is one. But what about wine? Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc…all these names sound…so…French. And with good reason. These vitis vinifera (wine grapes) have thrived across the pond, and the French were really the ones who made them famous in the bottle, long before California was even on the map (literally).

However, there’s a lot of talk about drinking zinfandel on Independence Day. Yes, it’s pretty much only grown in the States. Yeah, it’s often regarded as the official grape of California. Sure, it can be incredible with barbecued pork ribs (“Classic Pairings 202” coming soon). But zinfandel has a dirty secret. You may think you’re being all-American, but you might as well be drinking straight from Nikolai Volkoff’s hammer-and-sickle emblazoned, bear-skinned wine flagon.
Why? Because genetic testing of Zinfandel has shown that it not only doesn’t produce red, white, and blue juice, but it’s actually a mutation of Croatia’s crljenak (pronounced ZURL-uh-nak) grape, along with Italy’s Primativo, found in red blends from the south of Italy, and often- falsely- identified as another name for zinfandel. Oh, and conveniently, Volkoff was not a Soviet. He actually hailed from…Croatia.
Croatia??! Is Croatia in America?? It doesn’t take a Georgia education to answer that question.

But there’s more to the story than zinfandel’s double-agent past. In fact, no vinifera grapes are native to the U.S., and virtually none would exist here naturally, due to a pesky little inconvenience known as phylloxera, a root-eating louse that can bring entire vineyards to their knees (if vines had knees). To combat this, viticulturists have discovered that grafting the vines to the resistant rootstock of native varieties (there are around 60 known species of the vitis genus) can allow phylloxera to be parried (but that’s another post).
So, what’s local? Well, there’s vitis labrusca (think Welch’s Grape Juice) and vitis riparia (most commonly used as the rootstock for wine grapes), among others.
If you live in the South, and you really want to be patriotic, go with vitis rotundifolia otherwise known as the “muscadine” grape. This species is generally known for making sweet, musky tasting wines in the Southeastern United States. Are they good? Not to me. But being a Real American is not always about that. Sometimes, you just need to sacrifice taste for the greater good…
Have a safe and happy Independence Day, folks!

Joe Versus the Movie Pairings, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

We didn’t cook a dog. Dogs have personality.

April 25, 2010
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Jules: Pigs sleep and root in shit. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got sense enough to disregard its own feces.

Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.

Jules: I don’t eat dog either.

Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?

Jules: I wouldn’t go so far as to call a dog filthy but they’re definitely dirty. But, a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Okay, all you North Shore Animal League folks can relax. It’s not a dog we cooked. It’s a lamb (P.E.T.A. folks continuing not to relax). However, you have to admit that it does look like we’ve got Fido hooked up to the spit:
So, dog lovers, rest easy. Lamb lovers (and I’m not talking about “lamb with a side of potatoes”), sorry. Lamb lovers (as in “lamb with a side of potatoes”), here’s how it’s done:
1 whole lamb (about 25.30 lb.), head off*
Kosher or Sea Salt
6 lemons, halved
3 or 4 footlong branches of fresh rosemary
thin copper wire
6 oz. lemon juice
6 oz. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped garlic
2 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1/4 cup oregano
32 oz. olive oil (extra virgin or regular)

*when I cook whole hogs, I usually get head-on, because the cheeks offer some of the best meat on the animal (and the ears and tongue are good eatin’ too). With lamb, the heads are heavy, but I don’t believe they bring as much meat to the table, so I opt to leave them off rather than pay for the extra weight.

1) Dig a 4′ x 2′ pit, or block off an area with bricks or stones on a non-flammable area of your your yard. For example, doing this in a bed of pinestraw would be a bad idea. Build a fire with charcoal (not the lighter fluid-infused kind, unless you like meat that tastes like lighter fluid) and/or wood (I used both). Once the coals are ashy, move them to the perimeter of the rectangle, leaving the middle empty.

2) Unwrap your mummified lamb (make sure it’s thawed; you can order them in at a butcher shop and have them hold it for you until thawed, as most come in frozen…unless there’s a farm around the corner from you). Rub the inside and out with salt. Fill the cavity with the halved lemons and rosemary sprigs. Close the body cavity with the copper wire.

3) Mix the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary, oregano, and salt-to-taste in a large bowl. While whisking, drizzle the olive oil into the bowl to create an emulsion. This “vinaigrette” will serve as your baste for the lamb.

4) Secure your lamb to your spit with the meat forks on the spit rod and tie the legs with copper wire and secure to the rod. We also used some additional copper wire to wrap around the middle of the beast. Secure the spit rod to your rack (we made one out of 3/4″ iron gas pipe fittings…it’s about 4 feet wide). Position the lamb about 18-24″ above the fire, depending on how hot it is. We also put a pan in the middle of the fire pit to catch tasty drippings. The area in the picture to the left is where I’m burning more wood to create coals to shovel onto the cooking fire when those coals get low…about every hour or so.

5) When your small grill rotisserie motor does not have the power to turn the lamb, curse momentarily, and then get creative. We tied some twine to the neck and positioned the lamb on its side over the fire, then secured the twine at that angle on the top post of the spit rack. The lamb only needed to be repositioned about every 30 minutes.

6) Every time you reposition the lamb, make sure to baste liberally with the olive oil mixture. I make a “mop” out of a stick and some strips of a dishrag. You can also buy mini mops at BBQ supply stores.

7) Your lamb should be done in about 3-4 hours, but the best way to check is with a meat thermometer. Stick it in the thickest part of one of the legs, and also in one of the shoulders. 145˚ means medium-rare. 155˚ is medium. 165˚ is well-done. Once mine hit mid-rare, I boosted the coals underneath, basted it up, and positioned the critter on each side for about 10 minutes to crisp up the skin.

This was my first go at it, and I was happy with the results, but I’d like to try it again with a proper rotisserie motor. There’s definitely an element of “feel” when it comes to cooking the beast evenly, and I moved coals around to the thicker parts, as well as just kept an eye one what was cooking and what wasn’t. In the end, it ended up a little more cooked than how I would want a rack of lamb at a restaurant, but everything was very moist and tender, so I wasn’t complaining. The dogs didn’t complain either; they clearly knew it was a lamb and not one of their own…or they just didn’t care.
For wines, I alway encourage folks to drink what they like. When I’m messin’ with lamb, I gravitate towards big reds: Syrah in particular. Zinfandel is also a nice pairing, or a smoky Malbec or Tempranillo-based red wine. For something a little lighter, a Grenache-based wine would be good. Here’s a lineup of what we knocked back, bellies full of an animal with no personality (otherwise, we wouldn’t eat it…maybe):

Another kind of flood…

September 22, 2009
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For some, writing is a paycheck. For others, a passion. Others yet, an escape.

As I sit in my living room, wonder if and when the raging water outside is going to start seeping into my carpet, ruining an investment that already has us stretched thin, I can think of nothing better than getting on the computer and typing.
And I’ve got it easy. Yeah, the yard has washed away, a literal delta of silt covering what was grass, but at least the home is unharmed. Furthermore, no one I know has been injured, displaced, or killed. I wish I could say that for others in the city tonight.
Forgive my unusually somber mood…just a little shellshocked right now. Fortunately, one of the great things about wine and food writing is that its focus is on four things that offer a great deal of comfort: a good meal, good drink, good friends, and family. It doesn’t really focus on shelter, but hey- that’s good too. Let’s knock on wood!
Stream of consciousness out of the way, I want to discuss another flood: a veritable deluge of Lodi Zinfandel, single-vineyard Pinot Noir, and incredible edibles at a recent get-together. Ed Thralls, Atlanta resident and writer of a tidy little wine blog ( recently had some folks over to dunk our whiskers into a case of various Lodi (an American Viticultural Area east of the San Francisco Bay) Zinfandels. As an added bonus, Ross Halleck of joined us to cap a whirlwind, week-long trip to Atlanta, bringing along some of his incredible Sonoma Pinot Noirs. Luckily, Ross got out of town before the relentless wash.
Oh, added bonus #2: gourmand-extraordinaire Jimmy (of brought some crazy-good grilled meats (including skirt steak with chimichurri and ground lamb kebabs with a spicy, curry, yogurty-goodness sauce…I think that was its official name), and photo-whiz Broderick (of snapped shots that will certainly make mine look terrible.
While all the Lodi zins were certainly delicious, I noticed that most all had a very herbal, peppery nose that was not quite as fruit-forward as many others from places like Dry Creek Valley or elsewhere in Sonoma (the source of many of the best). Not that this was bad; I found the smells very intriguing, and almost more appealing for food pairings. In the mouth, I got the usual berries and spice, but they all kind of fell flat in a hurry…not a lot of structure and tannin, that I tend to like. They all were, however, complete bruisers in the alcohol department, one sporting 16.5% on the bottle. If you ever get your hands on a bottle of “Gluttony”, do NOT do so while operating heavy machinery!

Two did stick out in my mind as having great depth of flavor and structure: one was the OZV from Oak Ridge Winery and the other (oddly enough) from Eola Hills, and Oregon winery (who sourced the grapes from Lodi). The OZV demonstrated a great deal of rich blackberry, strawberry and cherry, interlaced with a nice structure that incorporated the likely-high-alcohol well (I didn’t catch the number off the bottle). Similarly, the Eola Hills demonstrated more fruit than the others, but what really drew me to this one was the incredible spice and structure on the finish. It didn’t fall flat at all, and it could definitely stand up to the grilled lamb and steak.
They were all nice; these two just jumped out at me. Regardless, if you like Zinfandel, Lodi is not a bad place to look. Not having the pedigree of a Sonoma County, this region can offer really good wines on the cheap, usually between $12-15 buckaroonies.
Yeah, I just said “buckaroonies”. It cheers me up.
Anyway, check out some of these wines. I think you will be very happy with them. And happiness is something we all need, because you never know when everything else will wash away.

To the things that can’t be taken away: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Posted in floods, food, wine, zinfandel

Pair like a (semi) Pro

September 1, 2009
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Having duped a few folks into thinking I’m an oenological expert via the awesome power of the interweb, I was recently charged with wine pairings for a meal my mom-in-law was preparing.

First course: Simple mixed greens with a mustardy vinaigrette

Second course: Maple-glazed pork tenderloin, chantilly potatoes gratin, Grand Marnier carrots

Dessert: Peach cobbler a la mode

Plans laid out, I went to work. While I’m by no means a pairing expert, there are a few I guidelines I subscribe to that can make the experience more enjoyable. While the #1 pairing guideline is “drink what you like with what you like to eat, and ‘rules’ be damned,” I like a lot of different wine and a lot of different food (it’s my cross to bear), so I opt to go a little further. Here are a couple pointers I keep in my back pocket when trying to find the perfect “food” wine. Remember: these are “pointers”, not rules. Like Outback Steakhouse, there are no rules…

…I bet there really are rules at Outback Steakhouse. Do you think I could walk in there, eat, then leave without paying? Upon being confronted by management, I’d simply claim that I chose their establishment because I didn’t have time for “rules”, such as paying for said meal. I also wonder if someone has ever taken their pants off while eating at Outback…

…anyway- blokes and shielas- onto the pointers:

Very loose pointer #1) Very high alcohol wines are better drunk on their own than with food (exception being very hearty and robust red meat…venison, NY Strip and Ribeye steaks, lambs, and stews)

Very loose pointer #2) High alcohol makes spicy food just taste “hot”

Very loose pointer #3) High acidity heightens the flavors of food, and balances the richness of fatty foods. High-acid white grapes (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc) and red grapes (Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel) can be great with food

Very loose pointer #4) Wines with “floral/spice” profiles- like Gewurztraminer- can really work well with highly-spiced foods (i.e. Pacific Rim cuisine)

Very loose pointer #5) Red wines with lots of jammy fruit flavors work well with smoky, sweet dishes like BBQ

Very loose pointer #6) Desserts need wines that are as sweet or sweeter than said dessert

Using these nuggets of info, I went out and selected 5 different bottles with the meal:

I thought about naming the selections from right to left, but wouldn’t that just be downright silly? Anyway, here they are (from left to right, throwing no curveballs your way):

Trimbach Gewurztraminer (Alsace, France)
Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris (Columbia Valley, Washington State)
San Fabiano Conti Borghini Baldovinetti Chianti (Tuscany, Italy)
Clos LaChance Zinfandel (Central Coast, California)
Rudolf Müller Eiswein (Rheinhessen/Pfalz, Germany)

Okay, we took the Gewurz and the Pinot Gris to go with the salad. Just in case you didn’t know, Pinot Gris and the more market-prevalent Pinot Grigio are the same grape. However, often when grown in Oregon or Alsace, France, the resulting wine is richer and heavier than a crisp, light Italian Pinot Grigio. Regardless, it was still a little light for the mustardy vinaigrette, which overpowered it. The Gewurz, on the other hand, had a spicy, floral nature to it that just worked with the dressing. Furthermore, Gewurz is a low-acid grape, so the lower acidity in the wine did not clash with the vinegar in the dressing. Winner = Gewurztraminer, and I’d try it again anytime with a mustard-based sauce.

Next, the plates of maple glazed pork and cheesy potatoes captured our attention. I opted for a Chianti (made from the Sangiovese grape) and a California Zinfandel. Why? Sangiovese has this hard-to-describe rustic quality to it: I always think it tastes a ton like dried cherries, and it also tends to have some herbal quality (and some say orange peel). Mostly, it has very high acid. It’s also low in tannin, so it’s not too structured for a mild meat like pork. Lastly, the Italian wines tend to be lower in alcohol (this one was I think 12.5%), so they really are food-friendly. So, this mild, rustic pork- a meat that works so well with fruit flavors- paired well with the cherry. The high acid cut through the richness of the pork and potatoes, and it also balanced the sweetness (think of how much sugar you put in lemonade, but it never tastes “too” sweet…same thing).

The Zinfandel was kind of a rare find. It only had 13.5% alcohol, which seems rare…you can always find ones that are 15%, 15.5%, sometimes even 16% (has to do with the uneven ripening of the grapes…another post). So, the lower alcohol helped with the food. Also, I LOVE Zinfandel with BBQ. It’s got huge berry flavors and lots of spicy black pepper character. It’s also got pretty good acid by nature. However, this one was a little subtle. A good pairing, but the nod has to go to the Chianti.

The last pairing was a peach cobbler in a hot, flaky crust with vanilla ice cream. Good enough by itself, but if you haven’t been pairing desserts with dessert wines, you’re definitely MISSIN’ OUT. And Eiswein is especially ballin’. German for “ice wine”, the grapes- usually Riesling- are left on the vine until very ripe; so late into the season that they freeze. They’re picked and pressed while still frozen, the ice is removed, and all that is left is super-concentrated grape juice. Low in alcohol, syrupy-thick, and very sweet, you’d think this would just over-sugar the dessert. However, that’s where the beauty of the Riesling grape comes in. Since it’s naturally INCREDIBLY high in acid, even the very ripe grapes maintain enough acidity to balance the substantial sugar. What’s left is an apricot, tangerine nectar of goodness. The acidity balanced the richness of the pie crust and ice cream, and just heightened the sweet flavors of the peaches. Bottom line: this pairing was “punch a Jonas Brother in the face” good. Try it. Try it now!

Okay. I know this post may have come off a little snobby. Sometimes, wine pairing can seem that way. But, if you consider yourself quite the gastronaut- with a great love for good food- you can have some fun pairing. When it works, both the food and the wine taste better. Even if it doesn’t, you gain a little experience. And always remember that what works for you may not work for others. That’s okay! You’re taste buds ain’t my taste buds. However, I’ve found my “pointers” to rarely let me down, so I hope you take them into consideration. You may find yourself cooking more at home and searching for great new combinations, rather than following the unwritten rules at the local Outback. And, at home, there really are no rules.

So, to clothing-optional meals, Cheers, Sláinte, 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!

A Debut Performance: Wine Blogging Wednesday #60: I Have Zinned

August 12, 2009

I’m really excited to be part of Wine Blogging Wednesday. I need to give credit where it’s due: to Lenn Thompson of Lenn Devours for creating WBW, and to @Sonadora of the Wanna Wino Wine Blog for posting this one so I could weasel my way into participating.

This month’s theme is “I Have Zinned”…the title is apropos, as Widespread Panic’s “Me and the Devil Blues” pulses through my headphones (hopefully rocking me out of a serious funk of writer’s block). And while drinking Zinfandel may not result in an audience with Ol’ Scratch, it is kind of the “bad boy” of red wines: powerful, spicy, alcoholic, and all-American…a perfect compliment to folksy rock n’ roll. But something is missing-

Bluesy Jams + Jammy Booze + BBQ Ribs with a Zinfandel Glaze- okay, now we’ve got something worth writing about.


Since my Bentley’s in the shop and both my yachts are costing me an arm-and-a-leg in dry-dock, I opted for a Zin with a price point of $10.99. Plus, I wanted to give something a try from the Sierra Foothills AVA, so this Cartlidge & Browne 2006 Amador County Zinfandel fit the bill. I’ve had a lot of great Zin in the $20-30 range, so it’s nice when I find a gem in the $10-12 “broke wino” range (yes, it’s true…the Bentley/yacht talk was a farce).

No earth-shaking find here, but not bad. On the nose, I got berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries. Also, some violets, spice, and pepper. Nothing interesting; it was a pretty typical, rather subtle Zinfandel nose. In the mouth, I got some decent fruit, average acidity, and some smooth tannins. It was pretty easy drinking and not incredibly structured, with a rather short finish. In the end, I found it to be a servicable Zin. Not terrible, not great- really what I would expect for the price point. If you’re knocking back a bottle on a Tuesday night, you could do a lot worse, and you certainly wouldn’t feel like your $11 bucks went to waste. However, for $3-5 bucks more, I think you get a lot more value out of a Ravenswood Sonoma County Zin or a Cline Ancient Vines Zin (both which can be found anywhere). Depends on your “Bentley” situation, I suppose. Also, always keep in mind that these are my taste buds talking, not yours.


Suffice it to say, I’m a sucker for good BBQ. If my [ample] belly could talk, it would say “gimme some BBQ, sucka!” Yes, my belly would talk in a Mr. T voice. “T” and I especially like good BBQ with Zinfandel; the big berry fruit works great with a sweet sauce and the smoky flavor, and the acidity and tannin help balance the richness of pork ribs, which are high in tasty fats. However, unable to decide on pork ribs or beef ribs, I went for both. I used the “Lone Star Steak Rub” from Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades. I kept the rub as-is for the beef ribs, and then added a cup of light brown sugar for the pork. I cooked them over indirect heat on my Weber kettle with some hickory smoke for 3 hours at 275 degrees. This produced ribs with tender meat, but just a little pull off the bone, which I like. Before I served, I got another hot fire going, then basted the ribs several times with a Zinfandel-BBQ glaze, which turned out great:

Zinfandel BBQ Glaze

1 Cup Red Zinfandel
1 Cup Apple Juice
2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
2/3 Cup Soy Sauce
2/3 Cup Ketchup
2 Tablespoons Deli Mustard
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon of the Rub used on the ribs
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Add all contents to a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half

Oh, and the other thing on the plate is Sweet Potato Hashbrowns…in theory, a good idea, but they just didn’t pan out the way I had hoped. Let me get back to the lab on that one.


The wine was not bad. The ribs were pretty solid (not tooting my horn here; just that good ribs are a hell of a lot easier to make than good wine). Together, I actually had wished the Zin hadn’t been so easy-drinking. I wanted more fruit to stand up to the spicy rub on the ribs (and I usually NEVER want a fruit bomb with food). Also, there wasn’t quite enough acid in the wine to balance the nourishing fats. Lastly, the alcohol (at 15%+) was just a little too hot for the pepper in the rub; it really amplified the “heat” factor…not that I mind, but it took away from the smoky goodness. In the end, I’ll say this: make the ribs (comment below with any questions); they were solid. The wine didn’t work great with them, but give them a try together- what I taste is not necessarily gonna be what you taste. And listen to some blues when you’re making BBQ. It just works. Most importantly, though, eat the food and drink the wine with people who you love. If no one’s available, maybe you can have a conversation with your belly.

Until then, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Pork & Cork

July 23, 2009
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I’m working on some combinations for something called “Wine Blogging Wednesday,” coming up in a couple weeks. You can read more about it at the host’s site: Wannabe Wino. Basically, a bunch of wine nerds/ blog nerds like myself (some even nerdier than me…those who know me will find that hard to believe) write on their sites about a certain theme. Then, the host compiles all the posts, and everyone is exposed to a bunch of different wines, opinions, new sites to read, etc. You know, yet another one of those good ideas I didn’t invent.

Seriously- jerk who invented the motorized riding cooler- that was mine. MINE!!!

So anyway, the theme for this upcoming WBW is “I have Zinned,” an homage to America’s grape, Zinfandel. Definitely one of my favorites, and one of the easiest wines to drink…despite alcohol levels often exceeding 15% (why so high? read about it here). I especially think a tasty Zinfandel, with all its jammy fruit and peppery spice, goes great with BBQ, particularly if it’s slathered in a sweet & spicy sauce. And to all you BBQ snobs, let me clear the air and say sauce does not great BBQ make. But, if it is used, it’s often good with Zinfandel. Get off my back, John Q. McPurist.

While not ready to unleash my wine/food pairing for the upcoming event, I thought I’d try some grilled pork and some Zin together to see if I could get the creative juices flowing. Behold!

Let’s be honest, if not slightly creepy: those grill marks are damn sexy.

Chops: pretty solid. I brined them overnight in a mixture of apple juice, salt, brown sugar, Crown Royal, onion powder, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, and allspice berries. Then, I dusted the outside with smoked paprika and rubbed down with olive oil. Cooked on a hot grill for about 3 1/2 minutes per side. A little salty- I’ll back it off a bit next time- but absolutely THE way to go with normally-bland pork chops. If you only take one thing away from this post….BRINE. BRINE. BRINE. (okay, that’s 3 things)

Oh, that’s broccoli in the background. Thought I’d try grilling broccoli. If you enjoy aweful, huge-embarrassing-failure-type dishes, then grill your broccoli. Oh well, can’t figure out it sucks until you try it.

Now, time for the wine. I thought I’d open a 2006 Kokomo Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. I’ve liked the stuff these guys have made, and owner/winemaker Erik Miller is a pretty nice fella, to boot. Here’s the wine:

SUNUVABITCH! The wine was corked. And I don’t mean “corked” as in it had a cork in it. No such thing would elicit crude, blue language out of a golden-tongued socialite like me*.

*denotes sarcasm

The term “corked” is something many of you have probably heard. It’s the smell of trichloroanisole, more commonly referred to as TCA or “cork taint“. Without getting all “Mister Wizard” on you, it’s basically a naturally-occuring fungus that can get into cork. When the corks are cleaned with chlorine for sanitation purposes before bottling, the fungus- if present- reacts with the chlorine, forming TCA. It’s an incredibly powerful compound, detectable in parts per trillion. If you don’t know how much a trillion is, check out our national debt here.

Although harmless, TCA can render your wine worthless. It robs the wine of pleasant aromas, and presents a damp, musty smell…locker room, wet dog, wet cardboard, etc. Furthermore, it can make the wine incredibly dull tasting. Basically, without sugar-coating it, TCA is a bunch of bullsh*t.

But, hey, it happens. One of the reasons why you’re seeing a lot more screw tops on high-quality wine these days. Regardless, I don’t think less of the folks at Kokomo, and I certainly don’t think less of Zinfandel. I’ll just have to crack another bottle and keep trying…

…until then, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Bottle Recap – part 2 of 3

May 13, 2009
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Terrible job keeping up…gotta keep bread and skittles in the pantry for the misses and I, so I’ve been focusing on the “real” job (ugh). Also am tendrils deep in the CWS program, trying to acquire vast amounts of wine knowledge for your amusement.

Anyway, the 2nd bottle from the recap was a V. Sattui 2005 Ramazzotti Vineyard Zinfandel. It’s been one of my favorites: full of berries and peppery spice; truly a classic zinfandel.
Sattui does a pretty good job with zinfandel. They are usually selling several single-vineyard bottles, as well as just about every varietal you can imagine. You may think that this would cause them to spread themselves too thin and cause quality to suffer. However, the quality across the board is pretty darn good (at a pretty good price for the quality). Furthermore, it’s a nice place to visit if you’re ever in St. Helena, towards the north end of Napa Valley.
Unfortunately, I don’t know if this wine is still available, but perhaps they’ll bring it back in a later vintage. In the meantime, you can only buy V. Sattui wines at the winery or through their website. Check them out, keeping in mind that buying wine online (or joining wine clubs) is indeed the most sophisticated form of crack addiction. Watch your wallet.

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