Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sparkling Wine Tips (in a language I can understand...cartoons)

It's the last post of the year, so I figured I'd blow it out with some cartoons and a showcase of my incredibly sub-par musical skills. Been thinking about doing more of this. If you want more, please oink. If not, hiss like a garden snake.

Whether oinkin' or hissin', I hope all of you have a very safe and Happy New Year! See you in 2010 (if I'm not killed by a flying cork)!

Oh, and Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just grab 'em in the biscuits

Not just an immortal line from Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance", but an intimidating call to action for someone who was reared in the South by a Midwestern family, devoid of the knowledge guarded by the Secret Society of Southern Grandmothers, Grammas, Memaws, and Nanas. How much fatback to put in the green beans. How to fry absolutely every vegetable that is put on the plate with the fried meats and not suffer terrible and unyielding gastrointestinal discomfort. How to make a perfect biscuit. Trade information that I do not have.

Indeed, the biscuit (in the sense that we know it in the States; British Empire definitions need not apply here), although being defined as a "quick bread" (perhaps suggesting a simplicity in preparation), is to me like many foods. Few ingredients, minimal prep, and yet a food that can manifest itself on so many levels of success: from spectacular to craptacular; the product always indicative of the hand that crafted it. In this vein, I equate the perfect biscuit to the perfect noodle, the perfect martini, or timing Mario's jump on the koopa troopa just right on level 3-1 of Super Mario Bros. so as to earn enough extra lives to remember the stupid labrynth sequence in level 8-4. Man, I hate 8-4!

Beware of these little guys...

So- biscuits. Simple, but not easy. I thought I'd give them a crack on Christmas morning, surrounding the perfection that is a fried pork chop.

Oh, I forgot to mention that my wife's family is from South Carolina, and I'm not talking first generation. They have a "brown food group", dedicated to fried delights. I'm serious. More pressure.

Anyway, here it goes. You may sing along if you like...

The verdict? I think the flavor was good, but they were a little dry. I'm going to try for a stickier dough next time, as it absorbed a bunch of the flour when rolling out. Also, I did not shake my baking powder before spooning it out. Word on the skreets is that you're supposed to do that. Yeah, these were pretty good, but I have a long way to go for perfection. However, I will gladly praise the Lard and continue to tweak the recipe to meet that end... relationship with the in-laws just might depend on it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Napa Eve

"Atlanta - 91 miles"

Anniston, AL - We were hurtling down I-20 in my brother-in-law's 4-wheel-drive sleigh, returning from a Christmas Eve visit to relatives in Birmingham. Had a wonderful time with the wife's family...copious amounts of ham, quality time with my adorable- if not overly vivacious- niece, and a showering of gifts, including a sleek Vinturi instant aerator (more experimenting with that later).

But my gears had already switched from laser-focus on ham and family (let's call it "hamily" for short) to the neighbors' annual Christmas Eve party. I could already taste the reserve wines we always bust open to celebrate the season. Anniston, Alabama might has well have been China. Was the first cork being popped? What was I missing? Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? (the last question had little to do with the moment described, but I'm still unclear about it.)

Eventually, we got there, met with the expected level of revelry/joviality/hullabaloo/mirth: an already well-lubricated crowd, unusual treats (including big Bill Blank's famous chopped liver paté and steamer clams- lovingly referred to as "piss clams"- to be shelled, dipped in broth to remove the sand, and sloshed in melted butter before devouring). Liar's Dice games were heating up (which- for the record- we were playing long before A Really Goode Job). Dean Martin crooning over the speakers...oh, and the wine.

Seems like Napa Valley was the focus of the evening.

The first one opened, which I missed, was a 2004 Rubicon Estate Gustave Niebaum Captain's Reserve Merlot, 2004. This is a wine from the Niebaum-Coppola (as in Francis Ford Coppola) family of wines...FFC has some ownership in Rubicon Estate, which is known for some pretty heady and expensive wines. However, not only could I not get a taste of it, but I couldn't find any information, pricing, or anything about it online. I'm pretty sure it's expensive, though. If you had some, tell me about it, you wine hogs.

The next bottle to go through the paces was a V. Sattui 2005 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I know the '04 got a score of 93 in Wine Spectator, so- despite my distaste for wine scoring- I hoped it'd give an indication that this was pretty good. Oh, and the $50+ price tag added pressure to the wine's success.

Baby Steps - When the label of an American wine designates a vineyard (in this case, "Morisoli"), then 95% of the grapes used to make the wine have to come from that vineyard. When an AVA, or "American Viticultural Area" is listed on the label- in this case, Napa Valley- then 85% of the grapes have to come from vineyards within that AVA. When the varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) is listed, 75% or more of the wine must be from that grape. Finally, when a year is listed (2005), 95% of the grapes have to come from that growing year. Confused? Wait until you start learning about French wine! Anyway, from the label, we can deduce that 95% of the grapes came from Morisoli Vineyard, within Napa Valley. Of those, at least 75% had to be Cabernet Sauvignon, and 95% had to be grown in 2005. However, I'm guessing 100% came from Morisoli in 2005.

Okay, now I have a headache. Anyway, this Cab from Morisoli demonstrated flavors typical to the "Rutherford Bench" area of Napa Valley: peppery, spicy, and herbaceous, but with complex dark fruit layers underneath. The wine was incredibly concentrated and extracted, which I've noticed is a pretty consistent theme with Sattui's wines. The tannins were still pretty fierce, and I think it could have gone another few years in the bottle, maybe more. That being said, I think it was very good, but probably better with a big piece of lamb or beef than by itself.

By this time, the dice game was getting intense. We needed something a little less complex. We went for the Provenance Vineyards 2004 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Total fruit bomb, but with a nice balance of tannin, alcohol, and oak. Good wine, and probably worth the $40, but I have a hunch you could find something from Australia with a similar profile for ten bucks less. Regardless, I know Provenance has a very good pedigree for Merlot and Cab, and I think this strong effort was no exception. It was also interesting to compare a 2004 Cab and a 2005 Cab made with grapes from regions very close to each other. Was it vintage or winemaking defining such different styles? One of the many reasons why the grape on the label can sometimes say very little about the wine inside.

All in all, it was a perfect way to end the evening and put a bullet on the joyous occasion...

...yet, another notch in the (expanding) belt of excess. The January purge can't come soon enough.

Okay. Yes it can.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

'Tis the Season...

...for a borderline-frightening orgy of drink and food. I really hope LDL and triglycerides take vacation like the rest of us at the end of December. I capped off a week of Nero's Rome-like decadence this morning with some homemade hashbrowns smothered in sauteed onions, Rotel tomatoes, and melted Velveeta. Please don't tell my doc. He doesn't own stock in Velveeta.

But there was one thing that clearly set the tone for my decline into lipid-induced shame and lethargy during this past Christmas week:

To set the scene, our neighborhood has a Progressive Dinner around the holidays every year. Basically, a concept where a group of folks move from house-to-house; first house hosts appetizers and cocktails, then main course at the next house, then dessert, and then, well, tater tots. Okay, more generally, late night snacks. And, clearly, if you harken back to your younger days, what were you eating at 2, 3, 4 in the morning? Watercress sandwiches? Waldorf salads? Hell no! Gorgings at Waffle House, IHOP, Krystal/White Castle, or Taco Bell were the modus operandi; anything to suppress a sustained binge of well-liquor shots and Natural Light. Those meals- perhaps- saved the life of many a college student.

So it was manifested: the tater tot bar. A cornucopia of golden-fried jewels of shredded potato, along with any condiment that could be mustered: chili, nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, bacon bits, chives, salsa, BBQ sauce, assorted hot sauces, more cheese...getting heartburn just reading? Clearly not haute cuisine by any stretch, but- somehow- satisfying, comforting; a perfect nightcap to calm our mature bellies, now full of fine wine, craft beers, and single-malt scotch...

Yet, despite the sophisticated nature of the cocktails creating the need for the late-night snack, said snack has remained a constant: crap food that could be replaced by nothing else, being the only feasible option to satisfy at this late hour. I really think food has the unique ability to connect us with the past; the smells, tastes, and textures remain in our memory banks more clearly than anything else. Ergo, it's only natural that when one finds himself with too many drinks in the belly late at night- whether fancy drinks or swill- the sustenance desired is pulled from our collective memories, and junk food registers as the antidote. Pretty amazing.

In the same sense, I think when Christmas week comes around, my sensory memory tells me that every day is a reason for a feast. And so it happens, leaving me in this gluttonous, shameful state (the detailed means to the end shall unfold on these pages soon). And I can't do anything about it until after Jan. subconscious tells me that New Year's celebrations require more debauchery and food.

Oh well...I can either fight it or raise my glass. How 'bout the latter? Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Hopefully, you've got some friends or family to spend time with today. I slop Christmas eve into the same bucket as Thanksgiving: a gathering where tasty vittles and powerful libation converge upon the merrymaking of festive souls.

Pretty much, it's the best thing ever (I'm starting to think I refer to everything as "the best thing ever" being a curmudgeon, I suppose). We break out the good stuff; the fine Bordeaux, the cult Napa Cab, the Burgundy, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the Barolo, the super-Tuscans, the Champagne.

We cook roast beasts and exchange gifts and put on 5-10 lbs. without fail. Why not the real butter today? More gravy? Sure. We're all going to hit the gym hard in a week, right?

Most importantly, we laugh until snot comes out of our noses. We hug and give headlocks and sing Irish drinking songs. We come together to celebrate, reminisce on the year behind us, and look forward- eternally optimistic- to the year ahead; the year where things are "always going to really come together."

I hope the warmth of the season touches all of you as well. At the very least, I hope you find your glass full, at least full enough to toast the season: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Joyeux Noël

It was not quite cassoulet, copious amounts of goose fat, and cartons of Gauloises, but this year's Christmas party celebrating the food of France went over like Jerry Lewis on a Parisian late-night TV marathon.

One of the greatest things about the holiday season is not only the honoring of old traditions, but the making of new ones. For the past three years, the better-half and I have gotten together with our folks and some of their neighbors for a celebration of the foods of the world. It started off with a "festa dei sette pesci," or Italian "feast of the seven fishes." From there, we moved onto Ireland: whiskey, bi-valves, stout, lamb stew, and whiskey. This year, we just tried to do a meager bit of homage to the gastronomic capital of the world...a tall order, indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Day After Yesterday

It's 6:41 in the morning. I'm on a plane to Philadelphia, with the ability to access my portable electronic devices. That means we're at least 10,000 feet up. That means we've been taxi-ing (taxying?), boarding, herding through security, walking miles from crappy parking spaces, and driving across the universally-expanding urban sprawl that is metro Atlanta. When your home city has one airport, and it's consistently the world's busiest, you have to wake up early. In order to be in the air, writing to you at 6:41 (now 6:45) in the AM, I had to roll out of my cozy, amniotic sac of a bed at 3:30 AM. I'm off to work, and I'm pretty sure Lindsay Lohan is just settling into her first line of coke for the evening.

Oh, and thanks a lot, smelly old lady in front of me for smacking me in the head when you slammed your seat into recline (before the allowable altitude, no doubt). Aren't you supposed to be up at this hour anyway, complaining about the price of coffee at the local Burger King?

I suppose if it's not evident from the tone of this post, I'm not an eternally cheerful morning person. Worse, I'm trying to force my square DNA into a round hole and become one. That's why I requested the 6 AM flight for my business meeting today. What the hell was I thinking?!

Alas, all is not exasperating. My final destination is not Philadelphia. I'm connecting there and heading to Binghamton, NY, a little town an hour or so south of Syracuse, made famous by IBM, Endicott Johnson, carousel horses, and extremely disgruntled Vietnamese ex-pats. Not a bad place, but no Las Vegas. To it's credit, Binghamton sits just southeast of the Finger Lakes, which is one of the most notable wine regions in the States. However, unless you live in New York or are a bit of a wine nerd, the American Viticultural Areas of the Empire State are often of little notoriety.

I see wine progression in novices occur this way (at least it's how things happened for me): I became familiar with the wines of California, then Oregon (because it's a hot-bed of Pinot Noir, the grape thrust into the limelight by 2004's Sideways). Then Washington State, covering the west coast, aka (incorrectly), the "only places to get good U.S. wine". What many may not realize is that New York bests Oregon in overall wine production. In fact, New York sometimes beats out Washington as the #2 producer in the nation.

photo courtesy of

Granted, the climates and micro-climates of Nueva York (I'm running out of aliases) are vastly different from the west coast, so you don't see incredible success with grapes like Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc. What is creeping up the trellises is Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, noteworthy Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes region, near Lake Erie, in the Hudson River Valley, and on Long Island. Also, lots of vitis labrusca- namely Concord, American hybrids like Catawba and Niagara, and French-American hybrids like Seyval and Vidal Blanc- abound.

From what I've gathered, the wines of the Finger Lakes region are among the finest of New York. Sadly, distribution, well, sucks in my hometown (and we're not talking about a one-horse town here). Even at the largest and most well-stocked wine shops, I often only see one or two bottles hidden away in the dusty corners of the stores, cavorting with other un-marketable bottles like Carolina muscadine and the wines of Ed Hardy.

So, optimism abounds. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get to finagle a few tastes of the local. It would be another opportunity to expand my palate, and hopefully- provided the juice is worthy- to start a little grassroots movement to get more access to these wines.

At the very least, the experience would soften the blow of the early morning, the airport hassle, the drink lady's lack of juice or anything with caffeine AND sugar in it, the smelly old lady who has me crammed in this seat like Rush Limbaugh in hot pants, and the guy next to me who's suddenly decided to play footsie with me in his sleep. Raise your glass to air travel...or your middle finger.

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's that time of year again...

...for not-so-much heart-warming Christmas and holiday carols, but more the kind that might- well- be a little "off". Remember when David Bowie and Bing Crosby got together for "Little Drummer Boy"? I posted it a year ago. Notoriously abusive father teams up with cross-dressing prog rock icon, bringing you the warmth of the season. Doesn't quite work, but maybe that's why it's so awesome.

Frankly, I appreciate it. How many times- really- can you hear Nat King Cole sing "Oh Holy Night"? For this year's submission, I think we need something a little more saucy. And when you think "saucy", surely there's only one thing that comes to mind...George Michael.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Kool Kwanzaa, Decadent Diwali, Wonderful Winter Solstice, Rad-ass Ramadan, and Bountiful Boxing Day!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Nitty Gritty

There are a ton of great wine blogs out there. Food blogs as well. To see some, check out the blog roll (to the right --> ...okay, down and to the right).

I imagine some of the best come from folks in the industries. Being surrounded by great wines all the time perhaps lends itself to constant subject matter. Furthermore, some who are not in the industry (avid collectors, for example) are knocking back great bottle after great bottle every night. Such actions put to paper (or blog) oft leave us dreamers in a lusty trance; pining for the gems afforded to those who have rightfully earned them.

Others make a blog "living" off of the spoils of the workplace. Business trips to New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, and the like lend themselves to bountiful, wine-soaked meals at the finest restaurants in the land...all a painless luxury on the corporate card.

I'm not envious. I've been able to get a little piece of all of this. Even been able to weasel my way into some "wine-trade-only" events, one of the rare perks of being a "wine blogger of some notoriety". Okay "slight notoriety". Okay, I bribed someone. Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?

However, much of the day-to-day is far from sexy, probably for most of us. Industrial parks, one-horse towns reminiscent of the Kevin Bacon/Michael Gross opus Tremors, and places- so devoid of good food and drink that the meal planning process comes down to deciding whether the Hess station or the Shell station has the freshest pack of "Ho-Ho's"- are the norm, rather than the exception, in my line of work.

Tonight, the legitimate restaurant where my business associate and I ate had 5 wines on the list, and four were from Sutter Home. Listen, I'm not being a snob, but the opportunity cost of reading a blog post about a Sutter Home wine is probably more expensive than running down to the local truck stop and buying one yourself.

I guess I need to get to a point here. Writing on this blog, whether folks read or not, is an outlet, and it is especially rewarding when I do get some comments or encouragement from the great folks I've always known or met over the past year. While we want to write about legendary wines and incredibly sumptuous foods all the time, "real life" makes it difficult- nay, impossible- to do so...simply not enough exposure to "livin' high-on-the-hog" for regular content. However, rather than bemoan this inconvenience, I hope it makes us take a step back and realize how truly fortunate we are if we're able to partake in any of it. Most in the world aren't, so being thankful is so critical, even more so in today's economic climate...

...and especially when sucking down white zin in a podunk town.

To the fortunate times, and the other times that make them seem so much more: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Root-y, Root-y, Root-y!!!

What a terrible title for the post. But I did find myself chanting it, and then my wife joined in, and then, before we even knew what was happening, Sean Astin showed up at our house in full, mid-to-late seventies football gear, and got a quarterback sack.

I'm pretty sure I shed a tear. Listen, guys are allowed to cry at sports accomplishments in the face of overwhelming odds. I'll probably lose my man-card for disclosing this.

Anyway, if Rudy had listened a little more carefully, he'd heard that I was singing the praises of root vegetables.

It all started a couple weeks ago while I was attending Primal. After downing bacon, lamb liver, smoked fatback, and bull testicles, I had the crazy urge to eat some vegetables. I found someone serving pan roasted rutabagas and other assorted tubers. They were delicious and satisfying and...

...yes. Bull testicles. Proof here.

So, with cold weather infiltrating the Deep South- bringing with it a need for hearty fare- I grabbed a rutabaga, a sweet potato, and a fistful of assorted fingerlings (of all different colors, shapes, and sizes; indeed, a very ethnically-diverse fistful of taters). I dissected everything into about 3/4" cubes (almost including a finger or two...them rutabagas is wily!) and threw them in a mixing bowl. Also added an onion I quartered. Then, despite wanting to use more fresh stuff, I went with what I had on-hand...threw a tablespoon of garlic powder in the bowl, a tablespoon of ground sage, a tablespoon of smoked paprika, some dried oregano, maybe a teaspoon of celery salt, then added sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and olive oil to coat. Tossed it around in the bowl like a madman drunk on adrenaline, threw it all on a pan, into a 350 degree oven for about an hour, and voila!

No crazy garnish or plating flourish, but c' you really plate anything all fancy-like when you're just eating at home? This is what the kids call "keepin' it real," I'm told. Yep, plastic fork too. Don't worry, hippies. I'll reuse it.

Anyway, the dish was texturally great: potatoes soft with a bit of bite, rutabaga with a bit more tooth too it, and the sweet potatoes were almost creamy, yet all had crunchy edges and lots of tasty caramelized bits (or maybe they were Maillard-y me out, food scientists). Once again, totally satisfying. Sometimes (and I can't believe I'm saying this), you just don't miss the meat.

To wash it down, I cracked a 2006 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot. From the kingpin of Napa, I would expect one of Napa's greatest grapes to do its best in this situation. With big dark fruits, warm spice, and a good backbone of tannin, it displayed the lushness that is California (especially Napa) Merlot. Granted, I would probably decant it for a couple hours before consuming next time. Regardless, the fruit in the wine worked well with the rustic heartiness of the root veggies. "Rustic heartiness"??! I've been reading too many food magazines.

Perhaps the best part about the wine, however, was the label. Mondavi's higher-end bottlings feature incredibly thick paper on the labels. While I'm not one to buy a bottle based on the label, a nice fluffy one comes in handy when you take down the whole bottle, and then the whole bottle takes you down. Ah, the ironing is delicious.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GUEST POST! Bocce, Bacon, and Beer (AKA Heaven in Decatur)

It's time for another guest post from "Hog Wild" Brad. Being the city-slicker that I am not, Brad's got access to all the new-fashioned restaurants and such. I will review Applebee's when you're ready for that. Anyway, I always enjoy when he posts. While the views expressed are not the opinions of, they are usually pretty reliable to entertain and/or offend. Enjoy, comment, complain, or compliment. I know Brad appreciates the feedback.

Cheers! -Joe

Over the last couple of years we have all grown slightly bored with the over-priced yet under-executed "Gastro Pub". It's always the same thing:

1. $10-15 appetizers that don't provide a taste for one person.

2. A wait staff that has an air of cockiness, which makes me want to slap them in the face with Rosie O'Donnell's jog bra.

3. Seating that is only comparable to the comfort provided by wearing underwear three sizes too small.

Most importantly, there’s the "You know, they're famous for their ______!", which is soon followed by someone saying "Oh My God! I love this place! You know Jermaine Dupri eats here!" There is nothing worse than watching people follow the leader in a game of complementing over-priced food because a so-called celebrity loves the place. (See my next article "Dining with the Canadians").

This disdain for both purveyors of gruel and their adoring, fad-following sheep makes me want to slam my fork-holding hand in a car door whenever I hear the term "gastro-pub". (Interestingly, I actually did this and have the scars to prove it).

And that's when it happened. Could it be?

Yes, Yes, Yes! (Picture Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene in "When Harry Met Sally"). In case you forgot:


Our story begins with yours truly, a blessed man with the privilege of courting yet another beautiful young lovely.

What was I to do? Her hair smells of lilacs. Her natural, statuesque physique could not be recreated by all the surgeons in Miami. And what? She's working on her doctorate en route to a professorship. I had to make this count. Our first two encounters were nothing more than libation- fueled interactions that I hoped to take to the next level. Yeah, that's right, kids, it's called courting.

What were you thinking, perv?

I scoured the restaurant catacombs in my mind trying to think of the perfect place. Then it hit me. Recently I had an excellent brunch in Decatur. And, we played bocce at this joint. I wondered what their dinner menu was like? Screw it. They've got bocce on the side of the building? It’s on!

I picked up my target, I mean, lady friend, and the night was on.

We arrived just off the Decatur Square, which is Home to All-Things Alternative. We entered by the large, comfortable patio and were met by a non-hipster hostess who seated us immediately. We started with Pub Frites paired with two of Leon's specialty catsups, which is a steal at $5. We enjoyed some of their locally-sourced beers and moved into perfectly prepared mussels ($11). I wolfed down the open-faced brisket ($11) and then we shared a delicious cobbler dessert ($4). In total, my tab was under $40.

Leon's makes a concerted effort to stick to their “locally grown” initiative and I respect that. From locally-made chocolate, locally-brewed beer, and meat from Georgia farms these folks are doing it right.

My relationship with Leon’s grew from a culinary crush to libational love. The bar at Leon's is as charming as any, but it goes above and beyond when they start mixing their potions. Try any of their custom, seasonal creations. I especially loved the cocktail named “Death & Company". Absinthe & Bourbon (Death) combined with the Company of syrup, lemon and bitter. By the way, Death is much better with Company. They also make the best “Manhattan” in Atlanta, hands down. Don’t be afraid to ask your server what they suggest for dinner or drinks, since they actually have expert opinions and are willing to share them.

There was only one problem with my evening and, no, it wasn't that my waiter couldn't help himself from ogling my date. Hell, I couldn't blame him. I'd like to shake her daddy's hand and tell him "Well done, Sir, well done!" The problem: courting involves less alcohol than dating and we were pretty much sober at Leon’s. It seems my lady friend found me much more charming, attractive, and intelligent when our booze-addled brains allowed us to have no accountabilities for our actions. Once again, sobriety had struck a blow against me. Damn.

So there it is my lowly minions: the first restaurant that I cannot and will not bash. I thought it would never happen. If you could see me now, picture a single tear rolling down my cheek like that old Indian (feather) chief that hates litter.

So check it out and try a few of my favorites:

* Bacon in a Glass - $5
* Pub Frites w/ spicy mango catsup and peppercorn gravy - $5
* Mussels - $11
* Slow-roasted beef brisket, black peppercorn gravy, fried onions open faced - $11
* For the liberals (I'm embarrassed to say it): The Earth-seared veggie loaf is great - $14
* Don't forget your Manhattan and Death & Company!

This is one of the best date destinations I know about. Let me know the places that lead you to greater success than I had.

Leon's Full Service
131 E Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030-2513
(404) 687-0500

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanks a lot, Santa

It doesn't happen often, but the weather's actually pretty cold outside on these December (already?) nights in Atlanta. Okay, Minnesota, cold's a relative term, but it's chilly enough for crackling fires, hearty stews, and hefty wines.

I have single vineyard California Cabernets, Médoc Bordeaux, and Petite Sirahs in the keep, as well as best-laid plans to trick the wife into letting me tuck into some Barolos, Rhône Syrahs, and CDP's over the next month (she'll probably be reading this, so the cat's out of the bag...strategies of persuasion welcome in the comment section). Assuming all goes to plan, I'll have a treasure trove or bag-of-tricks or "money bin"- if you will- of tasty, rib-stickin' wines to enjoy this holiday season.

Tonight would be such an occasion for a real tooth-stainer. As the fire roars, I should be stuffing my nose into heady bouquets of currant, cedar box, earth, pepper, meats, smoke, spice, tar, roses, pencil shavings, black fruits, red fruits, fruit fruits...dang, I think I'm gonna go get a glass-

-oh, crap. Stymied! Put the Christmas tree up tonight (heavy-laden with colored lights to the chagrin of the better-half, but we have an every-other-year compromise working), and the pine pollen, dust, and other airborne flotsam kicked up by wrestling a 10-foot tree around has rendered my olfactory senses useless.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Perfect Strangers

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!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wine + Fried Chicken = Progress

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the belly. No, wait...that doesn't make sense." -Joe Herrig

Let's call it a week ago (giving myself a 3 day cushion), Hardy of hosted the first inaugural Popeye's spicy chicken and wine pairing challenge. The premise? Five "expert pick" wines chosen to best compliment the coup de gras of crunchy, spicy, greasy, juicy, tasty picnic-time goodness: fried chicken. No sweet tea. No lemonade. Chicken, taken out of its comfort zone, as if Detective John Kimble himself- shanghaied from the mean streets of Anywheresville, USA to pose as a kindergarten teacher in Astoria, Oregon. Out of the awkward circumstances, comedy ensues, but comedy with a heartwarming message.

But my intent here is not to recap the wines or the chicken (or Kindergarten Cop, for that matter). Jolly good summation can be found here and and also Besides, let's agree that a recap ten days late is just bad journalism. Rather, I choose to emphasize the importance of this unusual pairing. As fried chicken was taken out of its familiar setting via this challenge, so was wine. Historically (at least in the States), fine wine is found upon the table of the well-heeled. It is paired with steaks, chops, and haute cuisine. To bring together blue-collar country cooking and the drink of the aristocracy is- needless to say- non-traditional. And breaking down those barriers is incredibly important.

Despite the great strides that have been made by folks like Gary Vaynerchuk and- yes- Hardy Wallace to "bring wine to the people", most folks I know are still pretty intimidated by what is essentially grape juice. Taking the unfamiliar and combining it with what is so commonplace to everyone (except silly, silly vegans), and- furthermore- making it work, well, that's just another bottle's-length towards the realization that wine is meant for everyone, from foie gras-nibbling socialites to (where I often feel more comfortable) the "chicken crowd". This movement is often referred to as the "democratization of wine", and it needs to continue. We bloggers will do our part, but a true democracy is owned by all.

What's next? Wine & Doritos? Port and Pork Rinds? We may be flirting with disaster, but dammit, it's for the greater good...

...and I'll bring the hot sauce.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Fresh-Fried Thank You!

"Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day." -Robert Caspar Lintner

While I'm always thankful for some many things: a wonderful wife, loving family, great friends, good food, good drink, and ample frivolity, I never want to take for granted the folks who keep me inspired to keep writing/creating/eating. So, thanks so much to all of you for stopping by my little piece of the cyberweb from time to time...

...and what shows gratitude better than meats frying? Meats frying to AC/DC? You got it!

Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Help my ass out! (that's not cursing, as the picture clearly demonstrates)

Sometimes, we all get a little overloaded. Tons going on at work, and tons going on in life at home. Not bad stuff, but enough to make it difficult to get all the writing in. Them's the breaks, or brakes, or...honestly, I never really knew what the hell that saying meant. That's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess. What about those "Soft Batch" cookies? They don't crumble.

Crap. I guess you get the point. Life's hitting on all cylinders in most aspects, and writing has taken a backseat, at least in the past week.

So, rather than deny you- the valued reader (the singular is not a personal touch addressed at many readers. It's addressed to you: my one reader)- the colorful hijinks and gastrointestinal discomforts afforded by regular posting on, I thought I'd be productive and ask for some feedback. Hey, I'm a marketing goon by trade, and a middle child by birth. I need attention from the audience once in a while.

I've been trying to keep my posts shorter and incorporate more video on the site. If you like this, please comment. If you'd like me to stick to writing more, please comment as well. If you don't care, please comment that both (or neither) are fine. If I'm not doing something on the site that I need to be doing, let me know as well. If you are a nihilist, I expect no comment, because you believe in nothing.

In the meantime, eat turkey, feel perky, and come back soon, as I expect to put off household projects during the Thanksgiving break and nerd away on the computing device. Why? Because I care...albeit sporadically.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #63 - Finding My Muse

Eloquence is not my virtue. A golden tongue I have not. Yet the specter of "Wine Blogging Wednesday #63" hovers over my clumsy fingers, my clouded brain; as if the Angel of Journalistic Death himself- scythe at-the-ready to tear blue language and plebeian vocabulary asunder from the hallowed institution of writing.

The writers' charge (as dictated by Rob Bralow of Wine Post): summon one's muse. Let inspiration and contemplation guide one's pen, not the pursuits of brevity, efficiency, and urgency. And the object of such carefully-crafted discourse? Wine; yet, not just any wine: one perhaps as elusive as that cursed muse himself. The bottle that has caught one's eye; one's desire; but not one's taste, touch, or smell. A cask worthy of such lofty lexicon.

At my task's infancy, one revered name leapt to life immediately, as if that rascally muse's frolic had already commenced. The Greatest wine of Northern Italy, the unrivaled champion of the Piemonte region, had too long evaded my grasp; it's lavish pedigree too distant for my pauper's billfold. But- alas!- it rested in my careful hands, under calculated strain of the corkscrew: a bottle of 2004 Rivata Barolo. Nebbiolo-based wines had crossed my lips before, even the heralded offerings from Barbaresco. But Barolo...just the utterance of the term commands reverence.

With glass' stem tended carefully in my eager hand, I probed the welcoming bowl of ruby-hued elixir with snout. Pleasure oft unmatched met my senses; a vibrant, elegant bouquet flush with plump red cherries, bright strawberries, tart cranberries, and pronounced flourish of rose petals. As the perfumed nose further danced upon my olfactory receptors, I detected tantalizing undertones of black licorice, malty caramel, milk chocolate, toffee, and roofing pitch. Even the slightest hints of toast and herbs manifested themselves, if only a figment of my now-inspired imagination.

Spending what seemed like hours enveloped in the wine's luxurious aroma, my lips, tongue, mouth, and gullet groaned in protest. Consumption could be parried no longer, despite nose's selfish intentions. And on to my thankful mouth, who's patience was rewarded with an initial shock of tartness, folding itself into intense flavors of the aforementioned berries: this time, raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries. The velvety mouth-full of tangy fruit soon transformed itself into a powerful blast of peppery spice, eventually fading into a bitter, dark chocolate-y finish, as the wine's substantial (but impressively interwoven) tannins captured my now fully-submissive senses...

...senses left wanting more. For as swiftly as the onslaught to the pleasure centers of my brain began, like a symphony, a soliloquy, or a setting sun, it was all soon but a forgotten memory. Once within my grateful possession, the source of my muse's call has escaped me. How to put into words what is no longer present?

Eureka! Another glass awaits. Another symphony. Another soliloquy. Another stroke towards inspiration's sly reward.



...damn, that was hard.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together...

As football season winds down, I feel both saddened and exhausted. The team hasn't quite pulled it together this year, but I know they've worked hard and given it their all.

In the same way, some of us fans feel that we need to pour every ounce our ourselves into the gameday experience. A proper tailgate is one of the finest things on earth, but arriving at that end is an arduous labor of love. I certainly don't put on the finest tailgate in town, but suffice it to say, I've put in my share of hours the Friday before and the Saturday during. People ask me, "why all the work?" Quite simply, I love it.

So here's my tribute to all those who can't think of anything better in the world than busting their butts to make Saturday memorable: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank a Veteran

Someone you know- at the office, in your building or neighborhood, next to you on the plane- has probably sacrificed for your safety. Whether the cause was one you agreed with, those exacting that cause were (and are) put in harm's way with the intention to keep you out of it. If you see someone in uniform at the airport or know someone who served, please stop and say "thanks".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GA/FL, Saturday: Tailgate Good, Game Bad

Few things in life elicit more jocularity that a tailgate party. Yes, jocularity. On another note, isn't black supposed to be slimming? This is clearly not a very flattering angle for my usual 6-pack-o'-abs.

In a brilliant move, the hosts of the tailgate distributed fake moustaches. I'm glad Heather doesn't normally have a moustache. Is it spelled with an "o"? I'm getting a spell check red squiggly, but I'm sticking with my guns here.

Does the can itself state the obvious? This was perhaps one of the worst things I have ever put in my body. Yes, including "Burger King". I finished this vile concoction of formaldehyde, flat ginger ale, and grain alcohol in the hopes of good karma for the team. I'm surprised it didn't make me go blind. After watching the abomination of a game, I wished it had.

The only good thing I saw in the stadium: a random GREENMAN sighting. Outstanding.

After tucking tail and returning to the beach house, my buddy The Cheese was kind enough to treat me to a Unibroue "La Fin Du Monde". This Quebec brewery makes some tasty high-gravity beers. If you like champagne, this one tastes like it. Seriously. Perhaps a secondary fermentation in the bottle created the intriguing bread-and-toast flavors. Really worth a try.

Is the brewery's name pronounced like "unibrow"? That's funny.

Monday, November 9, 2009

GA/FL, Friday: Anything deep-fried tastes good

Late-night dance parties often result in next-morning headaches. While I make it a point to limit drinking (and dance parties, for that matter) on "school nights", the Georgia-Florida week is clearly an exception. So, mustering my best self-medication, I arrived at fried food and a cold drink to assuage the cobwebs and jackhammers in my head.

Some friends and I found a little waterside seafood shack just north of St. Augustine called Cap's on the Water. We plopped down on the huge, heavily-shaded deck, looking out over the intercoastal waterway...beautiful view of the water and those fortunate souls arriving for lunch via boat. I don't think I've ever arrived anywhere via boat. Does an innertube count?

The menu at Cap's was pretty typical for this part of the world: fried shrimp, raw oysters, grouper, mahi, and flounder sandwiches...all staples if you're visiting the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas down to North Florida. Good stuff. But I opted for something pretty regional: fried alligator tail. Not only is it tasty (think chicken nuggets), but I always feel like I'm striking deep at the heart of the infidel when about to play Florida. Their mascot is a gator (a vile and disgusting creature, by the way), and I'm eating gator. It's like I'm eating their mascot. Who can maintain high morale with a mascot recently consumed by the opposition's fan base?

Yeah, this is how my brain works. Pretty f-ed up, huh? Anyway, I paired the crunchy gator nuggets with a cold draft Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The crunchy, salty batter, the tender meat (which can be difficult with generally-tough gator tail), the sweet-spicy sauce, and the cold, hoppy-bitter beer knocked it out of the park. And the combo also ate my hangover. I eat the gator, the gator eats my hangover. Circle of life, my friends.

Now, one would expect fried seafood and cold beer at a "fish camp" restaurant. One of the most surprising things about Cap's, though, was the wine list...over 400 selections. In fact, Cap's has received the Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Though I didn't have any wine, I was pretty impressed with the list. Gotta say it: many restaurants are all about a "consistent theme" in decor, menu, and wine list, but I really love that a place like this; one that you'd never expect to be a wine mecca, decided to bring the funk with a killer wine list. Another victory for the so-called "democratization of wine". Well done, Cap's. I shall return.

I'd go on to tell you about the rest of the day, but you can just read my previous posts. I wanted to give Cap's on the Water a proper "tip o' the cap" (pun intended...zing) anyway, and not dilute the post with more- excessively more- stories about wine in a can.

So I'll raise my glass to good snacks, a love of wine, and any psychological advantage for my team I can conjure: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

GA/FL, Thursday: Canned Wine hits it's stride, or Paella (well, sort of)

Cheesemongers worldwide are spitting on the ground in protest. Actually, I don't think cheesemongers worldwide are reading my blog. I've realized my painfully sore neglect for the "cheesemonger" demographic. This ain't helpin'.

A beachside feast of redneck proportions. No, it's not the Franzia "Chillable Red", but the (sarcasm font) Vintner Select Merlot really had a boozy goodness that paired exquisitely with the cheddar-flavored goop, high in tasty fats. But were there Triscuits? You bet your sweet ass there were Triscuits (not pictured).

And so went beach-day Thursday. The canned wine phenomenon was in full effect, as my friends and (shamelessly- this was an experiment) myself indiscriminately consumed boxed wine from cans, allowing for maximum flailing of limbs and expressive in a standard glass simply would not weather such flamboyance. Furthermore, a gaggle of out-of-shape guys playing horseshoes on the beach with glasses of wine in hand is- needless to say- disturbing at best. We were living a secret life of class and sophistication, slipping in and out of the fraternity of unsuspecting, beer-drinking beach dwellers.

Eventually, such significant disregard for personal well-being in this manner led to a need for sustenance beyond what a singular can of cheese whiz could provide. Having in my possession a 16" Lodge cast iron camp oven, a bag of fresh-caught red snapper from a friend, and a repressed urge to create, I went to work on a paella (or sorts) for the troops:

Seafood (Sort of) Paella:

2 lbs. Linguica, Chourico, or any other spicy cured sausage, in 1/2" slices
1 T Olive Oil
2 large Yellow Onions, chopped
3 Red Bell Peppers, sliced
8 cloves Garlic, minced
3 lbs. Red Snapper filets, or any flaky white fish
Blackened Fish seasoning
8 Plum Tomatoes, seeded an pureed
1 cup Dry White Wine
32 oz. Seafood Stock
2-3 tablespoons Spanish Paprika
2 lbs. Yellow Saffron Rice
2 lbs. 20-25 Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 dozen Littleneck Clams, scrubbed
1 cup Italian Parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

My not-so-organized mise-en-place

1) In the hot cast iron, rend the fat out of the sausage (with a little bit of olive oil)...should take about 7-8 minutes.

2) Spoon out any excessive grease. Add the onions, peppers and garlic, salt lightly, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

4) Add the fish (which has been coated in blackening seasoning) and brown in the hot fat for a minute or so on each side.

5) Add the wine to deglaze the pan. Scrape the tasty bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon.

6) Add the stock, tomato puree, and paprika. Bring to a boil.

7) Add the rice, parsley, clams, and shrimp, return to a boil.

8) Lid the pot, kill the heat, and let the rice steam for 20-25 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE LID FOR ANY REASON!

9) Once the liquid is absorbed by the rice, fluff with a fork. Salt and Pepper to taste, and enjoy, my friends!

So, the reason I'm hesitant to call it "paella" is mostly because of the cooking technique. By nature, paellas are made with any sort of ingredients. But the namesake of the dish is based on the word for the pan itself. Usually, the rice on the bottom of the special pan is supposed to be a little burnt, creating a crunchy texture for the dish. Not having the pan handy, I improvised. Let's face it: everyone had been drinking canned wine all day. I didn't exactly get shaken down for bastardized technique.

For the wine, we thankfully put the Franzia on the shelf for a while and went with some Spanish whites:

René Barbier Catalunya Mediterranean White NV: a crisp, clean, high-acid white from the northwestern corner of Spain. Likely made from a combination of Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-Lo grapes, it citrus, mineral, and stone fruit flavors were refreshing. Oh, and it retails for about $6 (this is what I used for cooking as well)

Marqués de Cáceres 2007 Rioja: from the Rioja region of Spain (known for Tempranillo-based red wines), this white made from Viura grape (another name for Macabeo) had similar flavors, but with a little evidence of possible oak influence. The pricier of the two (barely), it retails for around $9.

Full of good food and good wine, the crowd naturally progressed to an inevitable dance party. The dance party- anchored by the funky sounds of Herbie Hancock- evolved into the "Gettin' Weird" dance off. At this point, would you expect anything less?

To gettin' weird: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

GA/FL, Wednesday: Okay. What the f*** is up with the boxed wine?!

I love good wine. I've tasted some of the finest Napa Cabernets, Bordeaux, elegant French Champagne (the only kind of Champagne), exquisite dessert wines from Sauternes, Hungary, and Germany. High on the hog. But sometimes, as Nicholson so eloquently put it in Batman, one must ask himself, "have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?"

Sometimes, you have to commit the most heinous of sins. Call it experimentation. Wasn't that the excuse when your folks busted you with that joint in your bedroom? Regardless, the deed was done. The crime committed. Might as well talk about it.

And why is that bottle of Dom sitting in the middle? Is this picture trying to compensate? Fits in like Ted Nugent at a Phish concert. "Hey, brah. Wanna try a raw-food vegan burrito?" Oh, and that sexy '99 Dom Perignon was emptied by the time we got there. Sunuvabitch.

I know...I'm filibustering. Time to get to the point and explain these boxes of wine. The wife and I arrived at our rented beach house with a group of friends for the annual matchup between our beloved Georgia Bulldawgs (the spelling is correct) and those despicable rednecks from North Florida- the Florida Gators- whom elicit more venom from me than does a box of Argentinian Merlot from Louis IVX. Anyway, the trip came hot on the heels of a recent conversation with a fellow wine lover about what they're drinking in Europe- namely, France. In the states, wine aficionados (okay, nerds) generally bite their thumbs at bulk-production wine. Yes, it's a huge seller here. Yes, more wine comes out of California Central Valley (think jugs, or "cannonballs" of wine) than anywhere else. But- surely- the noble French would NEVER drink such swill, would they? They drizzle their pancakes, er, croissants, er, crêpes, er, cigarettes in Chateau Latour and La Tâche, right? Wrong. In fact, 40 to 50% of the wine produced in France is designated vin de table (source, or "table wine", and it's produced in incredible bulk, often simply labeled as vin rouge or vin blanc and sold by the gallon in grocery stores. I was even told that there are "filling stations", where you take an empty jug and fill up out of wine spigots. And to think we stateside have been drinking from stupid old water fountains. European sensibilities prevail again.

For this reason (among others), we really wanted to see if we could drink like most of the world drinks wine: down and dirty and on the cheap. Well, I'm afraid my palate's been spoiled. The Franzia Merlot (sourced, interestingly enough, from Argentina) was incredibly fruit-forward on the nose, with an overwhelming smell of "fake" fruit, sort of like Hi-C fruit punch or Juicy Fruit gum. In the mouth it was too easy-drinking and too fruity (to the point of perceived sweetness) with little-to-no structure and a short finish. The Target-brand "wine cube" of Cab-Shiraz wasn't much different, if not slightly better. Very fruit-forward, a hair more tannic, but barely. I probably wouldn't have distinguished the two blind.

All the snobbery aside, it was not the worst stuff I've ever had, coming from either box. I think back in my novice days, I would've preferred this flavor to a structured beast from the northern Rhône or Bordeaux or Napa. And, we had some folks there who don't normally like to drink wine, and they thought it was not bad, leading to comments like, "hey, I might have to give this whole wine-thing another try sometime." I think that's a baby-step in the right direction.

So, if you're still here (I'm sure some folks came to this site for some wine advice, saw boxes of wine, threw salt in their eyes, and banished my to the land of wind and ghosts), I hope my explanation is valid. I think true wine appreciation is not only being able to distinguish what is good, but also having the discipline to reinforce what you don't like...usually gained through tasting poorly-made wines. Even more critical, though, is the need to keep in touch with the wine world as a whole, and understanding what most folks on earth are drinking gives one a more "worldly" knowledge of the culture of wine.

And if all that sounds like a bunch of malarky, then watch this episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia ("The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention"). Sometimes, the pursuit of humor trumps discriminating tastes, and drinking wine out of a can is hilarious (more on that later).

Now I ask you to raise your glasses, bottles, boxes, and wine being accessible to everyone: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!