Monday, August 31, 2009

Pair like a (semi) Pro

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)
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 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!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Diet = FAIL

I'm a little chubby. It happens. What are you supposed to look like when you like food a lot?

Fall is a tough time, too. As the weather cools, I think about football season and what it brings with it: delicious tailgate food, cold beer, snacks, soft drinks in the stadium. It's a recipe for disaster. Then Halloween candy...

"Oh, hello Thanksgiving? Nah, kick me while I'm down! Yes, there's still some room in my throat for some gravy."

December: Christmas parties, holiday parties; I think I even went to a Kwanzaa party once. We break out the best wine, make merry, and no meat or pie or meat pie is safe. Let's put it this way: I lost 20 lbs. between January and March at the beginning of this year. Cause for congratulations? No- it's an annual ritual.

So recently, I load the kitchen up with healthy food in an attempt to be proactive as the winter graze manifests: lean pork chops, chicken breasts, fish, potatoes, veggies, diet soda ('cause I MUST have soda), fruit, olive oil.

Okay, I've got pork chops. I have potatoes. I have oil. I have salt & pepper. I have flour.

Here's my "healthy" meal: pan-fried pork chops, homemade french fries with pan gravy, turnip greens and tomatoes = FAIL.

I guess I'll sleep okay. The oil was olive oil. The greens were, well, green. The french fries were baked (in copious amounts of oil). And, I did go to the gym before dinner.

Regardless, I feel a greater force is at hand, driving my primal instincts to store a superfluous layer of winter fat. Is there any validity to this? I know my doctor sure doesn't buy it. But, I'm still planning on running that Thanksgiving half marathon. At this rate, I may just be able to lay down and roll to the finish line. At least my feet won't get sore.

To binging and purging: Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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

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!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Takin' it to the Streets: Wine Knowledge vs. Wine Experience

I'm writing in Apple TextEdit right now. Cable's down. TV's down. Internet is down. My Blackberry is a sole lifeline to the interweb. I feel naked. Confused. It's tough to believe I didn't even have a cell phone 10 years ago.

At least there are some entertaining emails coming through on the work address. One lists a great collection of universal truths:

#5 That's enough, Nickelback.

#16 The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.

#18 Was learning cursive really necessary?

#20 I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

#23 Whenever someone says, "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart," all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart."

Ah, #23, hitting so close to home. As I sit, now one day removed from FINALLY taking my Certified Specialist of Wine exam, I happily free my still-crammed brain of fifth-growth chateaux and ponder if ol' #23 really carries water- or wine- in the case which I'm thinking. Yes, I'm still thinking about wine. Get off my back.

Seems to me most of the "vinophiles" or "oenophiles" I meet spent most of their formative years tasting wine, drinking wine, visiting vineyards, and building cellars. Through practical application and experience, they became "street smart" in the cabernet-soaked back alleys, winding avenues, and endless intersections of wine appreciation. They've sharpened their keen, primal senses; instinct the only weapon in surviving a blind tasting or navigating a 4000 selection restaurant list. Ask a street-wino to name the primary nutrients a vine needs to survive or to discuss the 13 allowable grapes in a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and he's stuck...fight or flight. Then, out of nowhere, he's barking out aroma profiles of vegetation you've never heard of, describing "front ends" and "mid palates" and "long finishes" while you're still looking at your glass, trying helplessly to determine if the legs are big or small. You, my friend, have been schooled by the skreets.

It's an all-too-familiar scenario for me. I came up the other way. My love of wine begins dubiously with a fancy for Carlo Rossi cannonballs back in college. Even then, I knew I liked wine, but I couldn't fathom how someone would want to study it. As I aged (poorly...thanks, cannonballs), I developed a greater appreciation for fine food, and wine followed in tow. I began reading cookbooks, wine books, visiting wine shops and reading the labels. Needless to say, it was overwhelming. However, the desire to experience great culinary and oenological culture led my wife and I to San Francisco and Napa Valley for our honeymoon, and- as they say- the hook was set. I read all I could read about wine. I visited blogs. I looked up videos about wine on Youtube. Even pursued and (hopefully) acquired a CSW certification. However, being part of a relatively-young married couple with a taste for the finer things, finding the money to try all the great bottles in my studies was (and still is) not an easy task. Information- conversely- is often free. I had become "book smart"; a fancy-lad of wine knowledge who couldn't last two seconds on the mean streets of blind tasting.

But not all is lost. A bottle of wine can really be looked at two ways: a source of intellectual stimulus or a means of sensual pleasure. Both- in my opinion- lead to discussion. Discussion leads to a sharing of ideas. Sharing of ideas leads to heightened awareness. Bring a "book smart" wino together with a "street smart" wino, throw in a couple glasses and some vino, and I guarantee both part ways smarter. And while I may whine about the grass being greener in the expert-taster's world, I bet there's another blog out there where a pro-drinker wishes he knew more about the stuff in his glass that smells like mulberries. Maybe I can help that person, as long as he'll tell me what the hell a mulberry smells like.

So, I think I've answered my question. Wine appreciation is about serving two masters, one no more important than the other. And while I need to make a better effort honing my "street smart" sensual skills, I hope I can impart some "book" knowledge in a common setting. Ultimately, it all comes back to a reoccuring theme in much of my writing: Wine is about the experience. Wine brings people together. Wine is- when you boil it down- all about enjoyment. Whether one arrives at that by taking tasting notes or by analyzing the labels on the bottle (or both), hopefully it all ends in laughter, conviviality, sharing of ideas, downright revelry, and maybe even some music.

As long as it's not Nickelback.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back in a few days

Started some good posts for your entertainment, but it's time to really focus on my exam Sunday (plus some stuff at work). I'll be back with more wine, food, and leisure sports the meantime, here's some propaganda from my alma mater (albeit, not great propaganda):

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No "Lobster Stuffed with Tacos" Here

Thanks to Eat Buford Highway for the picture. Check out a great review of the same place here (among other great stuff about Buford Hwy food).

Continuing the Buford Highway oddysey, my buddy Brad headed down to El Rey del Taco, a taqueria of some local acclaim.

I, however, had already eaten lunch when I got the call..."Joe, c'mon down for some tacos!"

"Dude, I already ate. Trying to save some bucks to buy that new 'Hall & Oates' t-shirt."

"Nah, don't worry. I'll buy some tacos for you. Just c'mon down!"

So, I went. El Rey has a really great deal on $1 mini tacos, giving one the opportunity to try all the assortments: some "normal", some- well- a little more intense. This is what I arrived to find (okay, I didn't find it with bites taken out, but I was slow with the camera):

Brad wanted to put me to the test: Starting with the half-eaten one, and going clockwise, I had on my plate tacos de Cabeza (beef cheek), Buche (pork stomach), and Tripa (on the menu, quite unappetizingly translated as "chitlins bowels"..."small intestine" would've sounded a lot better). However, with respect to the food culture and my dedication to "try anything once", I dug in...

Beef Cheek: Delicious. Moist, shredded beef, similar to pot roast or barbacoa. Really, there's nothing hard-core about cheek-meat at all. It's just a muscle like anything else on an animal. If you haven't tried beef or pork cheek, do yourself a favor and knock it out.

Pork Stomach: The flavor wasn't bad...really just like fatty roast pork, however, it did have an "irony" taste to it. No, not an "ironic" taste, but that of iron. The fact that I'm filling my stomach with another creature's stomach, now that's ironic. Texturally, it was a little chewy, and a texture can really make it "weird". Not bad, just not what I'm culturally used to.

Chitlins Bowels: Fried chicken skin. This pretty much tasted exactly like salty, fried chicken skin. In that regard, it was pretty good. There was a slight iron taste with this as well, but it was much subtler than the stomach. The thing about it was that you could see that it was just a bunch of fried up rings. Yeah, it looked exactly like a cut-up intestine. Flavor was fine, but it looked too much like what it was. As the great Chris Rock once said, "when you're eating ass, you know it's ass."

Yeah, it was a little ballsy of me, but keep in mind that most cultures eat this stuff all the time. That's important to remember before we turn our noses at it. "Weird" meats aside, the corn tortillas were freshly made, the cilantro and onions were cool and crisp, and the accompanying sauces were delicious: one, a cool-but-spicy, avocado-based salsa verde, and a very spicy red sauce, redolent of chiles, oregano, and spices.

Overall, it was a great experience. I hope to head back soon and try some more. Yeah, they've also got chicken, beef, and pork tacos, but I appreciate that El Rey is offering some authentic options, not just those that most of us consider "normal". All I know is I'm glad I tried it, and I'm looking forward to passing Taco Bell again in search of real food. Buford Highway, you've done it again!

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

Monday, August 17, 2009

Geez! Really? One Year?!

I really thought I started "Suburban Wino" last December. As I was rooting around to reference an old post, I was shocked to see that my first post was actually on 8/18/08. That's one year from (in 5 hours) today. Granted, I didn't really post anything else until December, it's still pretty crazy.

There's a lot I've wanted to do with this site that I haven't done yet, but it's really been a great outlet, and I've had a lot of fun. I've met some terrific people in the "blogosphere", and I've even gotten some of my rowdy friends to check it out on occasion. You'd think they've heard enough of my blabbering and ranting in person.

So to all the readers out there: from the bottom of my heart, thank you. It means a whole lot when I see a comment, a retweet, a reference on Facebook, or another $0.15 of Adsense scratch (I've made $40 in a year...better keep my day job). If I haven't yet met you, I hope to someday toast you. If I already know you, I'd like to think I've toasted you before (hopefully, without spilling on you).

To You, the Reader: Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

A Wino's Mentality on Exercise

This post is in response to this Food & Wine article on the Bordeaux Marathon. A special thanks to Ivy at "Shut Up & Love" for sending it to me (although I've been sitting on it for 2 months...)

My wife and I have decided that we're going to run the annual Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving Day; a 13+ mile endeavor that- I must admit- I'm fearing with the same terror that Jimmy Buffett must experience when asked to explain how to write good music.

And why would I possibly agree to do this? A couple months ago, I sweated, trodded, grunted, and shuffled my way through my 4th Peachtree Road Race, and annual gathering of 50,000 folks in the streets of Atlanta- coming together with the stupid idea that running a 10K in the July heat is a good idea...

...alas, there's a void in the "ill-conceived Atlanta street gathering that causes many traffic woes" game that forces the Peachtree Road Race to persist. RIP, Freaknik; we hardly knew ye.

Quite frankly, I've agreed on the half because I need the exercise. I need to get on a program and shed a few pounds. While I'd rather settle- once and for all- whether Funyuns or Sour Cream & Onion Pringles are the true king of onion-centric snacky treats, I'm not getting any younger, and preventative measures now could ensure me several more years on Earth, full of tortuous workouts and Healthy Choice-brand food-like substitutes. If a product has to tell me that it "tastes good", that as sure sign that it sucks...ever seen a package of bacon say that it "tastes good"? Not needed. Your reputation proceeds you, bacon.

I'll stick around long enough to subject myself to grueling tests of endurance, only to be rewarded at completion with rice cakes and club soda labeled as "beer". Seriously, the end of the Peachtree is always soaked with bottled water and Michelob Ultra. After all our hard work to cheat death, our society tells us to "celebrate" with dumbed-down versions of our vices. It's as if they're saying, "okay, now that you're a 'runner', it's time to deny yourself the pleasures of the world. Healthy living can only be achieved through sacrifice, deprivation, and struggle."

But is my mentality way off? Am I in need of a paradigm shift? It's the classic "binge & purge" mentality of our culture. Society tells us not to, so we overcorrect in rebellion, overdo it, and then our guilt causes us to again overcorrect- and this vicious cycle causes all sorts of stress. It's exactly everything that's spit-in-the-eye by the Bordeaux Marathon. No wonder France is kicking our butt in life-expectancy.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not about to pack up and head overseas. But I do think we can take a page out of the Food & Wine article's revelations. The Bordeaux Marathon is so much less about wellness (in the sense that we tend to think), and so much more about living WELL. To us Americans, food is all-too-often considered as fuel, exercise as preventative maintenance, and revelry as taboo. The writer needs sleep, dwells on the event, avoids the party, and generally seems to consider the marathon as less of an event and more of a job. It's Puritanical logic, and it's mirrored in many religiously-extreme parts of the world. You know religious extremists: the ones who deny themselves in the name of God, only to usually end up killing someone or blowing something up. Pretty healthy, huh?

Rather, I'm determined to take this article as a lesson and subscribe to the proviso that exercise needs to be enjoyed. But my exercise isn't going to be coupled with a strict diet with no loopholes. It needs to be part of a life filled with good food, good drink, friends, family, and spiritual health (not fanaticism). I'll use my granddad as an example: he'll be 101 on December 1st. He still lives by himself, drinks a martini every day, eats red meat cooked in butter, and is known to enjoy a cigar. He also goes to Church every Sunday, spends time with family, and is still sharp as a tack. He didn't do this by eating soy shakes every day (or by downing 5 bottles of wine). It's all about moderation and balance. This- I'm convinced- is the key to a long and happy life (although I haven't mastered the "moderation" it environmental conditioning).

So I'll run a half-marathon, but maybe I'll eat a steak half-way through. I'll go to the gym, but have a glass of wine afterwards. I'll work my hardest at the office, but not forget that I have a social life as well. I don't know for sure if I'll live longer, but I know I'll be living better. Without the intention of being preachy (or even worse, "Hollywood" preachy), I hope those who are reading this that are piled with stress might try to do the same. Who knows? We might all laugh a little more and enjoy.

And seriously, Peachtree, time for some dark beer, tasty wine, and roast beef sandwiches at the finish line. Maybe some wine stops at the 3-mile mark. Rename Cardiac Hill to Cabernet Hill. It might just save the world...

...or at least get me off your back. In the meantime, I'll raise my Michelob Ultra and toast you anyway: Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's Officially Crunch-Time

Barring any further delays, I'm scheduled to take my Certified Specialist of Wine exam this Sunday (August 23). I think I've absorbed a good bit of the information, but it's just a Rush Limbaugh-sized pile of information...geography, viticulture, chemistry, history, vinification, and on and on. Needless to say, my confidence is occasionally shaken when I think of what I need to know. Fortunately, the test is only 100 questions, all multiple-choice, and I can miss 25 of them. That being said, I will feel I've let myself down if I don't ace it.

Usually, I need music to stave off any attention-deficit tendencies during monotonous activities: exercising, running painful reports and analyses at work, or studying. And while there's been much talk about the effect of music on brain development and health, I wanted to find songs that would zone me out, while not interrupting my reading and retention of information.

So, here's what I came up with...mostly instrumental, relaxing music: acoustic guitar, downbeat electronic music, and progressive rock. Although there are lots of calming songs with lyrics, I generally avoid them, as the words in the songs distract from the words I am reading. However, I gave a pass to Thom Yorke; the vocals in many Radiohead songs are so mellow, they seem like an instrument in themselves.

Give them a listen, and let me know what's on your iPod when you're trying concentrate. To me- much like wine- music is something that needs to be shared and enjoyed among friends.

To great music: Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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

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 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!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Star Provisions knows Woodstock

This is the propaganda plied to the "city folk" about my little nook of suburbia. I'm offended that they assume we're a bunch of yokels in need of duck calls. I mean, anyone with a shred of knowledge knows that Woodstock, GA natives are yokels in need of duck calls, turkey calls, and some deer antlers to rattle together. Short-sighted, city slickers...

I kid. I did think this was a funny thing to be sold at Star Provisions, one of the many meccas to great food in metro Atlanta. The wife and I stopped down there for a French cheese and wine tasting the other day, hosted by Tim Gaddis, cheesemonger at Star Provisions (check him out here on Twitter). I think my cheese palate is pretty unsophisticated, but I'll keep trying. It was a great experience anyway. As an added bonus, I finally got to hang out with Hardy Wallace, not only of Dirty South Wine, but also wine-world superstar and new Murphy-Goode employee. Everything you've heard is true: Hardy is such a down-to-earth guy, completely humble and really engaging. I wish him the best and I'm pretty bummed we just got to meet right before he takes off to Northern Cali...I'll find a way to booze it up with that guy someday.

Anyway, as I'm developing a more-than-platonic love for my new MacBook Pro, I decided to mess around with the iMovie and put together a collection of shots from the visit. This truly is food porn at it's very best.

Until next time, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why my beer's just not good enough...

You may have read about my forays into homebrewing. In my days, I've slapped together about 7-8 batches of beer...some good, some, well...let's just say I've dipped my toes into the biodiesel trade as well.

Sometimes, though, you drink a beer that just makes you throw up your hands and say, "time to leave the brewing to the professionals."

In Atlanta, that's Sweetwater doubt in my mind, the gold-standard of Atlanta breweries. I've tasted all their goodness: the 420 Pale Ale, the Sweetwater Blue (a blueberry ale), IPA, Sweet Georgia Brown, Hummer, Road Trip Ale...all good to go. But nothing has reached the near-perfection that is the DP Barleywine Ale. The "DP" is just a clean name for what is known in inner-circles of hopheads as the "Donkey Punch" (if you want the meaning of this slang phrase, I'm going to let your dirty little mind search the internet). The DP rumbles into town on the shoulders of a 10.2% ABV, and an IBU (that's "International Bittering Units"to the lay-person) of 142...basically meaning this beer was brewed with a crapload of hops.

The lovely amber color of this beer draws you in a deep tan on a beautiful swimsuit model; way out of the league of a pale, balding Irishman. On the nose, the fistfuls of flowery and herbal hops mingle perfectly with malty, sweet, honey and caramel aromas, with just a whiff of alcohol. In the mouth, the nose manifests itself into brown sugar, toffee, malt, honey, and chocolate. The chocolate is really evident at the tastes like taking a cup of hot cocoa, pouring some honey and vodka in it, and chilling it down. Really, I mean this in the best way possible (though it does harken back to some birthday shots in college). The whole time in the mouth, these flavors are packaged in a very pleasant bitterness...the 142 IBUs stand up to the significant sweetness and alcohol, but do not overpower. If you've ever had mead or Dogfish Head Midas Touch, this has got some similar nuances, but it's way more hoppy.

So, if you're a fledgling homebrewer like me, save yourself the trouble. Give up, sell your gear, and use the cash to stock up on Sweetwater DP Barley Wine Ale. It's a limited release, so if you miss it this time, look for it next year (and if you're not in the Southeast, tell your local package store to get some!). I promise you: this beer is worth the effort.

On a final note, huge thanks to my buddy Ben (aka "The Bat Hunter") for gifting me (unless he's waiting on payment) this bottle for the purposes of the site. I've asked him to do some guest beer reviews...hopefully he'll take me up on it!

Anyway- until next time, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eating Buford Highway

I'm pretty fortunate to live in a big city (well, near one. The "suburban" moniker ain't just frontin', son).

When in the vicinity of a major metropolis, there's usually a lot of great food options. Yeah, fine dining's great, and it's really cool that Atlanta's starting to make some noise as a major food city (3 of the contestants for the upcoming "Top Chef" are from here). But way overshadowed by all this pomp and $40 beef cheeks is the incredible assortment of ethnic foods one can find if just a bit adventurous.

Atlanta has huge populations of Mexicans, Southeast Asians (especially Vietnamese and Cambodian), Koreans, and Chinese. In my opinion, nowhere is this mix more prevalent than on Buford Highway, running on a northeast-southwest axis in the northeast quadrant of the metro area. Fortunately, the heart of the "ethnic strip" is not far from my office, and I'm currently making it a point to each cheap (and eat well)- avoiding the plethora of fast-food chains and seeking out the good stuff in the strip malls and cook shacks of this unassuming stretch of U.S. 23.

Unfortunately, I haven't documented my first two trips, but I will tell you where I went. First stop was El Taco Veloz, serving up tender barbacoa and tacos de lengua (yeah, that's beef tongue, and you REALLY need to give it a try)...for next to nothing.

My second stop was a very modest place called Food & Dim Sum Heaven (I couldn't find a website...this place really was a hole-in-the-wall), serving up Chinese tea-house-style dumplings of all assortments, fried treats, and lots of nether-bits of pork cooked up in copious amounts of garlic, scallions, and ginger. Despite a sizable language barrier, our server Lisa was very friendly and eager to serve us their best. I can't say that same amount of pride is projected when I go to the nearby Panda Express. And best of all, my buddy Brad and I left the place stuffed for $17 total (including his beer...don't worry, it was after 9 AM).

There's a lot more Buford Hwy. to go...Vietnamese, Korean BBQ, more taquerias, and perhaps food from countries non-existent to the average "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" contestant. I hope something I write inspires you to go out and try something adventurous. Remember: if it looks sketchy, it's probably good. And if anyone has a great experience (or a bad one), tell me all about it! Or, if you have a place I should try (whether you've eaten there or not), let me know, and I'll try to break it down for you.

In the meantime, I'll just dream of tacos...

A common site when driving down Buford Highway: Taquerias. Taquerias aplenty.