Friday, December 31, 2010

"Auld Lang Syne" is Spanish for something...

...just not sure what. My Spanish is rusty. But I'm guessing it means, "let's pay too much for an underwhelming prix fixe meal at an odd hour (though all I want is my regular menu item of macaroni & cheese with ketchup), then drink to the point where we can actually understand what Dick Clark is saying."

I guess that's a little harsh for what is sure to be my most sentimental and least amusing post yet. We love you, Dick. A lot of folks say you should hang it up, but if your languishing vice-grip on the New Year's Rockin' Eve throne delays Seacrest from further expanding his evil empire, then godspeed, you old grizzly bear.

But back to "auld lang syne". It actually comes from a traditional Scottish poem by Robert Burns, and loosely translates to "for old time's sake"; the lyrics, furthermore, a plea to not forget old friends. With that in mind, here's a tip of the cap to everyone who made the masochistic chore of blogging actually a lot of fun in 2010. To the toasting:

- More than anyone else, to everyone who stops by here and reads my drivel. Without you, it really is a thankless chore. But, knowing that I may have entertained someone, or at least made the work day a little more tolerable- well- that makes all the late nights of hunting-and-pecking extraordinarily rewarding.

- To my magnificent wife, Heather, who allows me to be anti-social after not seeing her all day, lets me spend a king's ransom on liquid "research and education", and even insisted I travel to Walla Walla when our first child was 2 weeks old. You're too supportive and too wonderful.

-To my beautiful, incredible, miracle daughter, Olivia: I'm sorry this blog hasn't made me rich yet so that I can buy you a pony. And I hope that when you dust off these ancient posts when you're twenty-one, none of them warp your mind or set a bad example, despite what grandma may think (kidding, Ma!). You inspire me more than you could know.

-On that note, to my loving parents: thank you for the sense of humor (I think that's what it is). I knew full-well going into this whole opus that your role in life wouldn't allow you to approve of everything that goes on here. The chance to write and the opportunity to (hopefully) make a few folks laugh is of great value to me. No matter what, I appreciate your (at times reluctant) support of my hobby and all you have taught me. I love you!

- To (mostly former) Atlanta wine bloggers Ed, Kevin, Matt Mauldin, Dennis, Cecilia, and Elizabeth: great to know you folks. We've shared some good times (or will someday). I hope you all find the time to keep writing, and I wish everyone best of luck in your new endeavors and change of scenery. Fast Eddie, go get 'em out in California.

-To the gilded palates of the Atlanta food and wine rascals, especially Rowdy, Jimmy, Broderick, Falcon, and Biskuit: thanks for sharing some or your incredible food and bottles with me. You've helped me learn, taste what I wouldn't otherwise, and made me realize how stupid it was to buy a house way the hell up in Woodstock. Someday, I'll bring aged Burgundy to dinner as well. Looking forward to some good times in MMXI.

-To the Bat Hunter: finding the perfect Albariño has become my White Whale.

-To Thea the Wine Brat: thanks for helping get me out to Walla Walla. You're aces, kid.

-To the online blogger crowd of Ed Thralls (& Jonjie), Benito Carter, Samantha Dugan, Hardy/Dirty, Ben Simons, Amanda Maynard, Steve Paulo, Josh Wade, Drew Lazorchak, Sam Klingberg, Tamara Belgard, Brian Wing, The Beecham Boys, Steve Washuta, Joe Roberts, Matt Browne, Ron HMW, Constance C, Matthew Horbund, all the great folks on Twitter, and anyone else that I absolutely (and embarrassingly) left out: thank you for the friendship, inspiration, support, retweets, encouragement, guest posts, shameless promotion, top-offs, comments n' criticisms, bottle recommendations, didjeridoo advice, shipments o' wine, inside jokes, couches to crash upon, graphic design, and lots of laughs.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp! And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

(I'm pretty sure that's a toast...I'm not fluent in Burns' old Scot. I'll just stick with Gaelic and say Sláinte! See you next year.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Booze in the News: 2010 in Rehab, er, Review

Just when you thought another ill-conceived "weekly" feature had fizzled- like so many before it- into obscurity, here comes a ham-fisted, disorganized, and sloppily-produced retrospective of a ham-fisted, disorganized, and sloppily-produced "weekly" feature.

Below are some of my favorite stories from 2010 that celebrated the magical elixir that causes hangovers, thus causing a hungover blogger to resort to such yellow journalism:

Best packaging: with all due respect to Pabst Blue Ribbon applying the proverbial lipstick to the metaphorical pig (though PBR does drink about as well as what is squeegied from the floor of a pig sty) by repackaging and selling its swill for $40+ to unsuspecting Chinese, this one has to go BrewDog, and its "End of History" beer. While I wouldn't pay hundreds of dollars for a 55% ABV bottle of suds, the thought of a dining room centerpiece featuring a taxidermied weasel with a bottle lovingly crammed down its gullet is certainly making me reconsider my need for Italian stingray boots.

Best drunk celebrity quote: Because we don't know if Kanye West was drunk when pretty much anything came out of his mouth, this one goes to Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, who was arrested after being found wet and shirtless in downtown Indy at 5 AM on Oct. 20. When asked how much he had been drinking, McAfee quipped, "a lot, because I am drunk." Brilliant. However, the whole thing stinks of a bit of a frame-up to me. I must say I would've never suspected a guy named "Patrick McAfee" from West Virginia to be drinking.

Best use of booze in cooking: This is a tough one. Normally, the thought of taking a nice bottle of wine or some craft beer and subjecting to a culinary pursuit that will rob it of vitalizing alcohol is...disturbing. Yet, the notion of taking ANY food and deep-frying it offers 100% reassurance that the cuisine in question will be vastly improved. Okra? It sucks. Fried okra? Like manna from heaven. Remember how turkey was the bland "khaki slacks" of meats, and then some wild-eyed Cajun pumped it up with hot sauce and threw that gobbler into a pot of peanut oil? I'm getting flush just thinking about it. But what if some enterprising gent from Texas took booze...and deep-fried it? You would have deep-fried beer. Yes. DEEP. FRIED. BEER. And, because the cooking time is so short, the alcohol remains. I don't really care to know how this came to be, but it must taste like the tears of a baby angel. In fact, I have it on good authority that they serve this very dish in the mess halls of heaven. Hell? Same thing, but it's steamed and made with PBR.

Best blog post about Robert M. Parker, Jr.: I was very fortunate to connect with hundreds of weird and wonderful booze-lovers in 2010. To my delight, many of those folks had equally weird and wonderful booze-centric blogs to peruse. I've confirmed that Syrah and turkey are a terrible pairing. I realized that someone can actually make a pizza (of sorts) with that Chef Boyardee pizza kit. But, while I've been left in fits of laughter by many entertaining posts (admittedly, mostly Hosemaster posts), only one resulted in snot bubbles out the nose, slapping of bellies, and soiled pantaloons. Check out this (allegedly) fictional account of a night with RP from Nick at Lousy Grapes. Then go make yourself a Rhône Sangria Speedball before a cigarette run to Walgreen's.

Best Movie about drinking: Unfortunately, this year didn't feature a film with the chops of a Sideways. Nary a match for Leaving Las Vegas. And I'm still holding out for the sequel to 1983's Strange Brew. But this was still a pretty easy choice: 2010's best movie about drinking was definitely Eat, Pray, Love. Okay, so Eat, Pray, Love wasn't about drinking. However, it drove me to drink. Fine, I didn't even see it. But the excessive marketing trying to trick me into seeing it drove me to drink. But I guess I didn't need an excuse. Anyway, based solely on the title (as I'm way too cool* to know anyone who saw Eat, Pray, Love), I'm confident that it sucked. No, not quite as bad as this snippet on the "best movie about drinking", which has completely derailed, but that still leaves Eat, Pray, Love in the realm of "probably pretty awful".

Onto 2011. May it bring important booze innovation and continued Lohan-esque shenanigans for all our entertainment.

*denotes sarcasm

Friday, December 24, 2010

On Feasting

I've been feasting. Feasting instead of writing, in fact.

The evidence is in the pants. They're snug. My shirts and sweaters accentuate what could be described as a solid a-to-fledgling b cup. Chin #2 is getting its own congressional district. I even think my socks were tight the other day.

But such is the tradition of Christmas. Sure, the etymology of the name equates to "Christ's Mass", a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet, as the swaddled Jesus slept and the kings of the Orient were busy taking tokes off the myrhh pipe, I'm pretty sure there was nary a decorated pine tree, crackling yule log, or a fat guy with a beard (as Renaissance paintings have taught me that all Israelites were quite fit).

Indeed, much of what we know as "Christmas" today is tradition pulled from pagan celebrations, Germanic Yule, and the Roman Winter Solstice, among other wacky exercises in debauchery for the toga-set. One such was known as Saturnalia, or the feast of the titan god Saturn. The week-long fracas involved a role-reversal, with masters serving slaves, elaborate spreads, and- well- it wouldn't be a Roman celebration without orgies aplenty, the pinnacle of wine + nakedness. In fact, things got so out-of-hand that even bat-$@#% crazy emperor Caligula tried to shorten the festival to 5 days, without success.

So, with Christmas Eve upon us, I try to find a happy medium between the many bits and pieces of its origin. I wish that everyone out there- Christian or not- is filled with the joy of the season, spending time with family, friends, and loved ones. Let this be a time of hope, of reflection, and of anticipation towards the challenges and opportunities that a new year will bring...

...but we needn't forget to pepper in a little Saturnalia. Stuff your face. Have that extra slice of roast beef. Fill your pockets with mashed potatoes for the road. Drink wine. Have an extra glass. Open the good stuff: Burgundy, Barolo, Sauternes, Champagne, that cult Napa Cabernet. Sing. Dance. Strategically place yourself under the mistletoe (a note to the ladies: man-boobs are exempt in the presence of mistletoe). Find a friend, put him in a half-in-the-bag headlock, and tell him how much you love him.

But please: keep your clothes on, at least in public. Orgies are so passé.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and, of course, Sláinte!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Iceman Cometh

With all due to respect to San Antonio Spurs great George "Iceman" Gervin, I'm talking about the bitter cold in Atlanta, not the quiet storm that is a perfectly-executed finger roll.

Ah, the finger a slam dunk for the Yacht Rock set. So smooth.

But I digress (as usual). It's freezing in the Deep South. As I headed out to my car this morning, I noticed my neighbor hauling in the last of the season's whale blubber into his igloo. He gave me a quick glance: one of sympathy, but also one of survival-fueled gratitude, for it would be me- not him- without enough warming whale oil to outlast winter's savage fury... this point, I realized I had been dreaming, leaving me really pissed that I was still in bed, and I would be forced to leave the warmth of my downy cocoon to go commute in such crappy weather.

However, there exists some upside to such frigid conditions: I tend to crave hearty stews and rich red wines. Screw summer, and its socially-acceptable desires for lettuce and Vinho Verde. No, I want the stuff that made love handles before love handles were so fashionable (at least in America).

Fortunately, I had some lamb chops on hand. I also had potatoes and Guinness, but I'm Irish, so you already knew that. Add carrots, onions, some beef stock, a little bit of salt, pepper, and thyme, and before you lie the trappings for a proper Irish Stew (or some variation of it). For grins, and because lamb and Syrah go so well together, I popped a juicy, spicy 2006 Kokomo Dry Creek Valley Syrah.

What resulted was a rib-stickin', soul-warming meal that was worth of Greatness. Just like George Gervin. And Yacht Rock. And favorable weather.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blog Apologies: Let's Get Pompous!

I'm pretty sure that whenever a blogger gets on his virtual soapbox and explains with remorse a lack of current content, no one really cares. Take the following cookie-cutter statement*:

"Hey, really sorry I haven't posted in a while. Stuff has been crazy-busy in real life, but there's been a lot going on, and I have a ton to write about. I'll start posting a bunch of great stuff soon!"

-Signed, your favorite blogger in the whole world

(*these hackneyed statements are usually accompanied by a low-quality picture of some jerkass- likely the blog author- sniffing wine in an exotic location or something.)

Heard that one before? Hell, I've written that one before...several times. However, making such a statement is decidedly pompous, if only for the bold assumption that folks are actually reading.

"But I saw that 200 people visited my blog today" (this is my inner monologue...pompous!)

I used to think that number mattered. Then Google Analytics crushed my spirit (as math often does). The average "Time on site" metric of "0:07 seconds" made if very clear to me that my decision to write a wine blog instead of making sketchy internet porn has been bad for business.
Fortunately, some nice folks over at Snooth were kind enough to name-drop this wine-soaked porn desert as one of the "witty" wine blogs they're currently reading (along with Another Wine Blog and Gang of Pour...interesting and quirky spots also devoid of porn, meaning I haven't visited them much). So, while this doesn't necessarily mean that more readers will stick around in this corner of cyberspace, it does suggest there will probably be a slight uptick in visitors (temporarily), as they will only to be turned off by pompous crap like me expressing contrition for not posting much in the past week.

So I guess I better get back on my game (if I ever had any). If anything, that means more drinking, and- well- drinking leads to the actions truly worthy of apology.

Anyway, thanks for coming by, and...really sorry I haven't posted in a while. Stuff has been crazy-busy in real life, but there's been a lot going on, and I have a ton to write about. I'll start posting a bunch of great stuff soon!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Booze + Comedy: Mankind's Greatest Pairing

Delightfully often, a little too much booze leads to comedy. Celebrity mug shots are a classic example.

And even for those of us who are not famous (don't let the 5+ visits a day to this blog fool you), the best of times are often in the presence of a community bottle (sometimes, coincidentally, ending in police intervention). Get group of good friends together, and the bullshit starts to fly. Add a couple bottles of wine, scotch, or Laotian Tiger Penis Whiskey, and you're literally slipping on it...

I'm sitting in a hotel in Savannah, having just been run-through-the-wringer that is a typical day of rigorous business travel, and I'm surprisingly content and, hell, a little giddy. Surely, my current disposition is not a product of a straight eight hours of meetings, followed by a three hour road trip completely devoid of beef jerky, Funyuns, or any of the familiar highway hors d'oeuvres to temper my cranky, hypoglycemic traveling companion.

Yet, finally after a good meal and a few glasses of wine (and whiskey), our dire situation turned to smiles, storytelling, and- more than anything else- laughter.

A table full of food and a strong drink, after a whirlwind of stress and hackneyed business-speak buzzwords (think "ROI", "fifty thousand foot view", and "low-hanging fruit", etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam), really just loosens things up and transforms the points of frustration into anecdotes and merrymaking. These times are the most human moments of life on the road.

So, when an event comes along that purposely brings drinks and laughter together, I'm obligated to promote. The wine and spirit blogerati can tend to get mired in the "romantic" and "serious" aspects of the fermented the end, it should all ultimately lead to laughter, if not laughter and nakedness (in that order. Always. Except for the "nakedness" part. At least for me. Boo.).

Now, I can't speak to your prospect for nakedness, but I can appreciate that Mutineer Magazine, the booze mag for the goofy set, has put together it's Holiday Comedy Festival, coming up on Dec. 11. Not only does this opus combine cocktails and jokes, perhaps the two singular greatest things on earth, but it also benefits a great cause: A Child's Right.

I'm sure I'll be far-too occupied with mind-numbing business to make it to Northern California for this event, but if you're lucky enough to live in the most beautiful, bankrupt state in the union, if would probably behoove you to check it out. Do it for the kids. Do it for the jokes. Do it for the drinks. Maybe even for the potential nakedness...

...and if you get lost in the spirit of the moment and end up on the police blotter, I will laugh. Consider your sacrifice a donation to the sanity of those working on the road.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Shots in the Ass

"I don't care what you have to do. I just want to taste my Thanksgiving turkey."

It was a simple plea from a guy on day seven of a sinus infection that showed no signs of letting up. Before parenthood, I never got sick. Maybe once every three years. Even then, I'd knock it out in a couple days. Now (especially with a critter in day care), I constantly feel as if I need to be wrapped up in bandages and sent off to live with the lepers. A bit of an extreme metaphor to describe my situation, but the metaphor well is about as dry as...


...uh, something dry. See?

Anyway, I'd hit up a doc-in-the-box on the way home from the office on Thanksgiving Eve, still dealing exclusively with a diet of textures, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. My nose was still clogged, keeping my sense of smell- the true vessel of flavor recognition to the brain- in check. But, with the most gluttonous day of the year on the horizon, simply gumming the textures of soft foods like mashed potatoes and stuffing seemed...unacceptable. Unthinkable. Unholy. And what of the wines? Thanksgiving ushers in the season of emptying out one's wine stash. The good stuff had to come out, and it had to be consumed as ravenously as the smorgasbord of turkey and bland carbs.

"Hmm. You really should have come in here earlier than today. Do you have a problem with shots?" The doc was offering a glimmer of hope, as the cost of getting poked. Two fleeting pin pricks in exchange for rich, meaty mouthfuls of drumstick; buttery, fluffy potatoes; a nose full of cranberries in a fresh glass of Brouilly; the honeyed nectar that is slightly-chilled Sauternes, served with a slice of warm apple pie...

Needless to say, my pants were around my ankles. A shot of cortisone in the left cheek, and a shot of antibiotics in the right (if you're currently disturbed by a mental image of my bare rump, watch this to desensitize yourself). 24 hours later, I was on the mend, and digging into a 3-day bender of Crestor-ic proportions.

Thank you, science. You've made it fun to write about food and wine again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eat Turkey, Feel Perky.

Wishing everyone out there on the interwebs a very Happy Thanksgiving!

This is a day when we slow down and take currency in the things for which we are grateful. I can't express enough thanks for all of you who have read, commented, linked, retweeted, and offered compliments, criticism, and encouragement towards this little opus.

I started the blawg over 2 years ago, and it's made me neither rich nor famous nor better-looking. But it has been a great deal of fun,I've met some terrific folks, and I really appreciate all the support.

Now go eat until you develop a great hatred for and apathy towards food. That's really what Thanksgiving is all about.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snot Cool. Maybe a Little. But Mostly Not.

I feel like Mr. Mackey.

In either case, the bottom line is that my head feels gigantic. I'm stuffed up. Sinus pressure. Clogged nostrils. Post-nasal drip, otherwise known as, "the single most [expletive] annoying thing on the face of [expletive] Earth, or any other [expletive] planets, for that matter."

Yeah, I don't like post-nasal drip. Or other planets, apparently.

A particularly inconvenient side-effect of all this malaise? I can't smell anything. Nothing. Furthermore, having the inability to smell means I can't really taste, either.

Case-in-point: I bit into the crisp juiciness of a nectarine this morning, and realized it was not a nectarine at all, but a human head.* I felt pretty bad about it, but I guess that guy shouldn't have been in my house in the first place. And what was he doing in the fridge's crisper drawer? Shenanigans like that often lead to cranial bite marks from hungry sinusitis-sufferers.

Sounds like a pretty awful scenario, huh? Well, it gets worse. Later that day, I joined Fast Eddie Thralls of Wine Tonite! (and now Vintage Wine Estates) fame for a little soirée to send him off in style to his California dream job. Naturally, as is custom in the Thralls household, there was wine aplenty. Good wine. Great wine. These kids ooze hospitality. Anyway, I arrived at the shindig a little late, and I arrived to find empty bottles of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, and tiny production Syrah. A good sign.

What Ed was pouring when I stumbled in was a magnum of Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Hot damn. I'd never had anything from Pride, a winery who's products have never been in close proximity to negative comment among all the wine geeks I know. Of course, in my congested state, I knew this wine would offer nothing more than a nip of alcohol on a cool November night. I regrettably declined more than just a taste (hoping some sort of deus ex machina-moment would manifest itself, instantly rendering my olfactory senses reinvigorated), saving the inky goodness for those who were not trapped in my nasal hell.

Yet, all was not lost. Even without the ability to appreciate wine's two greatest virtues, aroma and flavor, my stomach and liver- far less discriminant organs than my nose and tongue- welcomed the alcoholic warmth of the fermented grape, eventually getting my brain and vocal chords into the the mix...that is to say, eliminating the filter between the two that exists in sobriety. What I'm saying is that I did get a little lifted. Why not? My buddy's moving across country and I didn't want to be a wet blanket in the face of celebration. However, I've realized that when one lacks the faculties to stop and immerse in the complex bouquet and savor a mouthful of fine wine, he pretty much just guzzles it down like water. I don't recommend such actions if the next day requires of you anything more than sleeping on the couch with a throbbing skull.

More intriguing than a hangover, though, was the focus of my decimated palate. With no smell, I only had access to sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and mouthfeel. Once all the (admittedly, wonderful) noise- created by esters, phenolics, and other chemical compounds that work with the nose to create thousands of flavors- was eliminated, a wine that was highly acidic, rather tannic, or showed signs of residual sugar stood out.

I actually thought this might be a great way to do an introductory tasting; a methodology to help novices recognize and create a sensory profile of the foundations of wine. I've seen tasting classes where acids and tannins are isolated from the wine (trying lemon juice, tea, etc.), but never where the taster is robbed of the critical- but muddling- sense of smell. Maybe I need to get a group of wine lovers in a room, start sneezing all over the place, and then we reconvene a week later...

...might be a tough sell. Or perhaps you've already experienced what I have. Ever run through a wine tasting with debilitated senses? Was it frustrating, or maybe enlightening?

I'm going with the former. Despite my acid/sugar/tannin epiphany, most of the pleasure of wine is robbed. I just hope my head returns to normal size VERY soon. There's Turkey and Grenache to be had on Thursday.

*couldn't have done this with out "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Booze in the News - November 18, 2010

Hassling the Hoff since 2010.

Meet the Nouveau. Same as the Old-veau: Dammit. What a crappy title. I thought I'd try to show that I'm "cool and hip, yet sophisticatedly middle-aged" by fielding a really bad play on some Who lyrics; Who lyrics that have probably already been ruined by CSI: Des Moines or something. But I really struggled with this. "Nouveau-ver Beethoven" made me want to cut out the part of the brain that causes thinking. "Something Old, Something Nouveau" was about as clever as Jeff Dunham's "comedy". So, "Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss" got bastardized horribly because I got lazy. And it sickens me...

...oh yeah, and the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau came out yesterday. Stock up on it in case you run out of grape drink and vodka on Thanksgiving.*

China- The new hipsters: What's happened to Pabst Blue Ribbon? It used to be nigh-undrinkable swill that's served the purpose of getting one drunk when he couldn't afford Old Milwaukee. It was reliably $1/can at bars that sympathized to the desperate situations of college kids in need of affordable liquid courage and inevitable abdominal pain. Then came the hipsters. "Let's drink it to be cool and ironic," they said, in their reprinted "vintage" Joy Division t-shirts and skinny leg jeans. Supply and demand, hipsters. Now PBR is $5 a can at bars. No matter, as I wasn't going to order that crap anyway.

I guess it could be worse. The PBR brand has been totally reinvented in China as a high-end lager. One bottle: about $44 USD. The irony is delicious, but the beer isn't, especially at that price. But at least we're getting back at the Peoples' Republic for Tsingtao*. I just hope the U.S. doesn't bankrupt China with its exorbitant beer prices. My daughter will probably want her future overlords to have financial stability.

Yes. Alcohol was involved: Kudos to drunk Kentucky folks for inspiring a new form of institutional punishment for terrorists. I feel bad for this guy, but as my friend Van Burin would say, "with great beard comes great beardsponsibility."

*I actually like these things. Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun Thanksgiving tradition, but it's a bigger rip off at $13/bottle than Chinese PBR. Tsingtao is great with spicy Szechuan cuisine, but I bet they're not shipping us the good stuff.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I remember vividly the trip to our local toy store, "Toys Unlimited", to buy Optimus Prime. I was five years old with two fingers jammed into my suck hole. Mom- never above bribery when desperate- decided to cut a deal. I was way too old to still be sucking my fingers (far superior to the thumb, by the way), and the gorgeous, unscathed, fearless leader of the noble Autobots was the bargaining chip.

But the transaction couldn't have been that simple. Mom understood the effectiveness of tangibility when it came to malleable youth, so she bought the toy on the front end. Then, seeing that pristine, tantalizing, Transformers-emblazoned package daily (out of my clutches atop a tall dresser), I was charged with not sucking my fingers for TWO WEEKS. Upon completion of this impossible task, the bounty would at last be mine.

That two weeks must've lasted ten years. But the will of an Optimus Prime-desperate child is strong, and I outlasted Mother and her Herculean trials. I shall take to my grave any infidelity during the probationary period.

The point is that some things are worth the wait. Wine is a particularly good example. High-quality Cabernet Sauvignon is an even better example. And Napa's Quixote Winery makes a product that not only fits the bill, but- serendipitously- was recently in my possession. Sucking your fingers in anticipation yet? Me neither!

Situated in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, Quixote- quite simply put- is a silly place. From the Dr. Seuss architecture to the screw caps placed on $60 bottle of wine (which is fine), these folks do a pretty good job at turning the ubiquitous Napa tasting room on its ear.

From a production standpoint, Quixote basically bottles four wines: a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petite Sirah each for the "Panza" and "Quixote" labels. Made of 100% organically-farmed, estate-grown fruit, those wines- unlike the atmosphere from whence they came- are anything but silly.

A buddy and I had purchased a few bottles there a couple years ago, and being the booze-swilling derelicts that we are, it seemed only fitting that we knock back a few on a Friday night. Among those bottles in our eventual boneyard were the 2003 Panza Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Quixote Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines sourced fruit from the same vineyards. Each featured primarily Cabernet with a little Merlot mixed in. Yet, while the Panza featured a great nose of all those wonderful Cab idiosyncrasies- [insert all the Cab aromas you read about everywhere, and tell me where to buy some damn black currants, please]- in full force, the Quixote (which was $20 more, mind you) had a tighter nose. It also had a lot more "fuzz", or tannic structure, in the mouth. The Panza- conversely- was as smooth as my baby daughter's bottom after an assault with the powder bottle.

In short, the Panza was a tastier, better-drinking wine when compared head-to-head with it's bigger brother.

The takeaway here- one that can often elude the hasty drinker such as myself- is that the Quixote was MEANT to not show as well as the Panza...for now. Upon gleaning some info from current winemaker Matt Reid, I discovered that the 2003 Quixote was made with 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. The '03 Panza, however, consists of 76% Cabernet, 14% Merlot, 7% Mourvèdre, and 3% Syrah (since both contain 75%+ Cab, they can legally be labeled "Cabernet Sauvignon" in the States). The great presence of Merlot and those Rhône varieties softened the Panza, offered less tannin structure, and made for a wine that is "something to enjoy while waiting for the Quixote to mature," according to Reid.

But why pay more for something that you can't have now? All I can say is: try some Cab with age on it. A good one...fine Bordeaux, high-end Napa Cab, something from Washington State. Not all wines are meant to age for 10, 15, 20+ years (few are, in fact). But a good Cab from a good vintage can. Seek one out. Beg, borrow, or steal. Because a well-aged Cab is like the Optimus Prime of wines. It's a transformer. It becomes something completely different over time. And that something is definitely worth the wait...every painful second of it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Belated) Booze in the New (the excuse edition), plus a significant Pinotage mustache

In this Edition, I make excuses for not putting out "Booze in the News" on Friday. In fact, this is really a post about some Pinotage I drank, but I've masked it under the guise of "Booze in the News", not so much for you, but so I can trick myself into thinking I'm doing a respectable job serving up my "regular weekly feature".

Thursday Night Lights: Not a single soul was asking me for wine advice, and I was totally incognito; nary an adoring fan asking for an autograph. In that regard, it was exactly like every other day in my life. But the event- Thursday night football previewing a potential Super Bowl matchup- was far from ordinary. Throw in an emotional victory from the home team, a belly full of suds, a raucous crowd, an 8:20 PM kickoff, and a 7 AM meeting the next day, and this Falcons fan-turned-questionably-talented blogger wasn't doing any writing upon arrival in the 'burbs around 1 AM (I wasn't driving, FYI, per "belly full of suds"). Even if I had put fingers to keyboard, all I can imagine is some incoherent blather about how Alsatian whites are the "Atlanta Falcons" of wines, interspersed with lyrics from hometown Travis Tritt's forgettable 2004 anthem, "Falcons Fever". Trust me: you were better served with nothing this past Friday.

And now for something completely different:

District 9 Wine: After posting this crime against humanity designed to explain the origins of South Africa's notorious red grape, I realized I had very little experience with Pinotage. It'd never been a huge sell- lots of criticism, limited distribution, and descriptors of bananas, meat, paint, and burnt rubber. However, we can never know what we like or dislike based on commentary alone. I snagged two Pinotage bottlings last week: a 2009 Zafrika Western Cape ($4.99 at Trader Joe's) and a 2008 Fleur du Cap Coastal Region $12.99 at Total Wine; thanks for the tip, Matt Horbund). Call me snobby, but I couldn't make a sweeping generalization based on one bottle under five smacks.

As often happens with much-maligned wines, the situation turned out not as bleak as advertised. Okay, the Zafrika smelled like Beaujolais Nouveau (read: bananas and fruit punch) and tasted like cheap Chardonnay (seriously, if I had tasted it blindfolded, I don't know if I would say "red" or "white"). However, criticism aside, Beaujolais Nouveau usually retails for around $12, so if that's your digs, save $7 this Thanksgiving and try something different.

The Fleur du Cap, however, was very different. It immediately threw poop in my face, like some liquid form of a vengeful rhesus monkey. That may sound bad to those who are not fans of feces, primates, or funky wines, but I do like the latter (and I guess I like primates as well), so this barnyard bouquet preluded something interesting. Upon further investigation, the funk actually reminded me less of poop and more of two things: burnt rubber mixed with the smell of a freshly eviscerated deer. I can already see the marketing: "pour Fleur du Cap when you want to relive a deer-centric fender-bender in your glass." I'm for hire, guys, but I need to work in the States. Not as many leaping great white sharks here.

Seriously, though, it's not uncommon for wines to take on a gamey or meaty scent. And the burnt rubber could've been from the presence of mercaptans, a common byproduct in wine production (considered a fault). However, after a couple minutes in the glass, the tires took a hike, and I was left with a pretty complex nose of game, menthol, cranberries, cocoa, coffee, and a little bit of banana (which I can do without, but Pinotage is known to produce a good bit of isoamyl acetate during fermentation, the very ester that gives banana oil its scent). The wine had decent, very smooth tannin structure in the mouth, and offered a lot of fruit and spice. As I drank the bottle throughout the span of a few days, much of the funk fizzled off, and the darker fruits and coffee elements prevailed, harkening not only to one of Pinotage's parent grapes- Cinsault- but to many wines of its geographic ancestry: the Rhône.

All in all, Abraham Izak Pernold's freaky creation fared better than I had predicted. Yes, I understand the criticism. I can see why folks wouldn't like it, as I've never seen banana-crusted venison loin with garlic on the menus at restaurants- fine dining and otherwise. However, at $12, there was a lot going on that kept the nostrils working, and even if this wine had ended up terrible, I was only out twelve bucks, or about the amount of money someone could make in the time it takes to read a poorly-constructed blog post...

...but I'm glad you're here. And the check's in the mail.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Curious Case of Pinotage

In homage to this Thursday's Wine to Water Charity Tasting, featuring the South African selections of Worthwhile Wine Company, I wanted to highlight some of South Africa's most notable grapes, including the very unique Pinotage. If you're not going to the Falcons' game, or want to tailgate in style, please check out this event. RSVP and/or donate HERE.

Another thanks is due to Barbara Evans, Ben Simons, and Drew Lazorchak, who set me off on this wacky adventure.

There are hundreds of varieties of vitis vinifera in existence. Save the geek set, most are only familiar with about 8-10 of them (usual suspects Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.). The rest- at least the majority- find pockets of the world where they thrive, yet never achieve commercial success as world travelers. However, many- like Zinfandel in California, Carménère in Chile, or Malbec in Argentina- find a home and become the "signature" grape of certain regions.

One such case is the little mad science experiment known as Pinotage. See, those hundreds of varieties of grape species have not all existed for ages. Some are mutations (Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc from Pinot Noir), others naturally-occuring crosses (Cabernet Sauvignon from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc; Syrah from Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche). Furthermore, most "signature" grapes came from somewhere else (Zinfandel's origins point to Croatia, Carménère and Malbec come from Bordeaux). In both cases, Pinotage is pretty unique. It was created on purpose, and created in South Africa. A 100% native example of vitis vinifera, all thanks to the guys in the white lab coats.

The idea came about in 1925 at the University of Stellenbosch by viticulturist Abraham Izak Perold. Perhaps attempting to play God (or Dr. Bunson Honeydew), Perold planted the seeds of Pinot Noir and the Rhône's Cinsault (called "Hermitage" in South Africa) together, hoping to make something new.

Now, as is commonplace on this blog, I'm going to employ a completely random tangent to explain these two grapes. Imagine the world of vitis vinifera (that is to say, "wine grapes") as an ice rink. Ultimately, everything on that rink ends up as wine. However, just as there are hundreds of different grapes, there are many different types of skaters on the rink. Cinsault- for example- is a workhorse grape of the Southern Rhône, found in haughty blends like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but never taking the spotlight like Grenache, Syrah, or Mourvèdre. It's a workhorse. Hearty, productive, and understated. If you put Cinsault on an ice rink, it'd definitely be defenseman Ray Bourque. He was productive: the NHL's highest goal-scoring defensive player, ever. However, defensemen are grinders, survivors; lacking the flash of wingers or the flair of goalies.

On the flip side, when I think of elegant, graceful, refined, and polished, I think of Burgundy's greatest grape: Pinot Noir. I also think of figure-skating legend Brian Boitano. What? You don't also think of Brian Boitano? Man, that's odd. And a little embarrassing.

So, we've got these two grapes, ready to cross. I can get a good idea of what Perold was after: he wanted all the incredible aromas, flavors, and velvety textures of Pinot Noir, but didn't want to fuss with all the inconvenient T.L.C. required of the tempermental, thin-skinned grape. "Throw in some Cinsault," he surely thought. "I'll still get all those triple axles, but I'll get them with a wicked slap shot and playoff beard instead of bedazzled lycra bellbottoms." Yep, I'm sure that's how it went.

However, things don't always go as planned. Instead of low-maintenance Pinot Noir, the hands of science were left with this:

A weirdo. A grape that- indeed- was vigorous, grew easily, and ripened early, yet displayed little of the characteristics of Pinot Noir. Sure, it fared well early in its youth, spurring tons of planting, but the grape has since earned quite a reputation among critics. Often marked by aromas of bananas and paint, flavors of meat and smoke, as well as flab from low acidity, Pinotage rarely plays the darling. I wish I could give a more personal account, but I- like many in the States- have little experience with these wines. I've tasted it before, but wouldn't dare try to recollect my thoughts. I know I at least got one bottle- years back from a former customer who loved the stuff. Of course, he was from South Africa. I think. Maybe it was England. All I know is that he used words like "practise" and "flavour".

To this end (if nothing more than to remedy my ignorance), I sought out a bottle of Pinotage. I'll be giving it a taste soon, and I'll attempt to give this weirdo a fair shake.

In the meantime, if you have any experiences or strong opinions about the grape, the wine, or if you just want to sound off on the ridiculous and incongruent metaphors perpetrated in this post, I anxiously await your comments (there's a story behind the latter).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Tried. I Tried.

I tried to write a good post tonight. Wanted to amuse, enlighten, and entertain my beloved audience on a Monday morning (recently voted by me as the least-awesome day of the week). For most, Monday means a return to the grind, still not rejuvenated by the weekend that came and went, far too fast.

Many of us folks do still labor in dreary offices with florescent lights, surrounded by our fellow soul-shattered peons, baby-stepping to five o'clock with the hope of a quick commute and a crust of bread waiting at home (Loverboy was on to something. Maybe everybody IS working for the weekend).

But there's always hope on a Monday morning: Youtube. Facebook. And, of course, blogs. These distractions numb our soft brains, dulling the pain of monotony and giving us the good humor to press on to Tuesday.

Such is the mission statement of my blog: provide amusing distraction to those who need it most. Alas, despite my best efforts (meaning I stared blankly at the computer screen for a long, long time), I've come to the table with nothing this morning.

Okay, not quite nothing, but something very weird, based on an excerpt from A Clockwork Orange (as if that movie wasn't weird enough). In its defense, this video IS wine-related. And mind-numbing. Sounds eerily similar to one of my "legitimate" posts.

Anyway, see you Tuesday. But for now, try the wine.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Booze in the News - November 5, 2010

Scouring the seedy underbelly of the interweb for one last drink, like a drunken sailor at the tail-end of shore leave.

Coming Soon - "Suburban Crackhead": It's the same old story. Weeks ago, I posted a story on BITN about how heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers. Alright! Time to get weird. Well, now a British study suggests that alcohol is more dangerous than crack and heroin. Okay, so the study's a little half-baked (as any of these studies are, in my opinion), and I'm convinced that everyone has an agenda and can make the data tell the story he/she wants. However, just to be safe, and in order to be a better father, husband, and member of society, I'm kicking the wine and turning this into a crack blog. I hear the terroir-driven rocks of the Baltimore area are spectacular.

Finally, a show that's actually about Beer: In the spirit (pun intended) of alcohol being deemed the deadliest substance ever by those stuffy Brits, America gives the biggest "F off" since December 16, 1773 (I didn't want to offend my West Coast readers by saying the words "Tea Party" on this blog). Sam Cagalione, of Dogfish Head Brewery fame, will premiere a show called "Brew Masters" on Discovery Channel. The show will follow Cagalione and his crew as they search the world for new and wacky ingredients. I'm really excited about this. "Cheers" had far too much human-interest and misadventure to distract from Norm's mounting bar tab.

Atlanta, CA: As I predicted back in August, my fine city has lost another top-notch blogger. Ed Thralls, of Wine Tonite! fame, has gone bamboo like Dirty and taken a wine job out in sunny Northern California. In all honesty, I know this is what Ed's been shooting for recently, and I'm really thrilled for the guy and his new title of "Social Media Marketing Director". I know he'll make Vintage Wine Estates a huge success in the Social Media world. Doesn't mean I'm not bummed to lose another local drinking buddy. Fortunately, Ed can sooth the pain by sending me wine. The good stuff, not the cheap stuff you send to bloggers. Congrats, Ed! Who knows when Atlanta, CA might expand again...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Food Porn.

Caution: the following post is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistlines).

Read through the pages of Anthony Bourdain's many food tomes, and you'll notice frequent references to the relationship between food and sex. Similarities in the chemical and physiological changes in the body before a good meal or a good romp.

Enter food porn: the only pornography more shame-inducing than watching the real thing. Indeed the human animal is drawn to that which is taboo. Traditional porn showcases pleasures of the flesh (or so I'm told... ... ...), always stalwarts in the Pantheon of sinful deeds. Furthermore, in an American society resting on the slumping shoulders of heavyset and unhealthy citizens, the concept of ogling fatty treats with a lustful eye seems just as forbidden. Thus- I surmise- the notion of "food porn" has arisen.

Need an example? Take the Philly Cheese Steak. Who knew that Pat Olivieri's innocent act of replacing a hot dog with some griddled beef in depression-era South Philadelphia would be the impetus for the ULTIMATE in dreadfully unhealthy, sinfully delicious junk foods? Indeed, the philly is a treat that's life-saving at 3 AM with a belly full of beer, yet surely the harbinger of death only a few hours later.

Yep, phillies are the sandwich-equivalent to a double order of Waffle House hashbrowns- scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, capped, peppered, and ranched (Bonus points to whomever can identify the toppings in the comment field. College kids from the South are not eligible).

Now, despite the proliferation of food porn on this site, I try (with little success) to keep a trim figure. I don't answer the Philadelphia Cheese Steak's sirens' song frequently. So, when I am lured in by its sultry promise of eventual gastrointestinal discomfort, I make sure to do it right:

Bread: Any salty Philly folk (and they're pretty much all salty) will say that the bread is critical. I usually decide not to mess around and source Italian rolls from a Northeastern bakery, like J.J. Cassone or Amoroso's. It takes a little more work to find perfect rolls, but when that soft, chewy bun starts soaking up flavorful grease, you'll relish in your persistence. Warning to bakery zealots: these two companies ship the rolls frozen (they thaw up quite nicely). If you just can't handle that, find a local baker who can make some decent Italian rolls. Just don't come crying to me when a Philadelphia native dresses you down with a rant about bread geography.

Meat: It's called a Cheese Steak, not a "Cheese Roast Beef" or a "Cheese Hamburger Meat". So get steak. I prefer Ribeye, because it's got a lot of flavor (read: fat), and it's what the silverbacks like Tony Luke use. You can get a butcher to take a partially frozen ribeye and shave it down for you. Thinly shaved meat allows you to take clean bites, and it cooks quickly, so it retains all that juiciness (that will eventually soak into the bread...hey now). I've also used top round, and I've had success with the chain meat off a whole tenderloin (the stuff from step 2 in this video). Just make sure there's some fat in there. Otherwise, go eat a celery stalk, Denise Austin.

Cheese: the more processed, the better. Traditionally (according to Pat's King of Steaks), the proper slather is Cheez Whiz. I just put the whole can on the griddle and let that stuff turn into a molten cauldron of goodness. If you can't stomach the thought of eating something that processed, use some White American. Provolone can also be employed if you're a real sissy. The takeaway here is: if you're in the mood for a cheese steak, have very little regard for what is going into your body.

Veggies: just to keep things healthy. The traditional roughage is grilled onions. Foks sometimes get fancy and throw in green peppers and/or mushrooms. Both tasty, but not traditional (they often make it onto my sammich so I feel like I'm getting a balanced meal). Beyond that, I've seen cherry peppers, tomatoes, and even broccoli rabe. Just don't get too cute. The veggies will serve the purposes of flavor and texture ONLY. Their healthful properties will be swaddled in a cocoon of LDL.

In the end, we're left with a disgustingly wonderful treat that is worthy of shameful adoration. Pair with beer, or a "cheeseburger" wine (like Garnacha, Zinfandel, or Aussie Shiraz). Throw in some Teddy Pendergrass, add a few strips of bacon, and you've got something that'll really make you feel flush:

Monday, November 1, 2010


The past few weeks have proven to test my mettle in the blog/social media landscape. The times between work hours previously spent writing posts and tasting wine are now most-significantly occupied with the supervision of a terribly cute, totally innocent crap and drool factory. My wife is self-employed, and I'm often (happily, I might add) expected to take the reigns of parent upon arrival home, so she can work on building our business...

No. It is not anything like life before parenthood. I'm sure we would've just polished off a bottle of something tasty. Instead, I write with a shirt still-damp from a recent episode of infant regurgitation.

My point? I was thinking about putting together a Halloween post detailing the scariest wines in existence. Boone's Farm, Wild Irish Rose, MD 20/20 (fun fact: the MD actually stands for "Mogen David", not "Mad Dog"). You know, the stuff that'll have you waking up with fur on your tongue. Spooky, indeed. However, Hallow's Eve came and went, and no post (with the fortunate side-effect of no consumption of the demonic wines listed).

No problem. Halloween is followed by All Saints' Day, a Catholic/Pagan/Eastern hybrid celebrating and remembering the life and death of the holiest to have gone before us. What a perfect opportunity to pour a little out for my hallowed homies, sippin' on Morey-Saint-Denis, Saint-Amour, and Vin Santo. Alas...the day got away from me, but my daughter did try to eat my nose. A fair trade-off, indeed.

And here it is: we sit on November 2, otherwise known as All Souls' Day, a feast day dedicated to those who have passed, but who are not Saints. Sounds like a day that hits closer to my demographic (save the whole "dead" thing. I'm not sure how many ghosts and spirits are reading this blog. But, I will take anything I can get, and I appreciate all the boozy vespers and slurping apparitions who stop by). So, with this in mine, I figured I'd pontificate on wine...with soul.

Perhaps I mean juice that's got soul, and is super bad? Makes you get up, get on up, get up, get on up, get up, get on up, stay on the scene, like a sex machine? Wine that's paid the cost to be the boss?

You know, wines so good they make you wanna slap your wife and go to jail for a while? Dance on stage with Apollo Creed in defiance of Ivan Drago and his entourage of freedom-hating Soviets?

Okay. This is gone one long enough, and I'm sure the wife-beating joke will not be well-received. But the Godfather of Soul- for all his warts- was a true original. Flawed for sure, yet funky as hell. Sounds a little bit like the wine I'm trying to envision.

Some call this concept terroir- formerly a concept I thought I fully understood. I've been taught this French concept vaguely refers to the soil composition, the climate, the orientation of the vine, the amount of sun it receives, it's proximity to the ocean. Terroir, roughly translated, is the sense of place, and that unique place impresses certain flavors upon a wine. Or at least that's what I used to think. But the word often seems to be bandied about without respect. "The terroir of the Central Valley gives this box of Franzia Chillable Red its fruit-forward tastiness..."

No, there's something else. The soul of the place. The history of the vineyards; the history of the land, the towns, and the people around it- past and present. The generations of dirt beneath fingernails. The painstaking craftsmanship of a dedicated, hell-bent, obsessed winemakers. I think that's really what terroir is, and it's rare in today's sea of mass-produced wine.

So, on this All Soul's Day, I challenge you to find a wine that has one. A story. A person putting his passion into that bottle. And maybe- if you're lucky- a glassful of something that truly expresses terroir. It doesn't have to be expensive. It doesn't have to be perfect. Flaws and funk can be good, as long as they're the by-products of someone putting the very best they can under that cork (or screwcap). But take a few extra moments and resist the temptation to grab the same thing you always drink. Ask your wine shop to give you something...with soul. I'm curious to hear the results...