Saturday, December 24, 2011

As Always, Merry Christmas!



Wishing you a few days of rest, relaxation, gorging, and copious cups of wine!

I toast you all with re-enactment gold...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Conquering the Sea Monster (Fighting the Sea Monster, Round 3)



It has become a bit of an obsession.  I just want to get a dang octopus tenderized.

Round one involved a 45 minute simmer, followed by a quick marinade, then a toss on the grill.  The result?  One chewy cephalopod.

Round two found our 8-legged meal braised in olive oil and vinegar for over an hour, then another skid across a hot grill grate.  If not for a hunger brought about by consumption, it would've remained untouched.  Even rubbery than the first attempt.

As I lay in my kitchen- a dejected, pummeled pile of inadequate cooking technique- the invitation upon the refrigerator gave a glimmer of hope.  Every year, we get together with a few folks in December and celebrate the food and drink of a particular country.  Upon the invitation, scrawled in what appeared to be octopus tentacles, I read, "Spain".  Indeed, the Spanish consume their share of this potentially tasty critter, and a particular preparation- Pulpo a la Gallega- is said to be tender and delicious.

Tender and delicious.  Blinded by the suspect wiles of the internet, and its sultry promises of edible- nay- scrumptious sea creatures,  I- yet again- lined the pockets of the local octopus tycoons.  Relaxing, no doubt, in the spoils of their octopus fortunes.

Pulpo (which is Spanish for "octopus") a la Gallega is essentially a preparation of boiling the creature until tender in a pot of water (I added some onions and a little garlic and vinegar).  The addition of a copper penny is said to help replicate the authentic technique of boiling in a copper pot.  Also, I added a wine cork to the boil.  Tradition says it ensures a tender 'pus.  Conventional wisdom says it just floats on top and looks stupid and irresponsible.


Once boiled, the octopus is sliced thinly along with sliced potatoes, and the whole mess is drizzled with olive oil and paprika.  Not surprising, as olive oil and paprika seem to be Spain's version of Ranch Dressing.

With no room for error (I had already convinced a few timid eaters that they would love food with tentacles), I employed a couple techniques seen at various corners of the interweb:

1)  When I got home with my raw quarry, I threw them in the freezer overnight.  Then, I let them thaw in the fridge for a day.  I'm guessing the freezing creates ice crystals, and the expanding ice disrupts the cell walls in the meat.  By the time the 'pus is thawed, it's all jacked up in the "structural integrity" department.

2)  I made sure to boil for over an hour.  After boning up on some light reading about thermal denaturing of proteins in squid, I figured out that the secret to cooking squid and octopus is a "bookend" approach.  That is to say, either cook very quickly or very long.  One can either cook so quickly that the protein strands remain intact, or so long that they completely unravel.  Anywhere in between, and the proteins constrict together, forming a tough, rubbery texture.  And, outside of an awesome name for an album, "Tough, Rubbery Texture" has little appeal.  

As knife hit tentacle, I knew that nerdy food science had paved the way for sexy food making.  The octopus was tender, and the monkey was off my back.


Granted, I still screwed it up a bit.  Wanting a hot preparation, I chose instead to cut up the octopus and potatoes, then quick-fry them in olive oil, with the addition of salt and paprika.  Not enough oil, and too much paprika.  All the paprika caked on the meat, and it became a bit of a soggy mess.  That said, the critter was tender, and I could put this one to rest.

Tip (guess I'm giving "tips" now):  when cooking something from a certain region, seek out wines from the same area.  As this is pulpo a la Gallega, it hails from the coastal region of Galacia in northwestern Spain.  There, the white wines of the Rias Baixas rule, and ones made from the white grape Albariño can make you freak out.  Maybe it's the proximity to the ocean, but these wines can taste almost salty (in my opionion, a simpler way of describing what some wine jerk means when he says a wine is "minerally").  They are rich and aromatic, but clean enough for seafood.  I snagged this one from Mac's in Midtown, and it was phat, if I may pull that term out of massive obscurity:


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Simmering Down


Had a bit of a whiny rant go down late last week that came off (to me) as unappreciative.

Spent the entire weekend basking in the glory of lots of good wine, great friends, and amazing food.  Put in perspective how the wine world has so positively affected my life.  A really useful lesson in focusing one what is important.  Indeed, the "business" side of wine and marketing can draw us away from it's ultimate goal:  enjoyment.  From Friday night through today, that goal was achieved.

Oh, and another milestone this weekend:  I finally got a damn octopus to be tender.  More on that later, as the epic saga between me and the octopodes continues...



Friday, December 9, 2011

Suburban Wino Headquarters: Wine Sample Black Hole



Are we talking a matter of proper etiquette here?  Or should people know better?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First off, wine bottles can't talk.  Nor do they have arms.  Plus, sound doesn't even exist in outer space, so even if wine bottles could talk (which they can't), you wouldn't hear them screaming.  But if they could scream, and we could- in cases where sound does not exist- see what they were screaming (sort of like a "closed captioning" for outer space situations) I'm pretty confident they would scream in some sort of Blade Runner font.  But only in outer space.  If said wine bottle was in the mountains of Tennessee, it would scream in more of a "log cabin" font.  But, since being in Tennessee and not in space, we would be able to hear the screams, thus, the need for real-life closed-captioning would be moot.  And there'd be no reason for a wine bottle to scream in the mountains of Tennessee anyway.  That is, of course, unless it came upon a band of crazed mountain folk, all hopped up on mountain dew and such.

Which brings me to my first thought:  why would anyone want to send wine samples to a blogger who is really (truly) concerned about wine bottles in space?  What am I supposed to do with these bottles of wine they send?  I don't even have a spaceship.

No doubt, many a wine blogger probably broke ground with visions of free wine.  Admittedly, when I was offered my first sample bottles (I'll never forget you, Two Friends Imports), I had that "aha" moment that a deluge of good times were around the bend.  Freewheelin'.  Poppin' corks like Ted Danson was in town or something.  Yet, it was not the reason why I started doing this.  Honestly, it never occurred to me that free wine might be part of the deal.

photo credit:  gq.com
So, on the rare occasions when I'd get some free wine, I'd give it all a nice, evaluative taste, and then I'd post my thoughts on the blawg.  Tasting notes and whatnot.  Still, I figured doing all this was part of the game, but it wasn't my wheelhouse.

After a couple years in, I had another epiphany:  I don't like tasting notes.  Even more so, I don't like to read someone else's tasting notes.  Not exclusively, at least.  Not that there's anything wrong with tasting notes.  They help many folks build a memory of familiar smells.  But, to me, they aren't interesting to read unless I'm drinking that same wine at the exact moment that I happen to come across said tasting notes.  Or unless I've had the wine before.  Neither of which happen very often.  Instead, I'm stuck reading a memoir of someone else's senses.

Honestly, there a few folks who can pull them off.  When Samantha Dugan writes a tasting note, I immediately want to go find that wine and drink it until slip into a haze that finds me lounging carelessly in a hammock for hours.  But it's not where her bread is buttered.  They just happen to work when she does sling 'em.

When people I really like (say, a Steve Paulo, a Joe Roberts, or a Ben Carter) want to do notes, I can appreciate that they're just trying to keep the tasting chops sharp and honestly educate.  Plus, folks like them already have bodies of work that lends honesty to the notes.

But, too often, I read, "I tasted under-ripe bing cherries and bartlett pear skins and the essence of dew upon spring's first stinging nettles."  And that makes me want to break a bottle of wine and stab things with it.  Because it's so full of shit that anyone who wants to get into drinking wine must get the feeling that you have to be full of the same measure of shit to enjoy a dang alcoholic beverage made out of grapes.  Poppycock! (forgive the blue language)

Anyone who has taken the time to stop by this blawg should probably know that I don't write any tasting notes and I don't really evaluate any wines.  PR companies that popped by here couldn't possibly think that this is a "hotbed of wine evaluation".  If they keep sending them and keep offering to send them, am I being rude and "unprofessional" (as if there's anything "professional" going on here) if they don't get posted?  Furthermore, if I lay out in advance that "you can send me wine, but I will almost assuredly not get around to writing about it", does that exonerate me from the common courtesy of acknowledging these wines?

For some bloggers (like Beau Carufel, whom I like a lot), the answer is "no".  According to Beau, "Wine bloggers are under an obligation, which more and more of us seem to forget or dismiss, to write about what we're sent."  Totally disagree.  If I have a taco blog, and someone sends me sauerbraten, am I obligated to talk about it?  No!  So, if I'm not a "review blog", then no one should expect reviews.  If they didn't do their homework, then tough...

...alas, then I start feeling like a jerkass.  Thumbing my nose at free wine, and coming off as trying to big-time a little winery that is just trying to get some publicity in a saturated market.  Was Nigel Tufnel this conflicted after demanding same-sized meats for his tiny bread?

photo credit:  celebrityrockguitars.com

So, as this is a de facto swan song for my days of receiving free wine samples, I might as well list as many thoughts as I can get out here:


1.  I think Twitter tastings are cool.  If I get some stuff designed for a twitter tasting, I usually tend to participate.  Yeah, it's a bunch of people shooting out tasting notes, but I'm tasting along with them, so it's all good to compare and contrast and learn together.  That said, if you were following me on Twitter and weren't involved in the Twitter tasting in question, how you wouldn't be compelled to unfollow (at least temporarily) is beyond me.

2.  If I do get anything, I never give it away.  I will always open it and taste it objectively by myself.  After that, it may be consumed, used for cooking, slugged with friends, poured down the drain, or given to hobos who are 21 years of age or older.  Cause there's nothing more depressing than an underaged hobo with a discarded bottle of sample wine.

3.  Reed's, a soft drink company, sent me a non-alcoholic soda called "Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer".  It tastes like something that dead elves who go to elf heaven probably drink.  Flying Cauldron butterscotch beer is sent directly from elf heaven.  It's that freaking delicious.  A PR person asked if they could send me some as a sample.  I said, "yes, and I will absolutely be sure to talk about it on the blog, you magical purveyors of the preferred beverage of elf angels."

4.  There are a few PR folks and wineries that are really cool and whom I like.  And if I have a relationship with someone, there's a better chance that I'd have an emotional connection to the product and want to write about it.  Such is human nature.  I'm no critic, just a dude that cranks away at a keyboard sometimes.  That may not be an objective approach, but I'm not in line for a job at the Wine Advocate either.

5.  I recently tasted through some wines from Tudal Family Winery (that were sent to me as samples).  They were really good.  Very balanced, with reasonable alcohol.  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel Blend, and a few Cabernets.  Tasty with the steak and sauteed broccolini I made.  After tasting them, and then drinking them with the food, I took them out by the fire pit and drank them by the fire.  They were really good there, too.  Made me with I had a hammock out there.  So, I guess you'd say that Tudal Family makes some really tasty steak/broccolini/outside/campfire/hammock wines.  That's about as good as I can do for a tasting note.


6.  Anyone who thinks my approach isn't correct, or isn't "serious" enough, or is setting wine blogging back is taking him/herself too seriously.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Addiction


The all-knowing, all-seeing, great and powerful Wikipedia claims that "addiction can...be viewed as a continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it."

For some, it is drugs.  Others, alcohol.  Eating toilet paper has been documented as an addictive behavior...

...and watching My Strange Addiction is an effective way to make you feel better about your previously-thought-to-be "strange" dependence.

Mine is chicken.

But not just any old bird, mind you.  I'm here to announce to you, America (and Russia, source of my most traffic and delightful spam comments), that I'm addicted to hot chicken.


For those not from Nashville, Tennessee, hot chicken is a (very) regional delight first made popular by Prince's Hot Chicken Shack.  Since its inception, other top-notch chicken dives have popped up around the metro area (Bolton's, 400 Degrees, Pepperfire), satisfying the Music City's cravings for meat, fat, and pain.

The preparation is rather simple:  chicken quarters are brined and/or marinated in buttermilk, breaded, and deep or pan fried.  As soon as the crispy birds leave the grease, a thick paste of melted lard and cayenne pepper is painted onto the still-shimmering crust and left to set.  The whole mess is served atop plain white bread (presumably to soak up the spicy goodness) and topped with pickles.


Of course, I'm just speculating.  If I were to discover the proprietors' specific recipes, I'm told my body would be drowned in a boiling cauldron of rendered pork fat and fiery red pepper.  I would then be mashed into a paste and be served to other snitches... 

... okay, again, I'm guessing.  But they'd probably be mad at me if I revealed their secrets and give me a good talking-to.

Bite into Nashville hot chicken, though, and you won't give a damn how it's made.  Usually served at various levels of heat, from basically plain-fried chicken to the hell-spawn of Satan himself (my strange addiction), you will only want more.  Eyes water.  Lips swell with the sting.  Tongue, nose, gums, and throat groan in protest.  But you keep going back, despite the physical pain and damage done.  The interplay of crunchy crust, incendiary spice, moist chicken, and liquid schmaltz... is... irresistible.

"...continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it..."

You are consuming quantities of fat that would make the Crisco family blush.  Very possibly, you will not have taste buds for a couple days.  But the worst comes later.  A few hours after consuming this fiery fowl- and I cannot stress this enough- DO NOT GO OUT IN PUBLIC.  Hot chicken's most sinister vengeance sneaks up on the unsuspecting, suddenly and swiftly striking down upon the gastrointestinal system like the mighty hammer of Thor.  There's really no other way I can put it.

Yet, you will come back.  Addiction, thy name is Nashville hot chicken.

So, if you find yourself in Middle Tennessee, hell-bent on culinary masochism, seek out one of the many hole-in-the-wall chicken shacks.  Call ahead if you can, as these places are really popular (supporting the fact that we all are- in fact- aboard a ship of fools).  While you're waiting, hit up Nashville's finest wine shop- Woodland Wine Merchant (which conveniently sits equidistant from Pepperfire and Bolton's)- and snag a bottle to pair.  The easiest approach is to enter the store, find a friendly associate, and ask for "hot chicken wine".  They'll hook you up with a sure winner.  Like this one:


Bugey is a region in France- east of Burgundy- that makes some wonderful wines.  This was a sparkling rosé number made from mainly Pinot Noir and/or Gamay grapes.  The fizz and acidity washed the lard from my palate, and the low alcohol (8%) and slight sweetness didn't amplify the heat of the chicken, but soothed it into submission.  Plus, when you have to slug back a lot of beverage to tame the flames, it helps to not be downing large quantities of rocket-fuel.

Granted, all that liquid may cause you to have to use the restroom.  So- for heaven's sake- use a fork when eating your hot chicken...

That's a pain that might just put you back on the wagon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jumping the Shark


photo credit: destinyland.org

It's a phrase derived from the fifth season of the sitcom Happy Days.  The Fonz, in an effort to prove his bravery, decides to jump over a penned-in shark while on water skis.  To Happy Days purists (are there such things?), it was also a clear indication that the writers had run out of material.  To this day, the saying "jumping the shark" refers to the seminal point at which something good had taken an inevitable and irreversible turn-for-the-worse.

I- for one- cannot find anything wrong with combination of a pudding pop-cool Henry Winkler and the ominous presence of hungry, hungry sharks.  There's got to be a whole spin-off here... 

Alas, I am not a successful sitcom writer.  But, I do write quite a bit.  This is post three-hundred and something.  And, over some post-Thanksgiving brews with some friends, I was told that the blog used to be great, but now it's in an awkward limbo between "speaking to the regular joe" and "pandering to the wine aficionado".  According to my friends, I've spent too much time immersed in wine and its complex language, and now my posts have fallen into the tar pits of jargon and disrespect for the audience.

Begs the question:  has Suburban Wino jumped the shark?  Or- given my inability to water ski- did everything end in a horrific crash into the shark pit?  Why did I agree to do this?  I've never been able to get up on those damn skis!  And now a shark is eating my armpit.

photo credit:  huffingtonpost.com

I suppose it's very easy to get caught up in the complexities and subtleties of viticulture, winemaking, label laws, aromas, flavors, and all the crap that fills the pages of a Wine Spectator.  At the basest form, we're really talking about an alcoholic beverage.  A food product, designed to give sensory pleasure.  And it's always been my vision to convince others to share just a fraction of my fascination with this food product.  Understandably, a body of work evolves over time.  But once it deviates from it's desired path, things can go awry.

There's certainly nothing extraordinary about me; consider myself a pretty regular dude.  So, I've always hoped to relay wine into the context of a regular dude.  Guess as I've burrowed deep into the rabbit-hole, I've lost sight of where I began to dig.

Humbling, but quite necessary feedback, if I'm to succeed in my vision.  Or, perhaps the vision has changed.  Or, maybe none of it matters.  In any case, I guess it's time to drop back and punt...

To the wine aficionados:  that's a football reference.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Third time's a Charm


Forgive the sporadic posting.

I lost my hands in a freak green-harvesting accident, so I type by smashing the keyboard with a plastic hammer that belongs to my daughter.  It is a slow and inaccurate procedure.

Anyway, I'm finally taking my WSET Level 3 exam on Friday.  It was delayed two times by the proctor (lame), and I'm probably not as prepared as I need to be (even though I was on September 1).

Worst-case, if I fail, I can blame it on tryptophan-induced stupid brain.  Or, my lack of hands.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jive Turkeys



Quickly achieving a critical mass that is the wine-media equivalent to sports' discussion of Penn State, every wine publication, e-zine, and blog has recently inundated you, nay, molested you with diatribe about what wines to serve with your Thanksgiving feast.

Hmm... very poor word selection there.  But lately, poor judgement and Penn State are quite the bedfellows.

Dammit.  That's not any better.  Luckily, no one's reading.

As I was suggesting, there is a whole lot of bluster out on the interwebs (and in periodicals) about "wines to pair with your turkey".  Everyone's trying to find the "catch all" that will work marvelously with you Butterball, your Bruce's Yams, and that freaky Jell-O mold your weird, smelly Great Aunt always shows up with.  You know, the one with the Waffle House shoes, wispy bald spot, and matted patches of cat hair upon her equally-matted aqua green sweatshirt featuring a bedazzled pair of kittens.

Don't listen to them.  These folks are jive turkeys.  That is to say, "not to be trusted".  But, if you speak jive, you already knew that.

The problems with finding one perfect wine are many.  First off, let's talk turkey.  There's really not much to it.  Sure, it's encased in crispy, buttery skin.  But that is a product of liberal application of butter and salt.  The breast meat is tender and flavorful, but only if brined and pumped-up with more salt.  The dark meat is greasy.  And, eventually, it all dries out.  Turkey, ultimately, is pretty bland.

Or, as I like to think:  Turkey is like exercise.  It's boring, and it makes you tired.

To this end, finding a wine that complements turkey may not be the way to go.  There are certainly more flavorful sides, sauces, and accompaniments (stuffing, gravy, cranberries, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc.) to consider.  But choosing one pairing for each side may not work.  Unless everyone wants to have 6 different glasses in front of him.  And the table's too crowded as it is, what with that giant decorative cornucopia in the way.

When in doubt, lower-alcohol, higher-acidity wines tend to go better with food in general.  Wines from Italy are particularly food-friendly.  On a more generic level, sparkling wines, dry and slightly-sweet Rieslings, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Beaujolais wines can play nicely with lots of relatively bland foods.

Ultimately, if wine and food at the table is said to bring people together (and I know I say it all the time), then you DO need to stock up for Thanksgiving, the cosmic collision of food, drink, and people.  Just don't over-think it.  Buy a bunch of stuff, ask your local booze store for advice, or tread carefully into the fragmented and unreliable blogosphere for pointers.

Still not feeling comfortable about the whole situation?  Beer goes with just about anything.  And that ain't no jive.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Apocalyptic Thoughts on the Human Tail, and Getting Sloppy on the Sabbath


(photo courtesy: bachelorfrog.com)

Georgians no longer need to attend an Episcopal Mass to get a nip of alcohol before 12:30 on Sundays.

One of the few remaining stalwarts upholding "Blue Laws"- or religiously-fueled mandates to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath- the State of Georgia recently put to ballot the ability for counties to decide on repealing or upholding these laws. From the overwhelmingly Christian perspective, the sale and consumption of alcohol had been deemed disrespectful to the observance of a holy day. No outcry, however, against Sunday travesties like that dancing FOX NFL Sunday robot, or- most perverse- the continued airing of American Dad.

As of this Tuesday, the voters spoke with a nearly unanimous voice to tear down these teetotaling walls. Being a non-Presidential/Senatorial/Congressional voting year, literally tens of patriotic pollsters made it clear that their bloated, groaning livers would not remain silent.

Previously, alcohol sales of any kind in any retail establishments were illegal. Restaurants, bars, and other on-premise establishments could not serve until at 12:30 PM, leaving only 30 minutes of tour de force guzzling to prime one's pump for an afternoon of yelling at the TV.  Damn Cleveland Browns.

So, what does this all mean?  Well, people in qualifying counties and municipalities (not all have held the vote yet) can buy booze on Sunday.  At least, after 12:30 PM.  Compromise is a bitch.

But what does it really mean?  So much more than religion.  Something that may bring down civilization.

I've seen Georgians on Facebook celebrating like we got Osama Bin Laden or American Dad got canceled.  To me, I see just another convenience advancing the laziness of humans.  And that, my friends, is why we're never gonna see it coming.  The robots will become self-aware.  We'll all be too drunk, throwing empty cans of swill at the TV, because the remote is out of reach, and damned if American Dad doesn't come on right after those NFL games.

Georgia's new law is an evolution of convenience, and one that will make our instincts dull.

Take the appendix, for example.  Or, even better, the tail.  At some point, humanoids had tails.  I mean, we have tailbones now, so it's reasonable to say we had tails (and it's far too late for me to go researching the missing link.  Plus, have you ever Googled "homo erectus"?  Not the savory, scientific results you'd expect).  A tail is used as a counter-balance for a tree-dwelling creature or one that walks hunched-over.  At some point, the humanoids began to walk more upright.  Having nothing to counterbalance, the tail- once essential- became obsolete.


Native Georgians have always had a sixth sense.  An instinctual advantage, if you will.  The "Sunday beer" impulse is one that drives a Georgian- without the bottleneck of reasoning- to buy extra beer/wine/liquor on Saturday night.  I've personally lost count of the number of times I'd had no plans to drink anything on a Sunday.  Yet, there it would always be: a squirreled-away 6-pack of Coors Light tall boys in the crisper.  Don't even recall buying 'em.  Indeed, an acorn for hard times.

Now, having no need to rely on survival instinct, Georgians will do like the rest of the nation and become soft.  And drunk.  Vulnerable.  To terrorism.  To robots.  Even zombies.

Think I'm crazy?  Watch the show The Walking Dead.  Zombie apocalypse.  And as the drama unfolds, the writers have yet to tell me how it all started.  But I know one thing:  the show is set in Atlanta, a place where alcohol sales have recently been approved on Sunday.  How's that for a theory?  This, my friends, is ground zero.

So take your new "freedoms", Georgia.  I'll stick to my instincts.  And I'll be enjoying a six-pack of "Sunday beer" while you all are getting eaten by zombies on a Sunday afternoon at the liquor store.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Boozy Passage to Port Sangria


(photo credit: arstechnica.com)
I'm not really a huge fan of Sangria.  I feel like I'm drinking Arbor Mist.  Plus, I don't really care for pulp in my orange juice, and- as a child- I really hated when some nutrition-pushing jerk would cram bits of fruit into the Jell-O, sneaking it in as if we wouldn't notice its sinister wholesomeness amongst the glorious translucent goo.

THE FREAKIN' JELL-O IS CLEAR!  We can see those bits of canned pear.  And they're ruining our lime-flavored horse hoof pudding (we didn't know what gelatin actually was at the time.  I'm glad the marketeers saw "horse hoof pudding" around the corner, and chose "Jell-O" instead).

So, when someone decides to take some cheap (or past-its-prime) wine, load it up with sugar and bits of fruit, I'm not buying.  If I'm going to drink booze that's in its geriatric state, odds are that it's a can of Natural Light I found under my car seat with a "born on" date reminiscent of when Chumbawamba was all the rage.  Because that can locks in the freshness.  And Natural Light is the "beer with the taste for food" (I feel like I've written that quote on this blog before).

Maybe that's why I was surprised at my reaction to an email from a PR firm wanting to send me Port for the purpose of making "Ciderhouse Sangria".  First of all, I'm notorious for never writing about sample wines here (and certainly don't hold your breath for any crappy reviews).  Secondly, many PR emails get treated with the same attention as those promising untold wealth from Nigerian princes, or miracle drugs that will give me 36-hour "stimulation" (as if to insinuate that Middle School- the age of awkward erections- was a pleasant time).

But this concept of mixing cider (good) with whiskey (great) with Port (spectacular) lulled me into a waking dream of warming elixir, bubbling in my gullet, keeping Old Man Winter's sobering, icy hand at bay.  "Yes, please send me the sample," I unconsciously typed, forgetting my usual caveat that this sample "will almost certainly not be reviewed, and, if so, reviewed beyond any reasonable time frame."

A few days later, a sample bottle of Sandeman Porto from the Thomas Collective appeared at my doorstep.  Port, a fortified, generally sweet wine from Portugal (always from Portugal) comes in many different styles.  This sample was a basic Ruby Port, meaning it comes from moderate-quality grapes, with the juice having significant skin-contact during fermentation to extract color and flavor, which- following fermentation- is aged for about 3-5 years in large, neutral cask before bottling.  Ruby Port is a fitting product for a Sangria preparation, as I would want to drink anything of higher quality by itself.  Not that it's bad; it's just the most-modest of Ports.


As it turned out, the resulting punch ended up tasting a bit too much of Bourbon whiskey for me (I had a falling-out with Bourbon in college, and its sweetness is more than I can bear).  Granted, the recipe called for Rye whiskey, which I did not have on hand.  However, if you do like the taste of Bourbon, or Rye, this recipe makes a very simple, rather original, warming, and potent cocktail that is certainly befitting of the flavors of Autumn:

Sandeman Ciderhouse Sangria 
1 bottle of Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto (or any 750 ml bottle of Ruby Port) 
24 oz apple cider (non-alcoholic)   
3 oz rye whiskey (or Bourbon)  
1.5 oz maple syrup 
2 Granny Smith apples 
2 pears 


Directions: Dice apples and pears and set aside. Mix all remaining ingredients together in pitcher. Add in apples and pears. Let sit for at least 8-12 hours (or overnight).

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Champagne Diet


Once again, I'm on some sort of diet.  "Don't call it a 'diet'," my in-shape friend said, cramming another chicken wing into his gaping maw, pieces of poultry flotsam flecking my anemic plate of vegetables.  "It's 'eating right'."

Have another wing, you rabbit-metabolism SOB.

But, he's right.  I can't call eating better a diet.  It really is a matter of making better choices, and doing them regularly; not as a quick fix.

And usually, "eating right" consists of cutting out all the things a Southerner with Irish roots who loves Italian food thrives upon:  fried vittles, pork fat, pasta, bread, cheese, potatoes, and...

Alcoholic beverages.  Beer and wine.  The good stuff, packed with calories.  Diet cola and Bacardi rum are given no quarter in my household, and the combination of the two is about as appealing as Lindsay Lohan + Playboy ("hey mac, don't forget to airbrush out the crack pipe and 99¢ Jack-in-the-Box tacos").

Therein lies the rub.  Tomorrow (well, today) is International #ChampagneDay.  Wine lovers around the world will pop corks and celebrate the hallowed home of sparkling wine.  Then, they'll get on Twitter to discuss, share, and enjoy with hundreds of others in the nerdiest way possible:  on Twitter; marking their tweets with the 'hashtag' #ChampagneDay, creating a searchable, consistent thread connecting all the myraid conversation.

But, despite the ribbing, these Twitter tastings do create a community around a common theme:  drinking, then posting regrettable comments online.  It's the American way!

Never being one to thumb my nose at America, I think I'll be taking a temporary break from carbohydrate purgatory to indulge in perhaps my favorite beverage.  Maybe this one?

A tempting possibility.  Schramsberg is one of the original sparkling wine houses of California.  They make phenomenal bubbly from the classic grapes used in Champagne:  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (and perhaps the lesser-known, but important, Pinot Meunier grape as well).

Schramsberg furthermore makes all it's wines in the "traditional method" (or Méthode Champenoise, if you don't mind irking at least one Frenchman).  Basically, this means that the grape juice is fermented into a still (non-sparkling) wine, and then added to the bottle with a mixture of yeast and some sugar, creating a second fermentation in the bottle, resulting in the fizz.  This is the most classical (and most expensive) way to make a sparkling wine, and it results in a product of superior quality, taste, and complexity.

Alas, if I were to consume the jewel of Napa's sparkling crown, I would not be properly celebrating Champagne.  See, Champagne is a region of France, to the East-Northeast of Paris.  The name "Champagne", although so often used to describe a style of wine (and Champagne and other sparklers are most certainly wine), technically has nothing to do with the fact that the wine has bubbles.

Wines from Champagne are called "Champagne" because it is believed they express the place itself.  The French call the concept terroir.  Certain specific places have the climate, the soil, the orientation to the sun, the... je ne sais quoi to create great wine, and those very places are felt to be much more important than the grapes themselves.

In the States, we've been conditioned to buy wine based on the grape variety on the label.  Not a problem, but it has rendered the concept of terroir difficult to us.  However, just like "San Francisco Sourdough" from Albuquerque is not really San Francisco Sourdough, sparkling wines from anywhere other than Champagne, France, are not "Champagne".

To this end, I'll be tucking into a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Brut (the "Brut" referring to the level of sugar in the wine... this one being pretty dry), provided to me as a sample by the Champagne Bureau.  I'll be curious how it stacks up to some of the phenomenal, smaller-production Champagnes I've had recently.  Don't think I've tasted the PJ before, so I'm looking forward to dunking my whiskers.

Granted, some readers may know me as a bit of a Champagne-elitist, avoiding the heavily marketed stuff in favor of lesser-known "farmer fizz".  While true, I've also been known to wear wolf shirts.  And anyone who runs with the wolf shirt pack is most likely an indiscriminate drinker.  Like this guy:

(photo credit: kotaku.com)
No way he's turning down a free bottle of booze. In fact, he's probably listening to the Atlanta Rhythm Section right now.

As am I. In my wolf shirt. With bottle in hand. Wanna fight about it?

Sorry, sorry. That was the wolf shirt talking. I love you all, and hope you'll pop a bottle as well tomorrow (today).  Happy #ChampagneDay!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Sonoma Coast


On a recent trip out to Napa during harvest, I realized I spent a hell of a lot of time in the car (didn't help that it was raining most of the time).

In fact, I came to the conclusion that I spend an awful lot of my life in a car.

Getting out of that vehicle- in good weather or bad- can be quite good for the soul.  Especially when exiting at land's end... the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean.

Not sure what it is; perhaps the fact that the western coast of the States is so very different from that of the Gulf, or the low country of South Carolina and Georgia (of which I am very familiar).  The Pacific is... mesmerizing to me.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Local Junk


I just got a taste of "toasted ravioli" tonight. Sure, I've had a deep-fried ravioli (I'm from the South, where we deep-fry anything deemed as "food"), but I had no idea that this culinary coup is actually a signature regional delight of St. Louis, Missouri.

 I happen to be here working (happy coincidence is that there's a World Series going on right down the street). When I am in an American city with some measure of culture, there's an innate yearning in my belly to seek out indigenous (or notorious) local grub.

 Got me thinking: how many major cities in the States have some sort of iconic junk food? Or, at least something that could be eaten with the hands, at a tailgate, or served by hippies in the parking lot after a Widespread Panic concert...

Miami has the cubano.

Philadelphia, the cheesesteak.

New York City can claim the dirty-water hot dog and the foldable slice.

Boston has lobster rolls.

Buffalo wings, Pittsburgh-style sandwiches (with fries on top), the Louisville "hot brown", muffalettas in New Orleans and po boys along the Gulf coast.

Chicago has the Maxwell St. polish and Italian beef sandwiches.  There are Sheboygan bratwursts in Milwaukee (or, at least in Sheboygan.  Very big in Sheboygan).  Fry bread in Arizona and New Mexico.  Crab rolls in San Francisco and burritos in Los Angeles.

And, of course, Nashville hot chicken.  I could tell a few tales about that murderous shrew of a dish.

And I have to think, there are so many more.  Funny thing, growing up in Atlanta.  It's a transplant city, so many residents are from somewhere else.  They bring their cuisine (and street foods) with them, but there's always griping that none of it is "quite like home".  And everywhere's got something.

So, I'm reaching out to readers near and far to answer the question:  what is your city's iconic hand-held dish?  I've left so many cities out.  And I've probably made a mistake on at least one of the cities listed.

Good People



If all "wine folks" were like these, we'd all drink wine.

Fair to say, a good portion of the non-teetotaler crowd avoids wine altogether.  Why?  It's confusing, expensive, and often intimidating.  A botched purchase could prove displeasing to the palates of the buyers, or- even worse- cause embarrassment and shame.  Embarrassment and shame, over just trying to entertain, be generous, or get a little weird.

The blame can be pointed squarely at "wine people".  The one's who constantly come to the table with, "it's sparkling wine, NOT Champagne", or "you don't smell the redolence of Bartlett pear??!" or "I'm relaxing in my villa in Tuscany".  And, yeah, I'm probably guilty of all of them.  Except replace 'Tuscany' with 'the sticks outside Atlanta' and 'villa' with 'upside-down starter home'.  Oh, and I'd spend the rest of the evening trying to kick my own ass if the word 'redolence' ever crossed my lips.

Point being, it's all too easy to make wine inaccessible to others.  Even the people out there trying to "demystify and take the snobbery out of wine" are slinging bullshit like "petrol on the nose".  In America, Riesling smells like gasoline, okay?  Often, we (yes, we, myself included) don't even realize the damage being done.  We've been taught by other "wine people", thus adopting- then passing on- bad habits that keep many at a  precautionary keg's length away from our wonderful beverage.

But, once in a while, I run across folks who I believe could get anyone to enjoy wine.  

After spending seemingly a few fleeting moments with Ben "Benito" Carter and Samantha Dugan in Memphis over the weekend, I knew there was hope for my surly disposition.  These two extraordinarily beautiful people-

Benito, the epitome of gracious and accomodating host, renaissance man extraordinaire, gastronome, elder statesman of wine blogging, and...

Samantha, a lovely, delightfully snarky, soulful as hell, heart-on-the-sleeve wine slinger, Champagne/Loire zealot, and damn fine writer-

well, they've done about the best job advancing wine that I've seen in a while.  There were no attempts to show off how much they knew about the subject matter.  No wacky descriptors.  Absolutely zero "snobbery", if I may overuse an overused word in this context.  

Standing in for the unpleasantries were:  storytelling, jokes, endless conversation (lacking any sort of pretense, or filters for that matter)... there was downright conviviality.  And food and wine on the table. Bringing people together.  It's a hackneyed theme around these parts, but one so important to the advancement of the beverage I love, nay, to the advancement of humankind in general...

Maybe that's a simple prescription to the woes of the world, but I've never seen a bottle of wine and some good food not bring folks together.  And, once we start talking to each other again, we get back to true 2-way communication.  Whether that be in-person, or via the virtual villages of Facebook, Google+, blogging circles, etc., our genuine conversing with one another harkens back to a time of community.  People would gather to tell stories, share ideas, collaborate, and enjoy the comfort of the herd.  Community satisfies basic human needs, and too often we shun these needs in the name of convenience and efficiency.

A bottle of wine, a bowl of bread, and wonderful people are the telltale signs of communion.  And I'm damn honored to have these two as a part of it, as our conversation will no-doubt continue and grow through the amazing technology we have at our fingertips...

...provided those fingertips are clasped around a glass of fermented grape juice.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Open a Wine Bottle


I don't think I can explain it any better than this video.  Kudos to neighbor Van Burin for sourcing this one.



Personally, if I had that sweet pony tail and smoldering intensity, I would have karate-chopped the top of the bottle right off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This Used to be Easy




Used to sit down at this now-overburdened laptop and bang out some drivel about how the A-Team is a perfect metaphor for the four most noble grape varieties of Alsace.  

Riesling, the ring-leader and mastermind of Alsace's vinous fame.  Some might say the ranking officer.  Assertive but balanced, smart and thought-provoking, and prone to aging well.  A regular Col. John Hannibal.  That handsome devil.

Pinot Gris, the full-bodied muscle of Alsace.  B.A. Baracus, perhaps?  Don't know if it hates flying, though.  But I'll have to admit that Pinot Gris has knocked me on my ass before.

Muscat, a smooth and aromatic experience.  Suave.  Just like Templeton Peck, aka, "Face"

And, of course, there's bat shit-crazy Gewurztraminer.  Smells sweet, often tastes dry.  A brilliant and polarizing mind-bender of a wine.  Call it "Howling Mad" Murdock in my book.

--

Piece of cake.  "Tell me about Alsace," folks might've said.  People on the streets.  Everyone wants to know Alsace.

"No sweat.  You like the A-Team?  No?  Okay, let's work with the fact that you're wearing that Oingo Boingo t-shirt.  See, Danny Elfman is a lot like Riesling..."

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


Wondering if it's writers' block.  Possibly.  Not much time to write.  Or even think about writing.  Such can be life for the swinging international playboy that is a marketing goon for a wholesale distributor of air conditioning products.

But I think "writers' block" is a lazy and convenient excuse.  Rather, I'm starting to think that when dealing with a subject so vast, generalization gets tough.

Wine is a rabbit-hole.  It keeps going.  One's pursuits- real obsessive pursuits- of wine appreciation must be similar to what Lewis & Clark felt when they crested the highest point of the Rockies... only to see more, endless land.  "Where's the damn ocean, already?"  Of course, when dealing with wine, rather than getting dysentery from a pre-pasteurization expedition, you get a tasty beverage and perhaps a little buzz.  

Okay, sometimes you get dysentery too.  Stay away from wines sold at gas stations or on the Denny's wine list.  Everyone knows a "Grand Slam" breakfast goes better with beer anyway.  'Cause we all know you're hungover.

Here's the point, I think:  I don't want to scare anyone away from wine, because it really is wonderful.  Oversimplification might do the subject matter a disservice, and complicating what is- essentially- a food product with tons of geeky facts and oh-so-awful descriptions of aromas and flavors can do even more damage.  As soon as people are stressed out by the beverage that is meant to relieve stress, I believe they're going to stick with what's comfortable- be that the same wine over and over again, or the reliable 12-pack of domestic brew.

So, to those still reading:  thanks.  I'm working on it.

And yes, Alsace wine is much more than a cast of characters from a particularly awesome 80's action drama.  But it ain't friggin' nuclear physics either.  And I think- now- you know that...

I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rainy California




Waking up to the sound of raindrops pattering on the roof is not something unusual... in the Southeast.

Napa Valley in early October?  Nothing I've ever seen before.  So much for "sunny California".  The rains came in last Monday, and save a couple breaks in the grey, held strong until Wednesday afternoon.  Being a jet-setter on holiday with expectations of warmth and solar rays, I was disappointed that an ample wardrobe of gaudy Tommy Bahama shirts and Magnum P.I.-style short-shorts stayed in the suitcase.

Despite my inability to showcase the gams, the opportunity to watch the wine industry react to a rainy harvest was fascinating.  As the veiled sun set over the Mayacamas ridge to the West and darkness fell over the valley, vineyards lit up with industrial-strength flood lights.  These were night picks, intended to collect the ripe grape clusters ahead of the rain (no matter what time in the evening or morning).

The conversation among the insiders was obsessively focused on brix- the sugar levels of the ripening grapes.  Was the brix high enough?  Are the acid and sugar levels in balance?  Have the seeds lignified (turned to brown, indicating phenolic maturity)?  Basically speaking, will the winemakers be working with ripe grapes?  Acid and sugar are in balance in a grape.  As acids fall, sugars rise.  At a certain point, enough sugar exists in each berry to provide enough food for yeasts to metabolize into alcohol during fermentation.  Furthermore, if skins, seeds, and stems are not yet at their peak, wines can end up tasting "green" and lacking fruit character.

So why not just let that fruit hang on the vine?  While it's possible that the grapes will swell with the additional water, resulting in diluted flavors in the grapes (I've heard this point contested by a respected grower), the bigger concern is rot.  With moisture (after a dry growing season) comes that very real potential.  Wine, especially that which relies upon the fruit of a single-vineyard, has no "do overs".  Losing a vintage and potentially millions of dollars of revenue, all on a gamble for riper grapes?  I think you'd rather see me in those short-shorts.  Barely.

Keep an eye out for the 2011 vintage from Northern California.  Sure, you won't see many of the wines for a couple years, but from knowing the raw materials, could we be tasting wines that are leaner, more acidic, and lower in alcohol?  Or will instincts, gutsy decisions, and winemaking magic protect the powerful wines that have put places like the Napa Valley on the map?

More importantly, as the consumer, which would you prefer?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Happy September! It's Oktoberfest (or, "Märzen to the beat of a different drum")




So, who speaks German here?  I was stuck looking at the moving map of mein flug, but didn't know where I had to go zurück to change the language back to English.

Basically, my finger slipped and defaulted the language on my Delta trivia screen to German.  Usually, 20 rounds of flight trivia would sooth the monotony of a 5-hour flight, but it appeared my efforts were kaput.  Especially since all I know how to say in German is "ist das eine schneeballkampf?"

"Is this a snowball fight?" usually doesn't accomplish much...

No matter.  Thanks to the magical fairies that had bestowed the wonder of web connection on flights, I had something to do.  Granted, while this was a perfect opportunity to disconnect from the world for a few hours, I was shoveling shekels over to the "GoGo In-Flight Internet" tycoons like a crackhead.  Said tycoons, of course, being metaphorical dealers of irresistible, delicious, and wholesome New York crack.

Furthermore, my schnitzer with the Delta screen reminded me to write about German stuff.  Or at least German-American stuff.

Oktoberfest is a lie!  Well, sort of.  Technically, in Munich (where the original festival is held), this brouhaha starts in late September, and runs through the first weekend of October (or through October 3- German Unity Day- if the weekend falls on the first two days of October).  So, the 16-18 days of revelry fall mostly in September.  Itching to get cocked on strong, Oktoberfest-style beer?  Tuck in two weeks earlier than you thought!  A bierleichen in hand is worth two passed out in the bushes, I always say.

["Bierleichen", for the record, literally translates to "beer corpses".  It's a term used to describe the many people who pass out from the relatively strong style of beer served during Oktoberfest]

Fortunately/unfortunately, these beers are particularly delicious.  Though generally referred to as "Oktoberfest" beer, a more appropriate name is Märzen (pronounced "Maer-tsen") or Märzenbier.  These brews were named as such as I read it because- back in the good ol' days of brewing in Bavaria- there was no brewing allowed during the summer months, for threat of fire (in a process that involves a lot of that).  Beers were stored in caves and cellars with ice cut from local frozen ponds to keep them cool.  Since the ice was usually available until March, this beer was brewed then, and put down until fall, around the time September/Oktoberfest was cranking.

Interestingly enough, "storage" in German is translated "lager", and the process by which theses beers are made- slower fermentation at cooler temperatures- has earned the namesake of one of the 2 most popular general designations of beer (the other, of course, being ales).  The great difference in fermentation time and temp has mostly to do with the yeasts used.  Lager yeasts actively metabolize fermentable sugar at lower temps, and over a longer period of time.  Ale yeast tend to be quicker and more haphazard.


Lagers are generally noted for their crisp, clean nature, and their maltiness over hoppiness (again, generally speaking).  Märzen-style tend to bring a little more heft than a Pilsener-style lager (think most big-box American beers).  The alcohol hovers around 6%, they are darker (though, can be made in a light-colored style), and have a really rich, caramel maltiness to them.  The bitterness and acidity of hops tends to be dialed down.  Think "Brown Ale" with more "brown" and less "ale".

Contrary to popular belief, the German beers (like the Paulaner and Spaten shown above) are no longer required to be brewed in observance of the Reinheitsgebot, or the German beer purity law of 1516.  However, many still do, if only for marketing purposes.  Or, so they can say a bad-ass word like "Reinheitsgebot".

But, even if you don't want to risk getting tongue-tied with the extraordinarily unsexy German language, you can still drink the beer.  Lots of American brewers make pretty swell versions of a Märzen-style Oktoberfest brew.  I'm particularly fond of Brooklyn Brewing's effort.  As I am of all their beers.  Which is funny, because out of all the types of delicious New York crack, Brooklyn is my least favorite.

In any case, if you want to get your bierleichen on as the weather cools, the rich, fortifying taste of these beers will not disappoint.  Unless "rich and fortifying" is not your thing...

Which makes you weird.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Manife(a)st Destiny


Heading out west for a few days (on the plane now). Could be trying to clear my head. Maybe I'm seeking inspiration (evidenced by sporadic posting lately). Perhaps I want to completely immerse myself in the wine of Northern California...

...or, an In-N-Out Burger hankering festered to such strength that I hopped on a plane in the name of "Animal Style".

It'd be pretty embarrassing to admit that...

...

...

...crap, did I just hit 'publish'??! Dammit. Anyway, hope to keep everyone updated on some cool stuff on the FB page. Food porn and whatnot.

Sláinte!
Joe

Friday, September 23, 2011

Uncle Ben's a Jerk (or, "how I screwed up the rice")




"Perfect every time" my ass.

 Okay, okay. I should give Mr. Uncle Ben a break. He's a perpetually smiling, static brand. Uncle Ben has never done anything to me besides look friendly and provide me with cheap sustenance to fill the "meat-sized but can't afford meat, so carb-sized" hole in my life.

I had a tight chicken & sausage jambalaya in the works. How tight? I can't say here, but watch the first episode of the new season of Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That tight.

It wasn't a totally traditional recipe. I usually like to add some Tasso, but bacon in hand is worth two bacons at the store. Besides, jambalaya seems to be one of those dishes that's sort of open to interpretation. Start with a base of the trinity (celery, onion, and green pepper), garlic, add some pepper, some sausage (in this case, fresh andouille, as opposed to the more traditional smoked andouille), chicken thighs (or turkey), sometimes tomatoes, sometimes seafood (I threw in a pound of lump blue crab meat), some herbs, and a bit of stock. Finally, add rice, kill the heat in your giant cast iron pot, lid, and wait about 25 minutes for the rice to steam and absorb all the goodness that comes from a marriage of pork fat, stock, and vegetable juices.

...

But I bungled it. Not Uncle Ben. I should've followed his recipe, but I did my own math. And I ended up with crunchy rice. And- boy- crunchy rice really, REALLY ruined this dish. @#$!^@*@#!!!



Monday, September 19, 2011

The Argument for Temperance




"Uh oh."

It's the immediate visceral reaction when one's eyes open for the first time in the morning, realizing that the previous night's consumption had spiraled out of control. Like, "Irish Wake" out of control. The mouth full of cotton. The stinky kitten breath. Roiling guts and Manny Pacquiao using my skull as a speed bag. Where did I go awry, and why am I wearing this potato sack and 6-inch pumps?

Hangovers, fortunately, are a rare occurrence these days. I think the drinking/hangover continuum is a self-correcting one. As the human body ages; as kids come along; as the opportunity to lay in bed until mid-afternoon fades into pipe-dreams of the college days, the scales that were formerly skewed heavily to shots all-around begin to balance. Back then, knock back a bloody mary, a plate of fried eggs, bacon, and copious amounts of gravy, and back in business. These days, the bottle of vodka in the cabinet had to be tossed to make room for formula and multi-vitamins. And, everyone knows a hearty bowl of oatmeal is better for one's cholesterol. It's the sensible solution to a good morning. Oh yeah, and you feel like death... after a bender.

According to a particularly half-assed search on the internet, the cause of the hangover is generally unknown. Fusel alcohol, a general byproduct of fermentation, is rumored to be a culprit.  In red wines, significant presence of tannins- which contain histamines- can cause allergy-like symptoms that may contribute to hangovers.  Some say to drink liquor first.  Funny how consuming something that's 40% alcohol on average doesn't start me off on the good-foot.

The most generally-accepted cause of pain is dehydration.  Alcohol is a well-known diuretic, inhibiting the body's production of AVP, which- as basically as I can read- helps the kidneys retain water in the system.  With the AVP production blocked by alcohol, the kidneys filter out water (causing all that pee), thus, dehydration.  Thus, the headaches caused by said dehydration.  And I don't think I have the energy to look up the science behind that.  Help me out, doctors.

So, if you're going to get crunk, drink lots of water.  Like, twice as much water as alcoholic drinks.  Mix 'em in.  It won't dilute the absorption of alcohol in your system, but the water will offset the affects of dehydration.

But more importantly, unless you're Andre the Giant, don't drink 4 bottles of wine.  Keep it reasonable, and you should feel okay the next morning.

If you ARE Andre the Giant, thank you so much for stopping by the blog.  We hardly knew ye...


Friday, September 16, 2011

A Simple Food Product




"Wine... is a condiment."

It's a phrase that was once echoed to me by a friend; passing along the wisdom of an Italian vintner he knew.  Call it a reaction to the American view of what is- essentially- a bottle of spoiled grape juice.  So, why are we so inclined to put wine on a pedestal?

Between the esoteric labels, the cork-pull, the all-too-particular glassware, the pomp & circumstance of the tasting process, and- dammit, man- the ridiculous aromatic and taste descriptors...

... well, I can see why the beer-drinkers probably want to kick our asses.  Hell, I want to kick my own ass sometimes, but I just can't get a good angle on it.  I'm working on my flexibility.

When boiled down to the essentials, wine is a combination of water, alcohol, acid, (sometimes) sugar, and a handful of phenolic compounds.  It's a food product, like bread.  Or cheese.  Or tacos.  Delicious tacos.

Or, in the case of this particular Italian winemaker, it's equivalent to lowly ketchup.  Wine belongs on the table, with the olive oil, the salt, the bread.  It's simply... there.  Part of the meal; not something to obsess over, analyze, probe with our noses, and- worst of all- to misuse as a means to exclude and belittle others.

Such a simple notion is easy to lose amidst the deluge.  I think we all get caught up a bit in trying to impress our friends; to show off a coveted label; to showcase our sensory prowess with a cascade of descriptors... "rose hips", "under-ripe Fuji apple", "delicious tacos".  At least I do.  And- to that end- I'm still working on that flexibility, to kick my own ass.  It's hard.

In the meantime, there is an alternative exercise.  Once in a while, I'll go buy an inexpensive bottle, and one that is often cheaper than I'm comfortable with drinking.  I bring it home, open it up, pour the entire contents of the bottle into a pitcher, and drink it out of juice glasses with some food.  While avoiding the swirl and the sniff, and the obsessing over what the label means (or how many focus groups it took to decide on the highly-marketable packaging), I can just drink.  I can strip away everything, and have wine, simply wine, as part of the meal.

And it's usually pretty damn good that way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back into the fray, atop a wobbly-kneed ruminant mammal of unusual size



A lot of folks have been asking where I've been the past few weeks.

No one's really been asking.  My mom asked why I haven't called.  I talked to her yesterday, but there's something ingrained in a mother to start each phone conversation with "why haven't you called?"

I can't blame mom, though.  It's an unconscious instinct for her to ask, like a baby dolphin knowing to rise to the ocean's surface for air, or how white trash folk can sniff out the finest crystal meth like pigs rooting out truffles.  I've seen it.  Well, I haven't seen it, but I'd like to think- one day- an enterprising young Kid Rock fan will find a bushel of delicious crystal meth with a glorious black truffle right on top, like the proverbial cherry crowning an ice cream sundae.  But with more hives and tooth loss...

Or maybe that was just a dream I had.  And since when do they sell crystal meth by the bushel?  Yes, you've caught me in a lie.  I have no idea of the standard weights and measures of lab-created controlled substances.  Chalk that good sense up to Nancy Reagan.

The point is:  when a moose gets drunk on a bunch of half-rotten, fermenting apples in Sweden, the interweb is telling me it's time to get back on the horse, or the drunken moose.  There's far-too much booze-induced brouhaha on this great planet deserving of commentary.  Innately, without thought or reservation, I'm compelled by a primal drive to weigh in.  Call it "instinct".

So, as far as a moose cow getting cocked on cider and finding itself stuck in a tree goes:

I'm for it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From Cramming to Lazing.



















...

Reasons why someone would do a very poor job maintaining a blog about wine:
  • Computer broke; blew new computer money on wine.
  • Illitterit.  Ilitteritt.  Illiterat.  Illiterate.
  • Does not like wine; prefers Tahitian Treat.
  • Lack of hands (argument supported by the dearth of Pirate blogs and blogs written by snakes).
  • Stuck in prison.  Pruno tasting-notes becoming tiresome.
  • James Suckling.
  • Got addicted to Franzia "Chillable Red" a while back.  Spends evenings getting swacked on Franzia "Chillable Red".
  • Other online opus- a Gravy Vlog- is where bread is buttered.
  • Ate a bad clam or something.
Unfortunately, none of these fit my situation.  I did- one time- ogle some gravy vlogs while drinking a cocktail of Tahitian Treat and Chillable Red.

It happened more than once...

Anyway, with my testing situation in complete limbo, I suppose it's back to writing.  Ridden this "cramming" crutch into the ground.  Back soon.