Monday, August 31, 2009

Once a ..... wines

I once heard from Andrea Immer (Master Sommelier, and host of Fine Living's "Simply Wine") that every wine fan should have a wine in their home that is for once a day, once a week, once a month, once a year, and once in a lifetime. I really like this approach. As your wine collection grows (trust me, if you get into this at all, your collection WILL grow), you need ways to organize it. This is a good way to get things somewhat separated. I want to briefly give examples of the types of wines that I have for each of these occasions. Hopefully this will help you think about your next purchase a little more than simply whats on the label, or what you felt like buying that day.

Once a day-
These are also called the "everyday drinkers". This is the wine that you can sit there, eating pizza, watching CSI, and not feel bad about opening it. Depending on your financial situation, these bottles can be from $10 and under to much more (I have a doctor friend that drinks $40 and $50 bottles almost daily. I can't afford that.) I recommend buying wines like this by the case if you can, as most stores will give you a case discount. I also recommend having a case of white and a case of red, to fit most occasions. The wine that I have for this right now is the 2007 Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya- a delicious Spanish monastrell that goes with just about everything. You can get it for about $10 retail. I also usually keep some bottles of Crios Torrontes (white wine option) around as well.

Once a week-
This is the wine that you will open when you are thinking a bit more about what to pair it with, and who you're drinking it with, but you still aren't going to beat yourself up over it too badly. Simply because of my wife's preferences, I usually consider a bottle of bubbly, or a decent bottle of riesling to fit the bill here. Consider bubbly from Gruet or Feuillatte, and maybe riesling from Monchhof, Von Hovel, or Dr. Thanisch. These will usually cost a bit more, maybe in the $20 to $30 range.

Once a month-
This is where you really start to see divisions in what people collect, and are willing to open. I'm a huge fan of well made California cabs, and will pop a $50 or $60 once a month. My favorite labels are Larkmead, Snowden, and Ramey. I also have friends that will bust out $200 once a month. Do what you can, but make sure it's something that you consider "nice"! After all, this is just fermented grapes that we're talking about, and they do you no good if they stay in the bottle.

Once a year-
This usually takes some planning. These are wines that typically age a little bit better, and you are probably only going to pull out on an anniversary, birthday, etc. The example that I have is a 2007 Clos de Papes Chateauneuf. This is a respectfully expensive bottle of wine (probably $120 to $150 retail), and it is nowhere near drinking age yet. I will likely keep this bottle for several years, and open it at a special occasion. It will be my "once a year" wine for that year. This year, we opened a 1995 Cos D'Estournel for our 6th anniversary, which was also the wine that we drank on our first. These are the types of wines that I'm talking about...something special, and meant for a semi-momentous occasion.

Once in a Lifetime-
These are the wines that you can't replace. I will never be able to replace the 1977 Taylor Fladgate that my friend and restaurant management mentor gave to me, that we opened when we bought our first house. Nor will I be able to replace the 1978 Richebourg that we opened when my nephew was born. Often these wines are given to you, or bought for your for a specific reason. Right now, I have a 1997 Grange that a friend of mine gave us for our wedding. He instructed us to open it on our 10th anniversary, which I'm going to do. These are the wines that make your palms sweat, your heart beat a little faster, and your hands shake when you open them, because you don't want to mess it up. They are also a lot of fun, and you had damn sure better share the occasion with a loved one, family, or friends.

So go out, buy a case of everyday drinkers, a bottle to drink this weekend, and start thinking about the monthly, yearly, and lifetime wines.


Friday, August 28, 2009

My first time...

Life is full of firsts. Your first steps, words, bike, car, kiss, sex, scar, stitches, wedding, and job with a paycheck are all things that you or others will remember in vivd detail. I want to relive one of these firsts with you all. If my parents or pastor are reading this right now, they should probably stop reading here. That's right, I'm going to tell about the first time I shall I put this...overserved? I overconsumed? Hell, let's just call it what it was- drunk.
Disclaimer time- I in NO WAY endorse underage drinking, or irresponsible drinking for those of age. The law says 21, so to drink before then is illegal. If you are 21 or over, please don't drive drunk. I have a family member that is dealing with serious repurcussions of that very act right now.
Okay, back to the story. It was the summer between 8th and 9th grades, and I spent almost every waking minute with my friends Brett, Greg, and Jason (I won't use their last names, but if you knew us in high school, you know exactly who I'm talking about). Brett had a dangerous combination of a walk-out furnished basement, parents who went to bed early, and a brother who had access to alcohol. His brother got us each a two liter bottle of Purple Passion. Yes, the stuff that tastes just like Welch's grape soda, and is made by the same folks that make Everclear. I had drunk a beer before, and tasted schnapps, but this was it- this was the night we were going to prove we were invincible. We loaded up our luke-warm bottles of Purple Passion, and headed to the creek that crosses Lackman at about 83rd street in Lenexa, KS. Gulp, gulp, burp, burp, giggle, giggle, we each finished our two liter. Now at the time, I didn't realize that it takes a little while for alcohol to get into your system and do its nasty work. We walked back to Brett's house, sneaked in the back door, and all passed out on his floor. In the middle of the night, I woke up with cotton mouth, a searing headache, nausea, and I had to use the bathroom badly. Since the basement was pitch black and I was not in a good state of mind, I was having trouble remembering where the bathroom was. As I stumbled around, someone else heard me and flipped on the lights. When they did, I was face to face with some gnarly looking dude. After screaming at the top of my lungs in surprise and falling backwards, I realized that the person staring at me I was looking in a mirror. I did my business, and fell back asleep on the floor.
I have never been able to lie. Just ask my parents or my wife. Oh, I have tried, but just could never do it very well. Plus, I have always had a guilt complex that makes me beat myself up over any wrongdoing. At any rate, the next day my mother noticed that I was eating advil like candy, drank every ounce of orange juice in the house, and was in a bad mood. She knew exactly what was going on. To their credit, my parents didn't take an alarmist stance, but rather gave me a talk that went kind of like:
"How do you feel"
"Are you going to do it again?"
"Okay. Now, go mow the lawn."
I will say that I pretty much held to that promise throughout high school. I just wasn't much of a drinking guy- plus, we had to sign the contracts for sports saying that we would be kicked off the team if we got got with alcohol or drugs. Looking back that was the first, and last, time I have ever drank Purple Passion- which is a good thing. As for being inebriated, there have "allegedly" been other incidents since then, but everyone remembers their first!

More Random Facts:

I have had pet cats, an iguana, scorpions, snakes, fish, geckos, and dogs (including a deaf pitbull named Zeus, although he didn't know his name because he was deaf.)

My first girlfriend was Jennifer Kaufman, in Littleton, CO. We went worm hunting in the gutters.

I can't stand Celine Dion

I have never smoked weed, or taken any illegal drug

If I could choose another profession, I would want to be a country singer or a stand up comedian.

Cheers, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Italian Wine Primer

Whenever people starts seriously studying wine, there are two sections of the world that normally give them problems: Italy and Burgundy. On Thursdays, I'm going to start a series where I discuss Italy in a systematic manner, and try to break it down into bite-sized pieces. Maybe I'll attempt Burgundy after that.
Why is Italy so hard? Well, besides the fact that the wine industry is governed by a legal system that seems to change with the wind, there is also the fact that there are almost 1 million registered vineyards, spread over 20 regions, that produce over 1000 distinct grape varietals from areas that cover every imaginable geography. To give you a small amount of vocabulary to work with, Italian wines are broken into a couple of quality levels- Vino di Tavola, IGT, DOC, and DOCG. Let's loosely assume that as the latter wines are better than the former wines, but remember that there are many, many exceptions to this rule. As for the 20 wine regions, let's start with the big ones.
Piedmont is in the Northwestern corner of Italy, and as it's name suggests (meaning "foot of the mountain"), it is a rocky, rough area. It is the largest of Italy's inland regions, but due to its steep geography a bulk of the land is not useful for growing grapes. The vineyards are dominated by three main grapes- Nebbiolo and Barbera (red), and Moscato (white).
Nebbiolo is the main grape in the famous Piedmontese wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. These are some of the most age-worthy wines in the world, and can have flavors that will haunt you forever. They are intense, with high acidity, dusty cherry flavors, and absolutely stunning. If the intensity of these wines (or their atmospheric price tags) makes you nervous, try the straightforward Barbera. These wines tend to have a much softer edge, are ready to drink now, and are a bit more fruit-driven.
If I'm ever in the dog house with the wife, one way that I might attempt to patch things up (besides pleading, cleaning, walking the dogs, washing the car, cooking dinner, and letting her have the remote) is to bring home a Moscato d'Asti. The moscato grape is a soft, often slightly sweet grape that is somtimes served a bit frizzante (bubbly). These wines show delicate peach and floral flavors, low alcohol, and are generally able to be guzzled by the gallon due to how refreshing they are.
Of course, this doesn't cover all of the wines made in Piedmont, but just a handful. You can also find Dolcetto (a light bodied red with flavors that border on bubble-gummy),and Gavi (made from the white grape Cortese) and Arneis, which are wonderful white wines with a fantastic mineral edge. Also, don't forget Asti Spumanti, the slightly sweet, foamy bubbly wine popular with those that don't want to spring the $$ for Champagne.
I hope this gives you a small insight into the wonderful world of Italian wine. For today's suggestion, go take out a second mortgage, and buy some Barolo from a producer like Sandrone or Aldo Conterno, especially if you can find some of the 2004 vintage. Put the wine on its side in your basement, and drink it 10 years from now. You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You can Gruet

A couple weeks ago, while blathering on about bubbly wines, I mentioned that my favorite producer of American sparkling wine is Gruet. I will be out working the market with the regional rep from Gruet today, so I just wanted to talk a little more in detail about the winery.
In the early 80's, a guy named Gilbert Gruet was travelling around America, looking for a place to grow some grapes. He already had the knowledge on how to make Champagne, as he had been running Gruet et Fils in France since the 50's. He happened upon the area of Truth or Consequences, NM (about 170 miles south of Albuquerque) and found the perfect little microclimate for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Based on his findings, he started the Gruet winery, and handed the keys over to his son Laurent.
There are a couple of things that make the area perfect for growing these grapes. First of all, the vineyards lie at about 4200 feet above sea level. This means that the grapes can cool down at night, after extremely hot days, thus prolonging the maturation period. Also, the area has almost no humidity to speak of, which takes away the problem of grape rot/mold. Finally, the climate doesn't allow for many bugs, so the grapes can be grown without pesticides.
The winery makes several wines, but I'm really a fan of their entry-level wines, each costing less than $20 retail:
NV Blanc de Noir-
made from 75% pinot noir, and 25% chardonnay, this wine has just enough breadiness to keep it interesting, while adding some of the raspberry, citrus, and almond notes that I love in bubbly.

NV Brut-
made from 75% chard, and 25% Pinot, this one is for the sparkling wine lover that is really looking for the bready, yeasty characteristics that give it a full-blown body

NV Rose-
Again, made predominately from Pinot, the rose drinks dry, but is like eating a bowl of mixed berrries. I had some last night, cooled almost to the point of freezing, and my wife kept grabbing my glass to steal a sip!

NV Demi-Sec-
Just a touch sweet, this is my wife's favorite. Think flavors of ripe green apples, and tropical fruits. It's just flat out refreshing!

Well, that should give you enough to think about for dinner tonight!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sake To Me...

This afternoon, I will be presenting sake to one of the great sushi restaurants in town. It occured to me that sake is one of the more misunderstood items in the adult beverage world. Consider this your "Cliff Notes" version of what this stuff is all about.
The basics are that Sake is made from four ingredients: Rice, Water, Yeast, and a mold called Koji. As for production, Sake is much more like beer than it is wine. The first step is that the outer husk of grains of rice (which contain lipids and protein) are polished betweeen two large abrasive disks. This exposes the central core of the grain, which is composed of carbohydrates. This ground down rice is then made in to a mash with water, and a powder of koji mold is sprinkled on top. Over time, the koji breaks the complex carbohydrates in the rice mash down into glucose. Again, much like beer, yeast is added to the mash. The yeast breaks it down, resulting in alcohol. Water is added, the liquid is filtered, and then you have sake.
Sake is broken down into quality levels, the bulk of it being "futsu" or "table sake". This is the stuff that you drank in your dorm room, or you drank heated up at the crappy sushi restaurant a couple of years ago. The upper end of premium sake (representing about 25% of the total sake production in the world) is divided into two sides. The word that you want to look for is "Junmai". This means "Pure". Sakes that don't have this designation have been "cut" with brewer's alcohol and water in order to make them stretch the production. The quality levels of Junmai Sake are Ginjo, Honjozou, and Daiginjo. These quality levels are determined by the amount of husk that has been polished away. The more of it that has been taken off, the higher the quality level (and cleaner the taste). Again, these represent the upper echelon of sake, and can sometimes rival california cabernets in their pricing.
If you are afraid of sake, based on the movie scenes with drunk japanese guys throwing back shots of it, don't be. In fact, most sakes ring in around 15-17% alcohol, which is the same as a stiff wine. The taste profiles of sake tend to be in the nutty and citrus range, with nigori (unfiltered sake that still has small portions of rice solids left in it) sake being a little sweeter. One recommendation is to buy sake from Japan. There are less expensive versions from California, and Oregon, but I have tried many of get what you pay for. Keep in mind that just because a bottle has Japanese writing on it, doesn't mean it's from Japan! If in doubt, ask the folks at your local retailer.
In light of all this, go out and try the "Living Jewel" and the "Snow Maiden" sakes from the Tozai Brewery in Japan. You can find these at most local retailers, and should cost you around $15 for a 720 ml bottle. Chill the bottles down, and enjoy out of a white wine glass.


Monday, August 24, 2009

A word about malbec

As I was grilling both Saturday and Sunday this last weekend, it really brought to my mind food and wine pairings for grilled meats. I have mentioned before that my favorite wine to drink with a big slab of grilled dead cow is Malbec. I want to just talk about Malbec briefly, and give a little bit of nerdy information.
If you have paid much attention to the wine section of your local liquor store or restaurant lately, you have undoubtedly noticed that wines from South America are on the surge. In fact, this is one of the only sectors in the wine industry in America that actually grew in 2008. The grape that is truly becoming the king on the scene in Argentina is Malbec. This "new Merlot" is on the rise because it is easy to pronounce, easy to drink, and you can get some stellar examples for relatively short money. This wine didn't get its beginnings in Argentina however, but rather in France. It is still considered one of the 5 noble grapes of Bordeaux, and is also grown in the Loire Valley and the Cahors, where it is known as "Cot". It is starting to be produced in California and mediterranean areas in some quantity.
The geography of Argentina has really helped out in the development of quality, inexpensive Malbec. You see, Argentina has the largest concentration of high altitude vineyards in the world. Whereas an altitude upwards of 1600 feet in Europe is considered the upper limit of where you can grow grapes, Argentina has a plethora of vineyards that are between 3000 and 6000 feet above sea level. I have even heard of one at 9000 feet! These high altitudes allow the grapes to have a longer hang time, thus developing physiological ripeness. However, they don't gain the huge jumps in sugar (resulting in high alcohol levels) that would occur with these long hang times at lower levels. These high vineyards also require irrigation, which means that the vines are a bit stressed and results in better grapes. One major problem with these vineyards on an annual basis is hail. This is why you don't see very many single-vineyard wines from Argentina as the vintners don't want to risk their annual production on one vineyard that might get wiped out by a single storm.
Malbecs from this region have come onto the wine drinking scene in full force over the last few years. In fact, almost all well-thought wine programs at restaurants carry a couple of Malbecs on their list, and usually one by the glass. The taste profile of this grape is remeniscent of Merlot, with the plummy, blueberry notes. I also tend to get a smokiness out of a lot of them (thus making it a no-brainer to pair with steaks), and sometimes a dried-tobacco component.
My suggestions for Malbecs run the price range gamet, ranging from $10 retail to around $35. Look for labels from Crios, Familia Zuccardi, Santa Julia, Susana Balbo, Luca, Tikal, Mapema, Budini, Decero, and Ben Marco.

Until tomorrow, Cheers- may the sunshine be on your face, and the wind at your back.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The "Ah Ha" moment

In every wine lover's life, there is a moment when they taste a wine, and it all clicks. You take a drink of a particular glass, and you just go "Ah Ha. That's what all the hype is about!" This is the moment where you realize that Yellow Tail out of a plastic cup just isn't going to cut it anymore. You have been spoiled, ruined, tarnished. You have tasted the good life. It's like flying in first class for the first just will never be the same. Be warned, what you consider to be "acceptable" just took a jump in price point. Once it happens, you will be a snob (especially about that particular wine).

For me, it happened at a table at the Wildwood Inn in Denton, Texas. I was working there as a waiter on the weekends. The owner of the Inn was a guy named Rick Moore, and he was truly a great guy to work for. Rick wanted his small waitstaff to really be fans of wine- his list only had about 65 selections, and it was truly world class. After each shift, he would let us buy any wine off the list at wholesale cost, as long as we drank it there and put our notes/impressions in a notebook for all the staff to read. Since I had another full time job and I was just doing this one for fun, it was nothing for each of us to throw $20 in, and buy some cool stuff.

The wine on this particular night was the 1998 Wolf Blass Black Label. This is a blend of mostly Cabernet, with a touch each of Shiraz and Merlot. It was also the winner of the prestigous Jimmy Watson Trophy, which is awarded to the single best one-year-old red wine in Australia. When we would taste wines, we would often compare them to celebrities. A smooth wine that is just a bit sappy would be a "Harry Connick". A wine that is a bit old and rustic, but you still like it even though you don't know why would be a "Willie Nelson". You get the idea. At any rate, this particular wine was the only wine that I EVER labeled as "Frank Sinatra". It was smooth, cool, full of power, and everything I wanted in a wine on that particular moment. It might have even had blue eyes, I'm not sure. My friend Ronnie Bass (whom was in my wedding, and I will talk about sometime else) just wrote "Damn" in his tasting notes.

The epiphany wine is a blessing and a curse. Once it blindsides you, things will never be the same. I would love to hear from some of the followers of this blog as to what yours was.

My wine suggestion for this weekend isn't likely to cause you to rethink the world, but it is really tasty. It's the 2007 Hey Mambo White, a blend from California of Viognier, Muscat Canelli, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc. The label is cheap looking, and cheesy, but the wine has really nice honeysuckle, lavender, and green apple notes that will go perfectly on your back deck. Enjoy!

Until next time, Cheers, and GO SOX.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


No wine blog today, just please send your thoughts and prayers toward my father, whom is having surgery to rid his body of prostate cancer today. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anatomy of a Staycation

Over the course of the last 6 days, I have discovered the benefit of a Staycation. If a vacation is where you vacate, then I figure a staycation is where you stay around. That's right, burn a few vacation days by staying at home, resting, relaxing, getting stuff done, and enjoying the city you live in. However, I have to give you a couple of tips before embarking on such a noble venture.

First of all, your body won't be ready for a staycation. I had these visions of sleeping in every day, but said visions were shattered at 7:14 am on Thursday, when my body (and subsequently my dogs) told me that it was time to "rise and shine, morning glory". Ugh.

Second of all, just because you are on staycation, the rest of the world doesn't stop for you. You will still get phonecalls from work, even though you are explicit on your voicemail that all work-related matters should be called in to some unsuspecting sap at your office. This realization came at 12:15 on Thursday. Also, these phonecalls might contain bad news, thus resulting in ordering another pint of Bud Select at Syberg's (you can drink beer at lunch on a fact, it's mandatory).

Speaking of eating lunch out, one tip for a staycation is to grocery shop beforehand. Since you are trying to somewhat save money in this situation, hitting lunch hour on your first day with nothing in the fridge won't help.

Another thing discovered on my experiment is that one goes through waves of complete slothfulness, and activity. Yes, I did hook up the old Nintendo and played Super Mario Brothers. I also got bored, got on Craigslist, bought an olympic weight set, and used it- twice!
Despite your best intentions, you won't get everything done that you want to on Staycation. That's okay, it's kid of the beauty of the thing. (Speaking of, does anyone want to mow my lawn?) There are many things that will get in the way- changing the oil, the Price is Right, spying on neighbors, and the "Big F"....Facebook.

Finally, just enjoy it. It's cheaper than going anywhere, and you can actually get your batteries recharged.

No wine reco today, I'm back at work and have to get something done!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How does your job "work"?

I get asked this every once in a while. "Do you just drive around, drinking wine all day?". Yes. Stupid questions get stupid answers.
In one of my first blog posts, I talked about some of the reasons people may not want to get into wine distribution. Today, I just want to go over the nuts-n-bolts of how things work. Here in Missouri we have a three-tier system: Supplier, Wholesaler, Retailer/restaurant. I work for a wholesaler. We buy approximately 700 differnet sku's (wines) from a couple of hundred wineries. Some of these wines come from suppliers that warehouse stock on multiple labels. For example, we buy a lot of are Argentinean wines from a company called Vine Connections. They have a portfolio that includes Crios, Ben Marco, Luca, etc. This sort of arrangement is common for imported wines. If the wines are domestic, we usually buy directly from the winery (for example Larkmead). Once we buy the wines, we keep them in our warehouse until we sell them to our customers. The normal "formula" for how wholesalers price wines is to take the FOB (what we paid for it), add shipping (usually about $6/case), and divide by .7. This means that a case that we paid $120 we will likely sell for $180. Of course, there are all kinds of exceptions to this rule, which I won't get into here.
I personally have a list of about 70 active accounts which are both retailers (places like Wine Chateau, Wine and Cheese Place, Friar Tuck) and restaurants (such as Niche, Frazers, Scape, Sidney St. Cafe, etc). Because we are a small company, if a new restaurant or retailer is opening, it's basically open game. Whomever gets there first get to sell to them. I then visit my accounts, hopefully at the same time on the same day each week to build consistency, and try to sell them wine. Just like any other sales situation, there are several different approaches that salespeople take. I have never been much of a "hard sell" guy. I can do it, but I'm much more into building relationships for the long haul. I would much rather sell someone a case a week for the next year than 50 cases today, never to talk to them again. I accomplish these sales by pulling samples of the given wine that I want to sell to them, and tasting them on it. (Here's a hint- come over to my house the evening after I sample an opening restaurant on a bunch of stuff...there will be plenty of leftover wine to drink!)
Once my customer buys the wine, it's up to them on how to sell it. I will often do retail tastings, where I buy a open a couple of bottles at a store, and offer samples to entice customers to buy some. I also do staff trainings at restaurants so the bartenders, waitstaff, and managers know a little about the wines they have on their list. A retailer will typically sell a wine for which they paid $10 for about $13-$15 on the shelf. Restaurants usually sell the same wine for $26-$30. See my note on wines-by-the-glass, which are usually the worst deal at a restaurant! Most accounts are on 30 day terms, so it's in their best interest to sell the wine within 30 days of receipt. Missouri laws state that, if the account wants to return the wine more than 7 days after getting it, we have to fill out a State report and say why they are returning it. This keeps everyone from "fudging the numbers" on their books. If they do run across a bottle that is damaged, or corked, I have the ability to swap it out with a good bottle for them. Hopefully, they sell through the wine quickly, and order more for the next go-around!

That's it. It's really a simple concept that is used by most companies that sell consumable goods.

Today, I recommend that you go out and find a bottle of Gruner Veltliner. This is a wine from Austria, and will go great on these sultry days. It is normally unoaked, with crisp, clean, citrusy notes along with some minerality. There are examples everywhere from about $12 to $80, however much you want to spend.

Cheers! I'm going to go enjoy the last day of my "staycation"!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Screwcaps? Really?

Now that I am done reeling from the surprisingly risque Mad Men Season 3 premier, I can talk about wine. More specifically, I can talk about wine closures. If you walk down the wine aisle of any liquor or grocery store, you are likely to see that producers are increasingly using screwcaps to close the wines instead of the traditional cork. "Wait a second...aren't screwcaps just for cheap, crappy Riunite?" you may ask. Not anymore, my friend. Okay, then why are companies doing this? Certainly there is more romance involved with the popping of a cork than with the "pffft" sound that is similar to opening a Pepsi. Why the change? Well there are a couple of reasons.
Traditionally, wines were enclosed with natural cork. This comes by harvesting the wood from the outside layer of trees, and most of it comes from Portugal. There have been rumors circulating around the internet about a "cork shortage". However, the evidence that I have read basically says that there is plenty of cork, so that's not the reason. Also, there have been reports that harvesting the cork damages the trees. On the flip side, I have read that the trees have become acclimated to having the outer layers removed, and to stop this process would kill them. In all fairness, I haven't done enough research to put either argument out there in a manner that would create a good case, but this isn't the reason for the change.
The problem lies in a chemical called 2,4,6 trichloroanisole. We will call it TCA. This is a compound that is present in cork trees, that they get from certain kinds of allowable pesticides. As a result of small amounts of TCA in some trees, it natually will end up in some corks. When the affected cork comes in contact with wine, the TCA makes the wine smell funny. Some descriptions I have heard of the smell are "moldy basement", "wet newspaper", or "nursing home". I think it smells like a wet dog. The industry term for this is having a "corked" wine, or a wine with "cork taint". I have seen from my own experience that this happens in one of about every 20 bottles of wine. Think about this....this means that roughly 5% of the wines with natural cork that are hitting the market are bad. It doesn't matter what you are producing, if 5% of your product is going out the door defective, you would do something to fix it. There are some methods that people are trying, including bleaching the corks. In my opinion, this is putting something harmful (bleach) awfully close to something that you are about to drink (wine). Not good.

So, we have a bunch of wine bottles that need to be closed. Several solutions have come about. First of all are the synthetic corks, made of rubber or plastic. There are a couple of problems with these. They are incredibly hard to remove from the bottle, and God help you if you don't finish the bottle, that cork will not go back in! Another problem with the synthetics is that they don't allow the wine to breathe at all in the bottle. One benefit of natural cork is that is allows microscopic amounts of air to seep into the wine, which helps age it. Finally, they are a petroleum-based product, and producing these isn't exactly beneficial to our environment.

I have seen rubberized "zorks" that are easy to remove, but again- bad for the earth.

There are some wineries that are playing with glass enclosures. These are really cool- they keep a tight seal, and are easy to open and close. The problem here is that they are really expensive, and break easily.

Finally, we have screw cap enclosures, which solve several of the problems. You won't get a corked wine, since there is no cork involved. They allow tiny amounts of air into the wine, thus helping the ageing process. They are inexpensive to make, which helps your pocket book. Finally, bartenders and homes without corkscrews love them, as they are easy to open and re-close if needed.

All of this being said, I am still a fan of cork closures. My wife and I have a collection of "special" corks from our relationship. As I said before, there is a je nais se quois that comes with the popping of the cork that you don't get with screwcaps. It also remains to be seen as to how well screwcaps handle long-term ageing. I guess we'll see!

In the meantime, don't be put out if someone gives you wine with a screwcap enclosure. This is an increasingly acceptable thing to do, and doesn't mean you should drink the wine out of a paper bag!

Over the weekend, the Saint Louis Chapter of the Super Secret Double Probation Dining Club met, and I was reminded of a delicious appertif that is my recommendation for today...the Kir Royale. Go get yourself a bottle of inexpensive bubbly (American sparkling, Cava, Prosecco, etc will work just fine. Don't spend too much money on it though), and a bottle of Creme De Cassis or Chambord. Just mix one part Chambord to 5 parts cold bubbly, and enjoy- it's really refreshing!

Cheers, and have a great day!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My past lives...

One way to truly get a sense of someone is to look at the jobs that they have held in their lifetime. This post will serve as a timeline of my occupations, with a couple of brief notes on them.

Mowing Lawns-
Every pre-adolescent boy should have to do this

Laminating pool passes at the local rec center-
Ah, good ol' downtown Lenexa, KS. This was my first "real job". I made $2.90/hour, and spent my first paycheck on a pair of Nike Air Flights.

Caddy at Milburn Country Club-
Decent money for a 14 year old kid, plus I got to meet some celebrities (I was honored to meet the late Derek Thomas, before his accident took his life)

Performer for Party Animals-
Yes, I would dress up like cartoon characters, and do birthday parties, fairs, etc. Don't laugh, I used to make like $300/day doing it!

Host at TGIFriday's-
My first restaurant job. This is where I learned that managers would sleep with waitresses, and that cocaine actually exists...steep learning curve at this place!

Working the Pro Shop at Milburn-
This was quite possibly the easiest job that I have ever had. I moved golf carts, and drove the cart that picks up balls on the driving range. In fact, I just might go re-apply there again.

Waiting tables at Houlihan's-
My first waiting tables job. I still have nightmares about this place!

This takes us through high school, now on to College:

Bartender/waiter, Buzzard Billy's Armadillo Bar and Grillo, Waco, TX-
This place was absolutely nuts to work at. I'm certain future Friday posts will include stories from here.

Bartender, El Chico, Waco, TX-
After getting fired from Buzzard Billy's (my only time ever being fired), I worked here for a couple of months. It sucked- imagine that when you eat at one of these places your margarita was pre-mixed in a 50 Gallon drum!

Mobile Disc Jockey (also some office work), Complete Music, Manhattan, KS-
This was a great job that paid my way through K State. I actually sometimes wish I was doing this again- it was also a source of great foddor for Friday posts.

Mowing Lawns, Riley County School District, Junction City, KS
One summer's worth of work that provided me lots of stories!

Wilderness Instructor, Summit Adventure, Bass Lake, CA-
My summer job in college (and 7 months after), after I got my life straightened out a bit. Fantastic ministry, just didn't pay enough

Now on to post-college (let's see where my degree in Recreation Park Administration led):

Health Club Membership Sales, Lenexa, KS-
I only worked here for about 3 weeks, as it was the epitome of a "hard sell" situation. Trust me, these guys DO NOT have your health and well-being as their main concern.

Chick-fil-A, Corinth, TX-
I went from working behind the counter to General Manager of the place in less than 120 days. This is where I really started to hone my management skills.

HR Manager, Weathertrol Supply Company, Denton, TX
This was the best, and worst year of my life work-wise. I went from knowing almost zero about HR to being well versed in most aspects. My boss (who would later be my Father in Law) even admits that he "chewed me up and spit me out".

Waiter, Wildwood Inn, Denton, TX
I worked here on weekends, and this is where I really fell in love with wine.

Waiter/Manager, Smith and Wollensky, Denton TX and Boston, MA
This job led me to really fall in love with good food, and led us to Boston, which was fantastic.

Wine Sales, Ruby Wines, Boston, MA-
After working 70-80 hours a week, for very little money and never seeing my wife, I gave up the restaurant gig. This distributor took a chance on me, and provided me with a wine sales education that you can't buy. This was a fairly large company, with 38 sales reps, doing around $75M per year in sales.

Wine Sales, Premier Cru Wine Company, Saint Louis, MO-
Much smaller company, where I work now. Brought me and the wife back to the Midwest, for which I am grateful.

Long and boring, sorry about that...sometimes it's just fun to walk down Memory Lane, you know? Hopefully, you get a bit of a better sense of who I am, and where I come from. I firmly believe that a person should enjoy the work that they have. The average person spends about 100,000 hours working in their life time, they might as well have some fun doing it!

Until Monday, Cheers!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Banh Mi So 1

I was going to write a wickedly funny, witty, and prize-worthy post about something doing with wine today, but I have changed my mind. This is simply because my wife and I had one of the better meals we have had in a long time last night, and I want to tell you about it. As we pulled up in front of Banh Mi So, the first thing we noticed was the red neon sign proclaiming to have "The Best Spring Rolls in St. Louis". The gauntlet had been thrown down...were they really the best? Time would tell.
The interior of the restaurant is small, simple, and comfortable. It's the sort of place that you feel like you have been to before. There are only three employees that we saw- Mr. and Mrs. Truong (she cooks, he waits tables), and a kid that refills waters, runs food, etc. They are extremely friendly, and the pace of the restaurant is casual at best. Mr. Truong (I think his name is Thomas so that's what I will call him) was very helpful in explaining the menu, and overlooked my horrible pronunciation of the Vietnamese names of the food.
The first thing we got was an order of the Gui Cuon- these are the famous spring rolls. We chose the chicken ones. Simply put, these were the best I have ever had. There was just the right amount of meat, noodles, spice, and fresh basil, served with a slightly spicy fish sauce that slowly and comfortably builds heat over the course of the meal. Each bite of the spring rolls results in a fresh snap of flavor that I will soon be thinking about over every lunch hour.
The next course, which was my favorite, was the Banh Xeo. This is a fried crepe, folded in half, and filled with pork, shrimp, sprouts, and spice. It is served with a mound of fresh lettuce and basil- the process being that you cut off part of the crispy crepe, wrap the greens around it, and dip it in the fish sauce. The combination of textures, spices, and the fresh greens meeting the fried carbs was amazing. If I dream about the spring rolls during the day, I will pine after this piece of magnificence at night.
Our main courses came next. I got the Banh Mi Dac Biet, a sandwich with pork, pate, vietnamese ham, carrots, daikon, and jalapenos. One note- I got the "double meat", and it still wansn't huge (this isn't a "$5 footlong"). It tasted fresh and bursted with flavor. In the world, there is one major division amongst sandwich eaters- soft bread lovers, and crusty bread lovers. I find myself firmly in the soft bread camp. My only complaint about anything in the meal was that the bread was a bit too crusty for my liking. A firm soak in fish sauce took care of that, though. My wife got the Bun Bo Nuong Cha Gio, which was thin slices of charbroiled beef and cut up egg rolls, over thin noodles and fresh greens. Thomas instructed her to put "three spoons" of fish sauce in the dish to get the consistency right. Once again, it was a hit.
Dessert consisted of a sticky rice with corn and coconut milk- it had just enough sweetness to cure the need for such a dish. It doesn't look good, but trust me- once you tuck a spoon into it, you will finish the entire dessert. The "Vietnamese Iced Coffee" was prepared with precision (and loads of condensed milk), and complimented the dessert perfectly.
All in we got two apps, two entrees, two cokes, one dessert, and one coffee for $37 before tip. Not bad, eating like kings for less than $50!
I'm not going to tell you where this place is, because I don't want to have to stand behind you in line to get in. Look it up, find it, go there, and enjoy!

No wine suggestions today- I'm on vacation.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where to eat?

My wife and I go out to eat. A lot. This is just "our thing". Where other couples spend their money on vacations, golf, gambling, etc, we use our discretionary income to explore the dining scene in whatever town we live in. As a result, I am often asked "Where do you recommend for..." I would like to answer some of those questions with some of my favorite Saint Louis restaurants. If you work for/own a restaurant, and it's not on this list, I probably still like it. These are just what I recommend this particular morning!

A Glass of Wine-
33 wine bar. This is a great little spot in Lafayette Square with an amazing wine list. It's also owned by a guy that is quickly becoming a trusted friend, Jeff Stettner.

A cocktail-
Taste, the new concept next to, and owned by, Niche. Ted Kilgore makes a great drink in a cozy setting

A cocktail, away from the world-
The Hideaway. This is a dingy little neighborhood bar that you have probably driven by (near Hampton on Arsenal)...It has one of the better juke boxes in the city, and a blind piano player on Thursday nights.

A cocktail with a view-
Vin de Set. In my opinion, the coolest looking bar in the city

A cocktail with fancy people-
Eclipse. Cool vibe, lots of friends that work there, plus their roofdeck is a sweet view.

A cocktail with wacky people-
Venice Cafe. If you have ever been there, you know what I mean.

A great meal-
Niche. This is my place if I'm with serious food people. Gerard Craft is an amazing chef, and I have never been disappointed there

A Romantic meal-
Sidney Street Cafe. This is a great place with a mix of "old school" vibe, and "new school" cooking by Kevin Nashan.

A smiling face-
Wildflower. This is the place that you say "hey, I forgot about that really is good". Tracy and Phil Czarnec are two of my favorite people in the city, and they have decently priced, straightforward, good tasting food

Tex Mex-
Aracelia's (spelling?). This joint on Park has really good empanadas.

Real Mex-
Most people think Cherokee street, which is great. However, I like Lily's on Kingshiway. This place is like eating in the home of someone you know. I even ate goat there, and it was awesome.

Trattoria Marcella. Truth be told, the only time I eat on the Hill is if someone from out of town is visiting.

A fun dinner, with a good vibe-
Frazers. This is a place with great food, a friendly staff, and you can be noisy without getting dirty looks. One caveat- the chairs in the dining room are horribly uncomfortable.

Tani sushi bistro. In Clayton, this is the best I have tried so far. I haven't been to Miso yet, but need to try it out.

Steak, on the cheap-
Tuckers (Soulard). This is a place with a decent steak, old school charm, and a crappy wine list- drink beer.

Blues City Deli. Vince over there is incredibly nice, and his sandwiches are amazing.

Brazilian food-
Yemanja. Don't let the comfortable vibe fool you, it's possible to spend some serious money in here, but it's worth it! Real Brazilian food, not one of the "eat meat til you're dead" places.

Pappy's. Hands down, there is no other.

Casual Lunch-
Veritas (in Chesterfield)- Run by another one of my favorite people, David Stitt. Really good, relaxed place with no pretension.

Crazy night out-
Atomic Cowboy. This is a place where the rich, poor, gay, straight, hipsters, gangsters, the Mayor, pimps, thieves, Christians, people who knit, and people who watch zombie movies all hang out together. The food is good, the atmosphere is great. Check out their Cowboy's a good time!

Dessert Drink-
Bailey's Chocolate Bar. I like the Mexican Martini- it has chocolate and tequila in it, which is a good thing.

Places I want to try, but haven't yet-
Miso, Erato, Fond, Stellina Pasta Cafe, Atlas, Ricardo's, Fritanga, Banh Mi So, Mango, Pomme, and many more....

Whew! I think that's enough to keep you busy for a while. My next couple of blogs will come from my "staycation" that I'm taking for the next 6 days.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Food and Wine Pairing 101, part deux

Wow, I have 12 followers...thank you!

So, yesterday I posted about the pairing "likes" method of matching food and wine. Today I would like to talk about the other theory...we'll call it the "add to" method. Whereas in yesterday's method, you basically look for aspects in the food, and try to find similar aspects in the wine; today's method calls for you to look for what's NOT in the food. That's right, you look for ways that the wine can add to the food, but not compete with any of the flavors that are already there. This is a method that is a bit more cerebral- you really have to know a lot about the taste structure of not only the food you are eating, but also a wide array of wines. Let's start with an example...Grilled Sausage. According to yesterday's method, you would look for something in the wine that is evident in the food (say a grilled, smoky note) and then find a wine with similar attributes (maybe Malbec). With the "add do" method, you would notice that this is a high fat food, with not much going in the way of acid. One direction you could go with this would be Riesling. The high acidity in most rieslings can "cut through" the fat in the sausage, and provide something that the dish was lacking.
Another example would be portabella mushrooms (this is for Matt vegetarian follower). Traditional food and wine pairings would say find something with a earthy note, maybe nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy. Today's method would say maybe something with a more fruit-forward note (which again isn't evident in the dish)- let's say a Chardonnay from Carneros, California.
I know, this method is confusing, and takes a whole lot of thought. Maybe even too much. There are a couple of instances when it is great to use though. For example, if you have a really super-spicy food, you may not want to pair a spicy wine with it. I noticed once that really hot, spicy bbq sauce doesn't pair well with a big, high alcohol, spicy Zinfandel. The spiciness of the food really amped up the alcohol in the wine, and that's all you could taste. A better choice would have been a riesling with a touch of sweetness- it would have downplayed the spiciness, and added a peachy, slaty component that wasn't already there.
One final thought- If you are eating pasta with just a simple tomato sauce, this isn't the time to bring out your biggest, baddest Italian or California wine. Tomatos are a high-acid food, and the dish doesn't have much protein. Plus these wines are usually full bodied and very tannic (high in tannins)...this doesn't match well- your wine will completely mask the taste of the food, and will likely taste bitter. If you are dead set on drinking the wine, your best option for the food is to add a protein to it (this is why Italians often add meat or cheese to the dish). The tannins in the wine will bind with the protein in the dish, and make it a much more pleasant experience.

Also, don't drink wine at a ball park- you look like an idiot. Ballparks are for beer or Coke.

I heard one of the greatest quotes last night on "No Reservations" (the Anthony Bourdain show, not the cheesy movie with Catherine Zeta Jones)- he tried something and said it "tasted like it died screaming". Classic.

Today, I am suggesting the 2007 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir. The '07 vintage is by far the best one produced by this classic Carneros wine producer. Expect really nice bing cherry, barely-ripe plum, and tobacco notes along with silky tannins. It will pair well with tell me what. It will cost you around $30.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Food and wine pairing 101

First of all, I want to say a big congratulations to my friend and co-worker Keith, who just passed his Advanced Sommelier Exam. This is a wicked- hard test, and he deserves a high-five for all of the work he put into it! Great job, Keith!

Now, on to matters of something that the rest of you could benefit. I wanted to talk for just a few posts about how to pair food with wine. The old "white with fish, red with meat" is still somewhat valid, but it gets much more involved than that. On the flip side, don't be intimidated by it. You will make mistakes, you will also discover things that others hadn't thought of. This is one of the main reasons why we drink wine- to elevate the food you are eating to a new level. In order to start, I want to make sure we are working with a similar vocabulary:
When talking about wine, it can be red or white (obviously), sweet or dry (talking about actual, residual sugar that you taste on the end of the tongue), and fruit-forward or earthy (lots of wines have both, I'm speaking of the main "vibe" you get from the wine). When I talk about acid level, just see if the wine makes your mouth water after a couple of seconds. The more it does, the more acid it usually has in it. As you progress in your wine tasting life, you will get better at sensing acid level, oak, and alcohol levels.

There are two main thoughts in food and wine pairing. The first I will talk about today, and the second later in the week. The first main theory is to pair "likes". This means to pair food with wines that are like it. If you have a rich, creamy dish, pair it with a rich, buttery wine (say, California Chardonnay). If you have spicy food, go spicy wine (gewurtztraminer) likewise with sweet foods, high acid foods, etc. For example, the next time you have the opportunity, try this with a typical salad with Italian dressing. The lettuce is pretty neutral, so don't worry about it. The dressing is made with oil and vinegar- being a very high acid item. In order for a wine to match this dressing, it needs to have a lot of acid, too. Taste something like a sauvignon blanc with it, as well as a merlot. You will notice that the acidity and citrus notes in the sauvy play with the dressing on your tongue- this is a good pairing. On the other hand, the merlot and the dressing will be a train wreck. The dressing will make the merlot taste flabby and bitter- this is not a good pairing.
Along these same lines, try to pick out one thing in the dish that really stands out, and match that with a particular taste in a wine. If you are having a filet with a mushroom sauce, look at something with an earthy, mushroomy taste- maybe a red Burgundy. If you are having some Salmon with a mango salsa, try Torrontes. See, this isn't too hard!

A quick note about sweet foods. I am a firm believer that when it comes to desserts, the wine should be sweeter than the food you are serving it with. One of the most popular combinations of sweet foods with wine is wedding cake with Champagne. Most of the time, it tastes horrible together because the sweet cake makes the dry bubbly wine taste bad.

One helpful resource for this is a book called "What to Drink With What You Eat", or just do what my dad does- call me. I will go ahead and list some of my favorite food and beverage pairings, as well as some that are difficult:

Asparagus- Notoriously hard to pair wine with, try a sauvignon blanc, or a coulee de serrant (if you can find one)

Tex/mex- Usually spicy, try riesling or gewurtztraminer. This is an instance where you're honestly better off drinking margaritas, beer, or pepsi

Chinese takeout- Gewurtztraminer!

Foie Gras- drink sauternes, or a late harvest riesling

Potato Chips- Champagne. Seriously.

Pulled pork- try with some port (matches bbq sauce really well), or beer.

Fruit Loops Cereal- Coffee, just seeing if you were paying attention.

So, go out this week, mess around with this, and let me know of your hits, and misses!

Today's wine pairing comes from South Australia- the 2006 Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet- This is a great value cab that has hints of black cherry, cassis, and a dose of eucalyptus. It pairs well with Kangaroo Steaks.

Until next time, Cheers!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Firings can be funny

In my life, I have fired over 120 people. This is a result of having a couple of different management jobs, including a stint as an HR Manager of a company with 145 employees, and also managing a restaurant that opened with 129 waiters. Even though it isn't an enviable position to be in, having the skill set of terminating someone legally is a valuable one in a business environment. The first one was by far the toughest, but I want to talk about one that was in the middle- and funny.

In 2000, I was working as the General Manager of a Chick-fil-a restaurant in Corinth, TX. One of the interesting things about working fast food is that you literally have to depend on the work ethic and attitude of kids ranging from 14 to 18 that work the front of the restaurant for you. This, as you can imagine, sometimes is problematic. One such case was Jerry. Jerry was a typical teenager- tall, gangly, with a zit-ridden face and greasy hair. When he first came to work for us, he had a great attitude- he smiled a lot, was pleasant to talk to, and interacted in a very respectful manner with the customers. Over the course of a couple months, the light sort of went out of Jerry's eyes. He became moody, started showing up late for work, and his uniform was a mess. On one particular day, he was really being nasty to his co-workers and some customers. In the middle of the lunch rush, I pulled him over to a table at the back of a restaurant for a "chat". He was just being a little punk. During our come-to-Jesus talk, I sent him home for the day, and let him know that it would be advantageous for him to have a better attitude the next day.
When the next day came, Jerry's attitude was even worse. It was time for "Hatchet-Man Harsha" to make a cut. I took him back to the same table, to get it done. "Are you going to send me home again?" he asked. "Yes" I replied, "But this time you can stay there. Jerry, you no longer work here." He stood up, kicked a chair, and yelled "This is Bullshit!". I calmly just looked at him, and said "Please turn in your uniform sometime this week", and walked into the back of the restaurant to fill out the requisite paperwork. A few minutes later, I noticed some commotion on the cameras, in the front where people order their food. I walked out, and some big Texan dude was absolutely cracking up. "What's going on?" I asked. "Umm...there's his uniform" the guy said, pointing to a pile of clothes on the ground. A review of the tapes showed Jerry stripping down to his tighty-whities and storming out of the store wearing only his underwear, shoes and socks....all of this in front of a crowd of 18 or 20 people.
I smiled, laughed a little, and said "Well, at least he turned his uniform in!"

A few other random Friday facts about yours truly:

I have no problem eating Foie Gras or Veal.

I once shot two rabbits with one shot- It's true, ask Frank Brown, he saw it happen.

I have a collection of antique fishing equipment at home

If I could choose another profession I would want to be a stand-up comedian, or a country music singer

My favorite song of all time is "Tryin' to Reason With The Hurricane Season" by Jimmy Buffet, followed by "Blue Eyes" by Gram Parsons.

Today's wine suggestion is in honor of the 97 degree weekend that we have coming our way. As you are sitting poolside, or letting your grill warm up, grab a cool, refreshing glass of Torrontes. This is a very widely planted grape from Argentina, and goes perfectly on a hot day. The best ones out there are made by Crios or Santa Julia. Expect it to have a floral, honey-dew taste, and to smell like Fruit Loops cereal.

Cheers, and let's go Sox...dropping one to the Yanks is enough.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Navigating the Wine List Jungle

Since you are reading this, you hopefully have a small interest in wine. This also means that, when you go out to eat, your friends probably hand you the wine list to make the decision. Your palms get sweaty...Red or White? How much should I spend? What if I've never heard of anything on here? What the heck is that word?

Here are just a couple of helpful tips on what to do in this situation-

First of all, decide what the wine is for. Are you going to share a bottle before dinner? If so, then something bubbly or a lighter style white wine is usually a good way to start. Are you just going to have wine with your main courses? Then pay attention to what people are going to order- you want to get something that matches well with the food that will be on the table (more on food and wine pairing in the next couple of days).

Most wine lists are divided into reds and whites, then broken up either by varietal, country, or style, with a separate section for their wines by the glass. I tend to avoid the by-the-glass selections, simply because they are usually the worst "deal" on the list. Most restaurants will try to recoup their bottle price on the first glass of wine (a bottle they paid $9 for will be listed at $9/glass). Assuming they are pouring 4 glasses per bottle, this means they have marked that bottle up 400 percent. The wines on the list are usually marked up anywhere between 100 and 300 percent. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, it just seems to be the norm. By ordering a bottle, you are usually getting better wine for the same amount of money (and you don't have to worry about how long the bottle of Merlot behind the bar has been open, when ordering a glass).

I like to ask the waiter or sommelier (fancy word for the guy that runs the wine program) for recomendations. A lot of times, there are wines that they are excited about or that aren't on the list yet that you can find out about. The group you are with will determine how wacky you want your choice to be. Don't be afraid to say "we are looking for a mid-weight red that will pair well with his seared tuna, and my burger. Do you have any suggestions?" Any server worth their paygrade should know the wine list, and have a few suggestions for you.

One way to get past the "how much do you want to spend" question is to find a wine that you are comfortable with, point to it on the list, and ask the server "what do you think of this one?" This will allow the server to add any input, and also give them an idea of what kind of price range you are wanting to be in. Restaurant folks hate it when they ask "what kind of range do you want to be in", and get the answer "the mid-range". Middle of what? One person might think that $30 is mid range, while another thinks that $300 is mid range!

If you can't pronounce something, just make light of it and ask the server how to say it. There's no reason to be embarassed- you will look more foolish by acting like you know how to say something, and pronouncing it incorrectly.

Once a decision has been made, the wine-service ritual will begin. In most places, the server will bring the bottle to you, so you can verify that the right wine was pulled. Then they will uncork the bottle, giving you the cork. Don't smell the cork- it will smell like cork. They hand it to you so you can see if it has been soaked through, moldy or stored incorrectly. Then they will pour you a small sample to try. This is your opportunity to see if the wine is "off" in any way. If you think it is, have the server or manager try it. There's no reason to be embarassed about a wine that is "corked" (has TCA- a compound that makes it smell like a moldy basement), and sending it back- It happens probably once in every 20 or so bottles. If the wine is bad, the restaurant should bring out another bottle to open. It is generally in bad form to send a bottle back, just because you don't like it. Too bad- you made the decision to open that bottle, you need to stick with that decision. They will then pour the wine out for the people drinking it at the table, filling your glass last. See, that was easy!

Now, drink up and enjoy!

Today's suggestion will be a bit tougher to find. Fisher winery from Napa makes a Cabernet called "Unity" that goes for about 1/3 of the price of the rest of their bottlings. the 2006 has bright cherry notes, a bit of smokiness, and velvety tannins. I know that Eclipse pours it by the glass (this is one of the exceptions to my point above- they sell it for much less than they should), and you can get it at Niche and Veritas.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's your favorite wine?

I get asked this question a lot. My first, smart aleck response is "The one in my glass." This isn't really being fair to the person asking an honest question. The trouble is, I don't really have a favorite wine. This is much in the same vein that people's taste in TV shows, movies, bands, clothes, pizza joints, and cars changes over time. It is even moreso with wine, because wine is an ever-changing, dynamic world. The best that I can offer is that, at any given time I tend to be drawn to certain types of wines. I also have about 10 that would make my "Top 5". For example, right now I have been drinking a lot of riesling and rose. This is primarily because it is summer, and about the last thing I want when it's hot outside is a glass of luke-warm, high alcohol shiraz. As for my top wines in my life, a few stick out:

1995 Dom Perignon
We drank this on our wedding night, then finished the bottle the next morning over breakfast in mimosas.

1995 Cos D'Estournel
We drank this on our first, and now sixth anniversaries. If you have a case, let me know. I will buy it.

Condeza De Leganza Rose
I don't remember the vintage, but I sat on a patio in Spain, sipping this wine, overlooking the vineyards at sunset- one of the most beautiful wine-related scenes I have ever witnessed.

2001 Revana Cabernet
I drank this on my last night at Smith and Wollensky in Boston. I got screwed on the price, but it is still one of the best tasting cabernets I have ever put in my mouth.

2001 SA Prum Block 7 (I think) Trockenbeerenauslese-
At the time, this was the single most expensive wine from Germany- $975/half bottle, FOB (the price that wholesalers pay). Wow- it was like liquid gold. It also came after the most interesting presentation on German wine I have ever seen, by Raymond Prum.

I truly look forward to other wines entering the top 5. The amazing part is that, it rarely is the wine but rather the situation and the people that make it great. I could have just as easily talked about the 1977 Taylor Fladgate port we drank at the housewarming party when we first purchased a home, or the magnum of obscure rioja we drank at a laughter-filled dinner with our friends Brian and Ashley, or the $1000 bottle of burgundy I popped when my nephew was born, or (I can't believe I'm admitting this) the $3 bottle of Arbor Mist that my bride-to-be and I purchased from Conoco, and drank while deciding on a wedding date.

Like they said in Sideways "Sometimes, opening that 1961 Cheval Blanc IS the occasion!"

Cheers, and go make yourself a memory tonight!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How to be a person of good taste....

You are driving past a wine shop or liquor store, and you see it- it is probably one of those A-Frame, Sandwich Board Signs. It might have balloons tied to it. It reads "Free Wine Tasting: 5-8 PM". You are drawn in, tempted by the possibility of joyful Champagne dancing on your tongue, followed by a 98 point, $14 Cabernet soothing your soul- All for FREE! You walk in, thinking to yourself "how should I act?" and possibly "Do I really have to buy does say FREE afterall?"

Let the next few paragraphs be your guide on the proper ettiquette in the social situation known amongst industry types as "retail tastings". The people who follow this blog aren't necessarily the ones that need this information. You are nice, polite, calm, and rational, with the ability to handle yourselves appropriately in this situation. Hopefully, this will drift out onto the web, and the people who need it will read it. I will list suggested ettiquette, and follow with explanations:

1. Be Polite

Just like Mama taught you, the best thing you can do is be nice. The store-owner is spending his/her advertising dollars, increased labor costs, and so forth so that you can sample wines for free. Don't push up to the front of the table, sticking your glass in the person pouring's face. There is plenty of wine to be tried. Once you get your wine, step back from the table, so others don't have to push around you. Also, reuse your glass. Every new wine does not call for a new glass. This also includes timeliness. If the tasting ends at 8, and you rush in at 7:57, we might be out of certain wines, and probably won't open a fresh bottle to sample one person

2. Just Take One Sample of Each Wine

This is not your opportunity to get drunk for free. This is a Sampling, or a Tasting...meaning you get a sample or a taste, not an entire glass! If you are serious about looking for something to buy, then write information about the wine down. It's amazing how many people come back for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th sample of the most expensive wine because they "just can't decide."

3. Be Prepared to Buy Something

Believe it or not, the store owner has a wine rep there to sell you something. We don't just stand in stores on Friday and Saturday nights, spending our sample budgets, pouring out free booze because it is a blast. That being said, there is a certain group of people- all the wine reps know who they are- that go around to every free wine tasting on Saturday, drinking the wares, and never buy one stinking drop. Seriously, please consider buying at least a bottle of something from the store. If you don't like the wines being poured, that's okay...that's what tastings are for. In that case, pick up a bottle of something else. If you say "I can't afford to buy a bottle at each of the 8 tastings that I go to on a weekend", then you go to too many tastings.

4. Don't Get Drunk

Again, this isn't the time to get your free buzz on. At all tastings, there will be a spit/dump bucket. It isn't in bad form to use these, they are there for you to use. Just don't dump your remaining wine in the water pitcher- that happens alot, and is gross.

5. Ask Questions, but Be Considerate

We like it when you ask questions about our wines, and are happy to answer them. However, please see that, when there are 10 people standing in front of the table wanting a sample, that probably isn't the best time for us to wax poetic to you about the brix level that the grapes were harvested at.

6. Have fun!

This is just fermented grape juice after all. Don't take it too seriously. Be willing to experiment, don't just try the expensive stuff. If you don't like a wine, you don't need to make the Keystone Light Bitter Beer Face, screaming out "oh my god, that's awful". Just say "eh, not my style", pour it out, and move biggie.

I hope this list of suggestions doesn't sound too cynical. I'm really just going off of 5 years worth of pouring at these things, and watching people make fools of themselves.

You won't make a fool of yourself with the non-wine related drink suggestion of the day. It's muggy out, enjoy a Caipirinha- Get a bottle of Cachaca (basically Brazillian rum), sugar, limes, and ice. Muddle a few slices of lime with a couple tablespoons of sugar, add ice, and top with cachaca. You can squirt a little soda water in to make it bubbly, if you like. Enjoy!


Monday, August 3, 2009

How to Taste

In wine, just as in life, there are times when you want to drink, and times when you want to taste. The time to drink is when you are at a wedding, funeral, dinner party, picnic, christmas party, alone, with friends for a night out, or at a restaurant where it simply reads "house red- $4.95/glass". These are the times when it doesn't matter what the wine tastes like, so when you try to deconstruct it, you look like a snob. Just drink it. If you don't like it, get a beer.

There are times, however when you really want to taste the wine for what it is. Take for example, wine tastings (I will rant about ettiquette at these later this week), wine and food pairing dinners, clubs, sitting down with a couple of friends to discuss wine specifically, etc. It is nice to have a series of steps to go through, so you can really get the essence of the wine. This takes practice, but is really fun!

I like to break it down into the "5 S's": See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, Savor/State your opinion.

Look at the wine, and notice beyond if it is red or white. What color is it really? Is it more golden than green? Is it more ruby than garnet? Is it darker in the middle than on the rim? Is it cloudy?
This is an instance where a lot of people like to say "wow, look at the legs on this wine", and have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Legs (the drops that form on the inside of the glass) can give you some indication of alcohol or sugar level. They can also simply tell you how good your dishwasher is at cleaning the glasses. No offense, but most of the time, talking about legs makes you look like a novice to the "experts". Just trying to help!

move the wine in a circular motion in your glass. This helps oxygenate the wine, making it smell more, which is important to the next step.

Remember, you only have 5 taste sensations (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami). You have thousands of scent memories. What does the wine smell like? Please don't say "fruity". No kidding (imagine my snarky tone- it's almost as annoying as when someone says "oh, that's different"...different than what?). What type of fruit? Try to get at least three separate fruits out of it. One hint, if you get stuck, red wine almost always has some sort of cherry note, and white wine almost always has an apple note. Now, look for earth/mineral notes- think in terms of grass, damp leaves, pavement after it rains, etc. Next, look for indications of oak- most often, these come in the form of kitchen spices- really look for vanilla, nutmeg, or my favorite Cherry Cola. Finally, look for other stuff- this is where the wine snobs get "cat pee", "tar", "shoe leather", and lots of other unsavory things. My wife is really good at this part.
Another hint- smell things in your kitchen. Seriously- open the spices in your rack, and really take a good whiff. You will be amazed what things come up in a wine that you will recognize!

This is the fun part. Take a good sip, and really swish it around in your mouth before swallowing. If you are at a huge wine tasting, it's okay to spit it into one of the buckets. This is just where you confirm what you smelled in the wine.

Savor OR State your opinion-
you have to make the judgment call here. If everyone else is talking about the wine, than go ahead and state your well thought out opinion. If people are just enjoying the evening, it's not the time to start a diatribe on how this wine isn't as good as the one you drank on your honeymoon, blah, blah, blah. Remember, someone is tasting you on the wine for a reason. It's okay not to like it. It's not okay to make a I said before, more about ettiquette to come this week.

Now, go out and practice your newly acquired tasting skills on the 2007 Von Hovel Balduin Estate Riesling. I don't want to lead your thoughts on what you are tasting, so feel free to let me know what you thought. This wine should be about $18, and if your local liquor store doesn't have it, they should be able to order it for you.

Cheers, and Go Sox