Friday, August 29, 2008

Tasting Notes: South American Reds and Whites at Sherlock's, 8/23/08

I apologize for the dearth of posting this week. It was my last week at my job, and I was a bit busy and, honestly, somewhat emotionally overwhelmed. Plus, I had to clear out my desk and space. Who knew it was possible to accumulate so much stuff in three years?

I got ready for the week by pouring at the Sherlock's wine tasting last Saturday. The wines:

2006 Dona Paula Chardonnay Estate (Argentina): It's a Chardonnay, but I liked it, especially the tropical fruit flavors. It was a bit smoky/oaky when first opened, with more burnt toast than the promised "pleasant toast bread notes," but it got better once it opened with more floral notes coming through the nose.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Nieto Chardonnay (Argentina): This one got more toasted oak after opening, with light fruit and vanilla. I liked it better at first.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2007 La Puerta Chardonnay (Argentina): Peachy! I liked this one the best of the three.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Veramonte Pinot Noir (Chile): The bottle we poured last week wasn't nearly as good as the one we'd brought home in the month's wine club and had finished the night before. There was something weird about it, although it wasn't corked. Others who had tasted the wine before agreed

2005 Dona Paula Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina): Okay, I've got to quote the tasting notes we were given for this one:
"Sexy, smoky, high-toned aromas of cassis, black plum, spice cake, loam, and espresso..."
The nose got a wow, and the wine is very good with lots of ripe fruit and a nice finish with "very broad, supple tannins and lovely persistence."
"Very broad" + "sexy" = wine that loves its curves, with good reason.
Rating: Very good/excellent

2005 Veramonte Primus (Chile): A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere, this wine has a somewhat herbal nose and is all black cherry and spice. It loves steak.
Rating: Very Good

It wouldn't be a Sherlock's tasting without a couple of surprise wines at the end (no beer this week, thank goodness!). No ice wine this time, but Warner did sneak a Spanish blend in there, thus transforming the tasting into "Wines that speak Spanish."

Bonus wines:

2004 Casa de la Ermita Crianza (Spain): Oh, this wine had the potential to be so good with its blend of 40% Monastrell, 25% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Petit Verdot! Alas, I was disappointed, at least after it opened up. At first, it had a nose with a bit of cherry tea and smoke, and it tasted with cherries, herbs, and a lingering butter finish. After it had been open a while, all it had left was cherry tea. Maybe it just couldn't stand up to the big reds we were pouring it with. Admittedly, I did engage in quality control throughout the afternoon, so perhaps the problem was with me, not the wine.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2007 Layer Cake Malbec (Mendoza): Women, me included, are drawn to this wine because of the lovely chocolate cake on the label. It definitely rounded out the tasting nicely with its dark fruit nose and smooth, lingering finish. We may have to pull this one out to finish up our Labor Day barbecue meal.

I had other adventures last weekend and throughout the week and will work on catching up and having even more fun during my two-week break between jobs. Have a great Labor Day weekend, and drink responsibly!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Famous Drunk Guys (Belated)

Yesterday was the birthday of a few drink-worthy individuals.

The first August 22 birthday of note belongs to Claude Debussy, one of my favorite composers. He falls in the late Romantic to early 20th century period, and his music has an incredible, ethereal quality that has been described as Impressionistic, although he didn't see it that way. It's also really fun to play, although I wouldn't try it after having been imbibing. That would probably go as well as my attempted yoga "Moon Salutations" on the beach a couple of weeks ago (half a bottle of wine + soft sand + yoga = thank God the sand is soft!). If I had a piano, I would have pulled out "Clair de Lune" and stumbled through it. I don't know if he was a "drunk guy," but he was French, so he must've liked wine, right?

To drink to Debussy: We need something that evokes calm and sweet memories of lazy summer afternoons or languid evening walks holding hands under the stars. The 2006 Big Fire Pinot Gris from Oregon is a favorite and would fit the bill nicely. If you want to go with the French theme, the Perrin et Fils Cotes du Rhone Reserve Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne, would also be a good choice with its silky mouthfeel and nectarine and honeysuckle flavors.

Yesterday was also the birthday of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. His Martian Chronicles was one of the books that kicked off my interest in speculative fiction. Again, I don't know if he qualifies as a "drunk guy," but he's 88, so it wouldn't surprise me if he avails himself of wine's health benefits. Plus, most sci-fi authors I know do drink. If anyone has information to the contrary, please let me know.

I like to drink red wine while I write my own sci fi, so I shall have to choose a red to go with Ray and his Martian Chronicles. The rust-colored planet says Pinot Noir, which often has a pretty ruby hue, so I'm going to go with a favorite here: Foris Pinot Noir from Oregon. I can't pick a vintage because I've liked all the ones I've tasted.

Finally, yesterday was the birthday of Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, the wife of Edgar Allan Poe. The first cousins married when he was 27 and she was 13. That last sentence highlights how things have changed in the past century and a half. Back then, Edgar was not arrested, and no one assumed they were from the South. When she died of tuberculosis in 1847, he turned to drink, so the "famous drunk" connection is actually tangential to her husband. This highlights another difference between then and now: dark, gothic writing = cool; emo, OMG my life sux = not cool.

My recommendation for Ms. Clemm: To raise a glass to this young woman married to one of the greatest writers of all time, we need something delicate, but also stronger than expected. How about a Chilean pinot noir? The 2006 Veramonte Pinot Noir (Casablanca Valley) is actually a berry bomb for a Pinot, and surprisingly full-bodied with nice oak to keep it from being too Zin-like.

References/Disclaimer: I have to thank Garrison Keillor and his Writer's Almanac for calling these birthdays to my attention. If you're a writer, are interested in historical tidbits about writing, or like poetry, it's worth a listen. Each segment is about 5-6 minutes long and includes writing history, famous birthdays, and a poem.

All opinions expressed about the above individuals are my own. Facts are from Wikipedia.

FYI, I'm pouring wine at Sherlock's this afternoon with Hubby. Come and say hi and mention you read my blog!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tasting Notes: "Unexpected Regions," JavaMonkey Thursday Wine Series

First, Kudos to Jess on having put together a somewhat daring tasting. It takes courage to go beyond the West Coast when it comes to wine in the U.S. As I mentioned in my posts about going through Virginia, there is some good stuff to be found. There's also a lot of bad stuff. This tasting was a good mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I've added others' comments with their permission so you're not just getting my opinions.

The wines:

1. 2007 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes, New York): After we got through our jokes about this being by "Dr. Frankenwine," and made at Finger Lakes (body part reference, courtesy of The Scot), I had to admit that this is a good representative of the grape. The nose is fragrant and floral, and the wine itself is well-balanced with acid and residual sugar. It had a somewhat metallic finish.
My rating: Good
The Scot sez, "Rooty Tooty Sweet & Fruity."

2. 2005 Salmon Run Chardonnay (Finger Lakes, New York): Hubby liked this one because the name mentions two of his favorite things, salmon and Chardonnay. My thought is that with the way it coats the tongue, it's gotta have some omega-3's in there somewhere. It's overall fairly light and somewhat bitter on the finish. There's really not much there to comment on.
My rating: Okay

3. RagApple Lassie Kaleidoscope Gold (Yadkin Valley, North Carolina): There wasn't much info to be had on this odd white wine that's named after a show cow (yes, a show cow, seriously!). It's made from mystery grapes grown on former tobacco land. The nose is peach with a hint of eucalyptus and lavendar, and the taste is medicinal and bitter. The Scot said that the nose reminded him of burning plastic.
My rating: Moo, er, boo

4. 2005 Gruet "Cuvee Gilbert Gruet" Pinot Noir (Albuquerque, New Mexico): This one has a nice nose with a lot of fruit. It's fairly light bodied with good acidity and a lingering finish. It's a west-coast style Pinot with a lot of good earth notes.
My rating: Very Good

5. RagApple Lassie Cabernet Sauvignon (Yadkin Valley, North Carolina): Chemical beyond even cough syrup.
My rating: Another Moo (this is going to be my new rating for wines I don't like)
Dan sez: "Flaccid."
The two wines from this particular winery were the two I dumped.

6. Tomasello Pomegranate Wine (Hammonton, New Jersey): This one reminded me of the muscadine wines we've tasted. While not bad, it's not something I'd actively seek out. I'll let the comments of others speak to the precise character of this wine:
Anonymous Nick sez, "Grenadine."
The Law sez, "Has a nose of lizard lard." (I had to include that one because it's so bizarre)
Dan sez, "Would be great on vanilla ice cream." His wife added, "Or a snow cone."
So yeah, it was sweet.
My rating: Good

By the way, Anonymous Nick and The Law, I have your notes.

While it's fun and interesting that states outside of Oregon, California, and Washington are making wines, it's also good to know which ones to avoid. Tonight's winner was, hands down, the Gruet Pinot. I love the Gruet sparkling wines, especially the Blanc de Noir, so this comes as no surprise. I definitely want to explore wines from New York further.

Coming this weekend: back to Tastings, this time for dinner!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Random Thoughts: What I cooked this weekend and what I'm drinking tonight

I poured at the Sherlock's wine tasting in Decatur yesterday. It was wines from Burgundy. I accidentally left my list there, so I can't blog on the wines, but they weren't that interesting.

Yes, this would definitely be a case of: too much going on, too little mental space for it. I have ten working days left in my current employment situation. Not that I'm counting down, of course. This weekend I sublimated the range of emotions I'm feeling about the transition into cooking. There's nothing like a little stress to bring out creativity in the kitchen.

Last night, I pan-sauteed the flounder we got in Destin (thank you, Sexton's!) and put it with a nice lemon caper sauce. We went to the Morningside Farmer's Market yesterday and got veggies to turn into side dishes with it: sweet turnips, summer spinach, and Japanese eggplant. I braised the turnips in some vegetable broth and butter, sauteed the spinach with garlic and olive oil, and grilled the eggplant. The only glitch in the meal is that the flounder was "cleaned," not filleted. So, last night, I got to fillet flounder and figured out it's time to get my knives sharpened again. One web site (yes, Hubby looked up the "right way" to do it) said that a sharp knife should cut through the fish like butter. I wasn't so lucky, although I did not hurt myself, which is better than I can say for the Pork Loin Incident of Autumn 2007 (I won't go into details, but let's just say it's a good thing that neither Hubby nor I faint at the sight of blood).

We had the 2004 J. Saunders Meursault (Burgundy), which is 100% Chardonnay, with it, and it paired really well with the sweet, flaky fish and sauce. It's fruity and buttery with a hint of honey, and not oaky, although it's wood-aged.

Tomatoes are in season, and yesterday, we came away with 5 pounds and then some for sauce from the Woodland Gardens booth at Morningside. The lady who rung us up asked what we planned to do with them. Tomato sauce, of course! We've been having fun with the tomato press we got 4 years ago when we got married and hadn't played with until this year. The 5 pounds of tomatoes gave us 7 cups of sauce, which doesn't seem like a lot, but it will be enough, with turkey breast meatballs or on its own, for the next few weeks, anyway. I also made a summer vegetable soup with onion, carrots, celery, okra, corn, zucchini, and tomatoes. That will go into lunches this week. Soup during the summer may sound odd, but I usually end up freezing at work because the air-conditioning controls are in the hands of some hot-blooded people.

What do you have with spaghetti and meatballs? A Cab, if you don't have anything Italian handy, and we didn't. We got into the 2005 Wall Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa), which Hubby had poured at a wine tasting a few weeks ago. Although it's not the most complex Cab, it's smooth and fruity with currant and black cherry and didn't overpower the sauce. In fact, it balanced out the acidity of the sauce quite nicely. That bottle didn't make it through the evening.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reviews: Tastings, Argentinian wines at Java Monkey, and a truly random tasting

According to Blogger, this is my 50th post! w00t! Thanks to all my loyal readers. You may be quiet, but I know you're out there; I've got software that tells me so. Don't worry, you don't have to go put your aluminum foil hats on, it only tells me numbers, no personal information. And maybe what you're drinking. Hey, you over there! Put down the white zin and slowly walk away. Refer to my notes on pink wines if you really wanna go there.

I'm a little dopey tonight because Hubby and I returned from the beach yesterday, and then today we talked to an accountant, who put the process in motion for me to start my own small business. No, it's not anything to do with wine, but it should make my other life and the job I get paid for more interesting. Hopefully it will also give me more time to blog once I get everything set up.

Between my travels and real-life craziness, I have some catching up to do, so here we go...

As I mentioned in my last post, Hubby and I ended up at Tastings a couple of Saturdays ago with our friends the Vegetarians. It's part of a chain with an interesting concept. You get a glass and load up a card with money, then stick it in machines that have tubes stuck into bottles of wine and attached to dispensing nozzles. It looks like a trendy mad (drunk?) scientist layout, down to the "Enomatic wine serving systems" labels. You can choose a taste, a half glass, or a full glass, and the prices cover a wide range. I did a DIY tasting of some random reds. Here's what I had:

2004 Fife "Redhead Red" Zinfandel (Mendocino): My little sister has a t-shirt that says, "Not only am I perfect, I'm a redhead, too!" This wine needs that t-shirt. It's a fruit bomb, full-bodied and smooth. I think that non-redheads would like it, too.

2005 Antis Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza, Argentina): Dark fruit on the nose and palate with cola. I noted that it's "chewy."

2006 Hahn Estates Meritage (Central Coast, California): A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, this wine has hints of leather, plum, and currant. It had a rough nose that got better as it opened.

2006 "Artezin" (Mendocino): This wine, a blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, has aromas of ginger and berry. The notes described "sweet tannins." I got Splenda (TM) aftertaste. Hubby thought it tasted like cough syrup.

Overall, we found Tastings to be fun, maybe a little noisy and crowded. We didn't eat, but the menu looks promising. I think I may sneak over there for lunch one day after I make my job change and am no longer working in an office on Fridays.

Last Thursday's tasting at JavaMonkey took us to Argentina.

The 2007 J.F. Lurton Pinot Gris (Uco Valley) was the favorite of the evening. It has a "steel magnolia" nose (sorry, apparently I was feeling a bit creative that evening with my notes), nice body with lots of fruit and melon, and a floral finish.
Rating: Very Good

The J.F. stands for Jacques and Francois, who are the two sons of the winery owner, I think. The details are a little fuzzy. They also made the second wine, the 2007 J. F. Lurton Torrontes. The Torrontes grape is part of the Muscat family, and it's definitely apparent in the wine with its sweet, floral nose of honeysuckle and jasmine and honeyed taste. Hubby and I found it to be a little bitter on the finish.
Rating: Good
Note: This one, or something similar, has appeared in a blind tasting, courtesy of a devious wine rep from Grapefields. Nobody guessed it correctly.

The third white of the evening was the 2007 Maipe Chardonnay (Mendoza). It is 85% Chardonnay, 15% Viognier, and "slightly oaked." It's mineral at the beginning, then citrus and vanilla, and grapefruit on the finish. If someone had put the first one and this one in front of me without telling me what they were, I would have guessed this to be the Pinot Gris, it was so light.
Rating: Good

Finally, some reds! This next one was the first red we'd had in a JavaMonkey tasting in 6 weeks. Jess, please don't deprive us like that again! Okay, we're far from wine-deprived, but still... Here are the Argentinian reds we tried:

2007 Maipe Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza): This is a beautiful cab with dark fruit, smoke, and leather on the nose. It's smooth with licorice and caramel on the finish. When I asked Hubby what he got for this one, meaning the flavors, he merely replied, "Happy!"
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2006 Punto Final Malbec (Mendoza): Pepper and cloves at first, opening up to berry, especially blueberry.
Rating: Good

2005 Cueva de las Manos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza): This one is very smooth with dark fruit and chocolate. It made me happy.
Rating: Very Good

And now for something truly random...

Hubby and I joined my parents in Destin this past weekend. We were to meet up with them for a dinner cruise on Saturday but got to the area a little early. Hmmm... How to kill time at the beach? We remembered seeing the Emerald Coast Wine Cellars tasting room before but had never made it when they're open. We stopped in and found that in addition to muscadine, they import grapes from New York and California and make some "real wines" as well. Lorraine was very happy to help us with the free tasting. We didn't try everything on the long list but did have the following:

The Chardonnay is made from grapes sourced from Sonoma County, California. It is steel fermented, but still buttery.
Rating: Good

The Merlot, also from Sonoma grapes, has a super fruity nose but didn't follow up on it. It was light and had an acid bite to it with a little chocolate on the finish.
Rating: Okay

The Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma grapes) has a "relaxed Cab nose" (at the beach, the Cab is perhaps too relaxed to jump out of the glass and smack you), and is more medium-bodied with that strange acid bite in the middle, but with a nice finish.
Rating: Good

Our curiosity satisfied about the dry wines, we moved on to the sweeter wines:

Noble Muscadine: smelled like grape juice and had the "funky muscadine" finish
Rating: Okay

Sugar Sands White (Niagara grapes): smelled like muscadine skins, but had flavors of honey and peach
Rating: Good

Sunset Red (Concord grapes from New York): Smelled and tasted like grown-up Welch's juice without the syrupy texture. Supposedly very good in Sangria, it would be one of those sneaky ones that makes you tipsy before you realize it.
Rating: Very Good

And then it was time for dessert:

Sherry (Carlos grapes, fortified with Brandy, aged in whiskey barrels): Teriyaki sauce nose, but good. Hubby noted that it "tasted like Sherry" but wasn't too sweet.
Rating: Very Good

Chocolate Port (Noble grapes fortified and aged in oak barrel, then bottled with cocoa beans): This is liquer-filled chocolates in a bottle.
Rating: Very Good

Spumante (grapes from Niagara region of New York): Mild and creamy, off-dry.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

We came home with bottles of the Chocolate Port and the Spumante and the knowledge that we are one state closer to our goal of tasting wine in all of the states that make it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Oenophile at Large: Restaurant Reviews of Food 101 and Cottage Ethiopian Cuisine

Yes, that's right, two restaurants in the past week. Well, three, but I'm only up for talking about two this evening. Hubby has been super busy with work stuff, and I've been stressing over a major career change, so we've been feeling very low-effort in the kitchen. We made Baby Bam Burgers tonight (recipe no longer available online), and that was probably the most complex thing we've done in the past week. We had them with salads, and I was unable to get the motivation up to even make oven fries.

Okay, I can hear you grumbling. I'll quit whining and get to the restaurants.

Hubby and I went for date night on Thursday to the Food 101 in Virginia Highlands. We'd been to the space when it was Aurora, but it was long enough ago that I really don't remember what it looked like before. The dining room is open and airy, and the menu is definitely Southern, but with a gourmet flair. The menu shown online is not up to date.

We started with the fried green tomatoes, which were topped with fresh mozzarella and arugula pesto. The serving was 4 slices. The tomatoes were crispy on the outside and tender but not mushy on the inside, and the whole dish worked together well. We then moved on to the special salad, which included mixed greens, goat cheese, apple slices, dried cranberries, and chopped hard-boiled egg. Hubby got it tossed with the buttermilk ranch, and I had it with balsamic vinaigrette. Both worked well, and I was very impressed with the dressing. For my entree, I went for comfort food with the Thursday night "Blue Plate Special," Turkey Meatloaf (told you I'm stressed!). It's made with sun-dried tomatoes, topped with gravy, and served with sweet onions, roasted asparagus, and fingerling potatoes. Hubby had the Pan-Roasted Halibut. I'm not a fish person, but I had a bite, and I liked it. Although I was full, I had to try the "signature dessert," the Chocolate Bread Pudding. I don't usually go for bread pudding, but this one was really good. The texture falls somewhere between a chocolate souffle and a flourless cake. I couldn't finish it, but it definitely falls in the "dessert so good you need a cigarette afterward" category.

Hubby and I split a bottle of 2006 La Crema Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, California). It's jammy for a Pinot with lots of cherry and goes down very smoothly. It paired well with my meal, not so well with Hubby's, but as he said with a shrug, "I like the wine, so that's all that matters."

Score card:
Atmosphere: Nice, romantic. The art is interesting. I didn't really like the painting of the two pigs staring at me as I tried to decide between what I got and the pork ravioli
Food: Very good
Wine list: Very good, nice range
Wait staff: Excellent
Desserts: Excellent
Vegetarian friendly? Hmmm, probably not
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

Last night we met up with our vegetarian friends at Cottage Ethiopian Cuisine, which is located in a former Burger King on Piedmont. Once inside, it's easy to forget that the building had humble fast food beginnings with its stage in one corner for live music and bar with a television screen showing Ethiopian music videos, which are different but seem to focus on much of the same themes that American ones do, at least visually. We started with Sambusas, which are good and crisp if a little oily, and Timatim Fit-Fit, which is kind of like panzanella with tomato, peppers, onion, oil and vinegar tossed with little pieces of injera, the bread that everything is served on and with which you're supposed to eat. We were told by our waiter at Moya (see post from April 24 that Ethiopian food does not exist until it comes into contact with the bread, so we did have a semi-philosophical discussion as to whether that was a self-actualizing dish. We shared a very large Vegetarian Sampler for our entree with an additional order of Shiro, which are split peas cooked with onion, garlic, and spices. I did try the Honey Wine and found that although it's like a slightly syrupy off-dry Riesling, it pairs perfectly with the food.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Good for the space they've got
Food: Excellent
Wine list: Limited
Wait staff: Good
Desserts: Are you kidding? How can you eat dessert after having Ethiopian food?
Vegetarian friendly? Very
Kid friendly? If your kids are adventurous.
Would I go back? Yes

After dinner, we went to Tastings, which we've been meaning to visit since they opened earlier this summer. However, I have a library book to finish, so I shall have to write on that a little later in the week.