Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tasting Notes: Italian wines at Sherlock's

Sometimes the messages of the universe are subtle. At other times, it takes a sledgehammer to one's life. This is one of those moments: God wants me to drink Italian wines.

First Java Monkey warmed up my palate at the most recent tasting, then earlier this week I got an email from the wine dude in charge of the tastings at Sherlock's asking for volunteers for today. He sent along the list, which consisted of eight interesting-looking Italian wines. I knew in my heart that I was meant to be there, so I volunteered and got the spot. I'm glad I did. Here are the wines:

Caldora Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Ortona, 2006
I heard this one described as "peach wine" a few times. Floral and fruity, but really light. I rated it as "good."

Aurora Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, 2005
This was the wine that got poured most often. Hubby described the nose as "wet sheep." My objection to it was that it was too mineral.

Gini Soave Classico, Veneto, 2006
Yum! This one smells a little of apple juice, but it's well-balanced and has a nice, clean finish. I brought a bottle home, and with food, the floral and fruity characteristics really come out. Thanks to Chris, the helpful wine rep from Quality Wines & Spirits, I also now know the correct pronunciation of the grape Garganega, which is what this wine is made from. Don't try pronouncing it after a few glasses.

Caldora Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2006
Most of the comments about this wine focused on the nose, which was really fruity with a hint of vanilla. The tasting notes described it as "medium to full-bodied." I found it to be more medium with an almost fizzy quality in the middle.

Cusumano Nero d'Avola, Sicily, 2007
The first taste had a real bite to it, but allowing it to breathe mellowed it out and revealed a buttery finish. Chris suggested pairing this one as well as the next one with pizza. It went really well with cheese.

Aurora Barbera d'Asti, Piedmont, 2005
This one had a bite to it but proved to be nice and fruity. I agree with the tasting notes, which described it as tasting of "cherries with some earthy characteristics," probably leaning more to earthy than cherry.

Corte Alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, 2003
This one was my favorite of the day. Apparently it was the "wine of Voltaire," and I can see why he liked it. Full-bodied, fruity and full of flavor, mostly fruit with a little chocolate in it.

Saracco Moscato d'Asti, Piedmont, 2006
An excellent, somewhat sweet dessert wine with low alcohol content (5%). Fruity and bubbly without being sugary or syrupy. Should go well with the season's strawberries or just on its own.

Hubby and I came home with the Soave and the Barbera d'Asti. What can I say? It was just meant to be.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Date night! Restaurant reviews: Moya and Chocolate Bar

The Savvy Shopper (coupon book of restaurants and other stuff) came last week, and since we've been curious, we decided to try Moya, which is off Clairmont Road near Emory. It's Ethiopian food (insert South Park joke here), so we weren't really sure what to expect. The server was very knowledgeable and gave great suggestions, and we had a good time.

Ethiopian food is fun. It comes with a soft, spongy, thin sourdough-type bread that's used to eat the food so that everything is like a little pita pocket. We had the vegetarian sampler, which consists of spicy (but not too hot) lentils, split peas, greens, and a cabbage/carrot/potato mix, all of which is spiced really nicely. We also had the #4, which is steak cooked with onions, tomato, and peppers in a chardonnay sauce. It, too, was a little spicy but okay for a wimp like me. We skipped the wine. Altogether, it was fun, reasonable, and very filling.

Atmosphere: Nice
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Short and basic
Wait staff: Friendly and knowledgeable, very helpful to newbies
Desserts: N/A
Vegetarian friendly? Yes, half the menu is vegetarian
Kid friendly? No kid's menu
Would I go back? Yes, but it will likely be a mood thing

In spite of the fact that the Ethiopian bread and everything else expands to fit every corner of one's stomach, I decided that it's been a stressful week, and I wanted wine and chocolate. This brought us back to downtown Decatur, where we drove by Tastings, which isn't open yet, and ended up at Chocolate Bar, which was not only open, but celebrating its one year anniversary. Hubby and I went with some friends just after it opened and were somewhat underwhelmed, but they've pared down their menu to a few things they do really well, and the truffles are outstanding. We started with glass each of the Di Arie Zinfandel, which is quickly becoming a favorite. I found some corners in my tummy and got the Oreos and Milk, which is two small round chocolate souffles sandwiched together with white chocolate ganache in the middle and served with vanilla ice cream. The chef suggested a pairing with the dessert Grenache (not the Windmill Zin, which is on the web site menu -- that was so last season!), which was a nice, basic dessert wine. Hubby eschewed dessert and got a glass of Tempranillo, which smelled and tasted a bit like raisins, although he said it improved as it breathed.

Atmosphere: Nice, a little noisy
Food: I've never actually had the "bar munchies," just dessert
Wine list: Long enough to find something for everyone, but fairly simple and focused
Wait staff: Friendly, can get overwhelmed when busy
Desserts: Yes, please!
Vegetarian friendly? Chocolate is a vegetable, right?
Kid friendly? Not unless your kids have gourmet tastes
Would I go back? Yes

Random announcement:

I'll be pouring Italian wines at Sherlock's in Decatur this Saturday. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oenophile at Large: Lunching in Decatur

Just a quick note: as you may have noticed in my header, I changed the expected update frequency to 1-2 times/week. My job now requires me to carry a laptop computer all freakin' day long instead of just when I'm doing paperwork, and due to my tendonitis, I have to ration my non-work computer time. This shouldn't affect the blog too much, as I rarely posted more than once a week anyway.

Atlanta had absolutely beautiful weather this weekend, so Hubby and I decided to use our feet to get to and from downtown Decatur. It's an easy mile and a half walk for us, so it makes sense. Yesterday (Saturday), we had to get gnocchi, so we went to Sawicki's, which has an assortment of specialty items in addition to the meat and seafood, which we love as well. She also has a sandwich menu, and we decided to picnic on the square. Hubby got the Mediterranean Sandwich special, which had hummus, chicken, greens, tomato, and some other stuff that he can't remember right now. I got the Veggie special, which also had hummus, greens, tomato, and cucumber as well as aioli. Both sandwiches were really good, if a bit messy. She gave us plenty of napkins, but we didn't get plastic-ware, which would have been smart. We then got ice cream at Jake's, which is attached to Little Shop of Stories. I had the "Chocolate Slap Yo' Mama," my favorite for its chocolate with chocolate, and Hubby got the "Dancing Leprechaun," which is essentially mint chocolate chip.

Today we walked to church and decided to grab brunch on the way back at Voila. If you're not familiar with it, it's the little restaurant that's on the other side of the building that holds Watershed. Hubby and I had been there before when one of our friends was the "Chef du Jour" for a charity event, and we decided to stop back by out of curiosity. We've often walked by and seen very few, if any, people in there and wondered how they stay open. Now that we've been there, we have to wonder how they stay open. The food is good, but the service is terrible. We'd noted that on our previous visit but thought that it was because our friend, who did a great job of self-promotion, had drawn a bigger crowd than they expected. Just so you know what "terrible service" means to me, here's how our visit went:

We arrived at about 12:50 and were greeted by a waitress, who allowed us to choose our own table. We sat for about five minutes without any water or menus. Then the menus appeared (no wine list), but still no water, and even after we ordered our drinks and made sure to mention water, it didn't appear until after the coffee, which came without cream and sugar. She said she'd be "right back" with the cream and sugar. She wasn't. I had to remind her and then still wait. My coffee was lukewarm by the time it finally got seasoned. We ordered beignets for an appetizer, and they were freshly made and excellent. The server suggested we keep our silverware even after we ordered sandwiches with garlic friend potatoes that really wouldn't go well eaten with powdered-sugar encrusted forks. We waited for about twenty minutes for our sandwiches, which our server said would be "right up," and which we then saw come out carried by another server and land on the table of a family of three outside the window. The father had ordered a croque monsieur, but the salmon BLT was rejected and went back to the kitchen because it wasn't what she'd ordered. By this time, our server had disappeared with no explanation of what happened to our food, and another 20 minutes later, our lunch came out. My sandwich was warm, but not hot, and the cheese had melted and then re-solidified. It also should have come with honey mustard, which I had to ask for. Coffee and water were never refilled. Even paying the check took forever.

Some of the above could have been overlooked if the restaurant had been really busy, but it was less than half full. Also, we saw "regulars" come in and immediately get the kind of service we were missing. Frankly, I don't think it's worth the effort to become a regular. My advice for brunch in Decatur: keep on walkin'. There are plenty of great places to go for brunch without the frustration.

Atmosphere: Nice
Food: Good
Wine list: Short and mostly French
Wait staff: Incompetent
Desserts: Too frustrated by that point to try, although the beignets were really good
Vegetarian friendly? Maybe -- there are a few veggie options, mostly appetizers
Kid friendly? No kid's menu
Would I go back? No

Tasting Notes: Italian Wines at Java Monkey on 4/17/08

The suspense leading up to last Thursday's wine tasting was interesting because we didn't know what sort of wines we'd get due to the tasting theme not having been decided until the weekend before. I figured it was going to be a "wines from somewhere" tasting because we haven't had one of those in a while. Yep, they were all from Italy, and they were all aged in steel. I had mixed feelings about that; while I don't usually like my whites to even look at oak barrels, I do like the nuances the oak adds to reds. Wow, that sounded really wine-snobby. I think I'll shut up now and just get to the wines:

Zefiro Prosecco, NV, Veneto
According to Jess, the "Charmant method of bubblification" was used. Bubblification? Whatever they did, it worked. It had a cream soda nose and was a nice, mellow prosecco.

Librandi Critone, 2006, Calabria:
90% Chardonnay, 10% Sauvignon Blanc
Light fruit on the nose, floral and fruity on the palate, but with a bitter honey finish.

Stella Sangoivese, 2006, Puglia:
Thankfully the table refrained from stupid Rocky quotations. It had a weird, green musty nose, but the wine itself was very good with dark fruit and leather.

Lucchine Valpolicella, 2006, Valpolicella:
There's actually a Valpolicella, Italy? I tried to look it up on Google maps, but all it showed me were a couple of towns that were "Something di Valpolicella." This one was 25% Corvina, 25% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Molinara, and 10% other stuff with cool Italian-sounding names that I couldn't spell at that point, not because I was tipsy, but because those long Italian grape names are hard to catch fast. It was dark and tart with hints of black cherry and had a rough finish. One table member suggested that it would be good chilled and consumed with pizza. It opened up nicely, and the clean-up pour after the tasting was much better than the original one.

Palladio Chianti, 2006, Tuscany:
90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, and 5% Syrah
This Chianti disappointed in that it was a little flat and lifeless. Other terms people used to describe it were, "peppery," "chewy," and "dusty cherry." Definitely a food wine, it came to life with cheese.

Botromagno Primitivo, 2006, Apulia:
Ah, Primitivo, aka, Zinfandel, didn't disappoint. It had light fruit that tasted like a fruit bomb after the Chianti. Very good. Got the most consistent ratings on everyone's "favorites" list for the evening and was probably my favorite.

So that was our tour of un-oaked Italy. My other favorite was the Prosecco. A couple of group members liked the chianti, and the Valpolicella showed up on a couple of lists as well. Overall, it was a strong tasting. And no, I have no idea what the next one will be, although apparently the new schedules are out. If anyone knows, please enlighten me!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Oenophile at Large: Restaurant Adventures

Last Friday's dismal weather gave us the excuse to stay in town and celebrate one of our friends getting his architect's license. It will be interesting to see how well it works for picking up chicks at bars. After some revelry, Hubby and I decided to head toward the Inman Park/Old Fourth Ward areas for dinner. We ended up at P'Cheen, where we hadn't eaten in a while due more to our resistance to traveling outside of Decatur than to the restaurant itself. It was as good and fun as we remembered, and a nice little bar scene had developed by the end of the evening.

The cool, rainy weather as well as the scent of cooking beef that wafted out to the sidewalk as we came in inspired us to have the Hangar Steak with Mushroom Ragout and Artichoke Heart and Spring Onion Gratin. Kieran himself took our order and recommended the d'Arie Zinfandel to go with it. The d'Arie is a zin-gasm with a coffee/chocolate nose and "ripe but not jammy" fruit (wine list description). Basically, this is a zin for grownups: smooth and lush without any grape jam comparisons. The food was stylish and well-prepared, and we were both impressed with the Artichoke Heart and Spring Onion Gratin, which Hubby has been bugging me to duplicate. Dessert was something called a "Chocolate Explosion," which lived up to its name. They get their desserts from the Chocolate Pink Pastry Cafe, so they're guaranteed to be rich and sinful.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Very nice, modern, semi-casual; music's a little loud
Food: Very good
Wine list: Short but a good variety
Wait staff: Excellent and knowledgeable
Desserts: Excellent
Vegetarian friendly? Maybe -- there is a veggie plate option
Kid friendly? No kid's menu
Would I go back? Definitely

Saturday morning found us sleeping in too late to make it to Birmingham in time for lunch, so while running errands on the way out of town (including picking up my umbrella from P'Cheen), we stumbled across The Albert. Hubby had the wild salmon sandwich and fries. I had the gyro sandwich and cole slaw. Both sandwiches were made to order, and the sides were very good. We didn't have any alcoholic beverages, but a quick glance at the limited wine list reveals some consistently good, if not adventurous, wines (e.g., Ercavio Tempranillo).

Score card:
Atmosphere: Bar/pub style, entertaining with pictures of famous Alberts all over
Food: Very good
Wine list: Limited, but what they do have is good
Wait staff: Very good
Desserts: Don't know -- would like to go back and try
Vegetarian friendly? At least 2 all-veg menu items
Kid friendly? It seemed to be at lunch time; not sure about dinner
Would I go back? Yes

I'm not really sure what to say about Saturday afternoon for fear of ruining my wine cred. Hubby and I never drive through east Alabama on I-20 on Saturdays, so we haven't had the opportunity to try any of Alabama's wineries. I do give them credit for operating in a state that's so hostile to anything alcoholic. We weren't impressed with the wines at either of the wineries we visited. It may be a good excursion to try again in about three to five years, although we'll give Bryant, which is all muscadine, a miss.

I grew up in Birmingham and am continually astounded at how it grows. My parents took us to brunch at the Grey House Grille, which is in the new multi-use SoHo development in Homewood. The food took a little while to come out, but the wait staff was attentive and made sure we had everything we needed. I had the Seafood Crepe, which was excellent, although I wouldn't have minded some bigger pieces of shrimp and crab and a little less salt in the dish to allow the sherry sauce to shine. Hubby had the Shrimp and Grits, which was very good. Mom had the Chicken Crepe, and Dad had the Eggs Florentine. Everyone really enjoyed their meal.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Dressy casual, a little noisy
Food: Very good
Wine list: Looks like it would be worth a try
Wait staff: Very good
Desserts: Don't know
Vegetarian friendly? Maybe
Kid friendly? Appears to be
Would I go back? Yes, would like to try for dinner

Tasting Notes: Pinot Noirs at Java Monkey's Thursday Night Tasting 3/27/08

Wow, there's nothing like sitting down to write a blog entry and having one's husband come in with a red-stained shirt saying something in a fake Italian accent about having to hurt someone. Unfortunately this tasting notes entry isn't about the Sangiovese brothers or their cousin Chianti, but rather Pinot Noir, who is quite the sultry dame herself. As my wine P.I. wrote to me last week:

It was one of those days in a week that seemed to go on longer than the "Knock Knock" bit on "Prairie Home Companion" or the wait at the doctor's office that's just switched to a paperless system that no one understands yet. Everyone was on edge due to the schizophrenic spring weather, and the only constant -- the pollen that covered everything like a poisonous film -- didn't make moods any better. I hid in my office and studied the backs of my eyelids, hoping that something refreshing would come through the door.

Something, or should I say someone, did.

She wore a pink coat with a hint of rust in it. Her whole demeanor said, "light," "dry," and "pairs well with just about anything." It was like an Oregon springtime had appeared in my office.

"Can I help you, miss?"

She perched on the edge of my desk, peered at me from under a burgundy beret, and said in an accent straight out of those black-and-white French movies: "I need to get drunk."

"Excuse me?"

"It's my lousy ex-husband. He's driving me to drink."

"Well, first I need your name."

"It's Noir, Pinot Noir."


He didn't go into any detail beyond that, but let's just say that a lot of Pinot Noir got drunk last Thursday even without many of the usual suspects in attendance. Here's the lineup:

2006 Ramsay North Coast Pinot Noir, California (50% Mendocino fruit, 50% Napa-Carneros)
Very good. Light, dry, and crisp with a hint of oak, it would be a good summer wine. I have a note that it's "very pinot."

2006 Domaine de Regusse Pinot Noir, Provence, France
This one was excellent after allowed to breathe a bit. It had an interesting butter-tobacco finish.

2006 Foris Pinot Noir, Oregon
This one is a favorite. Try it if you haven't.

2006 Jovino Pinot Noir, Oregon
A little bigger and with some dark fruit. The table said, "yum!"

2006 Araucano Pinot Noir 2006, Central Valley, Chile
This one could have stood up to a steak with its meatiness and spice.

2006 Cartlidge & Brown Pinot Noir, California
Very good with a hint of caramel on the finish.

Overall, this tasting was an excellent start to a fun weekend. More to come about that!