Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tasting Notes: Bubbles! Also, a taste of Asheville adventures

With New Year's Eve coming up, many people wonder about what would be a good, reasonable sparkling wine to open at or prior to midnight of the newish decade. Yes, time geeks have informed me that the new decade doesn’t technically start until 2011, but if I have to remember to change two numbers when I write the date, it counts as a decade change for me. We did have the opportunity to taste several sparkling wines at the most recent JavaMonkey tasting, and then we stumbled upon a champagne bar/used bookstore in Asheville. But I’ll get to that later. Here are the notes from the tasting:

NV François Montand Brut Blanc de Blancs (France): Ugni Blanc and Airen grapes
Citrus nose, but bitter on the end. One taster commented that the bitter almond taste would be a great vehicle for arsenic. With that in mind, don’t bring this wine to one of those murder mystery parties – someone might get carried away! It did play nicely with food.
Rating: Good

NV Zèfiro Prosecco (Veneto, Italy): 100% Prosecco
This one isn’t made like a traditional champagne, but that doesn’t matter because it’s good. A nice representative of the varietal, it has a green apple nose and lots of citrus on the palate.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Marques de Gelida Organic Brut Reserva Cava (Penedès, Spain): Xarello, Paralledo, Macabello, and Chardonnay grapes
Subtle citrus nose with some vanilla and toast. Has a little more flavor to it than the previous wines with minerality balanced by a little toast and some lemon meringue (yes, the bubbles go to my head quickly).
Rating: Good

François Montand Brut Rosé (Southern France): 100% Grenache
Raspberry nose with raspberry and strawberry on the palate. Dry but still fruity. Someone commented that this would be a good one to give to your date because it goes down easily.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Marques de Gelida Brut Rosé Cava Spain): Pinot Noir
Hot pink color, but not much of a nose. Some cherry and anise on the palate.
Rating: Good

The Chook Sparkling Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia):
This one is pretty much, as advertised, a shiraz with bubbles with its dark fruit nose, some oak and serious fruit. This one pretty much stumped the table because it was so unlike any sparkling we’d had before, even other sparkling shirazes. This would be a great conversation and/or debate starter at any party.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Okay, now for a brief taste of our Asheville adventures. We spent Sunday afternoon wandering around the downtown area, and were disappointed to find that the wine bar at the Grove Arcade didn’t open until four. We walked outside and saw a lit “Champagne Bar” sign in the window of a used bookstore across the street.

Books and champagne? Brilliant! Of course we had to check out the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, where oenophile Tom Calabrese held court behind the marble-topped bar in the back right of the bookstore. Yes, a champagne bar, as in more than one sparkling wine available by the glass. Try several, and that day they were also pouring a blood orange mimosa, which one patron described as “liquid velvet.” Keep in mind that the velvet in question would be a hot peachy-pink, but hey, whatever works for you. For a moment it felt like we were in one of the many novels that line the shelves of the store: the loquacious wine guy, a professional ballet dancer, his girlfriend the artist, and us, two visitors from out of town who wandered in on a cold day.

It quickly became evident that Tom knows his sparkling, so I asked him what his top three picks for reasonable New Year’s party wine would be. We agreed on two: Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux, which is French and has been around longer than champagne, and Gruet, a champagne maker in New Mexico that puts out fantastic stuff. He also suggested the Luna Argento Prosecco from Italy. I tried it and had to have a second glass to make sure my original impressions were accurate. They were: light citrus nose, mild melon/vanilla finish, and overall elegant balance and bubbles. If I can find it here in Georgia, I’m definitely going to get it.

Oh, and the bookstore was really neat, too, with comfortable seating and a great variety of books in both the upstairs and the downstairs sections. Yes, Asheville is definitely my kind of town. I’ll post more about it later as I gather my notes. And maybe after I find some Prosecco.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winery Review: North Georgia, Part II -- Tiger Mountain

Hubby and I decided to take a few days and come up to Asheville, North Carolina to recover from what always turns out to be a crazy time of year with his job. Since we were going right past it, we stopped by Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Tiger, Georgia.

The tasting room itself is inside a barn, but was still comfortable temperature-wise, a relief on a cold, cloudy day. The tastings are complimentary, and they have crackers, dried apricots, and cheese out for munching and palate-clearing.

Here are my notes:

2008 Viognier:
crisp and citrus-flavored with a tart finish
Rating: Very Good

Burton Blanc: 100% Viognier
smoky nose with herb and grapefruit on the palate
Rating: Good

2008 Petite Manseng: an "ancient grape," this was the first time I'd tried it
A little funky on the nose, but has a nice melon-citrus finish
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Touriga Nacional:
Beautiful spicy-clove-dark fruit nose, but palate doesn't follow through. Light-bodied with dry cherry. Would probably go better with food.
Rating: Good

2006 Cabernet Franc:
Berry with a tart, spicy middle, this one smoothed out with notes of caramel once the bottle had been open a bit.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Mourvedre:
Syrupy nose, earthy with somewhat medicinal finish
Rating: Okay

2006 TNT: 50% Touriga and 50% Tannat
Nice nose and very straightforward fruit.
Rating: Good

2006 Rabun Red: Norton, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Mourvedre, and Tannat blend
Fruity and acidic, definitely a food wine, as cheese took the edge off.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2005 Norton:
Plum/cherry nose and tart fruit

2007 Tannat:
Smooth tannins, fruit with less tartness and more elegance
Rating: Very Good

We bought bottles of the Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat. Alas, they were sold out of the Malbec. Overall, it was a great tasting experience with good, knowledgeable staff who managed to keep pace with tasters and shoppers, all of whom had their own agendas. Definitely worth the detour from the beaten path.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: 12 Days of Decatur (GA)

I am excited to have collaborated with Hubby on this one. The concept for the piece as well as many of the specifics were his ideas. We live in Decatur, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta but has its own unique identity. If you'd like to read more great flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

The Decatur 12 Days of Christmas
by Hubby and Cecilia

Finding the perfect gift is never easy. For overachieving Decaturites who want to go all the way with the Twelve Days of Christmas (from the holiday itself through Epiphany on January 6), it can be a particular challenge. Consequently, we offer our suggestions for residents of this special place “where Berkeley and Mayberry coexist.”

Day 1: Partridge in a Pear Tree.
Partridges are not native Georgia, neither are any of their pheasant cousins. There are places that import pheasants strictly for hunting purposes, but this behavior would probably be frowned on. Frozen pheasant is available at the Dekalb Farmers’ Market, but consider the carbon footprint as well as the effort to defrost and cook the pheasant. A free-range, organic alternative would be preferable.

We know pear trees will grow in the area. These should be organic and planted as soon as the conditions are right according to Walter Reeves. This will allow the gift to be sustainable and will help to foster a sense of community as people help themselves to the fruit when it’s ripe. Under no circumstances should they be Bartlett Pears. Your true love won't be your true love come May when they bloom out and smell like dead fish.

A brief note regarding Days Two through Four, Six, and Seven: Check with your local ordinances about keeping wild animals in residential areas. Also, to ensure that the turtledoves, French hens, calling birds, geese-a-laying, and swans-a-swimming are adequately cared for and properly fed, please be sure to visit the Decatur library for materials and photocopy only what you will need. You can also consult books on pond construction for the swans and aviary building for the rest of them. Again, check your local ordinances and with the register of Historic Places to ensure that you are not inadvertently lowering your or your neighbors’ property values with these “enhancements.”

Day 2: Two Turtle Doves
Turtle doves are also not native, although mourning doves are. Pigeons, though related and easy to find, are a really bad idea.

Day 3: Three French Hens
We know hens are allowed, even encouraged. You should probably substitute native hens (carbon footprint). Under no circumstances should they be called "freedom" hens.

Day 4: Four calling birds
Consider noise ordinances, but use real birds. Installing a loud fake bird noise system atop your house is tacky (and they sound like monkeys anyway).

Day Five: Be sure to purchase those Five Golden Rings locally and double-check to make sure that the gold was not acquired from a mine that promotes exploitation of the natives or miners.

Day 6: Six Geese-a-Laying
Do not steal geese from Avondale Lake. Livestock theft is a felony in Georgia (O.C.G.A. § 16-8-20).

Day 7: Seven Swans-a-Swimming
Go with the pond construction here. Be careful – swans are mean, especially when breeding. Nothing ruins true love like being chased by a large bird with a sharp beak.

Day 8: Eight Maids-a-Milking
It’s not legal to have cattle in Dekalb county, so milk cows, although consistent with the latest trends in D.I.Y. dairy production, are probably not allowed in Decatur. Instead, consider sharing in a CSA that provides organic milk.

Day 9: Nine Ladies Dancing
Okay, you could probably throw in the token Decatur lesbian reference here, and now you should be ashamed for going there. Support the Atlanta Ballet or any of our local dancing groups instead.

Day 10: Ten Lords-a-Leaping
Similar to 9 if your first thought was that it would be easier to find such lords in Midtown. Baton Bob does not count and would probably not enhance that “true love” experience you’re going for.

Days 11 and 12: Eleven Pipers Piping and Twelve Drummers Drumming
Again, consider noise ordinances. Pipe and drum bands are loud. You could promise to take your true love to the Stone Mountain Highland Games in October instead.

We hope that these help you with your creative gift-giving during these twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany and will keep you involved with our wonderful community throughout the coming year!

Merry Christmas to residents of Decatur and beyond! Hubby and I hope that this season bring you joy, love, and good wine and food to share!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinner and a Show: Second City's "Peach Drop, Stop, and Roll" and Dinner at Restaurant Eugene

For those who aren’t familiar with the Second City, you’re missing out on the improv/sketch comedy troupe that started the careers of famous comedians such as Tina Fey, Dan Aykroyd, and Stephen Colbert. They even gave us SCTV with the lovable Bob & Doug MacKenzie and one of my favorite versions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (click here to view an animated version; feel free to skip the movie trailer after it’s over). Hubby and I saw last year’s show, “Too Busy to Hate, Too Hard to Commute,” and were excited to hear that they planned to return during the holiday season. We saw their current show, “Peach Drop, Stop, and Roll” on Sunday.

If you’re too sensitive and easily offended, you should probably skip this one, as they skewer everyone from the “Real” “Housewives” of Atlanta (yes, extra quotes intentional – there’s nothing real about the women, three of whom aren’t even housewives) to unemployed former radio sidekick Tom Sullivan to Atlanta icons such as Clark Howard. I liked how they passed over some obvious subjects (e.g., traffic) to mock associated woes such as the history of Atlanta’s public transit problems, presented in song form to the tune of “Modern Major General.” They did take the softball and poke fun at how Atlantans panic at the merest hint of snow. Second City is based in Chicago, where it snows from October to April or something ridiculous like that, so it’s forgivable – they’re just jealous that when we get it, our snow doesn’t get icky. My favorite sketch was of the Segue Tour of downtown Atlanta, where Amy Roeder plays the tour guide (on a real Segue), and the others pose as the attractions, such as the first, “a common sight: abandoned building beside non-functioning fountain.”

The only point in the show that missed a step was the opening sketch of the second act, the theme of which was how people seem to be a completely different person when they return to their hometowns. I liked the surreal nature of the piece, but I don’t know that it fit well with the rest of the show outside of some shock value. Other than that, the show was great, and I’d recommend seeing it before it ends on December 27.

We had some time to kill between the show and our dinner reservations, so we stopped by the bar at the Woodruff Arts Center’s Table 1280 restaurant. I enjoyed a glass of the 2006 Louis Latour "Valmoissine" Pinot Noir (VDP, Fr). This didn’t taste like a French-style pinot with its currant-earth nose and light cran-fruit that deepened and darkened to berry pie. Hubby had a martini, and we watched a young couple who were being followed around by a photographer. We have no idea who they are, maybe “real narcissists of Atlanta.”

Then it was off to Restaurant Eugene for dinner (web site is s-l-o-w today). I’d eaten there previously, and Hubby’s been wanting to try it, so we were excited. We decided to do the 5-course chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings. The amuse-bouche, pickled uni with charred mandarin orange over an uni custard, satisfied any pre-existing salt or sweet craving conditions. We’d ordered glasses of Gruet sparkling, and the amuse brought out the minerality in the wine.

The first wine in the pairing, a 2008 Chateau Ducasse white Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend) had a lime-mineral nose with citrus palate heavy on grapefruit. The first course, a fluke tartare with grapefruit zest and juice, early Vidalia onion, and cardamom cracker mellowed the wine out and had nice bright flavors on its own. The second wine surprised us in that it was a Riesling, the 2007 Max Ferdinand Richter (Mosel, Germany). Dry and fruity with a floral nose and apricots and more floral notes on the palate, this was one that even Hubby liked. The course, a seared diver scallop with pork belly, rutabaga puree, and apples, had enough salt for the wine to balance it and was a fun combination of tastes and textures.

Then it was on to the reds! Or at least one red. The 2007 Chateau des Rogues Vacqueyras (Vacqueyras Controlees, Rhone, Fr) had a few of my favorite things in it, namely Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. It did have some fruit, but more oak and acidity with some bitterness that wanted food. It did mellow to nice cherry notes with the tender duck breast, persimmon puree, and maitake shrooms.

The cheese course came next. Green Hill cheese from Sweet Grass dairy had a texture like a brie, but tasted a little too funky for hubby. I tasted his, and my piece was definitely milder. It was paired with the Domaine de Aubuisieres Vouvray (Chenin Blanc): mildly sweet and floral with some vanilla and citrus.

By that point, Hubby was over me taking notes on my Blackberry, so I don’t have any specifics for dessert, just that it was some sort of custard with cranberry sauce and was served with a cream sherry. It was good, sweet and sour, but it probably could have used some chocolate. But then, I think every dessert could use some chocolate.

Dining at Eugene was a great experience from start to finish, when the waiter brought us complimentary decaf coffee (no, FTC, he didn’t know I’m a blogger). We never felt rushed during the meal, and it felt like dining European-style with all the courses and being there for three and a half hours, which was how we ended up not being drunk by the end of the evening. Kudos to chef Linton Hopkins for a great tasting menu and to the sommelier for the excellent wine pairings!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: Please, Christmas!

One of my Twitter friends once told me that he's never sure whether I'll be tweeting about wine or writing. To me, the two aren't mutually exclusive, although I wrote this one today during breaks between appointments so I could get it done by the wine tasting. I consider it to be a different take on a childhood favorite Christmas special. To find other great examples of flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

Please, Christmas!

December 17, 2009

Dear Mrs. Thompson,

Thank you for notifying us about a potential case of child abuse and violation of child labor laws. We received your letter and recording on December 1, 2009 and are unable to complete our investigation due to the following circumstances:

1. The recording you sent is of poor quality and therefore cannot be considered the “hard evidence” you claimed it to be. All the technicians could isolate was music, some high-pitched chattering, and a male voice yelling something like, “Melvin!” at irregular intervals. We could not detect any frequencies consistent with children’s voices.

2. Examination of tax and birth records revealed that there are no children at the Seville residence.

3. While keeping wild animals (e.g., chipmunks) as pets is against state law, that is a matter best taken up with Animal Control or the Department of Wildlife Services. The C in our acronym stands for Child, not Chipmunk.

We have forwarded your concerns on to the proper authorities, who will be in touch with more information. Thank you for contacting us, and we hope you have a wonderful holiday season.


Corinne Matthews
Department of Family and Child Services

“Can you believe this?” Corinne handed the draft of the letter to her supervisor. She rubbed her eyes. “We’re overwhelmed already. Why do we have to deal with these nuts?”

Mark read it over. “Oh yeah, this woman has been writing in every few years since 1958. If there’s any truth to it, those rodents are long dead, or the kids are grown up.”

“Then why did I get stuck with it? We have enough real work to do as it is.” She gestured to the pile of cases on her desk.

He handed the letter back to her and raised his eyebrows. “Consider this my Christmas present to you, Corinne: a friendly reminder to find your sense of humor. If you don’t, you’re gonna burn out in six months. And it’s time for you to leave. Remember, we’re not allowed overtime right now.”

She narrowed her eyes and hoped he felt the heat of her anger on the back of his neck while he walked away. Fine, she’d been fooled. Who knew that government workers would consider themselves jokers? With a sigh, she put on her jacket, clocked out, and walked through the chilly dusk to her car.

Something swirled in the orange glow of the street lamp and drifted to the cars underneath. One stung her nose with wet cold, and she couldn’t help but smile. Snow! Her kids would be so excited! She paused, made sure no one watched her, and turned her face to the sky.

“What the hell?” She took a deep breath and stuck her tongue out, her nose wrinkled against the cold. Her irritability and embarrassment melted with each snowflake that landed on her tongue and face

Mark was right, she decided. She needed to find her sense of humor and let go of her cynicism, at least once out of the office. She’d have plenty of time since, as the newest hire, she would be furloughed between Christmas and New Year. She had been stressed about it, but now she saw it as an opportunity to spend time with her kids while they were out of school. They’d have so much fun if the snow stuck, she thought. She needed to stop playing around and get home to them. They could make hot chocolate and light a fire in the fireplace. Perhaps there would even be holiday specials on t.v.

She didn’t even look back at the office building as she got in the car. The work and worry could wait until tomorrow. Meanwhile, she would look forward to her government-sponsored vacation.

“Please Christmas,” she whispered, “don’t be late!”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tasting Notes and Dinner Review: Rodney Strong/Feast Wine Dinner

So it seems to be remote correspondent/guest blogger day at the Random Oenophile. I also have friends that will eat, drink, and make merry notes for me. I'm a lucky girl, right? Regular guest blogger Dan Browning recently attended a wine dinner at Feast that featured wines from Rodney Strong. Click here for his notes. As you can see, he's way better about taking pictures of his food than I am.

Tasting Notes from the West Coast

It's so nice to have friends who are willing to drink for you! I recently received some more tasting notes on Washington wines from West Coast Correspondent James Bassett. All content below is his:

Renegade Wine Co.
2008 Red Wine
Columbia Valley, WA

“Glasses? We don’t need no stinking glasses!” So it says on the label, which looks almost hand-made -- in fact, there’s not even a UPC code, so good luck finding this anywhere but in Washington, is my guess. (Although I found this at QFC, which is Pacific Northwestern for "Kroger,” so who knows....)

Still, you ought to try -- and you’ll want a glass to help capture and concentrate the faint aroma. Fortunately, the taste itself is much bolder. There’s oakey Cabernet here, lighter, the sweetness of fruitier Merlot, and . . . Sangiovese? Something cedary and earthy and a wee bit spicy, with plum, cassis and black cherry. Considering the label (and the $10 price) this was a gamble, but I’m very happy with the result. It is somewhat rough around the edges, but this seems like it should age well for at least 2-5 years.

"For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore --
Nameless here forever more." -- Poe, The Raven

Corvidae Wine Company, Columbia Valley, WA
“Lenore” 2007 Syrah
My next try from David O’Reilly’s latest venture, the “Lenore” Syrah is medium-bodied with a deceptively tenuous nose. Take a sip, though, and dark black raspberry and smokiness practically explodes into the mouth. Spice, some hints of flowers (lavender?), fruity but with a smoldering backbone that keeps it from being too syrupy and a lingering lightly tannic finish. Better than its price would have you think, although it’s still not nearly as good as The Keeper -- but what could be?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: Morning Vespas

There's a great writing community on Twitter, and every week, several of them post flash fiction. This is my contribution for the week. You can find other stories by searching the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

Morning Vespas

“How long have you been involved with a motorcycle gang, Mrs. Dougherty?”

“Oh, heavens, they’re not motorcycles!” The petite woman twisted her silk scarf between her fingers and looked up at the two men questioning her. “They’re scooters! You boys can’t really think I’m involved with a gang. Tom would never forgive me! He works hard to keep order in this town, and I’d never do anything to disrupt that.”

“Tell that to the unfortunate gentleman in the body bag over there.” The detective inclined his head to the left.

“Well, you know, it really was Louisa Miller’s fault. You see, she wrecked her car, and her husband got her a scooter ‘cause she had less of a chance of hurting anyone else on it, and they get fantastic mileage!”

“And who else is involved?” asked the FBI agent, a tall, thin man with cold, gray eyes.

“Well, there’s Marlene Smith. She got her scooter when it cost her almost a hundred dollars to fill up her Buick. She wasn’t about to give up her part-time job, especially with her husband being just retired and underfoot all the time.”

The detective scribbled on his notepad. “So there are at least three of you. Do you know where the others are?”

“Well, I imagine they’ve gone on to Mass.”

“To where?” asked the agent.

“The six a.m. Mass at the monastery! Why, don’t you boys know about it? It’s beautiful, with the singing and the incense. We’re all up at 4 or 5, anyway, so we ride to church, then go to breakfast. That’s why we call ourselves the Morning Vespas.”

“Morning Vespas.” The detective looked up.

“Officer, why don’t you let me handle this?” asked the FBI agent. “The corner of your mouth is twitching.”

“Oh, you can laugh.” Mrs. Dougherty waved their amusement away. “Our children do. Tom won’t believe that it’s actually led to this, a dead body on a country road at dawn? That would be a good country song, don’t you think?”

“Mrs. Dougherty, just tell us how you got involved with this gentleman.”

“Well, you see, we met the deceased – that is the right term, isn’t it? – at Mass one morning. Seemed like a pleasant enough young man. But then his friend came in, a big brute of a guy, maybe you know who I’m talking about, agent? He had a face that was so scarred up, it would make his own mother shriek.”

“I cannot confirm or deny that I know such an individual. Please, go on. What did the men do?”

“Well, the nice young man dropped his Missalette! He’s probably been going to Mass his whole life, and that bully scared him silly! Well, Marlene was sitting right in front of him and said that the brute asked him where he hid it.”

“Hid what?”

“Well, that’s what we wanted to know. So the next time we saw him, about a week later, we asked him. The poor thing is so thin and pale with those big dark eyes that would make any mother or grandmother just want to take care of him, oh, it just breaks my heart!” She dabbed at the corner of her eyes with the scarf.

“There, now, Mrs. Dougherty, we can’t do anything about that now.” The detective patted her shoulder.

“Right.” She sniffled and took a deep breath. “So we asked him, or Louisa did, she’s so gentle that people just tell her anything, if he had gotten himself in some sort of trouble. He denied it in three languages, and that’s how we knew he needed our help! So Marlene followed him the next time we saw him a week after that.”

“Marlene is…?”

“She’s the one with ‘Kitchen Bitch’ in rhinestones on a pink leather jacket. We all have our nicknames on our jackets that match our Vespas. See?” She turned to show them the back of her yellow leather jacket. “I’m BusyBee.”


“So Marlene followed him downtown, but she lost him.”

“That wasn’t very smart, Mrs. Dougherty.”

“But we just wanted to help the poor boy out!”

“So tell us about this morning.”

“Well, he just showed up on my doorstep looking half scared out of his wits and covered in dirt. He asked if he could come to Mass with me. Of course I told him yes, and he got behind me on my scooter. We were riding along when a big truck appeared out of nowhere and started riding my tail. Then there were these loud pops, and he just tumbled off! I was so scared, but I found this little country lane that was too narrow for the truck and lost them. That’s when I called you boys. Oh, it just breaks my heart! He was always so polite!”

“Can you tell us about the truck?”

“Only that it was big.” Her eyes filled with tears again.

“Okay, Mrs. D., there’s your son. Why don’t you go talk to him while the agent and I finish up here?”

The FBI agent nodded after she had walked away. “Thank you, officer, that’s all I need for now. She’s lucky, but you need to find the others.”

“The timing is too coincidental.” The detective lowered his voice. “That was Maury the Mink on the back of her bike, wasn’t it? There was another murder last night. Sounds like Maury’s conscience was his undoing.”

“I can’t say, but she gave us some interesting facts that will help our investigation, including a link between Maury and Ronaldo. You’ll have to tell her son that she and her friends need to get into the witness protection program ASAP.”

The detective pushed his hands into his pockets. “Mayor Dougherty’s not going to like that.”

“It has to be done.”

“Well, then, agent, since you’re the tough guy here, how about you tell the old lady she’ll have to give up her scooter?”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Wine Suggestions

Just a small addition to the previous post -- for a more comprehensive list of Georgia wineries, try the Georgia Wine Country web site. Our own wineries have been encouraging us to "Drink Local," so check them out!

Okay, back to the business at hand. It's the holidays, and people have been asking me about what would be good wines to bring to parties, dinners, or "hide from the in-laws" gatherings (if you're hosting one of those, let me know). This brings up a quandary for us dedicated oenophiles. We want to bring something that's going to impress or at least reinforce those "expert wine person" opinions, but we're only going to get a little bit, so we probably don't want to go into our own cellars unless it's for someone really special. If it's a big party, that means multiple bottles, which then means more expense.

For this kind of wine, I went to two places: Total Wine at Perimeter, which is right near where I work, and to last Thursday's tasting at JavaMonkey, which featured "Go-To" wines that are "reasonable, affordable, and findable," selected by fellow oenophile Dan Browning (see right for blog -- Dan, update the darn thing!).

I got two great Bordeaux from Total Wine, a Chateau Bellevue for around $8 and a Vieux Chateau Grean for around $11. Both were great, medium-bodied and food-friendly wines with good acidity. I also got an old vine Garnacha that wasn't very good due to overbearing ripe fruit and an odd finish (Nostrada).

Now for the JavaMonkey wines:

2006 Saint-Hilaire (Blanquette de Limoux, France):
Citrus with mild yeast, good bubbles
Rating: Good

2007 Basa Blanco (Rueda, Spain): 50% Verdejo, 40% Viera, and 10% Sauvignon Blanc
One of those interesting whites I like, this one has lemony minerality with floral overtones. A nice alternative to boring Chardonnay.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Cycles Gladiator Syrah (Central Coast, California): 87% Syrah, 13% Petite Syrah
Chewy texture and a little smoky, this is one for those roasted holiday meats. Nice currant nose, a little applewood smoky with dark fruit; smooth.
Rating: Very Good
Irony: Cycles Gladiator is banned in Alabama because of the label art. However, both Hubby and I grew up there and think this wine would be a big hit at a Southern barbecue. Click here to see the pictures from when we took "Belle," the CG nymph, on a tour of Alabama's capital.

2006 Estancia Zinfandel (Paso Robles, California):
Cedar-cherry nose; very smooth with nice dark fruit
Rating: Good

2007 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California):
Blackberry nose, berry/fruity palate with a little anise/eucalyptus.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2007 Juan Gil Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain):
Funky nose. Caramel on the edge of the palate, fruity in the middle, and some spicy cloves, but a bitter finish.
Rating: Good

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tasting Notes & Winery Reviews: Three Sisters & Blackstock (North Georgia)

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and is having a great weekend. My assignment was to bring apple pie and macaroni & cheese. Both turned out really good:

I'd like to declare a mulligan for November, please. The month started with a thrown-out back, then a hurt neck, then a stomach virus, then back out again, and now a cold. Yeah, I'm so ready for December! With all the crap that's happened this month, I haven't had much time or opportunity for blog-worthy stuff, and I didn't really think y'all would have much patience for my whining. I do intend to write a review of the Iberian Pig, especially since I think that the "professional" reviewers have been unnecessarily harsh, but I want to go back and try the entrees first. I've also gotten a new laptop, and it's been fun trying to get everything moved over.

Let's go back to the end of October, when Hubby, my parents, and I checked out a couple of the North Georgia wineries. For those who haven't been following me on Twitter and who don't know, my parents got a second/retirement home in Blairsville, and Hubby and I got a key. Yes, we're very excited. Here's the view from the porch that weekend, when the leaves were nearing peak color:

Impressive, no? Just as impressive was the lunch I fixed us for our five-year wedding anniversary, stuffed lobster tail with Caprese salad and an unoaked Chardonnay (don't remember which one -- got something cheap-ish since I was cooking with it):

We first tried to stop at Frogtown, but they had moved their tasting outside due to a wedding. My father is allergic to yellow jackets, and it was cold for my mom, so we decided to try them another day and go over the hill to Three Sisters Vineyards (not on the Georgiawine.com list). This is a winery that prides itself on not taking itself too seriously. You'll often see the owners, one of whom wears overalls, in the tasting room.

They have two levels of tasting. The "Vintner's Tasting" costs $12, and you get to keep the glass. It includes tastes of six wines, four from the top tier, all dry wines (price points $14-$28) and two from the lower tier. The "Complimentary Tasting" is free and includes three tastes from the lower tier, which range in description from "Off Dry" to "Dang Sweet" (price points $8.99-$15.99) and no glass. We went for the "Vintner's Tasting" because the cabin needs wine glasses, and we wanted to try a full range of wines. Here's what I tried:

Top Tier:

2004 Chardonnay (No Oak!):
Has the "Georgia wine" nose with a hint of muscadine, but mostly citrus. The palate is a nice balance of vanilla, lemon, and melon.
Rating: Very Good

2004 Cabernet Franc:
A lighter-bodied Cab Franc, this one had a spicy, oaky nose but ended up being a little cough-syrupy.
Rating: Okay/Good

2004 Cab/Merlot:
Bing cherry nose, medium-bodied and fruity.
Rating: Good

2004 Cynthiana: Norton grape
Black cherry nose, but otherwise unremarkable.
Rating: Good

Lower Tier:

Chestatee Red: Cab/Merlot blend
Berry and plum
Rating: Good

Blood Mountain Red:
Smells like a real red, jammy and a little viscous in texture
Rating: Good to Very Good

We got a bottle each of the No Oak! Chardonnay and the Blood Mountain Red, which pairs well with Cheetos, as they demonstrate during the tasting, and should go well with barbecue.

I did take a picture of their vineyards, but went for the vineyard view over the Three Sisters mountain view, for which the winery is named:

Our next stop was BlackStock, which is close by Frogtown and Three Sisters. Their tasting is eight wines for $10, and they'll comp a tasting if you buy four bottles. Hubby and I each got a tasting and passed back and forth, so that's how I have notes on more than eight. They also have the beautiful views:


From the tasting room:

Here's what we tried:

2007 Chardonnay:
Mineral and citrus with a melon finish; wants cheese
Rating: Very Good
Wow, two Chards I liked in a day!

2008 Chardonnay:
A little smoke on the back of the palate.
Rating: Good

2007 Viognier:
smoky/earthy nose, a little grassy
Rating: Good

2008 Reserve Viognier:
A little oaky with a lot of stone fruit.
Rating: Good

2006 Sangiovese Rosé:
Dry with mild oak, just short of syrupy with nice strawberry notes
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

2008 Sangiovese:
Italian-style with big fruity nose and a dry, spicy finish
Rating: Very Good

2005 Merlot:
Dark fruit nicely balanced with oak
Rating: Very Good

2005 ACE Family Reserve: reserve Merlot, Mourvedre, and Touriga
Liked the previous vintage better
Rating: Good

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon:
Fruit and leather nose, tannic but smooth
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

2005 Reserve Merlot:
More full-bodied than the non-reserve with more oak and darker fruit.
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

NV Touriga Dulce:
Can smell the alcohol on the nose, but not bad with berry and caramel notes.

Blackstock's tasting room also offers a limited array of wine munchies such as a cheese sampler, chocolate port cup, and French baguette. Additional pours are $1.00, and they also offer wines by the glass. Price points on bottle go from $10.99 to $26.99.

We came home with Sangiovese, Sangiovese Rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

For information on Georgia wineries, the area, and an almost full list of wineries and tasting rooms, go to www.georgiawine.com.

Tasting Tips:

1. Before you go, check websites for tasting room hours. Also consider calling ahead, especially during the week off-peak and on weekends during peak due to closings for events. For example, we tried to go to Montaluce on the way up that Saturday, but by the time we got there, they weren't accepting any more walk-in tastings because they were clearing the place for a wedding.

2. As Hubby and I did, consider getting a tasting for each person and passing glasses back and forth if you're sure neither of you are sick and you feel comfortable doing so. Most of the pours are 4-6 sips' worth, so you should have enough to get an idea of the wine.

3. Ask questions about where the grapes are grown, how the wines are made, etc. The people there are more than happy to answer questions and talk, and they're a little more laid-back than in other regions. There's no point in pulling a snobby wine attitude EVER, but especially here.

4. Remember where you're staying in relation to the wineries. For example, if you've got to drive back to Atlanta or go over Blood Mountain, take it easy or bring or hire a driver.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tasting Notes: Beaujolais Nouveau Release Party at JavaMonkey

One of my major professional conferences is always the weekend of Beaujolais Release. It was off by one weekend last year, and this year I skipped it because it was in New York and I decided to put those funds toward a new laptop instead. I'm already close to getting my CEU's for this biennium. Yes, it would have been fun to eat and Tweet my way through NYC, but wow, it was going to cost a lot just for the hotel! Having second thoughts now.

So this past Thursday brought me to JavaMonkey for the fifth annual Beaujolais Nouveau release party and Beaujolais tasting. All the wines were from the Georges DuBoeuf winery.

The 2009 Nouveau got mixed reviews. Hubby said it was better than last year's. I found it to be pomegranate-scented cranberry juice with wimpy tannins. Yes, I just said wimpy tannins; that means that there just wasn't much to it for me. Others said raspberry.

I skipped the Beaujolais-Villages and Chardonnay and went to the 2008 Brouilly Flower Label, which is a Cru, or French for "better stuff." The Brouilly had tart cherry notes and some bitterness on the back of my tongue.

Next was the 2007 Juliénas "La TrinQuée." According to the DuBoeuf web site, which has amusing tidbits about the names as well as the wines themselves, this is a favorite among writers and should also be "served with early spring barbecues." I got a little smoke on the nose as well as the palate, but it dissipated as the wine opened. It was again dark berry with some eucalyptus (but in a good way).

The last one I tried was the Domaine de la Tour du Bief Moulin-a-Vent. That was a cruel one to put last on the list -- who can say all that after five glasses? -- but funny to hear everyone stumble their way through the name. This one was the closest to the reds I normally like with some body and nice cherry notes. I didn't get to finish it, however, because...

...disaster struck! We were sitting with some friends at one of the high top tables near the windows in the wine bar, and one of them got up to take a client phone call (lawyer). He bumped the table, and the Beaujolais took the opportunity to escape. The wine in the three glasses on the other side of the table curled up and out like so many small ruby waves and crashed all over Hubby and one of our other friends, but mostly him. We ended up leaving early because although the wine wasn't at cellar temperature, it was a lot of cold liquid on a chilly night in some very uncomfortable places. Let's just say he didn't appreciate my "Is that Beaujolais in your pants, or did someone try to murder you?" comment. I do have to give Jess and the JavaMonkey staff credit for being very apologetic and accommodating even though it wasn't their fault.

Yeah, maybe I should've gone to New York.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tasting Notes: Six Blind Tastes at JavaMonkey

Apologies for the delay between my last post and this one. I should've figured something was up when I was super irritable on Thursday and was nearly in tears over trying -- and failing until late in the day -- to buy a new laptop. Then I almost threw my Blackberry down the parking deck steps when my attempts to call Hubby ended in multiple, okay two, dropped call fails. Normally I'm a pretty even-tempered gal, but I was being stalked and didn't realize it. I should've given up that evening when a wave of profound fatigue hit me while I sat at dinner with Hubby, but I wasn't paying attention. But I knew Friday morning that my stalker, the one that had turned me into superb*tch on Thursday, was a stomach virus.

Of all the cruddy things to get... It's keeping my from joining my parents and BabySis at the North Georgia cabin. The worst part? I don't even feel like drinking coffee or wine, and chocolate? Ugh, no thanks! Yeah, that's how I know I'm sick.

So, enough about me and my whining. On to the fun kind of wine...

Hubby and I decided that, since I was going to be done with work early on Thursday, we could actually go to dinner before the tasting instead of grabbing something quick at JavaMonkey like we usually do. I'll post a full review of Pharm House later, like when I can think about food again, with my first impressions of Iberian Pig. I just want to make it clear that I was already getting sick when we were there, and my tummy bug has NOTHING to do with the restaurant or the food.

We didn't know what the tasting would be, and I actually had a premonition with a thought, "I hope it's not a brown bag tasting!" Imagine my dismay when it turned out to be just that. I'll admit to not putting my full oenophile effort into guessing the wines, but I do have full notes and ratings.

Wine #1 was very fruity with a floral melon (someone else said pear) nose, dry finish, and mineral backbone. Our guesses included Albarino, Viognier, and Oregon Pinot Gris. We were closest with the last one. This was an incredibly hefty and fruity Italian (Venezie) Pinot Grigio, the 2008 Zenato.
Rating: Good (maybe should be Very Good since it's an Italian Pinot Grigio that Hubby actually liked)

The most obvious characteristic of Wine #2 was its toasty oaky nose and flavor. It also had a strong floral gardenia overlay and a crushed flower petal finish. Yep, it was the 2008 Mark West Chardonnay (Central Coast, California -- duh!).
Rating: Meh, but I'm not an okay chard fan

The question about number three was not so much what, but from where. We ruled out France right away because it didn't have enough acidity. Classic Pinot Noir flavors of cherry with a little vanilla on the finish. Hubby and I found the 2008 Lucky Star Pinot Noir from California to be very smooth and drinkable.
Rating: Very Good

Okay, so this is where I kind of gave up. I have to give kudos to famous violinist Kirsten Browning* props for picking out the next one as a Tempranillo. Lots of dark fruit, but again with smooth tannins and nicely balanced acidity, the 2005 Sierra Cantabria Crianza (Rioja, Spain) was another favorite.
Rating: Very Good

No one at the table got #5, the 2008 Saint Cosme (Cotes-du Rhone, France), which is 100% Syrah. Barnyard funk (yes, really!) on the nose, chewy and fruity with good acidity. Yeah, that's what I get for not studying my French wines this year like I had intended.
Rating: Good

The last one was another obvious one, the Alvear's Amontillado (Montila, Spain), a 100% Pedro Ximenez sherry. Okay, I didn't get all the fancy stuff, but I did pick it out as a sherry. Oaky cedar nose and not too sweet, this was another one that Hubby liked, and he usually turns his nose up at sherry.

We're looking forward to this coming Thursday's Beaujolais Release party at JavaMonkey. Wine, food, more wine, and prizes! I came away with a corkscrew, beret, and scarf last year. The scarf got incorporated into my Random Oenophile costume for the Decatur Book Festival, and sometimes I wear the beret just for fun because I look good in hats. Hope to see you there!

*She's really good, and she teaches lessons!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Decatur Wine Fest: The Good, The Bad, and the Warmish

When I first heard that the Decatur Wine Festival was always held the first full weekend in November, I was shocked. "Are you crazy?" I thought. "The weather is going to be terrible!"

I've now attended the Wine Fest three years in a row, and each time, the weather has been fantastic, although the beginning and end of the day last year were chilly. The forecast yesterday was for a high of 67 and sunny, so Hubby put on our jackets and walked to downtown Decatur, where the entrance was indicated by a line of people snaking along the sidewalk and over by the old courthouse. While we waited, I spotted something that one rarely, if ever, sees in Decatur -- available parking:

It stayed empty for a good five minutes, too!

I also got a picture of the big wine grapes on top of the tents juxtaposed with Christmas decorations, which Decatur puts out after Halloween:

Merry Winefest!

The jackets came off quickly. The deceptive thing about "67 and sunny" is that on the square on top of the MARTA station, it ends up being about 78 and sunburn-inducing. I'm actually a little concerned about Hudson of Two Friends Imports (aka "The Macedonian Wine guys"). He was looking seriously pink by the end of the day, but then, like me, he was wearing black. While speaking with his business partner, I revisited the Popova Kula Merlot and Cab, which I'd reviewed before, and found that I liked the Cab better this time.

Side note: I got lots of comments on my "Drinks well with others" t-shirt. So if you were there and told me you liked it, thanks for the compliment!

Hubby and I started in the sun because last year, we noted that some of the reds had become undrinkably warm. My plan: focus on reds and try some of the more interesting-sounding whites

The first stop was Angeline/Pernod-Ricard at Table 26. I rated the Campo Viejo Crianza as Very Good, and the Graffigna Malbec was Okay due to its odd finish.

Then we stepped to Table 27, Freixenet. This wine holds good memories for me because when I graduated with my M.S. degree in 2002, I had a small party (didn't want to celebrate too hard when the Ph.D. was the final target), and I could afford the Freixenet sparkling on my graduate student budget. We've found their wines to be consistently good through the years. Here's what we tried:

Freixenet Cordon Rosado: Very Good -- don't let the pink color fool you; this is an excellent sparkling

Segura Viudas Aria: Good

Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi: Very Good to Excellent: bubbles with elegant dry citrus flavor

Tapena Verdejo: Good

Tapena Tempranillo: Meh to Good, a victim of the sun already

Tapena Garnacha: Good to Very Good with interesting sweetness on the edges of the palate

A brief stop at Table 28, Gruppo Mezzacorona, found another heat victim, the Righetti Valpolicella. I'm going to try that one sometime when it's not been overheated.

Hubby wanted to go to Table 30, Legacy Sales, because of the Soprano's wine line. One of the volunteers told us it was part of a promotion for an upcoming movie. I tried the Pinot Grigio, which was very good. Hubby said the reds were okay, but already warm.

Speaking of interesting labels, I'm a sucker for wine with dessert names, so we shifted to Table 31, Concannon. The wines:

Cupcake Chardonnay: didn't try, but Hubby said it was an "over-the-top oak bomb" Yeah, he liked it.

Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc: Good. It's a Marlborough. 'Nuff said.

Cupcake Merlot: Meh, had a funky structure and flavor profile

Cupcake Riesling: Very Good and Very Dry, just how I like my Rieslings

Table 33, M Imports, looked like they had some interesting Portugese wines, so we skipped the Pacific Southern (Kenwood, NO, Firesteed) and went there. The NOPA inho Verde was Good to Very Good but wanted food. The Qinta do Portal Grande Reserve Duoro was also Good to Very Good with an interesting cherry nose and very dry finish.

Table 35, Avanti Fine Wines, apparently had not monitored the amount poured by their volunteers. They were already out of the Villa Granda Prosecco, and it wasn't even 2:00 yet! The Alba Rosa Albarino was Very Good, and the Sombrero Rojo Crianza rated a Good to Very Good.

Catamarca Imports at Tables 38 and 39 had noted the heat problem and was taking care of the reds. Intrigued by the blend, I had the Eguren Shyraz Tempranillo, which was Very Good to Excellent.

Back to the interesting names, Hubby and I went to Table 42, Unique World Wines, for the Big Red Monster, a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Petite Syrah. It was big and fruity, as promised, and rated a Very Good to Excellent. Norman "The Monster" Zin, another fruit bomb, was Very Good.

We did stop by the Sherlock's table to find Warner and Darryl. Most of the wines looked familiar to us, so we only tried a few:

Chateau Marjosse Blanc: Good to Very Good

Chateau Lescours St Emilion: Meh

J Sanders Nuit St George Vaucrains: Meh

By that point, it was time for a food break and the first raffle. The food went better than the raffle, although there were long lines at all the tables. I tried some pasta from Zucca and renewed my intention to try that place out soon. The Pharm House had run out of chicken salad sandwiches, and I just didn't feel like vegetable soup, although I heard it was very good. I did try one of the sandwiches later, and it was okay, but a little bland. Hubby got a meatball from the Iberian Pig. Cake Cafe Atlanta (warning: web site has cheesy music) had brought something, but it was gone by the end of the first hour, and people were scraping up caramel icing off a board with forks. As much as I love icing, I didn't want to kill my palate so early. FIGO similarly ran out quickly. Later in the afternoon, I had some Praline Pecans, but I'm not sure from where, and The Grange was dishing up excellent wine munchie food: mashed potatoes, gravy, and sausages. The most perfect food for the afternoon? Definitely Parker's on Ponce with their fancy cheeses and bread and/or crackers.

Okay, back to the wines.

Hubby and I enjoyed stopping by the Mad Housewife table (#1). We tried the Merlot and the Cabernet, which were both Very Good, especially at their $7 price point. They're not fancy examples of what they are, but I think they're great "training wines" for beginning oenophiles as well as good "pop open on a weeknight" wines. No, I have not received any freebies or other endorsement compensation from the Mad Housewife or Rainier Wines.

Table 2 brought us to the Pacific Rim/Oregon wines. I tried the King's Ridge Oregon Pinot Gris, which was Good but not great. We tried to skip around the crowd and go to Quality Wine & Spirits at Table 15, but the crowd caught up with us. The Crios Rose of Malbec was good, and the Malbec itself would have been very good had it not been warm. Quality W&S also poured from Table 16, and I tried the Evodia Old Vine Garnacha, which was Okay but had an odd herb taste.

Still in the shade, Table 20 (Delicato) poured the 181 Merlot, Very Good and fruity, and the Brazin Old Vine Zin, which was Good but lacked brazenness and body. We tried a couple of Pinot Noirs at Table 21, Georgia Crown. The Redtree was Good. The Veramonte was Meh. Finally, we visited Artie at Table 22, Georgia Crown, and Table 23, Banfi--Italy. The Zaca Mesa Z Cuvee was Very Good, and the Banfi Rosso di Montalcino was Very Good. I was disappointed to find that they were all out of the "Rosa Regale." Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it in my previous post because Feast had also run out of the bread pudding, which was my suggested pairing.

By the end of the Wine Fest, we had a serious case of the Wine Munchies, so we headed to the Brick Store, where we sat in the Belgian bar and enjoyed some beer and frites:

Finally, thank you to Dan Browning and Artie Macon of Banfi for their tips in the comments section of my last post! I did take your tips to heart, and it seems that several others did as well. Thanks also to Hudson of Two Friends Imports, who was turning pink (see above) and pouring some good Macedonian Wines at Table 47, for his comment. Also, thank you to the Decatur Metro and inDecatur blogs (see right) and Inside Access for re-posting my Wine Tasting survival tips.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this post are my own, but I am not responsible for what others say in the comments section. I'm still not getting any freebies for my reviews. Bite me, FTC.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Decatur Wine Festival: Survival and Etiquette

For those who don't know, the Decatur Wine Festival is a fundraiser for the Decatur Arts Alliance. The event takes over the Decatur Square from the area behind the Old Courthouse (where the Bandstand is) to the part of the square on top of the MARTA station. Last year there were fifty tables, each from a different winery or distributor, lined up around the edges of the designated area.

One of the best parts of the festival is that several Decatur restaurants offer samples of items from their menus. A full list of participating restaurants is on the Decatur Wine Festival web site. Often they bring signature dishes; for example, Feast usually has a big pot of their famous white chocolate bread pudding (great especially when paired with the Banfi Rosa Regale).

Of course it's impossible to taste every single wine. First, the festival is only a few hours long. Second, a lot of tables start to run out toward the end of the day, especially the ones from popular or well-known wineries. Third, even if you have phenomenal tolerance, you've got to pace yourself.

Here are some survival and etiquette tips:

1. Bring a bottle of water and/or avail yourself of the ones there, if offered. Even though there are jugs with water at the table, an occasional glass of water is not going to be enough to stay hydrated while drinking wine, especially if it's hot and dry outside. Try to consume equal parts water and wine, ideally more water than wine. Hopefully they will continue to have the fancy portable bathrooms. Also, avail yourself of the food and keep something in your tummy. I'm looking forward to trying the samples from Pharm House and Iberian Pig because I haven't been to either yet (will likely try one or the other on Thursday).

2. To keep things moving, get a pour and move to the back of the line. Sip as you move forward again. There's nothing more frustrating than waiting forever for someone to go through four or five tastes while they block the entire table.

3. Rinse between tastes, especially if you're going back and forth between reds and whites.

4. Try to save the sweet wines for the end. They'll burn your palate. They also tend to have higher alcohol content, and really, who wants to be sick by 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon?

5. As I mentioned above, pacing is everything. Hubby and I have a "two sip, three strike" rule: If the wine isn't good after two sips (two to allow for the interference of previous tastes), it gets dumped. If you try three wines at a table and don't like any of them, move on. Don't try to sample everything!

Disclaimer: all of the content of this post is mine. I didn't get any perks or freebies from the Decatur Arts Alliance or any of the festival sponsors. No wines were harmed in the writing of this material, although I can't make any guarantees for later.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tasting Notes: Spicy Reds at JavaMonkey

Fear not, those of you who may be wondering what the heck I'm doing with all this fiction stuff! I have wine notes for you as well.

Last night's tasting at JavaMonkey was "Spicy Reds," a cousin to the ever-popular "Big Ass Reds" that Jess likes to pull out during cold weather. I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of spicy food, but I was intrigued by the idea. Here's what we tasted:

2007 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia (Rioja, Spain): blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, percentages not provided
The structure of the wine seems delicate after the thick, dark fruit nose promises more. This one is medium-bodied, but like a woman who is told she's not voluptuous enough, it gives the palate a spicy kick on the way out.
Rating: Good

2006 Casa Silva Reserva Carmenère (Colchuaga Valley, Chile):
This one's all about the 5's: five generations of winemakers, and five months on oak. Nice blackberry nose and tongue-coating blackberry-plum with a little toffee, but the finish is nicely spicy instead of burning like the previous wine.
Rating: Very Good

2007 La Posta Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina): Grapes are from the Pizzella family vineyard.
Smooth berry, sharp acidity, and spice that melts to smoke and then evaporates. This one gets the "Most Interesting" award for the night.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Cantele Primitivo (Salento, Italy):
A light nose, but fun on the palate, where the fruit goes to spice to a nice cedar and butter finish.
Random note: These guys are @CanteleWines on Twitter.

2006 Peachy Canyon "Incredible Red" (Paso Robles, California): 100% Zinfandel
A little raisiny, and definitely tastes "hot." I have to admit, I was randomly offended by someplace outside of Georgia daring to use a peach descriptor.
Rating: Good* (had nothing to do with the peachy bit)

2006 Vinum Africa Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch, South Africa):
Earthy, herbal nose. Hubby deemed it to be "leathery," and I agreed.
Rating: Okay*

*I'd like to try those last two on their own or with food before I form a solid opinion on them. Hubby noted that we seemed to have a similar problem to what we encountered while attending the Wine & Chocolate Festival (ohyeah!) in Lodi in February: after so much heavy tannin and spice, the palate just gets burned out. Tonight, I'm drinking an old-vine Lodi zin from Macchia Vineyards, their Prestigious, which is high alcohol content at 15.7% and a little raisiny. I don't know that I would've liked it last night, but I'm very happy with it tonight.

Friday Flash: Tears of a Clown

"Did you say that was flash fiction or flesh fiction?" Hubby asked earlier. I told him flash fiction. So sorry to disappoint...

Here is my Friday Flash piece for the week. This one is for all those kids who took crap for being afraid of clowns.

Tears of a Clown

Charlie stood on the bottom church step, his hands tucked in his pockets, and tried to appear calm. The orange streetlamps had never turned off in the day's damp gloom, and their amorphous halos faded into the leaden sky. Tight knots of people huddled in line for hot cider in the square or a tour of the graveyard, and a mute clown on the church steps entertained children with balloon animals.

He tried not to look to the other side of the square, where his partner in this crazy sting, Margaret of Cornwall, or just Maggie to him, would be melting in and out of groups. Her auburn hair under her smart purple cap made her easy to spot. He was the surprise, the secret. They hoped that whatever prowled the booths and killed people in their dreams would target her, and he would be backup. He shifted to the right for a better view.

"Hey, watch it!" A solid object clattered to the cement, and Charlie almost reached for his gun and blew his cover. He looked down to see that he'd bumped against a long white-tipped metal cane that had been propped against the stone stairs. An old man, whom Charlie had barely noticed, squinted up at him from the bottom step. The guy had a white streak down one of his wizened, prickly cheeks, and the missing teeth in his scowl made him look like a shrunken Jack-O'-Lantern. He ground a piece of chalk into the wet pavement beside a dented red plastic cup.

"I'm sorry, sir," Charlie said. "I'll get that for you."

"You'd better." The old man made lines and squiggles on the sidewalk with the chalk, and Charlie watched, fascinated, as they became the line drawing of a familiar face: his own. Panic rose in his chest. Maggie had told him to watch out for anything unusual or odd. The blind guy shouldn't be able to see him that well, especially not in the half-light. The air around him turned colder, damper, and he shivered. He climbed two steps and looked around for Maggie, but she was nowhere to be seen.

A flash of color caught his eye. The clown, whose blue hair hung in drab ringlets under his shabby red cap, approached. He had a tear painted at the corner of each eye and along his cheeks, and his faded red mouth corners pointed downward in a frown.

"The artist would like a donation." The polite phrasing and wording did nothing to hide the menace in the clown's tone.

Charlie dug through his pockets, but he didn’t have any cash. "I'll bring one tomorrow."

"The festival is over tonight." The clown's voice became a growl that resonated in the center of Charlie's chest. "All over." He reached for Charlie, who stumbled backwards up the steps. His instincts told him not to let the clown touch him. Curse, hex, whatever the thing did to him, it would be swift, invisible, and lethal.

"Hey, Demon!" Maggie called. She stood at the top of the steps, and her long turquoise coat swirled around her. The wind picked up and drove the tiny droplets of water into exposed skin. Thunder boomed overhead, and lightning crackled across the sky as time turned backwards for a moment and then halted, the festival attendees frozen in place.

The clown stopped just inches short of touching Charlie and turned its attention to her.

"You know I've got more of what you want," she teased and batted her eyelashes at it. "Immortal energy, yum yum!"

Charlie wasn't ready for the swiftness of the demon. To the human's eyes, it looked like a blur met Maggie's outstretched boot and rolled down the stairs. It crumpled, faded, and disappeared. He got to her side as quickly as he could and found her doubled over and breathless.

"Phew, that was quite a hit!" she panted. "You got those bullets I gave you?"

He nodded and pulled out his gun.

"Good. This time when he appears, don't do anything until I tell you to. Not a move! Understand?"

"I do. But I’m not going to let you get hurt."

She shook her head. "Trust me. It may look silly, and I've stunned it, but it's a nasty critter. If it gets me, it will only knock me back a few centuries, but it will eat your very essence so that nothing will remain. All trace of you will be erased. Each of those tears on its face? A past victim. Including the blind artist, who became its puppet to lure new victims."

She put her hands on his shoulders and swung him out of the way before the clown reappeared beside them and lunged for her. Charlie stumbled but got his balance and stood with his gun aimed at where they fought. Again, just blurs, her turquoise flashing against the clown's gray and red. They moved too fast for Charlie to get a clear shot.

"Now!" Maggie held the clown in a head lock. It squirmed, and Charlie couldn't get a true aim.

"Damn your little blue boy balls, Charlie, shoot it!"

He aimed as best he could and fired. The clown roared and disappeared. Maggie rubbed her arm where the bullet had gone through the thing's shoulder and grazed her.

"Sonofabitch, that stings!"

Charlie ran to her side and looked at the wound. "You're gonna need stitches."

She stopped him from tracing it with his fingertip. "Demon blood only irritates me. It would poison you." She looked at him through her dark lashes. "And I can't let anything happen to you."

He ran his thumb along her jaw line, and his heart jumped to his throat when she covered his hand with hers and held it there. She must have been more scared than she'd let on.

"I've never kissed an immortal before, especially not one with such a filthy mouth," he said. "Such language!"

"Oh, shut up, Detective."

And he did.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brick Store Trappist Beer Dinner: European-Style Drinking and Dining

One of the things I loved about eating out in Belgium is that when you reserve a table, you reserve a table. You are seated when you arrive, the maitre'd whisks away the little stand with the card that has a script-printed "Réservé" on it, and for the rest of the evening, that's your table. The service is excellent, the food is wonderful, and you don't have to worry about them wanting to turn the table, so the pace is yours and the kitchen's to set.

Mike Gallagher and the Brick Store Pub achieved a similar vibe with the Trappist Belgian beer dinner on October 19. Hubby, Babysis, and I were seated at the six-top in the corner of the Belgian Beer bar ("upstairs and to the left") with some of the guys from the Cypress Street Pint & Plate. This was at 7:00. At 10:00, things were just winding down. It was great food, better beer, and a European sense of dining.

The things that made this Beer Dinner unique and quickly sold-out included the focus on Trappist beer, an assortment of chefs from well-known, emerging, and one to-be restaurant, and Belgian beer celebrity Francois de Harenne from the Orval Brewery. During the second course, he gave a lecture on the brewery process as well as the history of the place. Our table happened to be by the stained-glass window picturing the Orval fish and ring logo. The legend is that in 1076, Countess Mathilde of Tuscany lost her wedding ring in the fountain at the head of the monastery's spring. She prayed to the Virgin Mary to restore her ring, and a trout brought it back to the surface. The Countess dubbed the place as the "Golden Valley," or "Val d'Or" and gave a bunch of money to the monks to found the monastery.

The "Reception" course included passed hors d'oeuvres by Rian Tittle of the Brick Store Pub and Eric Ottensmeyer and Robert Lupo of Leon's Full Service accompanied by a "6 Months Young" Orval. The Olive Oil & Sea Salt Roasted Celery Root, Ginger Pickled Beets, and Spiced Poached Cranberry turned out to be a tangy complement to the hops in the Orval (I know this because Francois said so). The Jerk Chicken Confit and Mango Jam served on a Plantain Chip was the table's favorite with its combination of spicy, fruity, and crunchy, and it smoothed out the beer. Finally, the Seared Lamb Chop with Chow-Chow and Wild Mushroom Sauce made for a savory finish to that course.

The first course, by Richard Neal of Decatur favorite Cakes & Ale was a good representation of the style of dish for that restaurant. Seared Wild Alaskan Halibut (from Sawicki's? – my speculation) served with Spelt Grain Salad, Sunflower Sprouts, and Radish lured us into a false sense of healthiness. It was served with the Westmalle Tripel, which, according to its creator Brother Thomas (no, he wasn't there, but was quoted), demonstrates "well-balanced and beautiful complexity." No, I've never heard a Belgian explain anything so efficiently, and I would know, being half Belgian (yeah, yeah, that explains a lot on this blog). Light in color, slightly sweet, but with that Trappist tang, the Westmalle is a great beer, so I concur with Brother Thomas.

Westmalle, like Orval, is made with raw materials only. Rochefort (couldn't find web site) and Chimay have spices added to them. The Rochefort 10, served with the next course, was darker, a little sweeter, but also smoother, kind of like the Quadruppel style. No, I'm not sure what the Rochefort numbers mean. This was one of the more anticipated courses of the night, Scrambled Farm Eggs with Candied Bacon, Spent Grain Bread, and Truffled Gouda by Chris Hall of the not-yet-open restaurant Local 3. Ohyeah, breakfast for dinner:

I talked to Chris after the dinner, and he said he wasn't sure how the course would go over. Silly chef! That's the one I'm still thinking about over a week later.

It was back to Westmalle for the third course, Riverview Farms Berkshire Pork Rillette, Crusty Bread, Cornichon Slaw, and Westmalle Dubbel Mustard by Todd Mussman of Muss & Turner's. The Westmalle Dubbel was another light, sweeter beer, and it balanced out the richness of the pork, which had a slight layer of fat over a tuna-like texture. Sounds strange, but it worked, especially when combined with slaw and spicy mustard:

The Rochefort 8 appeared with the fourth course by Ryan Smith of Holeman & Finch. It was Duck Two Ways: Duck Mortadella & Duck Pastrami with Chestnut Ravioli & Quince Paste. The smoothness of the Rochefort complemented the quince paste, which was served in a cube. The Duck Mortadella was served as the center of the Duck Pastrami (I think – things were a little fuzzy by that point, hence the lack of picture), and I ate mostly that part. The Chestnut Ravioli was excellent.

Finally, dessert. As one of our table mates put it, this was a distillation of the flavors we love in Belgian beer: Spiced, Roasted Baby Banana, Chocolate Orange Crémeux, & Caramel Canellé. The artist behind the dessert was Mel Toledo of 5 Seasons Prado, where they brew a pretty good Belgian-style beer, and the beer pairing for the course was the 2007 Vintage Orval. As Francois told us, the alcohol increases to 7.1% a year after bottling, the beer is "less aggressive and more round," and the foam is creamier. Here's dessert:

The chefs came up to be applauded once the dinner concluded, and I got to talk to a few of them. It sounded like they had as much fun as we did, and I think it showed in the food. I will definitely look for Local 3 to open up, if only to see if they have breakfast for dinner on the menu.

Now that I look back on it, I'm not sure what was more exciting: great Trappist beer and amazing food, or having a spot held just for me in the Belgian Beer Bar at Brick Store, which tends to be impossible to get into after work hours. The service was European-style as well, especially how the staff made sure to come around with water frequently. I will definitely be looking out for the next beer dinner, and if it's a Trappist one, count me in!

Random Notes: I apologize for the delay in this post. Last Friday was our fifth wedding anniversary, and I'd had a crazy busy week, so I didn't get my usual Friday writing time. We spent the weekend at my parents' cabin in North Georgia. More about that trip in a future post.

Thursday evening October 29 will find me at JavaMonkey, where we'll be tasting Spicy Reds. Tune into my stream on Twitter for live tasting notes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Flash: All Expenses Paid

Twitter has a great community of writers. On Fridays, many of us post "flash fiction," or stories of one thousand words or less. You can read others by searching the #fridayflash tag on Twitter.

All Expenses Paid

“Now pay attention, y’all.” The flight attendant held up the demo seatbelt and buckle. “We’re going near the Bermuda triangle. There’s no telling what’ll happen.”

Eric shifted his attention from the view outside his window – gray, heavy storm clouds that threatened a thunderstorm at any minute – to the flight attendant, who met his gaze more often than was coincidental.

“Not a bad piece of ass, eh?” Eric’s seat mate elbowed him. The man already sweated underneath his salt-and-pepper curls in spite of the open air vent pointed right at him. The ice in his glass had melted and turned the dark soda a caramel color.

“She’s all right.” Eric blotted at the sloshed martini on his arm with a napkin.

“So, d’you know who that is up in 1A?”


“That’s Harley Quinn, the CEO of this operation! I guess he’s taking a well-deserved vacation.”

Eric noted that Quinn, a distinguished older gentleman with silver hair, didn’t look relaxed. His skin had an ashen tint under his tan, and he, too, seemed intent on ignoring his seat mate, a swarthy man in a dark suit who spoke in a low undertone.

“Who’s the dude next to him?” Eric asked.

“That’s Olen Scratch, the chief consultant who advised Quinn during the bankruptcy period.”

Eric watched the ground fall away during take-off. He’d heard that the most dangerous times on a plane were when leaving the ground and meeting it again. There was probably something profound in that, but his thoughts were again interrupted.

“You headed on vacation?”

“Yep.” Eric hoped the guy would get the hint: short answers mean leave me alone.

“I'm here for a little business, some pleasure.” The man’s smile disturbed Eric. “I find things that people have lost.”

“You’re a detective?”

“You wouldn’t believe the number of husbands who fake their own deaths and skip out with the family finances to set up on a tropical island.”

“Oh. A lawyer.”

“Is everything all right?” The deep voice belonged to Quinn, whose aristocratic features had relaxed into polite inquiry. He stood beside their row.

“It’s great, but a little warm,” said Eric. He noted the hysterical edge to Quinn's laugh.

“You may as well get used to it, gentlemen. Where you’re headed is a lot warmer than this!”

“True.” Eric looked out the window, and his heart beat in his throat. Why couldn’t he relax? Everything had gone smoothly since he won this trip.

“The captain has started the final descent.” The flight attendant’s voice sounded tinny and distant as she gave the landing preparation instructions.

She winked at Eric when she came through to collect remaining service items. "Find me later," she said.

Eric’s seat mate looked at him with new respect. “That one’ll take care of you,” he said. “Stick with her.”

“You know her?”

“We’ve worked together before.”

Before Eric could ask for clarification, he saw a flash, and the plane's nose turned downward. The passengers screamed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re having some trouble with our descent. Please assume the emergency landing positions.” Another bolt of lightning hit the plane, and the lights faded to the red glow of the emergency power system. The plane shuddered as though it would fall apart, and Eric closed his eyes, bracing for impact. He prayed to the God he’d grown up with for mercy on his soul and that his mother would never find the porn on his laptop. He even prayed for forgiveness for the impure thoughts he’d been having about the flight attendant.

Then there was quiet, the complete silence that Eric had imagined would happen with death. He raised his head. The emergency lights flickered and cast strange shadows over the other passengers, who lay strewn about like broken mannequins in vacation clothing. Eric saw Quinn stand along with Scratch.

“Is this price sufficient for you?” asked Quinn.

“Oh, aye,” Olen Scratch said, and Eric saw a gleam in his eyes. “Only one sincerely repented. The others spent their last moments justifying their moral crimes.”

“Take your price and go.”

Eric’s seat mate stood. “I have a pick-up to make, sir.”

Quinn’s jaw dropped. “You said you weren’t going to conduct any other business on this flight, Mr. Scratch.”

“Bubba here was already scheduled for it. Go get 'em, Bub. I’ll see you in Bermuda.”

Eric ducked his head as the two men disappeared, and his seat mate – Bub? A name flickered through his mind: Beelzebub? – walked toward the back of the plane.

The flight attendant appeared. “I knew you would do the right thing,” she said and held her hand out to him.

When he touched her, the carnage around them faded. They stood on a beach, the smoldering wreck of the plane barely visible in the ocean. He looked down and saw his clothes were torn and burned. Her uniform, however, was pristine.

“You escaped. How?”

“It’s my job to keep an eye on things.”

“What are you?”

She grinned, and the dimples in her cheeks showed. “Some call me an angel.”

“What was all this?”

“A tragedy.” Her blue eyes reflected the plume of steam and smoke in the distance. “The airline’s situation was desperate, so Harley Quinn made a deal with the devil himself. A plane full of guilty souls in exchange for getting out of bankruptcy. They staged the contest with customers who had gone to other airlines anyway. Everyone on that plane was a winner who lost.”

“What about me?”

She turned to him and squeezed his hand. “Enjoy your trip, Eric. By the way,” she whispered and leaned closer, “it’s not uncommon for survivors of tragedies such as this to have trouble remembering what happened. Consider this your one free lie.”

She kissed him on the cheek and disappeared. The sun and wind burned his face except for the cool cupid’s-bow imprint where her lips had touched his skin.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tasting Notes: Italian Wines at JavaMonkey and Majestic Fine Wines at Sherlock's

Yes, it's a plethora of tasting notes this week!

My New Year's Resolution was to drink more European wines, but after going to California in February and the Pacific Northwest in June, I haven't been good at keeping it. Like with other resolutions, temptation got in the way of follow-through. So thanks, Jess, for helping me keep it with the Italian wine tasting at JavaMonkey!

The wines (all Italian, so will just give regions):

2008 Ricossa Gavi (Piemonte): 100% Cortese
This is a good Italian white for those who complain that Pinot Grigio just doesn't have much to it. Mineral melon-citrus nose with a lot of lemon following through to the finish. Pesce, per favore!
Rating: Very Good

Lunetta Prosecco (Trentino):
Smells like beer, seriously! Yeah, it's a Prosecco, basically bubbles in a bottle, but trying it with an orange slice -- Italian Mimosa? -- brought out some interesting steely notes.
Rating: Good

2006 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico (Toscana): 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot
Berry nose, and acidic with a little bitterness around the edges and a funky finish. Didn't stand up to food at all.
Rating: Meh

2006 Ricossa Barbera d'Asti (Piemonte):
Plum-berry-currant nose with that fruit and a little bit of oak on the palate.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Rocca delle Macìe Sasyr (Toscana): 60% Sangiovese, 40% Syrah
Butter and blueberry on the nose, well-balanced with more berry and a little anise on the finish.
Random quote from another taster: "Smells like dinner, not like wine!"
Rating: Very Good

2008 Ricossa Moscato d'Asti (Piemonte):
Peaches and honeysuckle, sweet but not quite syrupy.
Rating: Good

The Barbera was my favorite with the Sasyr close behind.

Every so often, I get an email from Sherlock's about an "Extraordinary wine tasting event!" I guess that's opposed to their ordinary wine tastings on Saturday. This past Friday's hyperbolic tasting was of wines from Majestic Fine Wines, who do not have a public web site. They distribute Murphy-Goode wines and had some at the tasting. For those who are wondering why that sounds familiar, Atlanta's own Hardy Wallace is now their "Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent." He has the job that the rest of us oenophiles really want, getting paid to drink wine and write about it. His personal blog is Dirty South Wine. Now if only I could land a gig like that...

Yes, there were a lot of wines. Yes, I tasted all of them. Yes, I was there for a while and had lots of bread in between. Yes, they were all free for everyone, so I didn't get any wine-blogger privileges (bite me, FTC). Here are the wines:

2008 Murphy-Goode Fume Blanc (Sonoma):
Tropical grapefruit nose, but the finish fades into the tropical sunset a bit too quickly.
Rating: Good(e?)

2008 Longboat Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand):
Herb and green apple nose with a little toast on the palate. Yep, a typical grassy New Zealand Sauv Blanc.
Rating: Good-Very Good

2007 Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma):
Pink grapefruit and melon, very light.
Rating: Good

2007 Cambria Chardonnay (Santa Barbara):
Smoky oaky vanilla melon. Yeah, it's an oaky chardonnay. Not to my taste.
Rating: Okay

2006 Stonestreet Chardonnay (Sonoma):
Fruit and mineral with only a little oak.
Rating: Good

2007 Paco & Lola Albarino (Rias Baixas region of Spain):
Basil and floral nose, nicely balanced floral and citrus on the palate.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2007 Murphy-Goode Chardonnay:
Although this wine was billed as "apple pie in a glass," I found more pear and vanilla with a watery texture.
Rating: Meh

2006 Murphy-Goode Merlot:
This part of the given description cracked me up: "It's sourced from bench and hillside vineyards, where the grapes struggle in character-building conditions."
The character is blackberry with moderate tannins and smooth texture.
Rating: Good

2005 Matanzas Creek Merlot:
Boysenberries, cherries, and clove on the nose; blackberry, pepper, and earthy notes on the palate.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon:
Blackberry and thyme nose. More fruit with vanilla and oak, this one opened nicely.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2007 Edmeades Mendocino Zinfandel (Mendocino, CA):
The nose is bright fruit with dill, and it follows through with stone fruit and a little caramel.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Murphy-Goode "Liar's Dice" Zinfandel: 96% Zinfandel, 4% Carignan
Raspberry, currant, and black cherry nose. Nice follow-through as a jammy Zin (love it!) with blackberry, but balanced enough to still be a dry wine.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Yangarra "Cadenzia" (McLaren Vale, Aus):
Chocolate-covered cherries -- so smooth!
Rating: Excellent

We came home with bottles of the Paco & Lola Albarino, Murphy-Goode "Liar's Dice" Zinfandel, and Yangarra "Cadenzia." Guess it was worthy of the hyperbole after all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Friday Fiction Flash: EULA

I'll post tasting notes from the JavaMonkey Italian wine tasting later this weekend. Meanwhile, here's the Friday Flash for this week (search tag #fridayflash on Twitter to read others' contributions):


October, 2010

"The top ten things a guy can do that will be hazardous to his health: Number One – try to separate a woman from her cat." The baby's crying interrupted Steve's email checking, and he wondered why Laura wasn't attending to him. He wouldn't feel the day was complete until he could finish reading everything in his in-box.

"Laura! Marley is crying!"

"He's just hungry!"

"Well, it's not like I can feed him!"

Steve found Laura in the kitchen heating up some formula. "You can, actually." She tested a drop of the cardboard-colored substance on her wrist.

"Aren't you nursing?" He followed her up the stairs. The nursery was in the front bedroom, which had been a storage space until just a couple of months ago, when she cleared some boxes out of the way for the crib. He'd read that babies don't really notice their surroundings that much, so although it had struck him as strange, he didn't say anything. He'd also read that women could get a little crazy post-partum.

"Not anymore. I've gotten most of the baby weight off, so I didn't see the point. The formula will be fine."

She picked up the baby and cradled him in her arms. "There, now. You're a hungry boy!"

"But Laura, I've read that nursing is better for the baby's health, especially while his immune system is still developing."

"Right." She gave him that patient smile that told him that everything that came after "I've read" sounded like "blah blah blah" to her.

"And what is my suitcase doing in here?"

The doorbell rang. Steve looked out the window and saw a large black car in the driveway. Two men with dark suits and sunglasses stood directly below him in front of the door.

"Here, hold Marley. I'll get it."

She transferred the soft, solid mass of baby and bottle to Steve's arms before he could object.

"Yes, they're upstairs," he heard Laura tell the strangers, and he looked down at the baby, who stared back at him with dark blue eyes like, "I don't know what the hell she's doing!"

A black and white flash dashed from the hallway into the nursery and behind a pile of boxes. Laura's damn cat. She'd had the thing since before they were married, and it had never liked Steve, but she insisted that it sleep in the bed with them every night.

Steve heard footsteps on the stairs, and Laura came into the nursery followed by the two tall men he'd seen outside.

"Who are you?" he asked, his voice cracking with unease.

"We're here to collect the child," the older of the two said with no expression. Indeed, he sounded bored.

"What do you mean?"

The other one pulled out a PDA. "You bought a laptop with the new Megasoft operating system last fall, did you not?"

"Yes," Steve said, hugging Marley to him.

"It was in the end-user license agreement. First-born child will be promised to Megasoft." He looked over the top of his sunglasses. "Labor, even foreign-born, is getting expensive. We're going to cut costs by raising them ourselves."

"What?" Steve had barely skimmed it; it had seemed the usual: don't reverse-engineer it, one license per machine, not to be held responsible for suicide-inducing frustration…

"It's true," Laura said. "They came by just after we'd started using it."

Steve remembered now, how she hadn't been eager to have a child until just after they'd gotten the new computer.

"Is that why you wanted to get pregnant?"

She nodded, tears filling her eyes. "If we hadn't had a child, they would've taken the cat!"

He stared open-mouthed at her.

"I'm afraid we have more bad news, sir. You remember that new Megasoft Office suite you got?"

Steve nodded, his heart sinking further.

"Well, it had the same agreement. But since you've already promised your first-born, we're going to have to take something else."

"The cat?" Steve asked, hopeful to salvage something of the situation.

Laura shook her head and handed his suitcase to one of the men. "They said they'll take good care of you. And this way you and Marley get to stay together." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and whispered, "I guess you don't really read everything after all."