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."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tasting Notes: Washington Wines (from Pacific Coast correspondent)

One of the best things about being into wine is the people you meet and get to hang out with. Sometimes these people will even step up and drink wine for you if you're away (like Dan) or they'll take notes and send them even after moving all the way across the country. Hence the following notes from the Pacific Coast correspondent for the Random Oenophile blog, James Bassett, who is always happy to share about the wonderful wines he gets to drink in Seattle:

From a Washington wine tasting:

2008 Cavatappi Stimulus Package
white (blend unknown)
Plenty of ripe, bright peachy fruit. Easy to drink. Some minerality keeps it from being too sweet. Nice -- great summer quaffer! Wahluke Slope.

2008 Naches Heights Vineyards Riesling
Wide, faintly apricot nose. Short, buttery attack gives way almost immediately to a fruity Riesling palate.Great acidity, full-bodied. Off dry style. From the highest Riesling block in Washington.

2007 Naches Heights Vineyards Syrah
Beautifully smoky/dusty/plummy aroma. Licorice. Elegant, rich flavor, dark berries and pepper. Gold medal - Sunshine and Wine Competition. Grown at 1800’ elevation on the Goat Rocks Andesite lava flow.

2006 Willow Crest Cabernet Franc
Light yet flavorful bright red bouquet of berries and sweet cherry, faintly dusty undertones. Long, tantalizing finish, with vaguely citrusy afterhints of carambola or other tropical fruit.

2006 Ross Andrew "Glaze" Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Ciel du Cheval, Alderidge and Klipsun vineyards. Complex nose of dark fruit, toast, bacon and vanilla. Tobacco? Loads of plums, cassis, and raspberries finishing with spice and a touch of pepper. Dry but not necessarily tannic.

Other wines:

Corvidae Wine Company, Columbia Valley, WA
The Keeper 07 Cabernet Franc

From David O'Reilly, one of the brightest stars of PNW winemaking. A stunning, full-bodied Cab Franc, with a rich nose of tobacco and lush vegetation, like walking through deep forest after a rain. Smoky, smooth tannins. The flavor adds cedar, spice, bell pepper, cassis, and dark currants to the tobacco, and finishes with a surprising hint of olive. Powerful in ways beyond its 14.1% alcohol content. Tastes even darker and more mysterious than it looks, and the label is the best I’ve ever seen -- a true work of art by itself.

Sagelands Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Columbia Valley, Washington

Ripe fruit nose with a hint of licorice and chocolate. Dark black/blueberry and cherry palate. Smooth, subtle tannins with a leather/tobacco backbone lead into a lingering licorice and cocoa finish. Very very nice.

Go Girl Red 07
Working Girl Wines, Columbia Valley (WA)
71% merlot, 29% cab franc
Fruity nose. Exceedingly jammy -- blackberry, a hint of vanilla, light and yummy, but a bit too sweet. Long, strong finish, higher on the palate

Winery also makes Working Girl White (Chardonnay/Riesling), Rose the Riveter, and Handyman Red (Bordeaux). I'll try those next. The reds, at least....

Hedges CMS Red 2007
Hedges Family Estate, Columbia Valley (WA)
42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 51% Merlot and 7% Syrah.

Beautiful red-purple color with a deep, tannic nose. Bright vanilla fills the mouth on first taste, full of berries (red, black, and blue), cloves, and earthy coffee. The vanilla stays high on the palate as toast (yum!), cloves, and tannic earthiness develop into a long, slightly aggressive finish. Very, very nice -- probably ties with the Sagelands for my second favorite Washington wine (after The Keeper) so far. In a more European tradition, The winemakers apparently prefer minimal “intervention” with all of their wines, so this is only lightly filtered. (and vegan!); this may be responsible for that unexpected (but not at all unpleasant) aggressiveness at the end.

James is a sculptor, freelance editor, and author in Seattle, Washington. You can find out more about him at his web site.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Flash: Sideswiped by Jesus

On Friday, writers on Twitter post links to stories of less than 1000 words, and some of them are really clever. You can find them by searching the hashtag #FridayFlash. This one has been knocking around my head for a couple of weeks. Gee, I wonder why.

Sideswiped by Jesus

Am I what? Sane? Oh, you said saved! Yes, that makes sense with all your "Jesus loves you" and "John 3:16" posters on sticks, doesn't it?

Yes, I would definitely say so. You see, just a couple of weeks ago, I was sideswiped by Jesus. Oh, come now, there's no reason to hold that "John 3:16" poster in front of you like a shield! I promise I'm not crazy, although that's exactly what an insane person would say, isn't it? Let me tell you what happened.

I was driving down Lexington Avenue in the left lane when – wham! – I found myself half in the middle turn lane. The driver of the truck who had bumped me pulled over into the parking lot of a chiropractor, who thankfully was not there or else he would've had us both on the table in a second.

I was shaking all over and angry, and I had my cell phone out to call the cops when the guy who hit me got out of his car. I wish you could've seen him! He had the most gentle brown eyes, shoulder-length wavy brown hair, and a plaid shirt. For a moment, all I could think about was sheep grazing peacefully by a stream, but then I heard my mama's voice in my head, fussing at me when I wanted to dress casually for church: "Jesus don't wear flannel!"

Well, this snapped me back to reality. I also noticed that the right side of my back and neck were tensing up and starting to ache.

"It's not really necessary to call the police," the driver of the truck said in a calm, deep voice with a trace of an accent. "I'll pay for your damages. Here's my information."

He pulled out a beat-up brown wallet and took out his driver's license. Sure enough, it said "Jesus Josephus," and the address was in Nazareth, Georgia.

"Sorry, mister, but I don't know if you're lying to me. I'm going to have to call the cops."

"Don't you believe me?" he asked, a sad look on his face. "It's the everyday miracles that allow the Son of Man to communicate with his flock in this crazy world." For a second, I saw those sheep again.

I fingered the "9" button on the phone. "How do I know you're really that Jesus and not some guy named Hey-Soos who texts while he drives?"

"I know your back and neck are hurting. If you had faith the size of a pain pill, you would allow me to do great things." He stretched out his hands toward me. "Be healed!"

I felt better, I truly did! It was like I had been given a shot of some sort of drug in my neck, and the little muscles loosened up all the way down my spine.

"I had to get your attention," he said like he was reading my mind. "You've got a lot of noise in your head between your work, podcasts, and worries. It is not yet time for me to reveal my presence to the Earthly authorities, but I am looking for apostles. I would like for you to be the first of the Twelve."

But then I remembered how the Bible says that in the end times, there would be many imposters. Jesus don't wear flannel, my mama had said, and he wouldn't have run into me.

I called the police. I had second thoughts about it later, sure, and my neck and back pain came back, so I did end up on that chiropractor's table. Still, God gives us those childhood messages for a reason, and my faith was being tested.

And you know what y'all say, how Jesus saves? Well, he might, but he sure doesn't have insurance! Or maybe he's the best insurance of all because he did send me a big check that didn't bounce, and I gotta tell you, that's what finally made me a believer. Guess he did know how to get my attention after all.

So yeah, I'm saved, and I'm running Apostle Auditions next week. Are you interested? I could get you to the front of the line. Just leave the posters at home.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Travelin' Oenophile: Montgomery -- We Dare Defend Our Wine Rights!

This week's blog posts were a little delayed because we were running around on Friday getting ready to go to Montgomery for the wedding of one of Hubby's high school friends on Saturday. Normally I don't like going to Montgomery. I survived four years of college there, and just in case you were wondering how boring it was, we were all terribly excited when the Barnes & Noble opened because there was finally something to do past 9:00 p.m.

This time, we had a mission. In August, Alabama's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board banned Cycles Gladiator wine from sale in the state because of the "obscene" label. For my letter of objection, click here. To protest this stupid ban, we decided to take the Cycles Gladiator wine nymph on a tour of the capital city. The first stop, of course, was the welcome center, where I've always wondered about these stone thingies:

Well, Alabama, we dare defend our wine-drinking rights!

To be fair, I hadn't noticed them until a friend from Tennessee pointed them out. He said they frightened him. He's a Tennessee fan, so I didn't reassure him too much.

Saturday morning brought us to the state farmers' market:

And if you think the wine nymph is obscene, you should check out these squash!

We tried to get close to the Capitol itself on Saturday, but they had set up road blocks, and it was impossible. We thought they'd been reading our tweets and knew we were coming, but it turns out that there was a marathon. We had more success on Sunday. So, here is the Cycles Gladiator nymph innocently riding by the Alabama State Capitol:

And here we are at the first White House of the Confederacy:

I particularly like that one because Gen. Robert E. Lee, one of the heroes of the Confederacy, was from Virginia, which is a state that makes great wine. We're pretty sure he would think the ban is silly. Maybe his ghost will rise up and scare some sense into the Alabama legislators, many of whom probably revere him and still refer to the Civil War as "the woh-wah of Nohthen aggression (because there wasn't nothin' civil about it)." No, my butt isn't that big; the breeze is billowing my jacket.

If you'd like your own shirt to protest Alabama's ban, check out the offerings at Cafe Press (nope, not getting paid to advertise this).

Want to see what trouble I'm getting into in real time? Follow me on Twitter (@RandomOenophile)!

Tasting Notes: Chilean Wines at JavaMonkey

My first week back at work full-time after my surgery felt longer than it was. By the time I got to the Thursday night tasting at JavaMonkey, I was exhausted. Thank goodness for wine!

The theme of this tasting was Chilean wines, and five of the six came from Odfjell Winery, which is located in the Maipo Valley, a traditional red wine growing area. Dan Odfjell, the owner, is Norwegian, and apparently the wine maker consulted with Napa's Paul Hobbs when the winery first got started.

Here are the wines. Again, you get mine and Hubby's reactions, which are sometimes different. I like it that we can still keep each other guessing about what the other one is thinking after so long together.

2008 Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca, Chile):
Nose has flower stem, seashell, and lemon. The floral and mineral continue on the palate, but it has a slightly bitter finish. Hubby noted the mineral aspects and suggested it would be good with something like Ceviche.
Rating: Good

2009 Tormenta Viognier (Central Valley, Chile): Certified Organic, not Odjfell
Gardenia nose, but bone-dry mineral with a hint of lime.
Rating: Meh to Good

2007 Odjfell Armador Merlot (Maipo Valley, Chile):
60% stainless, 40% oak
Lovely dark fruit nose. Medium-bodied wine with the fruit continuing, but subtle.
Rating: Good
This was Hubby's favorite.

2007 Odjfell Armador Carmenère (Central Valley, Chile):
Mild nose with hints of leather and fruit. Dark berry on the palate with more butter. Had a greenish/herbal backbone that added complexity.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon (Maipo Valley, Chile):
This one has a funky nose with some fruit. It's smooth and earthy with tobacco, and the mouthfeel is that it slides off one's tongue. I almost feel naughty for liking it. Actually, I always feel naughty when I use "mouthfeel" in a sentence. I think I'll stick with "texture" in the future.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2005 Odfjell Orzada Malbec (Lontué, Chile): Organic, from 50-year-old vines
Okay, I had to put aside my preconceptions about Malbec for this one. I'm used to Argentinian Malbecs, which are smoky, oaky fruit bombs. This one has a very light nose with a burst of dark fruit. The palate is berry/vanilla with acidity that moves to fruit as it opens. Overall, elegant and understated.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Random note: It's not just wine drinkers that get toasted!
During this tasting, we learned that barrels are toasted, and the amount of char will impart smoky notes to the wine. This prompted mental pictures of large barrel toasters that have round holes, knobs on the side to control degree of toastiness, and grids that pop out the barrels when they're done. This is not the case. As I learned on

During the construction of the barrel, a step takes place where the partially assembled barrel is placed over a small wood fire. During this step, the inside of the barrel is charred or 'toasted'. The amount (depth) of char in the barrel has an effect on the wine that is aged in it. Winemakers can normally order their barrels with Light Toast, Medium Toast or Heavy Toast. The 'toast' decision will be made based on the grape variety to be used in the barrel as well as the style of wine to be produced.

How did we not know this before now? I promise that no one has mentioned it to this point, and I know that we've had wine from Heavy Toasted barrels. One particular Cardonnay comes to mind, but that's a different story. Barrel toasting: yet another fascinating aspect of wine making.