Thursday, December 9, 2010

Travelin' Oenophile: San Francisco Adventures

I'm reading a book called The Psychology of Wine, which is (duh) by a couple of psychologists. One of the points the authors return to repeatedly is the connection of wine experiences with memories. It's well-established that certain tastes and smells can transport our memories to a specific time or situation, and for those who love wine, this can certainly be the case.

A psychology convention brought me to San Francisco the weekend before Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was the influence of my reading material, but during the trip, I seemed to pair wine with experience.

Being at a conference and having professional interactions may have prompted some people to drink before dinner, but I decided to be good (for once). The rain had started by Friday evening, and apparently it's a rule in San Francisco that half the cabs disappear, so the line for a taxi plus the cold, windy, damp weather deterred me from waiting for one. I'd had a recommendation for the Daily Grill, which was a couple of blocks away, so I made a dash through the rain for dinner. Being cold and wet in a city where I was truly missing Hubby, whose work schedule wouldn't allow him to accompany me on the trip, may have led me to turn to an old friend: the Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, this is one of our house wines. No, it wasn't adventurous, but it was "comfort wine," and I could almost believe its citrusy-grassy notes would preserve me from getting sick in the cold and damp.

I started with the special soup of the night, Butternut Squash with Crème Fraiche, which hit the spot with its creamy texture, sweetness, and spices. The Blackened Ahi Tuna Salad seemed a good, healthy choice for my entrée, and although I enjoyed it, it needed some mandarin oranges or something to balance the tangy saltiness of the ginger-soy dressing. I did appreciate that the tuna was served rare and not too spicy. Alas, jet lag caught up with me before I could get to dessert.

I was on a panel on Saturday, so again, the drinking had to wait until the evening. San Francisco "Wine Brat" Thea had invited me to join her at the Night That Never Ends BevMo Holiday Beer Festival. This time I had to wait in the taxi line, so I ended up being late and not able to spend that much time with her. Still, it was a pretty awesome beer festival, not least because I was able to try everything at the Unibroue table while talking to a fun couple from Oakland. I'm a fan of the Trois Pistoles but hadn't realized that their beers are all Belgian-style. I also liked the Anderson Valley Brother David's Triple (not available in Georgia, sadly) and the Scaldis Noel. The other highlight of the beer fest was hanging out with Ashley Routson the Beer Wench, who showed me around to some of her favorites and then drove me to North Beach for dinner so I wouldn't have to wait in yet another taxi line.

This brings me to the absolute highlight of the trip. Vicoletto, which means "little alley," had also been a recommendation. This cozy spot on Green Street is off the main North Beach drag (Columbus Avenue) and worth seeking out. I started with the Insalata tricolore, a salad of bitter greens and reds with parmesan and lemon vinaigrette. I asked the cute young guy behind the bar, whom I assumed was the general manager, what he would recommend for an entree, and he suggested the veal or lobster ravioli. I was in the mood for pasta – yet more comfort food – so I went for the ravioli. Check out the description from the menu:

Ravioli con aragosta: house made lobster ravioli, sautéed prawns and cherry tomato brandy cream sauce

Yeah, it was amazing.

And, of course, there was wine. The 2008 Sabazio Rosso di Montepulciano (100% Prugnollo Gentile, aka Sangiovese) had enough acidity to go with the food, but was fruity and smooth enough to drink on its own.

Finally, I didn't crash out before dessert and had a chocolate soufflé with crème fraiche ice cream. I've come to learn it's hard to do a good chocolate soufflé with a molten center, but this one was perfect.

And the hot Italian guy behind the bar? That was owner Francesco Covucci. Hanging out and observing him interact with his other guests gave me an education in relationship-building from a business perspective, which, ironically, had been part of my panel discussion. The evening helped me to feel like my trip had been as well-balanced as the Rosso di Montepulciano (which he told me was his favorite). The next time Hubby and I are in San Francisco, we're definitely going to Vicoletto.

By the way, as you can probably guess from his blog post while I was gone, Hubby is still pouting. I'll let you add your own sour grapes joke here.

Apologies for lack of pictures. The Blackberry is on its last keys, and its battery was dying that night.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tasting Notes: A Bar Full of Beaus at JavaMonkey

(or “Cecilia ran off to San Francisco and all you get is this lousy blog post”)

Yes, Cecilia is off at a convention in San Francisco this weekend, so the blogging for this week’s JavaMonkey tasting gets left to me. As is usual on the third Thursday on each November, this tasting was all about the Beaujolais in honor of the release of the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau.
Before the review, recent sporting events have led me to post this disclosure:

I paid regular market price for this tasting. I received nothing additional for it other than a t-shirt and hideous yellow tie that I won in a raffle. (And if you saw my impromptu traveling fashion show after the tasting, I think you’ll agree that I know how to rock the t-shirt and hideous yellow tie.) At no time did I ask for any compensation, nor did any of my associates. The rumors of a text message containing a proposed payment plan from someone representing me to one of Georges Dubouef’s boosters are completely bogus. As for the allegations that I cheated on a solitaire game once in college, I won’t address something that happened that long ago.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get to the wines (hangover neutralizing Pho not included):

2009 Macon-Villages Chardonnay
The first thing I noticed about this wine was that something seemed… odd. What was it? Everything about it seemed like a pretty typical Old World Chardonnay. It had the nice golden color and the fruity, slightly tart nose. A little mineral there as it goes down. But something else… And then on my second sip, I got it.


I have no idea what, if any, oak this wine sees, but I wasn’t the only one who got a little bit of it at the very end of the finish. (After my infamous declaration of “popcorn” on the nose of a wine once in the presence of the winemaker, you have no idea how much better that made me feel.) It certainly wasn’t California Oak-Tree-In-A-Glass, but it might catch you off guard. I think this warrants some future research, preferably with the assistance of a good chicken and mushroom dish.

2010 Beaujolais Nouveau
Ah, the star of the party arrives! Fresh off its overseas flight from Paris (TSA pat-down not pictured) and into this fine establishment. With the red carpet rolled out, it elegantly strolled through the paparazzi and autograph-seeking masses and into my glass. What wonders would this French star have for me this year? I anxiously lifted the glass to my nose, swirling the red nectar and inhaled…

Cranberry. Bubble gum.

Yup, it’s a Beaujolais Nouveau.

Dan suggested that it would make a good base for Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. I concurred, and scribbled down that it might also make a good base for getting unwanted holiday house guests sauced.

Hey, at least we get wine schwag for drinking it.

2008 Brouilly Flower Label
The very first bottle of this at the tasting was corked. The next bottle was so weak that I’m pretty sure I saw some Italian Pinot Grigios kicking its ass outside Twain’s later that night. Other people seem to be pretty impressed with it, so I’m going to write this off as a bad case and hope to try it again sometime in the future.

2009 Juliénas Flower Label
While researching this wine, I came across an interview with Georges Duboeuf on Wine Review online where he states that the Juliénas is his favorite Cru. I can see why. This wine was surprisingly intense – inky color, tart dark fruit in the mouth, and a hint of earthiness on the finish. My first reaction was to compare it to some of the more intense Oregon Pinots I’ve had, though I don’t remember as much spiciness here as those tend to feature. If you’re jonesing for Beaujolais on your Thanksgiving table, skip the Nouveau and head for this one. (Or save it for yourself after you kick out the house guests for whom Nouveau was bought.)

2009 Morgon Flower Label
This one was supposed to be poured before the Juliénas, but we got crossed up. This was unfortunate, because I think that might have helped my opinion of it. My impression was that it was like a slightly more subtle version of the Juliénas. It didn’t have the earthiness, and the tart fruit was less pronounced. It’s probably the more food friendly of the two.

Cecilia is returning this evening, and I’m sure she’ll catch you up on her weekend of beer tasting and North Beach pasta touring in the coming days. I could fill you in on my weekend of futile attempts to rid the front yard of leaves, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be as interesting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Oenophilic Foray into Urban Art

There is a statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Old Dekalb County Courthouse in Decatur. It depicts him sitting, quill pen in hand, looking into space, doubtlessly pondering his next passage as he writes the Declaration of Independence.

For years, I've always felt that something was missing from the statue. After all, Thomas Jefferson was America's original wine connoisseur. Here he is, writing the document that set out the rationale and reasons for the founding of the United States. And here is his left hand, left thumb and index finger parted just perfectly for...

(My apologies to Mr. Jefferson. They wouldn't let me out of the wine festival with a full glass.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Metapost: This is going to drive me to drink...

Okay, it's not a long drive, but...

I don't usually talk about what I do on social media outlets, but sometimes I feel it's warranted, and this is one of those times. As you've probably heard, an old law is going to cause the Medicare reimbursement rates to healthcare providers to be cut by around 25% if it's not stopped by our lovely Congress.

"Sure," you may be thinking, "this will impact healthcare access for the over 65 crowd, but how will it affect me?"

If you're over 65, you're probably thinking, "I'm screwed."

The problem is, as an auxiliary healthcare provider, I'm also thinking, "I'm screwed." Why? Because the rest of managed care bases reimbursement rates on Medicare rates, never mind that they supposedly have antitrust laws. You know that they're salivating over this because it will mean even more billions in profit for them. In the end, if it's not stopped in a timely manner, it could mean a 25% reimbursement cut for me.

"Sure," you may be thinking, "but won't they go back up if the law is corrected later, and Medicare reimbursement goes back up?"

That's the thing about insurance companies -- once rates drop, they RARELY go back up, and they've been on a steady decline for years even though operational and overhead costs for providers keep increasing.

So here, I'll make it easy for you. Here is what I've written to my Senators and House Rep:

Dear ,

I am writing to request that you make halting the Medicare reimbursement cuts a priority. If they are not stopped, they will impact both the ability of senior citizens to access care and will cause a ripple effect through the healthcare industry, as the other companies base their rates off of Medicare.

One important consideration is that most healthcare and mental healthcare private practices are small businesses, and this is one of the few economic areas where growth is anticipated. The Medicare rate cuts, if they go through, will only serve to make them cut staff and shrink the main industry the country is depending on for growth.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Yes, that's right, cut staff. Do you already allow two hours for a routine doctor's visit? Better make it four or just take the day. Oh, you're sick? The doctor will be able to see you in a few months instead of six weeks (yeah, that's already an issue, but not in my practice). Got a billing problem? Oh, sorry, it's going to take a while to get back to you because the billing departments are short-staffed.

For the Georgia people, here are some important links:

Contact form for Senator Isakson: Click Here

Contact form for Senator Chambliss: Click Here

Your House Rep will depend on where you live.

Please please please bug your Congresspeople! This is one of the few times when government inaction could affect EVERYBODY.



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tasting Notes: Crane Creek & Blackstock

Yeah, Hubby and I have been hitting the sauce again. Shocking, right? We went up to my parents' cabin in Blairsville in September and October and decided to check out a new (to us) winery and one that we'd visited before. With the Winter Wine Highway 2010 weekend coming up in a few weeks (Dec 3-5), it seemed like a good time to write about them.

Crane Creek Vineyards, located in Young Harris (e.g., one of those places near Blairsville that sells alcohol) has great views, like all the Georgia wineries:

Their 2000 vintage was their first, from vines planted 15 years ago. The tasting room has been open for eight years. Apparently my in-laws had trouble catching them open, but we walked right in and tasted the lineup. There is a small tasting fee, but the pours are big enough for two to share.


Seyval Blanc:
The first wine planted and made, this one has a tangerine/mandarin orange nose with citrus notes carrying through the palate to orange and grapefruit.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Cross of Gewurtzraminer and Seyval Blanc, has a mint/stone fruit nose and is floral and tart through the palate and finish.
Rating: Okay to Good (not a big fan of mint on my wines)

Enotah White:
Another hybrid, Chardonel (Chardonnay & Seyval) is the basis of this wine. Smoky oaky nose, but overall nice with good balance of citrus and vanilla.
Rating: Good

Vidal Blanc:
Described as "uncomplicated," and I would agree. Fruity with a tart finish. Another quote: "You can sit on the porch and pound this one back." Very likely.
Rating: Good


Brasstown Mountain Claret:
Medium-bodied with a spicy nose and spicy cherry on the palate.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Mountain Harvest Red:
Super-smooth red made from the Chambourcin grape. Berry characteristics.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

Sweet Sally:
Blend of Catawba and Niagara, has a scuppernog/muscadine nose and honeysuckle notes.
Rating: Good to Very Good

We came home with a bottle of the Mountain Harvest Red, which will be a great porch sipper next summer.

We revisited Blackstock Vineyards & Winery on the way up to the cabin in October since it had been a while. The way their tasting works is that you select eight wines for $10, so with two people sharing, you can cover most of the list, which is what Hubby and I did. We also got a cheese plate, which complimented the wines.

2007 Viognier:
Stone fruit/orange/floral nose, but very tart and a little bitter.
Rating: Good

2009 Chardonnay:
Pear nose, musky melon flavors.
Rating: Okay

2008 Viognier:
Still good citrus, but a lot smoother.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 Reserve Viognier:
Toasty nose with a little vanilla oak, but well-balanced and good with cheese.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Sangiovese Rosé:
Smoky on the nose, but nice and fruity and balanced between dry and off-dry.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Sangiovese Rosé:
Muscadine nose, and a little rough on the finish.
Rating: Good

2008 White Merlot:
Hubby smelled this one and said, "Apple juice!" It has a somewhat effervescent texture, kind of like an apple wine cooler.
Rating: Good

2007 Rocking Chair Rosé:
Subtle nose and flavor, but kickass finish.
Rating: Starts Okay, goes to Good, finishes Very Good. Would be a good one for a beginning wine drinker to experience the different stages of the palate.

2007 Rocking Chair Red:
Big Merlot nose, but light-bodied.
Rating: Good

2008 Sangiovese:
Still Very Good

2006 Merlot: 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet
A little acidic.
Rating: Good

2005 ACE Family Reserve:
Better than when we tried it last year with more depth to the fruit in the middle, but still not as good as the previous award-winning vintage. Apparently that one's going for something ridiculous, over $100/bottle.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2007 Cabernet: What I'm drinking as I write this
Savory fruit, medium-bodied, would be great with Italian food (yeah, I think I have the wine munchies).
Rating: Very Good

2006 Reserve Merlot:
It was recommended that this one be aged, and I agree.
Rating: Good

We came home with a mixed case of the 2007 Viognier, 2008 Reserve Viognier, 2006 Sangiovese Rosé, 2008 Sangiovese, 2005 ACE Family Reserve, and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, please get out the first weekend in December and support your Georgia wineries! You may not realize it, but there's legislation in front of the national House that may limit their ability to sell and ship to consumers, so the more support they have, the bigger the message we send to our Congresspeople (especially those who think that Guam is going to tip over) that this industry is important to us and to Georgia.

If you're a winery and would like to send us samples for review, please check out our Sample & Disclosure Policy, which also includes a link to contact us.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Random Thoughts and Tasting Notes: 2010 Decatur Wine Festival

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The changing leaves, cool weather, and thoughts of the holidays put me in a good mood, and, of course, there are fun festivals. No, I'm not talking about harvest festivals. My favorite by far has to be the Decatur Wine Festival.

This year's Wine Fest was particularly good, likely because the weather was cooler than in years past, when the red wines at tables in the full sun tended to get overheated and taste more like mulled wine than how the distributors intended. As Hubby noted, we all reached cellar temperature this year, and I ended up wearing my gloves toward the end of the day. However, the temperature of the wines ended up being about perfect, and we only tasted at one table where the wines were too warm (and it wasn't over the MARTA station).

Of course I didn't try all of the hundreds of wines that were poured. One very helpful addition this year was a featured wine or two for each table. This gave the experience some structure. After getting some snacks, Hubby and I started at Table 26, Pasternak/Black Tower. I tried the featured Trumpeter Torrontes and found it to be less floral and more fruity than I had expected. It started with stone fruit and went into citrus with a good mineral backbone. A few other solo wines that I liked:

Duboeuf Cru Beaujolais (W.J. Deutsch table): light bodied, with dry, delicate fruit

Concannon Conservancy Petite Syrah (Sustainable; Wine Group/Sebastiani Table): grapey nose, but not a fruit bomb, moderate tannins

Steele Lake County Merlot (Also the Wine Group/Sebastiani Table): not a fruit bomb like a lot of Merlots. Nice fruit, but also hints of cedar.

Shooting Star Zinfandel (Pacific Southern Table): toward the end of the day, so my notes simply said, "very nice"

Val de Salis Marselan (first Catamarca Table): made from a grape that's a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir, this gorgeous red had overtones of butter.

Yellow + Blue Malbec (Organic; first Quality Table): this one made me curious to try more box wine. Definitely not my mother-in-law's Franzia!

Santa Julia Organica Bonarda (also Organic and at the first Quality Table): drinks well on its own, but would love some food.

The festival website noted that the focus was on organic and sustainably grown wines, and there were a few, but one change that excited me was the number of sparkling wines being poured this year. Some of the better ones:

Taltarini Brut Tache (Empire – a whole table of sparkling wine and champagne!): light peach color, yum. Per the website, it's from Victoria and Tasmania, and the blend is, "52% Chardonnay, 41% Pinot Noir, and 7% Pinot Meunier" with a dash of red wine liqueur.

Valdivieso Extra Brut (New World Wines table): a very reasonable sparkler from Chile made with the same process as champagne, this one would probably hold its own in a blind tasting.

Fontallada Brut Cava (Compass Wine Group): this Spanish sparkler had nice hints of almond

What would a wine festival be without cool wine toys and displays? Compass Wine Group at Table 20 had a gorgeous decanter, from which they poured the Martius Selection Red. I went to look up the blend online but couldn't find anything about it. It was very smooth with dark fruit. The Iberian Pig also had a nice display (and their yummy dates wrapped in bacon).

Finally, let's talk about good wines with interesting labels. Of course this one at the New World Wines table caught our attention:

The Sexy Rosé was actually one of the better ones I've had. Not too dry or too sweet, it hits the palate just right with plum notes to smooth out the berry.

Of course, if you're gonna have Sexy, you'd better have Naked Grapes:

Not to be confused with the Naked winery in Washington or the Naked Grape winery in Canada, this one had a great Pinot Noir that wasn't earthy but still had great fruit and body (no pun intended). The Cabernet Sauvignon was also very good.

Hubby and I had ended up skipping lunch in anticipation of stuffing ourselves at the festival, but this turned out to be an epic fail on our part. It's not the restaurants' fault – all the food we tried was great – but there was less of it than we remembered from years past. Particular highlights were the Crab and Prosecco Cream Sauce tossed with Gemelli pasta from Capozzi's, who won the award for favorite food, the sushi from Sushi Avenue, the pumpkin ravioli from Saba, and the Orange and Tomato Soup from Mercantile. Farmstead 303 and The Marlay House also had good stuff, Caroline Barbecue and Apple-Rhubarb Crumble, respectively.

Okay, so now that I've put all that in a list, it sounds like we ate a lot, but remember, these were all samples. We ended up at The Square Pub for after-festival snacks. The nachos with grilled chicken and fixins were good, and we're curious to try the rest of the menu.

And okay, I'll admit it, my post-festival libations were decidedly non-vintage:

For my Decatur News Online article on the Wine Fest, click here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Decatur Wine Festival: This Year's Tips

This year's Decatur Wine Festival has a focus on organic and sustainably produced wines. In the same spirit, this is a sustainable blog post in that I've recycled some of last year's etiquette and survival post.

Now that we've all survived the elections, who wants a glass of wine? Or several? Seriously, whoever planned the Wine Festival for the weekend after Election Day was a genius. Nothing makes me want a drink more than weeks of mudslinging and robocalls.

However, no one wants a hangover or a miserable Saturday night after having spent three hours in the sun drinking wine. The temperature looks to be a little cooler than in years past, which will hopefully keep the reds from getting too warm.

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. An occasional glass of water is not going to be enough to stay hydrated. Try to consume equal parts water and wine, ideally more water. Hopefully they will continue to have the fancy portable bathrooms. Also, avail yourself of the food and keep something in your tummy.

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. If you don't rinse, pour thoroughly and shake your glass out. Even if you're really tempted, don't shake it out on the table hog.

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! The setup this year will make this easy with featured wines at each table.

As a wine professional commented last year, "Wine tasting is a journey, not a destination!" Relax, enjoy, and remember -- this is one of the few occasions where it's actually okay, even encouraged, to spit.

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.
Posted by Cecilia Dominic at 2:39 PM

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tasting Notes: Brown Bagging It at JavaMonkey

In Mindfulness there's a concept called Beginner's Mind, wherein you shelve preconceptions, expectations, and interpretations and experience things as though you're seeing, hearing, or – most importantly for this post – tasting them for the very first time. I think I got my first inkling of this in graduate school, when the newest darts player would usually score the highest. This concept came back to me clearly during this past Thursday's brown bag tasting at JavaMonkey.

For wine beginners a brown bag tasting involves the wine bottles being covered by a brown bag and numbered so that the tasters are blind to what's being poured other than it being a red or white.* This means the clues you have to what you're drinking come only from your senses, so it truly is mindful wine tasting. I'll admit – I'm not good at this type of tasting and fully expected Dan Browning, who's had a decade more to develop his palate and knowledge, to kick my ass. Surprisingly – or maybe not so – we were both trounced by the newbie** at the table, at least the one who was actually trying. The other beginner was merely labeling what she drank as "wine."

The wines:

Number one had a floral nose, and those notes carried to the edges of the palate with fruit in the middle. The texture had a slight effervescence, and it was so delicate I guessed something like a Semillon. Dan guessed Australian Riesling since the bottle was obviously a screw top. The newbie guessed it was a Sauvignon Blanc, and he was right. It was the 2009 Cartlidge & Browne Sauv Blanc from Napa.
Newbie: 1
Dan: 0
Cecilia: 0
Rating: Good

Wine number two didn't have much of a nose, but it was so tart that I guessed Sauv Blanc, and Dan went as far as to say it was from New Zealand.

"Hmmm," said the newbie with a swirl, "I'm going to say Pinot Grigio."

Once again, he was right. The kicker is that Hubby and I had tasted the 2008 Montinore Estate Pinot Gris on our recent trip to Oregon (yeah, that's one of the blog posts I need to catch up on). My notes in the tasting room were melon, green apple, and pear. I guess I got more of the green apple with this pour.

Newbie: 2
Dan: 0
Cecilia: 0
The wine: Good to Very Good

We were all in agreement on wine number three in that it was a Pinot Noir. Newbie and I both said Willamette, Dan said New Zealand again. It was the 2009 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir, which we hadn't tasted because it wasn't out yet. Again, a little fizzy on the texture, fruity with white pepper overtones, and with a nice, buttery finish.

Newbie: 3.5
Dan: 1
Cecilia: 1.5 (I'm awarding half points for guessing the region)
The wine: Good to Very Good

Those will be the last scores because the Newbie didn't get any of the other ones, and Dan and I only got the last one beyond this.

Wine number four threw us all. It came out of the bottle dark and inky, and it had smooth fruit with a cedar-spice finish. I decided to throw caution to the wind and guessed (hopefully) Petit Verdot. Wrong! This beauty was the 2008 Protocola Tempranillo (Castilla, Spain).
Rating: Very Good

Number five had a plastic nose, dark fruit middle, and hot finish. Dan and I guessed Merlot or maybe a Cotes du Rhone blend (can you tell we were foundering?). Nope, it was the 2008 Viña Borgia Garnacha (Borja, Spain).
Rating: Good

Finally, Dan and I both guessed number six to be a Shiraz from Australia. Oaky with blueberry overtones and a chocolate finish, the 2008 Cimicky Trumps Shiraz (Barossa Valley, Australia) was yummy.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Discussing it at the end, Dan and I figured that we had overthought the tasting. Apparently one of the regulars had nailed five out of the six varietals.*** This tasting demonstrates that I need to do more drinking with my nose and palate in Beginner's Mind mode. I can definitely live with that.

Final Scores:

Newbie: 3.5
Dan: 2.5
Cecilia: 3

* Yes, I realize that most of you know what a brown bag tasting is, but I figured I'd explain just in case there's someone out there who thought we were drinking wine that's typically drunk from a bag-wrapped bottle, e.g., Mad Dog.

** I mean no disrespect or condescension – he's in a similar field to mine, so I'm not sure whether he'd be okay if I identify him.

*** Bitch.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wine Shop Opens in Avondale Estates: The Little Wine Shop

So I'm finally moved out of my old office, and tomorrow is move-in day for the new one. Yes, I think I'll need a nice bottle of wine to celebrate. Thanks for your patience, and look for more frequent updates from now on...

Eco friendly canvas wine bag:

I'd be excited about The Little Wine Shop opening in Avondale Estates even if it wasn't selling my favorite beverage. After years of stalled development and depressing empty storefronts, it's a welcome, vibrant addition to College Avenue. Hubby and I were invited to the sneak peek in September, where we got a taste of the good things to come.

Previously a gallery, the space now occupied by The Little Wine Shop immediately invites you in with its warm wood, but also appears larger due to the high ceilings and openness. The selection of wine doesn't hurt, either. Owner Rebecca Hadj-Taieb and Wine Guru and CSW Marty Shaver aim to sell good wine at affordable prices. They carry three hundred labels, forty percent of which are in the $10-$13 price range, and thirty percent between $13 and $18. Sure, there are more expensive bottles for special occasion, but this is a great place to stop by for a bottle – or case – on the way home from work.

Wine newbies need not fear. Although the boutique aims to be a "cute little place" like in NY, Hadj-Taieb promises that it's "not uppity," and my (and others') experience with Shaver has been that he's helpful and not at all snobby. He seems to enjoy talking about wine as much as I enjoy drinking it! In other words, the atmosphere is just as one would hope to find in a neighborhood shop.

Marty Shaver is ready to serve the wine, bread, and cheese.

The selections that Shaver had open for the sneak peek event impressed me. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised that he'd gone past the typical white varietals to pick an Austrian white for the first pour. The 2008 Domäne Wachau Federspiel "Terrasen" Gruner Veltliner had green apple and pear on the nose, and citrus going to mineral for a nice finish.

The reds were equally as interesting and good:

Domaine Des Meurgets Bourgogne (Burgundy, France, imported by Scott Levy):
Yep, Burgundy is the French Pinot Noir, and this one had smooth texture balanced with bright fruit on the palate and a pepper bite at the end. I found it to be very cheese-friendly.

2008 Don Nicanor Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina):
Gorgeous dark color. Smooth and dark on the palate with hints of chocolate and tobacco. This was probably the most expensive wine poured that night at around $18, but it would make a nice Sunday dinner bottle with a roast or steak.

Other good-to-know facts:

The store also carries breads from Holeman & Finch and a great selection of cheeses from Atlanta International:

They'll have wine open every Saturday and tastings once a month.

Have a fear of commitment? Then you'll like the walk-in wine club, $85 for 6 bottles that change monthly.

The event capacity is 30-40 "mingling." However, since it's not licensed as a wine bar, these are tasting events only.

Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Address: 100 North Avondale Road, Avondale Estates, GA 30002

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Metapost: T-Minus 10 days...

Ack, two metaposts in a row! Sorry about that.

The countdown I'm referring to is the move to my new office in Decatur. Yes, I get to be a Decatur business owner starting in October. It also means I'm stuck in detail hell right now, so I don't have much time for blogging, although there's always time for drinking wine! The good news is that once I make my move, I should get about eight to ten hours back per week, and I plan to use many of those for writing. I also anticipate having more energy in the evenings, which will help a lot.

I do want to make a brief mention of a cool new wine shop in Avondale Estates, The Little Wine Shop. Their grand opening is September 30, but Hubby and I got to go to a sneak peek event. I'll do a full review on it this weekend.

I hope everyone's having a great week!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Metapost: Why I didn't apply for the AJC freelance reviewer job

This past month has been a time of big decisions for me, and I feel like I have a lot of balls in the air. I also fear that there are a few up there that will surprise me and bonk me on the head if I don't catch them soon enough. One of the balls I decided not to juggle was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution freelance food reviewer position (view the announcement here).

At first, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity: review one restaurant per week for the AJC working under John Kessler, whom I admire. I took his workshop at last year's Decatur Book Festival and learned a lot about food writing in those two hours (hint: it's a lot like narrative nonfiction writing). I felt like I could have competed well for the job with my wine knowledge, blog experience, and writing samples from this blog and Decatur News Online.

Openness to "OTP" restaurants was a must. This wasn't a problem, as Hubby and I enjoy exploring Buford Highway, and we lived in Lawrenceville for a while and still have favorites up there. Another excuse to meet up with friends in Roswell and Alpharetta would have been great, too.

There comes a time, however, when priorities have to be defined. As I've mentioned before, I'm in the middle of moving my office closer to home, and the picky little details are driving me crazy. One of the reasons I'm making this move is to be able to expand my business, which is going to take a lot of time as well as mental and emotional energy. Having a weekly deadline, even if it means I get a meal out comped (and I actually don't know what the financial arrangements were going to be), would add more stress than I need at this point. Hell, I can barely keep up with this blog and my Random Writings.

Also, there's a psychological principle that a behavior that is internally motivated (e.g., restaurant reviewing) will cease to be rewarding once it is externally motivated (e.g., by being paid for it). I like eating out. It's one of those things that Hubby and I can do to relax after a stressful day or week. I'm afraid that, by doing it for someone else for pay and adding deadlines to it, I wouldn't enjoy it as much, and it would become just another job.

So, good luck to those who are vying for the coveted spots, either as the freelancer or as one of John Kessler's brigade of bloggers! I'll enjoy reading your reviews. Meanwhile, I'll keep eating and writing on my own schedule.

Part of the chaos from my last office move & bookshelf rearrangement:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tasting Notes: Cleavage Creek

First, my apologies to Cleavage Creek for taking so long to write this review. As I mentioned to them soon after we got the wines, Hubby's mom is a breast cancer survivor, so we wanted to share them with her. She broke her leg last August (unrelated to the cancer, which she seems to be clear of), and it's been quite the ordeal requiring two surgeries, so we didn't get the chance to taste the wines with them until a couple of weeks ago.

For those who aren't familiar with the Cleavage Creek story, founder Budge Brown lost his wife of 48 years to breast cancer and decided to turn his grief and anger into action. For him, this meant purchasing the Cleavage Creek label, and he now donates 10% of gross wine sales to breast cancer research. Yep, gross profits. That's the money they make before expenses are taken out. Each bottle has a picture of a breast cancer survivor on it. You can see their stories on the web site. I've summarized them below, but I encourage everyone to go read them. They're incredibly inspiring, and each gave me a good dose of much-needed perspective.

I'll admit that Hubby and I got into the 2007 Merlot-Shiraz before going to see his parents. It opens with Pumpernickel bread spiciness and mellows out to bright fruit. Susan, the woman on the label, has survived breast cancer twice and now is very involved in breast cancer activism and volunteer work.

The 2008 Tracy Hills Reserve Chardonnay is a beautiful straw color. I drank this one as I assembled a peach pie at my in-laws' house and found it perfect for the summer afternoon. It has a light oak nose. The palate opens to melon, mandarin orange, and vanilla palate and has nice acidity and balance between fruit and oak. Label model Terrie was all too familiar with breast cancer from the medical and personal side when an intuitive radiologist picked up on something suspicious. She sought support and fought back aggressively, and she continues to be proactive.

Finally, we drank the 2007 Tracy Hills Secret Red with lasagna for Sunday dinner with Hubby's parents. All agreed that this well-balanced red complimented the food and stood well on its own. Plummy and smooth, it opens up to ripe fruit and has a great finish. The smile on model Jennifer's face demonstrates the courage and humor she's shown in a difficult and tragic battle.

We and my in-laws thank Cleavage Creek for the opportunity to taste their fantastic wines! Thank you as well for the support and hope you give to women who have breast cancer and those who have survived it. Wine that saves boobies? I'll drink to that!

Disclosure: These wines were sent to us free of charge for sampling purposes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Random Events: Montaluce 2009 Vintage Release

As I've mentioned, I'm a bit behind on my blog posts. Yes, I feel like a slacker, but check out this post at my Random Writings blog to see what's been going on. Ohyeah, I think I might be in danger of becoming a lamp junkie. I'll let you know if I find one with a genie in it.

July was a busy month for me and Hubby, even beyond the business drama. On July 18, we attended the "Taste & Tweet" 2009 Vintage Release at Montaluce Vineyards in Dahlonega.

The visit began with a Georgia summer downpour. If you've never been through one of those, picture your favorite deity hurling tablespoon-sized waterballs at you. The clever valets and allowed us to pull into the barrel room so we wouldn't get wet:

No, we didn't get to park there.

The weather cleared while Hubby and I ate lunch at the winery's Le Vigne restaurant. He got the Italian Sausage flatbread, and I had the Berkshire Pork Meatballs, served over rich, creamy polenta. Was it good? Were you paying attention? Let me list out the main ingredients again:


'nuff said. Here's a pic:

After lunch, we met up with a couple of friends (her blog post on the day is here) and got so comfy on the wide porch with the lovely breeze that we convinced everyone to join us outside.

One of the highlights of the day was getting to meet the new vineyard manager and wine maker Maria Peterson, who has a lovely South African accent and an obvious passion for wine. She explained the new releases to us, which, according to the winery blog post had been in the bottle for about six weeks. The wines (all 2009 unless indicated otherwise):

Nose of strawberry-cherry-lime. The tasting notes say "Cherry limeade" with watermelon, and I'd agree that's pretty accurate. Other attendees agreed with Maria that it's a French style rosé.
Rating: Good to Very Good

"Primoro" blend of Seyval and Vidal
Pineapple, mango, and some honey. Very smooth and balanced.
Rating: Very Good

Leechee and melon nose with soft tangerine-melon characteristics.
Rating: Very Good

A little smoky on the nose, some floral and honey. Balanced vanilla, citrus, and smoke on the palate.
Rating: Very Good

Very mild nose and apple pie in a glass. Should satisfy the sweet wine drinkers but didn't overpower those of us who don't usually drink the sweet stuff.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 "Centurio" 90% Georgia Merlot and 10% French Merlot
Yum! This wine should help to dispel the myth that Georgia makes wimpy reds. Nice plum/currant nose and good ripe fruit with some herbal notes.
Rating: Very Good

Keep in mind that these wines had only been in the bottle for about a month and should only get better. Hubby and I are looking forward to going back and trying them again, and perhaps purchasing a few for the holidays.

The rest of the day included wandering out to the vineyard, seeing the grapes, and learning about the pruning process that keeps Montaluce's wine high-quality. We even got to taste some homemade strawberry and lavender mead.

Part of the fun of "tweetups" like this is seeing people you normally only interact with online. Yes, we tweet as we go, but there's plenty of conversation otherwise. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we stayed for dinner, which, that night, was a three-course Prix Fixe for $40/person.

I started off with the Diver Scallop, served with cream corn and smoked blueberry. This was my favorite course of the evening with its mix of sweet and salty flavors and fun textures:

I chose the Butter Poached Poussin with summer squash, maitake mushroom, and cipollini onion for my main course. The chicken itself had been cooked to tenderness and not beyond, but I found the sauce to be a bit salty.

Finally, I’m a sucker for Chocolate Silk Pie, this fudgy one with mint and raspberry sauces:

Oh, and pictures of our hosts the Beecham brothers in their natural habitats. Rob's the one in the vineyard, and Brent's the one with the martini. When I first met them, I thought that Brent was the quiet one. I have since been proven wrong.

Disclosure: We paid for our own food, but the alcohol, including with dinner, was courtesy of Montaluce. This has not influenced my review in any way.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Random Events: Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, August 8, 2010

The toughest thing about being a wine and food blogger is that the busier I am with wine and food events, the less time I have to write about them. However, if I don't have anything going on, I don't have anything to write about. Luckily, since we got back from the Pacific Northwest, life has been full of fun food and wine events. Add to that some major business changes that require a lot of mental energy, and you can see how I've gotten behind.

How much do Georgians, especially Georgian foodies, love tomatoes? Several hundred (my estimate) came out on a hot, August afternoon to sample dishes and cocktails, all of which had tomatoes as a main ingredient. The tomatoes themselves came from several local farms. The event took place at the JCT Kitchen & Bar complex and courtyard in Midtown, which, thankfully, is oriented well for shade and breezes.

Killer Tomatoes need to be attacking something, so here are the victims of yesterday's festival guardians, who fiercely leered at us from every corner:

Victim 1: Bland, average food

Why am I blogging about the Georgia Organics Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival the night after it happened? Partially so I don't get further behind, but also because I believe in the mission of Georgia Organics, "to integrate healthy, sustainable, and locally grown food into the lives of all Georgians." Few things are more depressing than grocery store tomatoes with their anemic pink flesh and bland flavors. Sure, they get a little better in the summer, but there's nothing to compare to a basket full of gorgeous organic produce:

Vote with your fork, people!

Victim #2: The Boring Bloody Mary

I'll take a Mimosa over a Bloody Mary any day. Thankfully the mixologists came up with several yummy tomato-based cocktails that piqued my interest. The following were my favorites. Yes, each of these was made with hard liquor, and trust me, we spread them out over the afternoon.

I hadn't heard of Sound Table before today, but their drink, the La Mancha, was great, kind of like a tomato mojito with basil instead of lime. I'm definitely intrigued. He also beat out all the other mixologists for the King of Cocktails award.

The crowd favorite – literally, she won the People's Choice cocktail – was Cara Laudino of Miller Union, which Hubby and I have been meaning to try. Her Electric Boogaloo combined sungold tomatoes with some sort of citrus for a yummy and thoroughly sneaky combination.

The most refreshing drink, and my favorite, came from Restaurant Eugene's Nick Hearn. He combined a splash of tomato juice, vodka, and cane sugar syrup Coke for a Tom Cola. I liked how the sweetness of the Coke balanced out the tomato and vodka. It also ended up being sneaky.

Hubby's favorite was also the judge's favorite for Best Presentation. Miles Macquerrie of Leon's Full Service was reigning King of Cocktails from last year's tomato fest. This year, he mixed up The Golden Ticket, which was also based on sungolds, but which didn't taste overly tomato-ish. The presentation? Golden liquid with a sungold skewered over it. Hubby hopes it'll make it on to Leon's cocktail list.

Finally, the "Most Original" drink was the Mason Dixon Sangrita. Hubby tried it and liked it. I think I had given up by that point and switched to non-tomato water.

Victim #3: Uncreative recipes

Atlanta chefs have been coming up with interesting variations of the B.L.T. for years. As Caroline the French Tart blogger commented, "Everything I liked had pork in it!" No, this was not really a festival for the vegetarians. I deemed the following three dishes to be the Pork Trifecta:

The first dish that really wowed me came from Craft Restaurant's Kevin Maxey. His pulled pork lettuce wrap with smoked tomato molasses and heirloom tomato relish satisfied the meat eaters and fulfilled the tomato requirement.

Another great showing of tomatoes with pork came from the other direction. Matt Palmerlee of Farm 255 in Athens brought his Confit BLT. The confit made for a great salty, tender crunch on top of the sandwich.

The final piece of the pork trifecta was courtesy of Chef John Currence from City Grocery Restaurant Group. His roasted mortgage-lifter tomato biscuits, crispy big bad bacon rillettes, basil aioli, and Bluebird Farms arugula could best be described as a porkburger slider with regard to texture, and the biscuits had good density. By the way, Chef Currence gets my admiration and gratitude for coming all the way from Oxford, Mississippi. Thank you!

I'm from Birmingham, so I was excited to see that Chris Hastings from Hot and Hot Fish Club came over to share his Hot and Hot Tomato Salad with fresh corn, field peas, fried okra, applewood smoked bacon, and chive aioli. The tomatoes shone as the main item, and the other players complimented them: the corn with its sweetness, the peas with their texture, the okra with its crunch, and the bacon with its baconness. Do I really have to tell you why the bacon was good?

Finally, the King of Taste award went to Gerry Klaskala of Aria for his grilled cheese keaster with roof top dried tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon, and chipotle dipping sauce. Essentially a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, this one had everything from smoky to tangy to gooey cheese with a little kick. Yummy version of a classic summer favorite!

One other fun B.L.T. variation included the Steamed Coconut Bun B.L.T. from Pura Vida's Hector Santiago:

Miller Union's Steven Satterfield poses with his Heirloom Tomato Aspic:

Victim #4: Conceptualization of Tomato as just a vegetable

In case you thought the Tomato Festival was all about mains, soups, and sides, consider that the People's Choice award went to Keira Moritz of Pacci Ristorante for her heirloom tomato and fruit sorbets and ice creams. I got to try her tomato and peach (I think) gelato, and it was great – perfectly balanced sweetness with a hint of tanginess that was then cut by the creaminess. It was hard to go back to eating the savory stuff after that.

It's great when an event host does well, and Chefs Ford Fry and Brian Horn of JCT Kitchen deserved the Creativity Award for their Killer Tomato Jelly Donuts. Yes, these puffs had bacon fat mayonnaise – I'd mentioned that this food wasn't necessarily healthy, right? – in the middle and were topped with a tomato jelly. All I can say is: wow, can I have breakfast for dinner?

The Best Booth award went to the crew from Holeman & Finch for their "Science Fair Meets High School Musical" theme. However, the Twitter buzz was all about their Heirloom Tomato Corn Dogs with Brandywine Ketchup. The thick sausage in the middle of the corn dog had an incredibly light texture, the coating a great crunch, and the ketchup gave it all a tangy sweetness. When asked what the success of the booth's theme came from, Chef Linton Hopkins' son said, "Corn dogs!" I couldn't agree more.

Victim #5: Atlanta dining out habits

I just remarked to Hubby that we have a lot of restaurants to try and revisit. We tend to be like many others in Atlanta in that we have certain parts of town where we go to eat. This festival reminded me that venturing out can be rewarding.

Final thoughts:

My only suggestion to Georgia Organics now that we've been to both Killer Tomato Festivals is that water needs to be made more available toward the end of the day. Last year, volunteers handed out bottled water, and it lasted through the festival. This year, there were pitchers, and pretty much all had run dry by the mixologist challenge. Other than that, everything was great!

Thanks again to everyone for making it a great event, and special thanks to Chefs Currence, Hastings, Palmerlee, and Acheson (of Athens' Five and Ten) for coming all the way to Atlanta on a hot day to share our love of tomatoes and organic food!

Winning Tomatofest Mixologists and Chefs

For much better pictures mixed with video and catchy music check out Eat It, Atlanta.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Restaurant Review: Afternoon Snack at Au Pied de Cochon

Hi, I'm Cecilia, and I'm a dessert addict.

Yes, no matter how stuffed I am, I'll take a peek at those seductive little menus with the fancy font promising an array of delights, decadence, and extra trips to the gym. Hubby will turn them down, and I'll assuage my guilt with a "Let's split something." He acquiesces because he knows he'll get a bite or two. If he's lucky. No, I don't share well with others.

Last Friday I had an experience that most dessert addicts only dream of: a whole dessert flight at Buckhead's Au Pied de Cochon, located in the Intercontinental Hotel. They've figured out how to help addicts like me satisfy our cravings and not feel guilty with smaller portions of five of their desserts ($3 each). Executive Chef Didier Lailheugue told me that they were to be passed and shared. Yeah, right.

No, I didn't finish all of them, just three. And I started with a Brie and Tomato Tart (I ate half) and glass of wine. Did I mention I was hungry? The Tart, a puff pastry topped with a savory, chunky warm tomato sauce and brie slices, had great texture and flavors, especially with the fresh greens dressed with vinaigrette on top. The wine, the 2008 Chateau de Sancerre (Loire) Sauvignon Blanc, had nice citrus and crispness, and paired well with the tart.

The desserts, with which I drank French press coffee:

Baba au Rhum (pictured front and center in composite photo):
A traditional French dessert, two little sponge cake rounds floating in a pool of – you guessed it! – rum. One holds a small dollop of cream, the other a raspberry. These cakes were very happy, if a little soggy. This could serve as an after-dinner drink and dessert for efficient diners.

"Calvados" Apple Liquor Sorbet:
The alcohol isn't evident in this one, lending flavor rather than kick so it won't lower the freezing point too much. This is probably the lightest of the bunch with apple flavor that's on the sweet side, but well-balanced. Think Gala or Fuji.

Georgia Peach Crème Brulée:
The custard itself is a little eggy. The subtle peach flavor really comes out with the fresh fruit on the top. The burnt sugar topping was perfectly done, crispy without being hard.

Also a traditional French dessert, this is a puff pastry with vanilla ice cream in the middle and chocolate sauce on the top. The pastry held its integrity and didn't get soggy with the ice cream. The chocolate sauce is made in-house with high-quality milk chocolate. How did I know it was high quality? It's not too sweet – no Hershey's here! The whole dessert worked well.

Chocolate Crunch Bar:
My favorite: chocolate mousse over a nutty hazelnut crust, and topped with a chocolate macaroon, chocolate curl, and raspberry sorbet. The crust had great texture and was a little chewy, and the mousse was perfectly soft. The flavors worked well together. As for the picture, well, I heard the words "chocolate" and "mousse," and I forgot to take a picture before I took a bite:

I tasted all of this under the watchful eyes of a couple of meringue piggies:

There was only one when I left.

In addition to Chef Lailheugue, I had the pleasure of meeting Kerem Kendigelen, the food and beverage director for the Hotel Intercontinental. I'd originally gone in thinking I'd sample an appetizer and dessert, but he figured out who I was.* Hence the dessert flight. He also gave me some history on the restaurant itself.

Au Pied de Cochon started in Paris, and the goal was to appeal to the aristocrats and upper class, but also to be accessible. It was one of the first 24-hour restaurants, and the Atlanta location is also always open. The original in Paris has an area in the middle where real pigs run around. No, I don't think that's equivalent to a lobster tank ("I want that one!"). In addition to the regular menu, there's an oyster bar in the evenings. The glass in the chandeliers is from Italy, and the outdoor furniture was shipped from Europe.

Thank you, Kerem, Chef Lailheugue, and fantastic server Terry for taking such good care of me!

*Yeah, apparently I fit the blogger "profile." He gave me some tips on how to remedy that. Thanks, Kerem!

Disclosure: Since I'd been "busted" as a blogger, I didn't have to pay for anything but parking, and only that because I parked in the wrong deck. The restaurant does validate parking in the ICH deck.