Sunday, January 31, 2010

Montaluce Wine Conclave, Part One -- Oh yes, there was lunch!

Okay, first the disclosure stuff: we didn't pay for anything except for dinner last night and a contribution to the tip jar for the two servers who were helping out with the Wine Conclave. Okay, FTC, happy now? Why don't you get doctors to do the same things with their patients? "Hey, Ambien CR took me out to a great dinner at a fancy restaurant last night!" Or is this because bloggers don't have a big lobby yet?

So there. Hmph. On to business now…

Yesterday's "Wine Conclave," held at Dahlonega's Montaluce Vineyards and Winery, brought together some of the wine bloggers in the Atlanta area who had met and chatted with co-hosts Rob and Brent Beecham, two of the Montaluce owners, on Twitter. Montaluce is an Italian-style winery and restaurant designed with the Atlanta day-tripper in mind. They source some of their grapes from Blackstock and are also growing their own. The restaurant downstairs and banquet hall upstairs overlook the vineyards:

Hubby and I left Decatur early and arrived a little after ten, the designated starting time. However, Georgia weather had decided to complicate things. Once we left the main road and hit back roads, we noticed that each branch on every tree had been coated with a thin layer of ice. It was beautiful and a little unsettling, like we had driven into a different world. I was happy to get to Montaluce and be shown into the warm banquet room upstairs, where I got my nametag and proceeded with trying to put faces and real names with Twitter handles. I really hope there's not a test later because I remember faces and handles, but I didn't retain many real names. You'll see why in a moment.

The original agenda of discussion in the morning followed by lunch, tours, and tastings got turned upside-down by several of the food bloggers coming late due to weather. We started with a tour of the winery itself, where vineyard manager and assistant winemaker Oliver Asberger showed us the process and allowed us to taste some of the wines in progress, a Seyval and a Viognier from the 2009 vintage that are still fermenting in their large metal tanks.

Then there was lunch. Oh, wow, was there lunch! A five-course tasting menu with wine pairings, to be exact. We met chef Steven Hartman of the winery's restaurant Le Vigne, and he and Oliver acted as culinary tour guides for the next couple of hours.

The first course, chicken liver mousse with housemade pickles and lavosh, had a nice balance of savory and sour, and the texture of the "pickles," which were essentially pickled vegetables, played off well against the chicken liver mousse, which wasn't liver-ish at all but tasted like a certain sandwich spread my mom used when I was a kid. It went away when my dad was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and after seeing Chef's demo on how to make it, I can see why. Yeah, liver and butter – not so good for the bloodwork. Thankfully I don't have to get mine done again til June. The lavosh, a cracker-type thing made of cake flour and water, was good, too.

The course was paired with the 2008 Montaluce Chardonnay, thankfully unoaked. It does have some vanilla notes from the type of fermentation used (some malolactic if you're a wine geek), but the overall flavor is very clear with notes of lime and pineapple. It went very well with the course, balancing the richness of the mousse but not fighting with the pickled veggies.
Wine Rating: Very Good to Excellent (yes, this is high praise for a Chard from me. No, it's not because it was free).

The second course, smoked steelhead trout with boiled peanuts, fennel, meyor lemon, and sweet tea froth, made Hubby happy. The fennel, lemon, and tea froth combination made me think of spring, and the smoked trout made lots of other people think of salmon. I'm not a big trout fan, but I liked it, especially with everything else and the wine pairing.

The 2008 Montaluce Risata was made from Sangiovese that had to be picked early due to the weather. Raspberry nose with good acidity and a nice finish with a little butter and a hint of tart sweetness. It's dry, but well-balanced. At this point, Hubby tweeted, "A Chardonnay @RandomOenophile likes followed by a rose I like? Can this be?"
Wine Rating: Very Good And it was pretty!

Continuing on with the theme of things I normally wouldn't eat but will try if someone else makes them, the third course was a coppa di testa, or Berkshire hog head and feet terrine. Once a week, they bring a whole (dead) pig into the kitchen and break it down. I guess they use everything. It was served with apple mostarda (spicy apple mustard), cider braised cabbage, and apple. It satisfied my Belgian side with its combination of pork, which tasted like bacon, and apple.

Now came the red wines. I like North Georgia wines, but I do have one complaint: the reds tend to be a little light-bodied for my taste. Not so with the 2008 Montaluce Cabernet (blended with a little Merlot and Sangoivese), which was comfortably medium-bodied. It smelled like a Cab without reaching out of the glass and whacking me up-side the head (yes, I did just say that), but it had good body and a lingering finish. The food brought out the fruitiness.
Wine Rating: Very Good to Excellent

I'll get to the last two courses in a moment, but it's time for some random thoughts. Through the first part of the day and couple of courses, we did formal introductions, and there wasn't much spontaneous conversation. Admittedly, I got slightly annoyed just before lunch, when Rob wanted Oliver to keep talking until the food was ready. Oliver had been a good sport and had been talking all morning, and my thought was, "When are we going to get to talk to each other?" After the second course, the magic happened. People opened up like good bottles of red wine, mostly with "oh, so that's who you are!" I felt a little intimidated at first – there were some serious wine people in attendance – but then I remembered that my blog is deliberately non-expert, and I felt better, opened my ears, and learned a lot.

Back to the food! And then God, or maybe Chef, decreed, "There shall be comfort food!" Yep, it was fancy chicken and gravy, or a chicken thigh terrine with cipollini onion, baby carrot, and celery leaf. It was paired with the 2008 Montaluce Merlot, also medium-bodied with some interesting fizziness on the palate. Overall, it was nicely balanced with a little cedar and butter to go with the fruit. It had been made with oak chips for one month, which added spicy notes that balanced the richness of the food.
Wine Rating: Very Good

Yes, there was a dessert course – stuff in jars!

Seriously, it was butternut cup custard with maple gel, oat crumble, and buttermilk espuma (essentially buttermilk whipped cream). The flavor of the butternut squash came through, and the oat crumble added fun crunchiness. I'm going to have to try that maple-butternut combo at home. This course would've been better with a dessert wine, but Montaluce doesn't do those yet, so they paired it with the 2008 Montaluce Viognier, which has 1.5% residual sugar. The dessert overwhelmed the wine, which would've been nice on its own with its floral nose and tropical fruit (but not citrus – someone said papaya and banana).
Wine Rating: Very Good

One of my fellow attendees actually brought a real camera, so for really good pictures, check out Brad Kaplan's photos.

Finally, thanks so much to Rob and Brent for allowing us the opportunity to come up and play with y'all yesterday! We had so much fun!

Next up on Tuesday: But wait, there's more! Wine from distributors Avant Partir and Quality Wine and Spirits

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part II

Here is the second part of my serial flash fiction, a paranormal mystery set in a bachelorette party shop and venue. To read the first part, click here. For more Friday Flash Fiction, search the hashtag #fridayflash on Twitter or check out Mad Utopia on Saturday, when Friday Flash guru J.M. Strother posts a comprehensive list with authors and genres.

Always a Bridesmaid


Toby loaded the last of the boxes in the truck and wiped his hands on his jeans. "All set!"

The older man who watched him shook his head and leaned on the porch rail. "You could just send 'em. That's why God made UPS."

"But this way it's an adventure!" He grinned and for a moment was surprised by his own smile.

"And you get away from that woman."

"I could never fool you, Dad." Toby climbed the porch steps two at a time and enveloped his adoptive father in a hug. With some gentle but manly thumping on the back, of course.

"She ain't that bad, Son. You gotta settle sometime. And once I get better, I'll go back to helping you with the business."

Now Toby's smile faltered. He and his mom had talked to the doctors that week, and he knew it didn't look good. They wouldn't tell Tom, but the tumor in his brain hadn't responded to the chemo and radiation like they'd hoped. But the old man kept his spirits up by not listening to them even though he complied with their instructions. Never mind that he was almost blind.

"Bunch o' fools," he muttered like he could tell what his son was thinking. "Now go. Those cookies ain't gonna last forever, and your mother'll have a fit if those linens she stitched for your cousin aren't there in time for the rehearsal dinner. You know she's already upset about missing her sister's only daughter's wedding."

"All right, all right, I'm off!" And with another gentle – but still very manly – pat on the back, he was.


Lydia shook her head. "There's no point in going into all of this again, Amber!"

Her friend put her hands on her hips. "Sarah Lydia Rockfort Smithson Webber!"

Tiffany raised her eyebrows. "That's a lot of last names!"

"And that's not even all of them." Lydia sat and put her head in her hands. "Look, can't we just drop it! It's going to be different this time."

Tiffany sat beside the bride and put a hand on her shoulder. She sensed the girl's hesitation. "What's going to make it different?"

"Why do you want to know?" This was no longer the girl who had gleefully chopped the end off her man-cake earlier. She narrowed her blue eyes and set her jaw, and Tiffany could see the determination and the grief the girl had endured. No, this was a young woman who had suffered more than she should have.

"She can help you, Lydia!" Now Amber pleaded. "Please, at least try!"

"There's no point. I'm cursed. We've only heard about happy marriages that make it through the first night."

"Tell me about the curse," Tiffany said, but she couldn't help a little smile that the rumor was doing its work. "Happy Brides go to the Bride's Best Friend for their bachelorette parties!" had been her slogan, and the part about her brides always having happy marriages? Well, she couldn't help it if good marketing, careful selection of her first clientele, and a little magic had all worked together.

"Something always happens to my husband on the wedding night," Lydia whispered.

Now Tiffany felt the chill return. "Like what?"

Amber came to stand behind Lydia. "It's always an accident," she said. "There's never anything suspicious, no hint of foul play."

Lydia bit her lip, tears running down her cheeks. She obviously couldn't continue, so Tiffany looked at Amber again.

"Freaky stuff, like a short in the television or a balcony on a honeymoon suite that's rusted. Things that people are only going to find out the worst way."

"I see." She couldn't see, really, but she could sense the shadow that hung over Lydia, and she thought about the spirit in the kitchen.

"But it's going to be different this time," Lydia said in a small voice. She looked up through her tears at Amber. "I know it is."

Amber put her hand on Lydia's shoulder. "You need to tell her that part, too."

Tiffany arched an eyebrow. "Which is…?"

"He picked the groom. He said if I married the right one, it would all be okay."

Tiffany stood and walked to the other side of the table. She felt like a magnet with the same pole toward Lydia's, the force pushing her backwards. "What did he offer you?"

Lydia shrugged. "A chance to finally be happy with a wonderful man."

Amber squeezed her friend's shoulder. "But you don't know that! You see, Tiffany," she said, and the party hostess heard the panic in the girl's voice, "this is why we need you! No one else believes in curses anymore!"

A clap of thunder shook the small building, and rain poured from the sky. Tiffany ran around the room and closed windows, which had been open to the surprisingly balmy weather. Now a chill wind whipped the empty branches outside.

"I think that you have no idea what you're getting into," she said and rubbed the goosebumps on her arms.

"I've already lost six husbands," said Lydia. "I almost didn't try again, but when Trent picked me up that night, I knew he'd be different. He'd be the one to break the curse!"

"Does he know about it?" Tiffany asked. She'd been ready to dismiss the girls' claim, but six husbands? Lydia couldn't be more than thirty! "And who picked him?"

"I don't know." Lydia blushed and looked away. "I only see him in my dreams. But yes, Trent knows about the curse. He laughed, especially when I told him he'd been chosen to break it."

The cuckoo clock on the wall chirped two, and Tiffany cursed under her breath. There would be a tea at four, and she needed time to clean the shop.

"We should go," said Amber.

Tiffany nodded. "Come back any time tomorrow. The wedding's next weekend, right?"

"It's Tuesday."

Tiffany almost dropped the plates she held. "That doesn't give us much time."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tasting Notes: Tempranillo at JavaMonkey

I love these sensual reds from Spain and South America! Jess at JavaMonkey introduced us to a few more this past Thursday at a tasting dedicated entirely to Tempranillo.

The wines:

2005 Lorinon Crianza (Rioja, Spain): A blend of 85% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo
"Crianza" means that the wine spends at least 12 months in oak. This one started with much promise, dark and rich with a little pepper on the nose. It's a little rough on the palate at first with an acid bite, but it finished smooth for the first few sips. Then it fell a little flat.
Rating: Good

2007 Reinares Tempranillo (Castilla, Spain):
A whiff of cinnamon-clove on the nose leads to nice fruit undertones with a little green pepper on top and not much of a finish.
Random wine quote for the evening: "This one is wham, bam, but no 'thank you, ma'am.'" (per Dan Browning)
Rating: Good

2006 Orobio Tempranillo (Rioja, Spain):
This one is made by a Tempranillo specialist. File that one under "jobs I want." Black cherry and other dark fruit with cedar on the end, this is the kind of Tempranillo that makes me happy.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Emperador de Barros Tempranillo (Ribera del Guadiana, Spain):
A wine that tastes like grape juice. This one got a universal, "WTF???" from the table.
Rating: Meh

2006 Atalayas de Golban (Ribera del Duero, Spain):
Burnt caramel on the nose (one couple said acetone, but they're geeks). Oaky-smoky caramel popcorn. This one gets props for being interesting but still fruity.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Creta Roble (Ribera del Duero, Spain):
Yummy jam and dark fruit, this was a good fruit bomb to finish out the evening. It also has enough acid to make it good with food.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Above and Beyond Pub Food: Ommegang Beer Pairing Dinner at The Grange

There are some nights when having a good time comes easy, and there are others when you have to earn it. I stopped my appointments at 5:00 on Wednesday so I could get out of there before traffic got too bad. A quick check at 5:05 showed minor delays, so I grabbed my stuff, rushed to the elevator, and then out into the gloom. Threw everything in the car, turned the ignition, and…

…Nothing. It was dead, Jim. Deader than Marley (who, you must understand, was really dead at the beginning of the Christmas Carol). Deader than the proverbial doornail.

Okay, now that I've made a lovely metaphor salad, I'll continue. Our administrator tried to jump me off with her Mustang. Hubby was already coming to my rescue and rushed a little faster when I told him we couldn't figure out where to ground the black jumper cable clip (Honda engines are, apparently, made of plastic). Still nothing after he tried. So, we left it at the office and still got to the dinner with time to spare.

Oh, did I mention that the car and battery both came out of warranty at the end of December? How do they know??? As a writer, I'm offended that my car would do something so cliché.

So yes, I was ready for some beer. Ommegang is a New York brewery specializing in Belgian-style beers. The first beer, Belgian Wit (Witbier), was served with the hors d'oeuvres course, almond blueberry and goat cheese pinwheels, Salame Toscano, and Red Dragon, Ale, and Mustard Cheese from Wales. No, this wasn't typical bar food. Yes, it was all delicious and light enough to compliment the mild citrus in the beer.

The second course, jumbo lump crab cake with lemon mayo and parsnip crisps over roasted beet carpaccio, was served with and a little overwhelmed by the Ommegang Rouge, a very tart Flanders red ale. The first impression I got of the beer was of mustard in that it was tangy and a little buttery, and it had some funky blue cheese undertones. One of our table-mates thought it complimented the lemon mayo on the crab cake perfectly, but to me the pairing felt a little unbalanced, even with the strong flavor of the beets. The course itself had a fun variety of textures and flavors on its own.

Everyone agreed that the third course, braised duck leg with Yukon gold and sweet potato Dauphinoise, and roasted Brussels Sprouts, paired perfectly with the Ommegang Adoration, classified as Winter Strong Dark Belgian. At 10% ABV, this beer needed a course with some oomph, and it got it. The duck was cooked perfectly and served with crispy breadcrumbs on top to balance the tender texture. The Dauphinoise had an elegant balance of flavor with the two kinds of potato and cheese, and the Brussels Sprouts had been cooked to ideal "crisp tender." The beer on its own has gingery overtones and lots of spice, and the food cut the spice and smoothed it out, kind like what rich food does with a highly acidic wine.

Finally, dessert! I haven't stopped thinking about this one. I even got a picture, which got a little cut off at the bottom since I was shooting blind:

Yes, that's Chocolate Indulgence stout cake with grains of paradise ice cream. If you're not familiar with grains of paradise, they come from West Africa and used to be a substitute for pepper. In ice cream, they tasted kind of like rosemary and coriander, and it went really well with the chocolate cake. I'm not usually a stout person, but the Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Belgian Strong Dark Ale wasn't bitter. Malty chocolate with a finish of barely sweetened cocoa kept me drinking it even though I was stuffed.

Was the beer dinner worth the car drama? Absolutely! Plus, Hubby and I got to have lunch together the next day when he replaced my battery. So it all worked out in the end.

If you haven't tried the Grange, or whatever the name will be after next weekend (long story, but it will be the same place and ownership with a new name), they're worth a pint and a snack. If you haven't tried them in a couple of years, the "new" chef definitely proved that he knows what he's doing. I look forward to the next time they let him play in the kitchen.

Next pairing dinner: February 24, Grain vs. Grape – 4 courses paired with 4 wines or beers; you can choose either or do a "Kitchen Sink" option with both.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid

Yes, I have a lot to catch up on including reviews of Wednesday's beer dinner at The Grange and, finally, my review of the Iberian Pig, but it's Friday, so that means it's fiction time!

You know how sometimes you have a first line bouncing around in your brain, and it won't go away? As you read below, you can see why I resisted, but once it turned out to be a paranormal mystery, I was okay with it. Just to warn you, it takes place in a bachelorette party venue, a classy one, but yes, there are potentially offensive objects mentioned. You've been warned.

This is the first part in a serial. I blame @TechTigger on Twitter for inspiring me to the form. :)

Always a Bridesmaid

"Who wants man-cakes?" Tiffany brought out the plate of penis-shaped pancakes.

"Strawberry, huh?" the bride Lydia asked as she speared one right through the testicles with the serving fork. "This should help to banish the ghosts of any boyfriends past."

The hairs on the back of Tiffany's neck stood up, but she smiled and continued serving the bachelorette breakfast guests. Each girl took a pancake with the fork, grinning a little, likely imagining spearing an ex or someone who had failed to notice her, cherish her, be there for her, or any of the other multitude of sins that men routinely committed against women.

"Yep, hit 'em where it hurts, ladies," Tiffany encouraged. "I'll be right back with some bacon."

"Bacon!" came the chorus.

"Bring on the meat!" Lydia said and cut off the tapered tip of her pancake.

Tiffany smiled at the bride's feistiness. She liked that. It was easier for her to work her magic for a woman she felt deserved it, although she got paid well for all of her parties.

"Be right back," she promised. She ducked through the bead curtain that separated the front of her shop from the kitchen, workroom, and storage area. Besides the usual penis- and man-shaped baking molds, it held other interesting objects such as rose quartz crystals that Tiffany gifted each bride, dried herbs for "smudging" the store clean after each party, and books that went well beyond the typical wedding party planning guides. She didn't know what Miss Manners would think of her manuals and didn't care. Since a certain little rumor had started – not by her – she had been fully booked and had started taking Sundays and Mondays off as a weekend because she needed them to recoup her energy and restock her shelves.

Lacey wasn't in the kitchen, and Tiffany wondered if the cat sensed another impending health inspection. Then she felt it: the presence of something else in the kitchen hit her full-on like a wave of garlic-dirty feet-sulphur smoke. Apparently Lydia hadn't been kidding. Even worse, it stood between her and the bacon, which needed to be taken off the stove before it went from perfectly chewy-crispy to burnt.

"Get away from the food, Spirit," she said and grabbed the clear crystal quartz-tipped wand she kept by the door.

It only laughed at her. Great. She decided to try a different strategy.

"Who are you, and what do you want?"

It moved across the room at lightning speed, away from her, thankfully. Most nasties didn't like to give their true identities away. She rescued the bacon and put it on paper towels to drain.

"I'll be back for you in a second."

In the main room, she served the bacon from its flowery plate and poured a second round of blood orange mimosas just in case things got interesting.

But when she returned to the kitchen, the ghost was gone, and Lacey the white Persian cat had reappeared.

"Some help you are," Tiffany said and picked up the cat. Lacey rubbed her soft head against Tiffany's chin. She only did that when something had really disturbed her.

"Yeah, that was some nasty." She walked to the blueberry punch-bowl cake. Lacey lifted her head, squirmed out of Tiffany's arms, and dropped to the counter. Before Tiffany could even shriek, the cat knocked the cake on to the floor with a splendid crash!

"Oh, Lacey!" Tiffany bent to pick up a large piece of what had been her favorite small crystal punch bowl, but the smell assailed her again. She swiped a bit of the whipped cream off the glass and touched the tip of her tongue to it. The cream, which had been fresh the night before when she'd assembled the cake, had gone beyond spoiled to rancid. Lacey twined against Tiffany's calves.

"I would've served it to them, and oh, you're a clever kitty!" Tiffany got as much of the mess up as she could quickly and washed her hands.

"Now what?" she wondered. She looked around the kitchen for quick inspiration and poked her head into the breakfast room, where the bride opened her naughty presents, the ones that her friends didn’t want to give her in front of elderly mothers and aunts.

"Is everything okay?" It was Amber, the one who had set up the party. With her fair skin, black hair, and green eyes, she likely had some of the Blood in her.

"Fine. Just had a little kitchen accident."

Amber arched an eyebrow. "That tends to happen around Lydia."

"Well, whatever it was ruined dessert." Tiffany didn't mind being short with the girl, who she now sensed was hiding something.

"Got a backup?"


"Good." Amber nodded toward Lydia, who blushed at receiving her own purple vibrator. "I'm going to try and convince her to talk to you later."

Tiffany pondered that cryptic statement while she whipped cream cheese frosting for the chocolate cupcakes she'd baked for a later party. They were easy enough that she could make another batch quickly.

Amber and Lydia stayed after the party to organize gifts. Tiffany cleared the dishes, her long blonde hair tied back and out of her face. The kitchen always got hot when she baked.

"Lydia," Amber said and inclined her head toward Tiffany, who pretended not to hear.

"It's nothing, Amber."

"Then why don’t you tell her what happened with dessert, Ms. Chiffon?"

"You can call me Tiffany. Ms. Chiffon makes me sound like a stripper." She stacked plates while she talked. "My cat knocked over the punchbowl cake."

"Oh, I'm so sorry!"

Tiffany looked up. The words had slipped from Lydia's tongue like she had apologized for random things her entire life.

"It wasn't your fault."

"Oh, but it probably was. Stuff like that happens around me."

"But not always," Amber said.

"Right." Lydia looked down with a flush in her cheeks. "But not always."

"Why don't you tell me when it started?"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Random Metapost: Happy Blogiversary!

Uh, oh. I'm gonna be in trouble. You see, yesterday, January 19, was my two-year blogiversary, and I forgot until about 10:00 last night. It got a last-minute tweet, but I'm afraid I'm going to be sleeping on the virtual couch for this one.

Luckily John Kessler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution came through. He posted his new blogroll and listed this one under "Drink." Phew! Happy Blogiversary -- we're now on the blogroll of one of my favorite food writers!

Thanks to all my readers who have stuck with me over the past couple of years! Here's to more wine, food, and randomness!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tasting Notes: A Taste of Poetry at JavaMonkey

I attended last Thursday's Poetry Slam fund raising event at JavaMonkey. Several regular patrons wandered in during the evening, obviously confused that there was wine being poured for a tasting on an off Thursday. I enjoyed the poetry more than I thought I would and appreciated the chance to rediscover some of the wines from the JavaMonkey list.

The wines:

2008 Emperor de Barros Macabeo (Ribera del Guadiana, Spain):
Some vanilla on the nose and lovely apple and melon fruit. Hubby liked it, too.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Pure Evil Chardonnay (South Australia):
Finally, someone agrees with my perception of oaked Chards! Just kidding. It smells like oak, but it's light on the palate with more tropical fruit and enough oakiness to make it interesting, but not undrinkable.
Rating: Good

2008 Lucky Star Pinot Noir (California): 94% Pinot Noir, 6% Syrah
The name of this one makes me get the "Shooting Star" song stuck in my head (thank you, Rock Band). Very fruity nose with cherry cola and definite oak undertones on the palate.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 Stella Sangiovese (Puglia, Italy):
Nice, not heavy or too acidic but with nice cran-raspberry fruit.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Codice Tempranillo (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain):
Starts out oaky, fruity, and yummy, but the finish is a little astringent.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 Maipe Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza, Argentina):
Super fruity! Nice finish, too.
Rating: Very Good

By the time I got to the last one, I was outside listening to the poetry, so I didn't write as much about them. That's also why my tweets dropped off after the Chard. For my thoughts on the poetry, click here to go to the article I wrote for Decatur News Online.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tasting Notes: Big Ass Reds at JavaMonkey

What is a "Big Ass" red? I'm pretty sure that's not a technical wine term, so I'll give you my definition. A "Big Ass Red" is a wine that warms you to the bone on cold days like this past week. It could be because of style -- lots of fruit -- or just straight-up alcohol content. Or maybe it tastes "hot" (high in alcohol) but really isn't. For whatever reason, these are reds you can't ignore, and you probably don't want to put them with food that relies on subtlety. For me, the quintessential BAR food is steak. Pizza works, too, which is what we ate before last Thursday's tasting at JavaMonkey.

Here are the wines:

2007 Di Arie Zinfandel (Sierra Foothills, California):
I was surprised to see a Zin leading off the list -- usually those come last -- but this one wasn't as full-bodied as I expected and had elegant balance. The bright, fruity nose literally made my mouth water, and the wine's smooth, dark fruit led to a little hot kick at the very back of my palate.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2006 Chasing Lions (Napa Valley, California): Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah
I had high hopes for this one with its promising blend, but apparently chasing lions is a lot like herding cats: it's hard to get everything you want in the same place. There just wasn't much to this wine beyond a little insipid fruit.
Rating: Okay

2007 Bon Anno Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California):
Attack of the killer tannins, at least at first! With persistent swirling, it opened nicely to leather and fruit (but not in a kinky way).
Rating: Good

2006 Del Rio Vineyards Claret (Rogue Valley, Oregon):
The nose has anise on it, and this wine definitely qualifies as "chewy" in the beginning. It moves to nice fruit at the end with oak in the middle. This was one I kept sipping just to feel and taste the interesting chewy-oak-fruit progression.
Rating: Very Good

NV J. Bookwalter Subplot No. 23 (Columbia Valley, Washington):
Smells hot, but kind of like chocolate-covered raisins with its undertones of milk chocolate plus ripe fruit.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Don David Tannat Reserve (Cafayate Valley, Argentina):
The first pour our table got of this one was from a so-so bottle. We all commented on the funky nose and concluded that it was close to corked, although not all the way. With all the bottles we go through at these tastings, it's bound to happen occasionally. I tasted a sip from a different bottle and got berries and spice.
Provisional Rating: Good, but worth a revisit

The favorite of the evening for me was the Di Arie Zinfandel with the Claret close behind. If you can't find those but want to experience big reds, try any of the reds from the Lodi region of California, especially the Cabs and Zins. They're usually pretty reasonable, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Random Thoughts: On Finishing Novel #3 and Watching "Julie & Julia"

This has been quite the exciting week! No, I’m not talking about the snow and ice, although I’m sure some people found it to be thrilling. This week was exciting for me because on Tuesday I finished my third novel, the working title of which is "A Perfect Man." This first draft weighs in as my biggest yet with thirty chapters, 100,000 words, and 400 double-spaced (and already formatted – go me!) pages. I started it in the spring of 2007 and had this grandiose idea that it would be the first in a series of four as I followed a class of eight students through their MFA in genre literature program. "A Perfect Man" covers the first semester, which, you can guess from the title, is focused on romance. Yeah, I created the kind of MFA program I’d like to be in if Hubby hadn’t already told me, "no more degrees!"

What happened between May 2007 and now? Well, I worked on the novel until November 2007, when I put it aside for NaNoWriMo, got distracted with another project, and didn’t get back to it until this past summer. So that makes a total of a little over a year for the first draft, outline, etc. That was in spite of the usual amount of procrastination, slogging through the middle of the book, and fluctuations in inspiration. My plan for revision is to set it aside for a couple of months so I’ll be able to go at it with fresh eyes. Like I said, it’s big and messy, and there’s a lot to clean up. I do have a 100-word blurb that I plan to use for query letters, but I’m going to revise it before I actually reveal specifics about the plot.

The timing of finishing the novel as well as the fact that January 19 is my two-year blogiversary for the Random Oenophile made viewing the movie Julie & Julia last night particularly meaningful. The film chronicles Julia Child’s early struggles to become a master chef and published cookbook author and modern-day Julie Powell’s quest to "finish something," namely cooking all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. Meryl Streep was, of course, fabulous as Julia Child, but I also enjoyed Amy Adams’ portrayal of more-than-slightly neurotic writer and blogger Julie. Yeah, maybe I identified with her a little. I asked Hubby if he sympathized with Julie’s very patient husband Eric, but, being a wise man, he declined to comment.

I did have a few complaints about the movie. First, although wine was definitely portrayed as part of the meal, it was never mentioned specifically. For example, when Stanley Tucci's character Paul Child said something about opening a special bottle of wine to celebrate, I wanted to know what the Childs would consider to be a "special bottle." Second, I wanted to see more desserts. Yeah, I'm a chocophile; there's nothing wrong with that. If anyone knows what the yummy chocolate cake, the one with the almonds on the side, portrayed toward the end was, please tell me! Third, seriously, how can anyone give up exercise for cooking butter-rich food and not gain 20+ pounds??? I know that New Yorkers walk a lot, but seriously, I can only suspend my disbelief so far. Maybe I need to read the book to find the answer to that one.

The underlying message of the movie, at least the one I got, was that persistence pays off. Yes, I've finished three novels compared to the half-novel that Julie lamented she couldn't get published, and I'm definitely not writing a huge cookbook, but I know that it's not easy. I did get a couple of agent rejections this week -- they count toward my "paying my dues" total, right? Of course, if the New York Times discovers my blog and would like to write a feature on me, I won't complain.

Meanwhile, I'll keep working at it. My next project: a mystery series with fellow author James Bassett. And revising the novel I just finished, of course. I plan to bring it to the Romance Writers of America conference in July and pitch it there. Like Julia, I shall be fearless in my craft, and like Julie, I'll work hard at finishing what I start in a reasonable time frame. And, like both of them, I'll cook lots of good food to keep myself sane. Don't worry, I'll actually tell you about the wine I drink with it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Travelin' Oenophile: Keeping It Weird in Asheville, N.C. (Part One)

Hubby and I took off the day after Christmas to Asheville, North Carolina, for a romantic, post-holiday few days in what has become one of our favorite places to visit. We took the opportunity on the way up to taste wine at Tiger Mountain Vineyards (click here for tasting notes and winery review) and were happy to arrive to a glorious sunset on Saturday evening that reflected off the snow still on the ground.

After checking in to the 1900 Inn on Montford, we joined innkeepers Ron and Lynn Carlson as well as the other guests for social hour (from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. nightly), during which Ron poured glasses of Biltmore Chardonnay for anyone who cared to partake. As you know, I'm picky about Chards, but I like that one. The Carlsons are definitely extraverts, as B&B owners tend to be, and they're interested in their guests as people. There's also inn cat Allie, who counts us among her fans. We enjoyed the conversation and then headed to S&W Steak & Wine for dinner. That's when things got weird.

I'll start with the qualification that the food was very good. Apparently the seventeen inches of snow the previous weekend and the holiday messed up supply deliveries a bit, so they were out of a few items including the sauteed mushrooms that we wanted for with our steak, and, most tragically, the flourless chocolate cake for dessert. I got the Beef Filet Mignon, and Hubby had the New York Strip, and both of us found the steaks to be nicely seasoned. We split an order of salty soy-flavored green beans and creamy macaroni & cheese for sides.

In spite of our waiter's assertion that he had twenty years of experience, the service seemed a little off. On the positive side, he recommended a good wine, and he advised us to get a single serving of the sides to share. On the negative, he didn't put the sides in at the same time as the steak, so they came out a little after, which was fine, but he never refilled our wine glasses. He even picked up the bottle to see how much was left in it at one point, but even though my glass was empty and Hubby's mostly so, he didn't refill them. We wondered if it was one of those strange regulations that pop up every so often here in the Southeast, but apparently not.

S&W is in an old Art-Deco cafeteria, and the building lends itself to strangeness. Apparently there are a lot of architecture buffs in Asheville because throughout the evening, small groups would walk in off the street and look through the windows of the inner entrance at the building. It makes for a fishbowl-like dining experience, and Hubby wondered at one point whether we should start waving at them. There's a comedy club in the basement, so it provided occasional noise, but not nearly as much as the drunk guy at the upstairs bar (open to the restaurant space) who started yelling at the bartender for allegedly stiffing him twenty dollars. Yeah, noise carries in an open building with a balcony bar. Finally, there was the guy who sounded like Tony Soprano who stood up at his table, told one of his dining companions (his daughter?) to "Shut the f--- up!" and stormed out. His wife went outside and convinced him to come back in, but the whole family spent the rest of the evening in such stony silence that their server seemed afraid to approach the table.

What did we drink while watching the drama unfold? We like to drink local wine when we travel, so we shared a bottle of 2007 Rockhouse Meritage (Tryon, NC), a blend of 25% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Cabernet Franc. The nose is of dark fruit and clove, and the wine itself has mouth-watering savoriness with good acidity that plays well with meat. Unfortunately, the Rockhouse winery was not open when we drove back; otherwise we would totally have stopped by.

Oh, yes, there was much inspiration for future Friday flashes. More adventures to come...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Favorites from 2009 & Oeno-lutions

I originally wrote this on Christmas Day so I could get it to Geoff Koski for the Decatur News Online launch. I meant to post it yesterday, but never got to the computer. Yeah, I blame trying to catch up on the Doctor Who specials before David Tennant's final episode is aired tonight. So, here it is, a little late. I'll start over with resolution #3 today.

“Oh, I just love Decatur!

How many times have we heard this when we tell other Atlantans what part of town we live in? I just love Decatur, too, although parking can be tough. Still, it’s worth it, because whether you’re eating on the square or venturing off of it, there’s something for just about any taste and budget. Here are a few of my Decatur favorites from 2009:

Favorite “let’s just grab dinner out” place: If you hadn’t guessed this already, I’m a big fan of Feast Restaurant, by the railroad tracks near the intersection of Howard and Candler. Teri Rogers has set up this cozy spot with good food, a great wine list, and fantastic desserts. I would describe it as “bistro fare.” We went there for our five-year wedding anniversary in October, and they treated us wonderfully. They do great wine and beer dinners as well.

Favorite wine list: Yes, this would be CafĂ© Lily. We’ve never had a bad meal there, and they’ve got a great selection of zinfandels.

Favorite place to take parents (or have them take us): My in-laws are absolutely addicted to the mussels at Watershed. We never say no if they want to go there for dinner when they visit. You can even find famous violinist Kirsten Browning and me lunching there from time to time.

Favorite place to stop for a pint after Mass: How convenient for The Grange Public House to be located just down the hill from our church! Great selection of beer including some Belgians. Yes, there are places to find good beer in Decatur that aren’t the Brick Store (which I like a lot as well)!

Coffeecoffeecoffeewine! Yes, we love JavaMonkey. It’s a coffee shop with pretty good sandwiches and great desserts from Southern Sweets, which is another favorite lunch/dessert place. I did try a couple of other places for dessert this year, but none of them can hold a cake server to Southern Sweets.

Favorite newcomer: I’m baffled by the Atlanta food critics’ response to The Iberian Pig. Every “real person” (i.e., not professional food critic) I’ve talked to about it has loved it. I need to go back and try the entrees before I can write my review, but Hubby and I were impressed with the wine and tapas on our first visit.

(added since DNO launch) Favorite "let's do lunch!" place: I can't tell you how many times we'd driven by Duck's Cosmic Kitchen before we decided to stop in one morning for breakfast. I had a chocolate chip scone, and -- please pardon the cliche -- it was love at first bite. Since then, we've gotten bread, and it's become my standard lunch place. The pizzas and sandwiches are all really good, and the baked goods have never disappointed.

So now that I’ve hit the highlights of 2009, it’s time to turn my thoughts to what I look forward to in 2010. One of the reasons I started my blog was because I wanted to have a place for non-professional wine and food lovers to go to for thoughts and descriptions that aren’t incomprehensible if you don’t speak that wine expert dialect. That also means I have a lot to learn, and I recognize my shortcomings. So, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2010, both for me as the Random Oenophile and for the blog:

1. Drink and write about more European wine. I fell short on this one last year and plan to do better. I need to not be so easily seduced by labels with those magic words Lodi, Willammette, or Walla Walla (although I do get excited by Bordeaux blends and wines from the Cotes du Ventoux region – that counts for something, right?). Have been more intrigued by French pinot noirs lately, so this is a good time for this resolution.

2. Following from number one, drink and write more about wine from interesting places. Like Texas. Yes, my annual professional conference takes me to San Antonio this year, and we’ll likely be going up to Austin as well in search of wineries. If you ask anyone from Texas, their state is way more interesting than any other state, so it counts toward this resolution. That will be another check on the “states I’ve visited wineries in” list.

3. Post a little more regularly on my blog. Going to aim for 1-2 wine/food posts per week plus one Friday Flash fiction post. Regularly updating my web site goes under this number, too. I’m also excited by a new opportunity, to contribute to Decatur News Online. I hope for that to be a mix of regular blog posts and other articles.

4. Have at least 10 pieces of writing, whether they’re novel queries, short stories, or other things out for submission at all times.

5. Take the train to work more.

What? You thought it was going to be lose 10 pounds? Not quite – I’ve got more wine to drink and more desserts to eat! Hopefully my regular visits to the Decatur/Dekalb YMCA and the half mile walk between home and the MARTA station and the other half mile walk between the station and work (for a total of 2 miles round-trip if you’re counting) will help to offset that.

Finally, I look forward to bringing you more wine notes from the Random Oenophile’s West Coast correspondent James Bassett as well as further notes and thoughts from Dan Browning, who helps me out when I can’t be in two places at once. Hubby has also expressed interest in more collaboration, which is exciting because he’s a very humorous writer.

Thank you, dear readers, for helping to make my blog a success in 2009! Here’s wishing you happy eating, drinking, reading, and writing in 2010!