Thursday, December 29, 2011

Psychowine: Bubbles -- Naughty, Nice, or both?

This is the first post in my new Psychowine series, wherein I'll be looking at the psychological aspects of what and where we drink. I encourage feedback, either below in the comments or through Twitter at @RandomOenophile.

No, this isn't one we tried recently. I just love this picture.

Remember when we were kids, and we'd tell jokes that we knew were supposed to be dirty, but we didn't know why? There was a series of such jokes about a survey taker who would go door-to-door and ask people in the neighborhood questions. In one, he found that the men of the neighborhood liked to "take baths with bubbles." The punchline was that the last door was opened by a beautiful blonde who introduced herself, "Hi, I'm Bubbles!"

I love bubbles, but not the slutty neighbor kind. A glass of sparkling wine has become my favorite pre-dinner drink when we go out to eat because it's tasty on its own but also pairs beautifully with any food. It's superior to a Cosmo because it's not going to raise my blood-alcohol content to the point that anything I drink after it will finish me. No, I don't have the "champagne goes to my head" syndrome.

Just like the Bubbles joke, there's something naughty about sparkling wine. That it's usually saved for celebrations lends it a decadent quality and sense of, "how dare you drink this without cause?" Its association with sexual symbolism, perhaps because bubbles do go to some women's heads (and some men's as well…and we'll leave it at that) also lends it an air of mystery. This impression is reinforced by a popular myth that the saucer-like glasses called coupes were modeled after a famous French queen's or royal mistress' breasts. Sadly, ruins the fun and says the tales aren't true.

So, with that in mind, here are some bubblies that we tried recently at a JavaMonkey wine tasting as well as one we sampled. Perhaps you can find something to get you warmed up for your New Year's Eve celebration.

Lois de Grenelle Platine Brut, NV (Loire Valley, France): 85% Chenin Blanc, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Cabernet Franc
I was apparently feeling quite literal with this one. My first comment: "It's bubbly." Beyond that, it's tart and tropical.
Rating: Good

François Montand Brut Rosé, NV (Côtes du Jura, France): 100% Grenache
Smoother and with more stone fruit. This one had nice little bubbles.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 Gramona Cran Cuvee Cava (Penedès, Spain): Xarelo, Macabeo, & Chardonnay
The longest age Cava in the world, this one had a nice bready, yeasty quality that makes it smooth and yummy.
Rating: VG to Excellent

Zèfiro Prosecco, NV (Veneto, Italy):
A beautifully light and fruity Prosecco.
Rating: Very Good

2009 Kila Cava (Penedès, Spain): 35% Macabejo, 40% Xarelo, and 25% Parellada
A little heavier and with less fruit, but not quite as well-balanced as the previous Cava. Yes, my notes on this one are minimal.
Rating: Good

2010 Cleto Chiarli e Figli "Premium" Lambrusco (Emilia Romagna, Italy):
Yep, it's a dark red sparkling Lambrusco. I found the fruit itself to be a bit harsh, and it was incredibly buttery. Good as a novelty wine, but if I want a sparkling red, I'm probably going for a Shiraz.
Rating: OK

I accepted a sample of Yellow Tail Bubbles White Sparkling Wine because I was curious to see how the Australian mega-winery would do bubbles. They claim their closure, the "Zork" would keep it bubbly even after opening. The wine itself is lightly sweet and fruity but lacking the acidity that would make it great with food. It finishes up with a hint of vanilla. We drank half on Sunday and "zorked" it with the intention of finishing it on Monday. We forgot until last night (Wednesday) and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was still as bubbly as it was on Sunday afternoon. This would be a good wine for anyone who wants a decent sparkling under $10, those who are trying to transition to less sweet wines from the Asti Spumante world, or someone who wants something that would go well in mimosas or other sparkling wine-based cocktails.

So there you have it! I hope this has given y'all some ideas for what to uncork, or un-zork, on New Year's Eve or any time you want to feel just a little decadent. To feel really naughty, consider putting on some soft music, lighting a few candles, and taking a bath with bubbles…in a glass.

Disclaimer: We received the Yellow Tail Bubbles as a sample. This did not affect my review.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

Well, it's that time again, a post-holiday race to the bar to hang out, drink some fruity stuff, and have some girl time! Our next Ladies of Decatur tweetup will be this Friday, December 2, at Harbour Bar and Fish House, which is in the former Tesoro spot on Church Street. We usually start convening at around 6:00 and break up between 8:00 and 9:00. Please let me know via Twitter (@RandomOenophile) or in the comments if you plan to come!

A few of us had a discussion over the weekend about whether we should continue rotating location or pick one or two places to alternate between. Here are my thoughts on the two options. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.

The advantages of continuing as we've been, which is to go to different places, is that we get to try new places, and it makes the gathering more accessible to people in different parts of Decatur. We also won't burn out on one bar or food menu. The disadvantages are that it's harder for me to plan because I have to pick a place, and it's harder for y'all to plan for since I usually don't release the location until the week of the event.

The main advantage of picking one or two places to make our official Ladies of Decatur tweetup location is that we could develop a relationship with the owners or GM, and this may eventually grow into us getting perks or discounts. No, I won't go and ask for these directly. My philosophy from the blog is that such things are always appreciated but never expected. The disadvantage is that we risk losing people because they would get bored of going to the same place all the time or get burned out on the same menu.

I'm sure I'm missing stuff, so feel free to chime in!

Hopefully my back yard won't look like this tomorrow:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Random Outings: Molly Dooker Wine Dinner

About a month ago, Hubby and I had the pleasure of being invited to a Molly Dooker wine dinner, held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Atlanta. We arrived a little late for the passed hors d'oeuvres but enjoyed one with the Violonist, a crisp but fruity Verdelho. Then the evening progressed, as Hubby described:


Okay, let me explain. First, the name… Molly Dooker is the Aussie term for a left-handed person. Both owners are left-handed and embrace the characteristic so much that at one point, they discussed having the screw cap on their premium wine be a left-handed one, or "righty-loosy, lefty-tighty." As clever as the idea is, that may have frustrated some already inebriated people. A wine closure shouldn't be a sobriety test. The funds were much better spent opening schools for disadvantaged children in Cambodia.

Owner Sparky Marquis's "Mum" Janet introduced him, and he told us how to do the "Molly Dooker shake." That's to release the nitrogen in the bottle, which is a preservative but can also cause the wine to taste flat. In order to demonstrate this, they poured a Two Left Feet, their blend, pre-shake, and then had one poured post-shake. The pre-shake one had more of a nose but did taste flatter, while the post-shake one had less nose but more body and a little smoke.

Then it was time to play! We got to try the three single-varietal "everyday" wines: The Scooter (Merlot), Maitre'D (Cabernet), and Boxer (Shiraz). Using a little bit of math, some equipment that looked like it had been stolen from the CDC's chem lab, and lots of palate-cleansing bread, we blended our own Two Left Feet. Each table voted on their favorite. We lost, but it was still fun. Our table winner was 60% Merlot, 10% Cabernet, and 30% Shiraz. The most interesting part of that was that Sparky wrote every table's winning blend on a board behind him, and the variation in people's preferences became apparent:

After our blending seminar, we flipped the paper over, and we ate steak while trying the "party wines," "love wines," and Velvet Glove in rapid succession. Of the "party wines," the Gigglepot (Cabernet) was my favorite with nice fruit and texture. I also really liked the Enchanted Path, a Shiraz/Cabernet. I actually preferred it to their premium $185/bottle Velvet Glove Shiraz. The food, steak with vegetables and a lovely chocolatey dessert, were very good as well.

Interesting tidbits gleaned from the talking, which was all delivered with an Australian accent. It was like watching a tipsy BBC America program(me):

- The everyday wines come from owners Sarah and Sparky's historical challenges of being Molly Dookers trying to make it through everyday life. Oh, and Sparky and his kids like to race scooters.

- The Gigglepot and Blue-Eyed Boy are Sarah and Sparky's kids Holly and Luke. They're pictured on the labels.

- Sparky's Mum Janet liked the Blue-Eyed Boy so much she would sneak tastes from the barrels. I like her!

- The Enchanted Path and Carnival of Love, the "love wines," refer to Sparky and Sarah, and the two labels go together. Sparky, the knight on the first label, becomes the joker on the second.

- Janet talked about the "Molly Dooker Miracles," events that seemed coincidental but all affirmed their wine-making purpose and endeavor. I can't do them justice here, but it increased my confidence that if I'm meant to become a professional author, it's going to happen.

After the dinner, Hubby and I checked out the rooftop bar, then went to the downstairs bar, where we got to hang out with Sparky, Janet, and some of their friends in the U.S. Janet and I discussed how, when you're engaged in something where the end product will be judged subjectively (like writing or winemaking), people's opinions tend to be a lot stronger. I'll keep this in mind the next time my romance manuscript gets ripped by a horror-writer friend.

Overall, although the pacing of the dinner and tasting were a little odd, it was a great night and influenced me more than I realized: for two weeks after, I couldn't help but inform left-handed people they would be referred to as a Molly Dooker in Australia.

Disclaimer: We were invited to this event, and our tickets were comped.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What does an Oenophile do at a beer fest? If you don't know...

Yesterday Hubby and I went to the 2011 Decatur Craft Beer Festival. Yep, craft beer, as in the only presence of the big advertisers was the Budweiser breathalyzer tent. Maybe they were trying to hint that their crappy beer wouldn't get you as drunk as the good stuff. I wasn't originally going to go after a miserable, freeze my butt off experience two years ago, but I figured hey, my beer palate has expanded, so why not? I wasn't disappointed.

I'll go ahead and get the complaining out of the way. No, it wasn't the drunk people that bothered me, but more the lack of water toward the end of the day (thank you to the volunteer who took pity on me and gave me his) and the cigar smoke. Seriously, Beer Fest, you had to have a cigar-seller there? I'm allergic to tobacco smoke, so I ended up with an instant headache and some other issues once the cigar smokers reached a critical enough mass it was hard to get away from them.

Okay, complaints over. I'm not a hop girl, although I do appreciate hop guys. Here's a picture of me with a couple of hop wranglers – check out the hoppy embroidery on the shirts. They were good sports. So was the Decatur policewoman who took the picture.

We mostly hung out with friends Dan Browning and his wife, famous violinist Kirsten Browning (who needs a web site to tout her wonderfulness). This was probably good for me, as they and Hubby encouraged me to try things I otherwise wouldn't.

My beer tastes run towards the malty rather than hoppy. Consequently, I'm more into Belgian-style than American style. Sometimes these parameters make things easy. India Pale Ale (IPA)? No, thank you. Dubbel, Trippel, or Quadruppel? Yes, please! Milk stout, uh… The ones I tried tended to be too bitter for me but would have been lovely with some ice cream. I suspect that other oenophiles who prefer wine over beer would also go for malty, which tends to be smoother. Think about hops as being like tannins: you want enough for structure, but too much, and the bitterness is overwhelming.

Note-taking on my cell phone got a little tricky as the festival went on, so I'll hit the highlights. Here are my awards for the day:

Best Hot Day Sipper: Highland Clawhammer Octoberfest. It was smooth, only hoppy on finish, and with sweet malt mid palate. After the random guys in lederhosen appeared, it seemed even more perfect. Oh, they weren't even the weirdest. One couple came dressed as good zombie angel ballerina, and bad zombie angel ballerina. They were both guys. I wonder if they thought the Little Five Points parade was going to leave from the Beer Fest? Although I was tempted, I did not ask them if they had new sympathy for the women in their lives after they went to the port-o-potties. Leotards can be a pain to get on and off in a confined space.

Biggest Surprise: Oskar Blues' Old Chub Scotch Ale. I thought I was going to hate it. The spot-on description on their web site says, "A head-turning treat for malt heads and folks who think they don’t dig dark beer." No, it wasn't a Belgian, but I could definitely drink it again with its malty, coffee, chocolate notes.

Hardest to tweet about after a few: North Coast Brewing's Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale. Yes, I liked it. Here is my note: "North Coast Brother Thrlonious lives up to Belgian abbey ale promise." I was doing well with my touch-screen, but having to spell Thelonious would probably be a good sobriety test. I also really liked their PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale.

Weirdest Beer: New Belgium's lineup (the three I tried). Hubby thought I would like the Super Cru. I had mixed feelings. It had some very sour notes I didn't appreciate on their own but would have probably gone well with food. However, I did like New Belgium's dubbel-style Abbey Ale, which had a dominant first flavor of banana (weird, but good) and Trippel. Yes, it boggles me that a brewery named New Belgium only has a few beers I like.

Strange Potentially Religious Coincidence: I tried the He'Brew Genesis 15:15, a Barleywine, and the Lost Abbey 10 Commandments beer back-to-back. With the Genesis 15:15's 13.4% A.B.V., and the 10 Commandments' 9%, it's no wonder I was on the verge of a religious experience. No, I don't think there were any messages from the divine in there, but I found two beers I'd drink again.

Consistently Good Award: Unibroue I've loved Unibroue since I stumbled (not literally) upon them at a beer festival in San Francisco last year. I realize it wasn't very adventurous, but I cozied up to the table and enjoyed their Fin du Monde, Maudite, and Trois Pistoles. Since their A.B.V. (percentage of alcohol) across the three beers are 8-9%, that pretty much finished me for the day. I'm glad I saved them for last. This is a girly thing to say, but they also have the prettiest labels. This one's for the Trois Pistoles:

Beer geeks know that I.B.U. stands for International Bitterness Units. The threshold for being able to distinguish it is 90. From the web sites I could pull up, the I.B.U. of the beers I liked were 25 and below. Fellow oenophiles who dislike bitterness and like geekery may find this a good place to start. I dare you to ask the bartender what the I.B.U. of the beer he/she is pouring you is. The only one I know up to the task would be The Marlay House's Andrew, who educated me on I.B.U.'s and gave me the 90 I.B.U. taste threshold tidbit. That factoid won my team some beer at a trivia night.

So, is there a place for an oenophile at a beer fest? Definitely! It's a great place to hang with friends and try beers you'd never order. I found some that I want to try again, with food and without. You can take the oenophile away from the pairing...

By the way, I'm drinking Viognier today.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Test driving the new chef at Feast: Villa Maria Wine Dinner

When you buy a new car, you get to take a test drive with a hopeful salesman beside you. When you buy a house, you get to visit it with a hopeful realtor and have it inspected by a professional. But what about when one of your favorite restaurants gets a new chef?

Sure, you hope he or she has been thoroughly vetted by people you trust, but the consumer's test drive takes place over multiple visits. It takes time to see how a new chef handles beloved menu items, specials, and timing. We got to do our test drive of Feast's new Chef Rich Velazquez recently at the Villa Maria wine dinner, where we got a preview of his creativity and ability to handle dinner for twenty-five.

In spite of its Italian-sounding name, Villa Maria is actually a New Zealand winery. I wasn't disappointed – a cute winemaker with an accent is a cute winemaker with an accent, no matter where he's from, and Simon Fell is definitely that. Hubby and I hadn't tasted any of their wine before this night, and we were on the fence about the dinner until we saw the food menu. It got our attention better than a car dealer's jerking plastic giants ever could (srsly, what's up with those things?).

There were six courses, so I'll hit the highlights. This chef test drive was particularly effective because we got to see how he'd handle some potentially tricky food and wine pairings. For example, the first course was paired with the Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand Sauv Blanc is known for its distinct bouquet, which can range from grassy to cat pee, and undertones that can get pretty odd to sensitive palates. This wine thankfully did not make me think of a litter box, but it did have a certain funkiness that some compared to ripe papaya, and tinned asparagus came to mind for me. Chef Velazquez opened the dinner with roasted cauliflower soup with butter poached lobster and chive oil. The food cut the funkiness and brought out the fruit. My only complaint was that I got two shell bits among the tender, sweet lobster.

My favorite course, and one that our end of the table was clamoring to be added to the menu, was the second one, diver scallops with white truffle mousseline, tomato fondue, leeks, and port wine. It was paired with the Single Vineyard Taylor's Pass Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was more crisp than the previous one, and the acidity played very well with the smooth texture and flavors of the scallops. I made a note that this course was "perfect," and I could have drunk the wine on its own.

The wine highlights for me were the reds. My favorite of the evening, the Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir, had some coffee on the nose, a lot of good fruit, and silky tannins. In other words, it was a BIG Pinot, and one that shows how New Zealand won this year's Pinot Smackdown. It went well with the fennel coriander lamb loin, kalamata olive and goat cheese farro, oyster mushrooms, and blueberry jus. Another highlight red was the Esk Valley Merlot/Cabernet/Malbec. The fruit in this Bordeaux blend tangoed with the spice of the dark coffee black peppercorn rib loin, horseradish, chive potato puree, asparagus, and rosemary jus.

One odd tasting note for those who like them… The Cellar Selection Marlborough Riesling tasted good and went well with the cheese course, but it had a bouquet of freshly opened pool toys.

The chef and kitchen had the good pacing we've come to expect from Feast, and we left impressed with his creativity. We look forward to returning for more wine dinners as well as to see how Chef Velazquez uses his Latin background to spruce up the menu for fall and winter. Overall, I would say the test drive was a success. I should've figured – owner Terry Rogers seemed more excited-hopeful than nervous-hopeful.

Oh, and the wine? Except for the first Sauv Blanc and maybe the Riesling, I would have drunk any of the ones poured on their own. I was particularly impressed with the reds. For me, a good wine goes well with food or by itself, and several of these satisfied this requirement. I'll be looking for Villa Maria on wine lists since their test drive was a success, too.

Fellow attendee and blogger Dan Browning about to dive in to the rib loin:

Disclaimer: We paid for everything, so I have nothing to disclose.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

Greetings, Ladies of Decatur!

Sorry to have disappeared this summer, but it was a little busy between work and vacations and post-vacation catch-up at work. Now that we've gotten back into the swing of the school year (if that applies to you), and you've probably had a hectic Labor Day weekend, it's time to par-tay without the significant others or little ones! I've been avoiding Leon's because it seems like it would be super crowded on a Friday evening, but I'm thinking that since the weather's supposed to be nice by then, we could try for a spot on the patio and dare each other to order some of Miles' creative cocktails. So, here are the details:

Date: Friday, September 9
Place: Leon's Full Service
Time: 6:00 p.m.

Please comment or tweet back at me so I know approximately how many to expect. I look forward to catching up with everyone!

Tasting Notes and Winery Reviews: Nelson County, Virginia

So, yeah, this is only about four weeks late, and that's being overly generous with myself. I've been doing a lot of thinking since the Wine Bloggers' Conference, and I got stuck in think mode rather than write mode. Oh, and there's that whole writer's block thing that's finally lifting. Before this year, I didn't believe in true writer's block, but I do now!

Hubby and I were on Bus Two, which went to the following Nelson County wineries: Flying Fox Vineyards, Cardinal Point Winery, and Afton Mountain Vineyards. When they were telling us where we were going, I at first thought it would be the critter tour, but Afton Mountain doesn't have an animal in the name. We later found out that Cardinal Point is not named for the bird (although they have a cardinal head as their logo), but for a military exercise. Flying Fox is named for the fox atop their weathervane, so it's not a true flying fox, either. Oh, well.

Several of the other inhabitants of Bus 2 have blogged about the wines themselves, so I'm going to talk more about visiting the tasting rooms. Yes, I realize we were in unusual circumstances, but I think it's telling how a place handles a big crowd. First, I'd like to point out evidence that, being one of the original thirteen colonies, Virginia has had plenty of time to perfect its lawyering, even to the point of making wine tasting sound like a potentially dangerous activity:

We started at Flying Fox Vineyards, which had set up its tiny tasting room to accommodate our group of twenty-ish. Although it was snug, it felt more cozy than claustrophobic, kind of like if I had an American grandmother with a winery, and she had the extended family over. I did feel bad for one non-blogger couple who showed up to taste. They seemed more bemused than annoyed, and they agreed to wait for the twenty minutes or so for us to finish the tasting. At some point, it occurred to me that we were those annoying bus people who drive around and crowd tasting rooms, but only temporarily.

Flying Fox had some lovely Viognier, but the highlight of the visit was the vertical Petit Verdot tasting. I found the 2006 and 2007 vintages to be a little tart. The 2008 seemed a little rough around the edges, but I liked it the best of the three. It would be great with barbecue.

At this point, I get to curse technology because I took my notes about Cardinal Point on my phone, and they're gone. I have no idea what happened to them, and of course it's been too long for me to remember specific wines. Lesson learned.

The tasting room at Cardinal Point looked familiar, so Hubby pulled up a blog post from our first visit to Virginia. We'd been there and to Afton Mountain but hadn't been impressed. I'm happy to say that both wineries have improved a lot since that first trip.

I do recall winemaker Tim Gorman bringing out a Cabernet that was almost old enough to drink itself but had more smoothness than most late adolescents. Almost as many pictures were taken of that bottle as of the cat Aubie (named for Aubaine, an alternate name for Chardonnay), who totally mugged for all the cameras:

Yes, the winery dogs and cat make a visit to Cardinal Point fun, but the wines make it worth it.

We ended the excursion at Afton Mountain Vineyards, which has great views from, well, everywhere. Owner Tony Smith met us at the barrel cave, where we escaped the heat and tasted the 2008 Tête de Cuvée, their sparkling. In 2010, the tasting room moved to a newer building further down the slope, and we ate a lunch provided by a local restaurant while looking over the vineyards and lake. Tony and his wife Elizabeth bought Afton Mountain after our first visit, and their enthusiasm for the wine and the land itself is evident. They admitted that the lifestyle of a winemaker is tough with all the uncertainty, even with their ideal growing location. Like the parents of a cranky toddler on a rough day, they smiled tiredly and said it's worth it.

The highlight for me was the 2009 Festa De Bacco, their super Tuscan.

Although I was originally annoyed that the excursion took me to two wineries I'd been before, I'm glad it did because it shows how dynamic the wine industry in emerging states can be. Cardinal Point has found its stride, and Afton Mountain, under its new owners, has become both more interesting and more welcoming. I would definitely like to return to all three of the wineries in the future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wine Bloggers' Conference: The Existential Aftermath & a Quiz

This is my fourth attempt at writing this blog post. Yes, it's been about a month since the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, but I needed some time to gather my thoughts. I'm an introvert – we do that. Also, Hubby and I went on vacation the week after the conference, and I enjoyed a week of geeking out about American colonial history and North Carolina wine, all of which will make for good posts for both blogs. And then, after a record busy week at work, we went to the beach!

Hubby and I noted in the car on the way to Williamsburg from Charlottesville that we were left with a sense of negativity that hadn't been present during or after the previous conference in Walla Walla, our first. Over the weeks since the conference ended, I've seen a lot of complaints, both about the event and the complainers themselves. To respond, I've decided to take keynote speaker Jancis Robinson's advice to heart and try to bring my unique perspective to the topic.

To this point, I've been somewhat secretive about my profession in my social media life, not because I don't want my fellow oenophiles to know what I do, but because I was trying to keep my professions separate. However, with what amounts to almost three jobs, it's gotten impossible. So, I'll out myself here and do a longer post later on the new direction of the Random Oenophile blog.

Hi, my pen name is Cecilia Dominic, and I'm a psychologist. Yep, I'm a full-blown, over a decade of higher education, achievment junkie, Ph.D.-level helper of the depressed, anxious, and sleepless. I spend my days asking probing questions (but not literally probing – eww!) to help people clarify their thoughts, attitudes, and problems.

So this is where I'd planned to pose some of the probing questions I'd come up with, but really, who wants to read another thoughtful WBC11 post? Consequently, I've already decided to put aside the serious part of my profession and come up with a little women's magazine-style quiz to help you figure out what kind of wine bloggers' conference attendee you were: wino, oenophile, wineaux, or whino/drama queen?

1. When I heard the wine bloggers' conference would be in Virginia this year, I thought…
a. They make wine on the East Coast?
b. Yay! Something new and different.
c. I'll be able to score some good Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Viognier.
d. They make drinkable wine on the East Coast outside of New York?

2. The sponsors' reception on Friday was…
a. Lots of free wine.
b. A great chance to catch up with people and introduce myself to Twitter friends, and oh, crap, we were supposed to get lunch on our own???
c. A great chance to connect with industry people and score promises of samples.
d. A great chance to show off my tasting/slurping/spitting technique.

3. When I heard they'd continue with the Monticello reception in spite of the heat, I thought…
a. It'll be hot, but who cares? Free wine!
b. It'll be hot, but who cares? I get to drink wine at the house of the father of American wine. Cheers to you, T.J.!
c. It'll be hot, and I'm worried the wine won't show well.
d. What the hell are they thinking? It's never this hot where I'm from!

4. The relationship I have with the wine industry is…
a. Cordial. I hold out my glass, and they provide the filling.
b. Educated consumer.
c. Associated professional or wannabe associated professional.
d. My blog and opinions are so important that they bow to my whims.

5. The number of letters I have after my name is:
a. Who needs letters after their names to taste wine? I'm done with school!
b. Two or more, not wine-related.
c. Two or more, wine-related.
d. Sommelier counts as nine and an honorary doctorate.

6. I can't go wine tasting without my:
a. Woozie. They look cool.
b. Water and crackers.
c. Orange hipster glasses.
d. Foofy little dog.

7. To me, the number of sponsored events was…
a. Perfect. Free wine!
b. More than I would have cared for, but understandable considering they have to pay for the conference somehow. It's not supported by a professional organization, and registration fees are really low.
c. Just right. Show me the vino! I’m a thirsty catfish!
d. Excessive. Free wine, especially from the Southeast, can't really be that good.

8. My initial reaction to Eric Asimov's challenge to not write tasting notes was…
a. Good, I always skip them, anyway.
b. Relief. I always feel dirty when talking about mouthfeel.
c. Intrigue. Maybe we do need some different ways to talk about wine.
d. How can I sound like an expert if I can't reference flavors that most people have never had like cassis or lychee?

Scoring: Each (a) gets one point, (b) two points, (c) three points, and (d) four points. Add 'em up, and see where you fall below:

If you scored 8-12 points, you might be a virgin wine bloggers' conference attendee, or wino. Sure, you may have felt intimidated and over your head, but at this point, you're still flirting, and you can always go back to beer if you need to. You're also the person I 'm targeting on my blog, so please come back.

If you scored 13-20 points, you have gotten into wine, and you're in the first giddy stage of the relationship. You and wine have admitted you like each other, and now you're getting to know it. You're probably not comfortable with all the trappings and rituals like spitting, and you may snicker at the spitters behind their backs for wasting such wonderful stuff. You spend holidays hiding from family and friends who want wine recommendations because you're still low on confidence and afraid you'll screw up horribly with the wrong pairing. On the other hand, you've got enough of a knowledge base that you can really start looking into the parts that catch your interest, and you're not afraid to explore new regions or varietals.

If you scored 21-28 points, you're probably in the wineaux stage, and you've taken it to the next level. Yes, you and wine have moved in together or are talking seriously about it. Maybe you've gotten or are in hot pursuit of some wine-related letters after your name, and you might have even scored a job in the industry. You've started finding out the dark sides of being a wine lover, like maybe it squeezes the toothpaste from the middle or you spend holidays hiding from family and friends who want wine recommendations because it's starting to feel like a job.

If you scored 29-32 points, then you might be a whino/drama queen. Congratulations on your accomplishments, especially if you've made it all the way to sommelier level, but please try to remember that wine is just fermented grape juice, and everyone's taste is not yours. There is someone to love that little East Coast wine you snubbed for her uneducated accent, or "B" game, and let's not forget that hot weather makes for hot lovers. There has already been enough meta-whining (i.e., whining about the whining), so I'll just stop here.

Psychologist disclaimer: this quiz and its results have absolutely no psychometric properties, validation, reliability, or validity.

Please feel free to comment with your score or any other feedback!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Speed Blogging: Whites and Roses

Artesa Vineyards & Winery (CA): 2010 chardonnay, lightly oaked, tropical fruit, texture a little syrupy, $15-20 retail

Shindig White (Finger Lakes): 2010 vidal blanc/riesling blend, hint of stone fruit on nose, a bit acidic, crisp, $15.95 retail

Veritas (VA): 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, nice caramel overtones on back of the palate, good grapefruit and lime

Chateau Le Gay (Fr): 2009 Festival Rose, strawberry and orange, nice color, blend of merlot, cab sauv, and cab franc

Rodney Strong (Sonoma): Reserve Chardonnay, softer than the first chard, still oaky but ): good for a summer afternoon

Decibel (NZ): 2009 Sauv Blanc, very nice & crisp, a little green but not sheepy, great citrus w some pear

Afton Mountain (VA) 2008 Tete Cuvee sparkling, half chard half pinot noir, aggressive bubbles, but nice apple finish, $30 retail

Llano Estacado Winery (TX): 2009 Viviano, blend of Gewurtz, Riesling, Viognier, & Muscat Canelli, very floral with lychee

Barboursville Winery (Va): 2009 Viognier, tropical & citrus fruit, loved this one this morning & still like, $20-22 retail

Boxwood Winery (VA): 2010 rose, cab sauv & merlot, retail $14

Chateau Morrisette (VA) dry rose, buttery and a little funky, 100% Chambourcin

Tabarrini (Italy) 2008 Trebbiano Spoletino, honey & smoke (I might not have this one exactly right)

Testing: Can I do this on my Nook?

For those who follow my blog, you're in for a treat. Hubby and I are at the wine bloggers conference, and we'll be doing the live blogging today with whites and roses. Tune in today at 4:20!

And yes! I'll be using my Nook Color to post.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stuffed Oenophile: Qupe Wine Dinner

It's funny how some things come full circle. Four years ago, I was in Minneapolis for a professional conference. One of my good friends lives there, and we went out to dinner one evening to an Italian restaurant. The food was unremarkable, but I do remember the wine we shared, a bottle of the Qupé Syrah. At that conference, I also took (and passed!) a certification exam for the specialty area upon which I've built my practice.

Fast forward four years… I wrote the first version of this post on a plane to Minneapolis for the same conference, the aftermath of which at work has led this post to be a little later than originally planned. The prior weekend, Hubby and I attended a full Qupé pairing dinner. Things have gotten bigger and better for all of us, it seems.

We had heard of Local Three Kitchen & Bareven before they opened, when chef Chris Hall contributed a course to the Brick Store Orval dinner two years ago. When our friend Joe Herrig, aka the Suburban Wino, tweeted about the pairing dinner, we jumped at the chance to join him.

I'll go ahead and get my one complaint out of the way. The dinner information had said that the "reception" would start at 6:30. Hubby and I got there a little after 6:30 and were shown to the room where the dinner was to be held, a semi-formal space watched over by the gopher from Caddyshack (I'm not even going to get into the rubber chickens). The servers poured the water, but nothing else. Several people bailed to the bar until the real meal was supposed to start at 7. I decided to hold off since I knew that we'd be drinking plenty, but still, it was somewhat annoying.

The first course soothed any ruffled feathers. The Hamachi Tartare with avocado, yuzu, and snow pea, and topped with micro cilantro, was fresh and tender. The creaminess of the avocado and texture of the tuna were the perfect pairing for the 2009 Qupé Bien Nacido Cuvee, a blend of 50% viognier and 50% chardonnay. Crisp citrus on the nose and front of the palate gives way to very smooth melon with floral notes from the viognier and creaminess from the chard. Yep, this was a texture pairing, and the food brought out the fruitiness of the wine.

The second course was probably my favorite other than dessert. The Florida rock shrimp were cooked to the sweet spot of fully done but not chewy and served with spinach and ricotta ravioli. The pairing, 2008 Qupé Block 11 Chardonnay, had a gorgeous color. It's done on new oak, but the high acidity kept it from being an oak bomb. It's well balanced with citrus and a little vanilla.

It's Georgia, so you know there had to be peaches. A fairly traditional grilled Georgia peach, arugula, and blue cheese salad with almonds allowed the 2008 Qupé Bien Nacido Vineyard Roussanne to shine. This was, to me, a perfect white: crisp and fruity with enough acidity to go with food but not too much to be enjoyed on its own. At $40 a bottle, it was also the most expensive wine of the night. (check out the aforementioned Suburban Wino's homage to Roussane, inspired by the dinner).

My new favorite restaurant food is sliders, and I love duck, so I was excited about the fourth course. Grilled duck sliders with raspberry ketchup came with thin, crisp sweet potato chips. A Cotes du Rhone-style blend of 53% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 22% Mourvedre stood up to it with its dark berry nose and lingering finish with a hint of butter. As with the first course, the similarities with the food and wine played well together.

Then it was Syrah time! The fifth course, a braised beef short rib with porcini and blueberry risotto got rave reviews from the table for the tender, flavorful beef and mixed reactions to the blueberries. I liked them in the risotto, but I found the whole dish to be salty. The 2008 Qupé Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah reminded me why I originally filed the name Qupé away in my brain as a Syrah to look out for. Again, the dark fruit was the predominant flavor, but with enough tannic structure to stand up to the food.

The Qupé winemaker's son Ethan represented the winery at the dinner, and he shared some of his own bottling, the 2007 Ethan Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah, with the sixth course. Another pairing of meat and fruit, the roasted cervena venison with cherry compote and herb gnocchi worked much better than the short rib and blueberries. The wine itself was excellent, although not widely available, which caused some wailing and gnashing of teeth at our table. Lighter bodied and with brighter fruit than the previous Syrah, I would have put it earlier in the lineup if it had been a straight-up tasting.

Believe it or not, we found room for the seventh (!) course, a chocolate truffle cake topped with ganache and served with chocolate cremeux (think chocolate cream that's heavier in texture than whipped but lighter than ice cream) and cherry sauce. Sadly, it killed the wine, an earthy 2006 Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah. I finished the wine first and then went back to the dessert, which was as rich as it sounds but too good with its three levels of chocolate to leave any behind.

Thanks, Ethan, for coming out east to the dinner to share your wines and knowledge with us, and a big thanks to Chef Hall for an incredible dinner! We will definitely be back to Local Three in the future.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tasting Notes: Summer Sippers

Well, it's that time of year again. People in other parts of the country call it summer. We call it, "OMG when did it get so hot and humid?" I think we Southerners have the same kind of thing happen to us that women who have children do. Every year, as we go into the cool, crisp days of fall, the painful memories recede until it's time to do it all over again, and then we tell our husbands, "It's too hot! You're not getting near me again!" Sometimes, as during our recent harsh winter, we even yearn for temperature ninety-five, heat index of you-don't-wanna-know.

All that to say, it's time to start drinking... We tried most of the wines mentioned below at recent JavaMonkey tastings. This is my attempt at an artistic picture from the last one:

Summer sippers need to have three qualities: refreshing, inexpensive, and dangit, they'd better make you look hot in that swimsuit! Okay, maybe just the first two. After a couple of glasses, you won't care what you look like in that tankini.

Let's start with whites...

One of the most reasonable and interesting whites is Vinho Verde, which comes from Portugal. Yes, the name is translated as "green wine," and it has a slightly green tint to it in the right lights. Don't worry, it's not green enough to send your toddler running (although that might be useful). The 2008 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde (Vinho Verde, Portugal) is made of 60% Laureiro, 10% Alvarino, and 30% Trajadera. It's got a nice mineral backbone with some citrus and pineapple, and it's even a little fizzy. The Cashal Garcia, which may be more widely distributed, is also very good.

If you're looking for something a little more floral, the 2009 Quinta do Crasto White (Duoro, Portugal) will give you the sweet floral nose of your neighbor's gardenias without the mosquito bites. It's well-balanced with some melon and also made from a bunch of grapes I've never heard of (45% Rabogato, 40% Gaveo, and 15% Rapero).

Another reasonable option comes from across the border in Spain. The 2009 Nora Albarino (Rias Baixas, Spain) is 100% Albarino and has great body for a white without being syrupy or heavy. It also has a nice balance of floral and citrus with some lime coming through.

If you want to go classy, there are always bubbles!

One that's easy to find and easy to afford is the Saint-Hlaire Blanquette de Limoux (current vintage 2008). With 90% Malzac, 5% Chenin Blanc, and 5% Chardonnay, it has apple (but not fruit box) notes and good body.

Quick shout-out: the Saint-Hilaire and Albarino were both selections by Dan Browning at our recent tasting collaboration.

If you want to splurge, think pink with the Louis de Grenelle Brut Rose (Saumur, France). It has a yeasty nose and very delicate strawberry flavors. It's made 100% from Cabernet Franc. If you want something a little closer to home but just as good, try the Wolf Mountain Brut Rose, which is one of my all-time favorites.

But let's not forget my favorite thing about summer: peach pie!

If you're wondering why all the mommy references, it's because this coming Friday is our next Women of Decatur tweetup: 6:00 p.m. at the Palate side of McGowan's/Palate in Oakhurst. Non-mommies are welcome, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

First, thanks to all who have been attending the monthly tweetups! I'm super excited about how our group is growing, and I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone as we continue to meet.

One of the things I've been getting asked about is wine suggestions, so our next tweetup will be a wine tasting for beginners at The Little Wine Shoppe in Avondale Estates.

Here are the details:

Place: The Little Wine Shoppe
Time: 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Date: May 6
Cost: $15/person

I need a minimum of ten people to commit to coming, so please RSVP either on Twitter or by commenting below.

Thanks, and Happy Easter and/or Passover!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Random Field Trips: Atlanta Culinary Tour of Sweet Auburn Curb Market

I had lunch a few weeks ago with a friend at LottaFruitta on Auburn Avenue. "Is this anywhere near the Sweet Auburn Curb Market?" she asked. I'd heard of the place, but, like many in-towners, I had no idea where to actually find it. So when Hubby and I were invited to tag along with the Atlanta Culinary Tour of the curb market, I was excited to finally go and see what it was all about. There, we found that the people and food are down-to-earth with some surprises.

First, the location: just west of the downtown connector at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive. Auburn Avenue is a block north of Edgewood, and the district is designated as "Sweet Auburn" because it was a prosperous business area for the city's African-American population in the mid-twentieth century. The "curb market" is so named because segregation at the time meant that the blacks shopped outside, while the whites did so inside out of the elements. In relation to downtown, it's approximately here:

Now everyone can shop there, and Hubby and I did some produce hunting before the tour started. We went to Natural Produce, which, in addition to locally grown fruits and veggies, carries pre-washed , shredded, cut up, diced, chopped, and otherwise deconstructed produce. However, as we found out, eat or cook the washed and cut up veggies quickly or re-pack them in produce bags with paper towels to absorb the moisture because otherwise, they won't last past a few days, even in the fridge.

As I mentioned, the food is "down-to-earth." Atlanta Culinary Tour leader David Jones (not the pirate or Monkee) had us sample some "white dirt," which is sold in some of the produce shops. It pretty much tastes like, well, dirt.

Our first real food stop was Ciao Boca. Owner Debora Kudelka treated us to samples of a meatball sandwich and one with arugula and pancetta, both of which were really yummy. She made sure to let us know that she has vegetarian-friendly soups and grilled cheese paninis for our non meat-eating friends.

After a stop to talk about the proper way to cook pig's ears at Country Meats, we stopped at Metro Deli Soul Food. Each of us got a little plate with something different. I had a rib, black-eyed peas, and collards. Hubby had meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and collards. Oh, and cornbread! They also gave us samples of either peach or sweet potato cobbler for dessert. The next time I want soul food, I know where I'm going, although I don't think I'm brave enough to try pig's ears yet.

We'd also talked about oxtail, as the curb market was known for its variety of meat shops, and the lower level was once an abattoir, where animals were slaughtered for sale. We got to sample some at Afrodish, and even non-adventurous meat eaters would be hard-pressed to resist the seasoning.

Our other non-dessert stop included Tilapia Express, where owner Farrah's daughter peered over the counter as he served us a deep-fried trio of catfish, tilapia, and whiting. Then it was on to the sweet stuff!

Sweet Auburn Bakery has the following case of temptation:

I didn't think it was possible, but I found room for a little sweet potato cheesecake there:

Then we got to meet Miss D and sample her New Orleans Pralines, which did, as promised, melt in my mouth.

Finally, we ended up at Café Campesino, where we had coffee to combat the food comas that threatened to set in at any moment. Oh, and the scones were good, too. Hubby and I knew them from the Saturday Decatur Farmer's Market, but it's nice to know where to find them during the week.

My only complaint about the tour is something that liability and legal reasons would prevent, which would be beer or wine to go with all the great food. Hubby and I made up for that afterward. We also had dinner reservations at Sound Table, which we ended up moving to 10:00 because we knew we wouldn't be hungry until then. Overall, it was a fun afternoon, and we enjoyed getting to know some of Atlanta's food, history, and the intrepid restaurant and shop owners that are making up our local food scene.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

This coming Friday is April 1, so you know what that means! Well, besides wanting to smack your husband and/or children for that rubber snake in the sink. It's our Ladies of Decatur Happy Hour!

I didn't get many suggestions this month, so I decided to bring it back to The Marlay House. I hope to see y'all there this coming Friday at 5:30-6ish.

Please @ me on Twitter or leave a comment so I know you're coming! No rubber snakes, I promise!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tasting Notes and Winery Reviews: Brandywine Valley, PA, Day Two

Day Two:

Breakfast at the Kennett Square B&B on Sunday morning: French toast and turkey sausage. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've recently rediscovered a love of French toast, so it's our usual Sunday breakfast. It was nice to have someone else make it for me and clean up afterward, and I enjoyed her take on it.

We started the day not with wine, but with flowers. We hadn't originally planned to visit Longwood Gardens, but the B&B innkeeper Ms. Gilja Kusano was insistent that we go. They should seriously give her a kickback on her guests' admission. No, she didn't check up on us as far as I know, but she's also the kind of lady you don't say no to, and she made it sound like we shouldn't miss it.

Thankfully we'd both taken our allergy medicine that morning. The main attraction at Longwood Gardens was the Orchid Extravaganza in the Conservatory, which seriously took us an hour and a half to go through. Yes, it's well worth the $16 admission. See my writing blog for more thoughts on the gardens.

Then it was back to wine tasting!

Our first stop was Twin Brook Winery, which is in a lovely wooden farmhouse. We were able to pick out eight wines from their list of fourteen to taste. We love Cabernet Franc and found their 2008 to be very good with bright red fruit, some tannin, and enough acidity to make sure you know it's a Cab Franc but not overpowering We got to barrel taste the 2010 Cab Franc, and it's going to be worth a trip back. We enjoyed talking to winemaker Tim Jobe, who's from Mississippi, and it was nice to hear a Southern accent after two days of Yankee.

On our way to lunch, we encountered a traffic hazard we'd never seen before: an Amish horse and buggy. No, he wasn't aggressive.

We had lunch at Rocco & Anna's Ristorante in Parkesburg, where the "small" calzones are bigger than the plates. We put the alcohol-soaking properties of dough and cheese to good use at Black Walnut Winery, where they "crush innocent grapes to make wine."

At Black Walnut, we got to try the whole list as well as the barrels. We particularly liked the 2007 Blanc Franc, a wine that's somewhere between white and rosé that has soft fruit but isn't too dry or sweet. Other highlights that we liked but didn't purchase were the 2006 Black Tie Optional, which would be a great barbecue wine, and 2006 Chambourcin, which is earthy but has a nice, tart finish.

We once again went off-trail to finish our tastings at Stargazers Vineyard, which is remarkable for its sustainable practices including use of solar energy (for the buildings, not just for the grapes). We particularly liked the unoaked 2008 Solar Celebration Chardonnay, which has a leading edge of vanilla over nice citrus. They have a Gruner Veltliner, which had the GruVe floral nose, but more tartness. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc) had deep, rich blackberry and currant fruit with nice body. We bought bottles of the Solar Celebration and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

We were amused by what they used for their doorbell and impressed by their sloping vineyards, which were still pretty in spite of the vines still being asleep for the winter (note the lavender garden at the bottom right):

I have to say that, in spite of the rumored aggressiveness and attitude, everyone was friendly, and they usually got even friendlier when they found out we're from Georgia. No, I didn't play the wine blogger card at most of them. Black Walnut and Stargazer win for most welcoming and congenial. To be fair, it was also Sunday, and they weren't nearly as slammed as the places had been on Saturday. Even so, both days were some of the most relaxed wine tasting Hubby and I had ever done, and we look forward to returning to the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail to see how the 2010's turned out.

Final Bottle Count:

Reds: 4
Whites: 4
Rosé: 2

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tasting Notes and Winery Reviews: Brandywine Valley, PA, Day One

Hubby and I have a mission to taste wine in each state that grows its own grapes and makes it. The original goal was to taste wine in each state that makes it, but some luster is lost when the juice is California or Niagara. Not that a talented winemaker can't put his own stamp on something, but where the grapes are grown matters.

While in Pennsylvania visiting Babysis, we took the opportunity to check out the wine scene. We lucked into the "Barrels on the Brandywine" (BoB) passport, which was $30 to visit most of the wineries in the Brandywine Valley area. It essentially covered tasting fees, but hey, we got glasses! Oh, and most of the wineries on the list were also doing barrel tastings of the 2010 vintages, so we got a peek of what's to come (hint: 2010 was a good year for Pennsylvania grapes).

This was our first time tasting wine in the northeast. It has hazards that we hadn't encountered in any other part of the country:

Indeed, we saw several examples of the following highway exit maneuver, which Hubby dubbed the "Jersey Exit Strategy":

1. Slam on brakes in left lane approximately ten feet after the start of the exit demarcation.

2. Throw right blinker on and dash over to exit, regardless of who's coming up behind you or at what speed.

3. Curse out other drivers for honking at you and Department of Transportation for not putting the exit where you think it should be.

Okay, I made up number 3, but I imagine it's pretty accurate. Having seen this maneuver with somewhat less frequency in Atlanta, I feel that I have adequate confirmation that the second Yankee invasion has occurred, and they're driving around I-285.

Other challenges included Yankee cluelessness regarding sweet tea (hint: it is not the canned stuff that's premixed with lemon) and, back in Philadelphia, cab drivers who will try to kill you in their backseats and then curse you out in some foreign language when you pay with a credit card. Also, conversations in restaurants seem to occur in one of three volumes: loud, louder, and Jersey, which is really loud plus liberal sprinkling of F-bombs.

Back to the wine tastings… Lists of tasting notes get boring, so I'll hit the highlights at each winery.

Our first stop was Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford. Located in a lovely yellow farmhouse with green trim, it featured five wines for the BoB tour. It's here that we got our first taste of Pennsylvnia Pinot Grigio, which we found to be a strong wine across the area. Even Hubby, who tends to dislike PG, found several he liked. Their 2005 Pinot Grigio has lovely citrus notes with mineral/melon on the edges of the palate. No barrels here.

Chaddsford Winery had been recommended to us by a fellow wine blogger and a local, and they didn't disappoint. We particularly enjoyed the 2008 Naked (unoaked) Chardonnay with its lovely green apple nose and hint of smokiness. Our favorite was the 2007 Merlot, which is medium-bodied, smooth, and well-balanced with nice, dark fruit. We got two bottles in anticipation of needing a wine for a BYOB restaurant for dinner. They barrel tasted the 2010 Chardonnay and the 2010 Pinot Noir, which I didn't even know could be grown on the East Coast. It was a little rough, as expected, but it should be nice when finished. The Chardonnay should also be good.

Oh, and they use Hungarian oak:

Since we had an SUV, we went off-trail. Paying ten dollars for the "Signature Tasting" at VaLa Vineyards was worth it. Hubby commented that he's not sure whether winemaker Anthony Vieti is a genius or a mad scientist because the blends are complex and interesting in a good way. They pair each tasting with cheese, which makes for much foodie fun. Our favorite was the 2008 Silk, a dry rosato blend of "Barbera, Corvine, Carmine, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, etc." They paired it with Shellbark Hollow goat cheese, a local cheese that has to be the best goat cheese I've ever tasted: fresh with just enough tanginess to identify it as goat cheese, but not at all funky. Oh, the wine was good, too. They bill it as "something for everyone" with enough crisp fruitiness for white lovers and mild tannin structure for those who prefer reds. We found it to be a nice rosé and smooth as the name implies.

The GPS brought us over the river and through the woods (literally) to Paradocx Vineyard, where they tried to be in denial of the cold by handing out plastic leis and having a cookout. I give them points for effort but detract them for not having printed tasting notes. Our favorite was the Yield, a blend of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Light-bodied, it has nice fruit through the middle and a lingering apricot-honeysuckle finish. We got a bottle of it, and it was opened on our first night back home.

Our last intentional stop for the day was Kreutz Creek Vineyards. We didn't find the wines there to be to our tastes, as they tended to be very tart and acidic. They should take note from VaLa and pair with food.

It was getting to be evening, and the event technically ended around 5:00, so we headed to Kennett Square and checked into the Kennett House Bed and Breakfast. We wandered through town to see where we might like to go for dinner and stumbled upon the Flickerwood Wine Cellars tasting room. The winery is actually in northwest Pennsylvania, so we were excited for the opportunity to taste some PN wine from a different area. We liked the whites better than the reds and ended up with a bottle of their Pinot Grigio, which was more like a dry Riesling with its floral and stone fruit characteristics.

So, by the end of day one, the bottle tally was:

Merlot: 2
Pinot Grigio: 2
Rosé Blend: 1
White Blend: 1
Chardonnay: 1

Yes, two Pinot Grigios and a Rosé. This is almost unheard of for Hubby. By the end of the day, I was wondering whether the second day would live up to the first. Tune in Sunday to find out!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tasting Notes: Dr. Goldilocks and the Six Tempranillos

Once upon a time, there was a stressed-out allied health professional with curly hair the color of old pennies, but shiny. We'll skip the debate as to whether it's blond or red, and we'll completely ignore the gray that's popping in – they're just really light blond, darnit! She had a long four-day week with lots of patients, emails from a marketing minion who wants everything NOW, and a very patient adminion who wouldn't let Dr. Goldilocks put off important tasks for too long. Oh, and contract work that makes for a nice change of pace, but which needed to be done before she left the next day to see Dr.-in-training Goldilocks 2.0 (aka Babysis) in Philadelphia.

So yes, she was stressed out, and when she finally left the office at 8:30, she was tired, hungry, and ready to have some wine. She wandered through the food aroma gauntlet of downtown Decatur (of which Atlanta is a suburb in case you're reading this, and you're Carl), but having given up red meat for Lent, Ted's wasn't an option, Ruby Tuesday was too chain restaurant, and Leon's was just too crowded. It was too early for the Decatur Diner, so she ended up at JavaMonkey, where she knew her friends would be gathered for the biweekly wine tasting, in this case Tempranillo.

Tempranillo, if you're wondering, is a Spanish varietal red, and the only people who can say the name right are from places like Peru. Seriously, it sounds like they're making love to it in their mouth. It's swoon-worthy. You may know it better as the primary grape in Rioja, which goes with fun words like Crianza.

For the sake of narrative, I'm going to mix up the tasting order. Just bear (no pun intended) with me.

Dr. Goldilocks tried the 2008 Protocolo Tempranillo (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain). Aged in American oak, she proclaimed, "This wine is too thin!" Indeed, it didn't have much to it outside the cedar-y finish.

Then she tried the 2009 Vega Sindoa Tempranillo (Navarra, Spain). This one she deemed as, "too earthy, and it's doing strange fruity things on the roof of my mouth!"

The 2008 Emilo Moro Finca Resalso (Ribera del Duero, Spain) had interesting caramel-cedar notes, and had a caramel/chocolate finish. "It's good, but still not what I'm looking for."

Enter the 2006 Raimat Viña 43 Tempranillo, which spends 18 months in Virginia oak. Because there's nothing like knowing *exactly* where your wood comes from. It has to be good if the founding fathers got drunk on it, right? This one was all cherry smoothness. "That's more like it!"

The 2006 Sierra Cantabria Crianza from Rioja, Spain (told you!) had a nice raspberry-cherry nose that Hubby said had a whiff of sunscreen. It went very well with the Bello Prosciutto sandwich. "This one's very good."

Finally the 2007 Venta Mazzaron Tempranillo (Tierra del Vino de Zamora, Spain) had a little hickory smoke to it, but was well-balanced with yummy fruit. It also has an interesting history in that it's mostly from un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines.

"Ah," said Dr. Goldilocks, "this one is just right!"

Look for blog and Twitter updates this weekend from Pennsylvania wine country!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tasting Notes: Charity Case Wine

As you know Hubby and I like to drink for a good cause. Okay, we like to drink period, but when we can do so for a good cause, even better.

We recently had the opportunity to try the current offerings of Charity Case Wine (their image, cropped, above). Founded in 2008 after a rainy season caused a surplus of juice from the grapes, it's made from a variety of grapes across Napa Valley. All the juice, labor, and shipping are done by volunteers, which leaves the proceeds to go to a variety of Napa family- and child-focused charities.

There are currently two types of wine available, a Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc. We took the opportunity afforded by the warmer weather to try both.

The 2008 Rosé has a lovely color and plum-cherry nose. It's on the dry side and tart with berry flavors, mild tannins, and a fruity finish. We originally paired it with a spicy honey chicken thigh recipe from Cooking Light, but the chicken killed the wine. A much better pairing was a Chicago-style pizza with roast tomatoes, coppa, and basil. I liked it with food and on its own. Hubby, who is very picky about rosé, didn't find it to his taste.
Rating: Good

The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc surprised us at first with its smoky vanilla nose, and Hubby asked, "Are you sure this isn't a Chardonnay?" Obviously we hadn't looked at the tasting notes, which indicated that it had been aged in new French oak, first. The vanilla continued on the palate with pineapple/melon as the predominant flavor with others around the edges.

We didn't have this one with food. Its perfect pairing was a warm spring afternoon on the back patio, which is how I like to drink oaked whites.
Rating: Good to Very Good

The bottom line is that these are both good spring wines and worth a taste now that it's warming up. At $11.99 a bottle, they're a great value. Now if only their retailer would ship to Georgia…

Disclaimer: These bottles were sent to us free for review purposes. This did not influence our review.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

This coming Friday is the first Friday in March, so that means it's time for another Ladies of Decatur tweetup!

Date: Friday, March 4
Location: Carpe Diem
Time: 6-ish (I'll aim to be there around 5:30)

Please leave me a comment or tweet me at @RandomOenophile (link to follow me above) so I know approximately how many to expect. Happy spring!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tasting Notes: European Cellars at JavaMonkey

Yes, I'm actually blogging about wine this week! I have to do that every once in a while so y'all don't think I'm knocked up. On the other hand, a recent comment addressing me as "sir" on a post from three years ago tells me that people still think I'm a guy.

I was supposed to go to novel critique group this past Thursday night, but Hubby and I have been crazy busy with our jobs, so we haven't had the chance to spend much time together. All Jess (also a woman) at JavaMonkey had to say at a previous tasting was two magic words: Eric Solomon. He's an importer who focuses on "place over process," and I've rarely had a wine of his I didn't like. With a nod to a recent post by my awesome blogger friend Joe (not a woman), I'll try not to be too pretentious in my descriptions.

2009 Giachino Altesse (Savoie, France): 100% Altesse.
I love tasting grapes I've never had before. This one, originally called Roussette, which I've also never had, was originally from Cyprus, but apparently the soil next to the Alps is a little bit different. Instead of being sticky, this one has a little citrus and stone fruit with some muskiness and a lot of floral notes on the palate. It's also really dry and would likely be better with food. Hubby and I think that a seafood pesto dish would be just about perfect with it.
Rating: Good

2009 Bergerie de l'Hortus Cuvee Classique Blanc (Montferrand, France): 30% Chardonnay, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Viognier, 10% Roussane
The guy who started this winery was walking in the hills and found the ruins of what may have been a Roman farm growing the "Mediterranean three" of wheat, olives, and grapes. He cleaned it up and started growing wine there. This one has an apricot-jasmine nose with a little honey and stone fruit on the palate.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 Rhône by Roger Sabon (Côtes du Rhône, France): 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Cinsault
This winery has been in the family since 1576 and currently has three generations working on it. They must drink a lot. My favorite of the evening, this one is a nice, smooth, dry red with some earthiness. It's not heavy at all and would be a great summer sipper with light grilled food or on its own.
Rating: Very Good

2009 La Madone (Loire Valley, France): 100% Gamay
One of my table mates asked Jess, "Are you trying to get rid of the leftover Beaujolais Nouveau in disguise?" This one's not a nice Gamay. My notes say moldy strawberries and very tart.
Rating: Meh

2008 La Granacha (Côtes du Rhône, France): 100% Grenache from 80-year-old vines
A little acetone-chemical on the nose with some raisin. Big and chewy with high alcohol, it wants steak or barbecue.
Rating: Okay, got better as it opened

2009 Château Pesquie Terrasses (Côtes du Ventoux, France): 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah
If you've been following our adventures for a while, you know that Hubby and I are always on the lookout for good wines from the Côtes du Ventoux region after we had a particularly good one in Belgium. Yes, I just commented elsewhere that I think the term "barnyard funk" is a funny one to use with wine, but there are some French syrahs that have that aspect on the nose. This one had smooth fruit with a hint of caramel and really became lovely after it was open a while with the funkiness all but disappearing and just leaving the fruit.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Oh, and in exciting news, the Emory Commons Publix now has a cheese counter and cheese minions!

I was irked when they decided to rearrange the whole freaking grocery store, but I can live with it if it means I can get cheesy goodness. Alon's is still my first choice, but in a pinch, this will do.