Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tasting Notes from the West Coast Correspondent!

Being an oenophile has its advantages, namely friends who are willing to drink for you and send you notes! My very talented friend James Bassett lives in Seattle and does sculpting, Qi-Gong instruction, and freelance writing and editing when he's not drinking wine. You can see his website here. Everything below is his wonderfully detailed guest post.

2007 Columbia Valley Syrah
Waters Winery
Columbia Valley, WA

Tremendously aromatic, this fine Syrah is “made of 100% Syrah from select ‘cool climate’ sites in Washington State.” Which means it is a blend, rather than being made from grapes all from a single vineyard. Which means that it is half the price of Waters’ impressive single-origin Syrahs -- yet it is nearly as good, in my opinion!

Black and red cherry, black pepper, cola, licorice, vanilla, even olive and watermelon swirl on the tongue, along with smoke, black tea, and subtle hints of a mushroomy muskiness that strengthens as the finish lengthens and lingers. The complexity on the tongue, along with an acidity that sneaks from the front of the mouth to the back as of the palate develops, though, will have you taking another sip long before that finish is finished. This is what Syrah at all about -- and it comes at a great price.

Hedges CMS Red 2009
Hedges Family Estate
Columbia Valley, WA
39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 16% Syrah.

Wine is a fascinating, sometimes baffling substance. It is so easily affected by so many factors, so dependent on both weather and winemaker, and can change drastically from year to year. Take the Hedges CMS, for instance. Two years ago I called the 2007 vintage one of the best wines in Washington -- in fact, one of my favorite wines, period. When your lovely hostess and her equally lovely husband visited the PNW last summer, I provided a sampling of several of my favorite local wines for them, picked from my guest reviews here on Cecilia’s site; the 2007 Hedges CMS was no longer available, so I got the 2008 instead.

The consensus: Meh.

For a number of reasons, 2007 was a truly spectacular year for wine across the state of Washington -- pretty much every grape in every region produced great wines. And 2008 seems to have been just as uniformly unspectacular. We were all completely unimpressed with the 2006 Hedges. It wasn’t at all *bad,* just completely and unremittingly *bland* from weak start to pale finish -- and a huge letdown after the 2007 (especially considering Cecilia and husband’s anticipation after my review). It was so unremarkable that neither Cecilia nor I bothered to review the wine at all. (Though perhaps we at least should have warned you, her valued readers, to Save Your Money. Well, better late than never: consider yourselves warned. . . . )

But now we have the Hedges Family’s effort for 2009. And the pendulum has swung away from the disappointment of 2008 and back toward flavor -- we can only hope that this is indicative of 2009 for Washington in general.

Now, before you get too excited, I have to say that the 2009 is not nearly as wonderful as the 2007. It is far less aromatic, and attacks with a disconcertingly acerbic bite on the tip of the tongue, almost as if this wine is trying to be sparkling. Hopefully that will soften as this wine ages. In any case, once you recover from that surprise, this settles down to a very enjoyable and well-behaved wine, grapey and peppery/herby with undertones of slate, cedar, tobacco, and tar. While it lacks the richness and character of 2007, it is nicely balanced (perhaps a bit on the hot side at the moment, but that should also fade with age) with a medium body and just enough tannin that it should pair well with most foods.

A to Z Pinot Noir 2008
A to Z Wineworks
Newburg, OR

Above and beyond the earth and spice we expect of any Pinot Noir, this medium-bodied wine sourced from across the state (hence “A to Z”) pretty well typifies *Oregon* Pinot Noir -- not much aroma, but in the mouth a strong minerality cuts the bright sweetness of red cherries, blueberries, even a hint of strawberries. Fruit dominates, but the palate has enough layers of flavor that it maintains its strength all the way to the end of the very long finish. Keeping in mind that 2008 wasn’t a very good year out here overall, you can certainly find better Pinot Noirs from the PNW (especially from Washington, but I may be biased. . . .), but it would be hard to find an easier-drinking wine appropriate for any occasion with any group, from connoisseurs to those friends who think that any wine that comes in a glass bottle is fancy (you know who I mean. . . .).

2007 Cabernet-Merlot
San Juan Vineyards
50% Merlot, 25% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sauv

Very small vineyard on rustic, scenic San Juan Island -- closer to Victoria BC than to mainland Washington. When I saw small, I mean they have just seven acres planted -- mostly Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe, with one acre of Pinot Noir (the San Juans don’t get hot enough to grow reds). So 70% of their output is sourced from other Washington AVAs.

With Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Yakima Valley and Cabernet Franc is from Horse Heaven Hills, this beautiful, ripe hand-crafted vintage spent 20 months in French, Hungarian, and American oak barrels, and that extra care is apparent as soona s you pull the cork.

The beautiful deep plum color, complimented by a very dusty aroma full of tannins, let you know just what to expect from this bold wine: cola and cocoa and smoke (oh my!) leap onto the palate with the first taste followed immediately by a perfusion of blueberry, cherry, cassis, and cedar. The high fruit is perfectly balanced with earthy, foresty bottom notes that carry through into a long, strong tannic/mineral finish. Wow!

They don’t make much of this -- or any of their wines -- but they do ship, so I’d suggest ordering some. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to get my grubby little mitts on some of their other products. And, say -- a good friend of mine just so happens to live on San Juan Island. Maybe it’s time I pay her a visit. . . .

Flying Fish Merlot 2008
Wahluke Wine Company
Columbia Valley, WA

Cherries (red and black), plums (very purple), chocolate and caramel, with touches of pomegranate and blueberry leading into silky vanilla-draped tannins in the long, subtle finish. This should pair quite nicely with just about anything as long as it’s not *too* spicy.

And if the wine itself doesn’t make you feel good enough about drinking it and you need even more reason, Wahluke donates a portion of the profits to Ocean Conservancy to protect wild healthy oceans “in honor of the waters that are home to the great salmon that travel thousands of miles from the ocean up the Columbia River past several of our vineyards.” So what are you waiting for?

Shooting Star Blue Franc 2008
Steele Wines, Lake County, CA
100% Yakima Valley (WA) Lemberger

Made in California, this surprising wine is made from Lemberger grapes grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley AVA. Lemberger is the American name for the Austrian Blaufränkisch -- or “blue grape from France.” Confused yet?

Well, don’t worry about it. All you have to know is that this crisp, medium-bodied wine starts out cinnamon-hot (from the alcohol showing through) and peppery, with coffee and plum swirling through, but that quickly gives way to big Merlot-y fruit. That, too, fades quickly, leaving soft tannins to carry that transparent alcohol heat An odd assortment of flavors, perhaps, but a good one. This wine is fine by itself, but you could also try pairing it with the hearty flavors of its Austrian (not French!) homeland

And as long as we’re immersed in geographic confusion, let’s go even more international and pop a cork on some bubbly (yes, French this time!):

Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Champagne NV

Okay, you may be asking yourself “Why is the West Coast wine correspondent reviewing French champagne? Especially when he doesn’t really even care for champagne?” Well, let’s just call this the special International Edition of my guest blogging. I was introduced to this particular French champagne in Miami by a dear English ballet-dancer friend of mine who lives in Las Vegas and is married to a Russian pyrotechnics expert. International, indeed!

Brighter and more floral (what some snobby types might call “unrefined”) than what you would expect from champagne, this wine is rich with hay, honey, green peppers and olives, grass, and melon/citrus flavors. This is not your typical champagne, and I say that’s a good thing -- and for only around $35, this from now on will be my go-to choice for those situations that absolutely call for champagne.

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

The first Friday of January brought Hubby to a hockey game, so I decided to have a happy hour with some of my Twitter friends in Decatur. The small gathering went so well, I thought I'd try to make it a monthly thing: First Friday Women of Decatur Happy Hour. Okay, we can come up with a better name. Here are the details:

Date: February 4
Place: The Palate side of Palate/McGowan's in Oakhurst
Time: 6:00 p.m.-ish

I'll be hanging out at the bar. DM me on Twitter for details on how to recognize me (since I'm all incognito with a pen name). You can follow me here if you don't already.

Thanks, and I'm looking forward to some girl time!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wine Review: Kluge Estate

This wine review is a sad one because a few months after we received the samples, Hubby and I found out that Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards went into foreclosure. We had good memories of visiting there during our wine trip to Virginia in 2008, although we were a little put off by the wine tasting being served in a test-tube tray (sorry, no pictures). We also got to try some Kluge wine as they expanded distribution into Georgia last year and found it to be better than we'd remembered.

I'd wondered whether to even post this review since the winery has gone under. It's kind of like reviewing zombie wine, but I would imagine that there's still some hanging out in warehouses and with distributors. Even though the sparkling and Viognier are listed as "Sold Out" on the Kluge website, they may still be available somewhere and are worth a taste before they're gone.

We saved the 2004 SP (for sparkling) Blanc de Noir for our anniversary and weren't disappointed with its toasty notes and very slight berry undertones. It paired well with the view from the porch at my parents' cabin in Blairsville:

We tried the 2009 Albemarle Viognier in November. It had the Viognier peachy nose and floral finish, but I expected more in terms of body. It has an acidic bite instead of a smooth texture, almost like a Pinot Grigio. However, the shrimp risotto we paired it with brought out the stone fruit character of the wine, which enhanced it.

Finally, the 2009 Albemarle Sauvignon Blanc was also quite acidic, but good with food. Citrus and melon were the predominant flavors with a little grassiness. This is the only one still listed as available on the web site.

If nothing else, I hope this review serves as a reminder that we need to support our local wineries. Yes, I realize that Kluge got caught with their financial pants down in a tough economic climate (recent article here), but I hope that other local wineries won't disappear as well. As consumers, the best things we can do are to ask for local wines in restaurants and wine retailers and to visit our wineries regularly. And, as a wine blogger, I will try to review samples in a more timely manner. I'm finally getting my writing routine down, so that should help me to post more regularly.

Disclosure: All wines in this review were received free of charge for sampling purposes. This did not impact my review.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Frozen Flakes of Doom!!! Day Two, Cabin Fever Sets In

Well, for those of us in Atlanta, it looks like it's going to be a long, cold road out of this one. As you can see, although the ice on the roads is melting, they're still pretty covered, and it's supposed to go down to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. That's too many degrees below zero Celsius for me to want to think about right now.

Now that we're on our second day of enforced staying home, a little bit of cabin fever has set in. Bailey has taken to attempting mind control to get us to let him out (he doesn't go outside):

Meanwhile, Tabitha has started gazing longingly at one of the pictures Hubby took on last summer's trip to the Pacific Northwest, which makes for some interesting typing and tweeting with her fat self on my laptop keyboard. Maybe she's reminiscing about getting us humans out of the house for a while.

I was going to deal with the cabin fever by baking all day, and I did make a batch of yummy blueberry muffins:

Hubby was also climbing the walls, so we decided to head out to the nearest pub within walking distance, the James Joyce. I typically don’t go there since they allow smoking after a certain time, and I did come home smelling of smoke tonight, but it did feel good to get out. It was especially fun after we ran into some friends and met "head busboy" Daniel Acree. It felt like a real neighborhood pub.

I, of course, forgot all about those healthy eating intentions and went straight for the comfort food, a Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger, and Chimay Red beer:

Hubby enjoyed the fireplace (they have two on the porch):

No, we didn't sit out on the patio:

Wow, even the fountain lions look cold:

The sun is supposed to come out tomorrow, and I'm hoping to make it back to the office in the afternoon so the week isn't a total loss. Meanwhile, I'll watch out for those killer icicles:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Frozen Flakes of Doom!!! Day One...

Yes, two blogs posts from me in a week! I promised to keep you apprised of the developments at the World Headquarters of Random Oenophile Enterprises as the winter weather moves through, so this is my entry for Day One.

So, as you probably know by now we got some snow:

It started here last night around 8:00 and went steadily to around 1:30, and then I went to sleep and can't tell you what happened after that. Apparently the snow turned into something called "freezing drizzle." It's kind of like the post-nasal drip of wintery precipitation: steady and annoying, and likely to leave a crust on things if you're not careful. Okay, that was gross. Sorry. The cabin fever might be setting in.

Hubby made an executive decision that we'd do the Duck Confit Tacos last night. We had originally thought we'd do a head-to-head comparison of Cab vs. Pinot as a pairing, but after Hubby made the salsa according to directions, he decided it would be too spicy for the Pinot and went a completely different direction: beer. He's the best Hubby ever, so he made salsa for me that was mild, and I had the 2006 Texas Hills "Kick Butt Cab." Medium bodied and with great fruit and caramel notes, it had enough acidity to cut through the fattiness of the duck and enough sweetness to balance out the salt and spice.

Although we hadn't bought milk, bread, and eggs this weekend, I decided to engage in an act of solidarity with our panicked brethren and make French toast. We're out of maple syrup, so I did some strawberry topping:

A couple of friends of ours who have the French Tart blog are absolute Pho addicts. For those who don't know, Pho, pronounced "Fuh," is a type of Vietnamese soup. It's also apparently a really good hangover remedy. We decided we'd make some Turkey Pho, courtesy of Cooking Light and their annual "what to do with leftover turkey" article from a few years ago. It turned out really pretty and tasty, especially paired with the 2009 Montinore Estate Borealis: The Northern Whites. The blend of Miller-Thurgau, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling had distinct vanilla notes at the front, and the savory-salty soup accented the citrus notes and minerality of the wine. Sorry, there's no picture. Blogger kept flipping my bowl of soup on its side, and I didn't want it to spill.

No snowstorm blog post would be complete without a few pictures. I took these around the yard, and you can see that the freezing drizzle had, indeed, coated everything with a thin layer of ice.

Like most other things in the city today, the bird bath is closed:

Frozen berries:

Last night's carnage:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pondering food and wine to survive Frozen Flakes of Doom!!!

As most of the country is aware, there is a snow/ice/sleet/OMGwe'reallgonnadie storm headed to the Atlanta area. Forget the rest of the Southeast that will likely get it, too… We've got the airport, so we're more important, right?

I admit to some skepticism until the first flakes start falling. You see, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. We'd get days of hype about the weather, and then it would end up being rain or nothing much at all, dashing all our schoolchildren hopes of a day off. No, school-age kids never seem to get the concept of "you'll have to make it up later." Kind of like New Year's resolution dieters. But I digress…

My parents live on a big hill, and the only access to it is two roads, both pretty steep, so when the inevitable ice storm came, we were trapped for a couple of days. This typically occurred without power because of the following equation:

Ice + Above Ground Power Lines + Trees (Pine are the worst!) = power interruptions. For days.

After the historic blizzard of 1993, which I remember vividly because my high school boyfriend had just dumped me (I later killed him off at least three ways fictionally – fear the pen!), we were without power for five days. It sucked. Probably even more so for my parents, who had to deal with a mopey teenager. Thankfully, they kept one of these on hand:

Theirs was red. We knew it was serious when the camp stove came out and they hooked up the propane. It was nice to have hot food, especially because that was before they had a generator, and the stove and oven were electric. Ours are gas.

Hubby grew up in Montgomery, which was usually below the snow/ice line, so he didn't get the camping at home experience. You'd think that most of our discussions around the impending Frozen Flakes of Doom!!! would center on important things, like whether and how we'd get to work (more important for me since I have my own business, and if I don't work, I don’t get paid). Nope, we've been discussing food, likely because he plans on working "from home" (aka, the pub). Here's the plan:

1) We'll stick to cooking things that we can make or reheat with only our gas stove, using the grill as necessary. We've decided on Duck Confit Tacos and Turkey Pho.

2) If we lose power, we'll keep the freezer closed and put the refrigerated stuff in a cooler on the back porch or garage. It's going to be cold enough. If you try this, please keep an eye on outside temperatures. Food poisoning sucks. It's even worse with icy roads.

3) We stopped off at Ale Yeah! yesterday to stock up on supplies. Sadly, the Gouden Carolus Tripel didn't make it through the night. We do have plenty of wine, though, and as one of my Twitter friends reminded me, corkscrews do not require electricity.

I'll tweet and blog pictures and pairings as we cook. Meanwhile, I hope everyone stays warm!

P.S. As I'm writing this, Hubby's on the phone with his parents, who are in Montgomery. They're getting snow. I hope they have a camp stove handy.

P.P.S. For all you northerners who are scoffing at us, remember what happened a couple of years ago when the northeast got a true ice storm. You can't drive on ice any better than we can, so stuff it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Good Day, and Welcome to 2011

First, thanks to all my wonderful blog followers and regular readers! I know I don't get a lot of comments, but I see the hits, and I really appreciate them.

The general sentiment (on Twitter, so it must accurately reflect the opinion of the masses, right?) seems to be that 2010, as far as years go, pretty much sucked. It really didn't for me, although it was weird. I moved my practice from the Northside/Perimeter area to Decatur, which cut my commute time by two-thirds or more. It also hit the two-year mark, and I found myself to be very busy, which was a very good thing. On the down side, my triglycerides fell, but then spiked just in time for disability insurance bloodwork (hmmm…), and I hurt my shoulder, which is still bothering me. So, all in all, it's a mixed bag.

One thing I feel guilty for is my lack of blogging, especially over the past few months with the office move and trying to get back into a routine. Trust me, I've been drinking wine, but I've kept all my thoughts to myself except a few that leaked out on Twitter. Apparently I got burned out on a lot of things, including writing.

One of my fellow writing friends misunderstood me when I told him I was taking a week off between Christmas and New Year's and thought I meant from everything, which, he said, would be a good thing considering how I've been feeling. I decided to give it a try, and my week away from work, writing, blogging, and even from Atlanta (we were in Alabama doing family stuff for most of it) gave me some much-needed perspective. Consequently, I've come up with the following problems and the corresponding changes I need to make in my life:

1. My life is out of whack when it comes to the work/life balance.

Moving my office closer to home has backfired in that I now don't have a long commute, so I can stay later, right? Wrong! Things have gotten much better now that I have an awesome adminion (administrative minion for those who are wondering), but I'm still spending way too many hours there, which is leaving me with precious little time and energy for any kind of writing.

Solution: Be more conscious of work/life boundaries and be home within an hour of ending client contacts. I'm also going to start building in transition/relaxation time at the end of the work day so I'm not as likely to bring work home with me.

2. Writer's block: it's real.

For me, writer's block is actually writer's overwhelm with lack of sufficient support. I have so much stuff I want to write that I look at it all and say, screw it, I'm going to pet the cat/get on Twitter/read… Not that any of that stuff is bad, only when I use it as a procrastination tool. I also feel like I've gotten stagnant with this blog, and it may have started to bore me.

Solution: Schedule time for writing, make it a priority, and reach out to some of the great people I've met through the Georgia Romance Writers and Village Writers Group. I also need to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Finally, I'm going to make some changes to this blog that I've been pondering since last year's Wine Bloggers' Conference. I need to do something to make it stand out, which will make it interesting for me as well. Stay tuned!

I do have to include one highlight... I am now a published author! I had work accepted to two anthologies and even got paid for my contribution to one!

I do feel so much better when I write regularly, just like when I exercise at least three times per week, which brings me to…

3. I feel faaaaaaat!!! And my triglycerides are high.

Even if I wanted to be in denial that I'm not taking as good care of myself as I need to, the blood work doesn't lie. I wrote for my oeno-lution last year that I wasn't going to worry about losing ten pounds, but it seems as though that's not an option anymore.

Solution: Yep, gotta exercise and get the eating back under control, and I really need to work harder at sticking to an average of just one glass of wine per day. Not that I'll give up everything I like, but try more for that moderation thing.

I'm avoiding the word "resolution" this year. People expect to break those. These are changes I really need to make to be a happier, healthier person in 2011. I'll let you know how they go!