Sunday, December 16, 2012

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas: Wine! (Yes, you have to share)

Luckily these bottles were empty before the SEC Championship.

Typically picking up Holiday gifts at the grocery store is considered, if you'll forgive the pun, in poor taste.  What could grocery store shelves hold of any value beyond the tan and gold boxes of candy with maybe two edible pieces in them?  Okay, I'll always take a bag of Dove Dark Promises (no Hershey's for this half-Belgian, please), but I'm talking about wine.  It seems that there are some hidden gems for reasonable prices out there.

Our first foray this year into reasonable gift wines came courtesy of some wine samples from Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.  Yes, FCC, these were samples, but as you'll see, their free-ness didn't influence our opinions.  We tasted them at a dinner gathering with a couple of friends, one of whom has been in the restaurant/hospitality industry for several years.

The first wine wins the "most likely to be damned by its label before it's given a fair chance" award.  It was pitched in the original email as the perfect gift for "that bubbly person who keeps you smiling! Maybe your girlfriend who brings a smile on your face, or your best friend who is the one you’re sharing laughs with and celebrating life with."  Yes, it's bubbly and pink.  It also has a kangaroo on the label.  We found hints of strawberry on the nose, and the wine itself is off-dry with some strawberry stem, and lots of tropical fruit mid-palate & on the finish.  Our friend noted that, if no one ever saw the Yellow Tail label, it could be a good choice for a restaurant house bubbly.  I liked it and would give it a good to very good rating.  It would also be fun to surprise our wine snob friends at their annual New Year's party.  For a suggested retail price (SRP) of $10, it was deemed "Totally worth it."
Region:  Southeastern Australia
Varietals:  Semillon, Traminer, Shiraz, Frontignac

Couldn't resist the Christmas tree shot.
The second wine, the Villa Pozzi Pinot Grigio (Sicily), boasted to be "ideal for the modern woman with its refined aromatic, well balanced taste profile and simply-elegant packaging."  According to the tech sheet, the nose should be of rose and honeysuckle.  Maybe we got an off bottle, but the nose we got was overripe dishtowel, which is a smell typically associated with corked wine.  This one has a screwtop, and yes, we checked the dishtowel that had cleaned the glasses.  It was fresh.  The wine itself fell flat with some floral in the middle, but not much else.  Yeah, I'd skip this one, even at its $10 SRP. 

Finally, the 2011 Ruta 22 Malbec (Patagonia, Argentina), designated the "the gift for the adventurous, travel-lover on your list" rounded off the evening.  The nose was a little gamey, which is not unpleasant for a wine that begs to be paired with meat.  It was juicy but not jammy with berry and dark fruit.  Some found the peppery finish to be a bit much.  Forget the travel-lover, bring this as a hostess gift to a meat lover who's serving a nice juicy roast.  I feel the SRP of $13 is about right.

Our other "Go-to Wine" tasting came courtesy of JavaMonkey in Decatur, Georgia, and all of these should be available at the Dekalb Farmers' Market and are all under $15.  Since they're fairly reasonable, consider getting a magnum to wield against the pre-Christmas shoppers.  Yes, FCC, we paid for this tasting.  Fellow blogger Dan Browning and I decided to play off the go-to theme with our comments.

The wines:

2011 Protocolo Blanco (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain):  70% Arien, 30% Macabejo
Go to the beach with this crisp, mineral wine with a gardenia nose and lemony finish. 
Rating:  Good to Very Good

2010 La Craie (Vouvray, Loire Valley, France):  100% Chenin Blanc
Go to the tropics with a nice, light nose and plenty of pineapple and tropical fruit.
Rating:  Very Good
Love the label!

2011 Monte Oton (Borja, Spain):  100% Garnacha
Git along little doggie.  This wine smells like meat and butter.  It starts leathery, but as it opens, more fruit comes out.  I'd pair this with a Tanja Michaels Texas romance novel and a steak.  Yeah, I might have made the comment that it's like licking a cowboy.  No, I don't really know what that's like.  Moving right along…
Rating:  Good

2010 Santa Ema Merlot (Peumo, Cachapoal Valley, Chile):  100% Merlot
Go to the housetop.  Yep, it's got some clove and a little cedar on the palate.  It's medium-bodied, but still has a lot of nice, dark fruit.  Santa might prefer this one to milk.
Rating:  Good

2010 Castaño Monastrell (Yecla, Spain):  100% Monastrell
Going…  (No, I'm not sure how that one tied in)  A little funky and bitter at first, which was disappointing after the nice dark fruit nose.
Rating:  Okay

2011 Château Pesquié Terrasses Red (Ventoux, France):  70% Grenache, 30% Syrah
Vas-tu au Ventoux!  Hubby and I discovered wines from this sub-region of the Rhone Valley on a trip to Belgium a few years ago, and we snap them up when we do.  This one had a funky French Syrah nose, and was dark and smooth with just a hint of frizzante (mild fizziness).  This would be a great one to take to a party.
Rating:  Very Good

Whatever you happen to be drinking this holiday season, I hope you enjoy it and stay safe.  Happy Holidays from me, Hubby, and the blog cats!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book Review: The Curious World of Wine

On the eve of the Decatur Wine Festival, I brought Richard Vine's The Curious World of Wine (Perigee/Penguin, 2012) with me to Café Lily in case I had time to read the end of it before meeting a friend.  Allen Sanders, the wine expert, noticed it, and we had a great conversation about Zinfandels.  So, if you want to look like you know something about wine:  buy this book.

Those who actually want to know something about wine are in luck, too.  I've played trivia a few times with friends, usually in pubs for prizes or credit, and the secret of a good trivia team is each person has a specialty area like sports, popular culture, etc.  I don't feel very competent in any one area, although I'm a decent fill-in for addictive substance-related science questions like "What does THC stand for?" and "What is the maximum International Bitterness Unit level the human palate can discern?"*  After reading The Curious World of Wine, I feel able to offer a trivia team more wine-related knowledge.

This one little book covers a range of topic areas from wine history to people to expressions.  I had a few "oh, so that's where that came from!" moments such as when reading about the Chateauneuf de Pape region of France.  I like wines from this region because it's fun to say.  This was a perfect example of how bits of knowledge floated around my brain but never got connected until I read this book.  Anyone familiar with Church history remembers that in the early 1300's, the Pope moved from Rome to Avignon, and it took the influence of Saint Catherine of Siena to get it all straightened out and move the pope back to Rome in 1376.  I took French in high school and know the words Chateau (house or home), neuf (new), and Pape (pope), but I never connected the Chateauneuf de Pape – or "new home of the Pope" – name with the Avignon papacy period.  The hills around Avignon overlook the Rhone River and grow Syrah, Grenache, and other reds, and now I have an interesting historical tidbit to relate in addition to the fun of saying Chateauneuf de Pape.

The book is loosely organized into chapters, some of which have clever titles like "French Connections."  However, I sometimes found my head spinning a bit with the time-hopping within the chapters better organized by topic area (e.g., different wine areas in France).  For example, the Chateuneuf de Pape story came after a World War II champagne story.  It was kind of like if disorganized time-traveling British science fiction character Doctor Who decided to lead a wine tour.**  That said, when dealing with this kind of material, it can be tough to figure out the best order, and I appreciate Dr. Vine's challenge. 

On first glance, this handsome little hardcover is appealing, and it's apparent someone spent a lot of time making it look pretty.  Upon opening it, I couldn't help but think they couldn't decide whether to go with a regular nonfiction format or a coffee table book.  The text inside is presented in double columns, which I found annoying until I got used to it, and bordered by nice little designs in the corners.  The enclosed text boxes with very short items are in regular format.  Illustrations add to the text without being distracting, and the editing was almost flawless with no typos.  An index would be nice for when I'd like to reference these stories in future blog posts.  As it is, I'll have to flip through the chapters to find what I'm looking for.  If you're not looking to use it as a reference, this will probably not matter as much.

Although the text is presented like a textbook and written by an academic, it's very easy to read, and the tone is light and conversational.  The humor contributes to the stories without prompting eye-rolling or groans.  After reading it, I would love to go to dinner with Doctor Vine and hear more of his wine stories, especially ones related to his experiences researching this book, and to find out what he couldn't include within the time and space restraints.  I thank him for providing a resource that will help with my blogging, my own dinner parties, and, of course, impressing random wine experts and trivia teams.
FCC Disclosure:  This was an advance review copy (ARC) provided to me free by the publisher.  This did not affect my opinions or review in any way.

* Answers:  THC, the active molecular component of marijuana, stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol.  I know this from my required psychopharmacology course in graduate school.
IBUs are the measure of how bitter beer is, and typically this flavor comes from hops.  The human palate can discern levels up to about 90.  My palate can tolerate levels up to about 25.  Yep, I'm a wine drinker and hop wimp.

** I would totally sign up for this.

Top:  The book on my wine rack nestled in between a couple of bottles of Canadian wines, which, sadly, are not mentioned in it.
Above:  The inside of the book.  Yes, it's blurry.  If you want to read it, please buy it.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Winery review: Youngberg Hill

As always after a wine bloggers conference, I sit back and ponder what kind of wine blogger I aspire to be and how to make that happen.  The first thing that comes to mind is, "more consistent," and believe me, Hubby and I really appreciate our readers who stop by to see if we've posted something new.  Once I get through the hump of training the new colleague who just joined my practice, I hope to be able to write here and at my Random Writings blog more regularly.  Obviously, since I'm posting this almost two months after the conference, we've got some work to do.

One other aspect of blogging we've been discussing is how to portray exactly who we are and our philosophy of wine.  We've come to the conclusion that we're not wine tasters, we're wine drinkers, meaning we typically experience wine more as average consumers, not wine experts, which we've never claimed to be.  Our blog motto, as I've mentioned, is that it's by amateurs for amateurs.  We just happen to be amateurs who've drunk a lot of different wines.  We also like to look at the whole picture from the buying experience to the final sip in the bottle.

This brings me to the topic of today's blog post:  what does holistic mean? Youngberg Hill Winery in McMinnville, Oregon claims to be organic, biodynamic, and holistic.  Hubby and I were fortunate to be invited to a tasting and lunch there the day before the wine bloggers conference went into full swing. 

The whole thing was arranged through Twitter and email.  I'll admit I didn't look at the website too closely, so the night before we went, Hubby checked them out.

"They're not just a regular winery.  They say they're holistic."  He looked up at me like I'd signed us up to join some sort of wine cult.  "What have you gotten us into?"

Thankfully no tinfoil hats were necessary.  No brainwashing occurred as far as I could tell, the wine was darn good, and I got to ponder exactly what holistic means in this context.

At first it seems owner and winemaker Wayne Bailey is one of those overachieving types who's got to go for all sorts of titles and certifications.*  I mean, seriously, the winery is organic, biodynamic, sustainable, salmon safe...  You get the idea.  Seriously, this guy thinks of everything.  From the website:  "In addition, Youngberg Hill specializes in exclusive, romantic, and personalized weddings and elopement packages, everything you need in one fabulous location."  Elopement packages?!  It's a really good thing we didn't know about this in the midst of planning our wedding in 2003 (don't tell my mom I said this).

But really, his philosophy goes deeper to one very simple principle:  if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.  That's my clumsy paraphrase.  As I mentioned in my Pinot Smackdown post, Pinot Noir, which is their one red grape, tends to show where it's from.  Luckily Oregon soil, geology, and climate play nicely with it.

So let's get back to the experience.  We arrived and immediately went into the tasting room, where we had the opportunity to try a white and three reds, and Pinots.  Others on the trip have likely written with more eloquence about the wine, so I'll just say my favorites were the 2011 Pinot Gris and the 2008 Jordan Pinot Noir.  A bottle of the Pinot Gris came home with us, where it awaits a lovely afternoon -- come on, fall! -- and my back porch.  The Jordan Pinot Noir was lovely, nice and fruity, but a little beyond our price point, although still reasonable for the area.  Besides, we were trying to be conscious of space in Bertha, our wine shipper.

Then came lunch.  I like lunch, especially when a chef gets to play and pair his food with specific wines.  Some might argue that wine is a condiment, and choice should be driven by the food, but c'mon, remember where we were.  Personally, I believe wine and food should complement each other. Chef Joel Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton came out to play.  He specializes in dishes made with wild mushrooms and truffles, and also with local ingredients.  To borrow a current buzz phrase, think of it as farm and woods to table.

We got to join in with the playtime for the first dish, a two-tone gazpacho that got me over my fear of cold soups. It's hard to be afraid of something topped with marigold petals.  I enjoyed tasting the pink half, tomato-pickled ginger, and the green half, cucumber-lemon balm, by themselves and in combination, and especially with the Pinot Blanc. 

Then, beef stroganoff made with Painted Hills beef, porcini and black truffle cream paired with the 2009 Natasha Pinot Noir.

Oh, my, yes.  This pairing drew from the principle of "pair like with like," and the earthy Pinot played very nicely with the mushrooms.  I liked the wine with the food better than on its own.

Finally, a Pot de Chocolat, a baked dessert with a base of flourless chocolate cake and top layer of chocolate pudding, paired with the Jordan. Yes, I left a very happy chocoholic.

Wayne sat at our table during lunch, and Hubby and I enjoyed talking with him, Carl of Carl Giavanti Consulting, and Julia of the "Best New Wine Blog" award-winning Wine Julia blog (check out her Youngberg Hill post for complete tasting and pairing notes).  They and the rest of the fun crew on the van to and from the excursion brought the final, but possibly most important ingredient, of the wine experience together for me:  the people I've had the opportunity to meet and share wine and food with.

This, my friends, was my kind of holistic experience.

Required legalese:  The entire experience from transportation to dessert was comped, but, as always, we did our best to keep it from influencing our opinions.

* Not that I would know what that's like.  Just ask my husband, who finally had to tell me, "You've got a Ph.D., license, and extra certification.  It's my turn." 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 Pinot Smackdown at Purple Corkscrew

As we learned last week at the wine bloggers' conference in Oregon, Pinot Noir grapes tend to reflect where they're grown down to the soil type and the weather.  In 2010, a couple of oenophile friends of ours decided their lives needed a little excitement, so they pitted Pinot Noir wines from around the world against each other in a little event called the Pinot Smackdown.  Did I mention these two friends are both guys?  Yeah, you probably guessed.  The tradition continued last year, and you can read the testosterone-fueled intro post by one of the founders, who also happens to be one of my favorite Atlanta bloggers, here. Well, he went and got himself a job in the wine industry, so he's unable to host the usual shenanigans this year due to potential conflict of interest or something like that.

Hubby and I, being big fans of the Pinot Smackdown because it's an event where you get to have both virtual and face-to-face interaction, decided to continue the tradition of getting friends together to drink, discuss, and, if you're so inclined, tweet to help pick the winning region.

The date:  Thursday, September 6

The time:  7:00-9:00 p.m.

The place:  The Purple Corkscrew Wine Bar located below Saba Restaurant in Emory Village.

The cost:  $25 per person

The wines:

Charles Krug Pinot Noir, Carneros
Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River
Latour Pinot Noir, Domain De Valmoissine, France
Belle Valle, Oregon

The rules if you care to tweet, which is fun, but not absolutely necessary:  

We'll have three of the Pinot Noir growing regions represented, California (#CA), Oregon (#OR), and France (#FR).   Please tweet your tasting impressions, opinions, or just plain votes with #pinotsmackdown and the region hashtag, specified above.  So, for example, if you're digging the Rodney Strong, you might tweet something like:

Dude, the fruit on the Rodney Strong Pinot is outrageous! #pinotsmackdown #CA

I'll be back on the blog later this week with impressions from the Wine Bloggers Conference.  Yes, there was a lot of Pinot Noir consumed and some other yummy stuff as well.

Please RSVP for the Pinot Smackdown by commenting here, tweeting me (@RandomOenophile), or commenting on Facebook where I posted this link. Whatever you do, please let me know by next Monday, September 3 if you'll be coming.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Georgia Wineries: Visited, Revisited, and Reviewed

Mountains Pair Well with Wine
In anticipation of this year's Wine Bloggers Conference, Hubby and I drove through Georgia wine country last weekend to pick up a few bottles to share and more to drink ourselves.  We had been to several of the wineries before and decided to try out a few new ones. 

I wrote in my last post about expectations, and a lot of people have doubts about the ability of Georgia winemakers and growers.  It's time to put those aside.  Of course, the opinions expressed here are mine and Hubby's, and everyone's tastes are different.  Still, Georgia wines are worth a try, or another try depending on if you've had them in the past, for the following two reasons:

1)  Georgia wineries have been doing better with eliminating or minimizing the sweet leathery overtones that creep into the reds.  I suspect this has been a big factor feeding the skepticism about the wines here, and I bet a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised.
Note the red clay in the pond.  That's terroir, baby!

2)  Each tasting room has its own character and charm.  More about that below.

We started at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, where we're in the wine club.  The exposed wood and high ceilings give the lower tasting room, which was filled with boxes due to them just having bottled, a mountain resort feel.  We tasted in the cozy upstairs tasting room.  The highlights here are the bubblies and the rosé, but they have good reds, too.  Try the Howling Wolf Red and Coupage, both blends.  Our current favorite sparkling of theirs is the Blanc de Syrah Brut, and a friend of ours cannot get enough of the Plenitude white blend.

Grapes at Blackstock
Another place where you could easily kick back with a glass of wine in a rocking chair is Blackstock Vineyards and Winery, where we're also in the wine club.  These guys supplied grapes to a lot of the other wineries as they got started, so they've done well with figuring out how to make the finicky vinifera play nicely in Georgia's climate, and they were one of the first to figure out that Sangiovese does well here.  They have a fun vibe, both because of the wines and the tasting room staff, often local college kids.  If you're looking for a fantastic Georgia Viognier, often touted as the Southern white wine grape, try this one.  We also really liked their Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the past, Frogtown Cellars seemed to have the most West Coast attitude, but it's mellowed, and I was really impressed with the wines this time.  They seem to have reduced the number of wines they make with a corresponding increase in quality.  Highlights of this trip included the Steel Chardonnay, Touché (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Tannat), Sangiovese, Shotgun Second Reload (NV blend of Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), and Cabernet Franc.

Go just up and over the hill from Frogtown to Three Sisters for a winery experience that's about as opposite from snobby as you can get.  There are overalls, Cheetos, and other things you just have to see for yourself, but that you're definitely not going to find in California.  What you will discover are great authentic Georgia wines.  The UnOaked Chardonnay is a fruit bomb of a white.  It's been a favorite of mine year after year, and I'm not usually impressed by Chards.  The dry reds are a little on the sweet side, but don't let that deter you; they're still well-balanced and won't kill your palate.  I liked the Merlot, and Hubby and I both liked the Cynthiana, which is really well done.  It's worth trying just to see how a native grape varietal holds its own with the imports.  We didn't so much like it with the optional chocolate pairing, but as I mentioned above, your tastes may differ.

It pains me to say so, but the best parts remaining of Montaluce under their new ownership are the restaurant Le Vigne and the gorgeous view.  We tried the wines and weren't bowled over this time around.  The rosé and chardonnay weren't bad, but not good enough to warrant buying a bottle this trip.  We'll wait and check out their next vintage.

Wine with a View at Montaluce
The wineries above are all featured as part of the Dahlonega Wine Trail Weekend.  We didn't visit Cavender Creek this time but have enjoyed them in the past.

On Saturday, we got adventurous…  Helen, Georgia's faux-German town that hovers between parody and peculiar, seems to be a natural hub for wineries, but Habersham, which we didn't visit, has been getting all the attention.  Frogtown has also opened a tasting room, so if you're not going to visit the Dahlonega one, you can still sample their wines with your bratwurst.  My suggestion is that you venture out a little further and try these two:

Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards feels like you're tasting wine in someone's house, and you can pull up a chair and have a glass or even a wine slushie on the back porch.  It felt the most relaxed of all of them.  Hubby is typically very picky about the pink stuff, but we both liked the White Merlot.  Also, their website has some entertaining tasting notes.  About the White Merlot:  "How do we make White Merlot? By making red grapes blush of course. That's just what happens when proper southern grapes are undressed."  Oh, my.

Go further down the road to Sautee-Nacoochee Village, where you'll find the Yonah Mountain Vineyards tasting room.  It's in a little strip, and the best way to find it is to look for the purple Wine Tasting sign:

The inside of the tasting room is elegant, and they had live music, which was nice and not intrusive .  They're still getting their vineyards going and are sourcing some grapes from elsewhere, but still doing fairly well with what they've managed to grow or get locally.  The Serenity Cellars Bianco Bello is a lovely white blend with a nice fruit/dry balance.  The Sangiovese and Harmony (blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah) were also quite nice.  

We headed north to Tiger Mountain, which we'd enjoyed in the past, but the current vintage didn't do much for us.  The best ones were the Mourvedre and Tannat, but the price point was too high for how we felt about them. So, we'll check back with them after their next vintage is released, which will give us a chance to try out the brand new Stonewall Creek Vineyards, which wasn't open yet.

Kudos to Le Caveau  in Atlanta for carrying the Yonah Mountain Traminette.  Yes, I had to get a plug in there to show my excitement for Georgia wines becoming more widely available.  It would be nice to get even more of them down here in the city.  Until then, they're definitely worth the drive.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Psychowine: Grape Expectations

I have a phobia of blind wine tastings. It's not severe enough to warrant treatment, but they still make me very nervous. You see, when you've been deemed as someone who knows about wine, people expect you to know what you're tasting. I frequently don't. What gets in the way? Expectations.

Consider a recent study (NPR article here) that found wine geeks are willing to pay more for wine with an unpronounceable name, whereas it's likely "low-knowledge consumers" will go for the fun or quirky named wines. This is all because of expectations, namely, "wine geeks will hunt for just about any subtle difference they can find, like a unique sounding name." Unique name = something new, different, and interesting.
This wine is made from Assyrtiko grapes. Therefore, it must be really good! Actually, it was.  Okay, bad example...
As a psychologist, I don't work in the world of concrete reality, but rather how people perceive the world and what they expect will happen. We – not the royal we, although I do include myself in this – waste a lot of time and mental energy setting up expectations, which may or may not be accurate. Blind wine tastings illustrate this principle beautifully.

Please note, I'm not confusing my expectation theory with Expectancy Theory, which is popular in the organizational field of psychology. That one could apply to many other wine-related behaviors, which will be the subject of a different post.

Think about the different layers of the wine-tasting experience and where the expectations occur:

First layer: sensory input – what am I actually experiencing? This includes color, nose, and flavors.

Second layer: knowledge – I tried to identify the wine according to what my experience has told me about the typical characteristics of certain wines.

Third layer: environmental – I'm a regular at this venue's tastings and know the proprietress likes to include unexpected styles and varietals to throw us off.

I'd never guess this one in a blind tasting, but I wouldn't put it past her to include something like it.
Fourth layer: social – I admit to allowing some of my guesses to be influenced through interaction with others

The expectations are most prominent in the second and third layers. In the interest of full disclosure, here are my notes from the wine tasting and what the wine actually ended up being.

Wine #1:
Notes: mineral-ish, fruity, some nectarine, a little frizzante, and very light
Guesses: dry Moscato with Vinho Verde as a second choice
Actual wine: 2010 Vidigal Vinho Verde (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
What threw me: the dry Moscato was my final answer because of the stone fruit characteristics; my experience had led me astray to associate Vinho Verde with citrus, not stone. At least my second guess was right.
Rating: Very Good

Wine #2:
Notes: not much nose, very floral with anise finish
Guess: Seyval Blanc
Actual wine: 2010 Cartlidge & Brown Chardonnay (North Coast, California)
What threw me: I expect California chardonnays to be big oak bombs.
Rating: Okay

Wine #3:
Notes: funky nose!
Guesses: French Syrah, second choice Gamay
Actual wine: Roncier Pinot Noir
What threw me: the nose. To me, barnyard funk is Cotes du Rhone grapes.
Rating: meh/ok, got better as it went

Wine #4:
Notes: cedar notes on finish, a little smoke, smooth fruit with grapey-vanilla flavors
Guesses: Petit Syrah, Petit Verdot, or Malbec
Actual wine: 2010 Protocolo Tempranillo (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain)
What threw me: the smoke and grapey flavors; Hubby got that it was a Tempranillo
Rating: Good

Wine #5:
Notes: zut alors! Fruit bomb
Guess: California Zin
Actual wine: 2010 Ruta 22 Malbec (Patagonia, Argentina)
What threw me: the jammy fruitiness, which I expect in zinfandel, merlot, and cab, not Malbec
Rating: Good

Wine #6:
Notes: big, leathery, dark fruit
Guess: Cabernet Sauvignon
Actual wine: 2010 Milton Park Shiraz (South Australia)
What threw me: the leathery characteristics, although I should've clued in to the screw-top like Hubby did
Rating: Good

So, there you go. Hopefully I won't get laughed out of this year's Wine Bloggers' Conference. This was a good learning experience and gave me some good data to add to my mental wine characteristics database so I can hone my expectations.  If not, it's nice to know I don't know everything.  Really, that's one of the fun things about wine -- there's always more to learn.

Here's a quiz for you to check on your own expectations and how they might influence your wine experience:

1. You see a red wine with a screw top. The first thing that comes to mind is...
A. Must be from Australia.
B. Can't be from Australia. Too obvious.
C. Oh, look, they're saving the environment one cork at a time.
D. I can't drink that. No cork equals no quality.
E. Hide this before the Cork Alliance guy sees it & starts lecturing us.

2. You're in a wine shop, and you see a wine with a cartoon-like character on the label. You think:
A. The people who make this are trying to get away from the stuffy wine image.
B. It's looking at me. Make it stop.
C. I wonder if they have any with an anime character. Sailor Moon wine would be awesome!
D. If it's not a plain label with a fancy font and unpronounceable name, I'm not interested.

3. You're hosting a dinner party, and a friend shows up with a bottle of grocery store wine (e.g., Sutter Home). You:
A. Open it and present it to your guests as an option. Hey, free wine is free wine, right?
B. Quickly review your history with this friend to see if they might be kidding you or are testing you.
C. Wonder for a moment who Sutter was and make a note to Google the history of the winery later.
D. Figure out how to work "bless your heart" and "thank you" into the same sentence to describe your feelings about the wine.

4. You're out to dinner at a nice restaurant with a group of friends, and as the designated wine expert, you're given the list to order for the table. Half the guests have ordered fish, the others red meat. What do you choose?
A. I choose to allow the sommelier, if they have one on staff, or waiter make a suggestion.
B. I choose to think they planned this on purpose. There should be rules about this sort of thing!
C. I choose a dry rosé. It probably won't go with anyone's meal, but at least it's pretty.
D. I pick something that goes with my meal. Screw the rest of them because I know it'll be good whether it goes with their food or not.

5. You're in a winery, and the pourer tells you the current wine you're enjoying would go great with Cheetos. You:
A. Ask for Cheetos because you're curious now.
B. Wonder if you've landed in a different dimension.
C. Ask if it would also go well with Velveeta-based macaroni and cheese.
D. Turn your nose up at it and walk out. As a serious oenophile, you demand serious cheese.

I wasn't kidding about the Cheeto wine thing.
Answer key:

Mostly A's: Congratulations, you're mostly normal!
Mostly B's: It's not paranoia if the world really is out to get you. In your case, it's probably just paranoia, or you're overthinking it.
Mostly C's: I threw these in to be random. You've already been drinking, haven't you?
Mostly D's: You have a firm sense of what the wine drinking experience should be, but get over yourself already. It's okay for wine to be fun.
If you chose that random E answer, you were cornered in the lobby at last year's wine blogger conference.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Psychowine: Friends in low places? What to consider when your friends go into the wine business.

When I worked in a medical setting, we'd be visited by these strange creatures. Well, not strange, exactly. They were young, attractive, verbal, intelligent (YAVI, or what Irving Yalom says therapists consider their ideal clients), well dressed, and brought food and presents to the docs and office staff. All they wanted in return was the opportunity to tell us about the wonderful products they represented.

Yeah, I'm talking about pharmaceutical reps. Although the rules have tightened over the past decade, and they can't give out pads, pens, or other goodies, they're still YAVIs, and the pharmaceutical industry seems to be doing just fine. Why? Because we're more likely to buy or recommend stuff that's represented by someone we like. That's why salespeople are so friendly and focused on "relationship-building." Most of us like to help other people out, so if we get to make a great purchase and help out someone we like, well what's wrong with that?

In psychology, we have the concept of "dual relationships." Yes, it goes beyond, "don't sleep with your clients" (although that's always a good rule to follow). The idea is that it's hard to objectively treat someone with whom you have a relationship beyond the doctor/patient one. Somehow the medical profession gets away with that, but that's a different blog post. The question that comes up is, can you be objective when your buddy has become part of the wine business and invites you to tastings?
Perhaps she's about to have a blind tasting? 

Hubby and I have encountered this question recently, and being the geeks that we are, have discussed it. Our friend Joe Herrig of fame (or infamy, depending on how you look at it) is now a rep for Global Imports. I think that's it. Or maybe that's a car dealership? Oh, right, Joe is a rep for Global Wines. Damn, he's not going to be able to hook me up with a BMW.

We got a first-hand taste of this a few weeks ago, when we dropped in on a tasting Joe was having at a little wine shop in Marietta. The owner, whom we'll call Mark, said that when Joe had first come by with samples of his portfolio, he didn't try any, but rather bought some without tasting because he knew and liked Joe. The point is, it was the relationship that sold the wine, not the wine itself, but it's going to be the wine that closes the deal later.  

Note: Somehow we didn't take pictures of the tasting referenced in this post, so the photos are from an earlier tasting with Joe. Here's Joe in his spiffy Hall & Oates t-shirt with jacket. I like the wine biz dress code.

Is this ethical? If Joe were a psychologist selling wines to his clients, no. In the business and marketing world, yes. It's a commonly accepted principle that it's relationships that make sales, and even if you don't close the deal today, they'll be more likely to come back to you tomorrow. Then you need a good product. Think about it: what if Mark had tried the wine and had a negative reaction (psychospeak for "hated it")? Then the product would have overshadowed the relationship, and indeed, we saw him be honest with one of the wines at the tasting that he really didn't like.

So there are two of the three elements of this potential influence: relationship and good products. The third is trust. Joe had been going into Mark's shop for three years before he started the wine gig, so Mark had gotten familiar with Joe's taste and knew they must be somewhat compatible with his. You have to trust the guy who's selling you stuff knows what he's talking about. That's actually the best way to figure out which of the many wine blogs to read – go with the bloggers whose tastes are most compatible with yours, not necessarily the experts who would turn their noses up at your favorite summer sippers because they're – gasp! – reasonably priced, mass-produced, from states other than the Big Four, or any of the other things wine snobs turn up their noses at.

This is getting complicated. How about we simplify with a totally non-validated, non-reliable psychometric scale upon which one should rate potential wine sales rep influence? Since we're less likely to buy from people whom we don't like, we'll have a negative end of the spectrum as well:

-5: You've seen each other with your clothes off and are no longer speaking.

 -4: Their kid beat up your kid.

-3: They snubbed you at an event or deliberately ignored your hints about samples because they didn't recognize you as a famous wine blogger.

 -2: Didn't seem happy to see you when you entered the tasting venue.

-1: Hate cats/dogs, and you're a cat/dog person.

0: No strong feelings either way.

+1: You call each other by your first names, and he/she is always happy to see you.

+2: They've hooked you up with samples, wine swag, or other cool free stuff.

+3: You've gotten together socially (e.g., outside of business contexts).

+4: They've watched your kids and/or pets for free, and you've watched theirs.

 +5: You've seen each other naked and are still speaking.*

Okay, so that's my totally non-validated, non-reliable scale. Maybe I'll turn it into a questionnaire at some point. Joe would score a +3, or moderate potential influence.  Note, I said potential.  Whether you're a wine blogger or not, it's always good to step back and examine how much of your perception of the wine may be influenced by the person pouring it. Maybe that's why some people remember wines in the tasting rooms as being much better than the bottles they bring home. Our minds are fun and complicated, and sometimes they can play tricks on us. Perhaps the mandatory FCC disclosure policy on sample products is a good thing, after all, because it at least makes us step back and consider these issues.

This was a really yummy Malbec we got from Joe's first tasting. It tasted as good at home as it did at the wine shop.

*Hubby's comment: "What happens at the wine blogger conference stays at the wine blogger conference." Hmmm, I may have to keep him on a shorter leash this year.

Art attribution, top of page: "Hypnotist and blindfolded woman with angels on stage."  Created by "The Donaldson Litho. Co., Newport, KY." [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Putting the luck back in Friday the 13th

Greetings, Ladies of Decatur!

In case you're looking like the family Easter bunny up there (that's my "nephew" Roger, btw) and need some girl time to recover from the holiday, you're in luck. The Ladies of Decatur gatherings are back, and yes, I realize it's not the first Friday this month, so, um, April Fool's! Actually, due to religious holidays and Decatur's spring break, it got shifted back a week. We'll be back on schedule in May assuming I don't have to go to Birmingham for a bridal brunch that weekend.

The place: The Marlay's outdoor patio
The time: 6:00 p.m.
The date: Friday, April 13th

Please comment below or tell me on Twitter (@RandomOenophile) if you're able to attend.

One small business matter: the Ladies of Decatur group doesn't have dues or a central budget, so please be prepared to pay for any food you order to share with the table. Thanks!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Brush with Greatness: the Selby Wine Dinner at Horseradish

This past Thursday, I decided to humor my tyrannical Fitbit* and walk to work so I could try to get my 10,000 steps for the day. That's harder than one would think. Apparently Georgia has decided to give tax breaks to movie companies, and Decatur was the site for the filming of a flick called Adult Children of Divorce. As a psychologist, I cringe at the title, but that's a whole different blog post.

Anyway, they're filming at No. 246 (pronounced two-four-six if you're wondering), and my path home takes me on the sidewalk right in front of the restaurant. They closed a lane on Ponce but still allowed people to walk on the sidewalk amidst the flotsam associated with movie production, mostly cords, random piles of stuff, and minions stationed every few feet to give passers-by the "don't even think about stopping, asking questions, or otherwise annoying us" stink-eye. So there I was, walking along trying not to make eye contact, and I passed within three feet of where Jane Lynch, yes, Glee's Coach Sue Sylvester, was getting direction.

That was a nice surprise, and she's not as tall as I thought she'd be, but the real excitement came that evening at Horseradish Grill by Chastain Park, where I had the pleasure of sitting across from Susie Selby at the Selby Winery dinner. Yes, the phrase "oenophile fangirl squee" applies. Sorry, Jane.

We've been in the Selby wine club since we first tasted there in 2005 and especially love the reds. Susie picked the reception wine to "support the wine industry" and chose one of my favorites: the A to Z Pinot Gris. When Jess lets me choose the wine tasting lineup at Java Monkey, I usually try to have a Pinot Gris from the Pacific Northwest on there because they're nice and crisp but with more fruit than the Italian ones. This one didn't disappoint.

Horseradish Grill has been on our list to try for a while, so we jumped at the chance to check them out and experience their version of upscale Southern cuisine. I have to admit that, excellent company aside, this was one of the most fun dinners I've ever had food-wise.

The first course, Fried Pimento Cheese & Grit Fritters served with country ham aioli and bread and butter pickles (THANK YOU, Horseradish, for not using the word "housemade" anywhere in that description) was like hush puppies with a gooey pimento cheese center. The pairing, 2009 Russian River Selby Chardonnay, gave me citrus on the nose and oak on the palate. This course was an example of how you can take two things I don't really like – pimento cheese and oaky California-style chard – and put them together to make magic. The cheese cut the oak back, and the textures complemented each other. And did I mention it was hush puppies and melted cheese?

Then the course that made everyone ooh and ahh: Georgia Quail and Waffles with sorghum and balsamic syrup. According to Foursquare, Horseradish is known for its fried chicken, and apparently they're good at frying other types of fowl as well. The waffles' dense, European-style texture, savory undertones, and pleasant crunch on the outside helped them surpass breakfast food status. The 2007 Russian River Selby Pinot Noir is big and fruity, and the pairing cut it back to resemble a more old-world style. Hubby thought the finish with the food was odd but liked both on their own.

The third course, Herb Marinated Lamb Chops served with farro with wild mushrooms and blackberry/mint demi-glaze, felt European with its combination of meat and fruit. As with the quail, people picked up the bones to get the last bits of meat off them, so it all felt very friendly and informal by this point. The 2007 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon had an earthy nose but lived up to the fruity and balanced expectations I had for it. It went well with the lamb and the chocolate cake on the surprise dessert sampler we got:

Yes, a wine that goes well with red meat and dessert. Sign me up! Oh, wait, I already am. We'll definitely be going back to Horseradish as well. I hope they plan to add the quail and waffles to the menu as a permanent fixture. Meanwhile, I'll be just as happy to walk through Decatur without celebrity sightings or dirty looks from the second best boy grip (or whoever they were)…at least until the next production company comes to town. When that happens, I'll just open some Selby and toast to a real celebrity who makes life better one glass at a time.

* Codependent bossy pedometer thingy. Srsly, it tells me when I pick it up in the morning to move it. In the evenings, it asks to be held and hugged. I'm not kidding about this.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

From the West Coast Correspondent: Red Blends from the 2009 Vintage

I'm pleased to present some new notes from Random Oenophile West Coast Correspondent James Bassett. We talked about this post during the recent Seattle snowstorm, so I applaud his efforts to continue his thoughtful wine drinking under such trying circumstances. Sadly, by the time we thought about him getting pictures of the wine bottles in the snow, it had started raining again. His notes and pictures are below (with some comments by me):

With the new year, a bevy of 2009 blends are hitting the market. How do they compare with the 2008s? Read on to find out!

2009 Six Prong Red
Columbia Valley, WA
68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot
Spicy blueberry and currant aroma leads into deep rich cherry, strawberry, and plum flavors; plenty of strong but subtle tannins support woody spice and licorice notes that wrap around a long oaky finish.

2008 Goose Ridge “G3” Red Blend
Columbia Valley, WA
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 24% Syrah
Oh my goodness! A cherry and cedar nose with an oaky backbone, luscious dark fruit explodes in the mouth (figuratively!) with black cherry, plum, and boysenberry riding high on a wave of vanilla, tobacco, and spice into a long, long, rich cola-y finish. Why was this only $9?!? And why didn’t I buy more?

2008 Kennedy Shah La Vie En Rouge
Woodhouse Family Cellars
Rattlesnake Hills AVA
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec, 9% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot
Medium-bodied but surprisingly spicy nonetheless. Front-loaded with dark fruit, mulberry, raisin, and oak, it evolves through caramel, vanilla, and toast into a tannic cola and coffee finish, still dominated by that powerful spice, with a bright hint of alcohol.

2009 Desert Wind Ruah
Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, WA
Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and Merlot
This medium-bodied Bordeaux blend starts out full of tart red currant and tannins, followed quickly by black cherry, strawberry, and vanilla that pick up those tannins and run with them into a long, very smooth and balanced finish.

R.O. Note: I tasted the 2008 vintage of the Desert Wind Ruah as part of the red speed tasting at the 2010 Wine Bloggers' Conference. My notes were as follows:

Desert Wind
2008 Ruah: 46% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc
Retail: $20
Fruity, coffee nose; big fruit, a little chewy with buttery finish
Guessed hot, right with 14.5% ABV

2009 Winemaker’sRed
Maryhill Winery
Columbia Valley, WA
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc (sourced 75% from Milbrandt Vineyards, 25% from Gunkel Family Vineyards)
Bright and oakey, this one starts out with a sweet and smoky cherry nose. The bright ripe cherry remains dominant on the palate, but cassis and licorice creep in around the sides, and the finish even adds pepper and . . . nutmeg? Or have I just had too much pumpkin pie? A rich wine, but medium-bodied and delightfully easy to drink. Maryhill was the 2009 Washington Winery of the Year.

R.O. Note: We visited Maryhill after the 2010 Wine Bloggers' Conference and were impressed. A link to that post is here.

2008 Mélange Noir
Waterbrook Winery, Columbia Valley,WA
33% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 11% Malbec, 7% Sangiovese, 11% other varietals
A dark, deep purple, transmitting almost no light at all, this wine looks like it would be perfect for Halloween! And with aromas of heavy black stone fruit, spice, and cedar it smells quite deliciously forbidding, too. Well, don’t be scared -- although fruit-heavy with plum, tart cassis and red currant, and black cherry, along with spice, oak, and a even chocolate and a hint of lemon in the finish, this wine is big and tannic in the mouth yet somehow remains medium-bodied. Not exactly delicate, and rather tight in the finish, but still quite nice. Just prepare yourself. . . .