Monday, July 27, 2009

Bombs over Negotino: Macedonia and the Dirty South, together at last

Refreshing, full disclosure: the wines tasted in this post were samples provided by the fine folks at Two Friends Imports.

Macedonia. Just the whisper; the mere utterance of the word makes any wine lover go "huh?" Yeah, we all think of France, Italy, Spain, and Germany in the grand pantheon of European wines, but rarely this small Republic that was once part of what made up Yugoslavia. Odd we don't know anything about this wine region: while the "big four" have been under vine since the Roman times, the folks in Macedonia were kicking viticulture when the Greeks ruled the world- long before Julius Caesar got worked over like a pack of smokes at an A.A. meeting.

So, with all this history of winemaking, surely they'd be making some good stuff? Well, the locals are certainly giving it a go, especially in the Tikveš‎ region, near the town of Negotino. How 'bout a handy map:

View Larger Map

Here, in the central part of Macedonia, they're dealing with primarily a "Mediterranean" climate (read: hot and dry), which is perfect for grape-growing. Along with popular local varieties like Vranec, they're growing many "classic" varieties, such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, thanks to the intrepid efforts of the guys at Two Friends Import Co., we've got these unusual wines in Georgia (thus, the clever Macedonia/Outkast theme of the post. Li'l Jon would've also been acceptable, but I didn't know how to say "YEAH!" in the local tongue).

Anyway, I got to dunk my whiskers into a couple bottles over the weekend, and here's what I thought:

Bovin 2008 Tikveš‎ Region Chardonnay: Bovin has been making wine since 1998, and they're currently producing about 80,000 cases annually. Among those, this 13.7% ABV Chardonnay.

Nose: Lots of fruit: cantaloupe, ripe apple, pineapple, grapefruit, plus a VERY pleasant honey-butter aroma, and just a hint of oakiness and minerality. I'll tell you, I'm not generally a big fan of Chardonnay. Too often, it reeks of oak and vanilla, and this just masks fake-smelling fruit flavors...probably why the cheap stuff is served ice-cold so you can't smell the shame. But this nose is just pretty...everything is balanced and subtle (but definitely there), and- dammit- it just WORKS, at least for me.

Taste: Admittedly, my smellin' notes are usually better than my tastin' notes. We'll give it a go anyway. This wine is silky, with flavors of lime, buttered (slightly burnt) toast, and grapefruit. The finish was nutty (almonds, maybe?), and I counted to 20 before I couldn't taste the wine anymore. I thought it was a little hot (alcoholic) on the finish, but overall, things were in nice balance. I even came back and drank some at room temperature the next day, and things were still balanced and there was no evidence of was actually incredible the next day.

Verdict: knowing that this wine retails for under $15, it is an ABSOLUTE STEAL. There's so much underwhelming Chardonnay from California at that price point (or more), and this drinks much more like a $25-35 bottle. That's one of the great things about lesser-known countries: good quality for a great price. If you see this one, pick it up, and snag a bottle for me, you handsome devil.

Bovin 2006 Tikveš‎ Region Cabernet Sauvignon: At 13% ABV, I expected this to be lighter-bodied. However, coming from a region that regularly hits 104° F, I thought I'd get something that kicked me in the teeth. Frankly, I was torn on what I would get. Luckily, that mystery was about to be solved.

In the glass, this was one of the lightest-colored Cabs I've seen in a while. It almost looked like a Pinot Noir.

Nose: Heinz 57, raisins, pickles, black currant, herbs, creamed corn, and a serious kick of raspberry sorbet. Trust me: this nose looks weird, but it's really cool to get all sorts of interesting things out of the aroma. The nose was really bright and rustic. Didn't remind me of Cab so much, but it was still quite pretty. Basically, between the color and the nose, this wine would've kicked my @ss in a blind tasting.

Taste: I wrote down "Cab for Pinot lovers." It was a little dull and flabby (as in "lacking acidity") at first, but I think this is just because I've come to expect big flavors, tons of tannin, and high alcohol from a Cabernet. The flavors were there: mostly berries and dark fruit. But the tannins were so soft; more like a new world Merlot. I feel like I could drink this on a hot day and not sweat my face off (the usual, flattering side-effect of me drinking a heavy red wine). It's officially "summertime Cabernet," and while it really threw me off, once I took it for what it was, I enjoyed it a lot more.

Verdict: Not quite the freight-train that the Chardonnay was, but a nice wine that I would take down with some roasted chicken (or by itself). Also priced in the teens (I believe... someone please correct me if I'm wrong here), I think you could do a lot worse.

My final analysis: if this is the first stuff coming to the states from Macedonia, we've got a lot to be excited about. This quality, at these price points, is exactly how you can still drink good wine in a tough economy. But most importantly, it's great to try new things. You can really surprise yourself sometimes and find some gems. And if you buy a bottle of Macedonian wine (click here for a list of spots in Georgia), someone in that country will probably do a dance...and I bet they've got some pretty sweet dance moves there.

Until next time, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Sparkles with only a few Shekels

With all due respect to the coup de gras of elementary school hangouts growing up in suburban Atlanta, this post has nothing to do with Sparkles Roller Rink, where I first crafted my lifelong mastery of being awkward and unattractive to the opposite sex (my re-imagination of the scene: "get a load of the guy with the matted hair and the sweatpants playing "Altered Beast" in the tamales!").

Actually, I can't believe it's still around...lots of memories; none of them memorable.

But like I said, this isn't about my repressed sources of social anxiety. Today, we talk about sparkling wine, often- mistakenly- referred to as Champagne.

Sure, I know that came off as snobby. I assure you I'm about as snobby as the lonely kid playing video games in the corner of a roller rink while the pretty girls skate with that jerk Tommy Olsen, what with his new Members Only jacket and penchant for wedgies. But I just need to clear the air (apparently on many issues). Champagne is a region in France. Like most French wines (or most European wines, for that matter), wines are named for the region, not the grapes or has something to do with their sacred concept of terrior (pronounced "tehr WAH"), but that's another post. Sparkling wine, however, is a catch-all term for the myriad styles of wine that simply have bubbles. How the bubbles get there, well, also another post. Looks like you're saddled to a gravy-train of content, coming to a poorly-thought-out blog soon! Bottom line: if it says "Champagne" on the bottle, but doesn't say "product of France" also, it ain't really Champagne. I guess it's the same as taking farm-raised Thailand shrimp and selling them as wild-caught U.S. gulf shrimp. Basically, it's lying for the purpose of marketing, so that may be why people get so "snobby" about it.

However, sparkling wine is made in almost every wine region in the world. Furthermore, due to the overwhelming popularity of French Champagne, many of these regions are making great stuff, but aren't charging a lot as they try to get established in the consumers' minds. Yep, I smell bargains too. I decided to grab a few bottles from 3 major wine regions in the world: Spain, Italy, and Germany. I also decided- mainly because this is a labor of love- that I'd try to find bottles that were under $12. If you want to try them, I conceded to the big-boys and bought these at Total Wine. Without further ado, here they are, and here's what I thought:

E. Soria Prosecco Spumante NV: For anyone new to wine out there, the "NV" stands for "non-vintage", meaning that this is a blend of wines from different years, which is pretty common in sparkling production. Anyway, this wine is from Italy, and it's made from the Prosecco grape. Generally known as a light, simple quaff, it's not meant to be complicated, and I found this one to fit that profile. Refreshing and not overwhelming at 11.5% ABV, I got pears, a little bit of apricot and other stone fruit on the nose (think peaches, nectarines), and some floral notes. It tasted of crisp, tart appless and more of that apricot. I was a little disappointed at how quickly it lost its fizz, but that's too be expected, as it's made in the charmat method, creating larger bubbles that- subsequently- take carbon dioxide out of the beverage more quickly. All-in-all, nothing special, but it's not meant to be. Just an easy-drinking warm weather cocktail that won't hurt your wallet.

Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserva NV: In my opinion, the best of the bunch (and, to my delight, the cheapest, at around $8). Cava, a term designating sparkling wines from Spain, really is a great bargain. Made from the Parrellada, Macebeo, Xarel-lo (and increasingly, Chardonnay) grapes, this wine brings serious value because it is made in the Método tradicional- or "traditional method"- meaning a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, creating the smaller bubbles naturally (and smaller bubbles stay "fizzy" longer!). Furthermore, the contact with the yeast during secondary creates tasty flavors of bread, biscuits, and toast. I got those slightly in the mouth, along with a mixed bag of tart apple and almonds. The nose suggested a heavy dose of Chardonnay in this blend, as I got apples, butter, and toast. It also delivered an 11.5% ABV, just enough to put some "hitch in your giddyup." Not an earth-shaker, but at $8-9, it's hard to beat. Try it with some raw oysters and live the good life on a "suburban wino" budget.

Henkell Sekt "Trocken" NV: "Henkell" is the brand, "Sekt" is the term for sparkling wine in Germany, and "Trocken" simply means "dry". Tomorrow, we'll learn how to say "is this a snowball fight?"

This wine, like the other two- had 11.5% ABV. It was probably made in the charmat method like the Prosecco, and in the same way, it lost its fizz pretty quickly. At first, it didn't smell like anything, but when I came back later, I got some faint scents of stone fruit and a little bit of "biscuitiness", as my notes say. Actually, the nose was pretty similar to the Prosecco in my opinion (this isn't too surprising, as cheaper Sekts are often made with grapes from Italy or France). In the mouth, I wasn't too impressed. It tasted almost like cheap, alcoholic ginger ale...maybe Vernors? At $12, it was probably the worst for the money, but- quite frankly- I enjoyed it just fine as the night went on. Like the prosecco, it was uncomplicated and ended up being enjoyable. Perhaps it was just a little disappointing after the fuller flavors of the Spanish Cava. Hey, it was a lot better than Cook's.

Whether I liked them all or hated them all, I hope you give all of these wines a try. Not only will you be experiencing a whole new world of sparklers, but you'll also be trying something you maybe haven't tried before. To me, that's what's so addictive about wine....hundreds down, millions still to try. Just don't try them all at once.

Oh, and if you're a pretty girl at the roller rink, and you see the nerdy kid in the sweatpants playing video games, go grab him and get him out on the rink. Who knows: he may grow up to be a lowly-paid wine writer someday. Actually, you probably shouldn't be reading a blog about alcohol in that case. How'd you find this site?!

Anyway- until next time, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

GUEST POST! The Wussification, Castration, and Consternation of the American Man

Disclaimer: the opinions presented here are not necessarily the opinions of That being said, they are going to either entertain you or anger you greatly. I love when my friend Brad- aka "Wild Hog"- writes a guest post, because I know, if anything, it's going to be passionate and visceral. And while it's not about food or wine, it's probably a discussion sparked by a little too much of both.

As for me, I'm taking the night off. Cheers! -Joe

Good, now that we have gotten that out of the way it is time to get back to the “Hall of Justice”.

I have been contemplating the ills of our society and what possible solutions their might be.

I will start with one of the roots that lead to our wussified society….. Political correctness. Really,…… On a date (well, a hook up) recently the lovely young lady that was allowed the pleasure of enjoying my company was upset when I referred to the three gay guys that live next door as my “Gaybors”. This is a term that I coined 6 years ago when I purchased my home soon learning that I had 3 gay guys living next door. She was offended by this term and proceeded to lambaste me. People figure it out! They’re gay and neighbors. It’s not an insult, it’s a fact. Chastity Bono is not a guy because she cuts off her boobs and digs chicks. But our politically correct government says “Oh yes she is”. B.S.! No amount of mechanical man junk changes your sex. People don’t fall prey to this stupidity! Life is black and white! Don’t allow your children to play sports where there are no losers. This also means there will be no winners. Seriously, dodgeball is gone and “Rope free” jump roping is part of physical education now. We are not preparing kids for life. There is no work-free job or rewards for just showing up.

My jump rope...

Secondly, some of you may not have heard but Michael Jackson passed away. Yes, I know, just terrible. And evidently more important than the collapse of our economy and the wars our boys are fighting. This man (refer to the previous paragraph, he was technically a man) allegedly had inappropriate interactions with children. His supporters say he is innocent until proven guilty. Really….. these donkeys are the same people who believed that “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. Donte' Stallworth was freed after 24 days in prison after killing a man in March. Part of the lighter sentence is a direct result of his coming to a financial settlement with the family before his trial. Nice sell out, literally. The parents of the children that “The King of POP” allegedly enjoyed “Jesus Juice” with- and who knows what the hell else- are just as bad. Good job, you donkeys. You sold out your children’s soul for a few shekels. Or, at least, you trained your child to lie in the first place for your own personal gain. Either way, your first mistake was the one that we know you made. You let your child spend the night with a man that bought “the elephant man’s bones” and refers to himself as “Peter Pan”.

Why are you fruitcakes so enamored with this man’s life and death? Instead of running to TMZ every 5 minutes, why don’t you study NAFTA for that allotted time and start studying the candidates for the next election.

Cowardly Punks.

Now last but certainly not least, if you have or have had any of the following (or dated someone who did) it might be in your best interest to just stop reading now:

1. An Ed Hardy T-Shirt (or Affliction)
2. A faux hawk (Colored or frosted tips with Gel)
3. Tattoos on your neck, face, or small of the back
4. A picture of yourself kissing to the camera.
5. And yes AXE Body spray.

FORGET IT, SCREW YOU!! Read away; maybe you’ll learn something.

It all started several years back when one beautiful young lady (not the one pictured) realized there were almost no real men left in this land. Her sadness and desperation led her down a dark path filled with over-tatted puffs that wore women’s clothing. This was the birth of the “Metro Sexual”. The Metro (like all things douche) would evolve and eventually have a bastard child. This child was hideous! It smelled of Axe body spray, had really bad tattoos in even worse locations, gelled hair with frosted tips, and enjoyed the benefits of HGH and gold chains with crosses on them hanging down on their cleanly shorn chests.

Not to fear! Our people made a deal with their king. Yes, the mastermind behind Von Douche and Ed Hardy. The king’s name was Christian Audigier. The king promised to mark his subjects with slightly tilted hats with straight brims and yes… yes.. shirts with ED HARDY and Affliction written on them. The treaty was made and until now our side has sworn not to break it. That was until recent matters forced action …..our breed is in danger. This new über-race of metro is now intermingling with our women. That’s right…. This sick, terrible abomination has now begun to infect our people. They can be seen interacting with our feminine prizes at locations like East Andrews and Tin Lizzy’s.

Now, it is time for our people to rise up! That’s right… Go out right now and get a can of Copenhagen, a pair of Levis, don’t shave (anywhere, except possibly your face), open the door for your lady friend (be a gentleman, not a donkey), and these actions will strike a heavy blow for our side. If you start to feel weak, I have a few tips that will help you continue in the good fight:

-Rent “The Quiet Man” Starring John Wayne
-Have a sip of Jack Daniels (with water, not Diet Coke and lime, you Sally)
-Revisit the incredible lives and times of two great American Men! Mr. Pat Tillman (and while you’re at it, have a Guinness in his honor) and Mr. Bob Kalsu (Google him, you Mary!)

Good luck out there. I wish you the best. Oh… and by the way if you disagree with any of this, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.


That is all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pork & Cork

I'm working on some combinations for something called "Wine Blogging Wednesday," coming up in a couple weeks. You can read more about it at the host's site: Wannabe Wino. Basically, a bunch of wine nerds/ blog nerds like myself (some even nerdier than me...those who know me will find that hard to believe) write on their sites about a certain theme. Then, the host compiles all the posts, and everyone is exposed to a bunch of different wines, opinions, new sites to read, etc. You know, yet another one of those good ideas I didn't invent.

Seriously- jerk who invented the motorized riding cooler- that was mine. MINE!!!

So anyway, the theme for this upcoming WBW is "I have Zinned," an homage to America's grape, Zinfandel. Definitely one of my favorites, and one of the easiest wines to drink...despite alcohol levels often exceeding 15% (why so high? read about it here). I especially think a tasty Zinfandel, with all its jammy fruit and peppery spice, goes great with BBQ, particularly if it's slathered in a sweet & spicy sauce. And to all you BBQ snobs, let me clear the air and say sauce does not great BBQ make. But, if it is used, it's often good with Zinfandel. Get off my back, John Q. McPurist.

While not ready to unleash my wine/food pairing for the upcoming event, I thought I'd try some grilled pork and some Zin together to see if I could get the creative juices flowing. Behold!

Let's be honest, if not slightly creepy: those grill marks are damn sexy.

Chops: pretty solid. I brined them overnight in a mixture of apple juice, salt, brown sugar, Crown Royal, onion powder, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, and allspice berries. Then, I dusted the outside with smoked paprika and rubbed down with olive oil. Cooked on a hot grill for about 3 1/2 minutes per side. A little salty- I'll back it off a bit next time- but absolutely THE way to go with normally-bland pork chops. If you only take one thing away from this post....BRINE. BRINE. BRINE. (okay, that's 3 things)

Oh, that's broccoli in the background. Thought I'd try grilling broccoli. If you enjoy aweful, huge-embarrassing-failure-type dishes, then grill your broccoli. Oh well, can't figure out it sucks until you try it.

Now, time for the wine. I thought I'd open a 2006 Kokomo Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. I've liked the stuff these guys have made, and owner/winemaker Erik Miller is a pretty nice fella, to boot. Here's the wine:

SUNUVABITCH! The wine was corked. And I don't mean "corked" as in it had a cork in it. No such thing would elicit crude, blue language out of a golden-tongued socialite like me*.

*denotes sarcasm

The term "corked" is something many of you have probably heard. It's the smell of trichloroanisole, more commonly referred to as TCA or "cork taint". Without getting all "Mister Wizard" on you, it's basically a naturally-occuring fungus that can get into cork. When the corks are cleaned with chlorine for sanitation purposes before bottling, the fungus- if present- reacts with the chlorine, forming TCA. It's an incredibly powerful compound, detectable in parts per trillion. If you don't know how much a trillion is, check out our national debt here.

Although harmless, TCA can render your wine worthless. It robs the wine of pleasant aromas, and presents a damp, musty room, wet dog, wet cardboard, etc. Furthermore, it can make the wine incredibly dull tasting. Basically, without sugar-coating it, TCA is a bunch of bullsh*t.

But, hey, it happens. One of the reasons why you're seeing a lot more screw tops on high-quality wine these days. Regardless, I don't think less of the folks at Kokomo, and I certainly don't think less of Zinfandel. I'll just have to crack another bottle and keep trying...

...until then, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Leisure Sport: Folly of the Redneck or Savior of Society?

" men from LSU; went in dumb, come out dumb too; hustling 'round Atlanta in their alligator shoes; getting drunk every weekend at the BBQ...We're rednecks...we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground."

-Randy Newman, "Rednecks"

An all-too-common site at a Saturday cookout in the suburbs.

If you listen to all the lyrics of this (extremely) satirical song, the ubiquitous "southerner" is portrayed as a racist imbecile. And while Newman correctly implies that prejudice exists everywhere, the perception of the drunken, ignorant Georgia/Alabama/Mississippi boy persists. However, as cities (like my beloved Atlanta) are becoming more and more cosmopolitan, I sense a rift manifesting less between the North and South, and more between city-dwellers and the "aw shucks" yokels living in the suburbs. Indeed, if this hypothesis has no truth to it, wouldn't I have something better than an Applebee's as a dining option? ...strategically placed near my suburban home by the expert marketing minds in the city centers; demographic reports dictating my palate can handle nothing more exotic than "extreme fajitas". Marketing Exec: "Brilliant! You've done it again, Jenkins. Let's go celebrate with a microbrew and some tapas!"

So the question is posed: despite all my banter, are we suburbanites really fighting the good fight to combat this barrage of undue judgement from the urban scholars, transcendentalists, and marketing goons? Well, no. We're not- especially the part about "getting drunk every weekend at the BBQ." Sometimes, there isn't even a BBQ. Not even BBQ potato chips- or crisps, as they're sometimes termed.

Yet, like the complexity of salty snack-nomenclature, there is much more to the story here. Indeed, while the intellectuals spend their weekends pontificating on the plight of the commoner and deriding the aimless pleasure of us "lessers", we in the 'burbs are slowly SAVING THE WORLD with, yes, leisure sports.

"Bat Hunter" Ben Hagood expertly tosses a cornbag, the proverbial grenade of the leisure sport generation.

What is a "leisure sport", you must be asking? Leisure sport is simply the athletics of the nonathletic. Horseshoes, cornhole, ladder golf, beer pong, foosball, table tennis- all offer the thrill of competition without the unpleasantness of physical exertion. Furthermore, all can be played with beer in hand; some would say an essential element of qualifying for "leisure sport" status. And while is often a wine-centric blog, the entities here concede that beer is the drink of choice on a hot, leisure-sport-Saturday.

Leisure sport: where the obviously-nonathletic can experience the thrill of competition.

But besides sparking the flame of competition for those who probably rode the pine or managed the equipment in high school, these games are needed as a critical piece of the human social network, especially in the suburbs. In a place where fences are erected as if Pat Buchanan were the governor of New Mexico, folks can too-often sink into hells of solitude...all with neighbors within 5-10 feet of their homes. Such anti-social behavior potentially creates rampant xenophobia; creepy, unwelcoming homes around Halloween; and trench-coat mafias. If you don't buy this, keep in mind that American Beauty was written by guys in the northwestern Atlanta suburbs...about the northwestern Atlanta suburbs. Yes, it seems at times that everyone is paranoid and fearful and waiting to be robbed, mugged, or raped. Fear and isolation is a powerful cocktail...

The most violent occurrence in leisure sports: a fierce wildcat impression from a not-so-fierce competitor.

...Bringing me to the whole, profound, "Saving the world" point. When great friends, along with new friends and neighbors, can get together for a day of games- cook some food, have a few cocktails, laugh and enjoy human interaction- well, that's pure conviviality at its apex. I've always tried to make a point that food and drink can bring people together, and it has for ages. No doubt, sport can too. I suppose the Olympics wouldn't be the spectacle they are otherwise (although I'm a little miffed why beer pong isn't yet an Olympic event). So this is why we're acting like buffoons: drinking and laughing and enjoying each others' company on the weekend. We're interacting; we're being human, and we're surely not causing any harm doing it (besides perhaps irreversible damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain). So call us idiots and drunks. I know this: while we're coming together as a human race with the help of food, drink, and sport, one of the critics is loading bullets in a gun. Which deodorant are you buying?

Becky and Kansas: gracious hosts emeritus. Also, wearers of stupid t-shirts.

So I want to take a moment to thank the Becky and Matt "Kansas" Draytons of the world, who go out their way to put on "Señor Kansas' Dia del Torneos" every year. To Michael Blank, founder of the "Blankmasters Fishing Challenge"; to Karla and Dave Zisook for their annual "Brews & Shoes" horseshoe tournament; and to all those out there who are firing up the grills, icing down the drinks, and putting together the tournament brackets. You've not only given our binge-drinking and cholesterol-gorging a greater purpose, but you've brought people together; people who will no longer isolate themselves and eventually demand that the "lotion be put in the basket." You- my friends, along with your leisure sport tournaments- are saving the world. Take that, city-slickers.

Big smiles and Wolf-shirts. A sure sign you're participating in leisure sports.

What says "love your common man" more than putting his face on your shirt?

Not a frown in sight. Thank you, leisure sports.

Until next time, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Was settling in to a night of writing away, perhaps single-handedly redefining the word "profound"...

...the phone rang, and I was offered free wine. I obliged. What followed was several bottles and a gamut of terrible movies. Hours later, light-headed and quite tired, I attempt to keep you- the precious reader- entertained.

I thought of the perfect title for the hot merging action of good wine and bad movies: Wine & Cheese. Since I am incapable of providing my usual 1000 words, I offer only a teaser. Sláinte, and I bid you a good morrow:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oh Sherry

"You shoulda been gooone!!"

Yes, I should've been gone. Gone from the (ugh) "blogosphere" and studying my butt off for the CSW exam.

-"blogosphere" is about as appealing a word as "staycation" or "Dallas Cowboys"-

To my chagrin, my test date has been postponed indefinitely, leaving me in proverbial limbo. In a strange way, I really feel like Steve Perry (left). Should I take the prudent route, stay with Journey, continue to make hits (or in my case, study), or should I blaze my own trail; strike out on my own for a chance at greater fame and fortune, release Street Talk and bank my solo career on a tune called "Oh Sherrie"?

Well, I can't sing, but I hope to shine bright as a writer, so- like Perry- I've put together my own masterpiece, only it's about Sherry, not Sherrie.
Pretty sweet explanation about where I was going with this post, huh?

Well said.

[Shake it off] Onto Sherry. I'll be straight with you: before delving into a world of wine obsession, I hadn't given Sherry much thought. Really, any fortified wines for that matter. To me, they were nothing more than cheap, sickly-sweet beverages made from what the winemaker had left over; dosed with so much sugar to hide the crap underneath (to illustrate this point, think about how much sugar you used to dump in the "Hunch Punch" back in college...). Even when I started my training for the CSW certification, I figured I'd glance over the fortified production section before it bored me to death. Indeed, fortified wines were like Journey's new singer, Arnel Pineda- already written off before even given a chance.

However, once one gets into studying the fortifieds, he realizes that these are legendary, time-honored beverages, marked by particularly painstaking and expensive vinification techniques (don't get me started on solera systems). In fact, they used to be the most popular in the world, and it makes sense. Fortification creates a higher alcohol content, thus better-preserving the wine. When your wine had to sit on a ship for 3 months, you'd want it as preserved as possible. Port, Madeira, and of course Sherry, were favorites of the British, and when the "sun didn't set on the British Empire", it likely didn't set on fortified wines either.

Sadly, as with anything popular, low-cost options started to flood the market. Cheap "cream sherries", bad port-imitations, and others hit the bargain bins, and people who could once not afford the pricey authentics thought they were getting a piece of the action. Left unimpressed by these imposters, they wrote off the whole genre. To this day, fortified wines seem to have fallen out of favor, relegated to the dusty bottom-shelves of many package stores.

But it's time for a renaissance, and we'll start with Sherry. Made in both dry and sweet styles, sherry hails from the Spanish town of Jerez, from where the beverage gets its name. Both dry and sweet styles utilize the Palomino grape, and there are also sweet examples made from the Pedro Ximenez grape. Sherry is also generally classified into 2 different styles: fino and oloroso. Olorosos are fermented to dryness, then fortified up to 18% abv for aging. With the high alcohol level, yeast die and the wine is exposed to oxygen, thus oxidizing the wine and giving it a distinct character. Finos, while also fermented to dryness, are fortified only up to 15.5%, a level which keeps yeast alive, creating a "cake" on top of the aging wine (called flor, shown in the barrel cross-section to the left), protecting it from oxidation. In addition to offering a shield from the elements, the flor also imparts a unique flavor to the wine. In the case of the Gonzalez Byass "Tio Pepe" Extra Dry Fino I'm drinking right now (about $15 at a local store), the aroma can be described as, well, moldy and least at first. Nonetheless, this initially off-putting (but interesting) nose turns into something incredible...

I get the smell of caramel apples. Crazy caramel apples. It takes a minute. The mustiness is still there, but suddenly, my olfactory memory picks up the smell of tart, granny smith apples covered in caramel. I feel like I'm at the carnival with an LSU corndogs, though (hee hee; a little college football-rivalry humor to the uninitiated). Mixed in with the the smells of basement, apples, and caramel is also a bunch of nuts; as if that caramel apple was dipped in a bunch of crushed nuts, then thrown into your grandma's basement with all those creepy dolls.

Now the taste. This thing smells like it's gonna be sweet, but BANG! it's completely dry. Musty and tart flavors dominate, and the finish is full of almonds. I really didn't know if if liked it at first, but it's just so damn interesting that it grows on you. I then figured it out: this is wine for scotch drinkers. The apple-y aromas, the nutty finish, the high alcohol. If you like scotch, you'd probably hop on the dry Sherry train.

So let this be the first of many posts to bring the fortified wine back to relevance. They were once loved by all, then forgotten, but in the immortal words of Steve Perry, "Oh [Sherry], our love holds on. Hold on."

Until then, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

May Malbec Tide You Over (Until the Exam is Done!)

I'm gonna level with you: I don't like to put up half-assed posts. I like to give them some thought and either:

1) Teach you something interesting

2) Make you laugh

Hopefully, both! After a day of analyzing market data reports, it's amazing how knowing you educated and/or entertained someone- even one person- can bring you back to levity. This is why I strive to bring good content to the table everytime I post, and why I cry myself to sleep in the fetal position every time I slap something on the page without effort (see my previous post, awesomeness of the picture notwithstanding).

However, after my review session for the imminent Certified Specialist of Wine Exam (culminating 18 classroom hours and 12 weeks of study), my confidence has been a little shaken. So, admittedly, I'll be focusing much more on studying this week, and need to take off the blogging cap, which I imagine- for no particular reason- looks like barbershop quartet hat.

Tonight, I was focusing on Argentina. As many of you know, one of the grapes that has really taken off in Argentina is Malbec. In fact, more Malbec is planted in Argentina than anywhere else in the world. If you looking for a good one, I'm partial to Catena (Catena Alta when the money tree is in bloom) and BenMarco; both of which can be found in many retailers. These wines are big and ripe, with great cocoa/coffee and dark fruit flavors, high acidity, and good tannic structure.

But, did you know that Malbec is originally from France (surprise, surprise)? It's been an integral, but not major part, to many Bordeaux blends, and has a home in the region of Cahors, where it's called "Côt" (pronounced like "cut"). And- what do you know?- I happened to be drinking a Cahors tonight, made from the Malbec grape, which has flourished in Argentina, also which I happen to be studying at this moment! Surely, I planned it that way.

Okay, I didn't. I'm not that organized or clever. But I do think I hear The Police playing "Synchronicity" somewhere in the background.

Now, remember how I hoped you would learn something. Let's assume you did, because the comedy-level of this post is about on par with a pre-vasectomy testicular shaving. Anyway, I suggest that the next time you want to drink a Malbec (and everyone seems to be these days), try one from Cahors. The label won't say "Malbec" on it- it'll just say "Cahors"- but you'll know it's Malbec, because you are now smarter. If you're looking for one to try, how 'bout this one:

Okay, sorry I couldn't get Ansel Adams to take the freakin' picture. I'm getting a new camera. Give me a break.

2006 Marquis Rocadour Cahors

Price: $12.99 at Total Wine & More

100% Malbec, 12.5% Alcohol by Volume

Nose: Blackberries, leather, mocha, and some strawberries. After it's sat out for a while, the initially tight nose has really opened, and I'm getting a lot more of the berries, plus some nice mint and a hint of blueberry

Taste: Good acidity (suggesting it'd be good with food), really tart; perhaps some not-quite-ripe plum, and definitely some tart raspberries. The finish shows a nice tannin structure that is balanced with the acid. I also get a little strawberry cream, then coffee on the finish.

Food Pairing: Okay, it's not profound, but I think this would kill with a nice aged N.Y. Strip. Probably even better with grilled lamb chops.

Music Pairing: Because it started off slow, but really hit its stride after some time, drink this while listening to "Green Grass and High Tides" by The Outlaws. If you disagree, I'm just starting out with this "wine/music" pairing thing, and welcome your suggestions.

So, I hope this post showed some effort, and either educated or entertained. Unfortunately, it will be the last until next week. In the meantime, I've got to go back to the wine-mines and keep chipping away. Hopefully, next time I talk to you, I will be a CSW!

Until then, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Another Incredible Tribute to America

Thanks to my buddy Cheek for this picture...simply amazing. I'm trying to continue to post stuff this week, but most of my time is being spent studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam Sunday. I'll get back on the trolley after that. In the meantime, a masterpiece:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

An couple enhancements for your browsing pleasure

If you run through my posts now, you'll notice that they all say "Read more..." at the bottom. For some wacky reason, I was told by my wife that I was too long-winded on some of my posts. Remember grade school? I used to LOATHE the notion of writing a 5-paragraph essay. Now I can't seem to keep it under 10 million words.

For this reason, I've done two things to hopefully improve your coveted* "Suburban Wino Experience" (*sarcasm again):

1. As I mentioned, I've truncated the posts, so you can click "Read more..." to get the whole thing. However, I'm still working on the code, so even complete, shorter posts on the main page say "Read more..."- sorry to temporarily bamboozle you like that. I'll get it fixed once a javascript guru checks my work.

2. I also widened the page, so you won't have to deal with very tall, narrow columns of text. Until our country is official taken over by China, I will not require you to read north-to-south.

Anyway, I hope all this makes the site easier to navigate and read. If these changes cause any problems, PLEASE slide me a comment and I'll address the problem. In the meantime, I need to get back to some serious posts (not these slacker ones).

Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

Friday, July 3, 2009

As American as Apple Pie-flavored White Lightnin'

Preparing to run the annual Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta this weekend, so my consumption of tasty foods, sturdy beers, and fine wines has been somewhat curbed, replaced by fruit smoothies, rooftop Tai Chi, and- of course- heavy dosings of delicious oxygen. Sadly, my purge has left me little material for a proper post, as pertaining to the usual subject-matter.

That is, until I realized it's the 4th of July (almost)! I wanted to post something distinctly American. But more critically, I wanted to cut corners and post a video that expresses my love for my country in lieu of words. The this end, I must thank the heavens for this gem from the Dancing Outlaw (an absolute MUST SEE). This clip, in my humble opinion, captures the essence- nay, the raw and raucous spirit- of what it is to be American. Happy 4th, and may all your Mud Balls be patriotic!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Liquid Inventory

Warning to English professors: this post jumps between 1st person and 2nd person with reckless abandon.

My wife and I have been fighting. Viciously fighting: tooth n’ nail, biting and scratching, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan 2x4 to the back-of-the-head in a no-holds-barred Texas cage-match fighting.

With each other? Heck no! We are the picture of love and affection, as evidenced by an impressive catalog of photos like these:

Such upstanding citizens. The image is blurry from all the class and sophistication.

Rather, we’ve been fighting against the notion of an “economic downturn”. I’ve tried to adhere to the proviso that these bad times are a self-fulfilling prophecy, and if people hear enough news about how tough things are, they’ll come to believe it; thus hoarding all their money, not spending, using credit recklessly, and eventually pulling out of the pipeline, taking valuable business with them.

And so, we spent. We ate out at fancy joints like Denny’s and Taco Bell- whenever we wanted! We lived high-on-the-hog, using real shampoo instead of dish soap. We stopped wearing burlap potato sacks with arm and head-holes for clothing. In the immortal words of Big Ernie McCracken, we were “on a gravy train with biscuit wheels”.

Most lavishly, I got in a heroin addict-like habit of buying 10-12 bottles of wine each couple weeks. Needed to try new things (absolutely still true), and the wine store could be a veritable All-You-Can-Eat Calabash Seafood Buffet of irresistible variety. We expanded our palettes, emptied our coffers, and had a great time doing it. Livin’ to the nines, my friends. The nines.

But- alas!- Heather’s stupid company bought the hype and decided to cut back, big time. She was left a victim of the tattered insurance industry, and we were left with a nice portion of our income in limbo. With this went the fancy meals, the “FDA approved” hygiene products, the actual clothing. Most earth-shattering, though: the shopping spree du vin, gone. Poof.

Desperately, I’ve taken inventory. All that we seem to have left are somewhat pricey bottles that were to be saved for special occasions. How could we possibly quaff these down on a Tuesday?! But then, it hit me: 99.9% of the wine out there is not meant to be stored away for ages. Unless you’re talking serious Grand Cru Burgundy, top-growth Bordeaux, or Italian monsters like Barolo or Amarone, that wine you bought- whether for $5 or $50- was probably meant to be consumed within 5 years. You spent the money. Why deny yourself the pleasure of a great glass of wine?

So that’s what we’re doing. What started out as a dire situation has manifested itself as an incredible treat! We’re going to be saving money by drinking $30-40 wine, whenever we want. Normally skittish, I would’ve run to the store for a cheap “everyday” drinker in the $10-12 range. But now, faced with tough times, we will happily resort to doing with what we have. And we’ll do so thankfully. Let’s face it: there are a lot of folks out there having a real tough time, and I’m complaining about only having nice wine to drink. I think I’ve official had a “douchebag moment”...

...unless I wrap this one up right: I hope everyone can be thankful for what he/she has. Don’t take anything for granted. While the key point of this whole “Suburban Wino” thing is to help bring wine down to level (it really is just a food product: not to be put on a pedestal, accessible by only the rich and snobby), I also want to emphasize its role in celebration. And hey, if you’ve got your health, good family or friends around, or at least some real shampoo, who’s to say every day can’t be a celebration? So drink up, and take a little time to appreciate the little things that get us through, whether it’s your birthday, your anniversary, Saturday night, or Tuesday morning...

You probably shouldn’t be drinking wine on Tuesday morning. At least not red wine. Stains your teeth.