Sunday, November 29, 2009
Disclaimer: the wine I'm writing about in this post was given to me as a sample from the very smart and handsome folks at Two Friends Imports.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the Dynamic Duo. They're the Gruesome Twosome. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, meat and potatoes, catfishing and MGD, pulled pork and coleslaw, cocaine and Lindsay Lohan, football and chicken wings, and/or Ponch and Jon. Yeah, you know: your favorite CHiPs, keeping the highways safe, the streets clean, and the ladies frisky. And they do it in perfect harmony with one another...Erik Estrada's powerful and undeniable machismo paired with Larry Wilcox' smooth-as-Parkay, California-surfer cool. Power and Smoothness. Sounds like Cab and Merlot to me.
Okay, this is gonna get weird, so bear with me. Let's say you take Ponch and Jon and combine them into one entity. Cab and Merlot so often work together in the wine world, so it's not too much of a stretch. Now let's draw a very odd metaphor, calling this single entity "Larry Appleton" (aka Mark Linn-Baker's character on Perfect Strangers). Sure, Larry was neurotic and not quite the milk-drinking stallion you'd expect from a Ponch/Jon love child, but the metaphor has to work. Why? Because you then take this Cab/Merlot/Larry Appleton creation, and throw a proverbial Balki Bartokomous into the mix: Vranec. Awkward on the surface (and difficult to pronounce), this pairing, in the end, is really a case of "perfect strangers" (see, it all came together neatly...sort of).
Such is the 2006 Bovin Alexandar. A proprietary (basically, meaning I don't know the percentages) blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vranec from the Tikves wine region of Macedonia. Thanks to the generosity of Two Friends Imports, I've been able to post about Macedonian wines a couple times: here talking about Cab and Chardonnay, and here talking about a varietal Vranec bottling (and Ravishing Rick Rude). Overall (especially for the price points), I've been pretty impressed at all the Bovin offerings, and I'd not hesitate to purchase them for serving to friends or giving as gifts. That's an honest opinion, not a sell out. I'd hope my integrity's worth more than a $13 bottle of wine (okay, barely).
In the snout, I got some serious barnyard at first. Barnyard, aka "horse blanket", aka "poop", is not really a bad thing in wine. To me, it's an expression of terroir, and it's something that can be pretty common in "old world" (meaning "European") wines. Shortly after, that barnyard blew off a bit and opened up very pleasant smells of blueberries (something I get from Merlot a lot), blackberries, cassis (basically, the smell of Cabernet Sauvignon), earth, charcoal, dark cocoa, and spice. I also got this really distinct smell of concord grapes, as if I was smelling a glass of Welch's grape juice. Sure, it doesn't sound very impressive to say a grape-based spirit smells like grapes, but I'm not a very impressive person. It was there, okay? Get off my back.
In the mouth, the wine was very dry, with restrained flavors of black fruits (blackberries, plums, etc.), with some pepper mixed in. It was pretty smooth, but structured with some tannins (courtesy of the Cab and Vranec, no doubt). It was actually pretty austere and reserved in the mouth, and a little hot (alcoholic) and bitter on the back end. Although I drank it alone (as in without food...okay, I was by myself too), the wine's subtleties told me that it would be very good with a meal. Preferably a meal with meats. Tasty red meats. The kind your doctor tells you not to have all the time. He's probably telling you not to have wine all the time, either, so binge all at once, then go eat a carrot or something.
So, once again, Bovin brings some nice value. For a bottle priced in the low-to-mid teens, you could blow the lid off of a California wine with a marketable name. If you're into big, fruity wines (Red Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet), the Alexandar will certainly be a change of pace. However, the more you get into wine, the more you may appreciate more elegance and terroir in your glass (especially if serving with food).
Distribution's still pretty sparse for Macedonian wine, but if you're in Atlanta, you can find Bovin Alexandar (and other wines) at The Mercantile, Cheers Beer & Wine, and Your Dekalb Farmers Market. You can also ask for it to be ordered at Whole Foods or Harry's Farmers Markets.
If you're well-heeled and get to eat out (I'm pretty much no-heeled at this point), ask for Bovin at Vinocity Wine Bar in Kirkwood or Parker's on Ponce in Decatur- what I'm told is a very good and locally-owned steakhouse (I'd have more info if I'd been there...refer to "no-heeled" comment).
Bottom-line: if you get your hands on some of this wine, you may do the "Dance of Joy" (it's a Balki thing). And I will toast you: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Friday, November 27, 2009
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the belly. No, wait...that doesn't make sense." -Joe Herrig
Let's call it a week ago (giving myself a 3 day cushion), Hardy of dirtysouthwine.com hosted the first inaugural Popeye's spicy chicken and wine pairing challenge. The premise? Five "expert pick" wines chosen to best compliment the coup de gras of crunchy, spicy, greasy, juicy, tasty picnic-time goodness: fried chicken. No sweet tea. No lemonade. Chicken, taken out of its comfort zone, as if Detective John Kimble himself- shanghaied from the mean streets of Anywheresville, USA to pose as a kindergarten teacher in Astoria, Oregon. Out of the awkward circumstances, comedy ensues, but comedy with a heartwarming message.
But my intent here is not to recap the wines or the chicken (or Kindergarten Cop, for that matter). Jolly good summation can be found here and winetonite.com and also rowdyfood.com. Besides, let's agree that a recap ten days late is just bad journalism. Rather, I choose to emphasize the importance of this unusual pairing. As fried chicken was taken out of its familiar setting via this challenge, so was wine. Historically (at least in the States), fine wine is found upon the table of the well-heeled. It is paired with steaks, chops, and haute cuisine. To bring together blue-collar country cooking and the drink of the aristocracy is- needless to say- non-traditional. And breaking down those barriers is incredibly important.
Despite the great strides that have been made by folks like Gary Vaynerchuk and- yes- Hardy Wallace to "bring wine to the people", most folks I know are still pretty intimidated by what is essentially grape juice. Taking the unfamiliar and combining it with what is so commonplace to everyone (except silly, silly vegans), and- furthermore- making it work, well, that's just another bottle's-length towards the realization that wine is meant for everyone, from foie gras-nibbling socialites to (where I often feel more comfortable) the "chicken crowd". This movement is often referred to as the "democratization of wine", and it needs to continue. We bloggers will do our part, but a true democracy is owned by all.
What's next? Wine & Doritos? Port and Pork Rinds? We may be flirting with disaster, but dammit, it's for the greater good...
...and I'll bring the hot sauce.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
"Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day." -Robert Caspar Lintner
While I'm always thankful for some many things: a wonderful wife, loving family, great friends, good food, good drink, and ample frivolity, I never want to take for granted the folks who keep me inspired to keep writing/creating/eating. So, thanks so much to all of you for stopping by my little piece of the cyberweb from time to time...
...and what shows gratitude better than meats frying? Meats frying to AC/DC? You got it!
Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sometimes, we all get a little overloaded. Tons going on at work, and tons going on in life at home. Not bad stuff, but enough to make it difficult to get all the writing in. Them's the breaks, or brakes, or...honestly, I never really knew what the hell that saying meant. That's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess. What about those "Soft Batch" cookies? They don't crumble.
Crap. I guess you get the point. Life's hitting on all cylinders in most aspects, and writing has taken a backseat, at least in the past week.
So, rather than deny you- the valued reader (the singular is not a personal touch addressed at many readers. It's addressed to you: my one reader)- the colorful hijinks and gastrointestinal discomforts afforded by regular posting on suburbanwino.com, I thought I'd be productive and ask for some feedback. Hey, I'm a marketing goon by trade, and a middle child by birth. I need attention from the audience once in a while.
I've been trying to keep my posts shorter and incorporate more video on the site. If you like this, please comment. If you'd like me to stick to writing more, please comment as well. If you don't care, please comment that both (or neither) are fine. If I'm not doing something on the site that I need to be doing, let me know as well. If you are a nihilist, I expect no comment, because you believe in nothing.
In the meantime, eat turkey, feel perky, and come back soon, as I expect to put off household projects during the Thanksgiving break and nerd away on the computing device. Why? Because I care...albeit sporadically.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Eloquence is not my virtue. A golden tongue I have not. Yet the specter of "Wine Blogging Wednesday #63" hovers over my clumsy fingers, my clouded brain; as if the Angel of Journalistic Death himself- scythe at-the-ready to tear blue language and plebeian vocabulary asunder from the hallowed institution of writing.
The writers' charge (as dictated by Rob Bralow of Wine Post): summon one's muse. Let inspiration and contemplation guide one's pen, not the pursuits of brevity, efficiency, and urgency. And the object of such carefully-crafted discourse? Wine; yet, not just any wine: one perhaps as elusive as that cursed muse himself. The bottle that has caught one's eye; one's desire; but not one's taste, touch, or smell. A cask worthy of such lofty lexicon.
At my task's infancy, one revered name leapt to life immediately, as if that rascally muse's frolic had already commenced. The Greatest wine of Northern Italy, the unrivaled champion of the Piemonte region, had too long evaded my grasp; it's lavish pedigree too distant for my pauper's billfold. But- alas!- it rested in my careful hands, under calculated strain of the corkscrew: a bottle of 2004 Rivata Barolo. Nebbiolo-based wines had crossed my lips before, even the heralded offerings from Barbaresco. But Barolo...just the utterance of the term commands reverence.
With glass' stem tended carefully in my eager hand, I probed the welcoming bowl of ruby-hued elixir with snout. Pleasure oft unmatched met my senses; a vibrant, elegant bouquet flush with plump red cherries, bright strawberries, tart cranberries, and pronounced flourish of rose petals. As the perfumed nose further danced upon my olfactory receptors, I detected tantalizing undertones of black licorice, malty caramel, milk chocolate, toffee, and roofing pitch. Even the slightest hints of toast and herbs manifested themselves, if only a figment of my now-inspired imagination.
Spending what seemed like hours enveloped in the wine's luxurious aroma, my lips, tongue, mouth, and gullet groaned in protest. Consumption could be parried no longer, despite nose's selfish intentions. And on to my thankful mouth, who's patience was rewarded with an initial shock of tartness, folding itself into intense flavors of the aforementioned berries: this time, raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries. The velvety mouth-full of tangy fruit soon transformed itself into a powerful blast of peppery spice, eventually fading into a bitter, dark chocolate-y finish, as the wine's substantial (but impressively interwoven) tannins captured my now fully-submissive senses...
...senses left wanting more. For as swiftly as the onslaught to the pleasure centers of my brain began, like a symphony, a soliloquy, or a setting sun, it was all soon but a forgotten memory. Once within my grateful possession, the source of my muse's call has escaped me. How to put into words what is no longer present?
Eureka! Another glass awaits. Another symphony. Another soliloquy. Another stroke towards inspiration's sly reward.
...damn, that was hard.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
As football season winds down, I feel both saddened and exhausted. The team hasn't quite pulled it together this year, but I know they've worked hard and given it their all.
In the same way, some of us fans feel that we need to pour every ounce our ourselves into the gameday experience. A proper tailgate is one of the finest things on earth, but arriving at that end is an arduous labor of love. I certainly don't put on the finest tailgate in town, but suffice it to say, I've put in my share of hours the Friday before and the Saturday during. People ask me, "why all the work?" Quite simply, I love it.
So here's my tribute to all those who can't think of anything better in the world than busting their butts to make Saturday memorable: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Someone you know- at the office, in your building or neighborhood, next to you on the plane- has probably sacrificed for your safety. Whether the cause was one you agreed with, those exacting that cause were (and are) put in harm's way with the intention to keep you out of it. If you see someone in uniform at the airport or know someone who served, please stop and say "thanks".
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Few things in life elicit more jocularity that a tailgate party. Yes, jocularity. On another note, isn't black supposed to be slimming? This is clearly not a very flattering angle for my usual 6-pack-o'-abs.
In a brilliant move, the hosts of the tailgate distributed fake moustaches. I'm glad Heather doesn't normally have a moustache. Is it spelled with an "o"? I'm getting a spell check red squiggly, but I'm sticking with my guns here.
Does the can itself state the obvious? This was perhaps one of the worst things I have ever put in my body. Yes, including "Burger King". I finished this vile concoction of formaldehyde, flat ginger ale, and grain alcohol in the hopes of good karma for the team. I'm surprised it didn't make me go blind. After watching the abomination of a game, I wished it had.
The only good thing I saw in the stadium: a random GREENMAN sighting. Outstanding.
After tucking tail and returning to the beach house, my buddy The Cheese was kind enough to treat me to a Unibroue "La Fin Du Monde". This Quebec brewery makes some tasty high-gravity beers. If you like champagne, this one tastes like it. Seriously. Perhaps a secondary fermentation in the bottle created the intriguing bread-and-toast flavors. Really worth a try.
Is the brewery's name pronounced like "unibrow"? That's funny.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Late-night dance parties often result in next-morning headaches. While I make it a point to limit drinking (and dance parties, for that matter) on "school nights", the Georgia-Florida week is clearly an exception. So, mustering my best self-medication, I arrived at fried food and a cold drink to assuage the cobwebs and jackhammers in my head.
Some friends and I found a little waterside seafood shack just north of St. Augustine called Cap's on the Water. We plopped down on the huge, heavily-shaded deck, looking out over the intercoastal waterway...beautiful view of the water and those fortunate souls arriving for lunch via boat. I don't think I've ever arrived anywhere via boat. Does an innertube count?
The menu at Cap's was pretty typical for this part of the world: fried shrimp, raw oysters, grouper, mahi, and flounder sandwiches...all staples if you're visiting the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas down to North Florida. Good stuff. But I opted for something pretty regional: fried alligator tail. Not only is it tasty (think chicken nuggets), but I always feel like I'm striking deep at the heart of the infidel when about to play Florida. Their mascot is a gator (a vile and disgusting creature, by the way), and I'm eating gator. It's like I'm eating their mascot. Who can maintain high morale with a mascot recently consumed by the opposition's fan base?
Yeah, this is how my brain works. Pretty f-ed up, huh? Anyway, I paired the crunchy gator nuggets with a cold draft Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The crunchy, salty batter, the tender meat (which can be difficult with generally-tough gator tail), the sweet-spicy sauce, and the cold, hoppy-bitter beer knocked it out of the park. And the combo also ate my hangover. I eat the gator, the gator eats my hangover. Circle of life, my friends.
Now, one would expect fried seafood and cold beer at a "fish camp" restaurant. One of the most surprising things about Cap's, though, was the wine list...over 400 selections. In fact, Cap's has received the Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Though I didn't have any wine, I was pretty impressed with the list. Gotta say it: many restaurants are all about a "consistent theme" in decor, menu, and wine list, but I really love that a place like this; one that you'd never expect to be a wine mecca, decided to bring the funk with a killer wine list. Another victory for the so-called "democratization of wine". Well done, Cap's. I shall return.
I'd go on to tell you about the rest of the day, but you can just read my previous posts. I wanted to give Cap's on the Water a proper "tip o' the cap" (pun intended...zing) anyway, and not dilute the post with more- excessively more- stories about wine in a can.
So I'll raise my glass to good snacks, a love of wine, and any psychological advantage for my team I can conjure: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Cheesemongers worldwide are spitting on the ground in protest. Actually, I don't think cheesemongers worldwide are reading my blog. I've realized my painfully sore neglect for the "cheesemonger" demographic. This ain't helpin'.
A beachside feast of redneck proportions. No, it's not the Franzia "Chillable Red", but the (sarcasm font) Vintner Select Merlot really had a boozy goodness that paired exquisitely with the cheddar-flavored goop, high in tasty fats. But were there Triscuits? You bet your sweet ass there were Triscuits (not pictured).
And so went beach-day Thursday. The canned wine phenomenon was in full effect, as my friends and (shamelessly- this was an experiment) myself indiscriminately consumed boxed wine from cans, allowing for maximum flailing of limbs and expressive hand-gestures...wine in a standard glass simply would not weather such flamboyance. Furthermore, a gaggle of out-of-shape guys playing horseshoes on the beach with glasses of wine in hand is- needless to say- disturbing at best. We were living a secret life of class and sophistication, slipping in and out of the fraternity of unsuspecting, beer-drinking beach dwellers.
Eventually, such significant disregard for personal well-being in this manner led to a need for sustenance beyond what a singular can of cheese whiz could provide. Having in my possession a 16" Lodge cast iron camp oven, a bag of fresh-caught red snapper from a friend, and a repressed urge to create, I went to work on a paella (or sorts) for the troops:
Seafood (Sort of) Paella:
2 lbs. Linguica, Chourico, or any other spicy cured sausage, in 1/2" slices
1 T Olive Oil
2 large Yellow Onions, chopped
3 Red Bell Peppers, sliced
8 cloves Garlic, minced
3 lbs. Red Snapper filets, or any flaky white fish
Blackened Fish seasoning
8 Plum Tomatoes, seeded an pureed
1 cup Dry White Wine
32 oz. Seafood Stock
2-3 tablespoons Spanish Paprika
2 lbs. Yellow Saffron Rice
2 lbs. 20-25 Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 dozen Littleneck Clams, scrubbed
1 cup Italian Parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
My not-so-organized mise-en-place
1) In the hot cast iron, rend the fat out of the sausage (with a little bit of olive oil)...should take about 7-8 minutes.
2) Spoon out any excessive grease. Add the onions, peppers and garlic, salt lightly, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
4) Add the fish (which has been coated in blackening seasoning) and brown in the hot fat for a minute or so on each side.
5) Add the wine to deglaze the pan. Scrape the tasty bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon.
6) Add the stock, tomato puree, and paprika. Bring to a boil.
7) Add the rice, parsley, clams, and shrimp, return to a boil.
8) Lid the pot, kill the heat, and let the rice steam for 20-25 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE LID FOR ANY REASON!
9) Once the liquid is absorbed by the rice, fluff with a fork. Salt and Pepper to taste, and enjoy, my friends!
So, the reason I'm hesitant to call it "paella" is mostly because of the cooking technique. By nature, paellas are made with any sort of ingredients. But the namesake of the dish is based on the word for the pan itself. Usually, the rice on the bottom of the special pan is supposed to be a little burnt, creating a crunchy texture for the dish. Not having the pan handy, I improvised. Let's face it: everyone had been drinking canned wine all day. I didn't exactly get shaken down for bastardized technique.
For the wine, we thankfully put the Franzia on the shelf for a while and went with some Spanish whites:
René Barbier Catalunya Mediterranean White NV: a crisp, clean, high-acid white from the northwestern corner of Spain. Likely made from a combination of Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-Lo grapes, it citrus, mineral, and stone fruit flavors were refreshing. Oh, and it retails for about $6 (this is what I used for cooking as well)
Marqués de Cáceres 2007 Rioja: from the Rioja region of Spain (known for Tempranillo-based red wines), this white made from Viura grape (another name for Macabeo) had similar flavors, but with a little evidence of possible oak influence. The pricier of the two (barely), it retails for around $9.
Full of good food and good wine, the crowd naturally progressed to an inevitable dance party. The dance party- anchored by the funky sounds of Herbie Hancock- evolved into the "Gettin' Weird" dance off. At this point, would you expect anything less?
To gettin' weird: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Sometimes, you have to commit the most heinous of sins. Call it experimentation. Wasn't that the excuse when your folks busted you with that joint in your bedroom? Regardless, the deed was done. The crime committed. Might as well talk about it.
And why is that bottle of Dom sitting in the middle? Is this picture trying to compensate? Fits in like Ted Nugent at a Phish concert. "Hey, brah. Wanna try a raw-food vegan burrito?" Oh, and that sexy '99 Dom Perignon was emptied by the time we got there. Sunuvabitch.
I know...I'm filibustering. Time to get to the point and explain these boxes of wine. The wife and I arrived at our rented beach house with a group of friends for the annual matchup between our beloved Georgia Bulldawgs (the spelling is correct) and those despicable rednecks from North Florida- the Florida Gators- whom elicit more venom from me than does a box of Argentinian Merlot from Louis IVX. Anyway, the trip came hot on the heels of a recent conversation with a fellow wine lover about what they're drinking in Europe- namely, France. In the states, wine aficionados (okay, nerds) generally bite their thumbs at bulk-production wine. Yes, it's a huge seller here. Yes, more wine comes out of California Central Valley (think jugs, or "cannonballs" of wine) than anywhere else. But- surely- the noble French would NEVER drink such swill, would they? They drizzle their pancakes, er, croissants, er, crêpes, er, cigarettes in Chateau Latour and La Tâche, right? Wrong. In fact, 40 to 50% of the wine produced in France is designated vin de table (source http://www.terroir-france.com/), or "table wine", and it's produced in incredible bulk, often simply labeled as vin rouge or vin blanc and sold by the gallon in grocery stores. I was even told that there are "filling stations", where you take an empty jug and fill up out of wine spigots. And to think we stateside have been drinking from stupid old water fountains. European sensibilities prevail again.
For this reason (among others), we really wanted to see if we could drink like most of the world drinks wine: down and dirty and on the cheap. Well, I'm afraid my palate's been spoiled. The Franzia Merlot (sourced, interestingly enough, from Argentina) was incredibly fruit-forward on the nose, with an overwhelming smell of "fake" fruit, sort of like Hi-C fruit punch or Juicy Fruit gum. In the mouth it was too easy-drinking and too fruity (to the point of perceived sweetness) with little-to-no structure and a short finish. The Target-brand "wine cube" of Cab-Shiraz wasn't much different, if not slightly better. Very fruit-forward, a hair more tannic, but barely. I probably wouldn't have distinguished the two blind.
All the snobbery aside, it was not the worst stuff I've ever had, coming from either box. I think back in my novice days, I would've preferred this flavor to a structured beast from the northern Rhône or Bordeaux or Napa. And, we had some folks there who don't normally like to drink wine, and they thought it was not bad, leading to comments like, "hey, I might have to give this whole wine-thing another try sometime." I think that's a baby-step in the right direction.
So, if you're still here (I'm sure some folks came to this site for some wine advice, saw boxes of wine, threw salt in their eyes, and banished my suburbanwino.com to the land of wind and ghosts), I hope my explanation is valid. I think true wine appreciation is not only being able to distinguish what is good, but also having the discipline to reinforce what you don't like...usually gained through tasting poorly-made wines. Even more critical, though, is the need to keep in touch with the wine world as a whole, and understanding what most folks on earth are drinking gives one a more "worldly" knowledge of the culture of wine.
And if all that sounds like a bunch of malarky, then watch this episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia ("The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention"). Sometimes, the pursuit of humor trumps discriminating tastes, and drinking wine out of a can is hilarious (more on that later).
Now I ask you to raise your glasses, bottles, boxes, and cans...to wine being accessible to everyone: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Disclaimer: Some of the images you are about to see (boxed wine, excessive use of viking helmets, Halloween costumes, "Beer :30" malt beverages) may be disturbing.
Come back soon for explanations of all. The stories generated by the greatest weekend (okay, week) of college football are too many and too entertaining to squeeze into one post. As a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll start this year's memoirs off with a loquacious bang. Sláinte!