Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ashy to Classy: The Wine Blogger Dinner

Obviously through some clerical error, yours truly got invited to an Artesa wine dinner at Bone's Restaurant the other week. For those of you not from Atlanta, Bone's is an institution: incredible steaks, totally old-school, great service, massive wine list...the place you'd go for a big-deal power business dinner, to take Mom out for Mother's Day, or to bring a date if you think you're gonna score, justifying such a lofty bill.

And they wanted me there. Invited me. Fo' free (take that, lawyers looking for my "DISCLOSURE" statement)! Maestro, cue the theme from "The Jeffersons".

Kidding aside (I know that's tough for me), I really appreciate the invite by Artesa's folks. They've reached out to the blogging community, wisely deciding that they're marketing need not be limited to Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, etc. While I have tremendous respect for the knowledge and the palates at those heralded institutions, they're hitting a pretty tight demographic. Many of my readers are wine folks, but the other many are folks who just want to read something during the day when work gets boring. They drink wine, too, and might be influenced more by a non-threatening blogger than a rather intimidating tome of the wine aristocracy. By the way, this latter group is a sampling of who most people are. And those people spend a lot of money, even on wine. See what I mean?

But back to the story. As this was a blogger dinner, I had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with local like-minded oenophiles (please don't take "like-minded" as an insult): Ed from Wine Tonite! (becoming a regular on the "Suburban Wino" scene), Kevin from Atlanta Wine Guy (who- to my chagrin- is probably the #1 wino in Cherokee County), and Elizabeth from Wine For Normal People (a lovely dinner companion and conversationalist who knew her stuff and didn't seem in the least bit unnerved by my signature crude and uncouth disposition). And yes, we all rubbed elbows. Literally rubbed our elbows together in a circle. I thought is was a little weird too.

Anyway, I've linked to all their posts about the evening, put out in a timely fashion. Me? I like to come in late for all the scraps. Call me "mantis". Great job to whoever gets that one.

Supposedly, there were other bloggers there. I didn't meet them. I didn't talk to them. I was too busy making eyes with an enormous plate of lobster claws, king crab legs, and shrimp the size of Andre the Giant's fingers. Outside of wondering what constituted adultery as I ogled this mound of regal shellfish, I hoped I would get some whites that had enough body for the sweetness of the lobster, but still a good whip of acidity to brighten the subtle flavors. What followed was a veritable orgy of Caligulan Rome-proportions:

Lobster, King Crab Legs, Jumbo Shrimp on ice, served with the 2008 Artesa Chardonnay Carneros and the 2007 Artesa Reserve Chardonnay Carneros. The former had really pure fruit (Chardonnay, being prone to manipulation, can often taste too much of oak), a good balance of oak, and enough acidity. The latter- which experienced more new oak aging and sur lie aging (sitting on the dead yeast)- was a powerhouse: big flavors of butterscotch, more breadiness (?), and more tannin. I thought I could definitely drink this with a steak. Damn good, but I preferred the '08 with the shellfish.

Kobe Beef Carpaccio with 2007 Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros and the 2007 Artesa Reserve Pinot Noir Carneros. While raw Kobe beef needs no accompaniment, these fruit-forward Pinots were not totally unwelcome. Both of these 100% Pinot Noirs had nice cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors, but the Reserve really stole the show here. I got some smells of root beer and fennel on the nose, and this beast was clearly more extracted. It had a pretty serious tannin structure, and- as brand manager Tim Shippey noted- it was not quite ready. However, snag this one if you see it. Set it down for a year or two, then get ready to turn on some Ronnie James Dio and rock out. Tasty wine, friends.

N.Y. Strip, Spinach, Whipped Potatoes with 2005 Artesa Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Ridgeline Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ("Ridgeline" being a sister property of Artesa). As usual, by this time, my notes become non-existent as I was fully absorbed in the experience. We all know steak and Cab go together swimmingly, and either of these would fit the bill. The Alexander was a bit softer than the Napa, but both expressed the prevailing fruit-forward style, but with enough balanced acidity and tannin to get busy with a dry-aged piece of cow. I recall leaning towards the Ridgeline Alexander, but I would kick neither of these off my table.

I'd say I was satisfied. Call it a night. You've done it, guys. You've wined and dined me enough.

"Hey, I've got some single-vineyard Cabs in my car," says an increasingly mirth-some Tim. "You guys wanna try them?"

And so we did (who turns down free wine, and single-vineyard at that?). While these wines are sure to be outside of the everyday price range of a lowly suburban wino (around $75, according to Elizabeth), they were a rare treat. The 2005 Lone Pine Vineyard (Alexander Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Standing Bear Vineyard (also Alexander) Cab were damn good. The former, comprised of 81% Cab Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc, was softer and more aromatic than the latter- a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're looking for a special-occasion wine that is- quite frankly- cheaper than many Napa/Sonoma single-vineyard Cabs, you could do a lot worse.

Fully; overly satiated, I boogied on out of there, dreaming of future dinners. I want to give a big thanks to Artesa; to Tim Shippey; to new winemaker Mark Beringer (formerly of Napa powerhouse Duckhorn)- from whom I anxiously await great things; and to you, the reader, for getting to this point in what has become an incredibly long-winded post. I love you guys. You interpret that how you want. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Tomorrow (which is practically today...I need regular sleep patterns), I will find out what the sex of my unborn child is (our first). Very exciting time. Betting pools will be paid out, nursery colors will be decided, and we'll finally be able to quit calling it "it".

I always figured that I'd buy a Jeroboam (that's 4 750-ml bottles worth) of nice Champagne for the birth day (sometime in June), but then I thought (as I often do...some may argue that's a lie), "maybe I need to get a celebration bottle for the boy/girl thing..."

So, I was wondering, oh 3 loyal readers: what's the prototypical "male" wine and the corresponding "female" wine? Red Bordeaux vs. Red Burgundy? Zinfandel vs. Pinot Blanc? If the kid is a hermaphrodite, do I need to buy a Rosé?

Just fishing for ideas and suggestions. I think this could be a fun experiment to see how everyones' thought processes go down. Points for creativity, humor, and reasoning.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Classic Pairings 103: Syrah-lence of the Lamb

PETA advocates, raw foodists, and vegans need not apply. As Bourdain often says [paraphrased], "if you're slower than me, dumber than me, and tasty, then you're fair game."

No truer statement could be made about the glory that is lamb. And while I'm not here to argue the land speed record of a galloping lamb or challenge said beast to a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit, I can say with full, experienced confidence that it is mighty delicious...

...okay, no more defending the virtues of eating red meat. It just seems...well, a little creepy. Seriously, I'm starting to feel like Jame Gumb over here (better know as Silence of the Lambs' "Buffalo Bill"). "Would you eat lamb? I'd eat lamb..." (somewhere faintly in the distance, I think I hear Q Lazzarus' "Goodbye Horses").

We're derailing. Focus, Joe! Anyway, there's something about lamb: the richness of the red meat, the slight gaminess lent to it from the presence of lanolin; it can stand up to just about anything. Then, slather the lamb (in this case, the tender but more affordable leg) in herbs, garlic, and spices, roast it to a crusty exterior in the now-infamous Showtime Rotisserie, and it just begs for a table on a cold winter's night, paired with a wine equal in robustness and machismo.

Syrah (otherwise known as "Shiraz" in parts of the New World, especially Australia) is a wine dominated by complex bouquet, intense flavors, massive tannins, and- at times- absurd alcohol levels that shame Hannibal Lector's wimpy Chianti and overpower those outmatched fava beans.

My victim- er- wine choice for this pairing was a 2004 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage. This AOC in the Northern Rhône Valley of France (a Syrah hotspot) is know for wines that are complex, elegant, powerful, and yet more approachable in youth than big shot neighbors Hermitage, Cornas, and Côte Rotie. Furthermore, at a very reasonable 12.5% ABV, I had confidence this bottle would work well with food, rather than suffocate it with alcohol (and I've had Aussie Shiraz at 16%+).

Bottom line: the wicked nose of pepper, smoke, flowers (perhaps violets, but I don't exactly know what a violet smells was floral, okay?), plums, blackberries, and meat- yes, roasted meat, progressed into a mouth-filling flavor of fruit, herbs, and more pepper. The tannins (which usually dries your mouth out and/or makes it feel "fuzzy") were pretty smooth. What pleased me the most was the good dose of acidity, giving the juice freshness, and making my mouth water for food... particular, lamb fat. Yeah, the meat was good...medium-rare, juicy, flavorful; the crust of black pepper and crushed garlic and sea salt and Herbes de Provence got busy in a PG-13 sorta way with the herbal, peppery nuances of the wine. But all those smooth tannins and acidity just CRUSHED with the melt-in-your-mouth, velvety veneer of lamb fat (and we're talking R-rated plus, folks). Perhaps you just had to be there. The richness of the lamb, the spices, and the all-of-the-above of the Crozes. Man, this might've been the best food/wine pairing in the universe.

So, to try and sum this up: Syrah and Lamb are a classic pairings for reasons that can barely be defined by words. You just have to go try this one. Come on over...I'll cook it all again. I don't care about lotion in the basket. I don't care if you're a size fourteen. I just want you to experience this combination. Yes, it may be an obsession, but it's probably not one that will land me as a character in a disturbing movie.

Speaking of disturbing movies, check this out (actually, I have to boast that I think this is my best work yet. Cheers!):

Bordeaux Wine: Sooo Three Years Ago

Out of style? Hardly. I was just talking about the 2007 vintage. Bordeaux, like so many of France's wine regions, is as classic as it is timeless. Like the one-button Tuxedo jacket of the wine world. The James Bond. The 1 lb. bacon, egg, n' cheeseburger, sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwich-buns...

Okay, bad example. Not a classic. But worth a picture at a nearby table, when Ed from Wine Tonite! and I ended up at The Vortex for some serious burgers (not this serious). Alas, that was the end of the evening... began at a tasting hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (disclaimer: I was invited as a member of the Society of Wine Educators). We got to taste from among 80+ châteaux from the Bordeaux region*, including the Médoc, Graves, Sauternes, Barsac, St. Émilion, and Pomerol. Not too shabby for a snot-nosed kid from the sticks.

*Baby Steps: Bordeaux is a famous wine region in Southwest France, known for some of the most expensive and long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines, as well as some of the richest (in more ways than one) sweet wines from Sauternes. The red grapes allowed in this region are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec (called "Côt" here), and Petit Verdot. The white grapes allowed are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.

My (extremely brief) impression of the vintage was that 2007 made for some very approachable wines. Some Bordeaux vintages are built to age for 20, 30, 50+ years (like 2005). These, although still having some grip of tannin (particularly those from Pauillac and St. Estèphe, suggesting aging potential), showed good fruit, and I felt many were ready to drink (some of the Margaux and St. Julien in particular). And the Sauternes and Barsac....[insert Homer Simpson-style gurgling noises here]. Incredible noses of honey, apricots, and ginger gave way to the wines that I just couldn't manage to spit out.

Anyway, you can find much better detailed glimpses into the tasting at Wine and I and Wine Tonite! I- however- felt I would best do this tasting homage by taking some clips and dubbing them over with sassy electronica...Sacrebleu!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Preyed Upon by Infomercials

Remember this snake-oil salesman?

Yes, it's Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, and crown-prince of spray-on hair, food dehydrators, and the Showtime Rotisserie, a device whose 3 AM infomercials have surely given many a college stoner a food-motivated stir in the britches.

Shamefully, I too fell victim to the sweet siren's song of cooking a whole turkey, baby back ribs, hot dogs and sausages for the whole neighborhood....oh...I'm hyperventilating. How could I survive without this ultimate kitchen gadget?! Set it, forget it, and become the champion of the kitchen: envied by men, and adored by women for my roasting prowess.

This was eight years ago. I saw a deal online...$99 bucks, and I would become an Iron Chef in my own mind.

Needless to say, it was used a couple times, then boxed up; set aside; shunned for years and years. But, like a phoenix from the ashes, we pulled the rotisserie out of mothballs this weekend and thought we'd give it another go. I'd procured a few bottles of freshly opened, then recorked Bordeaux (disclaimer: I got these as part of a tasting hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux...more on that later). While Cab is often a little hefty for roast chicken, I found these 2007 Bordeaux to be quite approachable, and I had chicken at home. What? You think I should've gone out and purchased something more appropriate? Who am I? Charles Montgomery Burns? I'm broke, son! Maybe if you'd click a link once in a while... :)

As it turned out, the chicken was great. I actually split-tested it against another chicken that was pan roasted in butter and its own juices. The rotisserie chicken was more flavorful, juicier, and had crisper skin. Oh, Ron Popeil, you rascal! You've done it again. We were so delighted with the results that I ended up doing a half leg of lamb in it the following night.

I think the secret is to use something small enough to not crowd the cooking area (the chicken was under 5 lbs. and the lamb was 2 lbs.), as well as trust your own instincts (or a meat thermometer), rather than the "catch all" cooking times on the side of the Showtime.

So, my hat is off to you, Ron (oh, and I need some of that hair spray). In my mind, you've been upgraded from "snake oil salesman" to "P.T. Barnum-style rejuvenating tonic peddler", like this guy:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Bottling Process

A curious question to all my winemaking friends and audience: this is exactly what the bottling process is like, right?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back in the Groove

The biggest problem with business travel is that it can be, well, unsettling. It can throw you out of your groove. Your rhythm; your routine...ruined. And then, John Candy is spooning you.

Neil Page: "Where's your other hand?"

Del Griffith: "Between two pillows..."

Neil Page: "Those aren't PILLOWS!!!"

I spent last week touring the small metropolises (metropoli?) and county highways of Southwest Georgia, recruiting for and bolstering the day job's advertising dealer network. It's a road paved with 15 hour days, ruthless negotiation, fast food meals, and very little wine. Furthermore, sequestering oneself in another hotel room, half-bagged from the medicating whiskey at dinner and wrangling a molasses-slow internet connection, one's food and wine writing tends to be forced; uninspired.

Such was the case last week. Little to write about, and little time/energy to do so. Happily, this week proves better. I'll be meeting with Artesa's winemaker, Mark Beringer. I'll also be sampling the 2007 Bordeaux vintage. I'm looking forward to hanging out a little with Ed from and Kevin from The New Orleans Saints and NY Jets will earn my allegiance on Sunday, hopefully in the presence of finger foods and cold beer. Hell, I may even get to eat a home-cooked meal.

Sleeping in my own bed is nice, too. And, I'm getting to kiss my wife every day, and I'm around to rub her belly...safely harboring our first child.

Yep, there's a lot to write about this week, and a lot to inspire it...

...and no spooning strangers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon: the Bono of Grapes

Experimenting with two loves of mine: wine and music (booze and rock n' roll together at last...who knew?!).

Anyway, I'm hoping my first installment is entertaining. I'm pretty sure it will simultaneously delight and offend both U2 and Cabernet Sauvignon lovers. Believe me when I say that I did it all in the name of love...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Classic Pairings 102: Chianti & Pizza Pie

Originally, it was Coke, Sprite, or root beer. Then, somewhere along the way, the "root" was lost in translation, and the harder stuff- likely a cheap domestic brew- became the poison of choice. Sure, by themselves they were adequate (especially the beer, in quantities I wish not to, nor probably can I, remember), but when paired with the quintessential gathering food- pizza- our drinks become more than thirst-quenchers or buzz-generators. Pizza has always been Friday nights, college post-bar scene, simple, honest, rustic, and satisfying. Seems fitting the drink along with it would fit the bill as well.

Perhaps that's why Chianti has long been the perfect match for a flat of dough with some stuff on it. With all due respect for malted barley and hops, Chianti, and the Sangiovese grape from whence it's vinted, tends towards rustic, honest, and unpretentious. And I guess that's why the two make such a classic pairing. Either that, or like so many groups of students scarfing down slices at 4 AM seeking one last shot of loudmouth soup, some Italian kids found it in the pantry as a last-resort libation, and the rest- as they say- is history.

Not quite as desperate, but equally as hungry (as is often the case), we fired up the oven to its inadequate 500+ degrees, procured some dough from a local bakery (I'm not confident enough in my homemade dough, or baking in general at this point), and sourced a cornucopia of fresh veggies and tasty, fattening meats. A quick preparation of canned Italian plum tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, dried oregano, pulverized fennel seeds, salt, pepper, and sugar (in secret proportions, or more accurately, in quantities I neither remember nor wrote down) yielded a flavorful base-coat for our discs of punched-down and flattened out dough (none of which ended up on the ceiling, as far as my wife knows). We then went to work- Picassos and Rembrandts in our own minds- layering buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, hot sausage, sopressata, pepperoni, cappicola, spinach, onions, green pepper, kalamata olives, anchovies, hot peppers, sliced tomatoes, dollops of marscapone, or whatever else we could find. Brushed the edges with some extra virgin, a sprinkle of salt or crack of pepper, and into the blistering oven for 8 minutes (convinced a wood-burning outdoor oven that reaches 1000 degrees would be a necessary purchase in the future).

In the end, given the equipment, the pizzas turned out great. Especially the crust, which really in the most important part of a good pie. Ours were crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The flavorful sauce, rich meats, and runny cheeses melded to create a familiar taste of comfort. They called for a wine of equal simplicity. We poured Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico, and the clear (but subtle) cherry, orange peel, and herb flavors, along with bright acidity worked great to counterbalance the firecracker of tangy tomatoes, italian herbs, yeasty dough, spicy meats, charred veggies, and unctuous cheese...

...I thought I'd never use the word "unctuous". I struggled for ten minutes trying to think of something else. Sorry.

Anyway, this was no time to dwell on the flavors and aromas of the wine. Chianti is meant to be DRUNK, much like pizza isn't often savored like haute cuisine. All the more reason why the two go together so well. Acidity brings flavors out of food, and it helps balance fat. Needless to say, pizza has both in spades (flavor and fat), and Sangiovese is- like many Italian wines- big on acidity. They're designed for food, and they deliver big time. Maybe not the best wines on their own, but as a "condiment at the table" (as one Italian winemaker once described it), Italian wine, and Chianti especially, finds its comfort zone....

...just like a 2nd year journalism major on a couch in a stupor at 4 A.M., half-eaten box of Domino's by his side.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cheap Wine Challenge!

Are you cheap? Do you shampoo with dish soap? Have you ever taken a date to an "Early Bird Special" at the local cafeteria? How 'bout ten bucks? Is a sawbuck enough to quench your insatiable thirst for the bounty of Bacchus' teat?

(Bacchus' teat?! It's been a long week.)

Anyway, thanks to Raelinn Schmitt ( @raelinn_wine on Twitter and head honcho of Wine Ophelia), the simplistically brilliant idea of the Cheap Wine Challenge was created. The rules were minimal:

1) The wine can be found nationwide
2) The wine retails under $10

And so, the gauntlet was thrown down. I wanted in on this action. I was raised on the mean skreets of Carlo Rossi, son! But the Central Valley of California was not where I suspected to find gold dust. These days, when I think of value, I go straight to the Iberian peninsula, otherwise known as Spain and Portugal.

My pick- less by choice and more by necessity (I was out of town, but desired Iberian wine)- was 2007 Bodegas Luzon Jumilla. Jumilla is a region in southeast Spain. The red wines are most likely made from Monastrell (otherwise known as Mourvèdre), Cencibel (otherwise known as Tempranillo), and Garnacha (otherwise known as Grenache). This wine (otherwise known as vino) was purchased at an impressive Columbus, GA package store (otherwise known as southwest Georgia) while I was traveling for work (otherwise known as being a sucker). It retailed for $8.99 (otherwise known as 899 cents).

The nose was an all-out Battle Royale of raspberries, smoke, olives, chocolate, pepper, veggies, licorice, and mint. But the madness spilled out of the ring and into the crowd, aka, my mouth (what a terrible wrestling metaphor, but screw it, it's late). Decent, subtle fruit, earthiness, and acidity led to a smooth finish with a little bit of heat from the alcohol. I managed to acquire a nasty stuffed nose right after I opened the wine, so my senses were a little off. That being said, it tasted like it drank beyond the meager $9 pricetag.

In the end, it was nothing earth-shattering, but for $8.99, I will proudly submit it for approval in the Inaugural Cheap Wine Challenge. And, like a wrestler hopped up on too many performance enhancers, "I CHALLENGE YOU, BROTHER, TO BRING YOUR WINE TO THE TABLE AND SEE IT EXPERIENCE THE PAIN AND HUMILIATION OF THE 'DESTEMMER', BROTHER!"

Okay. I'm going to bed. This is ridiculous.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'Zas, Brah.

Well, I'm backed up a day due to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by my hotel last night, but I'm just gonna bump things back a day.

So, without further ado, the video from this past weekend's pizza night at the Casa del Wino, which is going to segway nicely into "Classic Pairings 102: Chianti as 'Za"


Monday, January 11, 2010

The post explaining why the post I wanted to post hasn't been posted (wait...okay, yes)

Remember not having a cell phone? Getting off the grid? Yeah (sigh), me neither.

If an email pops up on the Blackberry, I feel like I have to reply to it immediately. I could be speeding down the highway at 3 in the morning- six pack of those little chocolate donuts in one hand, ice cold Royal Crown Cola in the other (knees providing control of the wheel)- but, if that red light starts flashing on my phone, it sure has to be answered right now. Bad thing is: most folks who sent that email at 3 in the morning (who are these corporate vampires?) probably aren't expecting responses, but we give them anyway. Now, calloused by the swift (and life-threatening response), they come to expect it, and- thus- life as we know it has shifted.

Damn. That wasn't even the example I was going for. Rant not averted. But I digress. Over the weekend, I'd compiled some videos for your entertainment and/or amusement. Now, I'm stuck in a hotel in Macon, GA, and Youtube's undergoing maintenance. I can't upload the video, complete the post, and call it a day. Sure, Blogger will allow one to upload the video via blogger, but I've become accustomed to everything connecting to everything else. Even got desperate and set up a Viddler account, but it wouldn't upload the file type. However, I MUST have this video uploaded to a social video network. Like the vampires and the Blackberries, I've become completely dependent upon a certain way of structuring my little piece o' cyberspace. And not having access to everything is KILLING me.

I remember when getting dial-up connection in a hotel room was novel and awesome. Tonight, I cursed, nay, turned the air blue with profanity because I had to actually plug into an ethernet connection...the wireless wasn't high-speed enough. And dammit, I want to post in the bathroom. Is that so wrong?

It's just incredible how advancing technology has changed our expectations of when and where we should be connected. Now, excuse me while I go rub two sticks together to warm up in this clearly Amish-run hotel.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

[trying to] Eat Atlanta

When a friend for San Francisco was recently in town, I knew I had to step it up when we went out for a bite. Fortunately, Atlanta's food scene is really on the rise (if it hasn't arrived already), marked not only by in an influx of big time chefs like Tom Colicchio and Laurent Tourondel, but also evidenced by the plurality of Top Chef's latest season consisting of Atlanta cooks: Hector Santiago, Eli Kirshtein (sadly, no longer in Atlanta), and finalist Kevin Gillespie.

Being born and raised in Hotlanta, I can tell you one thing: don't call it "Hotlanta". Okay, I can tell you another thing too: I've seen the food scene really blossom, and it's a point of great pride. I do not stress out in any way looking for a great meal when friends from food meccas like New York, Chicago, Seattle, or San Francisco come down.

In this case, from what I'd heard, it was going to be a no-brainer: Antico. This authentic Neopolitan pizza joint opened in 2009, and it's since been getting rave reviews (here's a good one from Atlanta's The Blissful Glutton). Figured we'd grab a table, knock back a few beers, and enjoy some killer pie, right?

Wrong. First off, the small, unassuming space was packed; line almost out the door. Furthermore, there's virtually nowhere to sit at the place! Basically the setup's a bunch of tables in the kitchen where people stand around and eat their pizzas while watching guys deposit and pluck pies to and from the 3 huge stone ovens. Don't get me wrong: the joint smelled INCREDIBLE, as wafts of garlic, dough, San Marzano tomatoes, basil, and cheese attacked my olfactory senses and ratcheted my already grumbling innards into spin cycle. However, it was no place for a group of four to sit down and eat.

No problem. Another new hot spot- Abbatoir- was virtually across the street in the Westside Provisions District. This homage to nasty bits features lots of tasty small plates and a VERY reasonable wine list (I once drank a bottle- off a restaurant wine list- for $19 here). As we went to open the door- STUCK! And then I saw the sign on said door: "Closed Dec. 24-27 for the holidays." Not something you see often in the hospitality biz in December, but hey, everyone needs a break once in a while.

So, now a walking pack of churning stomachs, we traversed over the railroad tracks and found JCT Kitchen & Bar, a "southern-style" bistro in the same area. In the end, crisis was averted. Although there were no tables available, we were able to squeeze into the bar area downstairs, order up some wine, some "angry" mussels with broth and bread, and some reprieve for our appetites. The apps were followed by tasty, satisfying dishes like Crispy Duck n' Dumplings, All Night Braised Short Ribs, and Benton's Bacon Wrapped Georgia Trout. In the end, it was a great meal in a great atmosphere. Was it my first choice? No. Second? No again. But when the food culture of a city really starts to hit its stride, then the place next door may be the best place you've never heard of. Perhaps in the future, I'll head out with no plan and just see where the evening takes us...

Proudly, to my food city: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Still working on Friday's post (boo me), but here's something sage wine advice to tide you over from Dr. Steve Brule:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sacrebleu! Qu'est-ce que c'est? Marketing?!

"Ooh la la. The seductive aromas!"

Clearly, this woman is discovering Cahors: The French Malbec. Unfamilar? Scroll up. Look right. Visit all the sites on the blogroll. It's the ad campaign that's everywhere; a product of the Palate Press ad network.

Basically, "Cahors" is a region near Bordeaux, France. For hundreds of years, they have been making the "black wines of Cahors," made primarily with the Malbec grape. Malbec, one of the five allowable red grapes in Bordeaux, has enjoyed notoriety on the level of "the other guy in Wham!" or- perhaps more accurately- one of the people besides Waldo in the "Where's Waldo" books. In so many words, most normal folks probably didn't know what the hell Malbec was...

...that is, until the Argentine wine boom. During the 1990's, Argentina began to focus on the export markets of Great Britain and the United States. By the end of the 90's, they were exporting 3.3 million gallons of wine (source: By comparison, exports in 2010 are expected to be a whopping 4.3 million hectoliters!


...wait a second. Oh, here we go- conversion factor: 1 hectoliter = 26.4172052 gallons. So, with no due respect to the metric system, 2010 Argentine wine exports are expected to exceed 113 million gallons (source:!! As Sgt. Arcot "Thorny" Ramathorn would say, "that's a lotta hooch!"

What's my point? Argentina is selling a boatload of wine, and since Malbec is the most widely planted red grape, one could further say that Argentina is selling a boatload of Malbec, and France wants a piece of the action. They've been vinifying the grape for hundreds of years. Why doesn't it sell like the South American stuff?

Ah, marketing. You sassy wench. Everyone knows what Malbec is now. Nobody knows what Cahors is. Traditionally, French wines don't show the varietal on the label. It has to do with the concept of terroir, where the "sense of place" has a much greater influence on the wine than the measly grape. To label a wine with the grape it's made out of is to spit in the face of the sacred land from whence it came.

Problem is, folks are buying wines with varietal labels. What grape constitutes the wine is perceived (often incorrectly, IMHO) as a reliable, consistent indicator of what the wine will taste like. And I suspect this is what's driving demand, because I've seen so many more stodgy French producers start to do it.

And so the case goes with Cahors. They're hoping to ride the popularity of Argentine Malbec, and I applaud the French for swallowing their pride and putting some marketing into effect. But, will it work? While I'm confident they're getting lots of exposure to a targeted demographic, a great point was brought up on Twitter by The Atlanta Wine Guy, whose wine opinions I hold in higher regard than my personal hygiene:

Argentine Malbec is big, fruit-forward, and lush. Cahors Malbec is good...but different (here are my thoughts on a bottle). Reminds me of a time I bought some Merlot-loving neighbors a nice bottle of St-Émilion. I thought I was getting them something really special, but when it didn't deliver the big, blueberry/blackberry fruit bomb, I think they were disappointed. Old World wines are another animal, for sure. They just take a little time to appreciate, especially for the novice wino.

At the very least, maybe the Cahors marketing effort will get some more people to try something new.

photo courtesy of The Broke Wino (

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Classic Pairings 101 - Cabernet & Steaky Akes

Sorry, no "eggy wegs" here. Homey don't play that. Yep, a (ugh, hate the term) "foodie" who doesn't like eggs. And a reference to In Living Color. All used to explain an A Clockwork Orange reference. Things could be going downhill fast.

Psyche (totally bringing that back). Why? Because when talking about food and wine pairings, the coup de gras, the "golden goose"- if you will- has to be steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. And things can never go downhill when food and wine get busy with each other. But why is this the "alpha male" of pairings? Maybe it's a combination of the food and the drink of royalty. Maybe it's the red meat and the red wine. Or maybe- just maybe- it's because they're so damn good together. The strong flavor and richness of beef are perfectly counterbalanced by the backbone and tannin of Cab...aka the "King of Red Grapes" (or the "Bono of Red Grapes"...but alas, that if foreshadowing to another post).

Tonight, it was iron skillet filet mignon, pan roasted yukon gold potatoes, and brussel sprouts w/ pancetta. Nothing earth-shattering or Iron Chef worthy, but I guarantee those starving kids in China my mom always talked about as a kid would eat it. The brussel sprouts- especially if you remember them as a dreadful hurdle of the childhood table- were wicked good. Onions, garlic and sliced sprouts fried in pancetta fat, then steamed with white wine. But let's cut to brass tax: the best part was the meat, simply seasoned with sea salt, cracked pepper, and olive oil, and seared in a hot skillet. Luckily, there's a butcher shop across the street from my house (yes, in Woodstock, GA), so having a good quality cut never hurts. I mean, look at that meat. You want to kiss it, don't you? C'mon. Don't be shy. I won't tell anyone. "Hey, I ain't just a piece of meat!" says the filet. Silly filet. You can't talk.

And while you can have the meat as your own, why not bring a third into the mix? It's not kinky, because it's meant to be. I did. Cabernet Sauvignon and steak go together like Tom and Roseanne Arnold, without the messy divorce. I had a darn good one too (disclosure: given to me as a sample). The 2004 Jacob's Creek St. Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was clearly well-made: a balance of fruit, acidity, tannin, and alcohol. Lots of Australian Cabs can tend to be overly fruity and massive with alcohol, but this one came in at a reasonable 14.5%, and while it was fruit-forward (being true to the typical Aussie style of wine), it displayed some really nice notes of subtle green pepper, dark chocolate, graphite, and spice under all that dark fruit. No mouthful of oak, no fake, fruit punch flavors. The tannins, fruit, acid, and alcohol busted a move together well in my mouth. Also true to the Australian style, the tannins didn't dry my mouth out like I ate one of those packets that say "silica gel: do not eat" you find in your new shoes (don't ask). They were pretty smooth, but added enough structure to make it feel like a Cab. Overall, a nice match to filet mignon, which is not known as the most flavorful of steaks. A smooth steak for a smooth wine. And my belly. 'Twas the kind of threesome a mother-in-law wouldn't be shocked to read about on your blog (I think...we'll see). Anyway, the Jacob's Creek folks say to lay this one down for 10 years. I think it's good to go now (6 years after harvest), and I could see you squeezing 5 more years if you want to hang onto it as a "sorry I offended you, mother-in-law" gift down the road.

But enough about me and my pal Jacob. What's your favorite steak (cut, preparation) and Cab pairing? It's nothing original, but between the variations of meats, cooking methods, seasonings, and especially areas where great Cabernet Sauvignon is made, surely it's an interesting question. And if you don't answer, you might be subject to a bit of the "ol' ultraviolence."

I kid.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is it chili? Is it pot roast?

In an effort to come up with something original, I tried to impart more flavor into my chili by slow cooking chuck roast in beef stock (with some goodies like dried peppers, etc.), similar to a pot roast (and then cooking down the braising juices into a concentrated gravy to reintroduce to the chili). Also used mirepoix instead of just onions (cooked in pancetta), smoked paprika, chipotle peppers in adobo, and dark Rogue beer.

Did it work? I can't divulge that info...there may be a chili cookoff around the corner.

Here's hoping 2010 brings a new camera (however, I'm told some of it is user-error. I ain't buyin' it):

Monday, January 4, 2010

Greeting 2010 with a massive headache

The pregnant wife. The neighbors with kids. The tight budget. The need for sleep.

All a recipe for a quiet evening on New Year's Eve. Maybe a sip of Champagne, a kiss at midnight, and in the bed soon after.

Okay...harmless enough. Started the evening with dessert: a Murphy's Irish Stout float, with a scoop of vanila ice cream dropped into the murky delight. I'd seen this in the past, on the menu at a local pub (The Grange Public House), and most recently HERE on Dale Cruse's tidy Boston Wine/Food/What-Have-You blog, Drinks Are On Me. I challenged the notion of ruining a perfectly good stout with ice cream, but at prodding from multiple sources, I went for it. The verdict? Didn't like it, but not for the reason you may think. I can totally see the appeal. But, if you have a colorful history of college nights soaked with Irish Car Bombs, this tastes exactly like sipping something that you're predisposed to slamming down your gullet as quickly as possible. If you haven't burnt yourself out on the boilermaker of the green-eyed and red-bearded, then you will probably be all over this. I'd like to try it again with a chocolate or oatmeal stout.

No big deal. One drink. I'll be up at 6 AM doing jumping jacks-

-phone rings. "C'mon over! Casino games," say the neighbors. Okay, maybe 7 AM jumping jacks.

First bottle: Charles D'Embrun Champagne Brut NV. I was a little wary. Never heard of it. The bottle was going out of its way to tell me it was "Champagne." Priced too-reasonably at $25.99. Certainly nothing to sneeze at, but pretty darn cheap for real French Champagne. Too cheap? The big names: the Roederers, the Taittingers, the Möet et Chandons, the Bollingers, et al start more around $40. And while I usually prescribe to the notion of "paying for what you get," a little gremlin always tells me that this is going to be the diamond in the rough.

Not quite. While the nose had nice biscuity, yeasty, and lemon-y smells (the former two a product of the wine being aged on the lees, or dead yeast cells in the bottle), the bubbles were very large (I swear larger than my wife's glass of sparkling cider). This is a sign of low quality. Furthermore, in the mouth, it went finish. Some quick flavors, and then POOF! Gone. Easily, a textbook example of a short finish. Overall, not terrible, but (why didn't I go with my instinct?) "you pay for what you get." Paying $26 and getting "meh" was disappointing.

Getting loopy. Next bottle: Arthur Metz Crémant D'Alsace Brut Millésime 2007. "Crémant" is a term used in France for any sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region (you may sometimes see "Mousseux" instead of "Crémant"). In this case "D'Alsace" would mean "from the Alsace region". This 100% Pinot Noir rosé offered just a faceful of strawberries and cherries, with a nice fizz and dry finish. No yeasty and biscuity flavors, but at $14.99, a pretty good deal. This would make a dang good chaser for a pork BBQ sammich. Chaser for another bottle of bubbly? Trouble brewing...

By the time we got to bubbly bottle 3 (there was some still wines mixed in somewhere), clarity of mind was touch-and-go, at best. However, we were eager to compare the crémant of Alsace versus the Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy) Brut Rosé. This one, likely Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and (maybe) Aligoté was a full-on slap to the face. It smelled (confirmed by 3 others) exactly, I mean EXACTLY, like an old tent. As if you hadn't been camping in a while, and unfurled the tent and the sleeping bags in the garage. Sadly, although we were amused by the sheer familiarity of the scent, I'd have to say this one was clearly corked (learn more about that in this post). A shame, but at this point in the evening, I'm pretty sure it was consumed anyway...

...I say "pretty sure", because I vaguely recall curling up on the floor shortly after, dreaming hazy dreams of a prosperous 2010, and contemplating the unlikely prospect of those morning jumping jacks.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Organization: The Necessary and Essential Bane of My Existence

'Tis the season for absurd amounts of optimism. Funny that January- being in essence just another month full of days in a linear sequence of time- is always a season of purge, of change, of resolution. Perhaps the copious feasting and bacchanalia of the prior few months dictate such change. Take me, for example: 10 lbs. heavier than pre-Thanksgiving, with the energy level of a drugged 3-toed sloth (unless 2-toed sloths are lazier, then, one of those). I'm pretty sure typing this is making me sweat. It's time to make the annual habit change in diet and exercise.

But weight loss and diet change are things I've never had a problem adjusting come the optimism of a new year. However, I've always had a terrible time with organization. Seemingly the key to success in all marts of life, I find the lack of spontaneity in planning a bore. However, like any endeavor, the blog needs more direction and (sigh) organization, so I'm proposing the following weekly schedule for your consumption. In the end, this site is all about entertainment for the visitor. My readership consists of everyone from the most versed of wine appreciation and knowledge to the Lite beer-swilling compadres who I've shared more life experiences with than anyone. So, I'd like to cover all the bases:

*Mondays - Wine Experiences and storytelling (since the prior weekend should lend itself to that)

*Tuesdays - Video (food, wine, whatever)

*Wednesdays - Pairing advice and discussion (beer or wine)

*Thursdays - Food post/beer/miscellaneous

*Fridays - Wine education, most likely in cartoon-form

*Weekends - Nothing! Nothing, I tells ya!

It's ambitious, but this is the time for ambition. If there's something I need to be talking about, or I'm not doing, or there's something you've seen in my "voice" that is being neglected, I'd love to know.

In addition to having a (sigh again) schedule, there are a few things I'd like to accomplish in 2010:

1) Accept (and ask for) more samples. I think tasting a wine is much easier when it hasn't been bought. Most of the good bottles I have are squirreled away, and I don't want to taste and spit them out. I want them to be popped and poured with friends, and when I'm having wine with friends, the last thing I want to do is analysis and note-taking. So, if you would like to send me samples (I may review them, I may enjoy them with friends, I may use them for pairing purposes, but I will probably write about them), slide me an email at I do have a credential (see below), but don't expect friggin' Shakespeare and a bunch of fruits that no one has ever seen before in the descriptions.

2) Continue my education. I earned by Certified Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educators in 2009, and I'd like to pursue Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Wine Educator, Advanced Wine & Spirit Education Trust, or something comparable in 2010. I've noticed the key to staying on top of knowledge is to be constantly learning and studying.

3) Read more trade publications (even consumer ones, like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast). I'm always impressed by the bloggers who can make profound statements about the industry. They can do this because they read up and draw conclusions. While I'd like to be more versed in what's going on (being outside of the industry), I'll probably leave most of such discussion to the likes of Tom C. Wark and Joe Roberts, among others.

4) Do more with the small, tight-knit food and wine community in Atlanta. This city- I'm convinced- is the next big culinary destination in the U.S. I look forward to sharing/collaborating/working with the fun and brilliant folks at Wine Tonite!, Atlanta Wine Guy, Atlanta Wine School, Decatur Wine and Food Dude, Rowdy Food, Savory Exposure, Foodie Buddha, Hopeless Foodie, Eat It Atlanta, Dirty South Wine, Montaluce Winery, Wolf Mountain, Eat Buford Highway, The Georgia Wine Guy, The Hungry American, Take Thou Food, Running with Tweezers, Two Friends Imports, The Food Abides, Wine and I, Random Oenophile, @biskuitATL, @atl10trader, and any others who I've yet to meet (or accidentally left off this list)

5) Have fun, and bust my ass to make this the most entertaining food and drink blog out there. I'll never be the most knowledgeable, drink the best stuff, or be incredibly profound, but I'd like to think I can make people laugh, and if wine and food are really- at the basest form- about enjoyment, then why would I ever try to do anything otherwise? I do hope to educate and demystify wine for those who seek that end, but I vow to NEVER take any of it too seriously.

6) Learn all the Megaman 2 bass riffs. I figured out "Crash Man" last night. Okay, this has little to do with anything, but I promised my musically-inclined brother-in-law (who's too young to even legally read this blog) that I would so we could rock them out in an incredibly nerdy acoustic jam session.

Okay, if you made it through my manifesto, I will try my best to 7) make some damn t-shirts and distribute them to folks. No harm in some shameless self-promotion, especially when I 8) redesign the site, which has gotten very busy. Any web developers out there who want to barter design for a wine tasting host? Let me know!

One thing I promise to continue, though, is to toast my readers. You guys make it all worthwhile! Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!