Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Shots in the Ass

"I don't care what you have to do. I just want to taste my Thanksgiving turkey."

It was a simple plea from a guy on day seven of a sinus infection that showed no signs of letting up. Before parenthood, I never got sick. Maybe once every three years. Even then, I'd knock it out in a couple days. Now (especially with a critter in day care), I constantly feel as if I need to be wrapped up in bandages and sent off to live with the lepers. A bit of an extreme metaphor to describe my situation, but the metaphor well is about as dry as...


...uh, something dry. See?

Anyway, I'd hit up a doc-in-the-box on the way home from the office on Thanksgiving Eve, still dealing exclusively with a diet of textures, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. My nose was still clogged, keeping my sense of smell- the true vessel of flavor recognition to the brain- in check. But, with the most gluttonous day of the year on the horizon, simply gumming the textures of soft foods like mashed potatoes and stuffing seemed...unacceptable. Unthinkable. Unholy. And what of the wines? Thanksgiving ushers in the season of emptying out one's wine stash. The good stuff had to come out, and it had to be consumed as ravenously as the smorgasbord of turkey and bland carbs.

"Hmm. You really should have come in here earlier than today. Do you have a problem with shots?" The doc was offering a glimmer of hope, as the cost of getting poked. Two fleeting pin pricks in exchange for rich, meaty mouthfuls of drumstick; buttery, fluffy potatoes; a nose full of cranberries in a fresh glass of Brouilly; the honeyed nectar that is slightly-chilled Sauternes, served with a slice of warm apple pie...

Needless to say, my pants were around my ankles. A shot of cortisone in the left cheek, and a shot of antibiotics in the right (if you're currently disturbed by a mental image of my bare rump, watch this to desensitize yourself). 24 hours later, I was on the mend, and digging into a 3-day bender of Crestor-ic proportions.

Thank you, science. You've made it fun to write about food and wine again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eat Turkey, Feel Perky.

Wishing everyone out there on the interwebs a very Happy Thanksgiving!

This is a day when we slow down and take currency in the things for which we are grateful. I can't express enough thanks for all of you who have read, commented, linked, retweeted, and offered compliments, criticism, and encouragement towards this little opus.

I started the blawg over 2 years ago, and it's made me neither rich nor famous nor better-looking. But it has been a great deal of fun,I've met some terrific folks, and I really appreciate all the support.

Now go eat until you develop a great hatred for and apathy towards food. That's really what Thanksgiving is all about.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snot Cool. Maybe a Little. But Mostly Not.

I feel like Mr. Mackey.

In either case, the bottom line is that my head feels gigantic. I'm stuffed up. Sinus pressure. Clogged nostrils. Post-nasal drip, otherwise known as, "the single most [expletive] annoying thing on the face of [expletive] Earth, or any other [expletive] planets, for that matter."

Yeah, I don't like post-nasal drip. Or other planets, apparently.

A particularly inconvenient side-effect of all this malaise? I can't smell anything. Nothing. Furthermore, having the inability to smell means I can't really taste, either.

Case-in-point: I bit into the crisp juiciness of a nectarine this morning, and realized it was not a nectarine at all, but a human head.* I felt pretty bad about it, but I guess that guy shouldn't have been in my house in the first place. And what was he doing in the fridge's crisper drawer? Shenanigans like that often lead to cranial bite marks from hungry sinusitis-sufferers.

Sounds like a pretty awful scenario, huh? Well, it gets worse. Later that day, I joined Fast Eddie Thralls of Wine Tonite! (and now Vintage Wine Estates) fame for a little soirée to send him off in style to his California dream job. Naturally, as is custom in the Thralls household, there was wine aplenty. Good wine. Great wine. These kids ooze hospitality. Anyway, I arrived at the shindig a little late, and I arrived to find empty bottles of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, and tiny production Syrah. A good sign.

What Ed was pouring when I stumbled in was a magnum of Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Hot damn. I'd never had anything from Pride, a winery who's products have never been in close proximity to negative comment among all the wine geeks I know. Of course, in my congested state, I knew this wine would offer nothing more than a nip of alcohol on a cool November night. I regrettably declined more than just a taste (hoping some sort of deus ex machina-moment would manifest itself, instantly rendering my olfactory senses reinvigorated), saving the inky goodness for those who were not trapped in my nasal hell.

Yet, all was not lost. Even without the ability to appreciate wine's two greatest virtues, aroma and flavor, my stomach and liver- far less discriminant organs than my nose and tongue- welcomed the alcoholic warmth of the fermented grape, eventually getting my brain and vocal chords into the the mix...that is to say, eliminating the filter between the two that exists in sobriety. What I'm saying is that I did get a little lifted. Why not? My buddy's moving across country and I didn't want to be a wet blanket in the face of celebration. However, I've realized that when one lacks the faculties to stop and immerse in the complex bouquet and savor a mouthful of fine wine, he pretty much just guzzles it down like water. I don't recommend such actions if the next day requires of you anything more than sleeping on the couch with a throbbing skull.

More intriguing than a hangover, though, was the focus of my decimated palate. With no smell, I only had access to sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and mouthfeel. Once all the (admittedly, wonderful) noise- created by esters, phenolics, and other chemical compounds that work with the nose to create thousands of flavors- was eliminated, a wine that was highly acidic, rather tannic, or showed signs of residual sugar stood out.

I actually thought this might be a great way to do an introductory tasting; a methodology to help novices recognize and create a sensory profile of the foundations of wine. I've seen tasting classes where acids and tannins are isolated from the wine (trying lemon juice, tea, etc.), but never where the taster is robbed of the critical- but muddling- sense of smell. Maybe I need to get a group of wine lovers in a room, start sneezing all over the place, and then we reconvene a week later...

...might be a tough sell. Or perhaps you've already experienced what I have. Ever run through a wine tasting with debilitated senses? Was it frustrating, or maybe enlightening?

I'm going with the former. Despite my acid/sugar/tannin epiphany, most of the pleasure of wine is robbed. I just hope my head returns to normal size VERY soon. There's Turkey and Grenache to be had on Thursday.

*couldn't have done this with out "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Booze in the News - November 18, 2010

Hassling the Hoff since 2010.

Meet the Nouveau. Same as the Old-veau: Dammit. What a crappy title. I thought I'd try to show that I'm "cool and hip, yet sophisticatedly middle-aged" by fielding a really bad play on some Who lyrics; Who lyrics that have probably already been ruined by CSI: Des Moines or something. But I really struggled with this. "Nouveau-ver Beethoven" made me want to cut out the part of the brain that causes thinking. "Something Old, Something Nouveau" was about as clever as Jeff Dunham's "comedy". So, "Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss" got bastardized horribly because I got lazy. And it sickens me...

...oh yeah, and the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau came out yesterday. Stock up on it in case you run out of grape drink and vodka on Thanksgiving.*

China- The new hipsters: What's happened to Pabst Blue Ribbon? It used to be nigh-undrinkable swill that's served the purpose of getting one drunk when he couldn't afford Old Milwaukee. It was reliably $1/can at bars that sympathized to the desperate situations of college kids in need of affordable liquid courage and inevitable abdominal pain. Then came the hipsters. "Let's drink it to be cool and ironic," they said, in their reprinted "vintage" Joy Division t-shirts and skinny leg jeans. Supply and demand, hipsters. Now PBR is $5 a can at bars. No matter, as I wasn't going to order that crap anyway.

I guess it could be worse. The PBR brand has been totally reinvented in China as a high-end lager. One bottle: about $44 USD. The irony is delicious, but the beer isn't, especially at that price. But at least we're getting back at the Peoples' Republic for Tsingtao*. I just hope the U.S. doesn't bankrupt China with its exorbitant beer prices. My daughter will probably want her future overlords to have financial stability.

Yes. Alcohol was involved: Kudos to drunk Kentucky folks for inspiring a new form of institutional punishment for terrorists. I feel bad for this guy, but as my friend Van Burin would say, "with great beard comes great beardsponsibility."

*I actually like these things. Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun Thanksgiving tradition, but it's a bigger rip off at $13/bottle than Chinese PBR. Tsingtao is great with spicy Szechuan cuisine, but I bet they're not shipping us the good stuff.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I remember vividly the trip to our local toy store, "Toys Unlimited", to buy Optimus Prime. I was five years old with two fingers jammed into my suck hole. Mom- never above bribery when desperate- decided to cut a deal. I was way too old to still be sucking my fingers (far superior to the thumb, by the way), and the gorgeous, unscathed, fearless leader of the noble Autobots was the bargaining chip.

But the transaction couldn't have been that simple. Mom understood the effectiveness of tangibility when it came to malleable youth, so she bought the toy on the front end. Then, seeing that pristine, tantalizing, Transformers-emblazoned package daily (out of my clutches atop a tall dresser), I was charged with not sucking my fingers for TWO WEEKS. Upon completion of this impossible task, the bounty would at last be mine.

That two weeks must've lasted ten years. But the will of an Optimus Prime-desperate child is strong, and I outlasted Mother and her Herculean trials. I shall take to my grave any infidelity during the probationary period.

The point is that some things are worth the wait. Wine is a particularly good example. High-quality Cabernet Sauvignon is an even better example. And Napa's Quixote Winery makes a product that not only fits the bill, but- serendipitously- was recently in my possession. Sucking your fingers in anticipation yet? Me neither!

Situated in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, Quixote- quite simply put- is a silly place. From the Dr. Seuss architecture to the screw caps placed on $60 bottle of wine (which is fine), these folks do a pretty good job at turning the ubiquitous Napa tasting room on its ear.

From a production standpoint, Quixote basically bottles four wines: a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petite Sirah each for the "Panza" and "Quixote" labels. Made of 100% organically-farmed, estate-grown fruit, those wines- unlike the atmosphere from whence they came- are anything but silly.

A buddy and I had purchased a few bottles there a couple years ago, and being the booze-swilling derelicts that we are, it seemed only fitting that we knock back a few on a Friday night. Among those bottles in our eventual boneyard were the 2003 Panza Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Quixote Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines sourced fruit from the same vineyards. Each featured primarily Cabernet with a little Merlot mixed in. Yet, while the Panza featured a great nose of all those wonderful Cab idiosyncrasies- [insert all the Cab aromas you read about everywhere, and tell me where to buy some damn black currants, please]- in full force, the Quixote (which was $20 more, mind you) had a tighter nose. It also had a lot more "fuzz", or tannic structure, in the mouth. The Panza- conversely- was as smooth as my baby daughter's bottom after an assault with the powder bottle.

In short, the Panza was a tastier, better-drinking wine when compared head-to-head with it's bigger brother.

The takeaway here- one that can often elude the hasty drinker such as myself- is that the Quixote was MEANT to not show as well as the Panza...for now. Upon gleaning some info from current winemaker Matt Reid, I discovered that the 2003 Quixote was made with 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. The '03 Panza, however, consists of 76% Cabernet, 14% Merlot, 7% Mourvèdre, and 3% Syrah (since both contain 75%+ Cab, they can legally be labeled "Cabernet Sauvignon" in the States). The great presence of Merlot and those Rhône varieties softened the Panza, offered less tannin structure, and made for a wine that is "something to enjoy while waiting for the Quixote to mature," according to Reid.

But why pay more for something that you can't have now? All I can say is: try some Cab with age on it. A good one...fine Bordeaux, high-end Napa Cab, something from Washington State. Not all wines are meant to age for 10, 15, 20+ years (few are, in fact). But a good Cab from a good vintage can. Seek one out. Beg, borrow, or steal. Because a well-aged Cab is like the Optimus Prime of wines. It's a transformer. It becomes something completely different over time. And that something is definitely worth the wait...every painful second of it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Belated) Booze in the New (the excuse edition), plus a significant Pinotage mustache

In this Edition, I make excuses for not putting out "Booze in the News" on Friday. In fact, this is really a post about some Pinotage I drank, but I've masked it under the guise of "Booze in the News", not so much for you, but so I can trick myself into thinking I'm doing a respectable job serving up my "regular weekly feature".

Thursday Night Lights: Not a single soul was asking me for wine advice, and I was totally incognito; nary an adoring fan asking for an autograph. In that regard, it was exactly like every other day in my life. But the event- Thursday night football previewing a potential Super Bowl matchup- was far from ordinary. Throw in an emotional victory from the home team, a belly full of suds, a raucous crowd, an 8:20 PM kickoff, and a 7 AM meeting the next day, and this Falcons fan-turned-questionably-talented blogger wasn't doing any writing upon arrival in the 'burbs around 1 AM (I wasn't driving, FYI, per "belly full of suds"). Even if I had put fingers to keyboard, all I can imagine is some incoherent blather about how Alsatian whites are the "Atlanta Falcons" of wines, interspersed with lyrics from hometown Travis Tritt's forgettable 2004 anthem, "Falcons Fever". Trust me: you were better served with nothing this past Friday.

And now for something completely different:

District 9 Wine: After posting this crime against humanity designed to explain the origins of South Africa's notorious red grape, I realized I had very little experience with Pinotage. It'd never been a huge sell- lots of criticism, limited distribution, and descriptors of bananas, meat, paint, and burnt rubber. However, we can never know what we like or dislike based on commentary alone. I snagged two Pinotage bottlings last week: a 2009 Zafrika Western Cape ($4.99 at Trader Joe's) and a 2008 Fleur du Cap Coastal Region $12.99 at Total Wine; thanks for the tip, Matt Horbund). Call me snobby, but I couldn't make a sweeping generalization based on one bottle under five smacks.

As often happens with much-maligned wines, the situation turned out not as bleak as advertised. Okay, the Zafrika smelled like Beaujolais Nouveau (read: bananas and fruit punch) and tasted like cheap Chardonnay (seriously, if I had tasted it blindfolded, I don't know if I would say "red" or "white"). However, criticism aside, Beaujolais Nouveau usually retails for around $12, so if that's your digs, save $7 this Thanksgiving and try something different.

The Fleur du Cap, however, was very different. It immediately threw poop in my face, like some liquid form of a vengeful rhesus monkey. That may sound bad to those who are not fans of feces, primates, or funky wines, but I do like the latter (and I guess I like primates as well), so this barnyard bouquet preluded something interesting. Upon further investigation, the funk actually reminded me less of poop and more of two things: burnt rubber mixed with the smell of a freshly eviscerated deer. I can already see the marketing: "pour Fleur du Cap when you want to relive a deer-centric fender-bender in your glass." I'm for hire, guys, but I need to work in the States. Not as many leaping great white sharks here.

Seriously, though, it's not uncommon for wines to take on a gamey or meaty scent. And the burnt rubber could've been from the presence of mercaptans, a common byproduct in wine production (considered a fault). However, after a couple minutes in the glass, the tires took a hike, and I was left with a pretty complex nose of game, menthol, cranberries, cocoa, coffee, and a little bit of banana (which I can do without, but Pinotage is known to produce a good bit of isoamyl acetate during fermentation, the very ester that gives banana oil its scent). The wine had decent, very smooth tannin structure in the mouth, and offered a lot of fruit and spice. As I drank the bottle throughout the span of a few days, much of the funk fizzled off, and the darker fruits and coffee elements prevailed, harkening not only to one of Pinotage's parent grapes- Cinsault- but to many wines of its geographic ancestry: the Rhône.

All in all, Abraham Izak Pernold's freaky creation fared better than I had predicted. Yes, I understand the criticism. I can see why folks wouldn't like it, as I've never seen banana-crusted venison loin with garlic on the menus at restaurants- fine dining and otherwise. However, at $12, there was a lot going on that kept the nostrils working, and even if this wine had ended up terrible, I was only out twelve bucks, or about the amount of money someone could make in the time it takes to read a poorly-constructed blog post...

...but I'm glad you're here. And the check's in the mail.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Curious Case of Pinotage

In homage to this Thursday's Wine to Water Charity Tasting, featuring the South African selections of Worthwhile Wine Company, I wanted to highlight some of South Africa's most notable grapes, including the very unique Pinotage. If you're not going to the Falcons' game, or want to tailgate in style, please check out this event. RSVP and/or donate HERE.

Another thanks is due to Barbara Evans, Ben Simons, and Drew Lazorchak, who set me off on this wacky adventure.

There are hundreds of varieties of vitis vinifera in existence. Save the geek set, most are only familiar with about 8-10 of them (usual suspects Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.). The rest- at least the majority- find pockets of the world where they thrive, yet never achieve commercial success as world travelers. However, many- like Zinfandel in California, Carménère in Chile, or Malbec in Argentina- find a home and become the "signature" grape of certain regions.

One such case is the little mad science experiment known as Pinotage. See, those hundreds of varieties of grape species have not all existed for ages. Some are mutations (Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc from Pinot Noir), others naturally-occuring crosses (Cabernet Sauvignon from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc; Syrah from Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche). Furthermore, most "signature" grapes came from somewhere else (Zinfandel's origins point to Croatia, Carménère and Malbec come from Bordeaux). In both cases, Pinotage is pretty unique. It was created on purpose, and created in South Africa. A 100% native example of vitis vinifera, all thanks to the guys in the white lab coats.

The idea came about in 1925 at the University of Stellenbosch by viticulturist Abraham Izak Perold. Perhaps attempting to play God (or Dr. Bunson Honeydew), Perold planted the seeds of Pinot Noir and the Rhône's Cinsault (called "Hermitage" in South Africa) together, hoping to make something new.

Now, as is commonplace on this blog, I'm going to employ a completely random tangent to explain these two grapes. Imagine the world of vitis vinifera (that is to say, "wine grapes") as an ice rink. Ultimately, everything on that rink ends up as wine. However, just as there are hundreds of different grapes, there are many different types of skaters on the rink. Cinsault- for example- is a workhorse grape of the Southern Rhône, found in haughty blends like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but never taking the spotlight like Grenache, Syrah, or Mourvèdre. It's a workhorse. Hearty, productive, and understated. If you put Cinsault on an ice rink, it'd definitely be defenseman Ray Bourque. He was productive: the NHL's highest goal-scoring defensive player, ever. However, defensemen are grinders, survivors; lacking the flash of wingers or the flair of goalies.

On the flip side, when I think of elegant, graceful, refined, and polished, I think of Burgundy's greatest grape: Pinot Noir. I also think of figure-skating legend Brian Boitano. What? You don't also think of Brian Boitano? Man, that's odd. And a little embarrassing.

So, we've got these two grapes, ready to cross. I can get a good idea of what Perold was after: he wanted all the incredible aromas, flavors, and velvety textures of Pinot Noir, but didn't want to fuss with all the inconvenient T.L.C. required of the tempermental, thin-skinned grape. "Throw in some Cinsault," he surely thought. "I'll still get all those triple axles, but I'll get them with a wicked slap shot and playoff beard instead of bedazzled lycra bellbottoms." Yep, I'm sure that's how it went.

However, things don't always go as planned. Instead of low-maintenance Pinot Noir, the hands of science were left with this:

A weirdo. A grape that- indeed- was vigorous, grew easily, and ripened early, yet displayed little of the characteristics of Pinot Noir. Sure, it fared well early in its youth, spurring tons of planting, but the grape has since earned quite a reputation among critics. Often marked by aromas of bananas and paint, flavors of meat and smoke, as well as flab from low acidity, Pinotage rarely plays the darling. I wish I could give a more personal account, but I- like many in the States- have little experience with these wines. I've tasted it before, but wouldn't dare try to recollect my thoughts. I know I at least got one bottle- years back from a former customer who loved the stuff. Of course, he was from South Africa. I think. Maybe it was England. All I know is that he used words like "practise" and "flavour".

To this end (if nothing more than to remedy my ignorance), I sought out a bottle of Pinotage. I'll be giving it a taste soon, and I'll attempt to give this weirdo a fair shake.

In the meantime, if you have any experiences or strong opinions about the grape, the wine, or if you just want to sound off on the ridiculous and incongruent metaphors perpetrated in this post, I anxiously await your comments (there's a story behind the latter).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Tried. I Tried.

I tried to write a good post tonight. Wanted to amuse, enlighten, and entertain my beloved audience on a Monday morning (recently voted by me as the least-awesome day of the week). For most, Monday means a return to the grind, still not rejuvenated by the weekend that came and went, far too fast.

Many of us folks do still labor in dreary offices with florescent lights, surrounded by our fellow soul-shattered peons, baby-stepping to five o'clock with the hope of a quick commute and a crust of bread waiting at home (Loverboy was on to something. Maybe everybody IS working for the weekend).

But there's always hope on a Monday morning: Youtube. Facebook. And, of course, blogs. These distractions numb our soft brains, dulling the pain of monotony and giving us the good humor to press on to Tuesday.

Such is the mission statement of my blog: provide amusing distraction to those who need it most. Alas, despite my best efforts (meaning I stared blankly at the computer screen for a long, long time), I've come to the table with nothing this morning.

Okay, not quite nothing, but something very weird, based on an excerpt from A Clockwork Orange (as if that movie wasn't weird enough). In its defense, this video IS wine-related. And mind-numbing. Sounds eerily similar to one of my "legitimate" posts.

Anyway, see you Tuesday. But for now, try the wine.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Booze in the News - November 5, 2010

Scouring the seedy underbelly of the interweb for one last drink, like a drunken sailor at the tail-end of shore leave.

Coming Soon - "Suburban Crackhead": It's the same old story. Weeks ago, I posted a story on BITN about how heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers. Alright! Time to get weird. Well, now a British study suggests that alcohol is more dangerous than crack and heroin. Okay, so the study's a little half-baked (as any of these studies are, in my opinion), and I'm convinced that everyone has an agenda and can make the data tell the story he/she wants. However, just to be safe, and in order to be a better father, husband, and member of society, I'm kicking the wine and turning this into a crack blog. I hear the terroir-driven rocks of the Baltimore area are spectacular.

Finally, a show that's actually about Beer: In the spirit (pun intended) of alcohol being deemed the deadliest substance ever by those stuffy Brits, America gives the biggest "F off" since December 16, 1773 (I didn't want to offend my West Coast readers by saying the words "Tea Party" on this blog). Sam Cagalione, of Dogfish Head Brewery fame, will premiere a show called "Brew Masters" on Discovery Channel. The show will follow Cagalione and his crew as they search the world for new and wacky ingredients. I'm really excited about this. "Cheers" had far too much human-interest and misadventure to distract from Norm's mounting bar tab.

Atlanta, CA: As I predicted back in August, my fine city has lost another top-notch blogger. Ed Thralls, of Wine Tonite! fame, has gone bamboo like Dirty and taken a wine job out in sunny Northern California. In all honesty, I know this is what Ed's been shooting for recently, and I'm really thrilled for the guy and his new title of "Social Media Marketing Director". I know he'll make Vintage Wine Estates a huge success in the Social Media world. Doesn't mean I'm not bummed to lose another local drinking buddy. Fortunately, Ed can sooth the pain by sending me wine. The good stuff, not the cheap stuff you send to bloggers. Congrats, Ed! Who knows when Atlanta, CA might expand again...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Food Porn.

Caution: the following post is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistlines).

Read through the pages of Anthony Bourdain's many food tomes, and you'll notice frequent references to the relationship between food and sex. Similarities in the chemical and physiological changes in the body before a good meal or a good romp.

Enter food porn: the only pornography more shame-inducing than watching the real thing. Indeed the human animal is drawn to that which is taboo. Traditional porn showcases pleasures of the flesh (or so I'm told... ... ...), always stalwarts in the Pantheon of sinful deeds. Furthermore, in an American society resting on the slumping shoulders of heavyset and unhealthy citizens, the concept of ogling fatty treats with a lustful eye seems just as forbidden. Thus- I surmise- the notion of "food porn" has arisen.

Need an example? Take the Philly Cheese Steak. Who knew that Pat Olivieri's innocent act of replacing a hot dog with some griddled beef in depression-era South Philadelphia would be the impetus for the ULTIMATE in dreadfully unhealthy, sinfully delicious junk foods? Indeed, the philly is a treat that's life-saving at 3 AM with a belly full of beer, yet surely the harbinger of death only a few hours later.

Yep, phillies are the sandwich-equivalent to a double order of Waffle House hashbrowns- scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, capped, peppered, and ranched (Bonus points to whomever can identify the toppings in the comment field. College kids from the South are not eligible).

Now, despite the proliferation of food porn on this site, I try (with little success) to keep a trim figure. I don't answer the Philadelphia Cheese Steak's sirens' song frequently. So, when I am lured in by its sultry promise of eventual gastrointestinal discomfort, I make sure to do it right:

Bread: Any salty Philly folk (and they're pretty much all salty) will say that the bread is critical. I usually decide not to mess around and source Italian rolls from a Northeastern bakery, like J.J. Cassone or Amoroso's. It takes a little more work to find perfect rolls, but when that soft, chewy bun starts soaking up flavorful grease, you'll relish in your persistence. Warning to bakery zealots: these two companies ship the rolls frozen (they thaw up quite nicely). If you just can't handle that, find a local baker who can make some decent Italian rolls. Just don't come crying to me when a Philadelphia native dresses you down with a rant about bread geography.

Meat: It's called a Cheese Steak, not a "Cheese Roast Beef" or a "Cheese Hamburger Meat". So get steak. I prefer Ribeye, because it's got a lot of flavor (read: fat), and it's what the silverbacks like Tony Luke use. You can get a butcher to take a partially frozen ribeye and shave it down for you. Thinly shaved meat allows you to take clean bites, and it cooks quickly, so it retains all that juiciness (that will eventually soak into the bread...hey now). I've also used top round, and I've had success with the chain meat off a whole tenderloin (the stuff from step 2 in this video). Just make sure there's some fat in there. Otherwise, go eat a celery stalk, Denise Austin.

Cheese: the more processed, the better. Traditionally (according to Pat's King of Steaks), the proper slather is Cheez Whiz. I just put the whole can on the griddle and let that stuff turn into a molten cauldron of goodness. If you can't stomach the thought of eating something that processed, use some White American. Provolone can also be employed if you're a real sissy. The takeaway here is: if you're in the mood for a cheese steak, have very little regard for what is going into your body.

Veggies: just to keep things healthy. The traditional roughage is grilled onions. Foks sometimes get fancy and throw in green peppers and/or mushrooms. Both tasty, but not traditional (they often make it onto my sammich so I feel like I'm getting a balanced meal). Beyond that, I've seen cherry peppers, tomatoes, and even broccoli rabe. Just don't get too cute. The veggies will serve the purposes of flavor and texture ONLY. Their healthful properties will be swaddled in a cocoon of LDL.

In the end, we're left with a disgustingly wonderful treat that is worthy of shameful adoration. Pair with beer, or a "cheeseburger" wine (like Garnacha, Zinfandel, or Aussie Shiraz). Throw in some Teddy Pendergrass, add a few strips of bacon, and you've got something that'll really make you feel flush:

Monday, November 1, 2010


The past few weeks have proven to test my mettle in the blog/social media landscape. The times between work hours previously spent writing posts and tasting wine are now most-significantly occupied with the supervision of a terribly cute, totally innocent crap and drool factory. My wife is self-employed, and I'm often (happily, I might add) expected to take the reigns of parent upon arrival home, so she can work on building our business...

No. It is not anything like life before parenthood. I'm sure we would've just polished off a bottle of something tasty. Instead, I write with a shirt still-damp from a recent episode of infant regurgitation.

My point? I was thinking about putting together a Halloween post detailing the scariest wines in existence. Boone's Farm, Wild Irish Rose, MD 20/20 (fun fact: the MD actually stands for "Mogen David", not "Mad Dog"). You know, the stuff that'll have you waking up with fur on your tongue. Spooky, indeed. However, Hallow's Eve came and went, and no post (with the fortunate side-effect of no consumption of the demonic wines listed).

No problem. Halloween is followed by All Saints' Day, a Catholic/Pagan/Eastern hybrid celebrating and remembering the life and death of the holiest to have gone before us. What a perfect opportunity to pour a little out for my hallowed homies, sippin' on Morey-Saint-Denis, Saint-Amour, and Vin Santo. Alas...the day got away from me, but my daughter did try to eat my nose. A fair trade-off, indeed.

And here it is: we sit on November 2, otherwise known as All Souls' Day, a feast day dedicated to those who have passed, but who are not Saints. Sounds like a day that hits closer to my demographic (save the whole "dead" thing. I'm not sure how many ghosts and spirits are reading this blog. But, I will take anything I can get, and I appreciate all the boozy vespers and slurping apparitions who stop by). So, with this in mine, I figured I'd pontificate on wine...with soul.

Perhaps I mean juice that's got soul, and is super bad? Makes you get up, get on up, get up, get on up, get up, get on up, stay on the scene, like a sex machine? Wine that's paid the cost to be the boss?

You know, wines so good they make you wanna slap your wife and go to jail for a while? Dance on stage with Apollo Creed in defiance of Ivan Drago and his entourage of freedom-hating Soviets?

Okay. This is gone one long enough, and I'm sure the wife-beating joke will not be well-received. But the Godfather of Soul- for all his warts- was a true original. Flawed for sure, yet funky as hell. Sounds a little bit like the wine I'm trying to envision.

Some call this concept terroir- formerly a concept I thought I fully understood. I've been taught this French concept vaguely refers to the soil composition, the climate, the orientation of the vine, the amount of sun it receives, it's proximity to the ocean. Terroir, roughly translated, is the sense of place, and that unique place impresses certain flavors upon a wine. Or at least that's what I used to think. But the word often seems to be bandied about without respect. "The terroir of the Central Valley gives this box of Franzia Chillable Red its fruit-forward tastiness..."

No, there's something else. The soul of the place. The history of the vineyards; the history of the land, the towns, and the people around it- past and present. The generations of dirt beneath fingernails. The painstaking craftsmanship of a dedicated, hell-bent, obsessed winemakers. I think that's really what terroir is, and it's rare in today's sea of mass-produced wine.

So, on this All Soul's Day, I challenge you to find a wine that has one. A story. A person putting his passion into that bottle. And maybe- if you're lucky- a glassful of something that truly expresses terroir. It doesn't have to be expensive. It doesn't have to be perfect. Flaws and funk can be good, as long as they're the by-products of someone putting the very best they can under that cork (or screwcap). But take a few extra moments and resist the temptation to grab the same thing you always drink. Ask your wine shop to give you something...with soul. I'm curious to hear the results...