Sunday, January 30, 2011

Real Wine is for Real Men

Take a look at this sissy:

This is what pops in your mind when you think of the "wine connoisseur", isn't it? You know I'm right. He's a twit, a bore; he thinks he's better than you. Of course he's drinking wine, because it's what boring, self-righteous twits drink.

To most of you, it's a libation that oozes pretentiousness. There are special glasses. One bottle can cost as much as a night on the town. Drinkers- especially the ones who claim NOT to be snobs- throw out ridiculous descriptions like "essence of tortilla", "persimmon whispers", and "candied antelope". By proxy, wine is a beverage meant to be sipped and savored, rather than knocked back with the intent of easing the pain of 14 hours in a steel mill or 14 years in a hopeless marriage. Beer and liquor: the ironclad choice of barflies, cowboys, and blue collared factory workers. Beer and liquor: real drinks for real men. Right?

Well, what if I told you wine- REAL wine- was so tuff that I misspelled "tough"? What if I demonstrated that wine isn't necessarily made by that jerk who turns his nose at your light beer, but by regular folks with some serious cojones. Sure, their finished product can be elegant and ethereal and sensuous (three more for the horrid "descriptor bin"), but the means to that end are stained with purple juice, gallons of Tecate, the sweat of cellar rats, and the blood of a coyote or two.

I recently read a short account by Christopher Weir called "Cellar Men" in the compilation Travelers' Tales: Adventures in Wine. The story begins at the inception of harvest, with the author creeping between the vines- shotgun in hand- intent on scattering flocks of starlings that are sniping the ever-ripening fruit on 100-year-old Zinfandel vines. What follows is a tale of sleep-deprivation, beer, shoveling mounds of grape must, endless hours of cleaning and sorting and crushing and pressing; weary toil and disasters narrowly avoided. In the end, a dead coyote found in the vineyard is mounted on a nearby fence post... a totem to the primal, grueling, macho nature of winemaking.

Beyond the pages of this book, I've seen the struggle in the eyes of those in the wine world. I recall normally genteel Brent Beecham of Georgia's Montaluce Winery using language more fit for a Tarantino film when I uttered another four-lettered word: "bird". I've seen Ed Thralls' (at the time, interning for Holdredge in Healdsburg, CA) thousand-yard stare, claiming not only extreme soreness of the body, but a pervading "stickiness" from being covered with grape juice.

And the spiders. Oh, the spiders. Every crate of grapes in from the vineyards comes full of them. Or so I'm told. I haven't had the joy of experiencing harvest, but- in a weird way- it seems like something I would love to do, and the reason has nothing to do with a creepy "sticky grape juice" fetish... fascination is best described in Weir's words:
"Toward the shift's bitter end, with the moon glowering overhead, I was standing amid a dysfunction of pumps, hoses, buckets, valve fittings, and flashlights. It's at such moments that a cellar rat- wet, exhausted, and cross-eyed- might be inclined to... skip that last punchdown, to leave some fittings on the ground, to do a half-assed job rinsing the pumps. And, thus, to make a half-assed wine...a wine made by wimps will turn out accordingly."

The author's sentiment sums up so much of what I've heard from winemakers, vineyard managers, and cellar rats. It further bolsters the reason why I not only have a hard time passing judgement on many bottles, but why you'll rarely see reviews and descriptions on these pages. Sure, understanding that stuff is important to a greater appreciation of wine, but when a sleep-deprived guy risks his life- teetering over a fermenter during a pump over- to put the best wine he can into my glass, I feel like a real creep telling everyone on the interweb that it was a "failure, tasting of boysenberries rather than the varietally-correct lingonberries."

I can't imagine anything better than a coffee-buzz at 2 AM, running on nothing but caffeine, loud tunes, and the hopes that the finished product captures a little bit of that madcap scene in every bottle. I think that's what the author's trying to say. A wine so handled is going to have some soul. Some balls. A wine made of the frozen hands of the picker, the twisted ankles and stained fingernails of the cellar rat, and the determination of a winemaker dealing with what Mother Nature throws at him. Hell, there's nothing sissy about any of it.

For these reasons, and so many more, I just never have any problem pouring a glass of wine when hanging out with the guys. You shouldn't ever have to take issue, either. Next time you want wine- in a bar, at a tailgate party, or even at the hunting camp- pop a cork, because wine is, without a doubt, a manly drink...

...honestly, how many dead coyotes were involved in the making of your friends' Bud Lights?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Mid-Week Cop Out.

A lot of folks put up a lazy post and call it "Wordless Wednesday" or something like that. I'm admitting that it's 2 AM, I've been working all night, and I ain't writing at this point.

However, sometimes a picture is worth more than lots of drawn-out blather (as is common here).

A couple weeks ago, the fine folks at Balzac Communications sent me some samples from Napa's Folie à Deux winery. All crowd-pleasing wines in around that $15-25 , provided your crowd is into a fruit-forward style, smoothed-out tannins, and a decent amount of oak. Most crowds are, except for the cantankerous, Mosel-horny winos with whom I occasionally run. There are better values (Spain, Portugal, South of France, Southern Italy, New Zealand) out there in that price range, but this is a very popular style, and- as I said- most folks will dig these wines just fine. I had no problem with them; sometimes I'm into that mess too.

But I digress. What the fine folks who sent the samples didn't realize is that when a bottle of wine is sent to Woodstock, GA, there's a pretty good chance it'll end up in a picture like this:

I'm sure this is how so many around the country imagine Georgia: booze + redneck headgear + NRA neighbor = hootenanny.

Of course the picture is blatant hyperbole... I think.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What I drank this weekend...

Seems a lot of beverage bloggers like to inform everyone of what they drank over the weekend, offering reviews, notes, and recommendations. Never being above flagrant imitation, I figured I'd follow suit:

Novartis Consumer Health Theraflu "Flu & Sore Throat", Natural Apple Cinnamon Flavor, NV: very clear in color, almost like water, until the packet was emptied into the water, thus changing it to a brownish, medicine-y color. The nose was very, very tight. From what I know about Theraflu- especially this particular blend- I expected lots of natural apple cinnamon notes. However, I got nothing. I can't say for sure, but this may have had something to do with the fact that I couldn't smell a damn thing, period. In the mouth, I got the distinct, bitter flavor of acetaminophen, and a ton of heat. However, I'm pretty confident the heat came less from alcohol and more from the fact that this drink was served piping hot. Overall, I gave it 3.5 out of 5 snot wads.

Tropicana "100% Juice" Orange Juice, NV: yellow-orange, very opaque in the glass. On the nose, I got loads of citrus fruit. I don't like to get too specific, but definitely oranges. Like a whole bushel of oranges. In the mouth, the barrage of oranges continued. It tasted almost as if it was made from 100% oranges. Crazy. Definitely quite a bit of residual sugar in this one, but it was certainly kept in check by ripping acidity. This one just spit my tongue in two with a strong backbone of what seemed to be much more of a citric acid than malic, lactic, or even tartaric. Along with that, the mouthfeel was heavy, supple, almost...pulpy, if that makes any sense. I imagine it wasn't heavily filtered or fined, but I noticed no designation on the bottle, nor any references to organic or biodynamic farming and production methods. 3 out of 5 snot wads here.

Canada Dry "Gingered" Ale, NV: I say this bottle was non-vintage, but it mentioned "since 1904", so in the case that this was indeed a vintage bottling, I was pleased to see a screw-cap stopper, rather than a cork, as I didn't want my $1.99 to go to waste on an oxidized product. In the glass, I delighted at not only the rich, golden color, but the bubbling frizzante, something I rarely see in Canadian product. When probed with my eager nose, the "gingered" ale exuded bunches of bubbles, causing me to sneeze quite violently. On the palate, I got quite a bit of sweetness, which surprised me a bit, as the name- Canada Dry- suggested otherwise. I also got rather pronounced flavors of ginger. Huzzah for "gingered" ale, indeed! A worthy tipple, garnering 4 out of 5 snot wads.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Agave: The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems

I'm sitting on my couch, emotionally bruised and battered since my last post, a star-crossed manifesto intended to muster my local heroes on the field of battle. Alas, the outcome was beyond opposite of what I had hoped, hanging my high-spirited braggadocio out to dry; an eternal reminder of what could-have-been, gone awry, committed to the annals of cyberspace.

Last Saturday's demise of the Atlanta Falcons put me in a funk that required a few days cowering from the public eye (barely, in regards to this blog). With a humble heart, and a tip of the cap to the Green Bay Packers, I've decided it is time to move on. As George Harrison once sang, "all things must pass..."

Or I could be wrong about all this "needing a moment" malarky that kept me away. It might have been Tequila.

No, not Tila Tequila. I'm allergic to penicillin, thus, I'm allergic to Tila Tequila.

Ah, there we go. Tequila, the pride of México. The ultimate manifestation of the humble (yet imposing) agave plant. The shot of choice, called upon in both situations a man most often encounters: the impetus of a bachelor party and the crushing pain of fandom. I fell into the latter category a few days ago.

Traditionally- in the States- slammed with a bit of salt and a wedge of lime or lemon, tequila has a bad reputation as the hangover culprit...most often earned through the fact (yes, fact) that one never takes just one tequila shot. They just seem to multiply. It's sort of like the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes, except in a bar, and you're there, and you're drunk. Jesus is probably there too, and he's disappointed in you. But he forgives you. I'm thinking Jesus is pretty good like that. Or maybe it's just some biker with long hair and a beard. Yep, just like that, you've drank too much tequila. It happens that way every time.

Usually in these instances, we're slugging back well-brand blanco, the most simple (and often, lowest quality) style of tequila. Like wine, not all of it is created equal, and this south-of-the-border tipple may be a victim of unfair representation.

"Tequila" is made from the distilled juice of the blue agave plant, a sort of pineapple/yucca/cactus-looking thing that is high in natural sugars. It's name comes from the town of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco. All true tequila must come from Jalisco. Production laws are vaguely similar to France's AOC and Italy's DOC in this regard. Any bottle marked "tequila" has to contain at least 51% blue agave spirit, with the remaining fermented spirit coming from other sugars. The exception is any bottling labeled "100% Agave", which must contain all spirits from the pulp of the plant. The higher-quality stuff is often labeled and produced this way, and it's probably not what you were knocking back with the gang at Horny O'Sullivan's the other night. Regardless, all levels are often distilled to a high alcoholic content, then diluted with water to finish around 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume). At all quality levels, flavorings and coloring agents may be added, unless this has changed since my 1997 copy of Bartending for Dummies hit the bookshelves.

Aging, however, is really the differentiator. There are 5 levels of tequila, based mostly on such requirements:

Blanco or Plata - meaning "white" or "silver", respectively, this clear stuff is usually bottled right after distillation with no aging. In some cases, it receives no more than 2 months aging in neutral oak barrels or stainless steel.

Oro or Joven - "gold" or "young". A blend of blanco and reposado tequilas.

Reposado ("rested") - aged no less than 2 months, but no more than 1 year in oak barrels (of any size).

Añejo ("aged") - this tequila spends no less than 1 year, but no more than 3 years, in small (no larger than 600 liters) oak barrels.

Extra Añejo ("ultra aged") - aged no less than 3 years in small oak barrels. This is a relatively new category, established in 2006.

As with wine, oak aging mellows the spirit, imparts flavors, and adds complexity. Different levels of usage, toasting, etc. create unique flavors and aromas. Some producers even employ old barrels that were used to age whiskey, scotch, etc.

Some of the finest tequilas can be totally enjoyable sipped neat, or with an ice cube or two. The experience is certainly a far cry from hugging your toilet seat at 3 AM...

Not that I was doing that the other night. It went more like this, as I recall:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Special Saturday Edition: I'm pretty sure Green Bay is a miserable place, and Fever wine

Do you know this guy?*

Of course...we all do. He's the obnoxious, despicable Packers fan that lives down the street from you, next door to the obnoxious, despicable Steelers fan (hopefully more on the latter down the road a few weeks).

But, let me guess: you don't live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, do you?

Nobody lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Why? Because it's cold. And it's miserable. People drink Leinies like there's a prize at the bottom of the bottle. Green Bay folk gorge themselves on bratwurst and cheese by the fistful... not because it's all tasty (I gotta hand that to 'em), but because one has to develop an ample layer of winter blubber to survive temperatures that would make even Walt Disney and Ted Williams' head cringe.

These described are the few hearty folks. It's a pathetic story, but I harbor no ill-will towards those who keep their maniacal Packers-fandom within the state. No, my bugaboo is with the millions of Packers fans- who have seemingly multiplied like a pack of rats on an episode of Hoarders- encroaching on our warm and beautiful corners of this great nation.

They moved in quietly. Befriended us. Invited us to the weekend cookout with a friendly smile and a joke. Our guards were let down when they wooed our vigilance into submission with their "aw shucks" demeanor, Polska kielbasa, hot cheese soup, and 30-packs of Schlitz. We got too comfortable, as their splinter cell slowly festered.

Then.... there was polka music. And the chicken dance. Those blasted cheese hats. Packers theme songs so horrendous they make Travis Tritt's '04 anthem,"Falcons Fever", sound like Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

Oh, and those horrible green-and-yellow jogging suits. Listen: unless you're a leprechaun or Flava Flav, you should never be wearing that much green and yellow together.

They talked about Brett Favre more than ESPN. Now, it's Aaron Rodgers. Everything revolves around the Packers. Why? BECAUSE THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE GOING ON IN GREEN BAY.

Now, take Atlanta. A beautiful city. Attractive people. A vibrant food and drink scene. Top-notch bloggery**. And a team you can get behind. I welcome all of you around the nation to jump on the Atlanta Falcons bandwagon. If you don't have a dog in the fight tonight, put on some red and black. It's fashionable, and you'll want to stand out from the crowd, especially in the inevitable presence of gaggles of Packers fans, no matter where in the nation you call "home".

Granted, you'll need to dull your senses a bit to deal with the constant blather about how the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi, ESPN's schoolgirl man-crush on Aaron Rodgers, and Clay Matthews' WWE haircut. Here are some wines you can knock back during game time:

Anything from Georgia: A quick drive up to the Dahlonega Plateau can source you plenty of the surprisingly good wines that are coming out of North Georgia. Some can even be found in metro retail stores. Check out Montaluce, Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars, Wolf Mountain Vineyards, Serenity Cellars, Blackstock, Three Sisters Vineyards, and Tiger Mountain Vineyards, to name a few. Drink local, cheer local. Granted, many of you won't have time to source these by game time. Hope is that there will be another game next week, so stock up when you can.

Falcon Nest Vineyard: wines from Paso Robles. The name pretty much says it all. Nationwide, finding a wine from California is much more likely. Look for one with a bird of prey on it if you're in a bind. Birds of prey are cool, and they're all cousins to falcons, so it'll work in a pinch...

...and when you're looking for munchies to pair with that glass of vino, why not give the cheese a rest. Like the rats that they are, it might attract Packers fans.

Go Falcons.

*seriously, do you know him? I pulled this photo off the interweb, and I wanted to give proper credit.

**a debatable statement, indeed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Booze in the News - January 14, 2011

Blogging's face-for-radio tackles the interweb's most 'spirited' stories with a golden voice and a touch of halitosis... gingivitis... and probably some bed bugs.

Plunder the influence: A Delaware man broke into a house, got drunk, and couldn't figure out how to leave, so he called 911 for help. Police claim 44 year old John Finch entered a vacant Wilmington, DE home, stayed for a couple days and drank five bottles of liquor, then- in his inebriated state- couldn't remember to go out the window he used to enter. Having run into a situation where the doors of the house required keys, even from the inside, Finch decided his best option was to call the fuzz. When they showed up, I'm curious if the schnockered squatter mistakenly got excited when the po-po informed him that he'd soon be "behind bars."

Vintage: An international group of scientists claim to have discovered the world's oldest Armenia. The team- led by archaeologists from UCLA- found within a preserved cave in southern Armenia, winemaking equipment that is nearly 6,000 years old. The artifacts include clay pots, vats, a simple press, seed and stem remnants, and a cup. Also found was a letter from Demeter USA, denying biodynamic status for the wineries vineyards, on account that a buried mammoth tusk filled with giant sloth shit does not comply with the organization's rigorous standards. Suburban Wino merchandise and unsent fan mail were not discovered.

A Dream Deferred: This edition's cover model- Ted Williams, the golden-throated homeless man-turned-viral sensation- is reportedly heading to rehab for alcohol abuse. His rags-to-riches story lost some of its luster when sanctimonious blowhard Dr. Phil browbeat Williams into his decision during a taped interview this week (following a minor incident involving alcohol in Los Angeles on Monday). While I wish Mr. Williams the best of luck in tackling his addiction, I fear the worst, as he was recently offered a job by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nothing will drive an Ohio man to drink quicker than talking Cleveland sports.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chilly, Chile, Chilly, Chile, Chili, and Chili

An excessive use of homonyms is indeed the evidence that cabin fever's beginning to set in. We've been holed up for 48 hours by this year's edition of the "storm of the century", and- while the stockpile of wine has held up nicely- I'm about to go into kidney failure from the constant consumption of sodium-laden canned soups. I feel like I've been drinking seawater. Progresso has made me crazy; delirious about homonyms. All canned soup and no fresh food makes Joey a dull boy.

Though we rarely see the white stuff on the ground in Georgia, this has been only one of many, many chilly weather episodes over the past 3 months. With such cold comes a desire for red wines, and for appropriate victuals to complement said wines. One such night came back in December, when I had just received a surplus of venison from my father-in-law, who seems to have a particular vendetta against whitetails. Jesting aside, my wife's father is an avid outdoorsman, and I am very appreciative when he supplies me with venison. Can't get reservations at Morton's? Seminole Deer Processing has got your back.

With the food situation (seemingly) tightened up tighter than Archie Bell & the Drells, I turned to wine options, as is my nature. Knowing that Chilean reds (especially ones containing the polarizing Carménère grape) can be quite earthy, I chose a couple bottles [disclosure statement] I received as samples from a PR company touting "Chilean Red Blends". In conversation with wine lovers, we all often get caught up in varietal bottlings, perceiving them as higher in quality. However, some of the world's most sought-after reds are blends, including Bordeaux, Amarone, and up-to-thirteen-graper Châteauneuf-du-Pape ("graper" is a word for this post's purposes). I'm glad to see more and more blends coming to market. It makes sense in quality wine production: taking the best of different grapes to create something marvelous. Would you rather listen to The Beatles, or Ringo Starr by himself?

Or maybe the music of the Spice Girls versus Geri Halliwell solo projects? Actually, they're both pretty bad, but hey, at least they're not Ringo Starr.

I opened the 2008 Bodegas O. Fournier Centauri (45% Carignan, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Merlot from the Maule Valley of Chile, about $20 retail) and the 2004 Haras de Pirque Albis (75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Carménère from the Maipo Valley, about $45 retail), tucking in to make sure they would complement my venison steaks, destined for an au poivre-style preparation.

While the Albis showed a lot of cherry, plum, herbs, and dark fruit found in high-quality fruit-forward Cabs, all this goodness was the Ringo Starr to a John/Paul of Carménère funk: like used coffee grounds, charcoal, burnt green pepper, and a bit of poo was thrown in the bottle with some really good Cab. I was not ready for it on this night (to be continued...). The Centauri, however, was primed for consumption. Carignan (to me) shares a lot of the same properties of Zinfandel, so the 45% stepped up with an always-satisfying nose and flavors of berries and black pepper. I also decided to use a little for the pan sauce. I could already taste my next culinary masterstroke.

Sadly, dinner was an abject failure. Not for lack of potential, but lack of ingredients/technique. I made two distinct mistakes: lightly flouring the chops before searing, and using "light" butter instead of honest-to-goodness butter. It was all I had on hand, and it coated the pan with a disgusting film. Furthermore, when I added my liquid to create the pan sauce (the Centauri in lieu of Brandy), it created a far-too-thick-and-rather-gloppy gravy. Look at this mess:

But there were some bright spots: rather than using crushed black peppercorns to coat the venison chops, I used a spice that was also provided as a sample with the wines. Called "merquén" (pronounced "merkin"...yes, just like a toupée for the nether-regions), this blend of smoked cayenne pepper and other spices was mighty tasty, with a warm heat and great chipotle-like flavor. Furthermore, the wine offered good flavor in the stead of harder spirits. Regardless, I tucked my chef's tail in shame and stoppered the wines to fight another day. A pox on fake butter substitutes!

As it turns out (not surprisingly in December), there was quite a nip in the air the next night, so I had a chance at redemption. I whipped up a batch of chili, which is a notoriously good pairing with Zinfandel (provided it's not too spicy: heat in spices seems to magnify alcohol). Granted, I didn't have Zin, but my similarly-profiled Carignan blend would do just fine. And it did. This would be one of those "complementary" pairings- as opposed to "contrast" matches- where the peppery spice and juiciness of both berry flavor and tomatoes came into harmony, while red meat and tannic structure- likely from the 30% Cabernet Sauvignon- melded nicely.

Even the Albis, after taking a day to blow off its poo-breath, was mighty tasty with the chili. More fruit, less funk. Sort of like when Peter Cetera took over Chicago and made them lame. Except in this case, it was a good thing. How's that for a bad metaphor?

I guess what I'm trying to say is: when the weather got chilly, I scrounged for some red blends from Chile. They were pretty good, even though my food was bad. But then it got chilly again, so I took what was left of my wines from Chile, and successfully paired them with some chili. Which is what you should do, whether you're a novice wine drinker, a seasoned pro, or journeyman designated hitter/outfielder Chili Davis, who isn't originally from Chile, but from Jamaica, where it never gets chilly.

Use real butter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Any Port in a Storm

"They're talking about 12 inches of snow this week," exclaimed a buddy of mine last night after he'd tucked into a couple. I thought Canadian hip-hop/reggae sensation Snow was coming to town for a reunion tour. Immediately, the convoluted lyrics of "Informer" ransacked my thoughts..."Informer, you know say dummada slow me I go blam, I licka boom boom down..." Those are the lyrics, right? Whatever they actually are, I always wondered how a song about ratting to the cops ended up in repeatedly licking the boom boom down. I don't know what that means, but it sounds mighty inappropriate. Must be Canadian slang. Oh, Snow, we hardly knew ye...

But, no. No Snow concert for me, and tens of other disappointed fans. My friend seriously thought there could be a foot of snow on the ground in Atlanta. Southern weather sensationalism if I've ever heard it, and I've heard it a lot in my seasoned tenure as a denizen of the Peach State. I can't recall a time I saw that much drop from the Georgia sky, but any chance of frozen precipitation sends cities across the Southeast into a sort of apocalyptic frenzy. Load up and run for shelter...squall's a comin' (though the typical 1/4" accumulation stays off the streets and is melted by 9 AM the next day). Logical thinking notwithstanding, I immediately knew that there would be no milk, eggs, or bread at local grocery-stores-turned-loony-bins. Plenty of spreadable cheese food product, potato crisps, and lima beans left on the shelves; but milk, eggs, and bread are the southern winter weather-equivalent of a carton of Lucky Strikes in the joint.

It's a consistent phenomenon I've never really understood. When inclement weather rears its toboggan-brandished head, I guess there's a primal instinct triggered; one that tells human beings that they better have plenty of French toast on hand. Screw energy-packed and highly-storable superfoods like nuts, dried fruit, and jerky. No, we need an ample stash of French toast, in case other snowed in neighbors who hastily purchased only frozen Eggos are desperate for another carbohydrate-based breakfast option. I imagine an intimate understanding of these winter weather eating habits is the key to the Mrs. Butterworth's fortune.

But, as they say, "any port in a storm," meaning when faced with adversity, what may not seem to be a great option is still better than the alternative. Perhaps folks- knowing that they could be stranded indefinitely in a frozen hell- opt for the warm, economical, and gullet-filling promise of French toast.

Personally, I choose to take the famous idiom much more literally. If I know we're going to be stuck in the house for a day, perhaps with no heat if the ice knocks out power lines, then I'll reach for another warm, economical, and gullet-filling form of sustenance: Port.

When I say "Port", I mean the real stuff. You'll travel around California and see a lot of "Zinfandel Port", "Merlot Port", etc. They're making some tasty stuff, but it's not technically "Port". The real juice is a fortified wine from the Douro region of Portugal...thus, the name. And when I say "fortified", I mean that a neutral grape spirit is added to the fermenting juice, arresting fermentation, which leaves some residual sugar in the final product, yet "fortifying" the drink with a final alcoholic content of generally around 20%. Teetotalers need not apply.

Though potentially made from a slew of different grapes, the most notably cultivated for Port production are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in the Rioja region of Spain), and Touriga Francesa, among a few others. After fermentation and fortification, the wines are left to age in either wooden barrels or in the bottle. Depending on the aging regime, the happy tippler is left with many different styles. The most common are:

Ruby Port: aged in stainless steel or concrete vats after fermentation, then bottled. These wines see no wooden barrel and are not exposed to oxidation (thus retaining the "ruby" color). They are generally the cheapest and most widely-available type of Port.

Tawny Port: these wines are aged in wooden barrels, in what is called a Solera system. In the simplest terms, a Solera is sort of a wine-aging-and-blending pyramid, where wine is taken from the bottom barrels, which is then refilled from the barrels above it. Tawnies can age in these barrels for a very long time, and the exposure to air imparts the effects of oxidation, including not only the rusty, tawny color, but incredible nutty and caramel flavors. Depending on where the wine is pulled to be bottled out of the Solera, wines can have an average duration in the wood of 10, 20, or even 40 years. Bottles with such average age are labeled with the year, and fetch a heftier price tag than plain ol' Tawny.

Vintage Port: the previous two styles are blends from several years' worth of wine. It's impossible to put a single vintage year on the bottle. However, a few times per decade, the grape quality is deemed worthy enough to make a vintage bottling, and the fermented and fortified juice from one year is barreled for a maximum of two and a half years, then put in the bottle to do most of its aging. These wines, strengthened by not only the tannin and acidity of the grapes, but significantly by the preservative nature of high alcohol content, can be laid down for a damn long time (and usually need to be to hit maturity). While not cheap, when compared to some of the greatest aging wines of Bordeaux, Barolo, and Burgundy, Vintage Port offers incredible value for the complex and sublime experience it offers.

Late-Bottled Vintage: often simply referred to as "LBV", this is essentially leftover wine from a vintage batch. It is left in the barrel to age beyond the 2.5 years max for a vintage Port. The extended time in wood allows oxidation to mature the wine more quickly, so LBVs are generally ready to drink sooner than vintage.

Other, styles include Colheita (single-vintage tawny), White Port, Vintage Character, Single Quinta, etc. I don't normally see these as often as the 4 styles I highlighted, sort of like hearing a Snow song on the radio in just doesn't happen much.

In any case, if you find yourself snowed in this winter, leave the French toast to the foolish masses and snuggle up to a warm, inviting glass of Port. I'm sure your neighbor has milk, eggs, and bread for you to borrow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Your Best Explanation Needed...

Thanks, Benito for bringing this one to my attention. Such a masterpiece of photo-journalism has generated a lot of speculation, at least for this inquisitive rascal.

What say you, dear reader?

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I've just returned from visiting family in Nashville. To most, it's known as the "Music City", but to select, more discerning foodistas, it's a true culinary crossroads. Indeed, the capital of the great state of Tennessee is one of the few major American metropolises where both Krystal and White Castle coexist. While I've yet to consume the two side-by-side, I can say with all confidence (prepared for the imminent ire of staunch zealots on each side of the steamed bun) that the difference is... mustard. Krystals have it; White Castles do not. This is the kind of hard-hitting research I'm bringing to the table in 2011.

Granted, a sackful of those gut bombs isn't part of the eventually-fleeting deal I'm made with myself concerning New Year's Resolutions. If I'm to lose 30 pounds, grease-soaked bread slathered with cheese and 60/40 ground beef is what we would call an "onion in the ointment". Needless to say, it's not a good start, but I've always been of the philosophy that the first couple days don't count. If there are bowl games on, then it's still the holidays...

...probably why I weigh the same I weighed last January.

Having little hope for personal improvement, what is to come of this low-rent parcel of cyberspace? Should "blog-related resolutions" even exist? They have before. Flash back just about 365 days from this point, and you'd find me pecking away at my keyboard, full of hope and change for the Suburban Wino brand. 'Twas as if a crowd of Barack Obama/Jehovah's Witness/Lou Holtz/Tony Robbins chimaeras- sporting foam domes loaded with '47 Cheval Blanc and chanting excerpts from Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine- descended upon me and pummeled my usual pragmatic cynicism into oblivion. I would surely be writing every day, educating the brutish, Yellow Tail-slugging masses, and finally taking my rightful place in the pantheon of internet wine sensations. Oh yeah...January 1, 2010: enter the Year of the Purple Beard.

After reading that post in a moment of reflection, I wasn't surprised to see few of my edicts come to fruition. Truth is, I can't allow this blog to be a chore. I want it to be fun. If everything is put into a box and on a schedule, then yours truly will probably freak out and relegate this hobby to the realm of "work", and the quality will suffer (provided there is initial quality, which is debatable). In 2010, I stuck to few plans, and that haphazard approach resulted in more readers, access to some incredible food and wine, fostering of some legitimate friendships, unprecedented wine country travel, and an increased knowledge-base and appreciation for all things wine (and for that matter, life).

So, when someone asks, "what are your plans for the blog in 2011?", I'll gladly offer the same nebulous stare you get from the pimply kid at White Castle after requesting he add mustard to the burgers (as to make them more like Krystals, of course). Then, I'll give a confident "dunno," which won't be entirely true, because 2011 will- without a doubt- be another year of incredible food and wine, and none of it will be taken seriously enough.

Let's get weird...