Thursday, April 28, 2011

Announcement: Headed to Chicago

Steve Cropper and Matt "Guitar" Murphy will not be there with me.

However, I'm taking a few days off (and a few days w/ JUST the wife... first time since June of last year) to head up to the city of many of my roots; yet, a place I haven't visited in 22 years. That is to say, visited as an adult.

I'll be pretty busy getting the band back together, high-fiving Andre Dawson, eating Italian beef sammiches, singing "Danke Schoen" in a flash mob-like German parade, foiling the Wet Bandits, designated-driving Jay Cutler, eating beef in non-sammich form, and having a drink... or more than one (sorry Jay Cutler... I'm sure you can intercept another designated driver).

Because of all this, there will be no blogging for the rest of the week. However, I'll be banging around the Twitters a bit, I'm sure. Will probably scare up some Windy City wine geeky folks as well.

If there's a place I need to go while up there ('til Sunday), drop it in the comments. If you drop it like it's hot, make sure to give me fair warning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Just a few shots from a recent burger grind. I simply bought a ribeye steak and made it into hamburger. Some would say this is a waste of a good steak, but I argue it's the makings of a tasty grind... if only I hadn't overcooked the damn thing. Luckily, it was only slightly, and the ample fat kept it moist.

Paired that sucker up with the 2008 Tribute to Grace Grenache. Yowza. Hard to get, but try to get some.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Local Homebrewer makes good

I love to drink locally. When one lives in a part of the world not adjacent to a deluge of jaw-dropping wine, "drinking locally" often means drinking beer...

...provided one doesn't reside in an Amish community. In which case, "drinking locally" would involve a taste of Goody Smythe's freshly-churned buttermilk. 'Tis a fortifying buttermilk that puts a good start to a day of hand-crafting rocking chairs and those dancing wooden puppets on sticks.

Fortunately, Atlanta is not very Amish, and there's plenty of good local beer. Terrapin, Sweetwater, and Red Brick get most of the accolade, with smaller operations like 5 Seasons Brewing and Wild Heaven more-than-nobly filling in the gaps.

Whenever I hear of a new Atlanta brewing operation, I get geeked up, and I kick wine to the curb (Don't worry, wine. I'm a fickle bitch). Furthermore, when I find out the guy behind the new local beer was just a home brewer making some great suds, I decide I need to meet that person. Or at least take a picture of him to paste creepily on the mirror of my personal home brewing dungeon:

Randy Dempsey is the mad genius behind O'Dempsey's beer. Okay, he's not very mad at all. Rather, a quite friendly chap who loves talking about beer and hockey (clearly, not originally from Atlanta). Basically, the guy had been home brewing forever, and someone finally convinced him to go pro. I'd much rather you read the story here than allow me to skewer it with obscure tangents, as is my modus operandi.

I got to taste a couple of Randy's beers a week ago along with some cheese at Muss & Turner's. My doctor told me specifically to stay away from 1. Beer and 2. Cheese. But he's probably an idiot.

Disclosure: the nice folks at Muss & Turner's either comped me this beer/cheese tasting, or I stole it. Not really sure. I had come there originally for other reasons, and then I guess my charisma took over. Or, I dined and dashed. So, either 'thanks' or 'sorry' to Jessica Moss, the charming M&T's beer nerd.

O'Dempsey's Big Red Ale was a far cry from what one usually gets from fledgling brewers- that is to say, Pale Ale. I was pleased to discover that it smelled similar to a batch of beer I made once. While most brewers should take offense to this comment, it was a pretty good batch. Deus ex machina, I suppose. But I'm sure Randy knew what he was doing. The Big Red- as I said, unlike a Pale Ale- was more malty than hoppy, and ready for a burger. Went well with some of the cheeses, too. If you took a burger and put blue cheese on it, then drank some of Randy's Big Red Ale, you'd be in a situation commonly known as "flavor country'. It's a country that has no rules, smells wonderful, and makes you fat. Like the Netherlands without all the patchouli.

Yet, it was this delightful tipple that really got me excited about O'Dempsey's. The Inukshuk IPA (meaning "India Pale Ale", a style popularized by the Brits in the 1800's) delivered the piney, citrusy nose that welcomes all IPA lovers, but it was smooth and totally balanced in the mouth- belying its 7% alcohol content. Sometimes, higher-gravity beers can come off as too sweet or too thick or too alcoholic on the palate. But, like the carefully balanced stones that construct the Inuit statue bearing this beer's namesake, this one was in harmony. If I hadn't had to drive home, I probably would've sipped on these until I was way out of harmony.

The wine bloggers (present company included) like to go all apey about wine and food and the edict that they belong together. I'd defend that notion to the death (actually, I'd probably concede if it came to that), but there's no rule saying beer should only be slugged with nachos and hot dogs and hot dogs with nacho cheese on them. Beer was meant for the dinner table, and Randy Dempsey's offerings fit the menu. Seek them out when you're in Georgia. And you should be in Georgia, because we have good beer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Snowed In.

As in, like working into the evening and traveling every night this week. And not to exotic ports-of-call. More like "places where air conditioning is sold and marketed to mechanical contractors."

I'm sitting (okay, I'm lying down for all you sitting snobs) in a hotel in Birmingham, AL, hoping to procure some super-tasty, tiny-production beers from Good People Brewing. Drink this beer if you're ever in North Alabama. And be glad. 'Cause it's very hard to find (perhaps impossible, as I only know of its existence in kegs). More importantly, it's good. But I will be smuggling some back to Atlanta.

I drank some Georgia wine from Blackstock last night. Reserve Merlot. '06, I think. Way better than I expected. And I know they're using 100% Georgia fruit. I was proud of the little guys up North.

Haven't written a "Booze in the News" in forever. I'm pretty sure I would've referenced some people who got drunk and did stupid stuff. Luckily, there's no shortage of nincompoops out there. Nor alcohol. "Booze in the News" will never go obsolete for lack of content, I assure you.

Anyway, hope I can get on the good foot next week. Until then, keep it safe, and keep it sexy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pink is Pimp

In the aftermath of an incendiary tirade berating the awful deficit of wine color-blindness in our culture, I received the following comment from the fine blokes over at Sediment Blog (which you should check out):

Almost hate to ask, but... where do you stand on rosé?

I can understand their meekness. I was on fire. "A madman drunk on adrenaline," my old friend from Arkansas might say. But such a relevant question warranted no apprehension, as the post ignored pink wine: the proverbial pink elephant-in-the-room. And when one is seeing pink elephants, an explanation is often required. "Drunk on adrenaline" is rarely a satisfactory answer.

Pink wine- referred to as "blush" in the 80's and on Franzia boxes, and now going by the more sophisticated name of rosé (accents and italics make anything more cosmopolitan)- gets a real bad rap among folks getting into the fermented grape...

Blame it on a guy named Bob Trinchero. One of the owners of Sutter Home winery in Napa, Trinchero would start making a dry, red Zinfandel wine in 1972. In order to concentrate the must (crushed, fermenting grapes), he would "bleed off" some of the juice (a process known as saignée) , ferment it to dryness, and bottle the pink juice for sale. However, in 1975, Trichero ran into a stuck fermentation with his byproduct, and the sugar just wouldn't ferment out. The brass at Sutter Home decided that they preferred the sweet style, and the infamous "White Zinfandel", as we know it, was born.

Perhaps you're like me. When I was cutting my teeth as a "serious" wine drinker (that moniker has since derailed), I dismissed all pink wine as crap. I decried "sweet" wine as an elixir of the hillbilly. I dismissed anything not red or white as the garbage found in gas stations next to the St. Ides double-deuces.

Maybe you cursed Bob Trinchero for his scourge upon the civilized wine world. And though Trinchero was too busy banging a giant pile of money to hear your lamentations, his Frankenstein-wine set the tone for a rampage against everything that shared it's horrid hue.

All rosé was not only unpalatable, but also the color of a cocktail befitting a bachelorette party, never to be confidently quaffed with the boys. Drinking wine among the beer crowd draws ridicule enough; knocking back something presumably sweet and the color of a Hello Kitty baby backpack... well, there just wasn't swagger to it, right?

Wrong. Hey, I was wrong too. I been there, man (clearly, my new catch-phrase).

We'd gone through life thinking "pink is wimp", not realizing that pink is pimp. Much of it is NOTHING like White Zinfandel (which has its place, too). There are examples that are fresh, vibrant, and acidic. They can be incredible with food. And, when you spill these wines on your 3-piece cotton-candy suit with flamingo derby hat, they don't stain.

I live in the South. And people from the south eat a lot of pork. We especially like to smoke the tasty critters in the summer. So, let's say I'm sitting out on my back porch on a July afternoon, sweating like a hoarder at a garage sale. As good as Pinot Noir is with pulled pork, I'm not reaching for a perspiration-inducing red. I'd like a rosé wine with a slight chill on it. It's got just enough red fruit to sing with that pork, but retains a lightness that gives a good yard beer a run for its money.

Some of the best examples of pink wine come from the Southeastern corner of France. Seek out the wines of Provence, especially the Mourvédre-based wines of Bandol, and- my personal favorite- Grenache-based Tavel from the southern Rhône. These wines tend to be dry, and they promise an unexpected and mighty enjoyable experience, offering aromas that often bely the dryness within the glass. Still not convinced? You can look on the labels and view the alcohol content. If it's hovering around 12% or higher, there's a good chance you're not dealing with anything sweet...

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But- alas- that is another rant, and I don't want to get off-point, as is my M.O. Rather, the time has come to embrace your inner-Huggy Bear and give rosé- the pinkest, pimpest wine of all time- a shot. Sip it from a wine glass if you're really cool. The rest of you insecure jive turkeys can ease into your pink drinkin' with a transitional vessel if necessary:

Or, if you're really slick:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stop Being a Red Wine Racist

Is it unbelievably offensive to compare a wine drinker's bugaboo with a despicable social phenomenon that has plagued our nation for centuries? I'm not really sure, but I guess I'm going to find out soon enough.

But, when I have an axe to grind, and my mind's made up on how I'm going to do it, then a picture of that buffoon David Duke in front of a confederate battle flag shouting in log cabin font appears. And I'm pretty sure all racists talk in log cabin font, the most racist of all fonts.

It's nothing new. I hear the "I only drink red wine" proclamation from lots of folks in package stores, at wine tastings, on twitter, etc. I've seen the trends, too. People will start drinking wine; cutting their teeth on Sutter Home White Zinfandel or something like that... chilled, fruity, sweet, and refreshing. I get the appeal. But then, eager to see where it all comes from, someone will take a trip out to Napa or Sonoma or the Willamette Valley. And- with the exception of a few Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and Pinot Gris here and there- these areas are dominated by dry red wine. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry Creek Zinfandel. Willamette Pinot Noir. Based on these visits; considering what shows up on the "reserve" tasting lists; seeing which wines go for the prettiest pennies; well, I can deduce how one would build a perception that all the "great" wines are red, and dry. This is not supposition. I've experienced it first-hand. Man, I've been there.

But I didn't go to the extreme. I know folks who take this attitude too far. They consume all these reds, then determine that red wine is the only acceptable answer. Whites are all served too cold and taste like butterscotch and pineapples, right? Why look the fool wasting time with those rotgut bottles when all the true aficionados are sipping on Silver Oak Cab?

Call them elitists. Call them closed-minded. Maybe they're a bit snobby. But I have another way to describe these folks.

They are red wine racists.

I posit that these wine racists choose to avoid whites because they think that white wine is of lower quality. They believe that white wines lack complexity, taste fruity and oaky, come served ice cold, and don't pair well with steak. Essentially, because the ubiquitous California Chardonnay doesn't suit their palates, all white wines are inferior. Okay, I guess this is more "wine stereotyping". But that just doesn't have the inflammatory, yellow-journalistic sizzle that "wine racism" espouses.

It's really a shame that Cali Chardonnay seems to be the far-and-away ambassador of white wines served at popular restaurants, wedding receptions, birthday parties, tailgates, swingers' clubs, Krull conventions, derailed Al-Anon meetings, and pagan goat roastings (I'm more familiar with the first four than the last four). Truth is, there are some many AMAZING white wines out there that should be at least considered by reforming red wine racists. Compound that sentiment when one considers food. Many of the world's white wines offer reasonable alcohol, subtle fruit, and zipping acidity that heightens the flavors of nearly any cuisine:

- Crisp, minerally whites like Muscadet (region name and grape name), Sancerre (region name, grape is Sauvignon Blanc), and Albariño (grape name) will give ice cold beer a serious run for its money when set up with a plate of oysters on the half-shell and some steamed peel-n-eats.

- Beautifully aromatic, insanely acidic Rieslings (grape) work with tons of different foods. Plus, the German examples (especially bottles marked Spätlese or Auslese) often have a bit of sweetness to them. Nothing- and I mean nothing- goes better with spicy food. Hot wings and wine? You damn skippy!

- Gewürztraminer, Torrontés, and Viognier (all grape names) bring some serious sniffin' firepower to the jamboree. These will kick a red wine racist's thought of "what white wine smells and tastes like" on its racist ass.

Hell, even Chardonnay works its way into the game. France kicks out some killer stuff, and the Chablis (add to that oyster list) and other white Burgundies not only destroy a Chardonnay prejudice, but they can also empty a bank account quickly. There's a reason why these wines can be so expensive: because they're the shit. Oh, and some Meursault will pair with that steak just fine.

Let me put it this way: when my friends in high places decide to pull the wine equivalent of "making it rain" by emptying their cellars for guests, the best stuff coming out is almost always top-end white Burgs and German Rieslings. And they've drank it all.

The ugly truth is that racism is widespread. It is ignorant. Racism is illogical. I don't know if it will ever go away, and that's very sad to me. I hope people can someday see beyond historic differences and skin color.

But red wine racism is easily defeated, if these misguided folks will be willing to try something new and look past the color of the grape's skin.

It won't change the world, but it might be the first step towards vinous peace & love.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Inside Jokes.

So, I spent about 3 hours (when I should have been writing) working on this tonight:

Why? Because I read a hilarious account of a day in the life of a wine retailer (followed by a very important lesson for EVERYONE who likes to drink wine) over at Samantha Sans Dosage today. If you haven't read her blog, Samantha is a brilliant writer and knows a whole lot about wine. If you had to choose between this blog and hers, I'm out of a job...

...and a poor-paying job, at that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Napa Misses the Mark

On my first trip to Napa (just about four years ago, to the date), I embraced the valley. It embraced me, planted a warm, sloppy kiss right on my wine-stained lips, and slipped me a little tongue-

Granted, I still had some hair on my head back then, and I was benefitting from a post-wedding build, necessary to wedge myself into the big day's tuxedo. Perhaps Napa couldn't resist-

But my (swiftly) fading looks are inconsequential. The point is that the Napa Valley- it's wines, it's sweeping vistas, and it's intoxicating charm- got my panties in a wad. I had no idea wine of such quality existed. Like being ensnared in an awkward teenage infatuation, I'd fallen in love with, become obsessed with, the fermented grape. And like any first kiss, particularly if it was shockingly good, my experience in Napa has imprinted my soul and changed my life forever.

So, any time I hear of friends or neighbors heading out for the first time, I get a little geeked up. I become a pro bono travel agent. I send emails documenting places to visit that make my longest ramblings here seem shorter than Charlie Sheen tweets (and the emails are twice as maniacal). I get into this frenzy because I can't wait for others to experience what I did. "They'll finally get it," I think. "They'll understand why I'm psychotic. They may come home psychotic, too. We can be psychotic together."

Yet, when folks return and tell me they have "no desire to go back to Napa", I'm admittedly a bit taken aback. A lot taken aback, and that's a ton, because I'm not even sure what that saying means. Naturally, I'm inclined to pry.

My neighbors just got back from a trip, and they felt that everything was very expensive. Yes, Napa can be expensive. They mentioned $25 tasting fees. Hmm... more than I remember paying. No big deal, those fees can easily be neutralized by the purchase of a bottle. Tasting fees are always credited towards purchase, right?

Nope. But the fiscal raping was not even the worst thing I heard. "They didn't tell us anything about the wines. We didn't learn anything. They just shoved a sheet of tasting notes in front of us and told us what was on special." Oh, you dirty bastards.

Now, let me go on the record and say that my "facts" are based on anecdotal evidence. I can't say first-hand that any of this occurred. But I don't think these are vindictive folks, and I honestly believe they were met with disappointment. I'm not going to name the wineries in question, but I was able- in order to validate some of the story- visit some completely random websites: non-specified Napa winery #1, non-specified Napa winery #2, and non-specified Napa winery #3, and I confirmed that tasting fees range from $15-25 a pop. Why not just buy a bottle at that price? Rather, my friends paid $30-$50 to taste five or so small pours, then spent another $30 on a bottle. All-in-all, they traveled across the country, rented a car, drove to the proprietor's place of business, got zero education and experience, and paid $60 for a $30 bottle of wine. So much for the value of cutting out the middle-man... and the warm fuzzies towards wine country.

Listen, I understand that these places have a lot of overhead. I know that many tasting rooms thrive on tasting fees. But we're talking some pretty heavy-hitters here. I'm sure Beringer and Mondavi don't keep the lights on with tasting fees. Not when they're producing millions of bottles per year. So why not evangelize? These two spots put Napa on the map. In fact, Robert Mondavi virtually invented the American fine wine industry. The large vintners should be creating wine consumers for life, not scaring them off in the name of a quick buck.

And if what I heard about no education is true, then shame on these wineries. They've perpetuated the mystifying nature of wine. I subscribe to the notion that people warm to what is understood and familiar. If they don't know what they're drinking, then they're probably not going to buy it, whether the taste costs $0.50 or $50.

I understand this scenario is not that case with all Napa wineries. I'm lucky to know some really terrific people in Napa, from winery personnel to PR folks to growers themselves. I can confirm that some are educating the eager masses, sharing their best, and using the tasting rooms to convert skeptics, sell bottles, and make customers for life. But how can their reputations not suffer when the biggest and brightest in the market- the standard-bearers for America's most celebrated wine region- are actively participating in screwing up a huge opportunity and alienating potential wine drinkers?

Hit the mark next time, Napa. It could pay dividends in the long run. Connect with your tasting room customers. Educate them. And please don't rip them off because they simply don't know better. Make out with their thirst for knowledge like you're making out with Mariah Carey on a red carpet at some undisclosed Nickelodeon event. Because that would be awesome. And a little weird. But certainly not disappointing.