Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Avoidably Detained

It's not that I don't love you, I just love Champagne more. Or, should I say, I love to pop some bottles for good friends.

Off a roughly-seven month run consisting of kids' birthdays, family events, weddings, and the miscellany consuming the life of a thirty-something suburbanite, the past weekend seemed an appropriate time to slow down and enjoy. Fun and food with good neighbors, some splashing around and hopefully-not-pooping-in-it pool time with the li'l critter, and general relaxation. Rather, relaxation that has been a leprechaun riding a unicorn. That is to say, rare (but surprisingly easy to find online).

So, while the blog is peppered with occasional posts in which I feebly gripe about being too busy to write, I've penned this one to say I haven't posted in 5 days because I desired to get off the grid. Take some time to enjoy the blessings that have surround me. You know, at least for a couple days.

Funny how we can get so caught up in studying wine, discussing wine, analyzing wine, and arguing about it. The past weekend has served as a good reminder that our beloved beverage works its most-brilliant wonders when it is simply enjoyed in the company of friends...

...and I was talking about the kid pooping in the pool, not me. But I can see how that would throw some folks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Dogsbody to Labour and Practise.

It's British. The King's English. And it can- surprisingly- get a little tricky to understand.

"Black grapes"?

"Vineyard aspect"?

"Colour and Flavour"?!

No, my quiet neighborhood has not been overrun by limey bastards. But they do keep sneaking over the border. The sudden proliferation of Heinz canned "Spotted Dick" at my local grocery purveyor is a dead giveaway. Yet, you fools assume our borders are secure...

Actually, I've begun my study for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Advanced. The above-mentioned are common phrases seen within the study material.

Why the lingo? Well, it's a British accreditation. And I'm digging in because I need to brush up on wine knowledge. Because I want to build on a modicum of credibility. And because I long to master the three main wine-centric associations in existence: Society of Wine Educators, Court of Master Sommeliers, and WSET. (Joe Roberts at 1WineDude slings a good breakdown of each HERE).

WSET is the logical choice: an opportunity to study it has arose. I already have the CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine, or "Certified Social Worker" on LinkedIn, or "Certified Suburban Wino", coined by someone much more clever than I) from the Society of Wine Educators. The more-advanced CWE (Certified Wine Educator) is currently way out-of-my-league. At this point, the CWE is Lisa Turtle. I'm Screech Powers.

There's also the Court of Master Sommeliers. I've always craved this one, so I could call myself a sommelier. Unfortunately, the Court just doesn't have a training and certification schedule I can work around at this point. So, no, I will STILL not be a certified sommelier. But that's okay. I'm not sliding into my slim-fit tuxedo I bought in college anytime soon.

But WSET is not a bad option. It's pretty comprehensive. The materials are well-written. Furthermore, the WSET Advanced incorporates an element of tasting evaluation in it's certification. And my palate is stupid. Like "Paris Hilton" stupid. So having an organized (organised?) methodology with which to train it is huge. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge.

And so, for these- among other- reasons, it's time to dig into the WSET materials, written in British. With plenty of swot, some codswallop, a few nights on the piss (getting rat-arsed on plonk), and definitely some spawny circumstances, I'm confident everything will be bloody brilliant.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Leftovers are a drag.

To some, this is an inflammatory statement. Akin to saying, "I can't stand Glee." (btw- I can't stand Glee).

So, before I'm verbally smacked in the face with an open-faced meatloaf sandwich (or accosted my a rabid army of Gleeks), let's break this down:

1) Eating the same thing in sequence is very boring. This is why I'm not in the military, avoid prison, and run through failed diets like a pack of smokes at an Al-Anon meeting.

2) Many foods, though delicious initially, lose a whole lot of luster when refrigerated and reconstituted.

Eating leftovers- ones not meant to improve overnight like a pot roast or a soup- is like fighting a gustatory battle against the evil forces of hunger with a decimated officer Alex James Murphy, pre-Robocop enhancements.

But, even when dealing with the most-ravaged of leftovers, a little culinary surgery can turn the most lifeless Steve Austin into the Six Million Dollar Man.

Take, for example, the low country boil (or "frogmore stew", "shrimp boil", or any number of regional names). This southern, coastal delight is a mash-up of shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage, boiled together in seasoned water (most traditionally, in straight-up seawater). Generally made for a large crowd, the one-pot feast is dumped onto a table covered with newspaper, and devoured by famished, often-tipsy, party or tailgate guests.

When the crowd has been eating all day, the chance of leftovers is more palpable. What's left? A fridge full of Murphys and Austins:

Cold, greasy sausage, enveloped in a film of congealed pork fat. Wrinkled corn. Potato mush. And, of course, shrimp that have already been cooked once. And overcooked shellfish is an abject disaster.

Alas, at times, fiscal responsibility outweighs the desire to discard. With a few ingredients and some basic know-how, you can rebuild it. You have the technology.

Six Million Dollar Pasta (or Robocop Pasta, if you prefer)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil, or a combo of both
1/2 lb. smoked kielbasa (about the equivalent of 1 link), cut into 1/4" half-rounds
4 scallions, chopped (greens and whites)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2-3 heads of garlic, minced
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Cup whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 lb. cooked large (30-35 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb. (1/2 box) dry pasta (in this case, linguine)
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) Melt butter, or oil, or combo of both (I like that one) in a pan. Add the kielbasa sausage and sauté on medium heat until the sausage has given up some fat.

2) Add the scallions, celery, garlic, peppers, and cajun seasoning. Sauté until veggies are a little soft (3 minutes)

3) In the meantime, get at least a half gallon of water a'boilin'. Salt and keep bubblin'. Yes, I hate the letter "g".

4) Add the flour and mix into the goodness. Once the flour is incorporated and has absorbed the fat, add the milk. Put the spurs to it and crank the range to high (the flour will thicken the milk into a sauce, but only once the liquid boils (don't ask me the science on this). If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk, a bit at a time. Bing bang boom.

5) Add pasta to boiling water after the milk goes in.

6) Once the cream sauce is how you like it, add the shrimp, basically just to heat them up. Salt and pepper to taste.

7) When the pasta is ready, strain it and dump into the sauce (I also like to add a small ladle of the pasta water to the sauce).

8) Garnish, or don't garnish. I don't care. And who am I to influence your garnishing decisions?

I know your first instinct is to drink a tall glass of whole milk with this. However, since there's already a bunch of whole milk in the recipe, do something wacky and drink wine. In the case of this dish, containing both a seafood element and some sausage, I figured there may be opportunity to go either way- red or white- with the wine. Fortunately, PR pal Constance had slung me some sample New Zealand beauties recently (okay, it was a long time ago. PR folks: I'm a really terrible person to send wine to). In any case, they fit the bill: A Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir. White and Red. It was meant to happen this way.

The wines of New Zealand always tend to be great with food, especially from the Marlborough region (on the South Island). The significant distance from the equator and the maritime influences 'round those parts make for bottlings that aren't too heavy, are crisp and clean, and bonzer with chow (though I think "bonzer" is an Aussie saying, and now I've lost my entire Kiwi readership). Although many other wine grapes are grown in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are definitely the ambassadors for white and red, respectively, and neither of these offerings disappointed.

In the end, the acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc balanced the rich pasta dish, with pronounced grapefruit goodness to tame it's fiery cajun soul. The Pinot Noir, although tasty on it's own, didn't jive with my lofty aspirations of a colorblind meal...

...but it was bionic; resurrected from a refrigerated tomb to bring hope to generations of leftovers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wine Label Hell

This post is a disaster of misuse. All these pics were pulled from somewhere on the interweb. They are not intended for business purposes, as the business of this blog is not very profitable. Or profitable at all. If you get mad about a pic, I'll take it down. But I'll be sad. And so will my readers. They're a sensitive (and smart, and good-looking) bunch.

I was reading a very old post on Dr. Vino today about a contest to find the worst wine label. It got me to thinking... has the worst label really even come to market yet? So many possibilities...

...oh, and I'm trying to play it cool and sophisticated, but if I saw any bottle with one of these labels, no matter the swill within, there's about a 100% chance I would buy it:

and, the pièce de résistance:

Got a pic that would make a really awesome/terrible wine label? Throw it up on the facebook page at facebook.com/suburbanwino, and let the weirdness ensue!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Exactly one year ago, I found myself in the most terrifying situation imaginable.

Only 9 hours after my daughter Olivia- my first born- had come into the world, I'd lost her.

Or so I was convinced. As my labor-battered wife slept in her bed, and I on a bed-like bench device (it didn't matter; there are moments of exhaustion when one can sleep anywhere), our swaddled little 7 lb., 7 oz. hot potato started to cough. In a trance-like state, I arose and began to gently pat her on the back, being ever-so careful as not to damage this helpless and completely dependent little human. My little human.

At that moment, the nurse rushed into the room ("thank God," I thought. "I don't know what to do with these things yet."), snatched my hacking child from my arms, and all but banged her against the wall to remove what was residual amniotic fluid from her lungs. The deliberate action of the nurse convinced me: I'd killed her. Nine hours into parenthood, and I'd already failed. Miserably. Like, "manslaughter" miserably. A fear; an unbelievably panicked and devastating feeling rushed through my exhausted frame.

"It's no big deal," the nurse calmly stated, clearly running a drill she'd done a thousand times in the presence of confused, terrified, utterly-shellshocked new parents. "She's fine. Go back to bed."

An impossibly huge exhale. Then a smirk. It was a revelation. My precious daughter was more durable than I had thought. She wasn't going to leave this weird and wonderful new world. And, without knowing it, she reassured her new father that- yes- he could do this, and maybe even succeed at it.

365 days later. Life is different, but not that different. Involvement in the wine community is more difficult. Blogging is definitely tougher. But, like that little 9-hour-old who had no plans of wimping out, a parent adapts, and still continues life. Sure, I used to put posts out at 10 PM. So what? They go out at... uh, it's 2:15 AM now. Dammit.

But I can't say I'd change anything. Sure, there's no sleeping in the weekends. Yeah, a night of overindulgence- previously remedied by laying on the couch all day and eating Chinese food- is followed by the actions of any other day: being a parent and caring for a child. Let's just say, an evening of copious wine tasting doubles as an evening of water tasting. A parent adapts. And when even the groggiest papa walks into the nursery, and he sees that smiling, excited face peeking back at him from between the slats of the crib, not even the strongest pain medicine can bring more comfort and delight.

As year two of parenthood unfolds, I fully intend to keep writing, despite the significant constraints on time, and a newfound and persistent sleepiness. Why? First off, because I do love it. And secondly, somehow, some way, I know that this will lead to the best possible life for my family (which has nothing to do with the money made through a blog. Volunteer work pays better). However, there are surely some opportunities out there. And, though this little 3-year-old experiment, I've built a network of wonderful people in the food and wine industry, many of whom I would consider good friends at this point.

To all of you, I thank you for your patience with me, and with the inconsistent nature of the blog this past year (hell, it was always inconsistent). I sincerely appreciate your support, your comments, your feedback, and- most of all- your friendship.

Now excuse me while I go wash those damn bottles. And is that poop on my shirt?


Nope. It's strained peas.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Werewolves of Lyon

I recently drank some pretty good Roussanne. Thus, a picture of Scott Howard "wolfing out" leads.

Here we go again. Hang on... let me explain.

During a gut-busting, teeth-staining wine dinner (paid my way... take that, disclaimers) featuring the luscious vittles of Atlanta hotspot Local Three- cozied up with a fierce lineup of juice from Central Coast California producer Qupé- I decided I wanted to write about Roussanne.

Why? Because it's the jam. And it needs some publicity (particularly Qupé's masterpiece: a prototype of the difficult balance between fruit, acid, oak, and alcohol).

Before I go completely off the rails, here are some basics: Roussanne is a wine grape that hails from the Rhône valley of France (which basically starts south of the city of Lyon, thus, the painfully-forced title). In its most-recognizable manipulation from vine to glass, Roussanne makes aromatic, medium-to-full-bodied whites that are somewhat akin to the slightly more-popular wines from Viognier (grape). When being as recognizable as it can be, Roussanne is found in bottles from the appellations of Hermitage (region), Crozes-Hermitage (region), and Saint-Joseph (region) in the Northern Rhône, and most notably in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (region) in the Southern Rhône (where it can be used in both white and red blends labeled as Châteauneuf-du-Pape). The grape is also found in the States, often either blended with Viognier, Marsanne (grape), and/or Grenache Blanc (grape), or sparsely varietally-bottled, as in the case with Qupé.

As I tasted the rich, oaked-but-not-over-oaked nectar, featuring a reasonable alcohol of about 13.5%, and good acidity and fruit, I thought, "Chardonnay lovers would really go for this bugger."

So, I set out on finding the perfect pop-culture metaphor. Due to Roussanne's relative obscurity among the palates of most folks, I had to go with a "diamond in the rough" angle. Maybe a rock band that was awesome but never quite made it?

No, I needed something with more T&A (perhaps I've been reading too much Samantha Sans Dosage). And is there anything more (or less) deceptive than the Hollywood typecast of the weird/artsy/misunderstood/nerdy chick who is actually super-hot under all that frumpy flannel and vision correction? With that, the haphazard search began...

Velma Dinkley from Scooby-Doo? Nah. Already used her once. But worth another gander. Perhaps the hottest/nerdiest of them all.

That girl who played the lead character in She's All That? No. Not even Roussanne is obscure enough to be compared currently to Rachel Leigh Cook. Plus, even a brief mention of the movie She's All That would imply that I've seen She's All That...

...dammit. Anyway, Rachel, or Rachel Leigh, I'll come calling when we write a post about Rhoditis or something. Damn, that's some bad wine grape humor. Er, moving on:

What about Lisa "Boof" Marconi, from Teen Wolf? Had some potential, extraordinarily frumpy, and not exactly the popular girl. I seemed to be on the right track, but in my chaotic brainstorm, the clouds parted, and I realized my sophomoric quest for sex appeal had shrouded the clearest metaphor of all:

Roussanne is a teenage werewolf. A teenage werewolf played by actor Michael J. Fox in a hit 1985 film. And here's why:

Roussanne is volatile: Scott Howard's father- Harold- learned to control the wolf. Scott himself was still a little off-the-handle. Any vineyard manager with a field full of Roussanne has to have a little Harold Howard in him/her as well. The grape is known to ripen unevenly, yield irregularly, and is susceptible to the ravages of wind and powdery mildew. However, for the intrepid souls who succeed in hedging these risks and wrangling the wolf, payoff is inevitable.

This unassuming grape has some serious game: Scott Howard- the basketball player- had heart, and was an adequate court general, yet lacked size and ability. When Scott unleashed the wolf, he because a human (canine?) highlight reel. Under the proper circumstances, Roussanne can also unleash some wolf, bringing incredible aromas, power, body, and acidic balance. There's a reason why Qupé's varietally-bottled Roussanne sells for $40.

Roussanne has always been "in" among the "out" crowd: Boof had undying love for Scott Howard, wolf or not. Intuitive guys like me just notice these things. She was like a wine nerd, going the distance to show affection for a soul outside the realm of widespread popularity. When I get together with my fellow geeks (we're talking some folks who have an unhealthy zeal for wine), a bottle of white Hermitage is greeted with extraordinary reverence. 'Tis often not the case in most other crowds...

Roussanne has some really stylish friends: when blended into "Rhône-style" blends, Roussanne is found mingling with other top-notch grapes like Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul, etc. At least a few of these deserve there own posts as well. Either that, or I really wanted an excuse to feature the picture to the left. Oh Styles, we hardly knew ye.

So, the next time some friends want to get together and have some booze, seek out a bottle of Roussanne. When your friends say, "what the hell is Roussanne?," you can reply, "Roussanne is the teenage werewolf of wines." Then, when they look at you like you're crazy, you can simply say, "what are you looking at, dicknose?"Get past the heated exchange, and I promise a well-made bottle will make them all happy. Even dicknose. But not happy about his nose. That seems like something that would make me pretty grumpy, too.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mondays make me so steamed.

Used to be, come mid-afternoon on a Sunday, I'd be able to tuck into writing a couple posts for the coming week. One day of hardcore hunting-and-pecking, and some family time the rest of the week. It freed me up to go to bed at decent hours and surf the web for pictures of sharks with human teeth.

Lately, for whatever reason, getting a Monday post out is an exercise in futility. Maybe if I wasn't busy galavanting around on Saturday nights like a European playboy, I'd have some time to finish copious chores early and get to writing in a timely fashion.

The rub is that the Monday post is critical. Many Loverboy fans are reluctantly slogging back to the office, and the only thing that can get them through the morning is strong coffee and doing anything to avoid actual work. Blogs and Bow Man 2 fit this profile swimmingly.

Alas, I'm trying to figure this out. There's got to be a solution I can muster.

I wonder if the devil could write me a hit Monday post...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Great Innovations in Culinary Technology

The cast iron skillet is a miracle.

Wanna disagree? I'll bludgeon you with my cast iron skillet.

Nah, I wouldn't do that, but I'd force you to cook you steak on a grill. Listen, I like the ol' hibachi as much as the next overhyped Food Network star, but when it's 96 degrees outside, this guy's gonna sweat his arse off in style: in front of the range (sweat courtesy of a bad diet and lack of exercise, not heat).

Plus, when's the last time you got a silly grill to do this?:

That's the evidence of a Maillard reaction, holmes, and the crispity brown crust means flavor country.

Throw in a fine red wine, like this 2007 Swanson Oakville Merlot [disclosure: sample fairy left this for me], and things get really saucy. Many Merlots are known to be very soft and plush and fruity. The higher-quality juice often comes with a little more tannic grip (and that can be a good thing with steak), so it fits the bill like something that would fit perfectly on the bill (sorry, metaphorical acumen is pretty disastrous right now).

Eureka! A meal fit for an awfully lazy post.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Way We Were

No rapture last week, but is it a sign of the Apocalypse that I'm posting a pic of Barbra Streisand on the blawg? Nah, I was just reminiscing about the way we were... that is to say, the memories. That's what we have on Memorial Day, right? And, as I wage war with an unbeatable foe- named "acceptance"- over the rapid deforestation of my scalp, thinking about "the way we were" spurred me to splice in a pic of myself, back in the days of glorious hair. This gambit would furthermore prevent me just posting a straight-up pic of Barbra, which would relegate this wine blog to the equally-overcrowded-and-unpleasant realm of Streisand-fan blogs.

As I was saying: memories. Memorial Day is ideally about paying respect to those who have fought and died for our freedom. However, to more than a few of us, Memorial Day is about eating meats, drinking booze, and recalling the debauchery of Memorial Day weekends past. As the great Jay Thomas said on his SiriusXM radio show, "there's probably some guy in a trench thinking, 'I hope those [expletive] back home are enjoying their ribs.'"

As for this past Sunday (spilling into Monday), I do recall several memories of the purely civilian nature... that is to say, gluttonous ones. Alas, this is the way we were, Memorial Day, 2011:

- I can't wait to make the Lemon Confit from Francis Mallman's ridiculous cookbook, The Seven Fires. Yes, I made Lemon Confit... mostly. Then I never got around to finishing it. Then I threw it away. Nincompoop!

- Ghee (clarified butter) + Lemon Juice + Chicken Stock + Garlic Powder makes an exceptional injection for chicken. Also a great mouthwash, mixer, gargle, bathing liquid, intravenous injection.

-A bottle of Vinho Verde goes down way too easily on a warm day. Yeah, I was inside at the time, comforted by air conditioning, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a scorcher outside, where I was not... ... ... work with me here.

- (not gluttony-related) My daughter looks so stinkin' cute in her bee bathing suit. Cue Blind Melon's "No Rain", please.

- When roasting a chicken, Rosé does the trick. You know, to drink while the chicken is roasting. It's also good with the chicken. As is Oregon Pinot Noir (Bergström delivered the goods this day), and especially White Burgundy (made from Chardonnay). Olivier Leflaive's "Les Sétilles" (a blend of grapes from Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault) is a ridiculous value for you Chard lovers for under $20.

- Ever dipped beef jerky into guacamole? Get ready to live, kemosabe.

- My next door neighbor has started experimenting with homemade hard cider. It's certainly not bad. Next time, I won't throw him under the bus by breaking out two bottles of Diane Flynt's incredible Foggy Ridge Cider from Virginia after tasting his efforts. Diane had nothing to do with getting me these bottles. If you in Virginia, buy some. Or do something illegal. We'll never know which route I took.

In retrospect, and in homage to the post title, I probably should've set the day's compilation video to the song "Barbra Streisand", by Duck Sauce. But this was a day for fowl of a different feather, and duck sauce has no place in the presence of chicken.

Ah, the memories...