Friday, July 29, 2011

Civil War returns to the Commonwealth

As soon as the chaps at Zephyr Adventures unleashed the announcement that Charlottesville, VA would host the 2011 Wine Bloggers' Conference, I knew there'd be controversy. Allan Wright might as well have been Ed McMahon, announcing a perfect score for Sinbad over Dennis Miller's 3.5 stars on that ill-fated night in Star Search history. Out of left field, California heavyweight Paso Robles and- if the conference was to move East- shoe-in "big four" producer New York were kicked to the curb in favor of...


Immediately, I already heard the shit fly in corners of the room, on the bus back to Seattle, online:

"Clearly, the organizers took the highest bid. The vote was ignored."

"Do they even make wine back East? I don't want to drink a bunch of muscadine."

Ad nauseam. Or so it seemed to me. As a proud East-coaster with lots of left coast friends, I guess I hear this stuff once in a while, so it tends to put me on the defensive. Turns out Virginia is the 5th largest producer of wine in the States, right behind Oregon, but the folks in California can seem to dismiss anything outside of California. Again, that's how it sometimes seems to me. Maybe I just see East-West wine relations though piss-n-vinegar colored glasses.

So, given my preemptive position of defense- mobilized with a state within driving distance of my own, I went on the attack on Twitter, started preaching the importance of terroir, begged folks to come to beautiful Charlottesville (while thinking it was an underwhelming place, on paper). Admittedly, I was not as jazzed about the prospects of Charlottesville as I was about the other two proposed locations. Alas, that which is most familar (in this case, in terrain, flora, fauna, and climate) is often least exotic. Sort of like why I pass Chick-Fil-A every day, but will freak out if I don't get an In-N-Out burger when out West. Animal-style, my friends. I ain't no dummy.

Furthermore, we'd be dealing with Virginia wine. Most of those in-the-know have heard quite a bit about the state's burgeoning industry, but few have tasted. If it were good, wouldn't it be distributed better, so folks outside of VA could get a taste? Well, these wines are not distributed well (another issue altogether), so we outside the Commonwealth would be dealing with the unfamiliar. And unfamiliar is scary.

In short, I was pulling like hell for Charlottesville- and the wines of Virginia- to hit a home run. But I feared the Commonwealth had warning-track power, at best. At least I assumed this notion in the minds of Californians (sorry Oregon and Washington, you're getting lumped in. Squeakiest wheel...).

So, when I heard pals from the Bay and friends from L.A. claim how impressed- across the board- they were with the quality of Virginia wine, it really warmed my cold, East-coast heart. I'd assumed the worst, and soon realized that, for the most part, our friends from the West had come with open minds, and curious palates. In fact, a handful of bloggers had been teased with samples of Viognier, a white grape seeming to grow well in the Shenandoah hills. But, to me and several others, pockets of the reds were extraordinarily surprising. Nebbiolo and Cabernet Franc from Barboursville Vineyards showed restraint, complexity, and potential for aging. Petit Verdot from Jefferson Vineyards turned some heads... even those still on Pacific time. Not an epiphany, but a feather in the cap of an extraordinary underdog. And relief for this homer.

That said, there were also some pretty unimpressive wines. And with them came a hearty serving of snark, particularly from freak-nasty folks like natural wine purist and fellow (former, but always honorary) ATLien, Hardy Wallace.

In a way, I sort of get it. I heard a Virginia winemaker discuss "unique terroir" and go into how his wine is "made in the vineyard", then elaborate on deliberate acidification, manipulation, the dozens of fungicide sprayings that are required to eliminate vine-stifling powdery and downy mildew. Is there any real terroir if grapes can't naturally grow there?

Yet, I don't think this is a Virginia problem. There are plenty of awful, heavily-manipulated wines from every corner of the world, even King California (and for goodness sake, there's a popular fungicide called "Bordeaux Mixture"). I think the gripes from Hardy and folks like Richard Jennings were not pointed directly at the host State, but the popular industry in general. Indeed, many wines poured at the sponsored events, as well as "speed tastings" (a whole other animal not worth elaborating upon), left a lot to be desired. At least to the experienced (perhaps spoiled) palate, with which many of use are blessed/cursed.

However, in my relatively short experience with Wine Bloggers' Conferences, I don't really expect the sponsor wines to show well. Some do, but for the most part, they're widgets of the wine marketing machine, designed for the common denominator. It's a shame, because the conference clientele is a mess of wine geeks. Regardless, I write them off as educational; a means to picking out what I like and do not like in wine.

To me, where the real, true value of these conferences lies is in the camaraderie, and the contraband... wines, beers, and liquors smuggled in; each participant's personal "stash". We all communicate online for the entire year, and in the few days we get to carouse in person, the ones who "get it" put down their phones, leave their laptops in the room, and disconnect- in order to try connect. Side-events and after parties showcase the best that people- and their home states or favorite places- have to offer. We jockey to wow each other, shift some paradigms, and puff out our chests a bit. New friends are made, as cliques eventually break down, and people step away from their devices, put themselves out there, and say, "hey, nice to finally meet you in person." Then, they pop corks or bottle caps and say, with a gleeful smirk, "come 'ere. You just gotta try this."

At last, we drink instead of think, we toast instead of taste, and we celebrate the fact that wine- which has always brought people together- is bigger than blogs, tweets, tasting notes, breakout sessions, sponsors, Google analytics, readership, geographic bias, and regional differences. Wine courses through all our veins, and we realize that no matter where the grapes are grown or where the hotel is situated, everything is in the right place...


...and, of course, if you got nothing out of this post, as promised:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Still handcuffed by Virginia

Sitting on edit #4 "on paper", and probably thought #500 in my nebulous cranial space...

Just really don't know how to approach my thoughts on Virginia, on wine, on bloggers, and on blogger conferences. And, of course, the cosmic collision of them all.

I could fill a book with my feelings of gratitude, confusion, defensiveness, agitation, admiration, surprise, and other sundried adjectives to describe an addled mind. But a blog post is no place for a book's-worth of words (looking back on many posts, I need to tie a string around my finger on that one).

In an effort to better formulate my own opinions, I've gone out and read the reaction of those who were quick(er) on the trigger. I saw a (quite) thorough account of disappointment, light-heartedness, pleasant surprise, a weird mashup of snark/gratitude, and some understandable defensive positioning from homers. Funny how I don't remember this variance of reaction after Walla Walla. However, so much opinion out there makes one introspect quite a bit. What did I get out of it all? I think I know, but translating it to the written word is shaping up to be quite a... well, a bitch.

Looks like the only way that things can be sorted out is to break this mess up:

1. Talkin' wine
2. Talkin' conference
3. Talkin' blogging

But why the disclaimer? Because I know that many of you who read this are not bloggers. And many don't care about a conference that went down in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, I trust that there will be bits of value to any readers in these posts.

And if there is not broad-reaching value, I'll post a picture of monkey doing gymnastics or something...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Playing Catsup

Or "ketchup". Or "catch up". Whatever, as the kids are saying these days.

Got a hot mess of thoughts on the recent Wine Bloggers' Conference I attended (without letting y'all know... who am I to impose my every living detail upon you?). Along with said hot mess, I also have a giant, red, plastic bucket full of thoughts about the general concept of making wine in Virginia, Virginia wine country, tiny dogs, and drinking wine out of a water bottle on an empty street in the middle of Charlottesville at 4 AM.

Yeah. A giant, red, plastic bucket.

Not sure if I want to bear solely my own feelings, or react to the praise/vitriol already splattered about the cyberspace by more timely and enterprising bloggers. Alas, before even considering that, I must catch up (see what I did there?) on the day job that has nothing to do with wine and (currently) everything to do with me acquiring American dollars to exchange for services and goods- many of those goods being wine. And a few beers. In a giant, red, plastic bucket...

...just like my thoughts. But tastier, and less harmful to brain cells.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Put these peaches in your mouth.

Someone asked me to post this recipe on Twitter. Posting a recipe in 140 characters is a real painus in the anus. Here, I can go on and on and on and on (and on)...

...not that that's ever happened.

For the sake of brevity- and food porn- I'll deal mostly in pictures here. Said to be worth a thousand words, these pics are worth a thousand calories, all under the guise of healthy eating (hey, it's fruit, right?)

Either adapted or stolen directly from a Steven Raichlen cookbook, I present Grilled Peaches:

1. Procure brown sugar, butter, and Bourbon. Any self-respecting household should have all these things on hand at any given time. Also, get some peaches. If you're in Georgia, get Georgia peaches. What is this, amateur hour?! The are very ripe white peaches from Fort Valley, GA. Oddly, they don't smell like peaches, but exactly like Riesling. See what I did there? Silly, huh?

2. For the sauce, start melting the butter in a pan over medium heat. I used 4 oz. The quantity is not critical. What is important (for the sake of this recipe, anyway) is to have a 1/1/1 ratio of butter/brown sugar/Bourbon.

3. Once the butter's melted, add the brown sugar (in this case, you guessed it, 4 oz.), and stir until it melts into the butter.

4. Once the sugar's melted, move the pan OFF the flame (or turn it off entirely), and add in 4 oz. (or whatever fits your ratio) of Bourbon.

5. With a fancy gas range, I just tilt the pan a bit over the flame, and the Bourbon will ignite. Use a long lighter on an electric range, and a flaming arrow if you're a great distance from the pan, and an excellent marksman. Allow the flames to subside, then remove from the heat so the carmel/booze mixture doesn't burn.

6. Cut your peaches in half. Use a sharp knife or precision karate chops.

7. Pour the syrup-y goodness over you peaches and toss to coat.

8. Yeah, my grilling picture sucks. But grill those buggers over a hot flame for a few minutes, just to heat everything up and get a nice varnish on the peaches.

9. All you health nuts can just go ahead and eat the peaches at that point. But us regular folks- who might wear tennis shoes or an occasional python boot- like to use the peaches as a topping for ice cream or gelato, which is Italian for "expensive ice cream".

10. If you have extra syrup, go ahead and pour it over the dessert. You deserve it, you handsome devil.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Best Wine Post Ever Written

After sipping on some wines sent to me (as samples) from Virginia Wine, I didn't spit out enough and have a confession to make: I don't write these posts. I have a ghost-writer. However, with the WBC looming, it's time I come out of my shell and write my own material. Away we go...

Virginia is for lovers, WINE lovers that is (LOL!). Tonight, I got to open six bottles of Virginia Viognier (which is a kind of Chardonnay), and they were super-yummy! YUM-O, as Rachael Ray might say! I love Rachaell Ray! LOL, girlfriend! We need to PAR-TAY soon when I'm a famous blogger!

Anyway, the Viogniers were super tasty and also G-R-E-A-T!!! They were fruity and grapey and smelled like Chardonnay and flowers and peaches and pears and honey and fruit and stuff. They tasted like if you poured a bowl of fruit into some wine and then drank it. Like a fruit cup filled with vodka! They should make a bomb out of that! LOL! I can't wait to pair these wines with dinner. These Viogniers would be super-good with chicken ceaser salads and shrimp ceaser salads too! The best would be to make them into S-A-N-G-R-I-A. Holler! DeeeeeeLISH!

I would definitely buy these wines, and you should too! ZOMG!!! So next time you're in a fancy restaurant with some hottie, ask the somilyer if he has any Viognier Chardonnay from Virginia. Then, you'll look all smart for your date, and it will be awesome!!!!!! LOL!

I'm not sure where you can buy Chardonnays made out of Viognier, but tell them I sent you! LMAO! Like me on MySpace HERE!!!

Fine. I had a crummy day. Thus, a curmudgeon-y post. However, the day ended well. Tried six Viogniers (which is not Chardonnay, by the way. Totally different grape) from six Virginia wineries: Horton, Blenheim, King Family, Barboursville Vineyards, Copper Vineyards, and Delaplane Cellars. Solid juice. Distinctly "Virginia", though I'm not yet sure what I mean by that. Eager to find out soon, when I can get my hands in that Shenandoah dirt.

I really, REALLY hope this underdog can shock the world with all those West Coast palates in Charlottesville next week. Go get 'em, kids. I cheering for you like crazy.

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.9

Monday, July 11, 2011

What you REALLY need to know if attending the Wine Bloggers' Conference

As the countdown to the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers' Conference has hit single digits, I've noticed a measure of lists and tips spring up from WBC warhorses like Ed Thralls and Thea Dwelle; nuggets of wisdom passed down from the grizzled vets on the ropes, the decorum, the trade-secrets...

Now, with all due respect to two folks whom I consider friends, there were some glaring omissions in their posts. Any first-timer should seriously entertain the following in order to maximize the experience:

1) Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.

2) Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary.

3) Be nice.



...hmm. Er, I actually think that was Dalton from Road House. The excessive combination of pop-culture references and 10-15% ABV alcoholic beverages is taking a handsome toll. Not quite Patrick-Swayze-doing-Tai-Chi-handsome, but in the ballpark.

Alas, I digress (yet again). Sure, I can certainly see some value in a laundry list of rules and tips and guidelines for new participants. However, I don't agree with a "one size fits all" code of conduct for such an event. I'm certain that was not the intention of other bloggers and their lists, but I can also see how a first-timer's perception of what to expect could be skewed by the words of a highly-respected and tenured member of the wine blog community. "If you don't take the event seriously; if you don't kiss up to the sponsors, then you'll become the pariah of a tight-knit fraternity." Again, I'm not paraphrasing what others said, but I can certainly see how some of the advice could be misconstrued that way. Plus a little hyperbole. That's how I roll.

Here are my two cents, taken at face-value, and nothing more: there will be 300 wine lovers descending upon Charlottesville, Virginia in less than two weeks. Some will be there to network, some to write, some to taste and spit and take notes, some to sell, some to buy, some to get off on drinking booze at 10 AM (7 AM PDT). Folks will gravitate to others with similar interests and objectives, and even those with polarized motives will still share one significant common-thread: an absolutely infectious love of all-things wine. I don't know about y'all, but- as a family man in suburban Atlanta- I realize painfully few chances to uninhibitedly geek out with 300 other wine nerds.

Charlottesville is stunning. The people are friendly. This will be a visit to a new, relatively obscure American wine region for many. And corks will be popping left and right. So soak it in. If you want to blog, then blog. If you don't, don't. But I see an opportunity to get away from the gadgets and tweets and tasting notes - that all can be done at any time, from anywhere. But for most of us, there's only one time a year when we can come face-to-face with the people who have shared with us so many laughs and conversations via social networks. Give 'em a handshake. Hell, a hug. And pour a couple glasses, reveling in the fact that wine has done what it has for generations; like an intimate dinner table for 300, wine has brought us all together.

But seriously, Thea was right. Do spit out some of that wine. Passed-out by 11 AM is a silly business.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Stuck on First Impressions

When someone tells me he doesn't like wine, I sort of get it. It's simply a case of a bad introduction.

Not so oddly (bear with me), I credit George Harrison with this surprising measure of leniency/understanding. For anyone who has lived under a rock for the past 50 years (or, for the legal-drinking citizens reading this blog who were born in 1990... cripes!), Harrison was one of the original Beatles, an accomplished songwriter, an amazing solo artist, and a ridiculous guitarist. I mean, the guy wrote "Something", dammit. And- of course- he put together All Things Must Pass, perhaps- in this guy's humble opinion- one of the finest rock albums ever compiled in the history of popular music. George Harrison was masterful; an icon. Rock & Roll history must be re-written without him.

Alas, this was not my first impression of the "quiet one".

In 1987, I was eight years old. My older brother- sort of a rock & roll appreciation savant- kept a healthy dose of MTV and VH1 on the tube at this point. Amidst the extraordinary cheese being pumped out by ailing acts like Billy Ocean and Mr. Mister, I distinctly remember a particularly-creepy fellow with an awful mullet and a penciled-in five o'clock shadow playing campy guitar riffs while some 80's jerk-ass tried to get a prize out of one of those jerk-ass claw games at some jerk-ass arcade for some jerk-ass 80's dream girl. I further recall that stupid song being played during elementary school physical education classes, usually involving me having to dance with girls. At eight years old. Not cool.

Alas, the artist was George Harrison, and the song was "Got My Mind Set On You", a cover of a James Ray R&B tune from 1962. I don't remember much more than I've already described, but one thing was (and still is) clear: it sucked. The day I found out Harrison was the lead guitarist for the Beatles, I was stunned at how one person could fall so far from grace*.

Unfortunately for this little tike, I harbored quite a lot of ill-will towards a great musician, based solely on a first-impression that painted a very atypical picture of the body of work. Such is- far too often- the case with wine.

Some people love Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay. That's fine. More power to 'em. Yet, some find it to be vile, nay, unholy. Here's the rub: I posit that rather often, folks' first impressions of the noble Chardonnay grape is in the form of a bottle of TBC (or equivalent) at a backyard cookout, a tailgate, an engagement party. I further suggest that a good measure of these people think it does not taste very appealing. At that point, they make a broad-brushed declaration that Chardonnay is no good, and not for them (or even worse, wine in general).

Sadly, Two Buck Chuck is a widespread and easily-acquired ambassador of a grape that produces some of the most expressive and complex wines in the world. However, because of an unsavory introduction, a stigma has been created; one that can be difficult to shake for some. However, I can imagine how this situation could be completely reversed. What if a person's first taste of Chardonnay was in the form of an incredible Puligny-Montrachet, for example? One chance encounter (unfortunately, leaning heavily towards the cheap stuff, based on availability and price) could mean the difference between a wine-hater and an instant oenophile.

Here's my point: those who have made up your mind, open it again. Like in the world of music, even the same artist- hell, the same song- can be manifested in dozens, hundreds of styles and expressions. And if you still can't make peace with Rock & Roll's Chardonnay, there's always Techno's Riesling, Classical's Pinot Noir, Reggae's Roussanne, and Hip Hop's Mourvèdre.

*for the record, I don't hold George Harrison responsible for that crap. I blame Jeff Lynne, that over-producing sunuvabitch. Keep your ELO** away from my Beatles, you curly-headed freak.

**actually, I kinda like the Electric Light Orchestra.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fighting the Sea Monster, Round 2

(alternate title: "Fighting male-pattern baldness". I think it's time to throw in the towel and Bic that bitch. But how awkward if I end up having a birthmark that says "Live Nudes" or something...)

About a year ago, I decided to buy an octopus and cook it. Maybe because it was cheap. Maybe because I'd been mesmerized by a recent viewing of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and felt humans had to even the score. Or, perhaps I'd cobbled together a stash of Assyrtiko, and was compelled to cram my suck-hole with something briny and very Greek. After determining that a long kiss with Olympia Dukakis would be too Greek (and certainly far-too briny), I opted for an octopus.

But here was the problem: like nibbling into the lower lip of Olympia Dukakis' leathery maw during the hypothetical make-out session that should have never advanced to this disturbing point, my cooked cephalopod of one year ago was exceptionally chewy. Like rubber.

But that tends to happen with octopodes. The interweb is littered with tips and tricks to eliminate the chew. A sort of boiling method- last year's opus- failed miserably.

So why battle this tricky little critter again? I blame it on a recent meal at Atlanta's Kyma, where they crank out an octopus dish so tender and delicious, it's like eating heaven, provided heaven is an 8-legged sea creature that predicts soccer matches. Honestly, good octopus is akin to a firmer, milder scallop, in my opinion. If that sounds like something in your wheelhouse, then you can understand my misguided persistence. Gleaning some hot tips off our waiter, I opted for a new preparation, sure to be a smash hit.

Out of a marriage of trade secrets and my own chops in the kitchen, I decided to cut my octopus into individual tentacles, braise it for an hour in a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemons, garlic, fresh oregano, salt, and pepper, then finish it with a good crisp on the grill. Tender and Crisp was the goal. Like a Burger King TenderCrisp sandwich, except edible.

(no matter how it turned out, few things look cooler than a tentacle on the grill).

I garnished with some grilled lemon slices, a few herbs, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a drizzle of good olive oil...

...disaster. So chewy. Inedible to some.

Sea Monster - 2. Balding Land Ape - 0.

I guess all I can do is toast that which has become my latest white whale... least until I get my peepers on Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus. Gator tail, anyone?