Monday, November 28, 2011

Jumping the Shark

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It's a phrase derived from the fifth season of the sitcom Happy Days.  The Fonz, in an effort to prove his bravery, decides to jump over a penned-in shark while on water skis.  To Happy Days purists (are there such things?), it was also a clear indication that the writers had run out of material.  To this day, the saying "jumping the shark" refers to the seminal point at which something good had taken an inevitable and irreversible turn-for-the-worse.

I- for one- cannot find anything wrong with combination of a pudding pop-cool Henry Winkler and the ominous presence of hungry, hungry sharks.  There's got to be a whole spin-off here... 

Alas, I am not a successful sitcom writer.  But, I do write quite a bit.  This is post three-hundred and something.  And, over some post-Thanksgiving brews with some friends, I was told that the blog used to be great, but now it's in an awkward limbo between "speaking to the regular joe" and "pandering to the wine aficionado".  According to my friends, I've spent too much time immersed in wine and its complex language, and now my posts have fallen into the tar pits of jargon and disrespect for the audience.

Begs the question:  has Suburban Wino jumped the shark?  Or- given my inability to water ski- did everything end in a horrific crash into the shark pit?  Why did I agree to do this?  I've never been able to get up on those damn skis!  And now a shark is eating my armpit.

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I suppose it's very easy to get caught up in the complexities and subtleties of viticulture, winemaking, label laws, aromas, flavors, and all the crap that fills the pages of a Wine Spectator.  At the basest form, we're really talking about an alcoholic beverage.  A food product, designed to give sensory pleasure.  And it's always been my vision to convince others to share just a fraction of my fascination with this food product.  Understandably, a body of work evolves over time.  But once it deviates from it's desired path, things can go awry.

There's certainly nothing extraordinary about me; consider myself a pretty regular dude.  So, I've always hoped to relay wine into the context of a regular dude.  Guess as I've burrowed deep into the rabbit-hole, I've lost sight of where I began to dig.

Humbling, but quite necessary feedback, if I'm to succeed in my vision.  Or, perhaps the vision has changed.  Or, maybe none of it matters.  In any case, I guess it's time to drop back and punt...

To the wine aficionados:  that's a football reference.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Third time's a Charm

Forgive the sporadic posting.

I lost my hands in a freak green-harvesting accident, so I type by smashing the keyboard with a plastic hammer that belongs to my daughter.  It is a slow and inaccurate procedure.

Anyway, I'm finally taking my WSET Level 3 exam on Friday.  It was delayed two times by the proctor (lame), and I'm probably not as prepared as I need to be (even though I was on September 1).

Worst-case, if I fail, I can blame it on tryptophan-induced stupid brain.  Or, my lack of hands.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jive Turkeys

Quickly achieving a critical mass that is the wine-media equivalent to sports' discussion of Penn State, every wine publication, e-zine, and blog has recently inundated you, nay, molested you with diatribe about what wines to serve with your Thanksgiving feast.

Hmm... very poor word selection there.  But lately, poor judgement and Penn State are quite the bedfellows.

Dammit.  That's not any better.  Luckily, no one's reading.

As I was suggesting, there is a whole lot of bluster out on the interwebs (and in periodicals) about "wines to pair with your turkey".  Everyone's trying to find the "catch all" that will work marvelously with you Butterball, your Bruce's Yams, and that freaky Jell-O mold your weird, smelly Great Aunt always shows up with.  You know, the one with the Waffle House shoes, wispy bald spot, and matted patches of cat hair upon her equally-matted aqua green sweatshirt featuring a bedazzled pair of kittens.

Don't listen to them.  These folks are jive turkeys.  That is to say, "not to be trusted".  But, if you speak jive, you already knew that.

The problems with finding one perfect wine are many.  First off, let's talk turkey.  There's really not much to it.  Sure, it's encased in crispy, buttery skin.  But that is a product of liberal application of butter and salt.  The breast meat is tender and flavorful, but only if brined and pumped-up with more salt.  The dark meat is greasy.  And, eventually, it all dries out.  Turkey, ultimately, is pretty bland.

Or, as I like to think:  Turkey is like exercise.  It's boring, and it makes you tired.

To this end, finding a wine that complements turkey may not be the way to go.  There are certainly more flavorful sides, sauces, and accompaniments (stuffing, gravy, cranberries, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc.) to consider.  But choosing one pairing for each side may not work.  Unless everyone wants to have 6 different glasses in front of him.  And the table's too crowded as it is, what with that giant decorative cornucopia in the way.

When in doubt, lower-alcohol, higher-acidity wines tend to go better with food in general.  Wines from Italy are particularly food-friendly.  On a more generic level, sparkling wines, dry and slightly-sweet Rieslings, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Beaujolais wines can play nicely with lots of relatively bland foods.

Ultimately, if wine and food at the table is said to bring people together (and I know I say it all the time), then you DO need to stock up for Thanksgiving, the cosmic collision of food, drink, and people.  Just don't over-think it.  Buy a bunch of stuff, ask your local booze store for advice, or tread carefully into the fragmented and unreliable blogosphere for pointers.

Still not feeling comfortable about the whole situation?  Beer goes with just about anything.  And that ain't no jive.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Apocalyptic Thoughts on the Human Tail, and Getting Sloppy on the Sabbath

(photo courtesy:

Georgians no longer need to attend an Episcopal Mass to get a nip of alcohol before 12:30 on Sundays.

One of the few remaining stalwarts upholding "Blue Laws"- or religiously-fueled mandates to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath- the State of Georgia recently put to ballot the ability for counties to decide on repealing or upholding these laws. From the overwhelmingly Christian perspective, the sale and consumption of alcohol had been deemed disrespectful to the observance of a holy day. No outcry, however, against Sunday travesties like that dancing FOX NFL Sunday robot, or- most perverse- the continued airing of American Dad.

As of this Tuesday, the voters spoke with a nearly unanimous voice to tear down these teetotaling walls. Being a non-Presidential/Senatorial/Congressional voting year, literally tens of patriotic pollsters made it clear that their bloated, groaning livers would not remain silent.

Previously, alcohol sales of any kind in any retail establishments were illegal. Restaurants, bars, and other on-premise establishments could not serve until at 12:30 PM, leaving only 30 minutes of tour de force guzzling to prime one's pump for an afternoon of yelling at the TV.  Damn Cleveland Browns.

So, what does this all mean?  Well, people in qualifying counties and municipalities (not all have held the vote yet) can buy booze on Sunday.  At least, after 12:30 PM.  Compromise is a bitch.

But what does it really mean?  So much more than religion.  Something that may bring down civilization.

I've seen Georgians on Facebook celebrating like we got Osama Bin Laden or American Dad got canceled.  To me, I see just another convenience advancing the laziness of humans.  And that, my friends, is why we're never gonna see it coming.  The robots will become self-aware.  We'll all be too drunk, throwing empty cans of swill at the TV, because the remote is out of reach, and damned if American Dad doesn't come on right after those NFL games.

Georgia's new law is an evolution of convenience, and one that will make our instincts dull.

Take the appendix, for example.  Or, even better, the tail.  At some point, humanoids had tails.  I mean, we have tailbones now, so it's reasonable to say we had tails (and it's far too late for me to go researching the missing link.  Plus, have you ever Googled "homo erectus"?  Not the savory, scientific results you'd expect).  A tail is used as a counter-balance for a tree-dwelling creature or one that walks hunched-over.  At some point, the humanoids began to walk more upright.  Having nothing to counterbalance, the tail- once essential- became obsolete.

Native Georgians have always had a sixth sense.  An instinctual advantage, if you will.  The "Sunday beer" impulse is one that drives a Georgian- without the bottleneck of reasoning- to buy extra beer/wine/liquor on Saturday night.  I've personally lost count of the number of times I'd had no plans to drink anything on a Sunday.  Yet, there it would always be: a squirreled-away 6-pack of Coors Light tall boys in the crisper.  Don't even recall buying 'em.  Indeed, an acorn for hard times.

Now, having no need to rely on survival instinct, Georgians will do like the rest of the nation and become soft.  And drunk.  Vulnerable.  To terrorism.  To robots.  Even zombies.

Think I'm crazy?  Watch the show The Walking Dead.  Zombie apocalypse.  And as the drama unfolds, the writers have yet to tell me how it all started.  But I know one thing:  the show is set in Atlanta, a place where alcohol sales have recently been approved on Sunday.  How's that for a theory?  This, my friends, is ground zero.

So take your new "freedoms", Georgia.  I'll stick to my instincts.  And I'll be enjoying a six-pack of "Sunday beer" while you all are getting eaten by zombies on a Sunday afternoon at the liquor store.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Boozy Passage to Port Sangria

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I'm not really a huge fan of Sangria.  I feel like I'm drinking Arbor Mist.  Plus, I don't really care for pulp in my orange juice, and- as a child- I really hated when some nutrition-pushing jerk would cram bits of fruit into the Jell-O, sneaking it in as if we wouldn't notice its sinister wholesomeness amongst the glorious translucent goo.

THE FREAKIN' JELL-O IS CLEAR!  We can see those bits of canned pear.  And they're ruining our lime-flavored horse hoof pudding (we didn't know what gelatin actually was at the time.  I'm glad the marketeers saw "horse hoof pudding" around the corner, and chose "Jell-O" instead).

So, when someone decides to take some cheap (or past-its-prime) wine, load it up with sugar and bits of fruit, I'm not buying.  If I'm going to drink booze that's in its geriatric state, odds are that it's a can of Natural Light I found under my car seat with a "born on" date reminiscent of when Chumbawamba was all the rage.  Because that can locks in the freshness.  And Natural Light is the "beer with the taste for food" (I feel like I've written that quote on this blog before).

Maybe that's why I was surprised at my reaction to an email from a PR firm wanting to send me Port for the purpose of making "Ciderhouse Sangria".  First of all, I'm notorious for never writing about sample wines here (and certainly don't hold your breath for any crappy reviews).  Secondly, many PR emails get treated with the same attention as those promising untold wealth from Nigerian princes, or miracle drugs that will give me 36-hour "stimulation" (as if to insinuate that Middle School- the age of awkward erections- was a pleasant time).

But this concept of mixing cider (good) with whiskey (great) with Port (spectacular) lulled me into a waking dream of warming elixir, bubbling in my gullet, keeping Old Man Winter's sobering, icy hand at bay.  "Yes, please send me the sample," I unconsciously typed, forgetting my usual caveat that this sample "will almost certainly not be reviewed, and, if so, reviewed beyond any reasonable time frame."

A few days later, a sample bottle of Sandeman Porto from the Thomas Collective appeared at my doorstep.  Port, a fortified, generally sweet wine from Portugal (always from Portugal) comes in many different styles.  This sample was a basic Ruby Port, meaning it comes from moderate-quality grapes, with the juice having significant skin-contact during fermentation to extract color and flavor, which- following fermentation- is aged for about 3-5 years in large, neutral cask before bottling.  Ruby Port is a fitting product for a Sangria preparation, as I would want to drink anything of higher quality by itself.  Not that it's bad; it's just the most-modest of Ports.

As it turned out, the resulting punch ended up tasting a bit too much of Bourbon whiskey for me (I had a falling-out with Bourbon in college, and its sweetness is more than I can bear).  Granted, the recipe called for Rye whiskey, which I did not have on hand.  However, if you do like the taste of Bourbon, or Rye, this recipe makes a very simple, rather original, warming, and potent cocktail that is certainly befitting of the flavors of Autumn:

Sandeman Ciderhouse Sangria 
1 bottle of Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto (or any 750 ml bottle of Ruby Port) 
24 oz apple cider (non-alcoholic)   
3 oz rye whiskey (or Bourbon)  
1.5 oz maple syrup 
2 Granny Smith apples 
2 pears 

Directions: Dice apples and pears and set aside. Mix all remaining ingredients together in pitcher. Add in apples and pears. Let sit for at least 8-12 hours (or overnight).