Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Evangelist

Sometimes, in our minds, we build caricatures of who we wish to be (or, somehow deep down, believe we already are):
Okay, perhaps it's a bad fantasy representation of myself.  I don't see evidence of sweet abs, glistening pecs, or a mane of hair that would make late 80's Richard Marx blush.

And, with all due respect to Chateau "La Feet", I'd have to opt for a Gallagher stage prop-sized bottle of Grower Champagne.  I don't always drink wine out of giant bottles, but when I do, I prefer Grower Champagne.

So, despite the physical deficiencies, the follicular inadequacies, and the semantics over bottle-of-choice, this is my mind's representation of myself.  I am, for better or for worse, a Wine Evangelist.

I drew this today (taking some liberties with a famous political cartoon of William Jennings Bryan) as the profile pic for a new Facebook page to keep track of tasting events I'm hosting around Atlanta.  While these events are tied to me working with accounts to help sell the wines I sell, I named the whole endeavor, "The Great Awakening of Joe's Wine Revival and Goodtimes Emporium of Grapes Tour 2012."  To me, these tastings are so much more than selling wine.

Merriam-Webster defines "evangelism" as "militant or crusading zeal."  No doubt, to many, my love of wine and my prodding for others to try new things can be- at times- (over)zealous.  I've had to accept the fact that- even in an endless sea of wine options out there- some have no desire to stray from the safe and predictable tide pool filled with Kendall-Jackson.  I've come to grips with the fact that many people simply DO NOT CARE about wine, and they never will.  Hey, I will never understand the deal with running marathons.  I'm sure that drives some sinewy person with a "26.2" sticker on the back of her Jeep nuts.  Sorry.  I like running just fine, but 2 miles is my comfortable, oak-chipped Chardonnay.

Why deal with the slings and arrows, then?  Because of the twenty percent.  The folks out there who understand that there is a world of flavors, aromas, food science, culture, geography, geology, history, politics, and pleasure out there within the dusty bottles of the world; enough knowledge and exploration to span hundreds of lifetimes.  To the wild-eyed evangelist, wine can't be limited to cute labels and return-on-investment and absurd tasting notes... is a journey to find the next great bottle.  To, once again, be... awakened.  And to those who share the same quest:  you, too, are evangelists. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Awkward Gentleman's Guide to February 14th

Like a sacrificial human heart from a Temple of Doom victim's body cavity, I, too, am torn.

With February 14th- Valentine's Day- upon us, what measure of tight science could I serve up to my bros on the blog?  And why did I just say "bros"?

Admittedly, I have some chops in the wine-knowledge department.  I can cook my way around the kitchen, I suppose.  And, I make a mean chocolate monkey.  If I really, REALLY, applied myself, I imagine a list of smooth things to say, cool wines to order, foods that make women happy, and slick moves at the restaurant could materialize that would help a single cat or kitty woo the filly or beefcake he's/she's after.

But rather than searching for needles of suavity in a haystack of ineptitude with the opposite sex, why don't we focus on the haystack.  Because I've pulled a hell of a lot more disaster-y than mastery in the arena of love.  So, grab your pitchfork and listen up if you don't want to definitely not get lucky today:

Gifts to Avoid:

- Carob
- Lane Bryant gift card
- Rogaine for Her
- 5 lbs. of Veal

Commenting on her appearance:

- "You're hotter than any of the moms on Toddlers & Tiaras."
- "Someone's looking sensible tonight!"
- "Meow!  Move over, Greta Van Susteren."

At Dinner:

- "Say you're my daughter... the kid's meal is free."
- "If we eat enough of the bottomless salad bowl and breadsticks, we can split a meal."
- "The lady will have the Grand Slam Breakfast, please."
- "Do you want the chicken, or the beef Mexi-melt?"

In the Boudoir:

- "Errrrr... Mexi-melts."
- "Let's make eight babies!"
- "Are you familiar with micro-phallus?"
- "I have night terrors, but not always."
- "'No' really means 'yes', right?"
- Screaming "IT'S A BOY!"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

LINGO: A Perversion to Wine Descriptors

Ever heard an 'aficionado' pontificate- perhaps endlessly- with a litany of descriptors that either no human has actually experienced, or, don't even exist?

"This wine is redolent of kaffir lime blossom, truffled walnut oil, pit of under-overripe white peach, sassafras bark, Cambodian breast milk, and Keebler Pizzarias..."

It's ridiculous!  I mean, Keebler Pizzarias have been off the market for decades.  How are we supposed to remember their authentic pizzeria aromas and flavors, all baked- not fried- into a delicious, crispy chip?

Oh, I have a tough time with this argument.  Indeed, there are chemical compounds that exist in wine grapes and are created through the fermentation and aging processes that exist in nature: fruits, vegetables, organic matter, etc.  And, understanding the signature aromas of certain wines can help us all identify them better, thus improving our familiarity with them, and ultimately garnering greater appreciation for said wines.  A frame-of-reference is important, but it can quickly become a point of confusion.

Yes, there are incredibly astute tasters who smell the difference in yellow peach and white peach.  They pick out Chenin Blanc from the Loire in blind tastings because of a distinct nose of walnut oil.  For these cats, a need for extreme specificity exists.

However, for the average Joe Six-pack who wants to learn about wine, overly-esoteric descriptors can come across as less "helpful" and more "off-putting and confusing".  Thus, there exists a significant need to keep it simple when educating.  Saying wines smell of citrus or red berries or tropical fruits can help frame the aromas in a broad- and familiar- manner.  Then, any wine drinker who picks up on these general olfactory profiles can increase his/her enjoyment of the wine.  Indeed, successfully identification of a telltale aroma is... fun.

Of course, in the current profession, I come across this issue quite a bit.  When training a wait staff at a restaurant about my wines, I try to keep it very high-level.  It will behoove neither the waiter nor the customer to speak in confusing and unfamiliar aromas.  Unless, of course, there is a sporting motive.

With that said, I admit that it is fun to slip one in here and there.  But "tangelo leaf" and "fuji apple" and "white truffles" are all played-out.  Hackneyed fodder of the wine media.

So I present... L-I-N-G-O!  America's first- and finest- wacky wine descriptor challenge.

I guarantee that none of the descriptor in "L-I-N-G-O" have hit a tasting sheet.  I hope to see this game posted in restaurants across America.  The first server to successfully use enough descriptors throughout the night to earn "L-I-N-G-O", without question from the buyer, wins a prize.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I challenge you to describe a wine as being "funkier than Bootsie Collins, with powerful aromas of Skin Bracer and Tacos" without a pause or a raised eyebrow.

Let the games begin...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Modest Proposal

"This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it."

-Phil Conners, Meteorologist, WPBH-TV9, Pittsburgh

The groundhog (marmota momax, of the Rodent family) is a large, burrowing, ground-squirrel common to the American Midwest and Northeast. These meaty cousins of the common squirrel and marmot are quite widespread, reproduce like baby-boomers, and are very rotund, thus, likely slow.

So why aren't Americans eating more groundhog? I blame the supermarkets. Pre-packaged meat has led far-too-many to believe that pork chops grow on trees, and chicken breasts sprout out of the ground. Understanding where one's food comes from is an important lesson to the advancement of our culinary culture. To that end, knowing where the groundhog comes from- the same family as squirrels- can offer much insight into the deliciousness that could ensue when Americans get their gastronomic s**t together.

Take- for example- some excerpts from "Bayou Bill" Scifres' website, "All Outdoors" (, talking about the preparation of squirrel. If this doesn't get your tummy rumbling, then you belong to a styrofoam tray of uniform cutlets:

- "I have bagged squirrels early in the morning on many occasions and kept them unskinned until dark on hot August days of the past without ever having a squirrel turn bad. It also is a good idea to keep flies off the squirrels."

- "it is not difficult to skin a squirrel after rigor mortis has set in."

- "I know, the notion that squirrel heads should be saved for cooking may bring about some cases of the "jeebies." But there is a lot of good meat on the cheeks and the part of the head that joins the neck, not to mention a great little morsel of brain when the top of the head is cracked (usually with the handle of a table knife) after the meat is removed."

- "Most wild game eaters consider the back legs of the squirrel "top choice," but I do not look down my nose at any piece of squirrel including heads."

- "Fried squirrel is a favored method with most wild game cooks, but they may be boiled (especially the older, tougher ones) and turned into a magnificent pot of dumplings. Then, of course, I do not have many guests leave the table when I present a platter of whole, baked squirrels with body cavities stuffed with my sage dressing."

- "To be honest about this entire thing, I have never seen a squirrel dish I did not like."

Thank you, Bayou Bill. I think you've made my point. Only substitute "groundhog" for "squirrel", and replace "meaty and delicious" with "meatier and delicious-er".

Quit worrying about whether or not that groundhog is going to see its shadow, and get that whistle-pig wondering if he'll see your shadow... right before you bag 'im.

Considering the wild nature of the critter, find a wine that has complementing "gamey" aromas and flavors, like Rhône Syrah, Pinotage from South Africa, or a Chilean Carménère. Or, if you go the fried route, few wines stand up to richness like Rieslings.

Of course, Champagne goes great with most any food. And few things class up the table better than a bottle of bubbly and a platter of fried groundhog heads. There's good meat in the cheeks, you know.