Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Taco that Launched A Thousand Insults

I predict that, not since the bitter feud of the mid-90's between California's Death Row Records and New York's Bad Boy Records, there will be such a vicious and visceral divide among the two coasts for a long time.

Forget Giants/49ers... amateur hour.

Real Housewives of Orange County sparring with Real Housewives of New Jersey?  Please.

This one is between the 'burbs of Atlanta and the backwoods outside of Portland, Oregon.  And it was all started over a taco.

Let me say, before I bury my claws, that I find Beau Carufel (head honcho at Beau's Barrel Room) to be a genuinely nice fellow.  He's a diligent and well-respected wine blogger, a true wine lover, and, up until recently, I would dare say I considered him a friendly acquaintance amidst the sea of wine writers and bloggers.

Now, I'm not one to get offended by people regurgitating vapid political beliefs on Facebook.  I don't mind when Betsy's 13th adorable child is born, and Betsy has to post 500 pics of the actual birth on Facebook, which get pushed to the forefront of my timeline, because 6000 other wives with 13 children have to comment with, "OMG!  OHHHHH.  SO CUTE!!!!! :) :)".

Profanity, crude jokes, pictures of bacon, and even MEMEs (pushing it, MEMEs) are tolerable.  But, earlier this week, there was a particular update from the charlatan in question that set me off:

Oh, shit.  Ring the bell.  The "taco" bell, if you will.

Typical left-coast, weak-stomached whining, Beau.  For a guy originally from Long Island (or New Jersey, or somewhere up there), I can't believe how soft you've become.

First off, Taco Bell is awesome.  I ate two 99¢ Chicken Burritos last night, and then measured my biceps this morning, and I'm pretty sure they grew like 4".  Granted, I've never measured them before, but it really happened.  Furthermore, I'd been sipping on Txakolina Roja, Sancerre, Bugey, and Grower Champagne prior to my meal... obscure, European wines built to go with food.  Know what I wanted to eat after sipping on all these exciting, subtle, elegant European wines?  Taco Bell.  Food and wine DO go together, you know.  700 million Europeans and centuries of proud winemaking tradition can't be wrong.  But you, smugly, seem to think the contrary.

And, the money I saved on these delicious, affordable burritos, left me extra to spurge on a Beef Mexi-melt.  Culinary symphony, the mexi-melt.  And not just on the East Coast (ain't that right, Samantha Dugan?).  Yeah, I know the dreadlocked trust-funder hocking you $9 burritos at the Forest Grove Tuesday Farmers' Market says they're made from heavily-petted, hand-massaged, free-range organic heirloom-breed chickens.  But you and I both know he spent all his money trying to score weed from the local marionberry farmer, and bought his chicken at the same supermarket, from the same vendor who supplies Taco Bell.

But I digress.  Let's step back and dissect your hollow witch-hunt against Eat This, Not That's second favorite fast food mecca, where two distinct errors in judgement stick out like a mild Border Sauce packet among a fistful of Fire Sauce:

1)  Ordering plain, hard shell tacos is a rookie mistake.  At least get the Doritos® Locos taco.  Or a taco supreme, brimming with dairy-fresh sour cream and off-the-vine tomatoes.  But, you went with plain tacos.  Hey, a lot of people order vanilla ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.  And they're boring as hell.

2)  You ordered a "couple" of tacos.  I assume that to be two items.  Unless you're digging into the glorious monstrosity that is Chef Lorena Garcia's Cantina Bell burrito, then two items is the order of a waif runway model.  And you, sir, are not that waif.

Or, is it as simple as you hating Johnny Cash?  That's downright un-American.

In summation, I guess some folks just lack the DNA to Live Más.  But don't shove it in my face.  The great thing about America is choice.  Keep your anti-awesome and nourishing taco agenda to yourself, sir.

I will continue making runs to the Border.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


When is a wine really dry?  What is dry?  

There are dry climates, meaning that humidity is relatively low.

There are dry senses of humor.  Steven Wright has one.  Jeff Dunham does not.  Incidentally, Jeff Dunham doesn't have humor, either.

In wine, however (or beer, or spirits), "dry" refers to the absence of residual sugar in a drink.  To simplify, take the classic kid-making-Kool-Aid example:  to make a batch of delicious Kool-Aid, one combines the tiny packet of purple with 2 heaping cups of sugar and 2 quarts of water.  However, as I kid, I didn't realize that anything beyond the packet of purple and water was needed.  I ended up with purple-colored acid water.  Sure, I tried to sell it as "Kool-Aid Dry", but my 5-year-old friends had really unsophisticated palates...


So far, so good?  A wine without the presence of residual sugar (meaning actual fruit sugar left over in the wine that was not converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast during fermentation; or, sugar added to a dry wine after fermentation, as in the case of süssreserve) is "dry".  Otherwise, a wine with sugar present might be called "off-dry" or "sweet" or "Arbor Mist".*

Yet, in my very important day-to-day business dealings, I have many folks tell me that dry wines taste sweet, and many others are extraordinarily dry.  In the case of the former, a wine with a great deal of ripe fruit flavor can be perceived by our palates as being sweet.  However, said fruit-forward wine may contain little or no residual sugar, therefore- technically- it's dry.  'Tis a very difficult concept to explain without making someone feel like a dumb-ass or coming off like a jerk-ass.  But a very fair observation for any fledgling wine lover to make.

An extraordinarily common misconception is when a person thinks a wine is "dry", when, in fact, it is "drying".  Remember:  in wine terms, "dry" is the absence of sugar.  But when drinking a wine makes one's mouth lockjaw like a rusty nail to the foot, that is a product of tannin.  That fuzzy feeling in your mouth after drinking a young Cabernet Sauvignon?  Tannin.  

Tannins are basically astringent compounds that exist in grape seeds, skins, and stems, and in wood (like oak barrels).  They add structure to wines, pleasant bitterness, and lend to color.  However, tannins bind to proteins and precipitate.  As human saliva contains proteins, these tannic phenolic compounds basically bind to our saliva, giving the sensation of drying out our mouths.  So, if you are someone who is insecure about your "wine speak" (and 99% of it is B.S. anyway, so don't be uptight), the formula is simple:

Refer to a wine in which you sense no presence of sugar as "dry"

Refer to a wine which dries your mouth out as "tannic"

Of course, anyone who gives you a hard time about using the proper terminology when discussing wine should get a Champagne cork to the nuts.  But, I understand it's import for people to feel comfortable with their wine, and this is a nice, valuable tidbit to know.

Another tidbit:  don't feed your cat Arbor Mist.

*I don't mean for this comment to suggest that sweet wines are of poor quality.  Some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in the world are quite sweet.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

40 Days of Writing

Perhaps in an effort to reinvigorate my writing efforts, I've accepted a challenge from Kate Graham (of Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery) to put pen to paper every day for 40 days.  It's a great idea; I do believe that writing is like exercising (neither of which I'm very good at), and repetition and consistent effort strengthens the brain and the writing style.  Let's call it training.

Whether well-thought out, or just dribble on the sheet, putting my thoughts to paper is a positive exercise, some I'm looking forward to the challenge.  But it's not without conflict:  I'll be in situations where I'm not near a computer for days at a time (like this past weekend), so my "writing" could appear negligent on the blawg every day.  At the very least, I intend to scrawl things on cocktail napkins or golf score card or something.  Such was the case this past weekend.  And my writing ended up being things written on golf balls in permanent marker.  I wrote "Gangnam Style" on one.  Does that count?

I didn't write on this actual one.  But I wouldn't surprise myself if I wrote "poop"
 on my golf ball (source:
Anyway, it's not a perfect road, and it does require discipline, but I'm glad to put this exercise into practice, and I hope it gets me back on track.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Is Georgia Willing its Teams to Lose?

No, it's not a wine-related post.  But, the subject matter has certainly led to a bunch of drinking.

Last Saturday, I witness my then-fifth ranked Dawgs get absolutely bulldozed on national TV by rival South Carolina.  I haven't felt that uncomfortable viewing since I took Dad to see Brokeback Mountain because I know he's fond of Westerns.

Only 24 hours earlier, I poured another drink to unsuccessfully stave off the déjà vu of Atlanta Braves collapse in the MLB postseason.  The best defensive baseball team in 2012 committed three crucial errors, including one by lame duck future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.  Everything that could go wrong did, including a freak show, phantom infield fly rule.  But, somehow, I knew it would happen.

source:  Associated Press
These are scenarios that have become all-too-familiar for sports fans in Atlanta.  Even the resurgent Falcons can't win in the playoffs, even when they're the #1 seed- like in the 2010 season- and always seem to run into a buzz saw; a "team of destiny".  In the past four seasons, the Falcons have made the playoffs 3 times, played teams with much worse regular-season records, and all 3 of those teams ended up in the Super Bowl, and 2 won in all (Green Bay in 2011, New York in 2012).

Some may dismiss my claims.  "But your teams are at least making it to the playoffs, or having winning seasons."  But honestly, is it worse to be perennially terrible, or just terrible when it really counts?  Great teams keep winning.  Bad teams get fixed.  Mediocre teams get mired in staying the course and hoping the ball bounces the other way next time.  It's maddening.  A local sports radio host made a great analogy:  Georgia sports teams are Lucy, pulling the football away from the fans' Charlie Brown every time.

Who is to blame?

Not the teams.  On paper, they have all the talent.  Not the coaches... they're not the ones on the field.  Certainly not the officials, no matter how the hell an infield fly rule can be called in the middle of the outfield.

No, the finger is pointed squarely at you (and me), the fans.  And my reasoning, much like biodynamics (shameless wine reference), is, admittedly, a little "cosmic".

Search the web, and you'll find thousands of references to the concept of the Universe in synergy.  Even Einstein suggested that we are all connected.  The mysterious power of Prayer has been exalted by millions.  Often, it sounds like a bunch of hooey, but if the best measure of a concept's credibility is its popularity, then the critical mass is there.

So, what if 6 million people in Metro Atlanta truly believed that their sports teams are going to eventually fail, "just like they always do"?  Is it reasonable to suggest that the fans are projecting negative energy onto the gridiron or the baseball diamond, and the teams are absorbing and converting those bad vibes into bad play?  One of the biggest cliches and most common sound bytes heard from victorious athletes is that the team "fed off the energy of the fans".  No matter how rollicking the crowd in the stadium, perhaps the majority outside is superseding any good energy, somehow- in some weird metaphysical way- causing these teams to inevitably lose.

It's time for good vibes.  Georgia fans:  you are needed immediately (well, you have a bye week to choke down this astrological jive, but then it's time to get in line).  The Braves, Falcons, and Hawks have some time, so start depositing those positive thoughts in the good vibes bank, and prepare to withdraw when the time is right.  What have we got to lose?  Nothing but disappointment.

And for all those insisting on being negative, there are plenty of Cleveland sports teams selling stylish and affordable merchandise.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mixing Kids and Wino Weekend Warriors

Back in August, I solicited the interwebs for insight on bringing a toddler out to wine country.  I was about to head to Oregon's Willamette Valley with a motley crew of parents, kids, wives (well, wife... she's put forth ZERO effort to find any sister wives).  Having made the trip to Sonoma with an infant who, well, pretty much slept the whole time, I was unsure how accommodating an industry of escape-from-the-day-to-day would be towards a critter bouncing off the walls.

Turns out, it can be done.  In fact, quite easily.  Granted, the trip has to deviate a bit from bacchanalian booze cruise, but no one wants to see you naked and dripping with wine anyway.  Okay, I do, but for the purposes of this family-friendly post, let's say I don't.

Got kids, but love wine travel?  Here are some tried-and-true pointers that make the trip as harmonious as Champagne paired with chicken nuggets:

1)  Do a little research.  Visit the websites of Vintners' associations in the respective area you plan to tour.  Many offer lists of the number of "family friendly" wineries.  Some places are just more laid-back than others.  In my experience, places like Sonoma County (CA), Willamette Valley (OR), Eastern Washington, and Santa Barbara County (CA) are more down-to-Earth, so they're not as uptight about kids running around.  The Napas of the world are great to visit, but may be a little high-strung.  Of course, that's a sweeping generalization, so you can always...

2)  Call ahead.  Find the wineries you want to visit, and simply call ahead or email to make sure they are kid-friendly.  Some are very sensitive of their adult guests, and don't want toddlers running around and screaming.  Granted, I've seen plenty of adults running around and screaming at the fifth tasting of the day.  Not me, mostly because I can't see myself.  Anyway, a quick conversation with the winery can eliminate all doubt and apprehension about showing up to a classy joint with a kid on a leash.  You don't use those kid-leashes, do you?

3)  Rent a house.  There are tons of wine country homes for rent on websites like VRBO.  By renting a house, you eliminate the need to have to eat out for every meal, so there's no need to worry about kids behaving at swanky restaurants (though there are many family-friendly ones around).  Bonus point:  wine country is an agricultural area, so there tends to be extraordinary produce and other vittles available.  By renting a house, you have access to a kitchen.  Just don't screw up those lovely ingredients if you're a terrible cook.

4)  Bring activities, and abuse technology.  Got an iPad?  Invest in Netflix streaming, and some good 3G service.  You can plop your kid in the corner with a few Disney movies and let the babysitter do its magic.  There are also special earphones for kids with noise protection.  Are you a hipster who hates technology?  A bag full of coloring books can do wonders.  I recommend the markers that can only write on the special paper in the books.  Crayon draws anywhere.

4)  Solicit traveling babysitters.  I know not everyone can do this, but I bribed my parents into coming along on the trip.  We rented a big house and they helped chip in to watch the little one.  The wife and I even got away for some tastings by ourselves.  I only recommend this move if Thanksgiving is a joyful experience for you.  Otherwise, there are lots of websites like that can help you find a local babysitter.  You can trust that sitter with your kid, but hide those good bottles of wine.

5)  Mix in some non-wine tasting days.  Wine Country always has so much besides wine to offer.  Working farms, nearby oceans, berry-picking, festivals, farmers' markets, breweries, balloon rides, hiking, etc. seem to always offer creative alternatives to spend your money.  We spent a full day out on the Oregon coast (most of it winding through that damn coastal range), and didn't miss wine tasting a bit.

Look at that happy tike.  Still not convinced it can be done?  

Have fun in Disney World, you flake.