Wednesday, March 28, 2012

White Zinfandel through a straw

I just finished reading a book on how to live more like the French called Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living In Paris (Jennifer L. Scott, $2.99 on Amazon Kindle books), as recommended to me by a colleague with similar taste. Though at times poorly written (she basically threw her blog posts at some binding glue and called it done), it was excellent in that it revitalized me, made me think, and made some amazing points. If you can get past the moments of bad writing, it is a complete self-help, life-changing gem. Beyond giving great advice about dressing, eating, entertaining, and decorating – the author, Jennifer Scott, gave great advice about living as a whole. She suggests at one point in her book that 

“Seeking out nothing but quality in your life is not about being snobby or pretentious – it’s about being selective and discerning. It is about respecting yourself and your loved ones enough to realize that every moment in life is previous, so why not fill it with the highest quality things or experiences as possible?” 

This excerpt encapsulates my life philosophy - from the way I like to eat and dress, decorate my home, spend time with people, and finally the way I like to drink my wine. Ben likes to tell me that I’m being snobby and pretentious (about everything, not just wine), and I like that Jennifer Scott understands. There’s nothing wrong with wanting quality in your life, where you can afford and access it. There is just as little reason to drink low-quality wine out of the wrong glassware, as there is to eat rotten vegetables off of a Frisbee with a stick (except maybe when cost or alcoholism is severely limiting you). With wine so remarkably accessible and inexpensive (Target, Fred Meyer, Safeway, even gas station convenience stores, have great, well-priced offerings) , there is no reason to be tapping into your Franzia box with a reindeer mug on a Saturday night, unless, of course, you’re 17 and that’s all that you could get someone over 21 to buy for you (the mug is still inexcusable -it’s March!). If you can’t afford a $75 bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (sobs) or one of Parker’s contested 100-point Bordeaux, there’s no reason to throw in the towel and chug a jug of Carlo Rossi or Yellowtail Moscato. Take the Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay, for example, which is $6.99 at my local Walgreens and received 86 points with the Wine Spectator, or a bottle of Barnard and Griffin Rose, on the Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines list in 2008, for only $11. They may be triple, even quadruple, the price of two-buck chuck, but let’s be honest; shelling out an extra $3 for about 86 more points in value and taste is a remarkable deal not found in many other arenas of our material lives.

In addition to drinking quality wines, I think it’s rewarding to drink your wine out of the proper glassware (no more mugs, you recent grads, and god forbid anything plastic – we’re not camping). I recently was gifted Riedel glasses and a Vinturi aerator (definitely out of my personal price range, but perfect for gifts), and was blown away by the difference between drinking out of a stem-less red wine glass from Fred Meyer and the thin crystal Riedels designed for drinking wine. My mom recently purchased red wine glasses by Riedel Vivant, the Target line of Riedel, which were considerably less expensive ($40 for a set of 4 red wine glasses) and was also thrown at how much the glasses increased the quality of her drinking experience. She didn’t quite believe me when I said that the difference in taste was not only noticeable, but life changing. The glassware may encourage your now blooming wine to go down more smoothly, but it also allows you to fully experience wine the way it was meant to be experienced.

If $10 a stem is $10 a stem too much for you, I also recommend lurking around Goodwill or other thrift shops as they often have great glassware for fifty cents to a dollar a stem. Ben got a set of brand new Riedel beer glasses from Goodwill for a ridiculously good deal, and my champagne flutes are also from a local thrift store (fifty cents a flute and New Year’s Prosecco was a go). Additionally, TJ MAXX has excellent deals on stemware. I purchased my most recent entertaining wine glasses (my Riedels are for private tastings between Ben and I, not company) there and found a set of gorgeous Lenox non-leaded crystal red wine glasses for $20. 

Once you’ve thrown away your plastic sippy cups, stained purple from many a night alone with a Bota Box of wine – you’ll be amazed at the difference in experience proper glassware and good wine will make. Your enjoyment of the afternoon glass will turn into enjoyment of the experience of uncorking a bottle, pouring it through the decanter (or just swirling it around the glass), and drinking out of a glass made to accent the vivid fruit, lingering spice, and mouthfeel of a sip of wine.
Or, I guess, you can just sip a Beringer White Zinfandel with a straw and call it good…

Friday, March 23, 2012

Blindfolded in Italy

There is nothing like the first hint of spring in the Northwest, a place where winter is seven long months of rain and wind. And a few days after our last bout of snowy weather, there has finally been a hint of it. At work, there has been warm sunlight streaming in through the windows, the smell of bark mulch around the trees, and spring flowers have been creeping up in the frosty air. At home, the sun is staying out until almost 7:30 p.m. and the apartment has been filled with glowing early morning and afternoon light – purple and red sunsets over Mount Rainier. We have yellow daffodils in the bedroom and yellow, orange, and red tulips in the living room. 

If you’re from the Northwest, you’ll know what that first warm batch of sunlight feels like on your skin, after almost seven months of rain and grey skies. And the sun brings on ideas of the summer, of warm evenings spent on the porch drinking beer and wine and lemony cocktails. We may not have a porch, and the sunshine may still be maxing out at 53 degrees, but it has got me in the mood for summer entertaining.

Though I have two unopened bottles of French rose in my wine rack, I haven’t quite graduated from my warm reds. I guess I’m waiting for some kind of weather miracle (like a 60 degree day in March?) to actually pull out the corks and drink them with a light appetizer. And so while we wait for the spring to kick off Pinot, white wine, and Rose season…

The other night I came home to homemade pizzas and two wine glasses sitting out on the table, meaning Ben had gone rogue and picked out a wine by himself (he’s rarely allowed this privilege). There is little better than being able to come home after a long day at work and have dinner in the oven, the house clean, and a bottle of wine being aerated for you. I suppose that’s probably why men in the 50s were so reluctant to let their wives work – it’s really a paradise that everyone should get to experience. Ben is a fan of big, bold, and, well, Italian wines, so it was no surprise that he picked out an Italian blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese. The wine, a 2009 Vitiano Rosso (~$10-11), was a beautiful dark red. The bouquet was very fruit forward with quite a bit of spice (I noted a lot of pepper). This blend, without the Sangiovese to blend it, would have been far too sweet, as the cabernet, which dominated the front of the sip, was very juicy and ripe (almost jammy) with cherry. The end, however, added dimension to the cabernet and merlot components of the wine, adding the rustic quality so common to Italian wines. The wine verged on being too heavy, but when served with our two pizzas (a mushroom and red onion pizza, and a warm cheese pizza with mixed greens piled on top), it was perfect. Suggested as a pizza-wine in the store, I think it was perfect for the meal and the price. Try it with any red-sauce and pasta and gourmet pizza or calzones.

Ben had me experiment with a blind tasting when he served the wine. I’ve never done a blind tasting before and I certainly didn’t pass this with flying colors, but it was very eye opening. I first smelled the wine and picked up the bold flavors with a hint of spice. It was immediately evident that the wine was not French, as it was too big and bold. I guessed that it was American, as the heavy fruit from the Cabernet was so powerful that I suspected it had to be New World. However, the spice at the end of the sip made it evident that the wine was a blend (I’d never tasted a varietal with that range before) and I guessed that very quickly. I was spot on in guessing Cabernet, but missed the Merlot and Sangiovese components. I understand that blind tastings are difficult when you purchase your own wine, but I recommend that if you ever have the opportunity,  

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Real World

As the year anniversary of my graduation from college looms (how can that be?!), I realize that the title of this blog is becoming quickly outdated. I’m not a recent college graduate anymore, something both terrifying and liberating. One of my best friends and I were talking the other day about how life after graduation has eaten us up – between the full-time job, the daily commute, the entry-level paychecks, the monthly expenses, and all of the real-world things we’re facing on our own, we feel like the real world has swallowed us whole.

My month consists of a list of payment due dates versus pay days. It’s only now that I realize that the “starving college student” assumption should be entirely renamed the “starving after-graduation new-adult.” My for-fun ramen in college wasn’t necessity-for-the-last-few-days-of-the-month-ramen, like it is now. My frivolous expenses in college were Spring Break trips to New York City and Las Vegas. This pay period my frivolous purchases were a couple of $9 frames from K-Mart and a bottle of Horse Heaven Hills on a Safeway Washington Wine sale. 

But for all of these pain points, it has been an enriching experience as well. I don’t think I expected to graduate from college without a place to live and without a job. I didn’t know that I could literally live out of a suitcase for 4 months. Through the struggle to find a place to live and the almost endless job searching, I did find a job (that I love) and I did find a place to live (that I love) with both the person and the cat that I love, and proved to myself that I could pretty much deal with all of my worst unplanned-life fears.
Image from
And in keeping with a blog post torn between the painful and the gratifying, it seems appropriate to write about wine I tried this week. The first was a 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Les Chevaux ($13) red blend (34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 10% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc). The wine scored 90 points with the Wine Spectator, was on sale with Safeway’s Washington Wine 30% discount, and comes from one my favorite off-shoots of Columbia Crest. As my aforementioned poverty has been limiting my wine drinking lately, I was excited to store this in the wine rack and drink it on the weekend when both Ben and I had time to enjoy the bottle. Naturally, as all things seem to go lately, fate interrupted my plans and Ben dropped the bag that held the wine bottle on our walk from the car to the apartment. Everything seemed intact until we got back to our apartment and the top fell off of the bottle splashing wine all over my “rustic mudroom bench,” the walls, the open Joy of Cooking, and Ben’s H&R Block tax documents. And really, thank god for the decanter. Ben and I decanted the spilling wine and enjoyed it right there. 

Like all Horse Heaven Hills wines, this was smooth, full, and excellently balanced. I was shocked at how well the blend had been crafted, as I’m not usually a big fan of blends. There was neither too much nor too little fruit for a New World cab/merlot blend, and the Syrah/Malbec addition didn’t over-spice the back end of the wine. The finish was smooth, with silky tannins and enough dimension to keep me wanting more. I’d very very highly recommend this wine. 

If my recommendation isn’t enough to sway you, Les Chevaux is French for “The Horses” and if that doesn’t endear you with visions of wild horses running through fields of wine grapes, then you might as well screw open a jug of Carlo Rossi and stop reading this blog.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New and Old World musings

Standing in the Stadium Thriftway (the cute, overpriced market close to our apartment), I said out loud in the wine section that I “wasn’t feeling New-World-y lately.” Ben was holding a bottle of Washington wine and though he laughed, I’m sure the people looking at round bamboo cutting boards thought I was gross… It has been true lately. If the bombardment of French wine blogging is any evidence, I haven’t been drinking anything from this coast.  

Luckily, the restaurants I (too) frequently visit, don’t offer very many affordable French options and I was recently forced in to some New World wine. I had a 2009 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon (~$15-$20 retail) and was very pleasantly surprised by this Sonoma County-sourced wine. The wine was big and smooth. Whenever I drink New World Cabernets (always in Riedels), I think of lush fruit. The deep, full glasses evoke rich, dark jams and make me picture fat grapes hanging off the vine (maybe even that grape scene from the original Fantasia). If you’ve ever been to a vineyard, you know that fat, ripe fruit is not quite the take-away image. I’ve actually never seen a delicious looking bunch of grapes at a vineyard, for good reason.

Regardless, this Cabernet evoked the same sentiments. It was vivid and lush without being jammy, and surprisingly smooth. Even though the bottle had just been opened, I found little sharpness or acidity at the end of the sip and found the tannins to be quite smooth. If you’re more partial to fruitier cabernets like Bonterra and Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, I would highly recommend the Ghost Pines. It evokes blackberries and plums, and finishes very smoothly. For those looking for lots of complexity and finishing notes in their cabernets, this might be a bit simple for you. 

In the same week, I also tried a new French wine, and the comparison between the new and old worlds is one I think worth sharing. The wine I tried was a 2009 Mas de Guiot Grenache-Syrah ($12.99) from the Costieres de Nimes estate in Southwest France. The winemakers, Francois and Sylvia Cornut, are renowned for their orchards as well as their wine. The label suggested that the rocky soils of this region made the wine reminiscent of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape (my dream appellation). The Mas de Guiot was 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah. Though I’m not usually a Syrah drinker, I can completely get behind the blends that use it as their backbone. Somehow the Grenache blends and matures the Syrah so that it is less powerful, spicy, and tannic. In the blends, the earthiness and complexity remains without so much of the espresso and black pepper intruding on the sip. The Mas de Guiot, while no Cotes du Rhone, was very drinkable. I found myself missing the body of the Ghost Pines and the weight of the Cotes du Rhone, but pleased none-the-less. Considerably less heavy than either of the two I just mentioned, this wine would be a perfect accompaniment to a meal (casual grilled meals like fajitas or burgers). 

The difference between old world and new world is reflected in wine much like it is in our views and cultures. The old world wines are very unassuming. The Mas de Guoit’s label was merely black script on white, the Ghost Pines is a beautiful image of leafless trees against a misty backdrop. The Mas de Guiot asked to be drunk with grilled meat, the Ghost Pines with a Filet Mignon. I found myself able to drink the French wine over casual conversation, but found myself digesting and consciously drinking the Cabernet. Everything seemed bigger and more pronounced in the New World wine.

I think that our wine drinking habits, inclinations, and tastes are interesting to look at, across regions and countries. Perhaps it says something that our wines are always trying – to score points, to please great numbers (gag, Barefoot), to make an impact. And perhaps that’s why we should buy sleepy French wines whose labels say little but “I am French.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

21 Cellars in Tacoma

This weekend, enjoying a Groupon my friend Caitlin shared with us, we went wine tasting down the street from our apartment. I don’t normally associate Tacoma with wine-tasting, and until a week ago was in the dark as to any wineries or tasting rooms in the immediate area. However, tucked into a little brick building, down a steep flight of stairs, and located in a tiny basement with exposed concrete and unfinished ceilings is the charming 21Cellars. Marked only by a sign that says “Open” and through a door explaining “Massage Therapy,” this winery fits the “hidden gem” bill. The ceilings were strung with white lights and the room full to bursting with gorgeous wine barrels, stained purple. The entire room smelled of oak and wine. Only open on Saturdays from 12-4 p.m. (or Thursdays by appointment), wine tasting is $5/person. 

The assistant winemaker, Katrina (another Puget Sound grad), led our tasting and we met the winemaker, Philip Coates. 21 Cellars has been around since 2003, but only recently took off after their 2006 Pont21 Cabernet Sauvignon was named one of the Top Ten New Washington Wines. Our tasting consisted of the 2007 Pont21 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19), the 2009 Pont21 Malbec, and the 2008 Promesse 21, a Cab Sauv/Cab Franc blend for $32. I was thoroughly impressed by the Pont21 Cabernet as it was rich, smooth, and very drinkable. It reminded me of some of the Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon - juicy without being jammy, and smooth with fruit without being too overbearing.   The Promesse 21 was also delicious, but a bit over-budget for me (and for this blog). The assistant winemaker suggested that the Pont21 Cab that this wine would only improve with age, up to seven years in the cellar. I found the wine to be perfect as we drank it, as it was smooth, and I found the tannins already smooth and well-developed. I bought a bottle to take home and am happy to hear that it’s sold in some grocery stores in the area as well. I think that this winery will only expand from this point and I highly recommend stopping by to taste some wine. 

We finished our wine tasting afternoon with our usual weekly dinner party. Wine-snob themed, we drank two excellent and inexpensive Bordeauxs with goat cheese, onion, and mushroom tarts, smoked salmon on tuiles, and cheese and wine spreads on crusty sourdough. We finished the evening off with Caitlin’s excellent arrabiata and penne, a  Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, and then had hot pears stuffed with blue cheese, nuts, and raisins for dessert. I’ll write more on the Bordeauxs for another post, so stay tuned.

Ben and I spent the rest of the weekend drying out a bit from the wine festivities by watching Intervention and Addicted on Netflix. If you’re looking for a way to be turned off of alcohol and other substances, watch these shows. There is little that is less appetizing than screaming alcoholics running nude through the streets and washed up basketball players selling their clothes for meth.