Friday, December 16, 2011

Half-priced bottles of wine!

My closest friends and I go out to a fantastic restaurant called Maxwell’s (I know, I’m always writing about it) every Tuesday or Thursday to eat a St. Helen’s BLT with a side of chips or fries, and drink half-priced bottles of wine. We talk about work and friends and what’s on the menu for our next dinner party and generally leave feeling sleepy and full of both food and friends. It is the highlight of my week, to sit under the big sparkling chandelier, a Christmas tree lit up in the window, and drink Merlots or Cabernets from their restaurant Riedels. 

There is something ridiculously fun about ordering a bottle of wine at the table. We get to scan a long wine list, and without labels and without any guidance but tastes in varietal, we pick a bottle that could be completely awful (but never is)… and then, the tasting. I love how the waitress pulls out the cork and places it, wine side up on the table, the deep purple soaked through the cork, covering the vintner’s monogram or little design, and then pours you a tiny sip. I always feel a tiny bit silly swirling my wine around, breathing in the nose, and then tasting that almost warm, always juicy first sip of wine. 

And then wine is poured around the table, swirling through each glass, catching the light, and everyone tastes and comments and usually sighs with post-work-first-glass-of-wine happiness. I don’t know if it’s the community feel this whole ritual, or the fact that it’s a time-honored process that we just inherently know how to do, but I always feel older and wiser and more stable when I’m sitting at the table ordering a bottle of wine.

A couple of weeks ago we ordered an 2009 Owen Roe Sharecropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon  from the Columbia Valley. It was $42 at the restaurant, and then half price, bringing it down to just a bit above the store price ($15 retail) – which is a steal, if you ever buy wine out! The wine was in a squat bottle with a rustic label of a horse pulling a cart and I felt like we should have been in a barn drinking wine on straw bales. The wine was just as lush as the farm notion – full of ripe berries like plum and cherry. The finish was lush with structure and some noticeable tannins. It was a great warm, lush winter wine.

Last night, we went to Maxwell’s and again ordered a bottle – but this time, we tried a Merlot. My friend Whitney, who is also getting into wine, had forwarded me an article about Merlot coming back (after its Sideways-inspired, Yellow Tail-enforced, downfall). I have always been a Merlot fan, but after discovering Cotes-Du-Rhone recently, I hadn’t the heart to drink anything that wasn’t perfectly complex and rustic like the Reserve Perrin Cotes. Luckily, we ended up with a delicious bottle of a Balboa Vineyards 2009 Mirage Vineyard Merlot. It was originally $32 at Maxwell’s and half off, cheaper than the in-store cost ($22 retail). The Merlot was very well balanced, with a fruity bouquet, complimented by some acidity at the end of the sip and a bit of spice to finish the sip. The Merlot was certainly as complex and as enjoyable as the Cabernet, regardless of what silly wine movies say!

I suppose the moral of the story is that good friends, good food, and good restaurants are made even better by good, cheap bottles of wine. I suggest you keep your eye out for a half-priced bottle of wine restaurant and start working your way through an unknown, and unfamiliar, wine list!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'm entering this Thanksgiving in my Book of Great Surprises, subtitled Ridiculous Successes. And, oh my god, it was a ridiculous success.
Ben and I
I started planning for Thanksgiving in oh, September, and as I started to get more and more neurotic over who was cooking what, it started to snowball into a giant messy planning ball that couldn't be untangled. At one point two people were making mashed potatoes, two people were making stuffing, two people were making yams, and two people were making cranberry sauce. The only thing we'd figured out was that the turkey wouldn't be cooked in our oven, but at a friend's parents' house, and brought down to our house just before dinner. And then the turkey wasn't being cooked there anymore. It was being cooked in our tiny, dirty, old, and horribly inefficient oven. And it needed 8 hours to cook.
And then we didn't have baking pans, or enough plates for 10 people, or enough wine glasses, or any matching forks, or serving utensils, or oven space because of the eight hour turkey.

And then we didn't have enough couch space to house three people's families for a night.

Or enough chairs.

Or a long enough table.
But then, in that miraculous way that is only present during the holidays: everything came together. Someone picked up three extra chairs from work. We found an extra table (and washed the fall leaves and spiders off of it). I bought some extra wine glasses and someone got a set of 10 red plates. And we sat down together and made place cards, and put on our skirts and dresses. And Ben's tie was miraculously where it should be in the closet.
On top of it all, the turkey was done on time, freeing up the oven for the other dishes, which also were done on time, everything was hot and fresh and we ate at 4:00 p.m. on the dot. Everyone was agast (though their expressions that looked like awe, may have been hunger).

But enough gushing and on to the wine: We started our dinner off with a toast. Not being the greatest fan of champagne (especially cheap champagne), I decided to go the route of sparkling Italian white: Prosecco. I bought two Zardetto Prosecco Bruts from the Metropolitan Market ($13.99). The wine was light, crisp, and fresh, in a nice preparation for a very savory and hearty meal. It helped me cleanse my pallatte from the mid-morning mimosas and cheese nibblings we'd had to celebrate the Thanksgiving festivities. I'd thoroughly recommend this as an excellent alternative to champagne, and it's definitely much prettier in the glass. It added a lightness to the meal and the wine selection that would have been otherwise lacking.

The rest of the dinner wine was a wash of Pinot Noir, from Sonoma county through to the Willamette Valley. I can't remember many of the specific bottles or wines as the evening was too hectic and enjoyable for me to pull out a tasting notebook and sit off to the side with a water cracker and my senses heigtened. We finished the evening off with a paired orange muscat dessert wine that was tangy and deliciously different and lots of pie.

After three hours of mixed-family charades and about 10 empty bottles of wine, we called it a night. And I'm confident in saying that it was quite possibly the best orchestrated college house (my housemates are finishing their undergrad) Thanksgiving... ever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What are you drinking for the holidays?

This year will mark my fifth Thanksgiving away from home, my second with Ben's family, and my first Thanksgiving (ever) cooking. This year has been a monumental one, of great and small changes, and it seems only fitting that I'll be starting my own Thanksgiving traditions for it. I started 2011 as a senior in college. In this past year, I graduated from college, attended a graduate program in Denver, was both unemployed and then got a temporary job back at my alma mater. And despite the brief bouts of unemployed panic, and crazy summer budgeting, I'm going to end 2012 employed, with a brand new apartment, and a cat, and enough money saved up to actually pay a few student loan payments before they reposses all of my work clothing as collateral.
I expect that 2012 will bring with it even greater changes, but that's a month away and for now, I'm focusing on the holidays. I'm not necessarily a big Thanksgiving person, possibly because I don't eat turkey, don't like green bean casserole, hate yams, and don't care for cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie... but it marks the onset of my absolute favorite season, holiday, and event of the year: Christmas. So I usually fill my plate with mashed potatoes and stuffing and get ready to dive headfirst into Christmas.
This year, I was unable to restrain myself until the day after Thanksgiving, and so I've already started my decorating and Christmas present shopping. It might be that I have too much free time on the weekends when Ben is studying... but the house looks lovely, cozy and warm and everyone seems to be curling up in the living room more. The house is done up in white lights, wrapped around the french door frame and the curtain rod at the front window. My mantlepiece is covered in vases of different sizes and shapes full of glittery pinecones and Christmas balls. I've already created a centerpiece for the dining room table that will be lovely for Thanskgiving as well - it's a copper wire Christmas tree with little white pearls weaved into the wire intersections, surrounded by gold flecked, antique tea lights. I promise that my Christmas music albums have been left untouched and will only be broken out as soon as I am done with dinner. I can hear Charlie Brown's Christmas in my head, already.
To complete the holiday scene, I've started looking for and buying my Thanksgiving wines. There will be 10 people at our dinner on Thursday afternoon and everyone is bringing a wine to the table which should offer some interesting, if not delicious, picks. Relinquishing control of the wine purchases has been difficult, but I'm trying to let people bring what they like to drink and hope for the best. Safeway currently has an amazing sale on Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon (I wrote about it here) marked down from $20 to $13.99. They have all bottles over $20 marked off 30% at our Safeway making everything I usually want to drink for special occassions, very reasonably priced. I bought two bottles of the Joel Gott for the table, as it's one of the best Cabernets I've ever had and is neither too hearty or heavy so as to ruin the palatte for dinner or dessert. I know that cabernets are not often on the Thanksgiving wine list, but I think the cabernet is delicate enough to pair with some of the heartier stuffings and yams on the table. Ben's mom will be bringing up a Pinot Noir from Oregon as well as a local Eugene Riesling (Sweet Cheeks Riesling) for his brother who isn't big into alcohol of any sort unless it tastes like candy. I am going to look for a Prosecco to start the dinner off with (a toasting wine) as I'm not a big fan of champagne. Prosecco is an Italian dry or extra dry sparkling white wine that serves as a great alternative to champagne (especially in quality to price comparisons).
What are you drinking for the holidays?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Warm up with wine!

I spend most of my time obsessing about what is going to happen next. It might be a symptom of my anxious personality, or an unfortunate consequence of my need to plan everything... but regardless, I'm not a live-in-the-moment kind of person. When I was in college, I spent most of my time wishing I was out of college, with a stable job. When I got out of college and couldn't find a job, I spent every waking moment browsing the web for positons, writing cover letters, and checking my email with an OCD diligence. And then, when the job was secured, all I wanted was an apartment.

The apartment hunt has been the most recent (and all-consuming) obsession as my current living arrangements are coming to an end in another month and a half. After spending countless hours researching every single apartment in a 10 mile radius, I finally made appointments to go see them this weekend. This freezing cold and rainy Saturday, Ben and I went to a few apartment viewings and ended the day by filling out an application. We're hoping to get approved in the next week or so for a 7th floor, corner apartment in a building downtown. It has 180 degree views from the Olympic mountains to Rainier and yesterday, in the blustery, stormy weather, we could see across the Port of Tacoma, above the billowing steam coming from the smokestacks downtown, across Commencement Bay and up to the base of snowy Rainier. It will be absolutely gorgeous in all seasons. Not to mention - my wine rack will finally get an actual place in the apartment to be on display.
Downtown Tacoma View:
After our chilly trek about downtown Tacoma, we prepared for our weekly potluck dinner with friends. Last night was Spanish night. We had a delicious dinner with very strong Sangria, a Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions, stuffed tomatoes, red beans and rice, and then a really beautiful bottle of Spanish wine. I went to the Met with an old favorite wine in mind - a Protocolo Tinto red mix from Spain. Not only is the wine $7-8, it's deliciously rustic with just enough spice and just enough fruity body to make it a good table wine for any meal. Naturally, they didn't have it (as things seem to have gone lately). I was stuck with an entire aisle devoted to Spain and very few Wine Spectator bills of approval on the wine shelves.

Luckily, the wine guy was dashing about through the wine section and I snagged him as he was about to disappear down the rabbit hole. I always feel somewhat uncomfortable asking for recommendations when my price range is so low... ($8-12), but they are often really quick to recommend cheaper wines. It always helps to remember that if the wine guy did bring the wine in to your grocery store, it means that either people buy it and they're accustomed to it being purchased or that they hand selected it themsleves. No embarassment necessary!

It's nice to get a personalized recommendation as well. I let the wine guy know that I was having a Spanish dinner party with tapas and I needed a table wine for the night. He was quick to recommend a 2009 Laya Old Vines Red (Bodegas Atalaya), a beautiful silver bottle with sparkly leaves printed on it, for $9.99. The wine was a blend of 70% monastrell and 30% garnacha tintorera grapes. Neither of which I'd heard or before or remember trying in a blend.

The wine was delicious. As the wine guy had suggested, it was a lush, full-bodied, and yet still smooth. I noticed that it was one of the best "rustic" tasting wines I'd had in a long time. The spicy, raw taste of the wine didn't complicate the smooth finish. It was rather spicy and earthy on the front end and ended with soft tannins. I think I might have drank a whole bottle of it over the course of the night - if that's any recommendation to you (though I don't recommend it myself).

This wine stood alone - not just as a compliment to a Spanish dinner, but as a great table wine. It's warm and just heavy enough to be hearty during the increasingly cold weather. If you have any cold weather wines, please recommend them!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Isn't that sweet wine?

If I use the word "Riesling" around my Mom, she immediately goes: "Oh yuck, isn't that that sweet wine?" I always respond with "Yes, but..." and proceed to tell her the following: This summer, a friend's father told me that $5-10 Riesling and $20-40 Riesling are two entirely different wines.
My knowledge of this is only second-hand as I haven't had the opportunity to drink a $40 bottle of wine ever, much less a $40 bottle of Riesling. However, I've been intrigued ever since and destined to prove to my mom that she can stop barking "Yuck" at me at any mention of this white varietal.
Unfortunately, most Rieslings that I've tasted have been very sweet, on par with dessert or ice wines. And though it can be fun to drink such sweet wines after dinner on a warm summer day while playing Mexican Train (read: my summer experience in Eugene, Oregon), Riesling has never been a wine that I've sought out and I definitely spend no time in that section of the wine aisle.
Like all things, this changed recently when we had a German dinner night and I was left with one clear option for wine. Rieslings. Ironically, I was challenged by the fact that there were very few German wines under $25 dollars in the Met and I didn't have enough money to spend more than $10 on a potentially "yuck-sweet" bottle of wine. But I went with that option anyway (poverty: 1, tastes: 0) and picked up a Clean Slate Riesling ($10) from the Mosel, Germany.
And, even though this wine was under $20, it was extremely surprising. And delicious. I expected to open the wine and find the usual floral and apple notes, but was met with something but dryer and smoother. The wine reminded me of a more floral Chardonnay and a smoother Pinot Grigio. It was in name and taste a clean slate for my riesling tastes.
The wine was nice and dry, very minerally (in keeping with the slate stones that make up the lower Mosel river valley) which tamed the finishing notes of ripe fruit. I was never once drawn away from enjoying the wine by a lingering sweetness or a heavy sugar feel on my teeth and tongue. Instead, the wine went remarkably quickly.
We had the wine with some delicious German dishes, but I think it paired best with a carmelized onion and chantrelle tart that my friend Maria made for the party. The subtle flavors of the wine went well with the herby crust and spicy sweet filling.
Mosel River Valley
Some facts about Riesling: Riesling is a white grape varietal that originated in the Rhine in Germany. Though it no longer dominates white wine production in the U.S. (as the focus shifted to Chardonnay) in 2006 it was still the most-grown grape in Germany. The Oregon climate is particularly good for growing Riesling grapes and there is some resurgance there, but the production is still heavily weighted toward Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Riesling was first mentioned in writing in the 1400s in some German purchasing logs. Riesling grapes left on the vine much later than all other grapes are used to produce expensive dessert and ice wines. As with the minerally Clean Slate that I tried, Riesling is also suggested to express terroir (or land) of the place it is grown best - one of the reasons the mineral qualities are desired in Riesling grown in slate-filled earth.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sipping Port in my smoking jacket

This morning while kneeling over one of those irritating table-top ironing boards, I looked over at what I'm calling "The Wine Rack That Ben Built"* and noticed that it was fully stocked with an amazing assortment of wines. I think that this is my initiation into adulthood for many reasons: 1. I have a wine rack aka furniture that didn't come with the room; 2. I have an existing bottle of wine, not just a recycling bin full of empties; 3. Each bottle of wine cost more than $10.

In the wine rack I have an Alamos Malbec, a Pinot Noir from Sonoma (from, a great wine site with super values), a French and a Californian Rose (also from Lot18), a Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon and a few other easy to drink table wines. I will be tasting and testing and writing about them all... but in a fit of adulthood inspired writing, I wanted to write about something that makes me feel (and seem?) rather ancient: Port.

Port is one of those things that you immediately associate with elderly men and cordial glasses. Maybe a smoking jacket, too. Happily it's not only something pulled out of musty cellars by British men with bad teeth, but it's also pulled out of liquor cabinets by my father, who has decidedly less bad teeth than the British.

My Dad loves port and first served it to us as part of one of my parents' anniversary dinners. We had it with cheese and pears, in tiny little crystal glasses. And I thought it was the worst thing in the world, besides peas, that I'd ever ingested. Lucky for me, my Dad forced me to finish my glass (isn't this backward?)... and continued to make me finish my port glass from then (I was maybe 16) on. I remember having port on the holidays when we were visiting my grandmother, and then at home a few times in the evening while playing cards. And I don't remember liking it very much until a few days ago when I had an amazing port that was on sale at Trader Joes (you can find it at Safeway too). The Warre's Warrior Porto Wine Special Reserve (normally $18, marked down to $14.99), is one of the oldest brands of port still in existence. Warre's was founded in 1670 in Portugal by the British.

Though I don't have any tasting notes to offer you, but that it was a lighter, more palatable port (without sacrificing richness or that fortified sweetness), it did pair amazingly well with the strong cheese we had it with. If you're interested in port already and want a great one, check out the Warre's. It's consistently rated between 88 and 91 points by Wine Spectator and I don't think you can find a better port for under $20.

Some helpful Port drinking hints: If you're going to buy port, buy some pairings too - I prefer Stilton cheese, but a blue cheese will work as well. I also love pears or apples with port. Though some people prefer dark chocolates, but I think the sweetness can be overpowering. When tasting the port with a strong cheese, if you take a small piece of cheese and start to chew it, then have a sip of the port, the two together will combine to become a brand new flavor. For people that are new to port entirely, it's best as a dessert substitute. Port isn't meant to be gulped or chugged, but instead is best sipped leisurely in teensy glasses while talking about your land holdings and your impudent serfs.

*"The Wine Rack That Ben Built" is a long story with a happy ending. About a month and a half ago, as I went to order a wine rack on, Ben decided he was going to make me one. He designed a rack in class, calculated the angles, the lengths, the sizing... and then we went to Lowes, where it cost more than the online wine rack to buy the cart full of tools and supplies. A few mis-cuts, a few more trips to Lowes, one injured shoulder muscle, and weeks and weeks later: he was able to finish it. In summation: it may have taken forever and cost more than the $30 rack on Amazon, but it's gorgeous and a lot more love went into building it than would have gone into a credit card swipe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ode to Gourmet Grocery Stores (and wine, of course!)

We have a gourmet grocery store in Tacoma (and the greater Seattle area) called the Metropolitan Market and it is a magical place where you feel so happy that you empty your wallet on needless things like caramel lace cookies and five dollar creme brule desserts that come with free shaped rammakins. About once every few weeks I need something so obscure that I have to go to the Met to find it - like Japanese rice flour for mochi or coconut milk, instant polentas or pre-made tapenades. And about once every few weeks I walk out of the store with whatever obscure item I needed and about forty dollars poorer.

Because yesterday was a part of one of those weeks, I want to write a mini ode to the Met (and don't worry, their wine selection is included here!). Ben and I consider the store our special occasion/fancy/treat store. If I'm having a bad day, it's inevitable he'll suggest that we go to the Met and get a picture sugar cookie (they're always seasonally or event-themed by shape and coloring - fall leaves, Oscar figurines, peaches). And if we want a fancy 22 oz. beer that we can neither afford nor find anywhere else, it's to the Met for an 9% Black Boss Porter in tiny bottles or a regal looking bottle of unpasteurized Trappist monk-brewed Trippel Ale.

When you first walk into the met you're greeted on the right by pastries, and petit fours, decorated cakes and bursting eclairs. On the left, a whole host of hydrangea flowers and potted orchids with gigantic purple sprays. And directly in front of you: every single kind of bread and cheese you'd ever want. They have plates of cheese for tasting - 26 month Goudas and Asagio Parmesan wheels and giant stinking hunks of french blue cheese. The bread wraps around the cheese like a happy food shawl, rosemary breads and little loaves stuffed with garlic - all for about $4-6 a loaf and baked fresh. It's a scary place to walk around in when you're hungry.

After winning some money from a wine contest I entered on (yay!) and deciding to celebrate with... well, wine, we went into the Met to get some cheese to pair with it. They have this amazing little basket in the cheese section where they throw the ends or irregular cuts of their cheese loaves. And you can get a great piece of cheese to try for $1-3. We ended up picking out an English White Cheddar, that 26 month aged Gouda, a French Raclette (a soft cheese that was a bit stronger than brie), and finally an Emmental (a cheese from Switzerland). We added to that the Met's marinated mushrooms and a loaf of French bread and then a wine I'd bought there a while back and hadn't had a chance to drink.

I had been hearing great things about the 2009 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Reserve and, eager to branch my wine tastes into France a bit, had picked it up. I was worried that the wine would be a bit too spicy and rustic for my tastes, but after opening it up and drinking it next to all of these fantastic cheeses, I fell in love. This wine, for about $10.99 at the Met (it ranges from $9-$15), was everything you'd want in a pairing wine. It went well with cheese, and the salmon I later had for dinner, but I can see it as being a delicious addition to a pork meal as well. The wine smelled extremely peppery and acidic, but the bouquet softened considerably when I actually drank it. Though the pepper and spice remained a prominent feature of the wine, the tannins were smooth and the wine was hardly acidic at all. The finish was remarkably smooth for such a spicy wine. I would highly, highly recommend this wine, especially as a great initiation into the Côtes du Rhône region.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall is here, feel the chill

The days have gotten cold, not yet the bone-chilling, chattering-lower-jaw dampness of Washington winters and yet also not quite the 60 degree blustery weather of summertime. And fall here means pumpkins, and oddly shaped squashes that look decorative rather than delicious. It also means that apples are finally back in their fill-the-grocery-stores glory. Honeycrisps and Pink Lady's and Gala apples abound. And then there are the Asian Pears replacing the peaches and the big heads of cauliflower and thick, earthy carrots lining the Farmer's market booths. The trees are in every single color but green, smoky reds and deep oranges and soft yellows that remind me of salt water taffy. And on top of all of it - everyone is wearing scarves and watching their breath fill the air in front of their faces with whispy, smoky trails.

It's officially fall in the Northwest.

And so I have been spending an ungodly amount of time on Foodgawker looking for recipes to inspire me for Thanksgiving. Ben and I are doing our first non-family Thanksgiving this year and I'm already nervous that the turkey will indeed take four more hours than I anticipated and my house won't have enough non-stick pans for making every single dish... but that's all over a month away.

In order to start practicing, I picked up a jar of canned pumpkin puree the other day and set to work on two small loaves of pumpkin bread. So last night, covered in eggs, sugar, and pumpkin, with a glass of merlot in one hand and a horribly inefficient electric hand mixer in the other, I made my first successful pumpkin treat of the year. Besides the understated cooking time (recipe's suggestion: 50-60 minutes, real life: 90-120 minutes), the bread came out moist and dense and perfect for chilly mornings with coffee. I toased it in the toaster this morning and buttered the crisp deep brown bread and it was delicious.

But more about that merlot... I'm fighting that wine rut I mentioned in the last post, with all the income that I've got. I picked up two bottles of recommended wines at Fred Meyer the other day that looked warm and inviting for the cold nights. The first, which I tried the other night, was a 2008 Washington Hills Merlot ($8.99). It was a nice warm merlot, perfect for the weather and perfectly Washington-oriented as it comes out of the Columbia Valley. The wine smelled well-rounded and turned out to be so. Though the bouquet started out light, it developed into a spicier and fuller wine with a hint of oak. The finish had a bit of mineral to it and the wine ended with soft tannins that left a great mouthfeel. The wine felt great to drink.

I'd thoroughly recommend checking out Washington Hills wines, if you live in Washington and want a great local wine that's inexpensive. Washington Hills repeatedly recieves Best Value awards from Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate. And enjoy the fall! It's a great time to drink great warm red wines and eat savory foods made of those rather decorative squash.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Wine Rut

I've been in a wine rut lately. I have all of these great plans to buy a half-case of some wines I've been dying to try, but I keep putting it off, paycheck after paycheck. I even have three bottles on my nightstand that need to be opened, and yet, I just don't feel like drinking them. I'm not sure why I've felt so stuck, but I think it might have to do with not having wine on hand that I particularly want to try. I'm hesitant about the 2009 Reserve Perrin Cotes Du Rhone I currently have, because I'm worried it'll be too spicy and rustic for my tastes, though I know that it got great reviews. The other two wines I have are beautiful salmon colored Roses that it's neither cool enough or sunny enough to open. 

And so the other day, the only thing that got me to hold a glass of wine in my hand was a surprise bottle. Ben ran out on an errand to the other day and brought a 2009 Gabbiano Chianti Classico ($8.99) because it was cheap and he really loves Anthony Hopkins films. I promptly distrusted his judgement and the idea that a drug-store had a wine buyer, and was worried that the wine wouldn't pair with anything but human skin. When I googled it, the first result said that "Gabbiano Classico Chianti is...the Heinekin of Chianti." Well, at least the wine wasn't in a straw bottle.
And then I tried the wine with some dal curry, on a cold night, and it was an extremely drinkable, basic table red. Though the first sip was a bit sharp and the tannins harsh, after a few minutes, the wine rounded out nicely. The best sip was full of warm plum flavors with a smooth, full-bodied finish. The bouquet had mineral notes, which added to the body of the wine very nicely. I was expecting something a little more rustic in this wine than what we tasted. Instead the wine was full bodied and warm, without being sharp. It went well with a movie and some curry and I'd definitely buy it again to pair with just about anything.

This being said, I need some suggestions. Some pairings, some great recommendations, some mind-blowing (and cheap) bottles that will make me want to dash to the store and pick up a bottle or two. If you have any, let me know! In the meantime, I'll try to find some inspiration in this really amazing chart from the NY Times with suggestions of great wines under $12. Check it out:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cooking time and wine

The best part about graduating from college and getting a full time job, is that I have the time, energy, and money to do things I’d never been able to do before. I’m speaking specifically about cooking, but other things like doing laundry also apply.

I’ve never been a cook. I baked sporadically with my Mom in high school, and I used to make myself a fried egg once every six months just to prove to myself that I had it in me… but other than that, I let my boyfriend do the cooking. I did the dishes. I blame my parents. They raised me with absolutely amazing food. When I woke up in the morning, there were eggs and toast (or sourdough pancakes) being made for breakfast. And for dinner, my Mom always had a recipe book open, making something elaborate and delicious (like hand-wrapped Chinese dumpling soup). The lesson I took away was: why cook something mediocre myself, when I can ask Mom or Dad to cook something delicious.

And then magically, a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to bake cookies. Which turned into me deciding I wanted to bake another batch. Which morphed into two Sundays spent making stacked roasted vegetable enchiladas for dinner. Which turned into me spending most of my Sundays baking and cooking. It feels really good. I like moving about the kitchen by myself, surrounded by flour and food, the great smells coming out of the oven... and most of all, the happy faces that peer in waiting for the food to be finished (the cat and Ben).

This weekend was a great weekend for kitchen-y activities. This Friday, my friends and I had our weekly Friday night potluck dinners. We started this week with a heritage/ethnicity-based theme. Maria made blinis, which are like thin pancakes or fat crepes. We stuffed them with everything we could think of: sweet meats, sautéed vegetables, cooked mushrooms, sour cream, and finally jams and condensed milks. We had a great time, and while everyone else drowned themselves in White Russians, I jumped off of the Asian continent and headed back down to Chile for a Pinot Noir.

I drank a 2010 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, Adolfo Hurtado winemaker ($8.99) from Chile. The wine went surprisingly well with the medley of flavors in the blinis. I think a Pinot is versatile enough to compliment a heavy meal with its spicy bouquet and yet light enough to pair well with fillings like jam and sour cream. The nose was extremely acidic and I was worried that it was a bit young, but it turned out to be exceptionally smooth. The high acidity was nowhere to be found when I tasted it. I found it to be light and spicy on the first sip, with the lightest hint of fruit (maybe cherries). It finished with smooth tannins that melted away. This is the best Pinot Noir I’ve had under $15 and I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.

We finished the weekend off with a trip to the Farmer’s Market where we picked up delicious in-season fruit. Then I did a whole bunch of cooking (I made pink Japanese chi chi mochi, spam musubi for the house to try, and a haupia macnut dessert). It feels good to have the time and energy to cook, and it makes the house smell delicious. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy Hour: Wine Edition

I think that the worst part about being under 21 is that you don't know about, can't enjoy, and aren't invited to happy hour. I think it just might be the holy grail of the twenties. I've certainly spent enough time pursuing half-off appetizers and dirt cheap well drinks, that it could be some sort of religious calling for me. 

Not only have they occupied many a weeknight, happy hours have ruined the full-price dinner for me completely. I find it increasingly difficult to eat at regular restaurants (why are these fries $7 and not $3.50? why are these sliders $3 a piece instead of $1?). And bar drinks are a similar story. It's just not worth it to go out to drink when a mojito costs $9-11 dollars and contains somewhere between half a shot and one ounce of rum. It's even harder when you order a glass of wine, at $8-$12 a glass, you might as well go buy the bottle of wine for $7.99 at a Safeway down the street and drink it in the parking lot. It'd probably save time and money. Wine is the last thing I would order out at a bar and it also seems to be the one thing Happy Hour still can't knock down to a reasonable price. 

I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about demystifying the exorbitant mark-ups of wine in restaurants and I feel a bit more clued in about the insane mark-up for glasses of wine. Bottles are another story. The article reasoned that, based on a host of restaurants around New York, that the average restaurant marks up their bottles of wine 300%. Read: a jug of Yellow Tail Chardonnay would be $24 in a restaurant. Yellow Tail aside, it makes great, affordable wines, completely ridiculous to purchase ($30+ for a Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris? Not tonight). And that's just the bottle price. That same Yellow Tail Chardonnay, in a glass instead of a bottle, would cost $6-$7... or, the exact price of a jug of that wine in grocery stores. 

It upsets me to say this, but this price insanity is actually driven by logic. When a customer orders that glass of Yellow Tail Chardonnay, the bottle must be opened and a small amount of the wine poured out. Once opened, the wine's shelf life drops rapidly (two to three days, at the most). If no one else walks into that restaurant and also orders a glass of that white wine, then the bottle is ruined and the restaurant will immediately face a loss. Hence the mark-up. That one glass had better at least help the restauranteer break even...

With this all being said, I was skeptical when a colleague at work suggested a place that had half-off bottles of wine on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Without a wine list and wine prices published online (this helps restaurants protect themselves from snooping customers looking to determine which wines are marked up the most, as well as snooping competitors gauging how much they can sell their wine for), and never having ordered a bottle of wine at a restaurant, I decided to try it out. When I arrived there for a late-night happy hour with friends, the place (Maxwell's) looked closed, but pushing open the door, we were greeted by an intimate restaurant with a glittering chandelier and a crackling fire. The bar was small and though it wasn't crowded, almost everyone had a bottle of wine at their table and a whole host of the appetizers that were also half-off. The wine list was large and exciting. Most of the bottles were ones I hadn't heard of and hadn't seen in store. Even better... they had bottles of wine under $30. And at the happy hour special, those wines were half-off. Such a major discount actually brought the marked-up wines down to a reasonable price, normally a dollar or two over the price in stores.

I ordered a 2010 Leyda Pinot Noir Classic from Chile ($13.99 retail, $15 with the happy hour discount at Maxwells). The wine was absolutely beautiful in color, a sparkling bright burgundy that was so clear that you could see the light reflecting in and out of the glass. It was very full of berry notes for a Pinot Noir, but it maintained the softness and lightness of some of the great Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. The bouquet was sweet and reminded me of a Riesling or a sweeter white wine. The front notes were of berries, notably blackberries and strawberry and the sweetness developed into a smooth and minerally finish, with a hint of spice. The wine lingered, but only delicately, and it showed no heaviness or jammy-ness of some of the other less expensive Pinot Noirs I've tried. I would definitely recommend this wine and the restaurant (and I suppose the entire notion of happy hour) for both beating my expectations and god-awful wine list mark-ups.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Summer's Last Stand

This week marked the last week of summer here in Washington. Though the past few weeks of sun and above-70 degree temperatures seemed out of the ordinary, it's hard to welcome the 50-60 degree misting and grey skies that mark the onslaught of Washington's fallwinterspring season. The bright side is pumpkin flavored treats, a rekindled interest in drinking tea, and the chunky sweaters that can be brought out of storage and worn again.

Inspired by's end-of-summer everything-peaches recipes and our local gourmet grocery store's Peach-O-Rama month, I planned on making a peach and brie quesadilla with peach salsa and drinking a Pinot Grigio/Gris as a pairing. Unfortunately, I decided to have a lemon drop (or two) between dicing up peaches and ended up forgetting about the Pinot Gris I'd bought entirely. Tipsy and covered in melted brie, I ended up saving the wine for a time when my palate wasn't completely destroyed by Absolut Citron and sugared martini glass rims. The peach quesadillas were delicious though, and I'd recommend giving them a try if you still have great peach prices in the store (they're still 99 cents a pound in Safeway).

Peachy rambling aside, I ended up rediscovering my 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris ($8.99) this week and thoroughly enjoyed it regardless of my criminally terrible pairing (a brown rice make-shift Yumm bowl). This Pinot Gris embodied everything I love about a good Pinot Gris: a beautiful oaky-yellow color, a fruity and floral bouquet without being sweet, and a dry finish that made the wine seem almost sparkling. Though Ben swore that he couldn't smell the notes of the bouquet (he'd been cooking onions), it distinctly smelled of pears. The finish was oaky and well-rounded with lingering notes of pear. Though we paired it horribly, I'd suggest seafood with this wine. The Wine Enthusiast awarded this Pinot Gris 88 points and it's well worth every single one. If you're a fan of dryer Pinot Gris (this wine is definitely dryer than the Columbia Crest Two Vines Pinot Gris I tried the other day), this is the perfect, well-priced wine for you.

I know that I'm constantly trying Washington wines, often from Chateau Ste. Michelle, but this winery never seems to disappoint and I often find that their wines are not only the best value but embody the best characteristics of the varietals. If you're in-need of a good wine and don't have time to hunt around the wine aisle, head to Washington wines and pick up a Chateau Ste. Michelle wine.

As a deviation from my normal wine writing, I feel compelled to share with you the above-mentioned lemon drop recipe as it turned my summer lemon-centric and turned some dull parties into great ones:

Absolut Lemon Drops
3 shots Absolut Citron
1 shot Triple Sec
Juice of 1/2 lemon

In a large shaker combine ice, 3 shots of Absolut Citron, 1 shot of Triple Sec (increase or decrease depending on your desired sweetness level), the juice of half a lemon (again, modify depending on your tastes). Sugar the rims of two martini glasses, shake, and pour. And then beware, these lemon drops are extremely strong.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

To Mendoza, Argentina

Besides near-constant ironing and waking up at 6:45 am every morning, I've realized that being a grown up means trying to have sophisticated, really delicious, super-successful dinner parties where everyone looks put together. Though the imperative word in that sentence is trying, I think that slowly but surely, we're getting closer to that goal (we've even started to like goat cheese!). The other night, I needed an occasion to drink a Bonarda I'd bought while in Oregon this summer, and so a dinner party was invented. Caitlin and Whitney, two close friends of mine that also graduated this past May and are also out in the work force, spent a day at the farmer's market finding great local food for our dinner. They ended up bringing fresh squash and zuccini (later sauteed in olive oil and spices), chevre and hot raspberry jam (all made fresh by local vendors), bright red tomatoes and cucumbers, and fresh rosemary bread that we dippied in olive oil and balsalmic. They also brought "The Show" Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina and a white wine (Stiegerebbe) made and sold locally by Stina Cellars. I made fresh corn on the cob, added a Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, and made a great, simple dessert (vanilla ice cream covered in toasted coconut and fresh lime juice). Maria, one of our housemates, contributed goat cheese stuffed mushrooms that were absolutely to die for and some Cupcake wine. The evening is probably best summed up by a photo of the appetizers spread... but the wine deserves a more in-depth look.

In some kind of miraculous telepathy, Caitlin and I were on the same page in terms of wine. We'd both bought and brought a wine from Mendoza, Argentina and both of them went remarkably well with the goat cheese and pepper raspberry jam. The first wine we opened was the 2009 Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda by Altos Las Hormigas, a gorgeous bottle of I bought for only $8.99 at Sundance Wine Cellars in Oregon. It was an amazing deal and one of the best new reds I'd tried in a while. This wine was very different than many I've tried but had many of the same spicy, deep qualities of a Malbec. I picked up some cherry and plum followed by spicier notes of pepper and finished with structured tannins, giving it a rustic feel. If my ranting is not enough to convince you, this wine recieved 89 points from the Wine Spectator and frequents the magazine's great values lists. The Bonarda grape, a varietal I hadn't heard of before, is actually an Italian grape that was the most prominent grape grown in Argentina.

The second wine we tried was a 2009 The Show Malbec from Trinchero Family Estates that was also sourced in Mendoza, Argentina. I've recently started to enjoy Malbecs, after getting used to the heavier and spicier flavors that they're known for. This wine was about $10 and Caitlin bought it at Target (it's accesible!), and with such a flashy and interesting label, it's hard not to instantly love. It was a really great deal for so flavorful and full-bodied a Malbec. This wine opened with some deep fruit flavors of blackberry and plum that led into a spicier and softer finish characterized by notes of vanilla, and pepper, with smooth tannins to finish the sip. I loved this wine with our fresh dinner spread and thought it was also a good wine to follow the Bonarda, as it introduced some fruiter and lusher notes to counteract the spice of the previous wine.
It's worth it to mention that this tea-light decorated, fresh-food populated, and all around lovely evening developed rather quickly into playing rounds of Catch Phrase inbetween ingenius whisky, coffee, and whipped cream shots and everyone had a headache in the morning. So... I suppose the college hasn't quite been taken out of us yet.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty - The Pinot Noir Edition

This summer it became generally decided in the house that Pinot Noir was the thing to drink, no matter the weather or the occasion, and it would be drunk no matter who (me) didn't care for the varietal. My opposition and my wallet had blocked a large amount of the Pinot purchasing, but when I left for Denver, it was a mutinous scene. I suppose that it makes sense, as we were in Oregon, smack dab in the Willamette Valley, and hence in the center of the Pinot Noir world. And against my preconcieved notions about the grape (I'll just say it: jammy, unbalanced, etc.), five bottles of Pinot Noir later, and I'm happy to announce that I'm a Pinot Noir convert.

I think that the epiphany moment, and I know it doesn't fit the cheap motif of this blog, occurred when I had a $32 2009 Bethel Heights Estate Grown Pinot Noir. It was a summer weight Pinot Noir, thereby unconvincing me of the jammy and overdone notes I'd tasted in some of previous wines. The Bethel Heights Pinot Noir, grown near Salem, Oregon, was and will probably remain, my favorite Pinot Noir. It was so perfectly balanced, with a hint of cherries and plum on the nose that drew lightly along my tongue. It finished with perfect smoothness, the taste of raspberries and soft tannins.
Excited by this Pinot Noir, I both searched for and stumbled upon some great, cheap Pinot Noirs. Though it's a commonly held belief in Oregon that buying a Pinot under $20 is a great travesty, I beg to differ. I actually think that it's one of the wines that isn't terrible at a cheap price. Without heavy tannins like a Cabernet, there is little risk of uncomfortable sharpness to the wine, and without a tendency toward sweetness (like some Merlots), the wine doesn't ever verge into being sickly sweet. Because I have tried so many and I have also misplaced my tasting notebook in the move from Oregon to Washington, I will briefly go over some of the more affordable glasses I had. If you're not in the mood for shelling out $30+ for a bottle of wine, then read on. If you are... you've got my recommendation already.
2009 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir (California)- I had this wine on two occasions and on one, I absolutely loved it. On the second, I thought that it lacked some balance and some of the finesse of other Pinot Noirs I'd tried. Ben, however, loves this one. I think this Pinot might be the heaviest Pinot Noir I tried, thick with berries and spice throughout the glass. If you're looking for a cheap table wine and you like Pinot Noir, this is a good deal. You can find it for $8-$10.

2009 Eola Hills Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) - Not only does this bottle look rather snazzy, the wine inside is excellent. This is certainly my favorite Pinot Noir of the cheap list. It's a bit more expensive than the rest, but with the extra few dollars comes a great flavor and balance. Notes of cherry and berries with soft tannins on the finish. This wine captured the best elements of a Pinot Noir. $15-$20.

2009 Lindeman's Bin 99 Pinot Noir (Australia) - For the price, $6.99-7.99, this wine was a great deal. It was light and drinkable, with soft fruit and spice notes complimenting each other, this Pinot Noir wasn't overwhelming. Ben felt it was a bit minerally for him, but I enjoyed it better than the Mondavi when I first tried them side to side. For $6.99, though, it's hard to regret the purchase.
2009 Castle Rock Pinot Noir (Bottled in California, sourced in the Columbia Valley) - Though the bouquet was sweet and jammy, the wine definitely was not. Notes of cherry and currant, followed by a smooth finish with subtle tannins. A full-bodied Pinot Noir that was an entirely drinkable, food wine. It lacked the balance of a more expensive bottle, as the front end was light and the back end heavy. A great deal! On sale for $7.99 though listed at $11.99.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A tribute to summer whites

From above, it would appear that I am sitting in the epicenter of a large, household earthquake, clothing strewn about me, boxes half-opened and half-filled radiating away from my person in no particular order. Once again, I’m packing and moving. I guess I’m not really moving but moving out (I don’t think that you can actually move when you don’t have a place to move to)… So goes my warm season (I’m not calling it summer anymore since my unemployment makes the summer some kind of unappreciated, hateful, and endless concept). I am moving up to Seattle, to live with family for a bit, while I continue to search for jobs in the city. As it currently stands, the only jobs I don’t want involve working with children or liquid waste. Anything else? I’ll take it.

Naturally, because I have to move things, it’s hot out. The weather waited until just now to get sweltering, so that I could wander around the garage like an ungainly savanna creature, battling massive spiders for possession of my boxed up kitchen gadgets. As I wait until it’s an appropriate time to make a refreshing afternoon beverage, I figured it was a good time to share some of the white wines I tried recently.

With so few days left of warm weather (Washington’s “beautiful summer” lasts from August 15th to August 30th), it’s a great time to drink cool and refreshing white wines. It also seems like they’re on sale right now as stores try to move their white wine summer stock out in favor of getting warm fall drinks on the shelves. The first white I tried was a 2008 Marotti Campi Luzano ($10.99), a white wine from Italy made from verdicchio grapes. I was expecting a dryer white, but upon opening the wine the bouquet was of citrus fruit, pear, and apple. It smelled very similar to a Riesling. This wine had notes of grapefruit and pear, and had a dry finish that cut the sweetness of the wine. The back end seemed rather sharp and acidic to me, but upon looking up the varietal, I found that verdicchio wines are known for their high acidity and citrusy flavors. I found this wine to be somewhat off-balance, a suggestion that verdicchio grapes are not a good wine for me. This wine’s seemingly odd mix of acidity and sweetness made it similarly difficult to think of anything it would pair well with. A friend that I was drinking it with suggested, simply, that the only thing it would go well with was “green beans.” And that, I think, might tell more about this wine than any tasting notes can.

The second white I tried was a much better success and a really great deal. If you’re looking for a cheap summer white wine, perfect for lounging about on the porch in the heat, I strongly suggest buying the 2009 Columbia Crest Two Vines Pinot Grigio. It was on sale at Fred Meyer for $6.99 and comes with the recommendation of earning many “Best Value” awards, but also with an impressive 87 points from Wine Spectator. This Pinot Grigio was much sweeter and less dry than many I’ve had in the past but was so perfectly well-rounded that the sweetness was neither grating nor tiring. It opened with citrus and floral notes and finished with a distinct flavor of honeysuckle. It was extremely smooth, especially for a seven-dollar bottle of wine. I had this wine with fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden, a warm baguette and brie… and as delicious as the food and wine were separately, I’d strongly recommend against the pairing. The food (probably the balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes) made the wine biting and acidic. I’d go for something lighter and less sharp as a pair, perhaps fish or chicken.

To finish, and I know I already posted about this, I entered a wine contest on and would love if you’d read my article here and like, tweet, recommend or plus it! I could win $250 if I beat the other entries.

Any question or comments or wines to try? Email

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Mired in a rather disappointing and yet all-consuming job search, I’ve been looking for more ingenious ways to earn money. In an amazing merging of interests, (writing, wine, and money), I joined an online wine community called Snooth and found a wine writing contest that challenged me to write about my “epiphany wine,” or the wine that made me actually love wines. It was really fun to write and hopefully I can do well enough in the social media aspect of the contest (you have to promote your writing to garner it the most tweets, likes, pluses, and recommendations) to win the grand prize. If you’re interested in reading my essay about the 2006 Rosemount Estate Shiraz, my own epiphany wine, then please go to this link: If you like it, I’d be thrilled if you voted and helped me pull ahead in the competition (you don't need to be a member of the site to like, plus, tweet the post).

If you're interested in an online wine community, I’ve found Snooth to be a great resource (it’s easy to sign up through Facebook) for finding new wines and talking to people about wine. The forums are helpful for recommendations and pairing suggestions and there are very knowledgable people on the site that aren't snobby or elitist about wines. 

If you have an suggestions or comments, please let me know at

Monday, August 15, 2011

Battle of the Reds: Washington vs. Napa Valley

Yesterday was one of those perfect summer days—the kind you usually only see in movies where the characters all have perfect teeth and unwrinkled wardrobes. I spent the morning reading Middlesex outside amongst the dandelions, and by four o’clock a very light breeze had picked up, cutting the afternoon heat into evening warmth. At five o’clock, I went to a friend’s farewell dinner party, where we drank excellent lemon drops and ate fresh Caprese salad out on the porch. For dinner, along with steaks and grilled portabellas, we had two different new world cabernet sauvignons and finished the evening with homemade cheesecake and black tea. There is something magical about the clinking dance that people do as they pass glasses, knives, forks, wine bottles, and serving trays around the room. Goods exchange hands rather rapidly, bright red wine dripping down bottles and onto the tablecloth, long trays of grilled zucchini and corn lifted above shorter heads and passed around taller ones. It is almost choreographed, a broken glass or dropping fork the only suggestion that the whole beautiful scene wasn’t set up for someone else’s viewing pleasure.

In between courses and lulls in conversation, I pulled my aerator from my purse (I was asked to bring it!) and began taste-testing the just-opened cabernets. The results were remarkable; propelling a chain of tasting that overtook the dinner table completely. I’ve already given a spiel about the joys of the Vinturi aerator, so I won’t bore you with another (you can read the original post if you want to), but I will say that the difference in wine quality of aerated versus non-aerated was particularly intense in the newly opened bottles of cabernet. The tightness of the wines, the undeveloped notes, and the high acidity at the end of each sip were completely dissolved—what emerged were well-rounded, totally drinkable wines, just minutes after being opened. A definite plus for people that aren't keen on waiting a few hours for a wine to naturally aerate.

The first wine we tasted was a 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon ($15). The wine opened with soft notes of cherry and plum, full enough to give the wine body but not overpowering or jammy. It was balanced with notes of oak, pepper, and a finished with smooth and soft tannins. The second wine we tried was a 2008 Hawkstone Vineyards: Barney's Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). This Napa Valley cabernet was more complex than the Washington state cabernet, the earthy and peppery notes especially strong. I had a hard time grasping the opening fruit notes as they seemed overpowered by the structured tannins and spicy flavors. I would have much rather had this cabernet in the winter, when a heartier and warmer wine would have had a better effect. In the summer weather it seemed a bit too heavy for my tastes and I found myself going back to the Chateau Ste. Michelle where there was a notable balance to the wine. I was particularly thrilled to find that I enjoyed the less expensive wine more than the more expensive wine, further proving that higher price does not necessarily mean higher quality, and inexpensive wines have much to offer. I guess it doesn’t hurt that a Washington state wine beat out a Napa Valley wine… but that’s a whole different story.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Warm afternoons and beautiful wines

Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance - Benjamin Franklin

Though I have three bottles of wine sitting in various locations about the house (an Italian Verdicchio in the fridge, an Argentinean Bonarda next to the microwave, and a beautiful French Rosé in a brown paper bag underneath the bed), I thought I would write today about shopping for wine. I normally buy wine in the grocery store, a mission secondary to actual grocery shopping, and the experience is often cold, both literally and figuratively. In Fred Meyer, the wine section is sandwiched between refrigerated cases of Miller Genuine Draft and a shelving unit that offers both jugs of Carlo Rossi and donut holes. A far cry from the hills worth of grapes, warm glasses drunk by candlelight, and dashing European men we envision when we think about our ideal wine experience. The grocery store, instead, makes picking out a wine rather impersonal—rows of chilly bottles stare indiscriminately at you and it’s very rare that one jumps out and says buy me.  

And so, a few days ago, I had the rare and lovely experience of stumbling upon a beautiful wine store. Tucked into an odd part of town I rarely visit, next to a bookstore and a burrito place, was Sundance Wine Cellars. Walking in, I was struck by the bright room, filled with afternoon light… and then I noticed the aisles worth of wine. An employee that greeted me warned me not to get overwhelmed, as if it was a common ailment that happened to all wine lovers that came inside. And it turned out to be a very good warning as I found myself instantly lost and rather stricken in the rows and rows of beautiful bottles. In bright, unfinished wood boxes, the wines beckoned quietly. I found myself wandering through wine displays as if I was traveling through appellations and I couldn’t stop myself from touching the bottles. There were wines I knew and loved well, but there were so many that I’d never even heard of, and so the experience became one totally centered on traveling through this library of wine, instead of shivering in the center of an unhappy aisle.

In a happy wine bliss (and with two new wines to try), I had the good fortune to stumble upon an even more awe-inspiring wine shopping experience. Tucked in a tiny little room in downtown Eugene is a store called Authentica Wines. The high step into the store made me feel as if I was climbing into a new world. Against the wall were beautiful wine posters, one in black and white of a woman, a wine glass casting a shadow along her back, and along the floor were little crates full of wine. Inside the bright wood boxes were bottles of wine nestled in straw. Little pedestals and wrought-iron tables held tiny collections of bottles that glistened in the afternoon light filtering in high windows. White strands of Christmas lights hung lazily on the walls and around displays, giving the room an air of understated festivity—as if shopping for wine was a holiday in itself. And on each bottle, the proprietor had written the prices in a silver pen, barely noticeable, but so remarkably thoughtful that I couldn’t help but notice. As the proprietor recommended me a Rosé (the most beautiful Rosé I have ever seen), I noticed that every single wine in the store was beautiful in itself. There were no gaudy pictures, no harsh colors, no vivid or jagged lettering on the labels, only absolutely stunning bottles of wine.

I left the store with my heart tight. There is quite possibly nothing I love more than beautiful things, except maybe wine—and this store brought the two together. I suppose that I am trying to suggest that wine shopping should, unless in the case of a dire emergency, be a beautiful perusal instead of a harried, chilly grocery shopping experience. Most cities, wine-enlightened or not, have wine or liquor boutiques where buyers take great time to know the wine merchants, growers, and drinkers. And those buyers take time to find wines that you’ll love. It makes an amazing difference. So find a wine boutique or wine store close to you and support someone who loves wine just as much as you do. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Brave New World

I’m back in Oregon, after a very quick month at the Denver Publishing Institute, and it’s nice to be in a place that has clouds and living grass. Though my days, for the past three weeks, have been filled with fruitless job searching/applying/begging, I did arrive home to my birthday gifts: two Riedel wine glasses and two coupons for the wine(s) of my choice. My excessively heavy suitcases still in the car, my boyfriend and I stopped by Fred Meyer to find a New World wine (either a cabernet sauvignon or merlot) that would best compliment my new glasses. We settled on a bottle of Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvingon from California. Because it was a special occasion and Ben had been so generous (naïve?) as to put a $20 per bottle ceiling on the wine coupon, I splurged… well, I guess he splurged. I had this wine last Thanksgiving with my family, at the recommendation of a local wine shop, Grapes, in Hawaii, and I’d remembered it as being extremely good. I suppose that writing that $16.99 for a bottle of wine is a splurge affirms my current income-less state, but this wine even tastes spendy. 

In order to prove that my recent wine accoutrement accumulation was worth it, I taste-tested this wine with a various cast of glasses and with and without my aerator. I first tasted the wine in a small wine glass not designed to enhance a red wine; second, I then aerated it in that same glass and tasted it; and third, I aerated the wine and drank from the new glasses. The difference was extremely noticeable. The first glass left something to be desired. I felt as if the wine needed to be swirled in the glass or left open on the counter so that the bouquet could open. The wine tasted too simple for a cabernet. After aerating the wine, in the second step, the nose was distinct with scents of cherry, and the tannins were stronger upon the swallow. When I used my new glasses, specifically designed for cabernets, the wine tasted exactly as a cabernet should. It opened with a light taste of cherry and was followed by notes of cedar (the cedar notes were made evident only in the final test). The long finish was extremely smooth with structured tannins and a hint of acidity.

Though I went through this tasting process, this wine never tasted too sharp or undeveloped. I'm pretty sure that it'd taste great even in a coffee mug as long as you let it breathe for a bit. This wine was exceptionally smooth and embodied the best elements of a cabernet—full-bodied, hints of berry and with noticeable tannins on the long finish. The bouquet and mouth-feel were much more complex than a merlot, but the smoothness and light notes of fruit made it much more drinkable than a zinfandel or even a malbec. So if you have any hesitations about this varietal, give the Joel Gott a try and you'll be an instant convert. I'd recommend this wine to everyone and anyone. 

Have any suggestions for a wine to taste, try and love? Leave me a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

Monday, July 25, 2011

From California to Italy

"Unfortunately, the notion of connoisseurship is fraught with forbidding connotations, often of men with pointed goatees murmuring over glasses of wine about the intricacies of such and such a vintage compared to another. These folks exist – more in Hollywood than in real life – and they are often just as offensive in reality as in conception.
            In truth, connoisseurship is less a matter of what you know, and much more a matter of approach. As soon as one departs from the I like it/I don’t like it platform, one has become something of a connoisseur. The simplest, and perhaps best, definition is that a connoisseur is one who can distinguish between what he or she likes, and what is good. The two are by no means always the same.” – Matt Kramer, Making Sense of Wine

And so with that notion in my head, I set out to find a varietal that I wouldn’t normally enjoy. Frantically dashing about the New World reds section of the liquor store (invariably, the section easiest to navigate) five minutes before closing, I grabbed a 2009 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($10.99). Though my mom loves Zinfandels (Cline being one of her favorites), I’ve never been a big fan of their peppery, earthy, and often acidic finish. Kramer refers to them repeatedly in his book as “big,” “tough,” and “strong” and that is exactly how they come across. This wine was no exception. However, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Not only was the wine a beautiful, deep burgundy but it smelled peppery with hints of oak. The first sip was warm and fruit forward, followed quickly by a finish full of peppery and oaky notes (it was aged 12 months in American oak barrels). The finish was not only spicy, but long and complex with structured tannins reminiscent of a good Cabernet. The balance between the initial fruity notes and the more earthy notes of the finish rounded out the body, giving it fullness. Though I am not sure that I'm a Zinfandel convert, if you’re already a fan, this Bogle is a great buy. It's evident that this wine encapsulates the best elements of a Zinfandel: full-bodied, fruit forward with end notes of pepper and spices. 

Spurred on by either my obnoxious wine ranting or the grueling nature of job searching, a few friends from the program came over with wine this evening to have a wine and take-out pizza night. With pizza as the inspiration, Drew brought a 2010 Pietraluna Negro Amaro* from Italy ($12.99). On opening this beautiful bottle of wine, I was skeptical. The wine smelled so fruity that I was tempted to refer to it as “jammy.” Though the wine had very fruity and sweet notes of blackberry and raspberry, it finished with a hint of pepper and silky tannins. The wine lacked some complexity and depth but the fruitiness and smooth mouth-feel made it perfect for a warm summer night spent with friends. I’d suggest you drink this wine just as I did – around a big table of friends, laughing and letting the day slip slowly away.

*I hadn’t heard of this grape before, so I looked it up and found that the Negro Amaro varietal is grown exclusively in Puglia, or the “heel” of Italy, and is known for its deep purple color and rustic taste. Often the wine can be very perfume-y (hence the sweet fruity smell) but is tempered by a more bitter aftertaste.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aerating away

I recently posted about the genius invention that is the Riedel wine glass… I think I also might have mentioned that it was my one-day-dream to own one (or two?). Luckily for me, my entire family not only reads my wine blog but also observes my birthday. And so, broke and 22, I now own two Vinum Extreme Cabernet glasses. I’m pretty sure that this is the perfect example of when taste outstrips means. Regardless, Riedel’s Vinum Extreme line was designed specifically for New World wines. I chose this particular set because I am a big drinker of West Coast reds, primarily Cabernet and Merlot. Because I’m in Denver right now and suitcase is not the best storage facility for leaded crystal, the wine glasses are waiting for me back in Eugene, yet to be tried. I am counting down the days until I get back.

Along with my future Riedels, I got another wine accessory I’ve been dying to own: the Vinturi red wine aerator. Pouring your wine through an aerator fills it with air (evidenced by the tiny bubbles that cover the surface of your wine post-pour) and, as a result, it tastes fuller and smoother. Infatuated by my new, gorgeous aerator, I decided to open a bottle of wine and revel in the wine-y goodness of my birthday. The bottle I opened was a 2007 La Yunta Tinto blend from Mendoza, Argentina. Composed of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec and 16% Bonarda, this wine was $9.99 and came with a “great Argentina blend” recommendation. I didn’t quite agree with the “great” part of the recommendation, but the wine was passable. Pre-Vinturi-pour it smelled and tasted rather bland, but post-aeration (and you can tell the aerator is working as it gurgles happily), the smells and tastes of this blend opened up. I could taste cherry notes most strongly, but the wine had a lackluster finish. There was no aha! I love this wine moment. And my tastebuds were left wanting more of the smooth Cabernet finish and Malbec spiciness.

Though the La Yunta was somewhat disappointing, I completely recommend the Vinturi, or any other aerator you can find. In Making Sense of Wine, Matt Kramer explains that “the conventional wisdom about wines needing to breathe involved younger red wines of an earlier era. The fact is that many red wines made before, say, the 1960s, or even later, were crudely produced. They often offered off aromas deriving from old barrels or casks, or badly kept barrels or casks…sometimes they will ‘blow off’ when the wine is left exposed to oxygen for a period of time” (182). This "blowing off" was achieved by decanting wines, allowing them to sit out for a few hours for oxygenation. However, Kramer suggests that “the real oxygenation of the wine occurred in the process of pouring the wine from the bottle to the decanter” (183) – hence the modern aerators. For a range of aerators: Vinturi ($40), The Rabbit ($30), Wine Enthusiast Aerating Funnel Screen ($30), Glass Wine Flavor Enhancer ($20).

Stay tuned for more wine-snobbery as I hunt for a fuller, more pleasing wine!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting close to Woop Woop!

I have not been particularly enamored with Denver, Colorado. When expressing my skepticism to a fellow Publishing Institute student, he chuckled and knowingly assured me that I just hadn’t been to the mountains yet... Clearly, he has no idea who I am. Concerned that the only promising thing about this city was the “mountains,” (wherever those are, I have no intention of finding out) I was plunged into a deeper dejection than before. Luckily I discovered the University of Denver area gem: Morgan's Liquor, an insanely well-stocked store with a massive wine selection. The wine section inside was a sight for very sore eyes (Denver supermarkets don't sell any alcohol above 3.2%). Not only were there full casts from Germany, Portugal and Chile, but almost every single bottle came with a recommendation. Some were vivid orange tags that read: “SALE! GREAT PINOT” and the rest either a winery’s own advertisement tag or official Wine Spectator tasting notes and notable reviews/scores/points. It is a wonder I didn’t keep my suite-mates in there longer as I scoured for wines without “leathery notes.”

I settled on two wines, both with screw caps instead of corks. I rarely buy screw cap wine so I don’t know if it was the lack of a corkscrew + fulcrum opener, the static electricity building in the air or just a burning desire to try some new wines that drove me to this cork-less madness, but I was not disappointed. Clearly a screw cap does preclude a bottle from containing a quality wine! It was the 2009 Woop Woop Cabernet ($10.99) from Australia that I tried first. I have been waiting to try this wine for a long time, endeared by the name and a history of rave reviews. The name Woop Woop, comes from the colloquial Australian phrase for “out there” and seemed apropos as we drank the wine in the middle of a raging lightning storm happening directly over us. This wine was one of the fruitiest Cabernet Sauvignons I have had in a while. This Cabernet was remarkably fruit forward, tasting of cherry. The finish was long, rich and smooth. I was left with the remains of fruit and silky tannins to remember the glass by. A friend that tasted it with me told me with hesitation that she’d been put off of red wine because of “too much Smoking Loon,” but I am happy to say that one glass of the Woop Woop and she was instantly brought back. For only $10.99, this wine was remarkably full-bodied and memorable. I'd also recommend checking out the rest of Woop Woop's varietals. Too scared of Shiraz to try their highly acclaimed Shiraz, I'll leave the task up to you!

I was surprised to see that this wine was called, simply, “Cabernet” instead of either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc (a confusing abbreviation), but it turns out it’s just a rather Australian shortening of Cabernet Sauvignon. This grape is one of the most diversely grown and well-known grapes in the world and until the 1990s it was the most widely planted grape. Merlot, another one of my favorites, surpassed it in production.

Stay tuned for more screw cap tasting when I try a La Yunta Tinto from Argentina next!