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: http://misostudios.com/site/?p=2671
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.