Sunday, December 31, 2006

Welcome to Amateur Night!

Also know as New Year’s Eve.

All across this great land, people of different religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socio-economic status will come together for an over-priced buffet, open bar and a “champagne toast at midnight.” All for the low price of $75 per person ($140 per couple).

In all fairness, many of us will be attending wine dinners, small parties or very, very small parties involving two people, a couch and a bottle of something bubbly—wink-wink, nod-nod, say no more.

New Year’s Eve symbolizes much of what is wrong with the alcohol culture in this country. Not because it’s a booze-propelled frenzy of dancing with a lampshade on your head, making out with your neighbor’s wife and singing terribly out of tune. That sort of thing has been going on since someone left a pot of berries sitting around a little too long.

The problem is that too many people only drink a couple times a years, and when they do, they have no idea what they’re doing. Especially here in the South, drinking is an odd social taboo for so many. Lots of people do it, but they don’t do it well. Drinking means long periods of abstinence followed by occasional nights of overindulgence.

A great many ills in the world can be traced back to alcohol, to be sure. Drunk driving, alcoholism and violence top the list. But in this country, some of those problems arise because of the way society treats alcohol as a forbidden fruit/recreational vehicle.

The puritanical attitudes of some of our forbearers still drive the wicked image of any sort of booze. It wasn’t that long ago that alcohol was completely outlawed in this country. Some counties here in the South are still “dry.”

At least that’s the official story.

Don’t you know that Europeans had a good laugh about Prohibition. We kicked out the British, fought a war with each other and endured all the other trials of a newly formed nation, only to deny ourselves the right to drink to our accomplishments.

Predictably, the 18th Amendment was not a great success. People drank anyway; gangsters flourished; and down here, some good-old-boys made a sport of outrunning the law with a trunk full of hooch, now known as NASCAR.

Another result was the decimation of a flourishing wine industry. We can only surmise what the United States wine biz would look like today, had we not taken that asinine detour.

Thankfully, this country’s wine industry is once again flourishing and growing, despite our government’s dubious treatment of it. More and more people are coming to see a glass of wine, a pint of beer or a martini as part of a healthy lifestyle.

In my view (and not just mine), wine is the healthiest of those choices, but research seems to indicate that beer and cocktails in very moderate amounts are actually good for you. Or, maybe it’s just that the people who enjoy a drink after a long day tend to lead happier, healthier, more balanced lives. Either way, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where alcohol wasn’t demonized. I was allowed to taste beer and wine at an early age. There was no mystery to it. My parents also provided great role models for responsible drinking.

Although now I have a bit more of a bacchanalian attitude about drinking, I’m still very responsible about it. A glass of wine or a beer is part of my meals, as much as a salad or a loaf of bread. Anymore, I have no interest in a steak if there isn’t a glass of red wine to accompany it. It just isn’t the same experience.

And I only occasionally dance with a lampshade on my head.

I wish all the revelers that will consume a month’s worth of drinks tonight would spread those drinks out over a month and actually enjoy them. Instead of swilling André Extra Dry at midnight, they would sip a glass of Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blanc or Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’ Aqui.

As for me I’ll be dipping fondue (thanks for the pot, mom) and sipping something really tasty.

It won’t be Champagne this year. Wine Blogging Wednesday #28 reminded me that the sparkling wine of this great post-Prohibition country is every bit as good as the noble wine from across the Pond.

And for you, gentle reader, I won’t ask you not to drink and drive, because I know you’re much too smart for that. Instead, I’ll ask you to stay off the road altogether, because of all the other idiots.

Have a safe and wonderful New Year’s Eve and I’ll see you in ’07.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Few Thoughts on WBW #29

By way of introducing Wine Blogging Wednesday #29, I’ll offer a few last quotes from my recent reading material.

In "Adventures on the Wine Route," Kermit Lynch quotes lengendary Burgundy winemaker Henri Jayer:

"We tend to count too much on science, when, before, people gave importance to natural things. One thing is certain, the ancients were not dumb, and if they established a tradition it was because of their experience, They tried to eliminate unfavorable elements and preserve what worked best.”

Almost twenty years later, in "A Hedonist in the Cellar," Jay McInerey writes this about Biodynamic vintner Robert Sinskey:

"Sinskey attributes the new subtlety of many California Chards in part to a new appreciation for the vineyard itself, and a de-emphasis on high-tech interventionist techniques."

I hope modern winemaking is moving towards reduced use of chemicals and artificial fertilizers. However, I do sympathize with winemakers and grape growers who do it in order to survive. We need to find a balance that we all, and the planet, can live with.

In any case, I’m happy to support winemakers and growers who listen to the earth and the vines, and treat them with respect. So without further ado, here is Wine Blogging Wednesday #29:

Biodynamic wines hosted by Fork and Bottle

See you on the 17th.

And, I promise. No more quotes.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nice (Wine) Rack!

I’ve been doing some wine reading lately, as previously mentioned. One of the things that jumped out at me is that two writers in a row made analogies between wine and women.

Of course, if women can be seductive, intoxicating, beguiling and often magical, with the ability to be soft or firm, subtle or brassy, gentle or acidic, then I suppose the comparison is apt. I might also add that both have the potential to leave you penniless and confused.

Here is a quote from "Adventures on the Wine Route," by Kermit Lynch:

"This all reminds me of an acquaintance who always seemed to have a new girlfriend. His girlfriends always had two things in common: huge breasts. His choices might be pretty or not, intelligent or not, interesting or not. Nothing seemed to matter to him as long as the breasts were enormous. It was such an impractical way to assess the quality of a woman that it began to seem almost perverse. And I have an almost identical reaction to those who go gaga over an inky, oaky, monster wine…."

We have all known that guy.

Another quote from "A Hedonist in the Cellar," by Jay McInerney:

"In the mid-1990s, the typical Napa or Sonoma Chardonnay had much in common with a vanilla milk shake or, figuratively speaking, with the reigning queen of Baywatch, Pamela Anderson."

I think the analogy is pretty clear.

I’ll admit that if I compare my taste in wine to my taste in women, there are some similarities.

If you were to line up all the women I have dated, you would be hard pressed to spot the common denominator. The same can be said of my wine rack, my music collection and my art (I use that term very loosely to describe certain objects in my house used for decorative purposes).

I don’t like homogeny. I enjoy the diversity that life has to offer and it surprises me when others do not. I want my wine rack to reveal the complexities and contradictions that define me as a person. Not to mention, I don't want to drink the same thing every day.

Who wants to live in a world with filet mignon but no cheeseburgers? Mozart but no Rolling Stones? Robert De Niro but no Three Stooges? Audrey Hepburn but no Sophia Loren? Screaming Eagle but no Tavel?

Apparently some people do.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"E" is for Eclectic Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source
ec·lec·tic [i-klek-tik]
selecting or choosing from various sources.
made up of what is selected from different sources.
not following any one system, as of philosophy, medicine, etc., but selecting and using what are considered the best elements of all systems.
noting or pertaining to works of architecture, decoration, landscaping, etc., produced by a certain person or during a certain period, that derive from a wide range of historic styles, the style in each instance often being chosen for its fancied appropriateness to local tradition, local geography, the purpose to be served, or the cultural background of the client.

I’ve not been keeping up with my alphabetic romp through the world of wine. Of course, if I only focused on this endeavor it would be mind-numbing for me and a bit painful for my readers as well. So, I throw an entry in this category whenever the mood strikes.

I have been concentrating on grape varieties, but sometimes that’s just not practical. “E” is a good example—finding a good example of ehrenfelser, emerald riesling, elbing or edelweiss just isn’t that easy.

So, I thought it would be interesting to give you a peek into my wine cart. I consider myself to have eclectic taste in wine (after reading this you can tell me if I'm correct). What follows is a very honest representation of an average case of wine for me, along with a few words about why I picked each wine.

d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier-Marsanne McLaren Vale 2005
70% viognier 30% marsanne. I love the wines of d’Arenberg, and this is one I have not tried. Plus, I love Rhone-style whites, especially viognier. ($11)

Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles Barossa Valley 2005
60% grenache 30% mataro 10% shiraz, from ancient vines. This is something that was recommended by my favorite wine merchant. Embarrassingly, I had no idea what mataro was. Duh, it’s mourvedre. Torbreck also has a great reputation. ($16)

Château Belingard Bergerac 2005
I don’t buy much Bordeaux, but I don’t want to forsake it altogether. For the price, this blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot looked worth a try. ($8)

Bodega Lurton Malbec Reserve Mendoza 2004
The Lurton brothers have provided me with many good bottles. They may be an international mega-corporation, but they make some great wines. The minimal fining and filtration mentioned on the label also helped me decide. I'm also a huge fan of Argentine malbec. ($11)

Horton Norton Orange County, Virginia 2004
I love Horton. I love norton. It’s a sentimental pick also, because I’ve been to the winery. ($11)

Salvador Poveda Monastrell Toscar Alicante 2005
Unfiltered, natural decanting, dry farmed, stony soil, dry climate, traditional fermentation—need I say more? When done right, Spanish mourvedre is spectacular. ($12)

Hayman Hill Meritage Reserve Selection Monterey County 2004
44% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 14% petite verdot, 8% cabernet franc, 4% malbec. I’m a sucker for California clarets, especially when they use all five of the Bordeaux grapes. Another recommendation from a trusted source. ($12)

Domaine Coste Chaude Cotes du Rhone 2004
70% grenache, 30% syrah, elevated vineyards, bottled unfiltered, Robert Kacher Selection. I’ve been a fan of Robert Kacher wines for many years. Knowing a little about importers can make wine buying much easier. ($8)

Lucien Albrecht Cremant D’Alsace Reserve Rose NV
100% Pinot Noir. The Albrecht family has been growing grapes in Alsace since1425, and is one of the most respected names in the region. Also, I must have bubbly on hand at all times. ($16)
(Note: this has been already been consumed. It's exquisite. It goes to show that you should always have sparkling wine in the house, just in case someone gets a great job offer at an unexpected time. Not me, of course. Congrats, E!)

Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno Vigna Piediprato 2003
50% montepulciano, 50% sangiovese, WA 90. Okay, so I still pay attention to Robert Parker’s ratings. I liked the description and I need to buy more Italian. ($10)

Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2005
American wine growers all owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. Frank. He believed in the potential of this country and New York State for making outstanding wines. I love his wines and this one in particular. ($11)

Celler Pinol Ludovicus Terra Alta 2005
35% garnacha, 30% tempranillo, 25% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. This is handled by Olé Imports, which is an importer to watch. 60 year-old garnacha vines plus unfined and unfiltered equals yum. ($10)

I picked up this case right before Christmas, so the wines are a little pricier than a regular case, but not by much. My general rule is to stay under $15 with an average bottle cost of $10. And since it is winter in the South, the red/white ratio is much heavier on reds than if it were August.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

We're All Winners

George F. Will recently wrote an op-ed article for the Washington Post commenting on Time Magazine’s selection of You as Person of the Year. For those of You who may have missed it, Time decided that bloggers and YouTube artists are the modern-day equivalent of Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, and are well on the way to making the mainstream media obsolete.

Now, I enjoy YouTube as much as the next person…but that comparison seems weak at best.

Will isn’t impressed with Time’s selection either. He chalks it up to self-absorption and a culture of navel-gazing. A quick look at any random MySpace page or blog confirms that much of user-created online content displays all the depth of an ashtray.

I thought long and hard before I started writing a blog and had several aborted attempts, which I deemed not worthy of anyone’s time. Writing social commentary and opinion is something I enjoy immensely, but there are many others already doing it and most them are much better at it than I.

I created Brim to the Dregs with a very specific purpose: to write my version of a local wine column. There are two already in local papers that fit the traditional model of reviewing individual wines, but I felt like there was a need for a broader, more relaxed style of wine writing.

It’s worth mentioning that I have the credentials to aspire to such a goal. I have been a professional/freelance writer on and off for a decade; I have been an avid wine enthusiast for the same period of time; and I spent several years in wine sales.

While I haven’t developed local readership (hopefully this will come eventually), I have discovered the wine blogging community.

The wine blog world strikes me as the online version of standing around the local wine shop on Saturday afternoon, tasting wine and swapping recommendations with fellow winos. (Incidentally, that type of experience is the only thing I miss about retail wine sales.) The main difference is that we can chat with people from down the block, across the country or around the world.

If I didn’t read wine blogs, I wouldn’t know that there is riesling from Idaho, sparkling wine from Massachusetts and Ohio has six AVAs. Writing and reading about wine has reinvigorated some of the enthusiasm that working with wine every day had drummed out of me.

I read a variety of blogs and other online journals, etc. on a regular basis. Some of it is great. Some of it is mediocre. Some of it is just plain awful. However, the vast majority of the wine blogs I read are very well written and have a purpose. It’s not just a self-love fest.

As for me, I do my best to hold Brim to a high standard. One of my goals for 2007 is to take this blog to the next level—­better writing, more photography and a better layout. I’m challenged and inspired by what I read on other wine blogs, and I want others to feel the same when they visit my little corner of the blogosphere.

I think what the online community has to offer is community itself—a community that has no geographic boundaries­. Blogs, personal Web pages and the like offer everyone a chance to reveal a little (or lot) of what they are all about. For better, or worse.

But does that qualify “Us” as Person of the Year? I think not.

My vote goes to Paris Hilton. I luv her! OMG!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Merlot Musings

I’ve read several recent articles about the “Sideways Effect” on merlot. The film’s demeaning of merlot has apparently caused some folks to take a second look at this oft-maligned grape.

The New York Times ran this article along with tasting notes on several merlots. They seem to think that Washington State may be merlot’s savior. The cooler climate allows for a better expression of the grape.

This would seem to make sense because merlot gained its fame in the vineyards of Bordeaux, which isn’t exactly noted for its warmth. Much of merlot’s disrepute comes from California merlot, which has been over-planted and vinified into plonk.

Even this association is unfair in my opinion. One of the best bottles of wine I have ever had was a bottle of Beringer 1997 Bancroft Ranch Private Reserve Howell Mountain Merlot. Although it has been several years, I can still recall the inky-purple color and the lush flavors of plum, blueberry, chocolate and mint. It was heavenly.

St. Clement is another Napa merlot that I've enjoyed over the years. While it is somewhat difficult to make a spectacular bottle of straight merlot (Chateau Petrus and a few others aside), merlot is a fantastic blending grape, softening tannins, adding roundness and deepening color.

I was reminded of merlot’s potential the other night when I opened a bottle of Domaine de Montpezat 2001 Merlot Prestige 'Les Enclos.' Domaine de Monpezat is located in Languedoc and planted in a combination of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

This merlot is no wimp. It’s dark purple with a nose full of black fruit and briar. On the palate, it’s a real mouthful of wine: deep, concentrated flavors of plum, blackberry, cedar and licorice framed by firm tannins. Even better, it's around $12, depending on where you shop.

It restored my interest in merlot.

This is yet another one of those wines that gets passed over on restaurant lists and wine store shelves. Although some of Montpezat’s wines are labeled as Coteaux de Languedoc, this one is a Vin de Pays d’Oc.

It reminded me of a woman who once told me that her daughter had visited France and told her to never buy anything with Vin de Pays on the label.

What a load of manure.

There are countless wines of excellent quality that come from vineyards that the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine has not deemed worthy of appellation status. This Montpezat proves that careful vineyard management and good wine making are much more important.

It also proves that you shouldn't take wine advice from Hollywood.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Shouts Out

As 2006 draws to close, I want to give props to some of the folks that have inspired and encouraged me along the way. I mentioned recently that becoming a wine blog reader has paid huge dividends for me. Here are some of the reasons why.

I have my girlfriend, E, to thank for reminding me about the great writing on, and I have Eric Asimov and The Pour for inspiring me to write a wine blog. Eric is my guru, and he proves that just because you’re very knowledgeable about wine, you don’t have to be a pretentious jackass.

Writing a wine blog when no one seems to be reading can a lonely, pathetic experience. A big thanks to Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 for being the first of my fellow bloggers to mention Brim in her blog. The good Dr. has a great palate and seamlessly blends her enjoyment of good wine and good food.

Another early reader was Jeff at Twisted Oak Winery. Jeff writes El Bloggo Torcido, which has made me laugh out loud on many occasions. He is a winemaker with a rebel spirit and a truly Twisted sense of humor.

Speaking of a wicked sense of humor, I love the Wine Chicks and their irreverent take on the world of wine and wine sales.

Dezel at Virginia Vine Spot is a tireless, advocate of Virginia wines and a great blogger. Kudos for showcasing the wines of Virginia, which I love dearly. I am long overdue for a trip to the VA wine country.

I have Lenn at Lenndevours to thank for reminding me that New York State is no longer one of the “other” wine states, but one of the big dogs. He is also the brainchild of Wine Blogging Wednesday, which is a wonderful thing.

Tom Wark at Fermentation gives me my daily dose of wine industry reading. Tom writes a top-notch blog that is accessible even to people like me who aren’t quite as wine biz savvy. He is also a fantastic promoter for the wine blogging community.

Another top-notch wine blog is Vinography, Adler writes a blog that is a must-read for every wine drinker and his links to other wine blogs are the most comprehensive and inclusive.

Thanks to Wine Blog Watch for keeping me up to date on who has posted lately.

Of course, cooking and wine are a natural fit, so I have to mention some of the blogs that combine the two.

Culinary Fool was our kind host for WBW #28 and writes a culinary blog to drool over. She inspires me to get serious about cooking.

David at Cooking Chat is a newcomer to blogging like myself. Cooking Chat is a great read and full of killer recipes and great wine picks.

Tastes of Life is another new blog. Victoria is writing an excellent blog full of interesting wines and her thoughts on cheese and chocolate. Check it out.

And then there is Basic Juice, which combines wine, food, music, commentary and awesome writing. It’s a thing of beauty.

Of course, I’ve missed some folks, but you need to look no farther than my links to see who I’m reading.

Peace out and best wishes for a prosperous 2007 to all of you.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Francly, My Dear...

I am so very sorry.

I really can’t help myself. Bad wordplay is a curse I must live with.

Anyhow, I’m doing a somewhat unusual weekend posting because there is something in my glass I just have to write about.

I love cabernet franc. Maybe it’s my tendency to root for the underdog. Maybe it’s the cherry and spiciness. But cabernet franc occupies a special place in my grape pantheon. I love to see it in blends, and I love to see a bottle of straight-up cab franc on the shelf.

So when I saw a bottle of Preston Winery Cabernet Franc 2002 at the latest Mr. Friendly’s wine sale, I just had to have it. Preston is a family-owned winery in Washington’s Columbia Valley.

Unfortunately, their Web site is a bit out of date and doesn’t even mention a varietal bottling of cab franc. However, while doing the Google search, I did run across this interesting piece about cabernet franc being the new “It” grape in the Northwest.

The nose on the Preston is a mix of black cherry, pencil lead and vanilla. The flavors are more of the same with a certain smokiness and firm acidity. It’s a wonderful drink of wine and a great expression of the grape.

As a rule, I don’t like any grape being “en vogue.” Just like I don’t writers excessively putting words “in quotes.”

But if it means that more winemakers will focus their attention on cab franc, I can live with it. Another reason I have a special fondness for cab franc is that it performs quite well here in the Southeast. Both Virginia and North Carolina are having great success with it.

Speaking of which, I have a bottle of Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2002 at home, which I’ll soon be tasting. It will be interesting to see how they compare.

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 15, 2006

WBW #28 and Hangin' with Kermit

The reports are in from Wine Blogging Wednesday #28 and the Culinary Fool has neatly compiled them for your viewing pleasure.

This was my first WBW, and it was everything I thought it could be and more. I’m honored to be in the company of such interesting and knowledgeable people. Other than the ego gratification of seeing my words in the blogosphere, writing a wine blog has made me a wine blog reader, which in turn has been a great learning experience.

And speaking of learning, I’ve been reading "Adventures on the Wine Route," by Kermit Lynch. It’s a fascinating tale of his journeys through France, tasting wine and meeting winemakers and growers along the way.

Although he can be a bit pompous at times, the stories are never dull and there is a wealth of information about the French wine regions. Overall, I like his perspective on wine and winemaking, especially his aversion to heavy fining and filtering. Seeing “bottled unfiltered” on a wine label frequently clinches my decision to try something.

He also makes an interesting point about the shipping of wine. He insists all his wines be shipped in refrigerated containers. I wonder how many of the wines I drink have been compromised by poor shipping conditions. The thought of a container full of wine sitting at the Port of Charleston in August makes me cringe.

Moore Brothers Wine Company, which has a location in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, touts that all their wines are shipped in temperature-controlled containers and their stores are as well (temperature-controlled, that is). It certainly makes sense, but there is the added cost to be considered.

It makes me even more militant about wanting more local wineries in the U.S. If the winery is a short drive away (or right down the street), there isn’t a need for refrigerated containers, not to mention the fuel expended on shipping.

Of course, I’ll always want wine from far away, but I’d like some local options as well.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wine Blogging Wednesday #28

Drink a bottle of sparkling wine and write about it. That’s an assignment I can live with.

The bottle I selected was S. Anderson Blanc de Noir 1998 Napa Valley. I was familiar with S. Anderson because of their claret from the Stags Leap District, which I've found to be outstanding as well as a screaming good deal. Sadly, I'm not sure they still produce the claret.

As with their claret, this sparkling wine did not disappoint. It’s ironic that what drew my attention to this particular bottle was that it was on clearance. Knowing my local wine shop as I do, I guessed that this wine had been passed over for more familiar names, proving that it’s good to take chances sometimes.

I couldn’t find a geek sheet on this vintage, but the 2000 vintage is 100% pinot noir with 0.9% residual sugar and only 660 cases produced.

Upon hearing the gentle “pop” when I removed the cork, my anticipation grew. When I saw the gentle foaming of the wine and the color that I can only describe as "champagne," I began salivating.

The nose was a lovely mix of toasted bread, apple (not cheap-ass, supermarket apples, but really good, fresh heirloom apples) and pear. The first sip revealed more of the same, as well as delicate cherry flavors, a bit of nut and very nice minerality. As the wine opened up during dinner, the complexity grew, leaving me searching for more descriptors.

Two things really struck me about this wine:

1.) A wine like this proves that sparkling wine from California (and elsewhere) can give Champagne a run for its money and sometimes can flat-out beat it up. The complexity and elegance of this wine rivals Champagnes that I’ve had at twice the price and more. It was $19.99, down from the original price of $24.99.

2.) I relish discovering wines that others have passed over. While so many wine shoppers seem content to buy the same-old familiar brands, I have always looked for the oddballs and the unknown. That, to me, is the thrill of wine buying. If I wanted to always get the same thing—I’d buy Woodbridge.

Depending on your budget, this could be a budget buy or a special occasion wine. I’m proud to say that I drink sparkling wine quite often, so I frequently look for less expensive sparklers. I love how sparkling wine works with so many different kinds of food. We enjoyed the S. Anderson with sushi. Yum.

I also think that drinking sparkling wine on regular basis shows that you understand that every day is a special occasion and life itself should be a celebration.


Monday, December 11, 2006

I Have Returned.

When I began this blog, I promised myself that I would be diligent in posting regularly. Like with so many of my promises to myself, I’m backsliding.

The approaching holiday season and the trials of daily life have knocked the wind out of my sails when it comes to finding time to write. My only consolation is that I see a slowdown with many of my fellow bloggers as well.

During my sabbatical, I have, of course, stayed busy tasting, cooking and enjoying all the things that this blog is dedicated to, so I have quite a bit of material to cover. I’ll try to be brief.

On a personal note (which I do try to avoid), this weekend was one of remembrance. December 7th is not only a day of historic significance, but one of personal significance for me; it's the birthday of a departed friend.

The only proper way to remember my old friend was with a weekend of gluttony. That’s the way Big Sully would have wanted it.

One of my weekend indulgences was some traditional Southern food. I cooked up a batch of BBQ (the noun as opposed to the verb) and my little Jewish girl from Queens whipped up a batch of triple-bypass mac-and-cheese. It ain’t good for you, but it sure is good.

For anyone who wants a taste of real Eastern North Carolina BBQ (although I now reside in South Carolina, this is the real deal), here’s how:

Buy a Boston Butt that will fit in your crock pot. Sear it on your grill (preferably over a wood/charcoal mix). Drop it in a crock pot with a 12 oz. beer. Cook on low eight hours. Drain off half the liquid. Continue cooking another 12 or so hours. Drain off all liquid and pull meat apart. Douse liberally with Scott's BBQ Sauce. Cook on high one more hour, adding more Scott's as needed to keep moist. Add more sauce to taste. Serve on rolls. Stuff your face.

What wine do you serve? Zinfandel would be my choice, but any fruit-bomb wine of your choosing would also work. We enjoyed ours with a glass of Vinum Cellars Chard-No-Way Chenin Blanc, just because that’s what I felt like drinking.

Another one of my weekend indulgences was a treat from my girlfriend, the aforementioned Jewish girl. Although I don’t do it often, I enjoy the occasional cigar. When paired with a wee dram of The Macallan 12 Year scotch, I’m in heaven. The cigar I enjoyed was a new discovery for me—Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Churchill.

Okay—this was supposed to be brief.

I’ll wrap it up with another new discovery: 2004 Ten Mile by Nine North Wine Company. This is a field-blend style red wine sourced from vineyards throughout California. One of the winemakers invloved is Jim Regusci, of Regusci Vineyards in the Stags Leap District.

Ten Mile is rich and lush with lots of dark fruit that caresses your palate like a fur glove. If you can locate a bottle, I suggest you give this one a try.

I’ll be back Wednesday with a posting for WBW. What a great excuse to drink something bubbly.

Friday, December 01, 2006

d'Arn That's Good!

Please forgive the cheesy title. Sometimes I can't help myself.

I have plenty of love for the wines of Australia. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for some of the high-alcohol, fruit bomb shirazes that hail from Down Under. Piping Shrike and Wishing Tree are two of my favorites.

However, as with California, there are plenty of industrialized, character-less wines that fill up the Australian section of wine stores everywhere. There are times when I pass over Aussie wines because they can be somewhat predictable.

One Australian winery that never lets me down is d’Arenberg. The quality and character of their wines always seems to shine through. Among the larger producers, they seem to be marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Another reason I like d’Arenberg is that they produce a wide range of wines from the cheap to the not-so-cheap. If you have read previous posts, you’ll know which end of that range I’m buying from.

Which brings me to the subject for today: 'The Stump Jump'. This is d’Arenberg’s value entry in the “GSM” category. Australian growers have had great success with some of the Rhone varietals, and the grenache-shiraz-mourvèdre combination is a popular blend in the McLaren Vale, where d’Arenberg is located.

I won’t bludgeon you with the minutia of d’Arenberg’s winemaking techniques, but their Web site is a goldmine of history and information about the winery. They treat their grapes and the winemaking process with great respect and it shows in their wines.

I’ve had ‘The Stump Jump’ before, but when I took my first swirl-and-sip from the glass last night I was reminded of just how good it is. Its flavor is full of black cherry and plum with some earthy/smoky notes and a bit of white pepper. It’s also balanced and not at all heavy or cloying.

At roughly $8 a bottle, it’s an Australian wine that has a permanent spot in my wine rack. The vintage we enjoyed was a 2004, but I happen to know there’s a bottle of 2005 with a new screw cap enclosure on its way to my wine rack as I write this.

I’m confident it will live up to its predecessors.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Future of Wine Sales

In this month’s Atlantic Monthly, there is an article on wine shops and the competition they face from chain stores, grocery stores and changing alcohol laws.

This past election, several states voted on measures that would allow beer and wine to be sold at grocery stores, convenience stores, etc. Not surprisingly, package stores and wine shops were opposed, and large retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco were rather enthusiastic supporters.

Here in South Carolina, beer and wine are available at grocery stores, big-box stores, gas stations and small wine shops/package stores, as well as large, beverage specialty stores like Green’s and Total Wine.

This makes for lots of price competition and a consumer-friendly environment if you drink wine or beer. However, it’s hard for small wine shops to stay competitive. I wrote recently about some new franchise wine shops that have opened in town. I wonder how they’ll fare in a saturated marketplace.

This statement from the article really caught my attention:

Unfettered alcohol sales in supermarkets and big-box stores would almost certainly lead to a great narrowing of the kinds of wines on offer—as happened long ago in southern states that deregulated wine sales.

I’m not sure I agree with this. Having lived in both North Carolina and South Carolina, I can say I enjoyed great wine shopping options in both places. As long as there are consumers who demand selection there will be retailers to fill the need.

Of course, the marketplace here is nothing like NYC, D.C. or San Francisco, but compared to other U.S. cities of a similar size, places like Raleigh and Columbia measure up pretty well.

While I’m a big supporter of privately-owned wine shops, they face the same dilemma as small bookstores. Increasing competition from the Internet and large retailers will force them to adapt or perish.

I love quirky shops packed to the gills with wine and run by enthusiastic, knowledgeable, wine people. I’ve always dreamt about having a place like that that myself one day. But I wonder what the future holds for such places.

Any thoughts?

Speaking of retail, I always enjoy reading the Wine Chicks commentary on the world of retail wine sales. I can't say I'll be missing that world this holiday season. I'm content to be a consumer.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Virginia Gem

Another Thanksgiving is behind me and there have been several lessons learned:

1.) Don’t try new things on big occasions.
2.) Only cook one meal on Thanksgiving.
3.) Serve aforementioned meal early in the day.
4.) A meat thermometer is very handy when cooking a turkey.

As you might guess from these pearls of wisdom, I cooked a turkey this Thanksgiving. Without providing all the messy details, I’ll say that it was a decent first attempt. Brining my very small turkey gave it some extra flavor and kept it moist, and my recreation of my mother’s stuffing recipe was quite good.

Regarding rule #2, I had the ill-conceived notion of cooking two meals Thanksgiving Day—lunch and dinner, with dinner being the feast. So I made shrimp and grits for lunch. The upside of this is that I know my girlfriend and her son at least had one good meal.

Since it was a special occasion and all, we enjoyed a glass of wine with our lunch. And what a wine it was.

I have been trying to find more East Coast wines at my local retailers (without great success I might add). It’s unfortunate that I can buy wines from Washington and Oregon all day long, but finding New York or Virginia wines is difficult.

A quick look at a U.S. map is sure to make you ponder the logic of this.

Anyhow, I did find a bottle of 2005 Horton Viognier Tower Series. Wow. Let me repeat. Wow.

I know Horton and I know their reputation when it comes to viognier. Ol’ Slick Willy even thought enough of it to serve it at a White House dinner. Dennis Horton has been knocking out world-class viognier for many years now.

So, when I saw the bottle in Total Wine, I wondered what I was seeing. Horton viognier for $12.99? Could it be true?

The label clearly showed the Orange County AVA. This must be a second bottling, I thought.

Wrong. According to Horton, this is the same juice that goes into their flagship bottling.

Just the nose told me I was about to drink some killer wine. The aromas drifting out of my glass were pineapple, tropical flowers and lemon. The first sip revealed all that and more. Rich with white fruit, lychee and citrus, this is viognier at its best—voluptuous, stylish, racy and seductive.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best white wine I’ve had in long, long time. For the uninitiated, I’d recommend you hunt down a bottle.

Trust me on this one.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Notes from Delaware

I returned last night from a weekend of visiting my parents in Delaware. The visit gave me the opportunity to head down to one of the local beverage stores to hunt for new and interesting wines.

Like many of my fellow winos, I view traveling as an opportunity to scavenge local wine shops for new finds. Unfortunately, the TSA rules prevent me from flying home with wine, but it doesn’t stop me from drinking while I’m away. Well, nothing could really stop me.

We slightly altered our Thanksgiving plans to include the whole family, so we feasted on Friday night. There was the traditional turkey and dressing along with other dishes that were a mix of traditional and non-traditional.

My dad selected a cava for dinner. He picked one that I was not familiar with, NV Pere Ventura Cava Cuvée First Press.

Pere Ventura is a small producer, but one with an apparently rising reputation as far as I can tell. I couldn’t locate much information on them (in English anyway, and my Spanish is rather rudimentary). I can tell you that the wine was excellent.

The first press cuvée is often thought to be the best juice when it comes to sparkling wine. Not having tasted their other wines, I can’t say how it compares, but it stacks up nicely compared to other cavas I’ve tasted.

The Ventura was light and clean, with nice fruit and a hint of yeast. Firm acidity and low alcohol made it really sing with the food. Sparkling wine is such an easy match with so many foods.

Another great find was a local beer from Dogfish Head Brewery. This was yet another of my dad’s picks. To celebrate the settlement of Swanendael in what would later become Lewes, Delaware, 375 years ago, Dogfish has produced a Dutch-style rye bokbier, called Zwaanend’ale.

Boks are malty, bottom-fermented lagers. The Zwaanend’ale has a malty flavor augmented by flavors of rye and honey. It’s on the sweet side but nicely balanced and not cloying. An alcohol level of 8% gives it a bit of a kick also.

All in all it was a wonderful time. It met all my qualifications for a perfect holiday celebration: good company, good food and good stuff to drink.

Here’s hoping everyone’s holiday is just as good. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Just Another Turkey

I was reading LENNDEVOURS very entertaining Thanksgiving column and realized that I must write a Thanksgiving post. All the other kids are doing it.

I haven’t had many traditional Thanksgiving meals over the past couple decades. I live far from my family and hate holiday travel. The years that I wasn’t taken in by friends, I always made due with my own culinary talents. Or I had frozen pizza.

At some point I realized that Thanksgiving was a great excuse to cook something that I really love and open a bottle of great wine. Sometimes I even invited someone else to dine with me.

For the past several years, I’ve been cooking the largest, primo fillet mignon that I can lay my hands on. I’ll whip up a couple extraordinary side dishes to go with and open something extra special.

This year, I’m not sure what I’ll be cooking. Fillets? Pork tenderloin? I’m only cooking for three, so a turkey seems a little excessive.

For me, it’s really not about what you cook—it’s all about taking time to sit down with friends, family or just yourself, and enjoying something that really makes you happy.

And take time to count your blessings.

As a former retail wine salesman, I have dispensed gobs of Thanksgiving wine advice. Here it is distilled to its essence:

1.) Drink what you like. If you like white zinfandel then it really doesn’t matter what the “proper” match is.
2.) Use some common sense. Delicate flavors need delicate wines. Bold flavors need bold wines.
3.) For a fairly traditional meal, I like Alsatian pinot blanc and Cru Beaujolais, particularly Morgon.
4.) Drink something sparkling. The ability of sparkling wine to pair with food is vastly underappreciated. A sparkling rosé is particularly good, or try NV Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut Cuvee—a really tasty sparkler with great fruit that’s inexpensive enough for company.
5.) Review Rule #1.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Something to Eat, Something to Drink

I don’t write about food very often, mainly because I don’t have much to offer that isn’t readily available elsewhere on Web from more knowledgeable sources. I will, however, share a bit of food philosophy from time to time.

Over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in sustainable agriculture and local food products. This weekend, I had the pleasure of indulging my interests.

Columbia has been recently blessed with an organic farmer’s market. It is a small (but growing) group of merchants who gather every other week to sell local products. The goods include local meats, produce, diary and other miscellanea.

I picked up some fresh shrimp, stone-ground grits, a couple of the fattest pork chops you’ve ever seen and bacon. I would have bought more, but my budget intervened.

The shrimp was wild-caught and beautiful. With so much farmed shrimp from overseas flooding the market at low prices, I have pledged to always buy fresh from now on.

The grits were from Anson Mills, which is right here in Columbia. They use the best methods, organic crops and heirloom varieties to produce some amazing products: grits, cornmeal, etc.

Caw Caw Creek is the source of the pork products. The pigs there are pastured, fed natural products and treated with dignity. My two goals for eating meat are: eat less and eat meat raised using humane methods.

I have yet to eat the pork chops, but the bacon was heavenly—full of flavor and wonderfully textured. We used the grits and shrimp to make—well, you know—which was very tasty. The grits take awhile to cook, but it’s well worth it. What can you say about fresh shrimp, other than “yum?”

We enjoyed a bottle of Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet Cotes du Languedoc 2005 with the shrimp and grits. Picpoul blanc is grown within sight of the local oyster beds, so it’s a natural match with seafood. It’s light, clean and fresh with tones of lemon and grapefruit. It’s also nicely dry and slightly flinty.

I’ve read about picpoul blanc, but this is the first time I had tried it. Picpoul de Pinet is one the named Crus of Languedoc. This was another great find in French wines. You can find it at Total Wine & More for $7.99.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Vive le Difference!

I’ve read some things lately, which have put me in the mind to drink more French wines.

The first item that stirred my interest was Craig Camp’s column on French wines. He touts the quality of French wines in the value category and has some harsh words for New World producers.

I used to drink primarily French wines, particularly inexpensive Rhone wines and wines from the Southwest and Languedoc. However, lately I’ve been drinking much more from Spain, South America and Australia. That’s where I felt my wine dollars were best spent.

White Burgundies have always been some of my favorite French wines, particularly the wines of Mâcon. There are several Macon-Villages that I think are some of the best values in chardonnay.

The other night I opened a bottle of Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintre 2004. Chaintre is one of the villages of Mâcon, and Dominique is a newer, but highly respected producer.

This wine was a little more upfront with the fruit than I’m used to, but it had the elegance and style that I’m used to from Mâcon. The lack of oak influence makes chardonnay really shine. For my money, it’s one of the best expressions of chardonnay in the world.

The Cornin has a lovely bouquet of apples and pears; its flavor is more of the apple and peach with a lean, stylish feel and a creamy, honeyed finish. This is really tasty stuff. It was around $16 a bottle, which is a little more than I would usually spend on a Mâcon, but it was well worth it.

My other French discovery was of an A.O.C. that I was totally ignorant of—Cabardès.

"The western-most vineyard of the Languedoc-Roussillon and the eastern-most of the south-west, the dry stony soil and growing environment are ideal for low yield, top quality wine production. Cabardès is the only Languedoc A.O.C. to blend in equal proportions Bordeaux grape varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) with those of the Rhone (Syrah and Grenache)."

Never heard of it.

My education in French wines hit a plateau some years back and I haven’t been aggressive about moving it to a higher level. The other day I ran across something in a wine store that looked interesting, so I gave it a try. It was Château de Pennautier A.O.C. Cabardès 2004.

The combination of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals makes for an interesting mix. The Pennautier is dark and silky with great black fruit, soft tannins, spice and a long, caressing finish. For $11, it was a smashing find, and I’ll bet it can be had for less elsewhere.

The blend on this wine is 10% cabernet franc, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 15% cot (also known as malbec) and 30% syrah. With such an interesting mix of grapes to blend with, I am very excited about trying more wines from this region.

The other interesting article I read was in the European edition of Time Magazine. It discusses the French wine glut and how the French are handling (or not handling) the changing global wine market. Interesting stuff.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I was robbed!

Sunday night, FireFly Vodka had a launch party at Gervais & Vine. As part of the party, they also conducted a contest to name “Columbia’s Official Drink.” I was one of the ten finalists.

I did not win, place or show.

As soon as I arrived, I realized that my competition had put much more thought and creativity into their entries than I. However, my drink did meet certain requirements I thought should have been given more importance in the judging:

1.) My drink could actually be made in the average bar that does not routinely stock fresh ginger, Jello or other “non-traditional” ingredients.

2.) My drink can be prepared in a reasonable enough amount of time to satisfy someone who actually wants a drink sometime soon, as opposed to in three hours.

3.) My drink tastes good.

4.) Although it can be served in a martini glass, my drink is best consumed as a shot. If you know anything about Columbia, South Carolina, then you know that any “official drink” should be a shot.

In any case, there were some very interesting entries and a good time was had by all.

FireFly Vodka, as I have written about before, is infused with locally-produced muscadine wine. It is actually made in Florida, because of South Carolina’s archaic liquor laws.

The flavor is very interesting; there is definitely a grapey-ness to it. It would seem that this would run contrary to the nature of vodka, which is, by definition, supposed to be neutral. Eric Asimov recently posted an interesting piece on vodka and this very issue. Technicalities aside, I thought the FireFly was very good.

One side benefit of my drink-creating endeavor was the discovery of how very easy it is to make fresh sweet-and-sour mix. I will NEVER buy cheap-ass, artificial sour mix again.

For what it’s worth, my drink recipe appears below. It’s a modification of a recipe I used to enjoy back in the college days. I’m sure this same recipe is actually used in countless bars across the country and called various names. Like I said, not much thought went into this one.

The Garnet Fire (in honor of the garnet and black of the University of South Carolina)

1 ½ oz. FireFly Vodka
½ oz. Chambord
1 ½ oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. fresh sweet-and-sour mix

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into chilled shot glasses, or strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Fresh Sweet-and-Sour Mix

1 part fresh lime juice
1 part fresh lemon juice
3 parts mineral water
1 part sugar

Combine all ingredients and mix. Can be stored in refrigerator for a week or two.

The rest of the entries will be posted on the FireFly Web site.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Simple Pleasures

It really doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Sure, I occasionally dream of days and nights filled with Parisian fashion models, Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame Rosé ’95 (exquisite, by the way) and meals at Le Bec-Fin (never been there). But the truth is, I’m pretty content with the basic pleasures in life.

I like to drink cold, cheap, domestic beer out of a can while I do yard work. I like Nathan’s hot dogs and Ore-Ida french fries (Golden Crinkle, of course). I like to sit on my front porch and drink Georges Duboeuf Cuvee Blanc when it’s hot outside.

I’m certainly happy that my tastes have evolved enough that I appreciate a broad range of sensory delights—good food, good wine, etc. However, a simple meal, a big glass of red wine and good company are among my favorite pleasures.

And that is exactly what I enjoyed last night. My dinner companions were E (my girlfriend) and S-May (her son). We had pork tenderloin marinated in Stubb’s Pork Marinade and Parmesan mashed potatoes.

Now, I can dress up pork tenderloin in a number of ways, but the Stubb’s is simply amazing. Easy and good—I like that. Matched up with creamy, warm, mashed potatoes liberally dosed with fresh-grated Parmesan, it was a delicious meal.

Of course, a good meal isn’t complete without a glass of wine. We opened a bottle of my latest bargain favorite, Hardys Nottage Hill Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2003.

Cabernet and shiraz complement each other so well. There are several Aussie cab/shiraz blends that make great everyday reds, but the Hardys is particularly good—dark fruit, silky tannins and hints of licorice and pepper.

Not bad for $5.99 at Green’s. I’m sure this is also a bargain in many other wine stores nationwide.

Speaking of cabernet/shiraz blends, there are two French blends that are worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something more substantial:

Mas de Guiot Cabernet-Syrah Vin Du Gard 2003

Mas Carlot Cabernet-Syrah Vin de Pay d’Oc 2003

Both of these wines remind me that there are still truly interesting wines in the under-$15 category.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Drink Up.

More good news from The New York Times. Apparently, there are some new studies that suggest a link between red wine and a longer, healthier life.

As a mentioned in an earlier post, resveratrol seems to be the substance that gives red wine its health benefits. One of the more interesting aspects of this study was the mice involved were given daily doses of resveratrol equivalent to the amount contained in 10 to 20 bottles of red wine.

Good God! I’m doing the best I can. It’s going to take some time to work up to that level of consumption.

On a more serious note, I’m glad to hear more news about the benefits of responsible drinking. Living in the South, I have gotten used to hearing alcohol demonized.

Wine, beer and spirits are all part of a healthy lifestyle if consumed responsibly. I’ve read about another study that suggested one alcoholic drink a day, of any kind, was linked to a longer life.

I think about these issues when I see my girlfriend teaching her 16-year-old son about wine and letting him taste wines. It stuns me that the same people who would condemn her for letting him taste a glass of wine or a beer, let their children chug-a-lug sodas loaded with high-fructose corn syrup.

Wine will lengthen your life; soda will give you diabetes, kidney problems and obesity.

Who's doing the right thing?

Coincidence? I Think Not.

Well, I hate to brag (not true), but I guess my blog is more widely read than I thought. Eric Asimov “coincidentally” just wrote an article on dolcetto in The New York Times. Hmm, where did I just read something about that delicious Italian wine?

I know! On my blog!

Okay, so Eric has probably never read my blog and most likely never will. It’s still nice to know that we are both talking about the same kind of wine.

Of course, his article has all kinds of “facts” and “interesting” stuff. Not to mention he probably gets reimbursed for the wines he tasted. At the very least it's a tax write-off.

Getting paid to write about wine—what a sweet gig.

I can always dream.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Franchise Wine Stores and Two Bottles a Month

I stopped by a couple new wine shops lately and discovered a new (to me) concept—the franchise wine shop.

Chain wine stores are not unfamiliar. Total Wine & More opened up a location here a couple years ago, and Green’s, a local chain, has been around for many years. But franchises? That’s a new one.

When I think about wine shops, I think about quirky places run by wine fanatics, stacked floor to ceiling with wine racks and case displays with little room to move. These shops bore no resemblance to such ventures.

The first store I visited was Wine Styles. It bills itself as the “new and easy way to shop for wines.”

If limiting customers’ selection to around 75 wines makes things easier, than I suppose it is. The main premise is that their wines are arranged by “style” of wine, rather than by type. You know, “smooth and fruity” and “big and bold.” That sort of thing.

The selection was actually interesting, with some wines I didn’t recognize and interesting choices. The prices were high, but I suppose with franchise fees and a limited selection, you have to make a few extra points on every bottle.

My favorite was the tagline for the wine club: “If you drink two bottles of wine a month, then our wine club is for you!”

I won’t discuss my monthly wine consumption…but let’s just say it’s a tad higher than two bottles. But maybe that’s how their customers can afford the prices.

The other store was Vino 100. It’s the same concept with better décor. They do offer six sample wines every day, which I think is a nice touch. They tout themselves as “100 great wines for $25 or less.” Once again, the prices are on the high side, even for a “boutique” wine shop.

In the spirit of full disclosure, both stores were staffed by friendly, knowledgeable gentlemen, and as previously stated, I am for anything that encourages people to learn more about wine. If places like this make for a better shopping experience for novice wine drinkers, then it’s a good thing.

As for me, I’d stack those places floor-to-ceiling.

I also think they are missing the boat on lower-priced wines. Under $10 wines are essential for anyone who isn’t wealthy, and who intends to drink wine on any sort of regular basis. I don’t know, like…more than two bottles a month.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

Monday, October 30, 2006

"D" is for Dolcetto

Let me begin by saying everything I know about Italian wines could be written on the head of a pin. In triplicate. Easily.

I know the major players and some of the supporting cast, but there are just too many regions and varietals to contend with. Not to mention that the vast majority of what’s available around here are very common wines.

Case in point—I had to do some looking to find a bottle of dolcetto, which really means I had to stray from my usual wine shop. The trip was well worth it.

Dolcetto is frequently described as “light.” Apparently, dolcetto is one of those Italian "lunch-wines" (love those Italians). So, in keeping with tradition, we sampled it over Sunday lunch, which was far from Italian fare—leftover black bean chicken chili.

The wine was Icardi “Rousori” Dolcetto D’Alba 2003. What a wonderful surprise.

Dolcetto is the type of grape. It is grown mainly in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy. From reading about what dolcetto is “supposed” to taste like, you would think it would be light and fruity—along the lines of Beaujolais Nouveau. Not this one.

There certainly was plenty of fruit—lovely aromas and flavors of blackberries, cherries and fresh grapes, but it was backed up with some nice spicy notes and lovely minerality. Dolcetto is supposed to be lower in acidity than barbera, but I thought it had good acidity—enough to keep it lively.

I also worried that my spicy chili would overwhelm it, but the fruit countered the heat nicely and there was enough body to stand up to the powerful flavors. Simply put, it was delightful.

I wouldn’t say it was light; I would say it was elegant and subtle. Maybe one of the reasons this wine was a bit more substantial than dolcetto is frequently billed as is that it’s a single-vineyard wine. "Rousori" is the vineyard.

I paid about $15 for it, which is a bit more than I like to spend. But I frequently find myself looking for more subtle wines (that aren’t wimpy) for lighter foods, and compared to a nice bottle of pinot noir or a good Rioja that price isn't bad.

If you haven’t read my previous posts, I’m making an alphabetical journey through the world of wine to highlight the amount of diversity out there and to expose myself to wines I’m not familiar with or haven’t visited in a long time.

And what a delicious journey it is.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ode to Muscadine Wine

I was startled and quite pleased to see a posting on Fermentation that mentions North Carolina. I lived in N.C. for many years and was following the rise of grape growing and wine production when things were very different.

Back before there was chardonnay, merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon (not to mention cab franc, vigionier, et al.) growing in the foothills of the Tarheel State, there was Duplin Winery and the Fussell family making muscadine wine.

I can almost hear the collective groan of wine snobs. In all the wines stores I've worked for, I have always sold Duplin wines, and without fail, the wine snobs would cast a disdainful gaze on the stack of sweet, local wine and snicker. However, the last retailer I worked for went through five to ten cases of Duplin wines a week depending on the time of year.

How many local wineries would like to have those numbers from just ONE wine store? Think about what that says for their statewide numbers.

People like muscadine wine. You may not like it, but you probably don’t like Livingston Cellars Red Rosé either and let me tell you—that stuff flies off the shelf.

As I’ve said before: there is no objective good or bad when it comes to wine. It’s all about what you like.

For the record, I don’t like muscadine wine. But I have a tremendous affection for Duplin and the wines they produce. I marvel at their determination and laugh at their critics. If, as Michael Rolland has implied, a wine’s sales are a measure of its worth, then Duplin wines are mighty worthwhile.

I don’t want to go on and on about this topic, because most wine people just don’t care about muscadine wines. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things.

Muscadine grape are native to the South and therefore don’t require the spraying and coddling that Vitis vinifera grapes require in this neck of the woods. That equals good for the environment.

Muscadine wines are, as I’ve already pointed out, very popular. If they get people with sweeter palates interested in wine, then they are good for the wine business as a whole.

Red muscadine grapes have as much as ten times the levels of resveratrol, which has been shown to have a variety of health benefits. Apparently, red muscadine wine is also being linked to immune system health.

In my humble opinion, the potential of muscadine grapes has been vastly underestimated. One can only imagine what the results would be if winemakers applied the same level of diligence to the production of muscadine wines as they apply to European-style wines. Maybe there is some undiscovered gem, like muscadine-based brandy.

Think I need my head examined? Well, check this out.

Firefly Vodka is a new muscadine-based vodka made from grapes grown on Wadmalaw Island, right here in South Carolina. It’s gotten some pretty strong reviews so far. (I’ll have a first-hand report on this, after an extensive interview with a bottle this weekend. Stay tuned.)

As more and more wineries pop up in the Southeast, it will be very interesting what can be done with the humble muscadine.

And to Duplin Winery and the fine folks there, I raise my glass to you. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

East Coast Wine

I hope all you East Coast winos have read Dan Berger’s piece on Appellation America about East Coast wineries and evaluating their wines . If not, I implore you to give it a read.

When most people think of “wine country,” their thoughts immediately go to California (domestically-speaking, of course). The more experienced wine drinker might add Washington and Oregon to form the Holy Trinity of wine-producing states.

For those who are really in the know, New York has become a full-fledged member of the “wine states” club (see Tom Wark’s Fermentation posting). But where does this leave North Carolina, Virginia or Maryland? Are their wines condemned to be merely a novelty?

Let’s hope not.

While Virginia is not California, do we really want it to be? I don’t want a world with just California wines anymore than I want a world filled with just French cuisine. Celebrating our different growing regions is an essential element of establishing the U.S. as a wine-producing country as opposed to a country with a couple of states that produce wine.

I would love to see this country covered with AVAs. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to identifying the areas where grapes will grow and the best varieties to plant there. One of the crucial aspects of this process is celebrating the unique attributes that each locale offers in terms of climate and geography, instead of expecting East Coast wineries to “rise” to the level of California or Washington wineries.

I’ve traveled to Virginia’s wine country twice, and I honestly can’t wait to get back. The area surrounding Charlottesville is home to some outstanding wineries, as well as great bed-and-breakfasts and beautiful scenery. Charlottesville itself is quite a cool place with a multitude of excellent restaurants and inviting watering holes.

If you’re looking for a wine vacation, but don’t want to pony up for the West Coast airfare or don’t want to fight the Disneyesque crowds in Napa, take a look at Virginia. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Are the wines just like the ones you’ll find in your local wine store?


That’s the point.

Some of my favorite VA wineries:

Horton Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

Afton Mountain Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards
(If you go, don't miss Brix Marketplace right around the corner for the ultimate picnic feast.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Say Grenache. You Say Garnacha.

But let's not call the whole thing off.

Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape used to make red wine. It’s used to make everything from lowly California jug wine to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I was pondering this while sipping and comparing two grenache-based wines over the weekend. The wines were Delas Frères Côtes du Ventoux 2004 and Artazuri Navarra 2004.

It wasn’t necessarily a competitive comparison. For starters, the Delas is a blend—80% grenache and the balance made up of syrah and carignan, and the Artazuri is 100% garnacha (as grenache is refered to in Spain). This was more of a curiosity tasting—comparing two wines from different places made predominately from the same grape.

It was also a which-one-of-these-will-be-a-regular-in-my-wine-rack tasting.

They are very different wines. The Delas was more complicated and nuanced, and the Artazuri much more fresh and fruit-forward. This makes sense since the Delas has some syrah and carignan, as well as the benefit of some barrel aging. The Artazuri is tank fermented.

Another difference is vine age; the fruit for the Artazuri is sourced from younger vineyards. I’m guessing the Delas comes from more established vineyards.

Côtes du Ventoux is always one of my favorite bargain-hunting areas. The wines frequently have much of the character of Côtes du Rhône with a little less of the price tag. The Delas was a perfect example: racy flavors of black cherry, sweet spice and a little tar on the finish.

When I think of grenache, I tend to think of France and the wines of the Southern Rhone. However, Spain actually has way more garnacha planted. It’s a pretty standard fixture in many of the “new” Spanish wines, which can be anything from light, fruity garnacha/temperanillo blends to the powerful cabernet sauvignon/garnacha blends of Priorat.

The Artazuri is an example of the former. It displayed lots of fresh cherry and raspberry flavors, but unfortunately none of the white pepper notes I expect with 100% garnacha. It’s still a nice, lighter red wine suitable for quaffing (Sunday afternoon wine).

Another place grenache is making its presence felt is in Australia. Historically, there has been a lot of grenache planted there. Some has been torn up in pursuit of more market-friendly varieties, but grenache is showing up is a variety of blends, including the pricier “GSM” (grenache, shiraz, mourvedre) blends coming out of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Even the invasive-as-kudzu brand, Yellowtail, has a shiraz/grenache blend.

While these were both very nice and priced about the same, ($10-ish) I’m still looking for another contender. Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Link and South Carolina Whine

Among my recent adds to the links bar is the Cork and Demon, a Texas-based wine blog. It's written out of Austin, and centers around the Texas wine industry and Austin wine life.

It reminds me how far South Carolina is lagging behind other states in developing a wine industry. While this doesn't surprise me, it does make me sad and somewhat embarassed of SC.

Try Googling Texas wine. See how much information regarding Texas wine is out there. Now try the same thing with our neighbor, North Carolina.

Now try it with South Carolina. Lame.

There are some wineries out there giving it a try and I applaud their efforts. It's not easy being a pioneer.

It stuns me that our lawmakers haven't realized the enormous potential that wineries hold for our economy. Again, this should really come as no surprise.

I dream of a day when every state has vineyards and wineries. I dream of a day when every decent-sized town has a local brewery.

Dream on. I live in South Carolina.

South Carolina Wineries

Carolina Vineyards

Irvin-House Vineyards

La Belle Amie Vineyard

Montmorenci Vineyards

Valetine Sagefield Vineyards

Michael Rolland, Big Ratings and Hummers

Eric Asimov’s interview with Michael Rolland set me to thinking. One of the more interesting things Rolland said was, “They [U.S. wine consumers] don’t want loser wines.”

He was obviously referring to wine with “loser ratings,” and he is correct.

We are a country obsessed with high-rating wines, big houses and conspicuous consumption in so many ways. A walk around most wine stores will illustrate the truth of his statement.

Of course, we all are influenced by “ratings” whether they are from WA or WS, or from the guy at the wine store or a friend. But when it’s all said and done, we like wine with big numbers and, therefore, we get the wine we demand.While some wineries surely make the wine they want to make with no concern for consumer taste, these are the minority.

Tom Wark, of Fermentation, has an interesting posting on over-done wines and high ratings. Check it out.

Most wineries make wine to sell wine, as Rolland points out. When consumer taste demands soft, fruit bomb wines, that’s what wineries produce. I’ll be the first to admit that I admire some of the effects of Rolland’s work. The full, plush, beguiling wines creates or inspires can be very seductive—like an evening at a brothel.

These wines are also more accessible to many wine drinkers and drink well when young, which are two good things in my opinion. And if soft, easy, seductive (promiscuous?) wines get more people drinking wine, why not?

I can remember a tasting I hosted when I was at my first wine store job. We opened several bottles of Rhone wines, one of which was a bottle of Château Beacastel Châteauneuf du Pape (don’t remember what year). The crowd was mostly casual wine drinkers, and they loved the Côtes du Rhône we had out.

But when they got to the CDP, almost everyone hated it. I was new to wine, but was completely fascinated by the earthy nose, the complex flavors and the sense of terrior of the Beaucastel.

It’s not that I had a better palate than my guests. I just was at a point in my wine drinking experience that I could appreciate what was in that glass.

If you had handed me the same glass ten years earlier, when I was drinking Beringer white zinfandel, I would have had an entirely different reaction. The more wine you drink, the more your palate evolves, and this leads you to seek out more challenging wines.

I’m glad that the New World wine style has made wines more accessible, easier to drink young and more palatable to new wine drinkers. There will always be wines that are funky, complex, in-need-of-bottle-aging and not-for-everyone. The only way people can find those wines is if they cut their teeth on the other stuff.

And, (hopefully) as people tire of over-done, fruit bomb wines, they will start to demand wines that are more subtle and understated. Maybe they'll even be embarrassed by some of the wines in their cellar.

Just like they’ll be embarrassed by the pictures of them driving a Hummer.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"C" is for Chenin Blanc

Talking about a white wine? So soon after gushing my enthusiasm about the start of red wine season?

Well, there were so many contenders for the "C" posting, I decided to go with what happened to be in my glass this past weekend.

One of my OCD behavioral tics is to really overthink wine and food pairings. I try not to write about pairing except in the loosest of terms, because it usually strikes me as a bit pretentious. And I'm not that great at it.

But that doesn't stop me from obsessing about it on my own time. Given my paltry wine selection at any given moment, I usually can't be as particular as I would like. There are, though, some things I can't compromise .

A favorite dish of mine is shrimp and pasta in a garlic-white wine sauce. Actually, calling it a sauce is a bit of over-promotion. It's just butter, olive oil, basil, garlic and white wine reduced a little and poured over pasta and shrimp. Simple, but tasty.

A dish likes this makes me wonder how in touch people who only drink red wine are with reality. This is food that should NEVER be consumed with red wine. Even in the depths of the brutal, bone-chilling South Carolina winter, I will NEVER drink red with this dish.

Okay...I'm feeling better now.

So, anyway, I popped open a bottle of 2003 Vinum Cellars CNW Cuvee. This was a clearance find at Green's and just $7.99. Perhaps the older vintage scared people off, but it's just as likely that this lovely chenin blanc just went unnoticed.

The "CNW" stands for Chard-No-Way! This is 100% chenin blanc and 100% good. Vinum champions less-than-popular varietals, like chenin blanc, cabernet franc (another contender for the "C" posting) and gewurztraminer. Their Web site is definitely worth a look.

Other than the fact it was delicious, the CNW impressed me that after several years in the bottle, it was still drinking wonderfully. I've always read that good chenin blanc ages gracefully and here was my proof.

It was a great match for my shrimp and pasta (although my favorite with this dish is a nice Mâcon or similar white Burgundy). It makes me glad I've got two more bottles.

It also makes me glad that I'm seeing more chenin blanc on the shelves at my favorite wine stores. One phenomenal value I've noticed is KWV Steen. Steen is what they call chenin blanc in South Africa. This is an awesome value and a fresh, clean, simple version of chenin. South Africa produces quite a bit of chenin blanc. They even have a cool Web site.

Undoubtedly, the Loire Valley is home to the finest chenin blancs in the world, but I’ve had a hard time finding good ones locally. And when I do find them, the price is a bit much for a poor, working stiff like myself.

Something I will spring for is a nice bottle of Crémant de Loire, which is the lovely and enticing sparkling wine of the Loire and made from, not surprisingly, mostly chenin blanc.

I’ve always got money for something bubbly.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Killer California Vinegar

Here’s a little something for the well-stocked kitchen.

It’s zinfandel vinegar from O Olive Company. I have to admit that I almost bought it just for the cool bottle and the stylish graphics. However, once I popped the top and tasted some, I was hooked.

I am a vinegar junkie. My dad once looked into my pantry and said, “Do you think you have enough vinegar?” Cider, red wine, white wine, sherry, balsamic, rice wine, white: one can never have too many to choose from. I use some more than others, but I’m always on the lookout for something new.

I like zinfandel. I like vinegar. Seems like a no-brainer.

This stuff surpassed all my expectations. It’s bright and tangy with wonderful red fruit flavors. I could go wild discussing possible uses, but before you do anything just pour some out on a plate with some tasty olive oil and dip your favorite bread product. Heavenly.

Using the Orleans methods, the vinegar is made in small batches and aged in oak barrels for two years and augmented with a touch of California cherries before aging six months more. It’s a real handcrafted product and the quality really shines through in the flavor.

I’m thinking it will make an awesome reduction that would compliment anything from duck to filet, but it’s damn good all by itself.

The same company makes an array of vinegars and, as the name indicates, olive oils. You can bet I’ll be sampling more of their products in coming months.

The zinfandel vinegar isn’t cheap at about $14 a bottle. But, that’s not bad for really high quality vinegar. Good balsamic will cost you a whole lot more.

I picked up my bottle at Earth Fare, but I’ve seen it in numerous stores around town.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wines from the Deep, Deep South

The weather has finally turned the corner and fall is here. Cooler temperatures mean my wine rack needs more red—lots more red. Not that I won’t still be enjoying white wines and rosé wines, but this is prime-time red wine season.

This means I’ll be scouring the shelves of local wine merchants looking for good deals on some interesting and tasty red wines. And one part of the world that will be getting lots of my attention will be the lower half of South America.

Some of my favorite go-to red wines come from Chile and Argentina. Both of these countries have a booming wine industry and are churning out everything from big-bottle value wines to some of the most interesting, sought-after wines in the world.

Of course, my selections fall somewhere in the middle.

A few of my favorites over the years have been Veramonte, Louis Felipe Edwards and Trapiche. The first two are Chilean and the last is Argentine.

Veramonte has a really solid line up of quality wines: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. The cabernet and the sauvignon blanc are my favorites, but that’s just my preference of varietals. Everything I have tasted from them has been pretty impressive. They also make a Bordeaux-style blend, called Primus, which is excellent.

Louis Felipe Edwards produces a full spectrum of wines, many of which I have not tasted. But, for the last five or six years, their estate-bottled cabernet sauvignon has been an outrageous value at around $7. I have an eye out for some of their other wines.

Trapiche is another perennial favorite. Their malbec has a permanent place in my everyday wine selection. Argentina has had tremendous success with malbec, which is one of the five grapes used in red Bordeaux. In Argentina, it shines all by itself.

Malbec, for anyone who is unacquainted, makes a wonderful detour for anyone who has been drinking merlot or shiraz/syrah. It produces wine that is full-bodied, but smooth and supple with rich flavors of black fruit. Yummy stuff.

These two countries have a number of things going for them: low cost of land, low cost of labor and supplies, plenty of old vines, and good-old climate and topography.

All this equals great bargains to had for wine drinkers. All the wines I mentioned (with the exception of Primus) are well under $10 a bottle, and many of these wineries produce wines in the $10 to $15 range that are truly outstanding.

Stay tuned for more about great wines from Chile and Argentina. As I drink them, you'll hear about them.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Think Local, Think Slow

I’ve added two links to the sidebar and I expect everyone to check them out and write a short essay on what you learned. How about two pages, double-spaced?

Just kidding, but if you aren’t familiar with these folks, you really should be.

Appellation America is dedicated to recognizing and promoting American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). These are the recognized grape growing areas of the United States. California, obviously, has the most AVAs, but a surprising number of other states have AVAs. It might surprise some of you that North Carolina has one and Virginia has seven.

Not surprisingly, South Carolina has zip.

Identifying these regions is very important for creating a real appreciation of U.S. wines and the unique potential of these growing areas. Wine is being produced in just about every state across the country. As more wineries open up, we need to create the same sort of appellation system that other countries have.

Local wineries are good for everyone, and everyone should support them. They bring tourists, spread awareness of local products and are a great asset to any community. Support your local wine!

Even if it’s muscadine wine.

Although to be fair—many, many Southern wineries are having great success with French-American hybrid and vinifera grapes. Check out Shelton Vineyards and Westbend Vineyards.

The other new link is to Slow Food USA. This group is fighting the global industrialization and homogenization of food. Their goal is to preserve local and regional diversity of foods and flavors.

In a more general sense, they are asking people to slow down and appreciate the subtle pleasures of dining. They promote everything from growing and cooking your own food to patronizing local businesses instead of national or international chains and encouraging local businesses to carry locally-produced goods.

Instead of tossing back a McDonald’s burger in the car, stop at your local burger joint—like Edna’s on River Drive. Instead giving your money to Walmart, support your local merchants—like Rosewood Market. Take some time to enjoy a meal with friends and/or family.

I know as well as anyone how hard this can be, but I try to get a little better all the time.

Both of these sites are dedicated to the local products, diversity and character that are rapidly disappearing around the globe. Reading what these people have to say inspires me to do better in my own life and consumption habits.