Monday, September 17, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Well, I missed Brim's actual anniversary by about a week, but given my track record with birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, that's not at all surprising. My family can attest to how many times they have received Christmas presents in March.

After one year, 97 posts and more great comments than I care to tabulate, I have to say writing a blog has been quite a experience. I've made some friends among my fellow bloggers, drunk some great wine and learned an awful lot. The main thing I've learned is that writing a blog (and doing it well) takes a lot of hard work. I'm a little embarrassed that there have been so few new posts lately, and I've even considered throwing in the towel. I can't expect my readers to take Brim seriously if I'm not taking it seriously.

However, I'm inspired by the efforts of some of my fellow bloggers. Wine blogs are getting much more respect these days thanks to the hard work of people like Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20, Lenn at Lenndevours and many, many others. Wine blogs inform, entertain and provide a welcome relief to the traditional wine press.

So, I'm going to give it another year. If I can put forth the effort to make Brim a good read, then it will live on. If not, I'll take it for that long walk in the woods - the one that involves a shovel.

Thanks to all my readers, past and present. Without your commentary and support, I never would have made it this far.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Columbia, S.C. — Screen Door to Hell

The joke goes that the only thing between South Carolina and Hell is a screen door. After getting blasted with ten straight days of triple-digit temperatures, I’m not even sure the screen door is still there. In case you’re wondering, 107 degrees is hot, damn hot.

When it’s that hot, common sense tells us to slow down. However, since most of the modern world is not based in any way on common sense, people continue to march around in the hottest part of the day. I’m right there with them; the bills still have to be paid and someone needs to sit in my cubicle.

I envy people who live in countries where they just stop all activity during the hottest part of the day. It makes perfect sense to get up early, get things done when it’s cooler and then find a comfortable spot to ride out the heat. When the sun starts going down, everyone picks up where they left off and works (or not) and enjoys the cooler evening air long into the night.

I’m working on my plan to adopt the “siesta” lifestyle. I’ll keep you posted.

While I have been enjoying some wine (I’m way behind on posts), this part of the summer is when I do most of my beer drinking. I enjoy beer year-round, of course, and I use beer quite a bit in my cooking, so I always have some around. There are almost always a couple Newcastles hiding in my fridge.

When I get home from work, there is nothing quite as fine as heading out to my shady back yard, kicking back in my favorite yard chair and enjoying a cold beer while the dogs play. As long as you stay in the shade, dress appropriately and keep a cold beverage handy, the heat actually feels nice. It feels like August in the Deep South.

If a beer isn’t your thing — a glass of well-chilled Vinho Verde is another option to help you survive the heat. We’ve been enjoying Famega Vinho Verde 2006, a lively, crisp, effervescent, almost clear white wine with flavors of lemon, apple, peach and a hint of honeysuckle. It’s in the single digits in alcohol content, so a glass or two won’t send you over the edge.

Hot summers are a part of living in South Carolina, just as much as pork barbecue and bad driving. There is something almost masochistically appealing about the sweltering days of late summer here. I revel in them, and yet long for the cool days of fall at the same time.

Thanks to my loyal readers who are checking back for new posts. My rapidly growing puppy is still taking all of my energy, but he’s becoming less labor intensive by the day. I’ll be posting more new material before long.

Look for posts on South Carolina’s exciting new beer selections (thanks to the revision of some antiquated alcohol laws) and a rant about how much pinot grigio people drink when there are so many other great Italian white wines.

Until then, salud.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Taste of Summer

Here’s a recipe that captures the essence of fresh summer produce. And, it’s just about as easy as putting water to boil.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, rough chop ½ medium red onion and ½ sweet bell pepper. In a blender or food processor, pulse onion, pepper and a generous handful of cherry or grape tomatoes along with a splash of good olive oil until fluid, but still chunky.

Prick three or four medium tomatoes with a fork in several places and drop in boiling water for 45 seconds or so. Remove and run under cold water. Peel, core and rough-chop tomatoes. Combine pureed veggies and chopped tomatoes.

Cook 1 lb. dry pasta (I like bowtie or penne for this dish). Toss hot, drained pasta with veggie mix. Add a generous amount of chopped fresh basil or the herb(s) of your choosing, more olive oil, if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.

I like to serve this over some greens with grated parmesan and a sprinkle of really great vinegar on top. You can dress it up in any number of ways.

This evening, I served this dish with Omaka Springs Estates Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004. It’s a wonderful New Zealand SB with flavors of grapefruit, pineapple and bell pepper, framed with zingy acidity – a perfect match for the fresh flavors of the pasta.

If that ain't summer, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A (Brief) Moment of Relaxation

Wow. The past couple weeks have been exhausting, and yet quite entertaining at the same time (see previous post).

I’ve made every effort to maintain my usual schedule, but it’s just impossible. My new housemate is running me ragged. If any of you are looking for a new fitness program, I highly recommend getting a puppy. It sure knocked a few pounds off me in a hurry.

I haven’t surrendered every aspect of my life to Mr. Hogan, however. The other night I managed to put a couple steaks on the grill and pop open a lovely bottle of wine.

E brought home two beautiful top sirloin fillets, which I dry-rubbed with my super-secret spice mix and grilled to a lovely medium rare (I’m really getting better with steaks). I sliced the fillets and laid them over a bed of mixed greens with red onion, sweet pepper, sweet tangerine tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and then drizzled the whole plate with a balsamic vinegar reduction.

The warm steak and the cool greens were a wonderful combination, but a challenge for wine pairing. The perfect match turned out to be Daniel Gehrs Syrah Paso Robles 2005. This is a restrained style of syrah, with fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors accented with a touch of spicy cinnamon and herbs. It had enough body to stand up to the steak, but didn’t out-muscle the greens.

I even almost finished the entire meal before I had to chase after a wayward Malinois.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New Arrival and Other Excuses

Down the middle drops one more grain of sand
They say that new life makes losing life easier to understand
Words are kind they help ease the mind, I’ll miss my old friend
And though you’ve got to go we’ll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out, one comes in.

Jack Johnson
If I Could

1994 - 2006

April 24, 2007 -

If I don’t write something about wine soon, I’ll have to stop calling this a wine blog. My hope is that my kind readers will forgive a scarcity of posts over the next couple weeks.

Although I had no intention of bringing a puppy into my life right now, a friend had a dog that needed a good home, and I happen to be able to provide one. I’m also lucky enough to have someone in my life to help me raise him.

I’ll spare you my philosophic comparisons of young wine and young dogs. Instead, I’ll just say that I’ll be very busy in the coming weeks, doing the hard work that will pay rewards years from now, when I have a mature, well-balanced, amazing dog.

Hopefully, before long he’ll be sleeping at my feet while I write posts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I’ve been treating myself to a summer break from blogging. Here in South Carolina, we’re into the part of summer when slowing your activity level is necessary for survival. One hundred degree days with humidity that wraps you like a hot, wet blanket will slow just about anyone’s pace.

Although the break has been nice, it’s time to get back to work. I even missed Wine Blogging Wednesday #35, and the topic was Spanish bargain wines, a subject which I can drone on about for hours. If you’re so inclined, check out some of my past Spanish posts. This month's WBW is hosted byMichelle and Kevin at My Wine Education.

I have quite a few posts rattling around in my head, and I have a couple posts that are long overdue. I’ll be writing about some of my favorite dining haunts here in hot, sultry Columbia, S.C. With lots of fresh produce on hand, I’ve been working on some new summer dishes I want to share, along with the wines I’ve been enjoying with them.

So, what did I do on my summer vacation from blogging? Well, I slept in, instead of getting up early to write. I enjoyed several great wines without taking notes. As I mentioned above, I did some work in my test kitchen. Summer also brings more outdoor chores, which require a significant chunk of my time.

The rest of the time was spent relaxing in the AC, directly under a ceiling fan. That’s the place to be in July in the Deep South.

Here’s one of the wines that is helping me through the heat:

Bodegas Castaño Rosado Monastrell Yecla 2006

Bodegas Castaño makes an excellent monastrell named Hecula that I’ve enjoyed several years in a row. This is the first I’ve seen of a rosé from them. Monastrell makes for a very full, round rosé with flavors of dark berries and cinnamon with just a touch of herbs. It’s one of the most substantial rosés I’ve ever had.

Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 wrote a great post on another of their wines for WBW #35, and the Wine Doctor has some interesting background on Castaño in this post.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Before and After


Bulgarian #7 tomato on the vine.


The same tomato on my plate with fresh mozzerella, baby greens, ground black pepper and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

“H” is for Hondarribi Zurri

Some letters are more difficult than others.

When I dreamed up the idea of writing a post for every letter of the alphabet, my goal was to highlight the incredible diversity of wine and, hopefully, inspire my readers to try something a little different.

I have to admit I was sweating my “H” post, but then, along comes a wine made from hondarribi zuri. Talk about something different.

Arabako Txakolina “Xarmant” Txakoli Arabako Txakolina ($14)
(This is either a 2005 or 2006 vintage. I couldn't find a vintage anywhere on the bottle, but I know it is a vintage-bottled wine.)

To clear any confusion, there is no typo in the name. The name of the producer is the same as the name of the Denominatión de Origen (D.O.). The producer is actually a collective of 12 growers who pooled their resources. This collective is the only producer of any real quantity in the D.O., which is comprised of 60 hectares.

So, what’s with the funky name? Although this is a Spanish wine, it hails from a very distinct part of Spain—Basque Country.

Basque Country is one of Spain’s autonomous regions, located in the north-central part of the country, bordering Castilla y León on one side and Navarre on the other. The vineyard sites are located within the valley of Ayala, which encompasses the municipalities of Llodio, Amurrio, Okondo, Artiziega, and Aiara.

Winemaking in this region dates back to 760 A.D., but phylloxera devastated the majority of the vineyards in the 19th century. The vineyards were resurrected in the 1980’s, although the Arabako Txakolina D.O. was only created in 2003.

The grapes used in Txakoli (Chakoli in Spanish) are the traditional and indigenous hondarribi zuri and hondarribi beltza, as well as other local varieties: izkiriota, izkiriota ttippia and hondarribi zuri zerratia (is everyone taking notes?). The blend for this particular wine is 80% hondarribi zuri and 20% hondarribi zuri zerratia.

Xarmant, which is Basque (or French, depending on who you ask) for “charming,” is well-named. “Charming” is how I would describe this wine. Straw-colored and slightly fizzy from a touch of residual carbon dioxide, it is definitely reminiscent of Vinho Verde.

The nose was a bit muted and reminiscent of lemon rind and oyster shells (I swear). This turned out to be false advertising, because the flavor was definitely not muted; although it starts out lean with prominent citrus flavors, it quickly opens up to a creamy mouthful of peach, pear and fig, and finishes on a firm, mineral note.

An interesting tidbit about this wine is that it is traditionally served in a tumbler rather than a wine glass. The idea is to pour a very small amount from a great height (holding the bottle above your shoulder), thereby releasing more of the aromas and flavors. Please feel free to try this at home.

This turned out to be an outstanding discovery, just in time for the really hot weather in South Carolina. Txakolina is meant to be consumed very cold, works well as a low-alcohol (11.5%) apéritif and is very food-friendly. Try it with anything from seafood to chicken curry.

Or, pick up a bottle just to impress your friends with your comprehensive knowledge of the wines of the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weekend Photo Update

Sweet, delicious, sungold cherry tomatoes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

WBW #34 is WWWBW

Could it be WBW #34 already? It seems like just the other day that I was missing the deadline for WBW #33.

In any case, we have a fantastic theme for this month. Washington is an exciting area for grape growers and winemakers.

I happened across this article about the turning point for Washington’s wine industry and the role of Walter Clore in driving the creation of Washingon's world-class wines. It’s very interesting reading.

Our kind host this month is Catie, the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, of Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine. Our mission was to avoid the Ch. Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest wines and seek out cabernet sauvignon from some of the state’s numerous other wineries.

With this in mind, I went out scouting for WA cabs. To my immense delight, I found a bottle of 2001 Isenhower Batchelor’s Button Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2001 ($32).

While this is actually a Columbia Valley wine, it is from a Walla Walla winery, which hopefully will score me some extra credit points.

As soon as I picked up the bottle, I realized that I was on to something. The beautiful label suggested a small winery. The back of the label told me that the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered, which I love, and that 450 cases were produced. The vintage was another good sign, as 2001 was a very good year for Washington cabernet.

My hunches were nicely rewarded. It definitely needs some air, but after some time in my glass and in the decanter—it was pure heaven.

I read somewhere that Isenhower makes their cabernet more in the style of Bordeaux rather than California cabs. Bordeaux-ish is certainly an apt description in my opinion. The blend for this vintage is 90% cabernet sauvignon and 10% merlot, and it reminded me of of some of the best attributes of Paulliac.

In the glass, the 2001 Batchelor’s Button is opaque purple with a deep, concentrated nose of black cherry, cassis, currant, eucalyptus, cocoa, mint, and cigar box. Those flavors continue in the long, complex mouthfeel, which is framed by bracing acidity and persistent tannins.

It nicely sidesteps the plush, overdone fruit and oak of some California cabs, while not leaning too far towards the austerity of Bordeaux wines. Given the amount of breathing time it took for this wine to really show its stuff, I would guess it will continue to improve for another 5-10 years.

What’s even more fascinating about this wine is that this is the first vintage Isenhower produced. Bravo.

I highly recommend a visit to the Isenhower Web site. Denise and Brett have a great story to tell and clearly have a commitment to making outstanding wines. I believe I'll be back to that wine shop in search of another bottle.

Thanks to Catie, and thanks, as always, to our WBW guru, Lenn, of Lenndevours.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who Loves an Old Wine?

The resounding silence on my earlier post regarding the locating of older wines leaves me with the impression there is little interest in such wines. Either that, or no one is reading.

Is this thing on?

Certainly, the price and hassle associated with purchasing "old" wines causes some wine lovers to decide, as a friend put it, "to save my money for Cristal and the [ladies]." New World wine drinkers are notorious for loving young, vivacious wines, but there is still a brisk trade in older vintages, both online and in bricks-and-mortar retailers.

My concerns are about pricing and bottle condition. 1969 was a good year for red Burgundy, but I really don't have four grand to put towards a bottle of wine. It was an off-year for Bordeaux, but the prices are still restrictive.

It's my good fortune, however, that the year of my birth was a good year in the Rhone. Maybe I'll be drinking 1969 Hermitage? Maybe 1969 Côte Rôtie?

But, I’m looking at other options. Cognac, Armagnac and any long-lived wine, such as Cahors, are possibilities. But, the last thing I want is an expensive, poorly-stored bottle of wine. I need to know that every effort has been given to proper care.

Thanks to Golly, of Golly’s Wine Drops, for suggesting Berry Bros and Rudd, a company that has a long history of dealing in older vintages. I believe I’m a little too far away for their services, but you never know.

Maybe they’ll send me a sample.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weekend Update

The Canna Lillies are blooming.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Summer of '69

Normally, I do the expounding and you, as my readers, do the patient reading. For this post, however, I really want to hear from you. I need some wine advice.

If you were looking for a wine from a certain vintage, say...1969, where would you go to buy it?

What kind of wine would you look for? Bordeaux? Burgundy? Port? Something completely different?

I know nothing about buying vintage wine, so I could use some insight into the best way to find great wines in great condition without getting robbed. If you don't know, but you know someone who might, please pass this along to them. Hopefully, I'll find something cool and report back on it.

I'm just curious to see how a 38-year-old wine is holding up.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I saw the first fireflies of the season the other night. They appeared like magic after the first drenching rain in what has been a parched couple of months.

Luckily, my neighborhood has enough old-growth shrubs and natural areas to support a modest population of “lightning bugs.” There is something incredibly nostalgic about seeing the sparkle of fireflies on a summer evening.

Fireflies to wine, you might ask? How’s he going to make that connection?

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to love wine, but wine—like fireflies—is one of nature's products. I’m sure many of my fellow wine drinkers have a keen understanding that the product they love so much is best produced in a healthy, natural environment. Biodynamics aside, the wine industry in general seems to be paying much more regard to nature’s process, instead of altering nature to suit its needs.

For those of us who tend back yards instead of vineyards, I recommend a fine piece of reading material, Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, by Sara B. Stein. It’s a personal discovery of place and a guidebook for anyone who manages a chunk of this beautiful planet.

It’s been part of my inspiration to convert a sterile, empty back yard into my very own mini woodland garden. With fireflies.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Catavino Virtual Wine Tasting for May

I’ve been meaning to do this posting all month, and, of course, here it is on the very last day of May. I am nothing if not a prolific procrastinator.

Catavino’s Virtual Wine Tasting theme for May is albariño. I had hoped to compare some California albariños to some from Spain, but that did not pan out. What I did manage to do was find a different Spanish albariño to sample.

Bodegas As Laxas Albariño Rias Baixas Val do Sosego 2006

This wine is much more complicated than the albariños I've had in the past. The nose is very lemony with pronounced notes of grass and wet rocks. I tasted lemon, pineapple, pear, bell pepper and just a bit of slate. What struck me the most about this wine was the balance between a very creamy mouth-feel and bright acidity.

The albariños I’m used to drinking are a bit more simple, but pleasant all the same. Dr. Debs (and friends) at Good Wine Under $20 tasted the 2005 Martín Códax Burgáns (a past favorite) and found it a little lacking. Tasting the Bodegas As Laxas certainly opened my eyes to another, more complex, side of albariño.

Whether you know it or not, the Albariño Invasion is underway. Spanish albariños are becoming more numerous in my local wine shops. Albariño is also gaining popularity with U.S. wineries. Although I couldn’t locate any in my local stores, one of my favorite restaurants is featuring a California albariño on its list. Interestingly, when I asked a very knowledgeable wine salesperson about ordering some CA albariños, she was almost dismissive, as if they didn’t exist.

In the coming months, I’ll definitely by sampling more albariños. In fact, there’s a bottle of Martín Códax Albariño waiting at home right now. I think it would pair nicely with grilled tilapia with apple/red pepper/red onion salsa and a side of garlic pasta served over fresh spinach.

I’ll also be on the lookout for some U.S. albariños. Maybe I’ll even track down a bottle of Twisted Oak Albariño. One can always hope.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Glass in Hand

The above photograph is a sampling of my ragtag stemware/glassware collection. I have some fairly nice wine glasses, including some Riedel glasses, and some pretty cheap glasses. I also have some favorites.

For instance, the small rocks glass in the lower right corner was “borrowed” about ten years ago from Buckley’s Tavern in Greenville, Delaware by my ex-wife. (Okay, it was at my suggestion.) When filled with two fingers of good scotch and a splash of water, it feels awfully nice in my hand.

Even though I have a Riedel scotch glass, which I do use on occasion, I really like the heft and size of that little, cheap glass.

There’s been a great deal of discussion in the wine community about stemware and Riedel glasses in particular. Riedel's selection of location/varietal-specific wine glasses is seemingly endless, and many other manufacturers have jumped on board as well. Does an Oregon pinot noir really need its own glass?

Many years ago, I attended a Riedel tasting, where we compared the same wine in various glasses: cheap wine glasses, the proper Riedel glass and the “wrong” Riedel glass.

The impact on the aroma and flavor of the wine from one glass to another was undeniable to me. The wines all showed much better in the proper glass. I became a believer.

I live in the real world, however. I can’t really afford to always drink from expensive wine glasses, much less own glasses for all the various types of wine I drink. (Where the hell is my tempranillo glass?)

Not to mention, my wine drinking does not always take place in a controlled setting—my concrete porch is quite unforgiving when it comes to wine glasses.

With all this in mind, I use a variety of glasses, depending on the occasion. Great wines get the good glasses; clumsy guests get the cheap ones.

My little story about the scotch glass reminds me of an important aspect to wine and stemware pairing—sensory pleasure.

Really great glasses feel great in your hand. They look beautiful. They’re balanced, just the right size and downright sexy. Even some of my cheap glasses fit the bill and might easily be mistaken for expensive (except for the off-key "clank," instead of the melodious ring of crystal when glasses meet).

My latest favorites are actually very simple water goblets from Nachtmann. They work great for white wines and aren’t a bad size for reds either, especially lighter-bodied reds. They're beautiful, and they feel great in my hand. They were über-cheap at a discount store—because of some minor flaw, no doubt.

Wine is definitely a sensory experience, so it makes sense that one should pay attention to what type of vessel you’re using. But, the most expensive or “correct” glass isn’t always the right one.

The right one just feels right.

Note: Buckley’s Tavern is located in Greenville, Delaware, which is right outside of Wilmington and not far from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. It is one of my favorite places in the world—a place where blue-collar workers rub shoulders with multi-millionaires. It’s got great food, great beer and wine, and a cool roof-top deck. If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss it; and if you live in the area and don’t know about Buckley’s—shame on you.

And, I hope that plug makes up for the unauthorized use of their glassware.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

WBW Goes to WA

The word is out on Wine Blogging Wednesday #34.

Catie at Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine is hosting this one, and the theme is Washington State cabernet sauvignon. I’m really excited about the theme, because Washington is such an interesting area for grape growing and winemaking.

I’ll be looking for something really interesting and unique, and I also plan on learning more about Washington’s AVAs.

The lowdown on WBW # 34 is right here.

Don’t miss it—all the cool kids will be there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shopping: The Sequel

I thought you might be interested in the results of some weekend shopping.

No sooner had I finished my last post then I walked back into World Market to pick another bottle of the Aussie shiraz-viognier that I mentioned in my previous post. Two racks full of wines marked down 50% met me at the front of the store.

I took a quick look and found an empty wine box.

The wine that brought me back is Zonte’s Footstep Shiraz-Viognier Langhorne Creek 2003 ($7.49). It’s the vinous equivalent of red velvet cake, a fruit-forward, over-the-top, luscious, whore of a wine. I love it.

Here are the other wines I bought with their post-discount prices:

Paringa Shiraz ‘Individual Vineyard’ South Australia 2003 ($5.49)

Fairview Viognier Coastal Region South Africa 2006 ($6.99)

Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino County NV ($8.99)

Omaka Springs Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004 ($7.49)

Dr. Thanisch Riesling Classic Q.B.A. 2005 ($8.99)

Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay Marlborough 2005 ($7.99)

Mak ‘Snowy River’ Red Coonawarra 2001 ($7.99)

Joseph Drouhin St. Veran 2005 ($6.99)

Li Veli Passamante Salento 2003 ($5.99)

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2005 ($9.49)

Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Anderson Valley 1999 ($18.49)

Not a bad case of wine for about $100. Some of these wines I’m familiar with: Paringa, Joseph Drouhin and Kim Crawford. Others are new to me: Omaka Springs, Dr. Thanish and Mak.

The L’Ermitage alone made the trip worthwhile. I can’t wait to open that one. You will no doubt hear more about these as I taste them.

And seriously, Joseph Drouhin St. Veran for $6.99? Somebody pinch me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Back to the Midi

I was looking through some old posts (the ones that don’t make me cringe), and noticed a couple wines from the Languedoc that I’ve written about previously.

With Wine Blogging Wednesday #33 just behind us, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit them. These two wines represent what I believe this region does best—produces unique, delicious and very affordable wines. I've included blurbs from the original posts, along with links if you want to read the entire posts.

Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet Cotes du Languedoc 2005

“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.”

The entire post is here.

Château de Pennautier A.O.C. Cabardès 2004

“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 entire post is here.

They both have become favorites at my house. Vive le difference indeed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shop 'Til You Drop

Most everyone has their favorite shopping experience, whether it’s the mall (my sister-in-law), used bookstores (my dad) or wine shops (me).

I love to shop for wine. I know I’m not alone in this affliction, especially among my fellow wine bloggers. I’ve certainly read some interesting posts on wine buying lately.

Farley over at Wine Outlook wrote this about collecting, hunting for wine and the folly of those who would pay someone to stock their wine cellar. I don't see how any “wine lover” could not enjoy shopping for wine or stocking their own cellar.

Some guy named Eric (I think he works for a newspaper), who writes a blog called “The Pour,” has been writing about mixed cases of wine. It’s a pretty good blog, and I like his taste in wine. I even recognize some of the selections in his cases as wines I’ve enjoyed.

He sure does get a lot of comments.

Anyway, I really enjoy prowling wine shops, big-box beverage stores and anywhere else where wine is sold. After ten-plus years of practice and two stints in retail wine sales, I think I’m a pretty savvy wine shopper.

One of my favorite experiences is buying wines on clearance. Grocery stores and other large retailers whose main focus isn’t wine usually need to liquidate stock that doesn’t move. Frequently, the wines that don’t move are things that don’t appeal to the masses, but might appeal to a wine geek like me.

I recently bought several bottles from World Market that were 25% off. As a rule I don’t buy anything there, because their prices are high. I picked up a Bordeaux-style blend and a shiraz/viognier from Australia, and a yummy negroamaro from Italy.

Grocery stores are even more ruthless when they are clearing the shelves. I’ve seen wines piled up in shopping carts at 50% off. Most of it is usually junk, but you never know. A couple years ago, I found a bottle of 1997 Marcelina Cabernet Sauvignon for $11 in a clearance cart. It was, quite possibly, the best $11 I have ever spent.

I spend most of my wine dollars at the same store, but wherever I go, if wine is sold, I’ll make time to browse. Just about any wine junkie has at least one story about discovering an exceptional bottle tucked in the corner of a wine shop or a rare vintage lurking in the corner grocery.

Awhile back I wrote about independent wine shops and what the future holds for them. Whenever I’m out of town, I’m always on the lookout for cool wine shops to explore. Beau over at Basic Juice just posted about one peculiar wine shop he encountered in his travels.

The Internet is rapidly changing the way people shop for wine, and creating some really cool wine-buying experiences, not to mention increasing the availability of wines. However, it can't replicate the experience of actually handling the bottles or having a friendly face to assist you.

It reminds me of how the Net has changed the way we get our news. Like most people, I read lots of news online. But I still get the daily paper, because there’s nothing like pouring a cup of coffee, kicking back in my favorite chair on the porch and getting ink on my fingers.

So what am I doing this weekend? It’s time to buy some wine.

But only after I’ve read the paper.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wine Blogging Thursday?

Once again, I missed my deadline on Wine Blogging Wednesday. I've been accused in the past of not playing well with others, but this is really more about my tendency to be a day late and a dollar short.

WBW #33 was hosted by Marcus at Doktor Weingolb. WBW, of course, is the brainchild of Lenn Thompson at Lenndevours.

The theme this month was mid-priced wines from the Midi region of France, “mid” meaning wines in the $15-$30 range. This was an interesting assignment for me, because I tend to think of this region as a treasure trove of bargains—$15 and under wines.

As my regular readers know, my wine-buying focus is in the $10-ish range. I don’t mind paying a little more, but I delight in finding great, inexpensive wines.

Doktor Weingolb is a great source of information on this region. I won’t pretend to know very much about this area of France—because I don’t, but Marcus has compiled an impressive amount of information on this region and many others.

The Midi refers to the Langedoc-Roussilon area of southern France. A wide variety of grapes are permitted, and perhaps because it doesn’t enjoy the prestige of some of the country’s other wine growing areas, the wines can be a real steal.

Corbières is the region within the Midi I’m most familiar with and also the largest AOC in the region. So, it was natural that the wine I selected was from Corbières. The other deciding factor was that my local wine stores don’t carry very much wine from the Midi and most of it is under $15—yet another indication that the wines from this part of the world are under-appreciated and pleasantly priced.

2001 Château Aumèdes Corbières Cuveé Emilien Raissac ($20)

This wine was in many ways exactly what I would expect from Corbières and also surprising at the same time. I couldn’t find very much information on it, but the best I can determine is that the blend is carignan, syrah and/or grenache, and( maybe) some mourvèdre.

The nose was a bit muted at first, but it opened up nicely to reveal notes of blackberry, smoked meat and earth. As with many European wines, wines from the Midi often show more “earthy” characteristics than their New World counterparts.

The flavors were fairly simple, but very pleasant: blackberry, cinnamon and tar predominated, followed by firm tannins and a pleasing acidity. Compared to many of the reds I’ve been drinking lately, this struck me as a bit one-dimensional at first.

However, the more I sipped, the more I liked it. It’s understated, interesting and subtle.

Finding a Rhone-style wine in Corbières wasn’t surprising. Many of the Rhone grapes do extremely well in the warmer temperatures of southern France. I was, however, surprised at the elegance and style of this wine.

Was it worth the extra money? I’m not sure. It does make me want to taste more wines from this region. Stayed tuned for more Midi wines.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Mother of a Day

Does the name Anna Jarvis sound familiar? Unless you’re a trivia buff, or you happened to pick up the May issue of Smithsonian, it probably doesn’t.

Anna Jarvis is the woman who created Mother’s Day, to fulfill her deceased mother’s wish of a national holiday to honor mothers. Jarvis ultimately lived to regret the day she created this monster of a holiday.

She spent much of the latter half of her life fighting the corruption and commercialization of the holiday she worked so hard to create. Jarvis was horrified by how the candy/florist/opportunist crowd stepped in to make a profit, and how people embraced these trivial tokens of affection.

Although I haven’t started making my own cards, it’s not far off. And, I take pains to avoid feeding the Holiday Machine in general. I don’t eat out on holidays…ever. I don’t buy chocolate anytime near Valentine’s Day. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, my mom lives a pretty fair distance from me, so she has to settle for a card and a phone call. The other mother in my life is my girlfriend, E. Her 16-year-old son takes care of the heart-warming moments of appreciation all good mothers are due.

That leaves me to cook.

Not that I mind. It gives me an excuse to make some extra-special meals and share time with a couple of great people. I’ll spare you the entire weekend’s menu, but I will mention a couple highlights.

Mother’s Day dinner was grilled, spice-rubbed Angus filets with bleu cheese cream sauce, roasted garlic mashed yellow potatoes and sautéed spinach.

And, no, I didn’t ruin the steaks.

The meal was tasty. The wine was equally tasty. Since the occasion called for something special, I opened my other bottle of 2003 Twisted Oak Murgatroyd. If you missed my earlier review of this wine, it’s right here.

Because these bottles were sent to me as samples, the first bottle was subjected to a rigorous, scientific process of evaluation. This bottle was pure enjoyment. The food and wine were a glorious combination.

And speaking of pure enjoyment, no Mother’s Day weekend is really complete without mom kicked back enjoying a liquor drink. Since distance prevented me from tempting my own mother with booze, I forced E to enjoy a pre-dinner margarita on the porch. I’ll have you know—it wasn’t easy. (Okay, it was.)

The next time you’re craving a ‘rita. Treat yourself with this recipe from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman (an excellent cookbook).

¾ cup tequila
Scant ¼ cup Grand Marnier, triple sec or other orange liqueur
¼ cup fresh lime juice (or to taste)
Lime wedges to garnish

Combine ingredients and ice in a shaker or pitcher. Shake or stir. Strain into salt-rimmed, ice-filled glasses. Makes 3-4 drinks.

Use 100% Agave, silver tequila. I doubled the amount of lime juice, and they were still plenty strong. Adjust to your liking.

Dance on a (sturdy) table as needed.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"G" is for Grüner Veltliner

It’s been a long time since I’ve written an alphabetical post. “G” offers so many choices of topics: grenache, gewürztraminer, gamay, and Germany just to name a few.

Ultimately, I chose grüner veltliner because it’s getting pretty warm here in South Carolina and my thoughts are turning to white wines. Grüner is also a hot-topic wine right now, so you’ll be seeing more on the shelves at your local wine stores.

There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with this Austrian native. Grüner is grown almost exclusively in Austria, and has become the country's best known grape by far.

Grüner (grüner = green) veltliner is one of several varieties of veltliner, although it’s the only one you’re likely to find around town. Thanks the increasing popularity of grüner and some slick packaging, you’re likely to bump into a case stack on your next wine buying trip.

Several merchants in my area are featuring 2005 Graf Koenigsegg ‘Velt. 1’ Grüner Veltliner ($9), which is hard to miss because of its neon-lime label. Velt. 1 even has a hipster-ish Web site where you can post photos of you and your pals sipping (or guzzling) Velt. 1.

Another grüner that’s hard to miss because of a Day-Glo label is 2005 Loimer Kamptal ‘Lois’ Grüner Veltliner ($9). It’s a nice bit of marketing to put these wines in eye-catching packages, give them simple, easy-to-remember (and pronounce) nicknames, and top them off with screw cap enclosures.

Both of the wines I mentioned are light, simple versions of grüner. They are bursting with fresh apple, lemon and herbaceous flavors. With its low alcohol and zippy acidity, grüner is very food-friendly. It’s also perfect for sipping (or guzzling) with friends.

Inexpensive grüner comes mostly from low elevation vineyards, while the pricier, more complex wines come from the steep, hillside vineyards. The higher quality grüners are renowned for their aging potential and are gaining notoriety as some of the world’s best white wines.

I found an interesting article in the LA Times from April about grüner that included some more recommendations. The Lois is the only one I recognize on the list, but with the temperature climbing ever higher here in the South, you can be sure I’ll be sampling more grüners very soon.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Show and Tell

Every now and again, I like to just chat about wines I’ve enjoyed recently. On their own, these wines aren’t worth a whole post. But, I enjoy reading about what my fellow wine writers are drinking, so I hope you’re interested in what’s been in my glass.

2005 Viñedos y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Cariñena ($9)

I just commented to Joe of Joe's Wine that I think Spanish wines in general are the most interesting, delicious and affordable wines around at the moment. This is a stunning example of garnacha from 80-100 year-old vines. Garnacha can be light and quaffable, but it also can be rich and complex. This is the latter.

2002 Preston Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley ($12)

If cabernet franc needs an agent, I’ll take the job. The “other” cab is fantastic when it’s done well. This is done well: silky, lush and spicy with abundant red and black fruit. Preston makes some seriously good wines. If you’re not familiar with them, I highly recommend seeking out their wines.

2001 Preston Merlot Columbia Valley ($12)

I’m not kidding about Preston. This is a merlot that could well restore merlot’s good name. A little time in the bottle has revealed a subtle, elegant wine with sweet notes of dried cherries, herbs, cedar and leather. Merlot can age quite gracefully, and given its lack of popularity, post-Sideways, there’s never been a better time to hunt for hidden gems like this one.

2001 Hope Merlot Hunter Valley ($9)

Speaking of merlot from older’s another. I normally wouldn’t think of Australia for merlot, but Hope makes some really unique, hand-crafted and well-priced wines. This was a random pick at a restaurant wine sale—and what a great find it was. A little more fruit focused than the Preston, but still showing its age very well: velvet-smooth with lovely black cherry, plum and cedar.

2004 Trentadue Old Patch Red Sonoma Valley ($13)

I’m hooked on field-blend style Cailfornia reds at the moment. This is a mix of 76% zinfandel, 16% petite sirah and 8% carignane. I wish more CA wineries would make wines in this style. Sonodora at Wannabe Wino has an excellent write up about Trentadue along with tasting notes for most of their wines, including the Old Patch Red. Check it out.

NV Dover Canyon Winery Renegade Red Central Coast ($11)

A cool wine from a cool winery. Another field-blend style red wine from the fine folks at Dover Canyon made from zin, sangiovese, barbera and syrah. It’s lively, fresh and intoxicatingly good. This is the wine that Bacchus wants us to drink. Get a bottle and dance with Pan. I’ve added the Dover Canyon Winery blog to my links, so now you have no excuse not to visit. Mary Baker, co-owner of Dover Canyon, is also editor of the Women Wine Critics Board blog, which is full of some great writing.

That’s all for my show and tell. What wines have made you happy lately?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Crab Cakes and Mom

While I generally try to avoid posts that involve recipes, I’m doing this one as a special request from my mom.

While I generally try to avoid posts that involve my mom (it doesn’t sound very professional), there is some relevance here. You see, my mom introduced me to cooking and de-mystified the process for me.

What she told me was (and I paraphrase), “It’s not nuclear science, Oppenheimer. Read the recipe and do what it says.”

She also taught me that when baking—you’d better follow the recipe pretty closely, but if you’re cooking—you can improvise as needed. She makes a mean lasagna with whatever pasta happens to be on hand.

These days I look to recipes mainly for inspiration. Sometimes I follow along to a certain degree, and sometimes I just steal a technique or a sauce. This is based on a recipe that I got from a can of Phillips crabmeat. Crab cakes aren’t difficult at all, and they make the perfect simple summer meal or Sunday brunch food. Or, you can make tiny ones for appetizers.

1 egg
1 tablespoon (or so) Duke’s Mayonnaise (or Hellman’s for you unfortunate souls who can’t get Duke’s)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon (or so) chopped fresh chive (or your favorite fresh herb)
1 tablespoon (or so) finely diced red onion
1 tablespoon (or so) finely diced sweet red pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dash or two (or three) of fresh ground pepper
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
8 oz. crabmeat (Claw is fine.)

Beat egg in a medium bowl. Add all other ingredients except breadcrumbs and crabmeat. Mix well.

Add breadcrumbs. Mix. Gently fold in crabmeat until combined. Pat out into four crab cakes. Allow to rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes (not a must).

Cook over medium heat on a well-oiled, non-stick surface approximately five minutes per side until browned and cooked through .

It’s worth mentioning that I love Old Bay seasoning (I would snort it if that was the only way I was allowed to ingest it). Feel free to substitute the seasoning(s) of your liking. Add salt if you want, although if you use a seasoning mix like Old Bay you shouldn’t need any.

A homemade tartar sauce, aioli or salsa is a nice addition. I’ll leave you to your own devices for that.

A few other tips:

Your cooking surface is of utmost importance. I tried cooking them in a stainless steel pan with some melted butted and they stuck like crazy. I now use a lovingly-cared-for, two-burner flat grill and never have problems with sticking. Make sure your surface is nice and hot before you put the cakes on.

Treat the crabmeat gently and you’ll get a better texture in your cakes. I add the crabmeat last and mix gently with my hands.

I like something bubbly if I’m serving these for brunch. The last time I made them, I opened a bottle of Jacob's Creek Sparkling Rosé NV, which was excellent. The sparkling wines from Jacob's Creek show exceptional complexity and character for around $10. If you haven’t tried them—you really should.

And thanks for the cooking lessons, mom. They’ve served me well.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sparkling Rosés

Catavino is hosting a Virtual Wine Tasting for April with the theme of rosé wines. More specifically, they are asking people to compare Spanish rosé to rosé from elsewhere in the world.

I need very little encouragement to open a bottle of rosé. I also love Spanish wines and try to promote them whenever possible.

It just so happens that on my latest wine-buying foray I ran across a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé NV. The theme didn’t mention sparkling or still, so I decided to contribute a bubbly rosé comparison.

I compared the Jacob’s Creek to Casteller Cava Brut Rosé, although it wasn’t a side-by-side comparison. I have had several bottles of the Casteller, so it’s committed to memory at this point.

Because I am feeling lazy, I will review these wines in free-form poetry. Catavino also requested photos, but I am camera-less at the moment. Here goes:

Jacobs Creek Sparkling Rosé NV, South Eastern Australia

Pale salmon,
wiffs of toast and fresh berries
bing cherry, lemon crème and vanilla,
a subtle, elegant beauty,
pinot noir and chardonnay,
make my crab cakes sing,
another bottle is soon to come.

Casteller Cava Brut Rosé NV

Hot pink,
strawberry, raspberry, and cherry—oh my!
berries galore, peach, cinnamon and herbs,
a lively, flamboyant tart,
trepat and garnacha,
one new acquaintance, one old friend,
only three bottles left.

I have Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 to thank for pointing me towards Catavino. It’s a great source of interesting information about the wines of the Iberian Peninsula, which—for anyone whose world geography is as terrible as mine—is home to Spain and Portugal. Anyone who isn’t exploring Spanish (and Portuguese) wines should begin immediately, as they are some of the best wine values regardless of price range.

Look for future posts on Spain and my crab cakes.

Don’t look for any more poetry. I won’t put you through that again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's a Wine Worth?

In one of my (many) previous jobs, I sold high-end stereos. This was the kind of place where it was fairly easy to drop $20,000 on a stereo system.

I didn’t sell many of those systems. In fact, I didn’t sell much of anything.

But I digress. One of the most frequent questions I heard from customers was, “Does it really sound that much better?”

My answer usually was, “Yes, if you're really listening…and that’s your thing.”

Many years later, while selling wine, I was frequently faced with a similar question. A customer would look at a $300 bottle of Château Latour and ask, “Is it really that good?”

My response was always something along the lines of, “Yes, if you’re really paying attention…and that’s your thing.”

For a real Bordeaux-lover, a rare or exceptional bottle might be worth a whole lot more. To the average wine drinker, it might taste better than what they're used to, but it might just as easily taste worse—if they're used to drinking soft, fruity reds. It all depends on your perspective and taste buds.

What anything is worth in monetary terms is highly subjective. Lately, I’ve heard several wine critics and commentators talk about $15-$30 being the sweet spot for really good, interesting wines. While there are lots of great wines in that price range, there are lots of really good, interesting wines below that price range as well.

It seems that once someone has had the opportunity to taste lots of expensive wines, their palate gets tuned into those wines and there’s no going back. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (if your budget allows), but it might cause that person to overlook wines in certain, lower price ranges.

I’m reminded of a customer who once asked me about California cabernets for his wine cellar. At the time, the store where I worked had several cases of 1997 Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaker’s Reserve, which we were selling for $30 a bottle.

If you happen to have tasted this wine—lucky you—it is fan-freakin’-tastic.

Beyond my humble recommendation, there was a sign hanging on the shelf with copious compliments from the honorable Mr. Parker, who touted the wine’s excellent aging potential and overall yumminess.

My haughty customer, however, took one look at the price and turned up his nose.

“I’m looking for some serious wines,” he said with a condescending sneer.

What a jackass. That wine blows the doors off Napa cabs that are three-times the price, but this guy just had to have the big price tag to impress his buddies, feed his ego or compensate for other unmentionable shortcomings in his life.

The moral of the story is: no matter what your favorite price range is, take a trip outside of it now and again. Let the wine speak for itself, instead of judging by price.

My sweet spot is $8-$12, but I’ve found some lovely wines for $6, and every now-and-again I buy a $30 bottle just to see what’s out there. Once in a blue moon I even spring for something really pricey just to see how the beautiful people live.

There are tasty, wonderful wines in every price range (except the $8-$10 range for 3-liter jugs). Most of us have had the experience of tasting a wine and thinking, how the hell did they make this for that price?

My favorite in that category is 2002 Hacienda El Espino '1707' CMS , a Spanish blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah that my local wine shop sells for $8.99. How they made that wine, shipped it to the U.S. and made any money is completely beyond me.

I’ve learned not to question—just enjoy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Accept No Cheap Imitations

Although Burgundy and Champagne are probably the most misused and abused wine regions, Chablis is certainly a strong runner-up. To this day, there are still three-liter jugs of Taylor Chablis lining the shelves of supermarkets across the country.

Thankfully, the name-pilfering of famous wine regions is in serious decline. I have to wonder, however, if the misuse has resulted in some permanent confusion, because real Chablis is not a wine I hear discussed very often. The other white wines of Burgundy get much more attention: Pouilly-Fuisse, Mâcon, Montrachet, Meursault, etc.

What a shame. For anyone seeking the antithesis of oaky, California chardonnay, Chablis is the place to look. It’s also a shame that the popularity—and the resulting overproduction and poor winemaking—of chardonnay turned so many people away from this very noble grape.

Comparing the big, oaky, overripe, syrupy Cali-chards to Chablis is a bit like comparing Pam Anderson to Jodie Foster—they’re both blonds, right?

Chablis is lean, elegant and subtle, with a racy acidity that makes it very food-friendly. Oak is used rarely and judiciously. The cool climate and unique soil give Chablis a character that is light-years apart from chardonnay grown in most of California. Chablis is one of the most perfect wines to pair with fish and shellfish, particularly oysters.

Unfortunately for financially-challenged wine drinkers like myself, Chablis can get pretty pricey—expect to pay $20 and up for a decent bottle.

However, Petit Chablis offers a taste of the region for a more accessible price. Petit Chablis is a smaller AOC within the Chablis AOC, and the wines of Petit Chablis can easily be found in the $12–$15 range.

The other night I opened a bottle of Château de Maligny Petit Chablis 2005 ($15), which is a lovely example of what Chablis is all about: pale-straw colored with greenish glints, lean and racy, delicate flavors of lemon, apple, pineapple and flint. I served it with a very simple garlic shrimp pasta and some crusty bread. Wow.

Château de Maligny is owned by the Durup family, who have resided in the village of Maligny for 600 years. Jean Durup's great-grandfather tended the vines of the Château Maligny for 30 years at the end of the last century.

The wine sees no oak treatment. Instead, they use a combination of cement vats lined with fiberglass and stainless steel storage tanks. Their wines are given the minimum amount of processing to highlight the unique terrior of the vineyards.

Château de Maligny is imported by Parliament Wine Company and should be widely available. 2005 is shaping up to be an excellent vintage, and there is plenty of ’05 Chablis to be had.

Cancel your membership in the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club, put back the box of Franzia Chablis and try the real deal. You’ll be glad you did.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Few Thoughts

It’s been a week of tragic news from home and abroad, which makes me reticent to put words to the page about something as trivial as wine. But life must go on.

While the media outlets bombards us with news of the worst of humanity, reading the musings of my fellow wine bloggers reminds me of the simple pleasures that define my day-to-day life.

A long time ago, I decided that instead of dwelling on all that is wrong with my life and the world in general, I would focus on enjoying the here and now. That explains quite a bit about my keen appreciation of life’s simple pleasures: good wine, good food and good company.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Pollyanna. I have more than my share of gripes, nagging worries and real concerns. However, I’m always looking for those moments—no matter how brief—of pure happiness.

In a way, that’s what wine represents to me—whether it’s a glass shared with friends, a sublime pairing of wine and food or a special bottle opened in celebration. Sometimes happiness is merely a moment of quiet reflection at the end of a long day with a well-deserved glass in hand.

My parents will be in town visiting this weekend, which stirs a mix of emotions for me. I haven’t achieved much in the way of conventional success—the things most parents hope for their children. To them, my life probably seems wildly unpredictable and precarious...and it is.

I’m lucky, however, to have such amazing role models, who provided me with the tools and perspective to navigate a wildly unpredictable and precarious world.

So, this weekend I’ll be clinking glasses with my loved ones and counting my blessings. I hope you’ll be doing the same.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The New Phonebook's Here, The New Phonebook's Here!

“Things are going to start happening to me now.”

Let me tell you about my Navin R. Johnson moment. A couple weeks ago, in a moment of searching for some self-validation, I did a Google search for “Brim to the Dregs.” The result was this.

Of course, that recognition and five bucks will get me a cup of coffee. It’s still nice to know that if you go looking for my blog, it’s easy to find. It’s nicer to still to find Brim mentioned elsewhere on the Web. Many thanks to those of you who have linked to me or mentioned Brim in your own writings.

I write this blog for the enjoyment of others, so I want people to find it, like it and, hopefully, share it with their friends.

All this occurred to me when I received an e-mail the other day from Ken at Ala Wine informing me that Brim had debuted on his list of the top 100 wine blogs—at number 93. While I’ve seen the various “top” blog lists, I’ve never paid much attention to them, possibly because Brim never appeared on them.

Another reason I have never paid these lists any mind was that some bloggers seem to gauge their success based on such rankings. If being near the top of the list drives more traffic to your blog, then it’s a worthwhile measure; however, I suspect in many cases it’s more about ego-gratification (this coming from someone who knows a little about that subject).

It’s the wine-blog equivalent of having 5,000 MySpace friends. What is it really worth?

A quick look at the Ala list reveals some interesting rankings. The other day when I checked it, Fermentation, by Tom Wark, was number one; The Pour, by NY Times writer Eric Asimov, was number six. While I have the greatest respect for Fermentation, judging by the average number of comments on The Pour, I think that The Pour is much more widely read. More importantly, I’m willing to guess that The Pour has a higher percentage of readers who aren’t wine bloggers.

Let’s face it—a great deal of the people reading wine blogs also write one. Capturing the average wine drinker’s readership is, in my opinion, the Holy Grail of wine blogging.

When it comes to my own assessment of Brim’s success, I go strictly by comments. The more I get, especially from new readers, the better I feel about the quality of my content. When the comments stop coming, I start thinking of ways to improve.

One of these days I need to start tracking my page hits, but even then I’ll keep watching my comments. If I can write something that inspires my readers to take a minute of their precious time to leave a comment, then I know I’m doing something right.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #32

(Okay, so it's not Wednesday. I did the tasting in time, but the post didn't get written. I wanted to share anyway.)

While browsing the shelves in my local wine store recently, it occurred to me that Wine Blogging Wednesday #32 would be here before I knew it. I had a wine in mind for the theme of regular vs. reserve, but I thought, it will be hard to find a regular and a reserve in the same vintage.

It is my understanding that wineries typically release regular and reserve bottlings at different times and maybe in different years. Of course, when I looked at the wines I had in mind—they were the same vintage. Shows how much I know.

The wines I selected were:

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua 2004

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Colchagua 2004

Los Vascos is part of Domaines de Barons de Rothschilds (Lafite), which encompasses multiple wineries around the world. Los Vascos is one of the older foreign-owned wineries in Chile and one of the early advocates of advanced winemaking methods and vineyard management techniques.

Chile is one of the few countries that was never ravaged by the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800’s. The vines at Los Vascos are ungrafted, pre-phylloxera, Bordeaux rootstock. The vineyard is located in the Cañaten Valley in the Colchagua province of Chile.

I’ve had the regular Los Vascos Cabernet in the past and always considered it a good value, and I’ve been meaning to try the reserve cab to see how it compares. This is definitely a good example of the reserve being worth the price.

Translucent garnet in color, the regular bottling has aromas of fresh cherries and mint. The flavors are black cherry, vanilla and green pepper with soft tannins and a short finish. It’s a tasty quaff at a very reasonable price—around $8.

The difference in the reserve bottling is apparent in the opaque purple color and the complex aromas of plum, dried cherry, garique and cigar box. The more this wine sat in the glass, the more it opened up. The flavors are blackberry, black cherry, plum, cassis, mint and cedar with firm tannins and a lingering finish. This is a rich, deep, complex wine for not a lot of money—around $15.

On an interesting side note, I had a glass of each on the second night, and they both held up very nicely, the reserve especially. This makes me think that if you’re in the market for a reasonably priced cabernet for short term cellaring, the reserve would be a good choice.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Wanna Easter Egg! I Wanna Easter Egg!

I hope everyone had a joyous and safe Easter/Passover holiday. Or, if you don’t celebrate either, I hope you had a very nice spring weekend.

Unfortunately, I live quite far from my family, so going home to share a meal and spend some quality time is out of the question. My girlfriend and I both share this dilemma, as do many people. While it makes me sad to miss family gatherings, it’s also an opportunity to create new traditions and celebrate in my own way.

We decided to enjoy a nice relaxing day of food and wine to mark the holiday. Instead of braving the Sunday brunch crowds, we brunched at my home, also known as the Park Street Wine Bar (click here to view my favorite table).

The menu was Old Bay-chive crab cakes with red onion-red pepper-gala apple-basil salsa, rosemary roasted potatoes and spinach-feta-oregano-stuffed tomatoes. (Can you tell I’m excited about having fresh herbs to cook with?)

To go with our brunch, we popped a bottle of Paul Cheneau Brut Cava NV. It’s inexpensive enough ($8) that I didn’t feel guilty making mimosas with it, but still tasty enough to enjoy solo with our meal. It’s light and fresh with delicate flavors of apple and pear.

For dinner, we enjoyed a scrumptious lasagna, courtesy of E (my girlfriend, for any new readers). And since I must have Italian red wine with pasta, we enjoyed a glass of Di Majo Norante Aglianico del Molise “Contado” 2002. After a bit of decanting this wine opens up to display crushed blackberries, violets, smoke, spice and a bit of cedar. It’s real good: go forth and seek ye a bottle.

Lasagna for Easter, you ask? That’s what’s so much fun about creating new traditions—there are no rules.

If you're curious about the title of this post, the answer is here. If you spent way too much of your youth watching Saturday morning cartoons like me, you already know.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Twisting to the Oldies

While Brim is still in a bit of a holding pattern, it’s a great time to revisit previous postings. They may not be as good as Law & Order reruns, but there’s some interesting reading in the archives. Take for instance, this early posting about wine closures.

More and more of the wines I’m drinking are using screw caps and not just the whites anymore. Here are a few screw cap reds I’ve enjoyed recently:

Henry’s Drive Pillar Box Red Padthaway 2005
This is a full-throttle, high-alcohol Aussie fruit bomb. A blend of shiraz, cab and merlot, it's not great for food pairing, but it's a stunning bottle of wine all the same. ($10)

Bitch Grenache Barossa Valley 2005
An excellent bottle of Aussie grenache. It's deeply concentrated and lush, with flavors of black cherry, licorice, pepper and cinnamon. ($10)

Bodegas Lurton Malbec Argentina 2004
I've written previously about the reserve malbec from Bodegas Lurton. This is a nice, inexpensive malbec that makes a perfect hamburgers/pizza wine. Very fruit-forward at first, but the second day it was more balanced and subtle. Look for flavors of raspberry, plum and mint. ($6)

Wineries outside the U.S. seem to be moving faster towards screw caps, but I expect more California wineries will be using them for their inexpensive reds in the near future. Although I dearly love the sound of a cork being pulled, there’s no denying the screw cap is here to stay.

My only complaint about screw caps is that I'm always worried about slicing open my thumb while removing the lower part of the enclosure before I put the bottle in the recycling bin.

Am I the only one with this issue?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Miracle of the Grill

I’ve mentioned before that my cooking skills are hardly worth writing about. Sure, I can cook a few things pretty well, and I have some recipes that I could make in my sleep—chili for instance. But when I read cooking blogs and what other wine bloggers are whipping up in their kitchens, I feel woefully inadequate.

Take for instance, my inability to grill a steak. I’ve ruined more steaks than I care to talk about. What should really be a fairly easy task has eluded me for years.

So, when I picked up a package of New York strip steaks on Saturday, my girlfriend, E, gave me a concerned look. “You always get mad when you cook steaks,” was her comment.

Yes, it’s true. I have sulked through many a lousy steak dinner, berating myself for my ineptitude.

But, it’s been awhile since my last disaster and since we are headed into prime time grilling season, I thought it was time to try again. I felt certain that I could do justice to these pretty steaks—much like Charlie Brown must feel before he tries to kick the football again.

This time the grill sabotaged me. When I put the steaks on, it was immediately apparent the grill wasn’t hot enough. I looked at E with disbelief and shame.

There was no turning back, however. I re-started the grill and the flames leapt to the correct height. The poor steaks languished in grilling limbo. Ever so slowly, they started cooking.

And when it was all over, they were perfectly medium rare. Go figure.

I had rubbed them beforehand with coarsely ground black pepper and a bit of kosher salt, and finished them with a red wine-balsamic syrup and some crumbled feta. Along with the miracle steaks, we had roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

It was lovely to actually enjoy a steak dinner at my house. Making our dining experience even more wonderful was a bottle of d’Arenberg Shiraz-Viognier ‘The Laughing Magpie’ 2003.

Jeff Stai at Twisted Oak Winery recommended this wine to me. It is a big, serious wine that definitely needs decanting. The nose is a curious combination of blackberries and petroleum with a whiff of peaches. The flavors are dark and brooding: black fruit, tar, chocolate, coffee, cinnamon and pepper. Underneath all of that is just the slightest hint of peach, or maybe apricot. It’s very interesting to taste how red and white wine work together when blended.

The wine and food sang together in perfect harmony. The complex flavors of the meal were a perfect match for the complex wine.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring in the South

Besides my current technological difficulties, I now have to contend with another sinister force working to prevent me from blogging—gardening.

Every year about this time, I am faced with the uncontrollable urge to dig, plant, water and generally spend as much time as possible mucking around my yard. However, this year, I’ll need to balance my horticultural urges with my writing—which I have sworn not to neglect.

You might ask, what the hell does this have to do with wine?

Well, my gardening addiction and my wine obsession afflicted me at roughly the same period in my life. And, like many other wine zealots, I harbor fantasies of grape-growing and winemaking.

I suspect that there is some sort of correlation between an affinity for gardening and an appreciation of wine. After all, wine is (ideally) a very simple concoction comprised almost entirely of grape juice. What determines much of the difference between one wine and another is the type of grape (or grapes) used, where they are grown and how they are tended.

I’m certain this has led many a gardener to an interest in wine and vice versa. Of course, before the advent of supermarkets, interstate commerce and Yellow Tail, if you wanted wine, you planted some vines and made your own. Or, you traded with your neighbor who made wine.

Around ten years ago, when I was living in North Carolina, I became fixated on the idea of buying land, planting grapes and going into the winemaking business. (Incidentally, this would have been an excellent time to get into the blossoming N.C. wine industry.) All I was lacking was any experience growing grapes or making wine, and I was completely broke.

Inexperience and incompetence have never stopped me before, but the lack of funds was a bit of a roadblock. So, my field of dreams went unplanted, but every spring the dream of vineyard-ownership returns.

However, unless I happen to win the Powerball jackpot, I think I’ll be sticking to tomatoes. At least I’m getting better with those.

One step at a time.

On a side note—I have to thank Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 for informing me about Bacchanalia. While I enjoy hoisting a pint of Guinness to honor St. Patrick as much as the next person, in Columbia S.C., this holiday is celebrated by guzzling Bud Light out of 32 oz. cups while wearing green plastic beads. So, I spent the weekend honoring the spirit of Bacchus instead.

Of course, I do that most weekends anyway. At least this weekend I had a reason.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Communication Breakdown

Technology can be a blessing or curse.

At any rate, lack of technology is currently making me want to curse. I’ve been virtually without e-mail and subject to very limited Internet access as of late, which has brought my blogging to a screeching halt.

The situation will remedied very soon, just as soon as I decide between two equally unappealing options for high-speed Internet access. Choosing between the local cable monopoly and the local DSL provider is the equivalent of choosing whether to be shot or stabbed. Either way it’s not going to be pleasant.

The really unfortunate part of this frustrating process is that it caught me right in the midst of a burst of enthusiasm for making some upgrades to Brim. Look for some serious improvements when I finally get reconnected with the world.

Until then, eat, drink and be merry.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Endangered Species

Tucked away in the back of the December 2006 issue of The Atlantic is an interesting article on the future of independent wineshops. With larger retailers and chain stores narrowing the already small margins on retail wine sales, the fate of these smaller shops is certainly in question.

Being an aggressive price shopper when it comes to wine, I often wonder if I’m contributing to the extinction of these shops. The city I reside in has a good variety of choices when it comes to buying wine: Sam’s Club, Total Wine & More, Green’s Beverage Stores, well-stocked grocery stores and several small wineshops.

I’m not a Sam’s Club person, so I don’t shop there, although they have a good selection and the prices are competitive. The grocery stores rarely have wine that interests me and the prices aren’t very good in general; I occasionally find an amazing bottle for some ridiculous clearance price.

I do the bulk of my shopping at Total Wine or Green’s. Having two large retailers—Total is an East Coast chain and Green’s is a local chain with stores in South Carolina and Georgia—doing business in the same city has dropped wine prices through the floor. They both have great selections.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked for Green’s for three years, but I’m certainly not what you would call an advocate for the company. I do, however, have some trusted sources of information with Green’s, which makes my shopping experiences much easier.

Total is well-staffed with salespeople who have varying degrees of wine knowledge. I am aware when I shop there that the company’s marketing tactic is to hard-sell customers on private label wine with high margins, and they pressure their sales staff to push these wines under threat of dismissal. I shop there occasionally because they have a larger selection.

Unfortunately, this leaves small wine shops in a tough position. They have neither the buying power nor the volume of sales to compete with the big boys. When I see wines that I know I can buy for $3 less elsewhere, I just can’t bring myself to do it, no matter how much I enjoy the wine shop experience. So I buy an occasional bottle that I haven’t seen anywhere else, but still with the knowledge that I’m paying a higher mark-up.

The retail margin on wine is shockingly small—usually between 25% and 35%. Large retailers have trimmed the margins even further. While I’m glad that people still enjoy the wine shop experience enough to patronize those places, I still can’t bring myself to do it. My wine dollars are too precious.

If the margins are 10% lower in the big stores, that means for every case of wine I buy, I get a bottle for free. Green’s kicks in a 10% mixed-case discount, which is like getting another bottle for free.

It’s worth mentioning that although these small wine shops put real effort into personal service, I’ve never found any of them to be helpful enough to make me shop there. I’m sure there are well-heeled customers that are waited on hand and foot, but for a $10-a-bottle shopper like me they don’t seem very interested in building relationships.

I think this is what the success of small shops depends on—knowing your customers, what they drink and taking good care of them. Knowledge also plays a large part.

“Wineshop owners can not only tell you what Aglianico tastes like, they can also pour you a sample. They can tell you what to serve it with—and give you a recipe,” writes Corby Kummer in The Atlantic.

That’s the sort of experience that will keep wine shops alive. Larger cities are more likely to be able to support smaller, independent shops, but smart owners in smaller market can cash in on quirky selections and the personal service that stores like Costco and Total Wine cannot replicate.

Independent wineshops might look to the example of independent bookstores, which have faced the same threat from Borders and Barnes & Noble. Those bookstores that have survived have using innovative marketing practices combined with old-fashioned customer service to develop loyal customer bases.

Unfortunately, wine shops can’t pool their buying power like bookstores have done, because of the complex systems of distributorships and laws that control wine sales. However, independent wine shops should be eyeing ways to cooperate with each other.

I hope that independent wine shops can find a way to survive. Wandering around a quirky, cool wine shop is one of the great pleasures of life for a wino like me.

And if you want to try a bottle of aglianico, look for Di Majo Norante Contado 2002 or 2003. This is a stunning example of 100% aglianico. Try serving it with your favorite lasagna recipe.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Low-Budget Livin'

If you’re anything like me (for your sake, I hope you’re not), the old checking account looks pretty empty this time of year.

After that money-sucking vacuum known as the Holiday Season, post-holiday bills and Valentine’s Day, I find myself hopefully scanning the floor of my car for loose change. Factor in those unexpected bills that life throws at you, and what you have is a recipe for Ramen noodles and Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

Even Wine Bogging Wednesday #31 is themed around box wines. Although they broadened it slightly to include “non-traditional packaging,” it’s clear that I’m not the only one pondering how to reduce their wine budget.

However, I would sell a kidney before I would resort to drinking swill. It’s not that I’m a snob; it’s just that once your taste buds get acclimated to drinking good wines, there’s no going back.

So in the spirit of thrift, here is a short list of some my favorite bargain wines:

Hardys Nottage Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - Shiraz 2003$5.99
This is my current undisputed champ of good and cheap. Balanced and stylish, this rises way above most inexpensive Aussie red. Perfect for when you want something to drink and enjoy, without feeling the need to contemplate or savor every sip.

Trapiche Malbec Oak Cask Mendoza 2004 - $7.99
The last three vintages of this wine have been so consistently good that it’s earned a permanent place in my pantheon of everyday reds. The go-to wine for pizza, burgers and unexpected guests.

Columbia Crest Two Vines Shiraz 2003 - $4.79
Perhaps a little a too fruity for some people’s taste, but this is an amazing value for the money. It’s displays great varietal character, and the fruitiness goes great with spicy foods. The wines of Columbia Crest are some of the best values around.

Domaine de Pouy Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne 2005$5.99
Crisp and zingy, this a perennial favorite for summertime quaffing, but it also make a perfect match for shellfish, white fish or light chicken dishes in the winter. It’s a blend of ugni blanc (trebbiano) and colombard.

Smoking Loon Viognier California 2005$6.79
Think Sunday brunch and spicy crab cakes. Fat, juicy and delicious – this is the most reliable inexpensive viognier out there. Smoking Loon is part of the Sebastiani wine family.

If you want to spend a couple more dollars, here are two reds that will make you forget you’re drinking under $10 wine:

Terre Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2003$8.99
Lots of people have never even tasted a Sicilian wine. This one is complex without being over-powering – raspberry, cherry, spice and earth. And at $9 a bottle, you won’t feel bad about having it with take-out pizza and Sopranos re-runs.

Di Majo Norante Sangiovese Terre degli Osci 2005$8.99
Licorice and violets for $9 a bottle? Count me in. Inexpensive sangiovese can be really good or really bad; this is the former – deep, complex and wonderful. I will even go so far as to say that it gives one a glimpse of the amazing heights that sangiovese can achieve.

On a side note, both the Terre and the Di Majo Norante are Leonardo Locassio Selections from Winebow. I’ve had some excellent wines from this group lately, which I’ll write more about soon. Keep your eye out for that name on the back label.

These are obviously prices from my local retailers, but hopefully some of these are bargains where you live also. They all are widely distributed nationwide.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day Recap

Call me a cynic, but Valentine’s Day has gotten way out of control. I won’t bore you with my rant on the over-commercialization of this once sweet-and-simple holiday, but let’s just say that I was not one of those rose-buying, dinner-reservation-searching, last-minute-shopping-in-desperation men.

Actually, I spent a large portion of yesterday making arrangements to acquire a new water heater and have it installed, as my old one had ruptured during the night. Not only did I accomplish this mission, I also had time left over to prepare a wonderful Valentine’s Day feast for my sweetheart, Ms. E.

The menu was pretty simple. I grilled a couple of marinated tuna steaks and paired them with my roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The tuna was a perfect medium rare; the potatoes were creamy and delicious; and the spinach was pretty good considering I can’t cook vegetables to save my life.

My other nod to V-Day is always some really good wine. This year we started out with Roederer Estate Brut Rosé NV, which is always lovely and was a perfect match to the meal.

We moved on to Cellers Scala Dei Cartoixa Reserva 2000 (goes well with dark chocolate), which is from Priorat in Spain. I love the wines from this region, and this wine is a perfect example of why.

It’s a blend of 48% cabernet sauvignon, 47% garnacha and 5% syrah. It’s also round and full-bodied with lots of dark fruit, nuances of chocolate and spice, and a long, silky finish. While it normally retails for around $30 a bottle, a friend in the business got me some at $10 a bottle.

Why? Because the distributor was getting rid of it.

I’m certain that most people who looked at it either didn’t know what it was or thought they could never sell it. Oh well, their loss is my gain.

So I have three pieces of post V-Day advice:

1.) Never buy roses for Valentine’s Day.
2.) If you haven’t already discovered the wines of Priorat, start now.
3.) Try marinating tuna steaks in Stubb’s Pork Marinade (trust me, it’s good).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #30

Wine Blogging Wednesday is turning out to be a dangerous thing for me.

Normally, I drink bargain wines. I religiously stay under $15 and whenever possible under $10. I’m not afraid to admit it—I’m poor.

While others were working hard to improve their station in life and raise their income levels, I was…hmm…well, I can’t seem to remember, but apparently my attention was focused elsewhere.

So, I drink inexpensive wine (not to be confused with cheap plonk). No big deal. But then WBW comes along and gives me a reason to splurge for the occasional bottle of something nice.

The utility bill will just have to wait.

Tim Elliot of Winecast is our distinguished host for this round, and the topic is New World syrah. This is an easy topic to accommodate because it seems syrah is the “It” grape for winemakers from Washington State to Australia and everywhere in between.

I selected Luca Winery 2004 Syrah Altos de Mendoza ($30), which was recommended to me by a trusted source. The 2004 vintage is a blend of 85% syrah and 15% malbec. 800 cases were produced, and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

If you find yourself with an extra 30 bucks, go buy a bottle. You won’t regret it.

I decanted it for 45 minutes or so before pouring on the advice of the aforementioned trusted source. In the decanter, the color was an inky purple and the aromas drifting out were all black fruit: blackberry, plum and blueberry.

Once in my glass, the nose had opened up to include vanilla, eucalyptus and tar. The first sip was a silky mouthful of blackberry, plum, vanilla, tea, earth, tar, cola and licorice. Not necessarily in that order.

This is a serious bottle of syrah. The longer I sipped and swirled, the more layers of flavor and smell I discovered. If you have the opportunity to drink this wine, do so very slowly. You will be rewarded.

Laura Catena, of the well-known Argentine winemaking family, is the proprietor of Luca Winery. Named after her first son, the winery focuses on making small-production wine from low-yield, high-elevation vineyards in Mendoza. The average vineyard elevation for this wine was 3,020 feet.

The Catena name is synonymous with quality in Argentina. Nicolás Catena, Laura’s father, produces some of Argentina’s most highly respected wines, along with the Alamos brand, which is priced for poor souls like myself.

After tasting this wine, I may have to spring for a bottle of some of the family’s other wines. It certainly left no doubt in my mind that the wines currently coming out of Argentina, syrah and otherwise, can lay legitimate claim to being among the world’s best.

Not to mention, they are still a relative value. Although $30 is a bit steep for my thin wallet, a wine of this quality would run you twice as much (or more) if Napa or Hermitage was on the label.

So...don't cry for me, I'm drinking Argentina.

I just couldn't pass that up.