Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Notes on a Wine Shop

I stopped into a little wine shop today. Much like my father is unable to pass up a used bookstore, I am unable to pass by a wine shop without stopping to browse.

I’ve written previously about a somewhat recent trend in wine shops: smaller selection, wines arranged by style and a hand-sell approach to staffing. This place was called “Corked.”

That’s right – Corked.

Okay, so they chose the commonly used term for a bad bottle of wine as the name for a wine shop. Strike one.

It’s the same basic layout I’ve seen elsewhere, with wines lined up on opposite walls and not much of a selection. They had maybe 60 or so wines to choose from.

It’s not unusual to have a selection like that at our house. Strike two.

It was a good-looking store, and the prices certainly reflected the décor. Most of the wines were easily $3-$5 more than I would pay elsewhere, more in some cases. But, it’s catering to upscale clients. Fine.

I didn’t want to leave without buying something – the place was empty less than 10 days before Christmas. Not good. They happened to have one of my very favorite, inexpensive white Burgundies, Caves de Lugny Mâcon-Lugny “Les Charmes.” It wasn’t a terrible deal, so I grabbed a bottle.

The guy running the place looked at my selection and said, “Ah, you got the may-kin.”

You know, like the city in Georgia. Strike three.

All I could think was for the money they spent on that place I could have opened a great, cool wine shop with a larger, diverse, quirky selection. And my French pronunciations would be much better.

And if I can top you at that, you’re in bad shape.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Food Wimps

Kristian Niemi is a restaurateur and the proprietor of Gervais & Vine, a wine and tapas bar in Columbia, S.C. He's also a veritable reference guide to food, wine and common sense. Gervine, as it's fondly referred to, will always hold a special place in my culinary pantheon.

The following is an excerpt from one of Kristian's weekly Gervine e-mail updates. I hope this will be the first of many contributions from him.

A curious thing happened the other day. It’s happened before, but since this time triggered a childhood memory, I figured I’d get my thoughts on it out in the open.

When I was kid (I guess I kind of still am a kid…at heart, at least), my cousin Bill and I would raid our grandma’s fridge in a quest to put together the most bizarre combinations of food, then the other would have to eat it…and you couldn’t chicken out. Spaghetti noodles and blueberries? Not bad. Roast beef with strawberry jam? Also, not bad. Lemon meringue pie with chicken gravy? Not good. Not good at all.

However, no matter how bad it was, we tried it. It didn’t kill us and most of the time it taught us that sometimes the least likely combinations actually work quite well together. It also taught us that if something truly tastes bad, you can just spit it out.

What nudged this long-dormant memory to life? Well, I’m not going to name names, since I don’t know it anyway, but let’s just say we had a modern day John Wayne in here the other day and for all his roughness and toughness, the guy was a bit of a wussy when it came to food. His lady friend had ordered what I considered one of the best items on the menu and he simply refused to try it.

No matter HOW good she claimed it was AND that she knew he liked both of the ingredients, he simply wouldn’t even put any in his mouth. The logic of “you like this ingredient” and “you like that ingredient” didn’t even work. This was a guy who looked like he would rush into a burning building, reach into a badger hole or wrestle a bear---afraid of nothing…except food.

The food in question, by the way, was the utterly delicious Duck and Cherry Meatballs that Chef Jason made for the Rosso event the other night at Coplon’s. Ground duck meat, sage, garlic and seasonings studded with sun-dried cherries in a meatball? To me, that’s food nirvana. Like a Reese’s…two great tastes that go great together!

Why do I bring it up? I’m not really sure I have a deep, poignant answer to that question except that like the old adage goes, “life is short.” Experience everything you can at least once. If you don’t like it…fine…spit it out…in a napkin, please. But if you don’t try it, you may be missing out on something that could make your life so much richer, even if it’s something as small and inconsequential as a duck meatball.

Heck, a lot of my happily married friends will admit that they never thought they’d end up with their significant others, but since they took a chance and simply “tried them out” (not in the dirty way…gutter minds), their lives are much better. On the other hand, a lot of my friends have “spit out” their former spouses, so my analogy is pretty darn appropriate, eh?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Palate Fatigue

When it comes to red wine, my palate has been feeling a little weary. I drink a pretty wide variety of wine in general, and I enjoy them all for what they are. However, the red wines I've had lately seem to be merging towards one ideal: fat, plush, fruity...Parker wines.

I went to Total Wine and More the other day shopping for sparkling wines. While I was there, I went in search of something a little different – a red to snap me out of my routine. E was baking a goat cheese and prosciutto strata for dinner, and I wanted a red that wouldn’t overpower it.

I found it in Jean-Claude Bougrier Chinon Domaine De La Semellerie 2006.

This Chinon (cabernet franc is the grape) is bright and focused with lean cherry, herb and anise flavors with just a bit of earthy-ness. It was also well-balanced and very subdued, in the most pleasant of ways.

It was just what I needed. Enotheque has a very nice write up of the 2005 vintage, which is very enlightening.

Speaking of keeping one’s palate amused, I do tend to seek out bolder flavors in my food and drinks. I’ve satisfying my thirst for beer lately with Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, originally a limited release from the Texas brewery. It’s as dark as advertised with flavors of coffee and cocoa without getting overbearing and a nice nip of hops. I’m no beer connoisseur, but it’s pretty good in my book.

Our beers stores in South Carolina are loaded with new selections, as the local law keeping out craft brews has been changed. Old Brown Dog Ale from Smuttynose Brewing Company (New Hampshire) is another excellent brew I’ve been enjoying. I love brown ale and it’s nice to find something other then my usual English selections.

The Chinon was a great match for the strata, but I thought the other wine we sampled with our meal stole the show, Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé. The Bouillot absolutely sang with the strata and our apple-bleu cheese salads. It's light and elegant, with notes of cherry, strawberry and fresh bread. It reminded me to serve more sparkling wines with our meals.

It’s good to mix it up.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Abandoned Blog

What happened?

There’s nothing so frustrating as a deserted blog. I watched it happen to some of my favorite blogs, and it always made me wonder what was going on with the writer and if they would be back. Now it’s my blog that’s abandoned.

The truth is that, besides being overwhelmed with other responsibilities, I suffered a crisis of confidence about writing Brim. The truth is that there are much more knowledgeable, interesting and prolific wine bloggers out there.

What makes Brim worth reading?

I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I started blogging. Like most of my endeavors, I made it up as I went along. I developed some wonderful and loyal readers (who I greatly appreciate), but my overall traffic was always pretty low.

After being silent for so long, I've been struggling with how to start over. I guess the only thing to do is just start writing again.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Happy Birthday

Our boy is one year old today.

It was an odd string of events that brought him to our home, and it’s been quite an adventure ever since. I had forgotten the energy a young dog can bring into your life. Having Hogan has shaken up our routine in some very good ways.

It’s also been a lot of work and more than once I’ve been ready to wring his furry little neck. He’s grown into a nice young dog, but he’s the canine version of a male teenager. Need I say more?

What he needs more than anything right now is my time—the same time I need to write this blog. In the contest of dog versus blog, the dog wins every time. I’m still writing posts in my head, but they rarely make it to the computer.

I could go on and on about everything my dogs bring to my life, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll just ask those of you who share their life with a dog, cat, horse or other animal companion to give them some extra love today in honor of Hogan’s big day.

He'd like that.

Friday, April 04, 2008

An Educated Palate

It’s finally happened. I’ve become a coffee snob.

For a long time, I’ve avoided the worst of coffee: gas station sludge, office coffee and junk food java. But, beyond that, I was happy with most whole bean coffee, freshly ground and brewed in my French press.

Lately I’ve been very particular about my beans — to the point where I’ve tossed a couple of half-full bags because they didn’t measure up. Actually, they ended up in the compost pile; the worms aren’t picky.

It made me laugh when I realized it. I’ve gone the same route with wine and food. There was a day when a bottle of white zinfandel and store-bought spaghetti sauce was just fine. I’m not at the apex of food and wine appreciation, but I’m getting closer.

My palate seems to prefer big flavors: intense red wines, bold coffees and rich spices. I sometimes worry that I’m bludgeoning my taste buds. My cooking is not for the weak of heart—or anyone that doesn’t like garlic.

Although I definitely have my preferences, I enjoy tasting all sorts of things. Even if I don’t care for it, I want to know how it tastes. I think your palate needs to be stretched and exercised, just like your body and mind.

The artificial flavor of over-processed food and wine is what I really object to these days. I have a low tolerance for things that taste like they came from a factory. Not that I don’t get tempted by junk food and the like...I do.

But when I indulge, it’s never as good as I imagined. My memories of some old favorites don’t match the reality.

I’m experiencing the same thing with some inexpensive wines I used to like just fine. When I revisit them, I find myself wondering if there is something else I could open.

Although I’m aware that some people go through life liking the exact same things they’ve always liked, I’m glad my tastes have evolved over the years. I'm glad Captain Morgan and Coke isn’t my favorite drink anymore.

It does make life a little more expensive sometimes. I used to buy a bargain brand coffee that was (I thought) really good. This morning I ground up the rest of the bag and tossed it out for the worms.

I guess that’s what I get for educating my palate.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Hard-Working Chicken - The Whole Story

The economy is bad. Prices on gas, milk, orange juice and a decent bottle of grower-produced Champagne are skyrocketing. Desperate times call for drastic measures.

It's time to get to work.

This fine country was founded by hard-working folks and I'm not going to be the one to let our reputation slip. With that in mind, I headed off to my freelance fundraising gig. It's a pretty sweet deal: lots of fresh air, meeting new people and good times shared with my fellow freelancers.

Since Twisted Oak Winery was proclaiming the week, Take Your Rubber Chicken to Work Week, I brought along "Soup," my Twisted Chicken, and of course, I brought along P-Nut, my trusted canine sidekick--in case any other freelancers try to move in on my block.

Well, it seems the Twisted Crew liked the pictures I sent of our day. They even selected me as a finalist in their photo contest. I'm not saying you should vote for me, but you should.

Unfortunately, the picture they posted was only one of three that I sent, and it might reflect badly on my work ethic. In the interest of fairness, I think my readers deserve to see the whole story.

We've just gotten set up in this one. I'm checking out the scene. Traffic looks slow. Not good.

You have to work it for the crowd. This business is all about style. 
"Hey Brother! Can you spare a few bucks for a bottle of Tanner Vineyard Syrah?"

*@#$! cheapskates!

Well, that's it. It wasn't our best day ever, but we had lots of fun.

Don't forget to vote for me.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Green Wine on the Web

Trolling around the Web, I've found some interesting items related to earth-friendly wine consumption that I wanted to share.

Mike Dunne of the The Sacramento Bee has this article concerning what some winemakers are doing to be more environmentally conscious.

On the other side of the world, Darby Higgs of Vinodiversity and Albarino to Zinfandel has this lens on Squidoo about reusable wine bottles.

A new Brim reader, Sean, told me about Glunz Family Winery, outside of Chicago. Glunz sells most of their wines in refillable one-liter swing top bottles. They give a one-dollar discount on the next purchase when the bottle is returned.

It's wonderful to see so much interest in ways that wine drinkers and winemakers can be more environmentally responsible.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Local Wines

My last post has me thinking about local wines. I’m a great proponent of local wines, which can vary widely depending on where you live.

If you live in Washington State, Oregon, California or New York, you probably have a good selection of wineries that are “local.” If you live in Florida (and don’t have an affection for muscadine wine), your options are much more limited. Even states with newly blooming wine industries don’t offer the same quality of vitis vinifera wines as states with a long history of wine production.

I am thrilled, however, by the proliferation of wineries across the country. Appellation America provides a wealth of information about wineries in your area and nationwide, along with the ability to buy many of them.

The rise of local wineries no doubt leads many wine lovers (like myself) to dream about planting their own vines and making Chateau John. A while back, I stumbled across a great blog, Vine Stress, which chronicles the day-to-day work of starting a commercial vineyard in Missouri. It’s a fascinating look into local wine production and a must-read for anyone who is thinking about planting some vines.

My hat's off to Dave, Vine Stress’ author, and all the other fine folks in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and the other “non-traditional” wine states who are busting their hump to make Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a nation rich in vineyards and great wines a reality.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Red, White or Green?

Green is the word of the moment.

Like many people, I’m trying to be more aware of where the products I buy come from and purchase more items locally — or as locally as possible. I even found a company in Montana, West Paw Designs, that makes all kinds of cool stuff for my dogs. No more “Made in China” for the pups.

Unfortunately, finding local goods can be challenging, as well as expensive. While I’m doing my best to re-think my food purchases and examining labels a little more closely, wine presents a bit of a dilemma.

Those of you who live in California Wine Country have a distinct advantage when it comes to buying local wine. I would love to be able to visit so many great wineries and purchase my wine there, or at least know my wine didn’t have to travel far.

Since it’s a bit of a haul from South Carolina to California, that’s not really an option. I could still buy California wine on the premise that it’s closer than some of the other places that produce the wines I enjoy.

That brings up the issue of cost. I drink very little California wine, simply because it costs significantly more than wines of comparable quality from elsewhere. Even the once super-affordable zinfandel is climbing towards $20 a bottle for decent juice. When there are so many great wines coming from Spain, Italy and South America in the $8-$12 range, I have a hard time justifying the higher cost of California wines.

Plus, I'm poor (and cheap).

The East Coast is certainly producing great wines and production is increasing every year. From Massachusetts and New York to Virginia and North Carolina, new wineries are popping up and existing wineries are coming into their own as national players.

South Carolina, as with many things, is far behind the curve.

Thanks to bickering between the states and archaic alcohol laws, I can get all the California wine I want, but North Carolina and Virginia wines are difficult to find. I have been able to find some of the wines I love, especially the wines of Horton Vineyards, but I'd like a larger selection.

I’m aware that most retailers shy away from East Coast wines because there isn’t much of a demand, at least around here. I hope that as people become more aware of the energy it takes to move your beloved vino from the winery to your table, buying local will become more of a priority.

I also hope the less-than-enlightened politicians (yes, I’m talking to you, S.C. politicians) realize that grape growing and winemaking are a big asset for the local economy. One look at the success New York or Virginia has had is enough to convince anyone that a local wine industry attracts tourism, creates jobs and (if done right) has a relatively low environmental impact.

It's also up to wine drinkers to discover, drink and promote local wines, whether they live in Napa or Missouri. Wine lovers are frequently the people who search out local produce, and then enjoy their meal with a French wine that has travled more than 4,000 miles.  

In future posts, I hope to dig a little deeper into ways I can reduce the impact my wine consumption has on the environment. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to start making an occasional trip up to North Carolina to stock up on some local wine.

I’d really rather save the gas and spend my money at home, but you got to do what you got to do. As a wise frog once said, “It ain’t easy bein' green.”

Just for fun, here's a sample of how far some of the wines in my collection might have traveled:

Southeastern Australia - 10,197 miles

Buenos Aires, Argentina - 4,923 miles

Paris, France - 4,226 miles

Madrid, Spain - 4,148 miles

Twisted Oak Winery, Vallecito, California - 2,645 miles

Horton Vineyards, Gordonsville, Virginia - 422 miles

Westbend Vineyards, Lewisville, North Carolina - 175 miles

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Dog Ate My Blog

For anyone who has been wondering what happened to me, the answer is pictured above.

The moments of my life that had been carved out for writing are now spent at the park or walking my neighborhood. My wine choice is now frequently based on the question, what wine goes with a slobbery tennis ball?

I have enjoyed some wonderful wines lately, although I don't remember all of them quite clearly because I was focused on the canine missile careening through my house. My comments have gone from, "This has some lovely blueberry notes" to "Hey! Put down that plant!"

Actually, Hogan is a pretty good boy, but he is high-maintenance. In fact, instead of sitting here typing, I should be running him around the park, but he's having a still moment so I'll take advantage of it to knock out a few lines.

At least my wine is well-guarded. Having Hogan on duty gives my other guard dog more time to sleep. At least someone is getting more sleep. Lucky dog.