Thursday, January 22, 2009

Enjoy Yourself

One of the reasons I write this blog is to provide some representation for Southern wine lovers. There aren’t many Southern wine bloggers, and wine appreciation probably isn’t the first thing people associate with Southerners.

I’ve met some great wine people during my years in North Carolina and South Carolina, and not surprisingly they’ve been more than generous in sharing their stash.

That’s just one of the things that have captivated me about living here — the generosity of spirit and deed. People go out of their way to do kind things for you. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen everywhere, but it happens all the time here.

Along with that generous spirit is a keen appreciation of enjoying life. If you hang out with generous people who like to have fun, a good time is sure to follow.

Living in the South has certainly taught me to loosen up and enjoy life. My recreation mentors have been many, and the lessons are now fond memories.

A couple readers commented on this post, which included my recipe for a Carolina Liquor Drink (CLD). It’s simple: vodka, cranberry juice, lime and ice, but that’s not all it is. In some ways it represents certain things I love about the South: generosity, indulgence and unrestrained celebration.

I’m happy to share this simple concoction. Make sure you use good ingredients. And use lots of vodka – that’s the point of a cocktail, right?

To be honest, you can change the ingredients to suit your taste. What’s important is the big plastic cup, a heavy pour of liquor and having a giant cocktail when you probably shouldn’t be.

I recommend serving them at about 10 in the morning with the best of friends, while sitting around a smoking grill.

Have fun. You only get to go once.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Big Day

I didn’t intend to get caught up in the inauguration hoopla, but I did. There have been so many down moments for our nation lately; it’s nice to savor a good moment.

I sheepishly admit to being politically apathetic. It’s not that I don’t care about the issues involved, because I do. It’s the nature of politics and (some) politicians that I detest. However, since no one has come up with a better system, it’s a necessary evil.

While our government has a tendency to muck things up and give us a bad name, we (the ordinary people who finance the muck-ups) are a pretty good bunch. I see the good and the bad of this country, but I still think there’s no better place to be.

So, today I raise my glass to my country and our new president – may both prosper in the years ahead.

I just happened to have the perfect bottle to toast with – Gruet Methode Champenoise Brut NV. Drinking an American wine seems essential, and I like that this one comes from an unlikely location – New Mexico. It’s also a bargain at $13 (more or less depending on where you find it), which is nice during lean times.

American sparkling wine made by a French family in New Mexico…yeah, it’s just right.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Cooking

It’s a typical winter day in South Carolina – mildly chilly and rainy. Just the kind of day that lends itself to nesting.

I’ve been parked in the kitchen, doing some foundation cooking to help keep us fed. The colder weather makes me want comfort food, so I’m straying from my efforts to lower my cholesterol.

E requested some pimento cheese, and I’ve found the best recipe in the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. It's an excellent reference guide to Southern cooking.

For lunch, we heated up some leftover barbecue (the noun, as opposed to the verb). Here's one of my 'cue recipes. Barbecue sandwiches require coleslaw, so I knocked out a batch of that as well.

We use a fair amount of pulled chicken, so I spiced a couple of bone-in breasts and popped them in the oven early today, along with the red bell pepper I needed for the pimento cheese. The hot oven warms up a chilly house nicely.

I’m really trying to diversify my wine selections, so I opened Chono Riesling Reserva Bio Bio Valley 2006 with lunch. Riesling from Chile? Oh, yes.

It makes a perfect match to ‘cue and slaw (which addresses another thing on the ’09 list). The Chono is dry and juicy, with melon, peach and petrol wrapped up in tight little mouthful of wine.

Tonight, E takes over the kitchen to make potato soup, in an effort to further increase said cholesterol.

No worries, though. I’ll be drinking some red wine to counterbalance things.

Pimento Cheese from Lee Bros. Southern Cooking

1 red bell pepper
8 ounces finely grated very sharp cheddar cheese
2 ounces cream cheese, softened in small pieces
3 tablespoons Duke’s or high-quality mayonnaise
1 teaspoon or more red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast red pepper and reserve any juices. Chop roasted pepper, and mix with juices and other ingredients. Enjoy.

Feel free to experiment with cheeses. I’ve had all sorts of variations; it’s all good.

The Tao of Coleslaw

Coleslaw isn’t about a recipe; it’s about harmony.

The heart of coleslaw is chopped cabbage. I like the purple, but use what works for you. Chop it rough or fine. Use a food processor, grater or big knife.

To add variety, I might use any or all of the following: red bell pepper, onion, carrot, and apple. Improvise as desired.

The zing is what brings it to life. Start with a healthy splash of your favorite vinegar and some citrus. Today I used Vinagre de Jerez and the juice of half a lime. Any vinegar works fine and ditto with lemon or orange juice, etc. I added a splash of soy sauce for some additional complexity. A dash of hot sauce is always an option.

This is the soul of your slaw. You can make it richer or thinner, depending on how you like it. I use Duke’s mayonnaise and good prepared mustard. Yogurt and sour cream also work.

Add spices last. Celery seed is a must. I’ve used all sorts of things, so feel free to experiment. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like to add a bit of dill relish as well.

Toss the veggies. Make your sauce by combining zing, creaminess and spices until it tastes the way you want it. Mix well. Enjoy it quickly.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Looking Back...and Forward

Today I received an e-mail telling me that Kevin Zraly is following me on Twitter. I don’t know Kevin, but I certainly know who he is.

Back in 1995, I took a job as the manager of a wine shop that was in the process of opening. The owner was in the jewelry business and decided to open a wine shop just for the heck of it.

Now, I’m not saying this guy didn’t know a whole lot about wine, but he was constantly asking me, “Merlot is basically a blend, right?”

He tapped me as his go-to guy for wine knowledge, even though I knew practically nothing. One of my greatest talents is creating the impression (illusion?) of knowing something useful.

I did, however, have a copy of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, which had been a gift from one of my brothers. That book, along with Wine for Dummies, served as my guide to the very confusing world of wine for many years.

I’m sorry to say I lost that book along life’s path; I’m usually pretty obsessive about holding on to books. As someone who came of age pre-Internet, I’m accustomed to looking for information in books. Sometimes I actually forget that I can look something up online…sometimes I’d just rather not.

I was reminded of all this by seeing Kevin’s name pop up in my inbox. My mind wandered back to my experiences in the wine business. I’ve worked for two wine stores and have come close to taking several jobs in the distributing business.

So, why am I working in a fabric box doing corporate marketing, instead of selling wine?

The answer is complicated. Most importantly, I’m actually not much of a salesperson. I can do pretty well in retail sales, but I’d never cut it in outside sales.

I love wine, and I like to talk about wine, but that seems to be increasingly irrelevant in the distribution business. When I talk to my friends in the business, they seem unsure about what their future holds. Like so many businesses, selling wine frequently has little to do with the actual juice.

So, where does that leave someone like me, who would like to work in a business they’re passionate about, but isn’t sure where in that business they would fit?

I still harbor fantasies about opening a little wine shop somewhere, but in a world of Costco, Trader Joe’s and Total Wine & More that seems unlikely at best. And, short of a Powerball jackpot, I could never come up with the necessary capital.

I’ve considered moving somewhere wine is produced. The West Coast is out due to family and budget considerations, but there are more and more wineries opening in North Carolina and Virginia. I don’t know anything about making wine, but maybe there’s a living to be made helping those wineries market themselves.

(Yes, I still dream of being a winemaker, but that also falls in the not-unless-I-win-the-Powerball category.)

Writing about wine is, of course, something I consider, but writing about anything is a dicey way to pay the bills. Blogging is a way of dipping my toe in those waters. So far, the water is ice cold.

We’ll see what the future holds for me. In any case, thanks Kevin — for following me, for the knowledge you shared, for a trip down memory lane and for making me consider the future.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #53

It’s been a long time since I joined in Wine Blogging Wednesday. Leave it to Jeff Stai (aka El Jefe) from Twisted Oak Winery to come up with a theme that could draw me back in.

It’s Wine for Breakfast! Granted, when we drink wine for breakfast it’s usually bubbly, which was verboten (I always follow the rules). The other times we find ourselves craving something high-octane in the morning, we typically favor a Carolina Liquor Drink (CLD).

However, I had no problem picking a wine for this subject. One of my favorite dining experiences has been brunch at Motor Supply Company Bistro. Although we haven’t done it lately, I’m forever grateful to them for adding Torbreck Woodcutter's Semillon to their wine list.

It’s the perfect breakfast wine.

I enjoy traditional breakfast food as much as the next person, but I also love something a little more substantial.

So, to celebrate our breakfast wine, I made my crab cakes, and in place of hash browns, I made very simple roasted potatoes. To dress things up a bit, I added a roasted red pepper sauce, which was excellent with both the cakes and the taters.

The Torbreck Semillon is just the right thing with this meal. It’s busting with aromas of pineapple, lemon and melon. The flavors are more of the same with a hint of coriander and a nice touch of minerals, framed by bracing acidity.

In other words, it’s freakin’ good…breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Thanks to Jeff for being our host, and thanks to the founding father of WBW, Lenn.

Thanks also to Kat and Eli (from Green's Beverages), who procured this bottle just in time, and to Danielle, who works for Grassroots Wine Wholesalers - the fine folks who bring Torbreck into South Carolina.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #53 - Torbreck Woodcutter’s Semillon Barossa Valley 2007

Roasted red pepper sauce ala John:

1 roasted red pepper
1 clove of garlic
About ¼ cup plain yogurt
2-ish tablespoons olive oil
Healthy splash of sherry vinegar
Pinch of cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend. Heat gently. Consume.

Carolina Liquor Drink*:

Start with a Solo cup (16 oz.) filled with ice cubes. Add vodka to your heart’s content (about 1/3 cup). Top with good cranberry juice and a big, ole lime wedge.

*I don’t advise having more than one, although you may want to. If you’re so inclined, hide the car keys and enjoy your day! What you remember anyway….

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Wine (and Love) Story

Back in the days when I was selling wine, a friend of a friend came to see me about a wine tasting party for her boyfriend.

We decided to compare varietals from different parts of the world as a theme. For syrah, I picked out an Australian shiraz and a French syrah to match up. The Aussie was Piping Shrike Shiraz 2001 and the Frenchie was Mas de Aveylans Syrah VDP du Gard 2002.

Both good wines to be sure. The Aveylans, however, blew the Shrike away in terms of complexity – in my humble opinion. That particular vintage really sticks out in my mind…it was inky dark and layered with black fruit, tar, herbs and a hundred other aromas and flavors. Every sniff and sip was a new discovery.

But, to each their own, right?

The next time I saw her, she thanked me for my help and raved about the Aveylans. Her guests had preferred the Shrike, but she went for the more complex wine.

Fast-forward several months, and the boyfriend was gone. We ran into each other at our mutual friend’s house, and we found that we had lots in common, besides wine.

Fast-forward again several years, and that girl is now my wife. We were married over the summer (during my blogging hiatus), in the house that we now share. Our mutual friend performed the very private ceremony. (Thanks, P. We owe you so much.)

For those of you who have been following me, the girl of which I speak is, of course, the amazing E.

A picture is truly worth a thousand words.

(photo by Graeme Fouste)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Am I a Twit?

Don’t answer that.

However, you can now follow me on Twitter. Why would you? Good question.

I’ll try to keep my updates related to wine, at least as much as BTTD is about wine. I drink a ridiculous amount of good wines (apologies to my liver) and many of them never get blogged about. So, I’ll keep you abreast of what I’m up to on a daily basis, not just wine but good beers, great food and my increasingly diverse coffee selections.

One of the reasons I follow other bloggers is to look for suggestions on new wines, etc. If you’re one of the fine folks in my blog list, you can bet I rely on you for suggestions.

I have to laugh about the Twitter thing, because I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of things.

I came late to blogging. I don’t have a Facebook page. I never did MySpace. I don’t have a Blackberry or an iPhone. Hell, I don’t even text.

For the last three years, I haven’t had a television. Best decision I ever made.

So, why Twitter? Well, it’s partly to remind me to pay more attention to BTTD. It’s also another way to keep tabs on what other bloggers are up to.

We’ll see. Look to the left for the link and follow me. It just might give you the wine suggestion you desperately need.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Much-Maligned Merlot

I delight in drinking what's not popular. I got the biggest kick out of running into a co-worker at a wine tasting who was scouting pinot noirs (at the height of the Sideways craze). She recoiled when I mentioned a great merlot I had just tasted.

I've done this rant before, but it's worth repeating.

The anti-merlot backlash has faded, but I think it still doesn't get its due. Sure, there are a lot of less than inspiring merlots out there, but the same can be said for any popular varietal. Syrah is probably on its way to over-saturation...if it isn't already there.

So, I look for merlot when I'm shopping, hoping to discover what others have overlooked. I've had an older vintage of Hope Estate Merlot that impressed me, so when I saw a bottle of the 2005 vintage, I grabbed it

What a great choice. This is serious merlot. It has wonderful depth with flavors of plum, cherry, chocolate and a nice bit of herb. Even though it's a warm-climate merlot, it's got amazing structure and a firm backbone of acidity. Well done.

I have to admit I've been off Aussie wines lately. There are so many over-done, fruit bombs crowding the market lately. This is not one.

Hope Estate produces some excellent wines in a more balanced style. Their verdelho is not to be missed.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009 Checklist

As many of you are doing (or deliberately not doing, as the case may be), I'm thinking of what I hope to accomplish in 2009. 

So, here are my wine goals for '09:

Share the Bounty
I often wonder if some of our neighbors look at our recycling bin with envy. (I've actually done this myself with other people's bins.) We drink a ridiculous amount of good wine, and we should enjoy more of it with friends. Wine is such a social beverage. I'm not saying I'm going to start a wine group, but I need to cultivate some more people to share my wine stash with.

Break from the Pack
I enjoy being different. I like not drinking what everyone else is drinking. I never jumped on the pinot noir bandwagon, and I never dissed merlot. I'll admit that I drink my share of Parker-esque wines, but I'm always looking to go in new directions. I need to find a path less-traveled in the new year.

Find my Voice
2008 was a bleak year for Brim. I need to get back to writing and decide what this blog is all about -- 11 posts in a year is not acceptable.

Beat the Heat
The $75,000 question at my house is: what wine goes with Vindaloo? or garam masala? or my never-the-same-twice chili? I love spicy food, and finding the right wines to match up is quite a challenge. It's time for some research.

They may not be lofty goals, but they're mine. Thanks go to Dr. Debs and Sonadora for inspiring me to write them down. Feel free to add your own in the comments.