Sunday, April 26, 2009

The other night I went to a wine tasting. This wasn't a tasting a casual tasting at a store where you try a couple of wines that they're featuring. This was a 3 hour, multi table event held in the ballroom of a local hotel. Though I've been feeling a bit run down and exhausted, it's been awhile since I've done a tasting like this and it was being hosted by The Wine Library, so I just had to go. All in all, it was a great evening and the wines that stood out:

Cataldo Nero D'Avolo - As mentioned before, I am not a big fan of Italian wines. I tend to find them dusty and a little too earthy. This Nero, however; was light with just the right balance of fruit of restraint.

Tamayo Carmenere - Carmenere is one of my favorite wines right now. Carmenere is consideredd one of the original six grapes of the Bordeaux region (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot round out the list). Though its origins are French, most Carmenere is now made in Chile. Carmenere was originally used as a blending wine (particularly with Cabernet Sauvignon), but on its own it's really lovely - fruity, but dry, with a lot of nice pepper and smoke. This particular one had notes of white pepper, which really added a nice kick.

Jules Rose - Rose is the perfect wine for spring and summer - light, crisp and dry, and pairs easily with light picnic foods and many cheeses. This rose is a quintessential Provencal rose - as light as a souffle, but hearty enough to hold up a pasta salad, with notes of strawberry and currant.

At another time I'll give you the "dos and don'ts" of a wine tasting (e.g. Do Not Drink the Spit Bucket a la "Sideways"). Until then, have a great weekend and keep sippin'.


Friday, April 17, 2009

The best kind of drunk there is

I am sober. I swear I am sober. However, it is 12:18am and I am still at work having arrived at 7:45am. I am in the midst of what we in my industry affectionately call a "brand plan." Actually, we have a lot of other, more colorful names for it, but I won't go into that here.....

That said, it's pretty incredible how lack of sleep and intense focus on data and power point charts can put one in such a slap happy, giggly mood. I wish my attitude would have involved a nice California Meritage or Oregon Pinot Noir or aged Cote du Rhone, but sometimes you just have to go with a fun pack of grape Nerds, a handful of Goldfish crackers (tossed over your cubicle by a friendly co-worker), some "aged" pretzels and a vintage Kashi frozen dinner (Kashi is a lot better when not caked in freezer burn).

However, if I were in the comfort of my own home and not sleeping, I'd definitely be drinking one an Oregon Pinot Noir or a California Meritage to take the edge off of this crazy work week. What pairs better with absolute frustration, annoyance, exhaustion and general pissiness than a good, complex red? I really can't think of anything (o.k., maybe tequila).

I hope you enjoyed my w(h)ine tip of the evening.

Take it easy and have a great weekend.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Skip the $3 buck Chuck - I've got a better suggestion from Trader Joe's

This past weekend I went down to Norfolk, Virginia to celebrate the Passover Seder and enjoy a little R&R with my cousins. As the self-described "wine snob," I was committed to bringing several bottles of wine to the seder. Since neither my cousins nor I am strictly observant, I did not pick Kosher for Passover wines and just opted for some favorites. The bottles I chose (St Supery Cabenert Sauvignon, Zaca Mesa Syrah, King Estate Pinot Gris) went over very well, but those are tried and true for me. What I really learned about wine (well, more my palette) when I was down in Virginia is that there is a Cabernet France out there that I like!

At dinner Thursday night, my aunt served a bottle of 2006 Franc/Merlot by the California Wine Party. She'd picked it up for $6 at her local Trader Joe's. The wine was 70% Cabernet Franc. I've never enjoyed Cabernet Franc as I think it generally is a bit harsh and taste too much like rubbing alcohol (not that I've tasted many rubbing alcohol vintages). However, on Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised. The nose was really fruity with just a little oak and the wine itself was quite nice. The initial taste was tart raspberry with a dry, peppery finish that balanced out the fruit.

I've never liked the "$3 buck (formerly $2 buck) Chuck" (Charles Shaw is the actual name) and the $3.99 syrah I picked up a few weeks ago was a bust, BUT now I've found a $6 bottle to look for at my Trader Joe's. And my faith in Cabernet Franc was restored - for now at least.

See, good wines do happen to good oenophiles....

Until the next tasting, shopping trip, pairing dinner or adventure -- cheers!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What wine pairs with a crap day.....

For those who know me and/or don't really know me but have the pleasure of being my Facebook friend, you'll notice the title of this article from my latest statement on Facebook.

The other day I pulled out of my narrow driveway a bit too fast and managed to scrape up my 2 week old car. Since it's brand new and the scrapes and dents are really noticeable I feel compelled to get it fixed. For several hours I was not too happy with myself, but then I gained the much needed perspective and figured I'd been through worse things and coped with all of them. Not that my life has been so tragic or anything, but we're all going to have bad days now and again and after a long, hard day where I feel like the goblet is half full with bad wine, I like to come home and treat myself to something a little special. Thus, the official list of crappy day pairings:

Scrape up brand new car: A fruit forward, medium bodied Syrah with lots of spice; (Though it has to be budget because you'll be shelling out for some repairs soon enough)
(Total brand new car: Vodka and soda, light on the soda)

Laid off: Whatever your friends can afford to buy you (if they still have secure jobs, I'd shoot for a bottle of $25-$35 Cabernet Sauvignon out of Napa/Sonoma; for that money you can find some pretty nice stuff, but it's not too ridiculous)
(Laid off along with several friends: Homemade sangria featuring your favorite boxed wine)

Break Up: Rich, full bodied pinot noir from Oregon (and try to treat yourself to a nice dinner along with it)
(Bad Break Up: Skip the wine and go straight for the tequila - Don Julio Silver or Patron Silver should do the trick)

Fight with a Friend: Something spicey, ruby and lively from the Riber Del Duero region in Spain (primary grape is Tempranillo)
(Really Bad Fight with a Good Friend: Buy the best bottle you can afford and split it with said friend; Really Bad Fight with a Shitty Friend: Buy the best bottle you can afford and drink it all yourself!)

Fight with Parents: Bold, jammy and full bodied Primitivo from Italy (Primitivo is thought to be closely related to red zinfandel)
(Bad Fight With Parents: Whatever wine/spirit/beer/drink they disapprove of the most and lots of it)

In Law Trouble (not that I'd know, but I'm just saying): Forget drinking and head straight to drunk - Simple table wine from your current favorite producer should do the trick - You'll likely need more than one bottle so try to keep it budget
(Bad In Law Trouble: I'm in no position to make the call but I'm guessing whiskey.....)

I'm sure there are many more we could come up with and discuss. Feel free to add any of your own.

Either way, I hope the future holds good days for us all and when it doesn't, you know what to cork.


Monday, April 6, 2009

The $3.99 Bottle

While on the afore-mentioned "field trip" to the Wine Library, I picked up a bottle of 2003 Glass Mountain Syrah for $3.99. Yes, $3.99.

Glass Mountain is a value label whose Merlot (generally around $8-$10) I've enjoyed in the past. I've never had their syrah, but when I saw it was on sale for $3.99 (I imagine it would normally sell for $9 or $10), I figured why not? If it was absolute crap, well, it was still only half the price of a decent glass of wine at most restaurants in the area. If it was good, then I just got an amazing deal. I picked up 3 bottles because to me a $12 risk on wine is always worth it.

I was planning to wait a little while before opening it, but the other night I just had to find out if my gamble paid off. The result: a resounding "eh." I'm not someone who is good with smelling every hint of every spice and flavor and oak in a wine. I just know what tastes good to me and have a knack for suggesting good wines and good pairings to my friends. So I was honestly surprised when I actually detected a burnt caramel nose. Usually I make fun of the people who use terms like these to describe wine because, c'mon, really, wine smelling like burnt caramel?!? Honestly, though, it really smelled like that to me. It was quite remarkable. Unfortunately, though, that was the most fun and surprising thing about the wine. Once it hit my mouth, I didn't get much of any flavor. It had a thin mouth feel and tasted like a really dry, highly alcoholic red wine. Sadly, there's little else to say.

Perhaps a little more age will help it out.....Lucky for me I have two more bottles to test this out!

I really wish I would have liked it, but this experience will not keep me from taking a chance on a $3.99, or even $10, $15, $20 or $25 bottle of wine in the future. If I'd never taken chances on random bottles in the past, I never would have discovered some of my current favorites (e.g. Casa Julia Carmenere - a $13 gem).

So go out and find a $3.99 wine to take a chance on. Hmmm, I need to amend that -- go out and try a $3.99 wine that doesn't come in a box, does not have the words "white zinfandel," "Boone's Farm," "Mad Dog," "Alize" or "Charles Shaw" (the infamous and overrated "$2 Buck Chuck" at Trader Joe's) on the label. You may surprise yourself - even if it's just because you actually got something on the "nose" that a pretentious wine snob might.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

When the wine doesn't move you, time to write a song

Earlier today my friend, Pam, came from the far flung borough of Brooklyn, NY for a visit. I was determined to show her all that the adorable town of Montclair has to offer. As Montclair is known as one of the best restaurant towns in New Jersey, this means a lot of eating and drinking.

Our first stop was at the very popular Toast for a late lunch. After some execellent salads, we made our way to Amanti Vino, a fantastic local wine store that offers free wine tastings every Saturday afternoon. Amanti Vino also has a wonderfully unique selection of wines from the best wine regions in the world. We each purchased a bottle and made our way back to my apartment.

We were eager to break out the bottle of Moscato D'Asti I picked up (which for the one of you who actually reads me regularly - thanks mom - would make a lot of sense). I know you're all taking very detailed notes, but just to "refresh" your memory, Moscato D'Asti is a delightful, light, fizzy white Italian wine that usually tastes like syrup soaked pears and/or apples. The alcohol content is very low - 5 - 5.5% and it's a fun, spirited way to kickoff an evening.

With our evening officially kicked off in a mighty tasty way, we walked over to Raymond's, a favorite BYO of mine in Montclair. Actually, with as many great BYOs as Montclair has, it's a good thing I can walk to so many of them.

Rather than bring one of the bottles we purchased at Amanti, we decided to dip into my cave (a.k.a. my first floor closet) and pick out an older bottle that had a little sentimental value. We went with a Hendry Red Table Wine from 2002 that we'd actually shared together many years before. The last time we had the wine we both had very fond memories of a smooth, jammy, rich red that paired perfectly with the roasted vegetables and salmon we'd eaten.

Unfortunately, the wine didn't age well. Or quite possibly I screwed it up royally by moving it 4 times in the past 4 years. Either way, it was a bit disappointing, but we weren't going to let it ruin an otherwise great dinner. The food was wonderful (Raymond's roasted beet salad may be one of my favorite things in the world) and the company was even better. We decided to make light of the situation by writing a song to commemorate my wine drinking.

Since I have very little to discuss in terms of wine I thought I'd share said song with you:

To the tune of "Joy to the World:" (a certain last name has been hidden to protect the not so innocent co-conspirator)

Pam ___ lives in Brooklyn
She's a good friend of mine
She came out on the train on Saturday night
To help me drink my wine

Joy to the world
All the stems and swirls
Joy to the wine stores in New Jersey
And joy to Burgundy

If I were a sommelier
Tell you what I'd do
I'd drink some pinots and some syrahs
And drink a good case with you
Sing It Now

Joy to the world
All the stems and swirls
Joy to the wine stores in New Jersey
And joy to Burgundy

You know I love the red wines
And white wines are such fun
I pour 'em and I drink' em and I slurp 'em and I sink 'em
I'm a cork-poppin' Cab Sauvignon
Said a cork-poppin' Cab Sauvignon

Joy to the world
All the stems and swirls
Joy to the wine stores in New Jersey
And joy to Burgundy

Well I hope everyone else had as much fun this Saturday as I did.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Ultimate Library Field Trip

My friends rock. They really do. Last Sunday they allowed me to drag them to one of my favorite wine stores, The Wine Library, to take them on a buying lesson and a "tour."

Shopping in a wine store is like going to a museum with an ever changing collection. There's always something to see and learn. If I'm not careful, I will get lost in the regions represented and the labels that are new to me. The upside of going with friends is that it keeps me focused. The downside, for them, is that I will bore them.

According to my friends, I didn't bore them on our tour though I'm wondering if the trip was more for me than it was for them. Considering I bought yet another 4 bottles (after the case I purchased last week), I'm thinking there might be a little "yes" in there.

But I digress (what's new). My tour group decided to start on the 2nd floor (yes, the 2nd floor, which is why this is one of my favorite wine stores). The 2nd floor houses wine from some of the more unexpected regions (Hungary, Greece, Austria - my friends love their Gewurtztraminer, even if they can't pronounce it).

I like to think of the 2nd floor as the weird hallway you discover when wandering through a 100 year old house. You don't necessarily know what's there, but why not explore? Whenever touring a new store, or even visiting an old favorite, I recommend getting to the "strange hallways" with the stuff you're not as familiar with. That's one great way to learn. And who knows, at your next dinner party or housewarming, you could be discussing a Portuguese wine you just fell in love with on one random Sunday afternoon.

You also may find some really amazing stuff that's just fun to see, touch and wonder "what if." The 2nd floor is where the Wine Library has the climate controlled cave with the really special stuff - large format bottles of Opus One, aged bottles of Caymus - basically your good, classic, older wine. I'm lobbying to get a buriel plot in that room for when my final bell has been rung. As I was taking my friends through the room I'm pretty sure they were thinking, "who in their right mind would spend so much money on wine?" as I was calculating the pay scale I'd have to get to in order to buy bottles like this more frequently.

Since I was driving and since I kept reminding my friends about the copious cheese samples on the 1st floor, I was able to hold their attention throughout the rest of the 2nd floor. After a quick breeze through the sparklers, we were finally on our way to the 1st floor.

Our first stop was at the gourmet store. Despite a large brunch, we all partook of several cubes of very good cheese. In fact I think some friends might have spent more on cheese than on wine!

After all the cheese, the tour lost its steam but with the 1st floor wine aisles still unexplored, we soldiered on. Through Spain and France and Italy and California and other U.S., we forged our path through the 1st floor and showed The Wine Library the true meaning of Dewey Decimal. O.k., there is no card catalogue at The Wine Library, but just thinking about the prospect brings a smile to my face.

Ultimately my friends seemed to have a good time and it was nice and heart warming to share one of my favorite stores and one of my greatest passions with friends. The irony that I took several friends from my book club to a Wine Library was not lost on me. Like the many evenings we've discussed, disagreed and explored our different feelings on a book, at the Wine Library we got the chance to share our different feelings on another topic that allows for many opinions and no wrong or right answers. Then again, I still maintain that it is a fact, and not an opinion, that White Zinfandel is not a real wine.

Well, until the next dinner, wine tasting, field trip, good day or bad day, cheers!

-Alli M.