Learning About Wine MC Hammer Style

November 29, 2011

I recently purchased six bottles of a well-known red wine from the Rhone region. As a learning experiment to expand my wine knowledge, I plan to drink one every two years while keeping meticulous notes on how it ages. I’ll drink one in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022. By doing this, I’ll learn how wine matures and improves throughout its life. I look forward to observing the tannins mellow with time, the fruit transform with age, as bigger, earthier flavors come to the fore. Years from now I’ll know more about when a wine peaks, and the subtle clues it expresses when its time has come. Below I will add my tasting notes next to the date the bottle was opened.

Monday: The first bottle of my twelve year test. What a delicious wine! It sports a deep ruby color with sweet tannins. One of the most notable traits is its powerful flavors of ripe, red cherries. For a wine meant to age in the cellar, it sure is drinking well now. I love this wine.

Tuesday: After yesterday’s tasting I just had to open a second bottle. With only four more I’ll have to forgo the last bottle scheduled for 2022. Still loving those ripe, red cherries! How can these tannins be so strong yet so sweet? What a wine!

Wednesday: The ripe, red cherries are still there. No discernable difference in the tannins after just three days. This leaves me with only three bottles to last twelve years. I’ll wait three years between them instead of two–that way I can still see how the last bottle will drink in 2021. I will open NO MORE of this wine until another three years passes!

Thursday: Ripe, red cherries!

Friday: I just opened one of the two remaining bottles. I’m starting to doubt the success of this experiment. When I finally open the last bottle in 2022 I’ll remember the ripe, red cherries and the sweet tannins.

Saturday: I just finished the last bottle. In six days I squandered my entire stash of wine as if I were channeling MC Hammer. If in 2022 I ever hear someone talking about this vintage, I’ll tell them about the ripe, red cherries and the strong yet sweet tannins.

This week’s recommendation:

Francois Chidaine “Clos Habert” Montlouis Sur Loire ($22.99): Made from the Chenin Blanc grape, this is a white that ages beautifully. Just when you think it tastes too sweet, the acidity slices through, ending the floral flavors and leaves you wanting another sip. I dare you to pick up a bottle. Better yet, pick up six and spread them out over a few years.

I Used to Like This Swill?

November 15, 2011

Sometimes appreciating wine is like spending time with a praying mantis: You find yourself getting ready for a quality evening with a bottle you just know you’re going to love, when suddenly it turns on you and eats your head.

This happened to me earlier this week when I tasted an old favorite of mine. This was a wine I’ve brought to parties, gave as gifts, and shared with friends many times over many dinners. Although it had been a few years, I had no doubt that it would deliver. It always did. The moment it touch my lips, however, I became immediately confused. And not in a “did I remember to take my vitamin this morning?” sort of way. No. I mean in more of a “get stoned on absinthe while watching Polish acrobats” sort of way (That’s kind of a long story–no, actually it’s not. I got stoned on absinth once while watching Polish acrobats and it freaked me out. Right out). Anyway, what was once one of my solid, go-to wine choices now had the same effect on me as my Grandmother’s creamed corn—the only recipe I am aware of which is inspired entirely by vomit.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about drinking wine, it’s that tastes change over time. Thinking back to some of my early wine favorites is much like thinking back to some of my old girlfriends: I’m left wondering just what the hell I was thinking. How was I ever so attracted to some of those over-processed, over-manipulated Cabernets?  How I was ever so attracted to that girl with the huge African lip disc? What the hell was I thinking? Yes, my tastes have changed.

I like to think that these changes in preferences are due to my becoming more wine-educated. I like to think I’m becoming more refined through the years, more discerning in my palate, but considering I’m the guy who still belches the entire alphabet at parties and runs away when his wife catches him eating frosting off the cake with a spoon, that logic may be a little optimistic.

This week’s recommendation:

Barone Ricasoli 2009, Chianti ($14.99): Although Chianti has faded in and out of favor through the years, BR has NEVER let me down. With an awesome spiciness and bold cherry flavors, this Chianti will always taste good–just like belching the entire alphabet will always be funny.    

Good Wine and Bad Tattoos

October 20, 2011

You’re tempted to ask the guy at the liquor store for his best under-fifteen dollar bottle of wine but you hesitate because you’re afraid of the Hard Cow Effect.The Hard Cow Effect is when someone sells you on an item which turns out to be vastly different than the sales pitch promised it to be. And when I say vastly different I don’t mean in a “you expected bran flakes but got fudge instead” sort of way. I mean in more of a “you asked for Disney World but got military school” sort of way. Yes, the HCE is always a huge let down.

The Hard Cow Effect gets its name from my friend Dave, whom I met while traveling in Europe. One night in Dresden, Dave split a bottle of whiskey with a skin-head tattoo artist who talked him into getting a tattoo. What could possibly go wrong? The tats on the artist’s face looked pretty cool and the thug was oddly convincing after half a bottle of Jack. My friend couldn’t quite remember which tattoo he picked out, or the artist’s name, or most of the ordeal for that matter, but he definitely remembers the skin-head telling him that the piece would make him look like a Jedi Pimp. Just before passing out on the table, Dave remembered the first touch of the needle and how excited he was to be the first Jedi Pimp in his family.

The next day we made it all the way to breakfast before I asked him how his tattoo turned out. The dim light of remembrance lit his face and he quickly pulled back his sleeve. First the right. Nope. Then the left. There it was: A strangely effeminate-looking monster emblazed on his forearm with the words “HARD COW” printed directly beneath it. In a whiskey haze, the artist meant to adorn the tattoo with the words “HARD CORE” but apparently felt the booze most during the writing portion of the piece and his penmanship wasn’t at its best during the “R” and “E” section of his work.

Dave was devastated after the skin-head gave him such high expectations. Likewise, every time the store clerk pontificates the virtues of that new wine, you just can’t buy it for fear of the big let-down, the disappointing sting of the Hard Cow Effect. Not to worry, this week’s recommendation will leave you feeling like a Jedi Pimp.

Argiolas Costamolino 2010, Vermentino ($14.99): You’ve probably never even heard of a Vermentino so if anything reeks of Hard Cow Effect it’s this bottle. But don’t let the strange name stop you. Its acidity and pineapple and honey flavors make it not just super tasty, but something you can pair with anything from fish to pasta to Asian.

When Your Love of Wine Gets Creepy

October 10, 2011

I called the liquor store twenty eight times just to ask if you were there. I hung up when the clerk recognized my voice. I don’t care. I just want to know that you’re still there. I want to know that I can still get to you. I still have the old bottle that you were in when I first found you. You didn’t know I kept it did you? It still smells like you. Sometimes I pull it out and smell it when I’m listening to Air Supply. That’s our band, you know. Air Supply.

Have you seen me slowly driving past the liquor store? Eleven times yesterday. I do it to see you in the window. That’s not weird is it? Think of it this way: I’m only looking out for you. I’ll always be there for you.

You took some good pictures for your web site. I printed some of them and taped them to my bedroom wall. And ceiling. And mirror. Some of them really show off your beautiful label. I think about your label a lot when I’m at work. I think about your dark cherry and anise flavors too. I try not to think about them when I’m at church, though. Nothing good can come of that. And don’t go sharing your voluptuous mouthfeel and your exotic liqueur flavors with someone else. I don’t know what I would do. Do you understand? I just don’t know what I would do.

Another customer almost bought a bottle of you. I talked him out of it. Then I bought the bottle myself. See? I told you I would always be there for you. I told you I was looking out for you. That’s why I’ve also written a thirteen-thousand-word manifesto explaining how perfect our love can be on the side of the box I brought you home in on that first perfect day. I really love getting close to you like this. Enough talk. It’s time to put on some Air Supply and pull out your old bottle again.

This week’s recommendation:

Bogle, Petite Sirah Port ($19.99): I know. Creepy. But it’s pretty much the way I feel when I become infatuated with a wine that so captures my full attention. Bogle Petite Sirah Port is one of those wines. It makes me want to build a little cozy room in my basement, buy a case of it, and lock us both inside so we can be happy all by ourselves. Forever.

A Few Miscommunications Between My Wife and Me When She Sent Me to the Liquor Store

September 21, 2011

She said: Can you run down to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of wine? We only have twenty minutes till dinner.

I heard: Can you run down to the liquor store and pick up twenty bottles of wine? We only have a minute till dinner.

She said: We’re over budget on wine already, okay? Don’t go crazy if there’s a sale.

I heard: We looked over the wine budget already and it’s okay. Hopefully there’s a crazy sale.

She said:  And don’t stop at Home Depot on your way home. We already have a garage filled with tools that you never use.

I heard:

She said: And if they’re pouring free samples don’t stay and try them all. My parents will be here soon.

I heard: You’ll probably have time to try everything if you drink them fast. You know I love it when my parents visit and you have your buzz on.

She said: And don’t use the blue credit card. I’m waiting for the statement to come for that one so I can figure out which month our vacation bill shows up on. If it’s on next month’s we’re okay but if it shows up on this month’s we need to be careful. Did you hear me, Honey? Don’t use the blue credit card.

I heard: Something something something credit card, something something vacation something something.

She said: Hurry back.

I heard: Hurry back. And don’t hesitate to buy yourself an early birthday gift while you’re there. Christmas is right around the corner too so you can beat the rush by buying now. I probably won’t even care if you get the $200 Opus One. Or maybe you can get it and just hide it in the basement so I don’t find out.

This week’s recommendation:

Casanova di Neri Rosso di Montalcino 2007, Sangiovese ($19.99): If you can’t remember the phrase, “Don’t use the blue credit card,” you’ll never remember the name of this wine. Write it down because it’s one of the best deals I’ve come across. Casanova is a great example of what the Italians do well (besides using hand gestures and honking their car horns). Here they take Sangiovese, the grape used to make Chianti, and display its absolute finest qualities for under twenty bucks. This bottle is a great wine for anyone who wants to get their feet wet with the European style and not end up with a wine that tastes like you need to wear a beret, a goatee, and a striped shirt to appreciate.

Environmentally Friendly Wine and How Not to Clean Your Skis

September 14, 2011

The tube of ski wax remover flaunted the words “Environmentally Friendly” on its label. It sure smelled lemony fresh. Knowing I would not be harming the environment, I hurried home from the sports store to get my skis ready for the upcoming season. A quick spritz on the rag, a little elbow grease, a few rubs……nothing. The wax on the ski base stared back up at me, unchanged, as if to say, “Sorry, but I’m fine right here.” I reread the directions, poured a more generous shot onto the rag, and scrubbed the ski the way a high-schooler scrubs a beer stain he’s left on the upholstery of his dad’s Vista Cruiser. After ten minutes the rag showed only the slightest hint of a wax-colored stain where it contacted the ski.

Exasperated, I searched for another option and opened up the case of ski gear I inherited from my dad. The case had not been opened since the seventies–that era when a young EPA was only beginning to crawl from its primordial stew; when industry laughed and danced in its toxic bliss; when officials were still trying to find a way to put out that river that caught fire in Ohio.

The back of this tube had words like “Hexafluoroacetone” and “Trimethyoxysilane.” Yellow warning triangles peppered the back of the package. I saw the typical “Corrosive” sign: the one that pictures a vile of liquid spilling over some poor sap’s hand as it devours his fingers like alien blood eating through a spaceship hull. Another sign seemed a bit less clear but appeared to show a baby with two heads, presumably because its father didn’t wear a full hazmat suit when using the product.

I quickly removed the cap, took a short whiff and spent the next ten seconds convinced that someone attached my head to one of those machines used to test car suspensions. With stinging eyes and bleeding gums I passed the rag over the wax. One pass was enough. The wax beaded up, jumped off the skis, and screamed, “DEAR GOD! HELP ME!” as it fell to the floor.

In six seconds the job was done. The bases gleamed like new. I quickly rinsed the rag out in the sink but immediately wondered if that would be a problem. Over the next few weeks I noticed several trees in the neighborhood reaching down and scooping up small dogs. I still wonder if the two had anything to do with each other.

This week’s recommendation:

Bonterra 2009, Chardonnay ($12.99): With wine, eco-friendly does NOT mean a lesser product. All of Bonterra’s wines are made with certified organic grapes. This Chardonnay is delicious and tastes of green apple and pear–which is pretty much the exact opposite of Trimethyoxysilane and Hexafluoroacetone.

An Open Letter to Big Red Wines

August 24, 2011

So you’ve come back. Do you really think you can just come traipsing back into my life again after leaving for an entire summer? You want me to just pick you up again as if everything was fine? Am I really supposed to just take you back?

Sorry Honey. I’ve moved on. I’ve met so many fantastic white wines after you left that I barely even remembered you. I met a Torrontes from Argentina. That’s right. We saw Shakespeare in the Park together. Did you know I spent some time on the beach with a Sauvignon Blanc from California? Yup. That was in June and I’ve had that same wine three times since then. Uh huh. Unlike you, it’s crisp and it’s bright and it refreshes me like you never did.

Did you hear I met a Viognier for the first time this July? Well I did. I even brought it to my family picnic. Guess what? They loved it. I might even take it over and introduce it to the guys on game night. So don’t even try to weasel back in like you and me got it goin’ on.

Did you know I had to put the big red wine glasses away after you left? I should have known you wouldn’t be around once the weather got nice. I was so stupid! And I have no doubt that you’re probably showing up in other people’s glasses right now too. No! We’re done! Things are different now. We. Are. Done.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish you well. I mean, you always did go well with steak. Do you still go well with steak? I bet you do. Remember that night at the cabin? The night of two bottles? You were amazing. You’re always amazing on a cold night. We were good together, weren’t we? It would be fun to do something like that again. We have so much history together. It would be a shame to just turn our backs on so much history. Okay, maybe I’ll have just one glass. For old time’s sake —   but I’m not taking you back.

This week’s recommendation:

Guglielmo Private Reserve, Petite Sirah 2007 ($24.99): With flavors of smoke, chocolate, and leather, Guglielmo tastes like something we love to reminisce about but are careful not to talk about. This wine is big and meaty and buxom and delicious and a great way to welcome back the big red wine season. Grab a bottle and create some history.

Why I Have Not Been Asked to Design a Wine Label

August 10, 2011

Thank you all for being here as I unveil the artwork for the first wine label I designed myself. A few of you have asked why I chose to show myself so prominently on the label…and why I’m shown shirtless and much more muscular than I am in real life. Well, the purpose of the picture is to capture the true essence of my being. By viewing this, we embark on an artistic journey to witness my true self.

I hear some of you claiming that this label has nothing to do with the wine inside the bottle, and is merely a venue for me to exercise my own ego. That is not true. For example, let me direct your attention to the nymph located in the lower foreground. That’s Amphictyonis, the Greek Goddess of wine. I didn’t need to add her but I thought she added legitimacy to the theme of the art piece. So you see, it really is all about the wine. Notice also how she resembles Angelina Jolie and how she kneels at my feet, gazing upon my countenance with adoring eyes.

Is that Chuck Norris I’m beating down with one hand while I effortlessly play lead guitar for an awesome rock band with the other? Yes. This is not a cheap, self-serving attempt to inflate my own masculinity. No, this is an existential metaphor of the transitory nature of life. Duh. If you didn’t recognize that, you don’t know anything about art.

The scene in the background is a young man receiving a sports award. This is a commentary on the day I won the Snail Lake Elementary School basketball team’s most valuable player trophy. The angels hovering overhead are my own addition but I’m pretty sure they show up at big events like that. We just couldn’t see them.

Scattered about the rest of the label are some other minor details: The name of the wine, the alcohol content, the grape variety, etc. but in each case I have been able to mostly obscure those trivialities with more exciting information like my birthday, how much I could bench press in college, and a few images of my favorite foods.

This week’s recommendation:

Cupcake, Prosecco ($9.99): Delicious and well-made, this Prosecco has flavors even more complex than the label described above: Take the love-child of a peach and a honeydew melon, drop it in a blender with a few almonds, pour over a piece of vanilla French toast, and serve with a shot of cream and you’d get the idea. Now enjoy a glass while viewing a picture of me.

Amended Taglines for Paul Masson Wines

August 3, 2011

We will serve no wine before its time…that said, I’m also the same guy who would serve no high calorie snacks during the football game, and that didn’t pan out so well.

We will serve no wine before its time…but then again, we’re all drunk and I didn’t expect the beer to go this fast.

We will serve no wine before its time…and while I’m at it, I will serve no sushi again at the all day, fun-in-the-sun company picnic.

We will serve no wine before its time…oh, and coffee enemas are out too.

We will serve no wine before its time…unless you’re on death row and it’s your last request. We might consider it then.

We will serve no wine before its time…but if you do happen to get some before its time, discontinue use if rash or irritation occurs.

We will serve no wine before its time…and you can’t even have any when it is its time, Bob. Idiot.

We will serve no wine before its time…not even if you offered us a ton of money. Why?  How much were you planning to offer us? That much? Seriously? Well it’s more of a guideline than a rule, really. I mean we could maybe serve a little wine before its time and see how it goes.

We will serve no wine before its time…actually we will, but just saying that makes the wine sound sophisticated, doesn’t it?

We will serve no wine before its time…but for those who just can’t wait, we also have a convenient twelve liter box wine that we’ll serve any old time. One’s ready now.

We will serve no wine before its time…and that goes for our cheese and sauerkraut too. Have you ever tasted cheese or sauerkraut before their time? We definitely need to wait for the cheese and sauerkraut’s time.

These dog days of summer are the perfect time for this week’s recommendation.

Tamari 2009, Torrontes ($14.99): Tamari didn’t hire a fat, drunk actor spewing elitist taglines to peddle their juice. Instead, they simply made the perfect summer wine and let it speak for itself. Virtually everything on the summer picnic table goes with this flavorsome Torrontes. It pairs well with fish, mild cheese, oysters, scallops, crabs, chicken, and cold meats. Just avoid the sushi if it’s been in the sun for a while.

Tackling the Wine Debt Ceiling

July 27, 2011

The wine store was closing in ten minutes. My wife and I stood in the aisle staring at a bottle of Barbera.

“We should get it,” I said.

“Kris, we are way over budget,” she replied. We recently decided to give her a greater input on our household spending.

“So let’s just raise our wine budget,” I said. “We’ve always done that. Then we can buy more wine.”

“No. We can’t keep doing that,” she replied. “It’s time we stop being irresponsible.”

“Well if we don’t we won’t have wine for our dinners and parties,” I said. “Everything will suck and it will be your fault.”

“Hey, I’m doing us a favor,” she shot back. “It’s your fault we’re in this situation in the first place with your out-of-control wine spending. If we get this under control we’ll be able to afford more and better wine in the future.”

“Okay, how about this,” I said. “We move some money from the vacation budget to cover this bottle and then slowly repay that over the next five months with money from our food and gas account.”

“No,” she replied flatly.

“STORE CLOSES IN FIVE MINUTES,” Yelled the guy at the counter.

“Okay, then let’s just move some of the money we use for the dog’s obedience classes to cover the Barbera, and repay it with money we borrow from our 401K.”

“Kris! No!”

“You mean you’re not even going to compromise?” I asked. “Our marriage has always worked on compromise.”

“If you remember I told you I would get our budget under control. What kind of message would that send if I went back on my promise?” I had the impression she would rather see our wine cellar totally decimated than give one inch.


“Okay, we’ll just get a cheaper Barbera,” I said.


“Honey, I’m not leaving this store without some kind of Barbera,” I said sternly.

She crossed her arms and dug in her heels. “We’re not spending one more dollar on wine till we pay down that budget,” she said.


This week’s recommendation:

Cantine Valpane 2009, Monferrato Rosso Pietro ($13.99): If this week finds you tired of all things American, try this fantastic Barbera from Italy. Here, the wine makers simply did their job and found the perfect compromise between ripe, red fruits and a delicious earthiness. Try it with roast chicken.

So, Where Are You From?

July 12, 2011

I had my first experience with an East Block automobile when hitch-hiking in Germany. I believe the car may have come from the Ukraine but there was no way to tell because everything originally attached to the exterior, nameplates included, had fallen off. Two of the three door hinges were broken and it made me wonder what the engineering of the more complex areas, the steering or brakes, for example, were like. Because of the missing door handle, I closed the door by pulling on the window and quickly jerking my hand inside before it slammed. After two or three attempts the mechanism took, held for a few seconds, long enough for me to trust it and lean on it, and then opened again.

As we pulled out into the road, door still rattling, the bald tires broke free from the pavement and the car slid half sideways out into the dark, rainy night. To get around the strict German tail-pipe emission standards, it appeared the car’s manufacturers cleverly routed the worst of the exhaust out the vents in the cabin. Everything in the car’s interior smelled of burnt oil. To make matters worse, from time to time as an empty beer can rolled past the driver’s foot he tried to kick it toward a hole in the floor causing the car to swerve either toward oncoming traffic or an anorexic looking guardrail.

The car’s lights weren’t bright enough to reach the glass covers in front of them and the windshield wiper on the passenger side worked while the driver’s side did not. The driver didn’t seem to notice.

When I finally made it to my destination I turned to watch the ride leave. With a few assorted rattles and a sharp grinding noise, the car limped away behind a thick cloud of blue smoke and as it disappeared into the night I heard the faint sound of a beer can bouncing on the street.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The East Bloc is not a region known for their elite car engineering. I mean, you don’t look to Siberia for their superb summer  patio furniture or to Somalia for their cutting edge ski wear. That’s why I was so impressed with this week’s recommendation. It comes from Minnesota, a region not typically associated with wine.

Crofut 2009, Prairie Blanc ($13.99): Made from the cold-tolerant Prairie Star and Seyval Blanc grapes, this wine shows a complexity that gives me optimism for the region’s wine future. Try it with another Minnesota classic: Walleye.

Nobody Outsnobs the Master

July 5, 2011

We noticed each other in the first minutes of the tasting and immediately both knew it was on. I held my sample by the glass stem and with my little finger held slightly out, swirled the wine while simultaneously pretending to concentrate on the tasting notes. It was the text-book double-task swirl maneuver of nonchalance—not recommended for beginners. I wanted to finish this guy off fast. The other tasters noticed and murmured their approval.

Casually he countered by placing his glass on the bar and while holding its base, quickly ran it in small circles to perform a tidy counter-clockwise, table-top swirl, silently telling me he would not go down so easily. He even stopped half way through, lifting the glass to check the wine’s color against the white table cloth before replacing it and continuing the well executed maneuver. Well played, Sir. Well played.

So it seems we’re evenly matched in the skills discipline. It will come down to knowledge. Like me, I sensed he knew only enough to be dangerous so a strong showing here would end this quickly and place me firmly on top the snob mountain where I keep my throne. I prepared my strategy, briefly reviewing in my head some answers to a wine trivia game my wife gave me for Christmas. Then just as I was about to drop the term “Veraison” on him, he executed a breech of etiquette by playing his hand first, a move normally reserved for the home-court snob.

“Hmmm. This one has acescence,” he said after tasting his sample. The crowd squirmed, sensing the challenge. The ball was in my court now. I didn’t even know what “acescence” meant but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about snobbery, it’s that no snob wants to get caught drawing a complete blank. I had to incorporate the one thing that’s saved me time and again–BS. I pulled a word out of thin air and confidently lobbed it back toward his end of the table.

“Oh, I disagree. Wines from this region often develop phlatoids that contrast any acescence.”

Like Scrabble, calling me on the word would risk being wrong and going down in flames. No, safer to play along. He held the glass up, looked at it thoughtfully,tasted again, and replied, “Yes, yes I’m tasting phlatoids now too.”

Game over. Nobody outsnobs the master.

This week’s recommendation:

Sokol Blosser, Evolution ($15.00): You don’t have to be a wine snob—or even a fake one—to appreciate the deliciousness of this wine. It sports tropical fruits, a clean finish and because it’s made with nine different grapes it’s easy to make stuff up about all of them. A perfect wine with grilled meats and salads.

If Sommeliers Talked Like Politicians

June 28, 2011

Sommelier: Good evening. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the wine list. I believe the last sommelier you spoke with failed you, and if you take my advice I’ll get you back on the right track.

Me: Uhm. Wow. Okay. Well, I’m having steak and she’s having the pork. Can you recommend a good Californian wine?

Sommelier: No. American wines have gone to pot. We need to get back to making wines like our forefathers.

Me: That sounds serious. Okay, what about an Italian wine? Could you recommend an Italian wine for us?

Sommelier: If you keep drinking Italian wine, in two years America will have a deficit of nine point two bazillion bottles and three out of every four bottles we produce will go to just paying off the Italian producers. That’s why I’m implementing my three point plan to bring America back to American wine.

Me: But I thought you said American wines have gone to pot.

Sommelier: You took that out of context.

Me: But you just said it.

Sommelier: It depends of the meaning of the word “have”.

Me: Okaaaay, will it be American or not? What do you recommend?

Sommelier: I don’t think the American people want to hear about my views on wine.

Me: Why can’t you just answer the question? Why can’t you recommend something?

Sommelier: Because if I’m going to be your sommelier my number one priority will be to repeal the corkage fee. Did you know the corkage fee costs patrons two hundred million dollars a day?

Me: But what do you recommend? I’m asking for a recommendation!

Sommelier: If you take a look at my record, you’ll see I’ve already recommended something.

Me: That’s it. I’m going to alert the management.

Sommelier: It was a sommelier who alerted the British.

Me: What?

Sommelier: That they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our wine, uh, by ringin’ those bells.

Me: I give up.

Sommelier: Mission accomplished.

No skirting the issue or dancing around the subject with this week’s recommendation.

Talbott Kali Hart 2008, Pinot Noir ($16.99): Let me just speak plainly: This Pinot Noir is one of the best I’ve tasted. Talbott takes every flavor profile known to wine and stuffs it into the light body of a Pinot Noir the way creationists are crammed into the front row at a Palin rally. This quality is often not even found in a bottle twice this price.

A Quick Lesson on the Gender of Drinks (or “What Not to Order in a Lumberjack Bar”)

June 14, 2011

Before I was aware that some drinks have gender, I walked into a bar on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, a bar filled with lumberjacks and steel workers, and ordered a pink squirrel. I know, it should have been obvious but I grew up in a home without booze and was new to drinking so I ordered the only drink I was familiar with–the one my friend’s mom drank. For anyone who tells you that it’s never too late to change your image, I can tell you that in some cases, it is. In this case there was no recovery and in spite of quickly recognizing my error and adding “and make it in a dirty glass!” my masculinity could not be saved that day.

Now anyone who reads this column knows that I don’t really believe that a drink defines you. I repeatedly preach that you should drink what you want. But there is a perception out there in the general public that begs the question, what determines whether a drink is male or female?  To help you sort it out, here are a few basic guidelines.

If a drink: can’t keep the TV on one channel for more than three seconds, won’t buy new underwear until the old ones look like a tattered flag from the civil war, cleans it’s ears with the car keys, or has at least one picture of itself holding a fish—it’s a male drink. If a drink: believes the cat is inconsolable because it doesn’t like its collar, keeps you waiting for everything, owns a miniature tool kit containing nothing more than three tools that are almost broken, or requires four times the closet space of other drinks—it’s a female drink. Remember this when you’re ordering in a Lumberjack bar.

This week’s recommendation definitely leans toward the male gender.

Rosenblum 2008, Richard Sauret Reserve Zinfandel ($27.99): A bit pricy? Yes, but it really delivers. This wine is big and masculine and powerful but at the same time is so surprisingly refined it reminds me of a lumberjack you meet at a party who suddenly begins speaking eloquently about impressionist art. It carries those macho flavors of smoke, tobacco, dark fruit, and leather and then presents them in a way that makes them seem almost feminine. Rosenblum is also the perfect match for barbequed ribs while watching the baseball game—just don’t hand it the remote.

A Simple Plan

June 7, 2011

In high school I had a plan to land a dream date with that girl who was way out of my league. The plan wasn’t foolproof. For it to work, certain things had to happen first. The list was as follows:

–She must be dumped by her boyfriend the day before. Oh, and as he’s walking away he has to say something like, “I’ll take you back if you go on a date with a tall skinny guy first.”

–All her friends have to date dorky guys the week before, and then spend the week saying stuff like, “Dorky guys are so awesome” or “I’ve never been happier since I started dating dorky guys.”

–She must know another guy with my same name. He has to be wealthy and handsome. She must confuse the two of us when I make the call.

–My picture must somehow mistakenly appear in the “Newest Millionaires” section of the yearbook.

–As I pull up to her house in my 1974 Ford Pinto, someone must mistake it for a Lamborghini and yell, “Oh my God! A Lamborghini! She’s so lucky!” (I would prefer this person to be a popular movie star but a parent she’s rebelling against will also do).

–The collective image of the ideal catch must change from striking, strong, and confident, to fastidious, clumsy, and plays the accordion.

If this list seems unlikely, consider the list of what must happen to create a good bottle of wine. Not only do you have to plant the right grapes in the right place, but you have to pick them at the right time, sometimes within a couple hour window. After the grapes are picked, they have specific potentials determined by the vintage and the skills of the grower. The wine maker then has to understand these potentials and be right about his/her decisions regarding blending, aging, and bottling, and all this has to be correct before you even touch the marketing and distribution challenges. Making good wine is a lot like asking out the impossible dream date: if your long list of difficult conditions is not met, you get the wine equivalent of “sorry, I’m washing my hair that night.”

This week’s recommendation:

Flipflop 2009, Chardonnay ($6.99): At seven bucks you don’t mind filling the woman’s glass who adds Mountain Dew to her wine because “bubbles are fun.” At the same time, you aren’t embarrassed to serve it to the snob who “doesn’t drink wine made for peasants.” This wine is creamy and fragrant and a wonderful surprise—like hearing your dream date say yes.

A Few Last Minute Wine Reviews before the Apocalypse

May 25, 2011

With only one day before the rapture, I realized I had to hurry to taste all the wine I had left in my cellar. By taking one sip from each bottle, I could sample everything. Below are the reviews entered into my tasting journal on    5-20-11.


8:00 am. 2004 Brunellos: These have aged well. What a great vintage for Italy. Good structure and use of tannins. Finding it difficult to keep samples to one sip.

8:30 am. 2002 Burgundies: Delicious! Still young but what potential! Great power for such light body. Must try harder to keep samples to one sip. Lots of wine to get through today.

9:00 am. Woo Hoo! On to the Bordeaux! Who gives a crap about fruit and balance! All I know is these wines are AWESOME! One sip samples blow!

10:15 am. CalifoooorrrrnnnniiiiaaaWiiinnneeess!!!! This is MARLBOROUGH COUNTRY!!! Finally figured out how to keep samples to one sip: DO ELEVEN OF THEM!!! HAHAHAHAHA!

12:20 pm. Oregon Pinots: I lov Ponits! Do goodly drink for everyone.

2:00 pm: Kris has asked me, his wife, to write the remainder of his reviews for him while he dictates, because as he puts it, “he has the pre-rapture jitters.” In truth, he’s having trouble holding the pen, his eyes are crossed, and he mistook a cutting board for his notepad. I have hidden the corkscrew and most of the good wine. I can’t wait for this whole stupid thing to be over.    

4:00 pm. Rhone Wines: Kris found one 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape and managed to push the cork into the bottle with a fork. He drank most of the bottle from his skull-shaped shot glass and is now hiding behind the garbage can sobbing.

5:00 pm. Kris is now getting cold feet and says he doesn’t want to be called home. Has stolen my purse and won’t give it back. Says by sinning he will not be taken and can remain behind to see how the 2011 vintage turns out.

8:00 pm. Kris seems to have forgotten the 2011 vintage and has moved on to the Spanish wines. Insists they taste better when he’s shirtless.

9:30 pm. Kris has actually picked up the pace in an attempt to keep those “pansy-ass four horsemen” from getting his wine.

11:30 pm. He’s passed out cold and yes, still here, but he left this recommendation for those who were left behind.

The Whip 2009, ($22.99): Made from six grapes, this wine shows spectacular creaminess and summer flavors like melon and coconut. Drink what you can before Oct. 21st.


May 18, 2011

Nerds: the untouchables of our society. We like having them around because they make us feel so much better about ourselves. I know how politically incorrect that sounds but I also know you secretly agree. Don’t believe me? Okay, do this: think of two nerds fighting each other. Now, imagine one is wearing a “Black holes are out of sight” t-shirt. Good, now imagine the other wearing a t-shirt that says, “3.14% of seafarers are Pi-rates.”  You’re smiling now, right? You’re feeling better about yourself somehow, aren’t you? Yeah, me too. Maybe it goes all the way back to junior high, watching them walk down the hallway with a Bridges of Madison County lunch box in one hand and a clarinet in the other (more commonly known as an “abstinence horn” by those residing higher on the social ladder). Seeing them there spoke to our ego, convincing us that for some reason it was better to be one of us than one of them.

But why would someone be thrust into an entirely different social class for simply playing an abstinence horn or carrying a somewhat feminine movie themed lunch box? Especially considering how well the movie was scripted and cast. The rules and complexities determining these hierarchies are often ridiculous to anyone outside looking in. For example: in the world of competitive bicyclists, if you tell someone their saddle looks too low, you’ve just called them a nerd. Or did you know there are certain brands of binoculars that die-hard bird-watchers would not be caught dead using because of how it would make them look? And even nerd circles have their nerds. For example, when you play Dungeons & Dragons do you use a character sheet to help you remember your powers? I hope not.

Navigating the world of wine is just the same. As different wines ebb and flow in and out of favor, the wine public grabs onto some varietals making them the latest must-drink while vilifying others, usually for no reason whatsoever. Merlot has been a victim of this phenomenon. At some point, somebody decided that Merlot was the Civil War reenactor of the wine world and wine drinkers did not want to be seen with it. But like the chubby kid who becomes a football star, Merlot’s attributes could not be ignored and have recently brought it back to the starting lineup.

This week’s recommendation:

Starmont Merryvale 2006, Merlot ($23.99): Like nerds on the day the cute girl joined the AV club, dark fruit, smokiness, spice, and mocha flavors compete with each other to stand out.

A Conversation with My Financial Advisor

May 3, 2011

Advisor: “I see you’ve put together a budget. That’s good. Let’s have a look at it. Savings…good. Retirement account with company matching…good. Roth IRA…good. I see you’re diversified, that’s good too. Hmmm, what’s this? I see you’re pretty heavy on this entry–this “W” entry. What is that? Are you investing with William Blair? Winston Hill? The Woodbridge Group?”

Me: (Shifting uneasily in my chair) “Uh, no, that’s my wine allotment.”

Advisor: (Long pause as he stares at me over the top of his glasses the way my math teacher stared at me when I explained I didn’t need to show my work because I did all the work in my head) “Your what?”

Me: (Feeling more uncomfortable now) “My wine allotment. That’s…what I’ve…been setting…aside for wine…” (trailing off).

Advisor: (Still staring) “Kris…” (Another long pause and I recognize the face of someone struggling for words to describe the lunacy of my poor judgment. I recognize this face on people instantly now thanks to a lifetime of lunacy and poor judgment). “Kris” (repeated for effect), you can’t continue on this financial path. You’ve really only been contributing significantly since 2003.”

Me: (Brightening somewhat because I was about to drop a great line) “That was an awesome California vintage!” (Immediately wishing I could take that one back).

Advisor: (Breaking off the stare, but employing the equally effective sigh of disappointment, made even more potent with a simultaneous shaking of the head. Teenagers recognize this double whammy gesture as the one parents use right before they employ the “Okay, we’re going to have to make some changes here” line.) “Okay, we’re going to have to make some changes here,” he said. “You’re going to have to think more about your future.”

Me: (Getting defensive because my wine is now being threatened by a CPA) “But most of those wines are being cellared!” (That’s me not quite making the distinction between my wine-drinking future and my financial future). “And I’m sure my lottery investments will start paying off real soon!” (This speaks to the “lunacy and poor judgment” I mentioned earlier).

Advisor: (Taking off his glasses—the third move in the disappointing gesture trilogy) “I’m talking about considering some serious changes with your wine purchasing habits, Kris.”

Me: “Should I buy more whites?”

This week’s recommendation:

Concannon Conservancy 2007, Merlot ($14.99): Concannon had a crazy idea with this Merlot: Make it balanced. I could ramble on about the fruit, the nose, etc. but the bottom line is you’ll love the deliciousness factor. Your financial advisor will love the price.

A Difficult Step: My Coming Out

April 25, 2011

I have friends who have already taken this difficult step. In a way I guess I should have done this a long time ago. So, in an effort to be honest with all my friends and people I respect—people I interact with every day, I’ve decided this is the time and the forum for me to publicly share the difficult truth that I’ve been hiding for years. By being honest I can stop looking over my shoulder, nervously watching for people who might recognize me when I’m out with other people like myself. I can stop worrying about people I know from my “public life” recognizing me when I’m at those places where I feel so comfortable and happy. I’m tired of having this thing that seems so natural, feel shameful.   

I know there will be some who will not accept this. There will be some who want to think of me or remember me another way. To them, I’m sorry if you felt misled. I only hope one day you can accept me for how I am. I’d also like to thank my wife, who has been supportive, and graciously by my side throughout this ordeal. Even as I pause here now with my fingers over the keys, just before I take this step and make my secret life known, I’m nervous. So without further ado, I will just come out and publicly write my confession and thereby set myself free:

For the past three years I have been dressing up in costume to go to the Renaissance Fair.

I know this is a great surprise to some of you. For some of you this is a hard thing to understand, but if it helps you cope, let me assure you, I don’t do the accent and I don’t wear tights. No, my pants are more of the baggy, commoner type that are a bit more flattering than the pantaloon kind you see those freakazoid nobility dorks wearing.

This week’s recommendation has a similar story.

Inacayal 2010, Pinot Grigio ($11.99): In the past, wine people have been embarrassed to serve Pinot Grigio. Ordering it in a restaurant meant humiliation and scorn from the sommelier. As PG has improved over the last few years, so has its acceptability. Methinks Inacayal dost display pear and cream. Pray, on the morrow, good Sir, I bid Thee fetch yon flagon. Huzzah!

Like Wine, Even “The Whip” Matures

April 19, 2011

“I bought him the most adorable Phoenix Suns shirt,” my friend said, as he calmly stirred his coffee. I hadn’t seen him in fifteen years and I couldn’t believe my ears. This coming from the guy I partied my way through Europe with. This coming from the guy who squandered most of his twenties with me as a ski bum in the Bavarian Alps. Coming from his mouth, it couldn’t have been more at odds with how I remembered him than if he started the conversation with, “Ya know, the great thing about cancer is…”

This guy had been the human equivalent of the Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He was the guy you invited to your party to help get it going but then secretly hoped would leave before he set your closet on fire and convinced all the other party goers to dance around the blaze while beating on your pots and pans. He was the guy whose exuberance, mirth, zeal, and outright madness could not be contained in a simple name, and had to go by a nickname. And now, fifteen years later, there he sat, The Whip, right across from me, tame, and talking about his child. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, I mused as his little boy turned a bag of sugar upside-down on the kitchen floor.

 “Did I tell you I nearly wept with joy the first time I got to change his diaper?” He said.

I had to confess, I liked this version of The Whip. He was more refined, more laid back, and calmer. I didn’t fear we would end up running from a back-alley card game in Tijuana simply because we started the evening with “just one beer.” Yes, a little time, and a little age was good for him.

So my tie-in back to wine is probably obvious. What? Oh, you thought I was going to say something about time and age being good for wine too? Yeah, I suppose that’s pretty good. But no, what I meant to say was more like don’t wait fifteen years before your next glass of wine. You don’t want to miss any of the good times.

This week’s recommendation:

Talbott 2007, Logan Chardonnay ($16.99): Take a pitcher of fresh spring water, add a squeeze of lemon, drop in a handful of hay, and drink while smelling a bucket of buttered popcorn. Now you have an idea of the complexities this wine brings.

How the Lottery Will Change My Life—and My Wine Purchasing Habits

April 12, 2011

I just bought another Power Ball lottery ticket and I have a really good feeling about this one. I know I’ve said that before but this time I mean it. I’ve not won this game in something like eight straight attempts so what are the chances that can keep happening? Here’s a short schedule of how my life will change after Wednesday’s number picks:

Day 1) My first purchase will be new socks and underwear.  

Day 3) Winner’s press conference. The lottery holds this event to let everyone know that if a schmuck like me can win, you probably will too. My plan is to wear a fruity Carmen Miranda hat, big Elton John sunglasses, a wrestling singlet, a feather boa, and while holding a poodle that’s been dyed pink, I’ll look straight into the camera and proclaim that this money will not change me one bit.

Day 4) This is the day I’ll begin my long descent. Drunk with wealth, I’ll forget my friends and begin to only hang out with the famous and social elite. I’ll attend endless parties, get caught intoxicated and naked in my neighbor’s shed, get filmed trying to steal a llama, and be arrested for doing a Southern Baptist snake-handler dance at a children’s petting zoo. During one of many arrests, I’ll take the most unflattering mug shot ever by the rich and famous (and I’m including Nick Nolte’s).

Day 30) After a month of this self-destructive behavior, I’ll spend four days flying to Napa, Tuscany, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Santa Barbara, and Burgundy. Yes, in that order. I’ll do it that way because it’s more pretentious to say, “I’m off to France this afternoon,” than merely driving down the road to the next nearest destination. And yes that sounds pompous but money does that to me. With my entourage in tow, I’ll buy entire vintages of wine. Soon, a toxic mix of jet lag, hang over, and frivolous spending will overtake me.

Day 31) After just 31 days I hit bottom–broke. Slowly, over the next week, I get cleaned up, get religion, and get a publisher for the book I write of my story. I’ll then sell the movie rights for millions.

Day 39) I arrange a press conference where I wear a leotard and one of those big Russian furry hats. Hang on, world, here comes round two.

This week’s recommendation:

Trinitas 2009, Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99): This is a wine I could afford on day 31 but would happily drink during the most careless of my money hemorrhaging days. It has citrus and a light, spring-like sweetness that leaves you feeling like it’s day 39.


Similar but Different

April 6, 2011

The Nissan 270Z was developed in Japan by a group of young, hyper ambitious engineers. Each of them had the goal of performing the engineering equivalent of castration on the others. Given the task of creating the meanest, fastest, most wicked sports car on the road, they used their ambition, their youth, and their zeal to do just that. If they failed, plenty of hungry, young engineers eagerly stepped over them to do it right. Failure meant remaining behind with the hari-kari knife during the company picnic.

Right from the first line on the sketch pad there was anger and aggression. The poster on the office wall read, “Remember Hiroshima,” and this spirit seeped into the car’s plans. When sitting alone in a room next to the blue-prints, one often felt nervous as if in the presence of a menacing entity.

From design process to assembly, more aggression spilled into the prototypes. Menace grew during every stage and came to a crescendo in the final production where factory workers turned the screws in a way that spoke speed, applied lube in a manner that reeked of revenge, and sprayed paint with the samurai’s spirit of victory fresh in their heads. Weaker models were crushed into scrap right in front of the victorious models. The car was born with an aggressive, ruthless soul that hungered for victory.

The Dodge Caravan was born from older, contented engineers looking at one last project before retiring. Comfortable, safe, and with loads of head room, this was the vehicle for driving in the left lane while maintaining a cautious ten miles an hour under the limit. . The poster in their office read something like, “If you love something, set it free,” and had pictures of seagulls. Around closing time you might hear someone say, “Have a good evening, Bob,” or “Enjoy Emily’s recital, Frank.” The group’s credo was “Safer to Under-Power,” and lo, the impetus for putting a small four cylinder engine into a large minivan came to fruition.

Like the Nissan, the spirit of the van’s makers bled into the blueprints and became magnified throughout the production process. The final product possessed a spirit that was calm, safe, and as boring as the guy on the bus that keeps talking about his neighbor’s screen door. 

So which one is better? The short answer is neither. The longer answer babbles on about the vehicles being similar but different and made for a purpose suited to the taste of their drivers, blah blah. In the same way, this week’s recommendation highlights a Primitivo, a wine made with the same grape as the Zinfandel, but created in Italy by a very different group of people. It’s similar to Zinfandel but different.   

Rosa Del Golfo 2005, Primitivo ($15.99): I don’t know if this is the van or the sports car. What I do know is with its coppery/fruity/leathery complexity, this is one of the best quality-per-dollar wines I’ve ever come across. Ever.

Why Can’t I Taste the Grapes? (or “Dude, What Happened to the Granola?”)

March 29, 2011

Born in New York in 1894, Granola quickly became popular. Its earthy ingredients and crunchy goodness gave consumers the wonderful feeling of doing something healthy for themselves, like performing jumping-jacks outside, or wearing a track suit. Soon Granola’s popularity grew. Active people and hippies lined up to eat it by the sack full. Seeing an opportunity to bring Granola to the masses, large food companies made a few small changes to the recipe by adding some honey, and lo, the Granola bar was born. Okay, it had a bit more sugar now, but consumers easily justified that by saying the honey makes Granola easier to eat while running and allows the bar to be carried conveniently in the pocket of a track suit.

In typical big-business fashion, cereal companies reasoned that if a little sweetness was good, more is better, and began adding little flakes of chocolate to the mix. Consumers reasoned that the excess calories gave them that extra kick at the finish line and besides, any extra weight incurred by the additional calories could easily be hidden by a loose fitting track suit. Again, the bar’s popularity grew.

Next, they added a delicious, sticky, marshmallow syrup to better hold the healthy chocolate bits to the now rather dry tasting oats. Then the oats were removed in favor of Rice Krispies, which went better with the sugar-coated coconut shavings and didn’t get stuck in the bottom of a track suit pocket. The little chocolate flakes were then replaced outright by M&Ms for still more of that finish-line kick, and caramel stripes made the healthy bars more marketable to children. To avoid overstating the milk chocolate taste, a dark chocolate was used to coat the bars.    

Finally, just to be sure that this healthy snack never went to waste, manufacturers added eleven different chemicals, most of which begin with the letter X, to give the product a shelf-life of millennia and prevent them from discoloring a track suit.

Were they finally perfected? No. They became Snickers by another name and it’s exactly what some argue is happening to many wines today. Excessive intervention during the wine making process and the over-the-top use of oak during aging has had the effect of throwing out all the grape’s natural qualities like they were dry oats. This week’s recommendation lets the grapes speak for themselves.

CC 2009, Chardonnay ($14.99): It’s as if a pear, a grapefruit, and a green apple had a love child. CC is also great with mild cheese…and a track suit.   

Boone’s Farm Lectures Bordeaux

March 15, 2011

Before you start getting all sanctimonious, Mr. French Bordeaux, you should take a look from that top shelf you seem to equate with a throne, to the group of us down here on the bottom shelf. We’re gorgeous. All twenty-eight flavors of us. Just look at you up there with your French name too difficult to pronounce yet alone remember. You have what, two flavors? Red and white? Neither of which, I assure you, taste like Melon Ball or Pink Grapefruit.

Do you like our labels? We do. They’re fun, and youthful, and easy to read by fun, youthful college kids who will happily buy fifteen of us instead of missing out on a semester’s worth of books and a few lunches just to afford one of you.

But where are my manners? We haven’t introduced ourselves. We’re the Boone’s Farm family. We live down here on the bottom shelf. I’m Blue Hawaiian and this electric, neon blast of liquid cotton candy on my right is Wild Island. The rainbow of Fruity Pebbles flavors behind us is the rest of our family. We were created in a state-of-the-art lab. Were you created in a lab, Mr. Top Shelf French Wine? I don’t think so. No. It was eight thousand years of evolving out in the vineyard for you. BOOOORRRRINNNNGGG! Jeez, just a couple hours with a really fun guy in a white lab coat and twenty eight of us were born. Give him another ten minutes and we’d boast another dozen flavors. Want to know the last time we were in a vineyard? Never. Because the vineyard is hot and it’s dry and it sucks.

By the way, how old are you? And please don’t tell me you’re more than ten…Ten? Really? You’ve been sitting there for ten years and nobody’s bought you? Most of us were placed here this morning and will be gone by the weekend–earlier if there’s a big sporting event or an Irish holiday.

And have you noticed we have fruit flavors from all over the world? That’s because we’re so well-traveled and sophisticated, probably three to four times more sophisticated than you. Yes, it’s time you get off that high horse, Mr. Bordeaux, and ask yourself who is really better. Then stand back and let the Boone’s Farm family turn this evening into a party.

This week is The Wine Rogue’s first Sparkling Wine recommendation:

Mumm Napa, Brut Prestige ($19.99): MNBP sports top shelf quality with a lower shelf price. It’s crisp and delicate with a very high deliciousness factor. It also pairs with most anything under the sun.

Various Wine Reviews by Celebrities and Other Notable People

March 8, 2011

Brett Favre on a German Riesling: I know I said this is the last time I would review wine but now I’m not so sure. I mean, some guys review wines into their eighties, right? Anyway, I’d be happy to tell you what I like about this wine during training camp…or not. Tell you what–I’ll text you my review.

Charlie Sheen on a Spanish Tempranillo: This wine won’t get me drunk. No, I’ll get this wine drunk! Its face will melt off and it will die! I can do that! I’m Charlie Sheen! Then it will tell all the other wines about me and soon all wines will love me! I wouldn’t, like, date any of them though. Just because they love me doesn’t mean I want to date them. Probably nothing good could come of that. Oh, and this wine has a nice little mid-palate. Did the president ask about me? I’m Charlie freakin’ Sheen!

Liberace on a French Bordeaux: A lovely, simple wine. Sometimes it’s good for a winemaker to strip down the wine. Get rid of the frills, the additions, the gaudy intervention, and show the grapes in their naked, au-natural form. This wine does just that. It’s like shedding my diamond studded Count Dracula/King Henry/marching band jacket for a simpler, subtler g-string and turban. Not that I would wear a g-string and turban just anywhere though–unless it’s to the beach with one of those feathery Mardi Gras masks on a stick.

Glenn Beck on a California Zinfandel: I don’t care for this wine. The winemaker is probably a Nazi. I fear for this country, my friends. 

Dr. Seuss on an Oregon Pinot: I taste some oak, I taste some cherry. I taste some smoke, I taste some berry.

That stinky, unkempt, obnoxious guy at the mall on an Italian Borolo as he struggles with security guards trying to carry him away: That’s right! That’s right! I said it! Weak fruit undertones and overdone tannins! I’m just keepin’ it real! That’s how I roll! A fine display of oak integration but the tannins outweigh the subtle floral notes on the finish! I gotta be me! That’s how I roll! I gotta be me! I’m just keepin’ it real!

The Wine Rogue on Flipflop 2009, Riesling ($6.99): A seven dollar Riesling can be a bit like the women on www.hotavailablebabes.com: You know what you’ll find will likely be bad, but you’re still a little surprised at how bad. Not so with this bottle. Flavors of pineapple and a delicious minerality make this wine as much of a bargain as it is a treat.

The Forbidden Wine (or “How Can I Drink This Without My Wife Finding Out?”)

March 2, 2011

Leaving me alone in the house with an expensive bottle of newly acquired Brunello is like throwing a Dungeons & Dragons nerd in the closet with an unopened Wrath of Ashardolon board game (yes that includes all forty-two plastic hero and monster figurines). Immediately, the wine-lubed gears in my brain begin to turn, plotting a way for me to open and drink the bottle, which my wife has clearly reserved for a special occasion. Could I drink the bottle when she’s out, get rid of the empty, then pretend to know nothing of the missing wine as if we never had it in the first place? No, that only seems to work for little things like leftover chocolate cake. It clearly didn’t work with our tax return money.

The little devil on my left shoulder suddenly sounded so much more reasonable than the goody-two-shoes angel on my right and I began to formulate more complex schemes. Maybe, just maybe, I could pull off some kind of an elaborate switch. I’ll take the cheap red blend out of the bottle and switch it with the Brunello! Then—“Should we drink the cheap blend this evening, honey?” That could work…for a while. But eventually we’d entertain and I’d get sent to retrieve the Brunello. I’d have to make that long, gloomy walk to the wine closet feeling every bit like I did in fourth grade on that long, gloomy walk to the principal’s office. Then, at the table, as I felt my face getting red and my wife’s eyes boring into me, our guests would politely talk about how they remembered the Brunello tasting so much more complex the last time they drank it .

No, until I think of a more brilliant David Copperfield-like scam, I’m stuck here in the house with the coveted wine, always within reach but always forbidden. So close yet so far away. It is for this reason that finding a great sub-twenty dollar wine is so fun: No scams are required to drink them. This week’s recommendation is priced to be enjoyed on any occasion—even without the wife’s permission.

Cannonball 2007, Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99): A dark, well-rounded wine from California. I tasted dark fruit and smokiness with not too much oak. It’s very big but still controlled and complex–like the retired football player who becomes a concert pianist. Cannonball is good on its own or with a juicy steak.

Good Wine, Bad Movies, and the Feeling that You Can’t Go Back

February 15, 2011

Disappointment. Get used to it if you’re a fan of grape juice, because loving the vino is a one way street. Once you’ve had a glass of elixir that truly moves you, it’s hard to go back to the same old vanilla mediocrity you got yourself used to. You want more. You want to be moved again. But how does one go back to the farm after experiencing a few nights of the MC Hammer lifestyle in the big city? How does one go back to watching WNBA reruns after seeing the Celtics play the Lakers? Sure, I could walk into the nearest reputable wine shop and purchase a bottle with a price tag equal to the GDP of a third world country, but that’s no guarantee drinking it will make me see God. The trick is—no, the fun is—no, the joy is finding that little unknown gem that is way under priced and treating it like your favorite little indie band whose every song is just so good but nobody has yet heard of them.  

The first thing you have to do is find a good store. Good wine shops have good people. Basically two types of people work in wine stores: the ones who love wine and want to share that love, and the ones with the “I’m here because I messed up at White Castle” expression on their face. Good wine stores have an abundance of the former. Next, ask them questions. Build a relationship. There is no wine equivalent of the “when’s the baby due?” question that caused so much trouble with your sister’s friend. Try to find a person with your taste. Think of it like finding a movie critic with your tastes because with wine, one man’s Gone with the Wind is another mans Gigli.  Will this guarantee a hit every time? No, but at least he/she can eliminate wine’s version of the Leprechaun series. It skews the odds in your favor. It sets yourself up to win more than you lose.

Finally, and I’ve preached this before, try everything. Don’t let odd grape varietals, different regions, or new blends scare you away. This week’s recommendation is a rock star!  

Arizona Stronghold, Nachise Blend ($19.99): Nachise reminds me of my cousin who returned from Europe sporting an accent, drinking tiny, strong coffees, and wearing a beret. It’s completely American, yes, but it mimics the Rhone style perfectly.

Loving Wine Doesn’t Make Me Debonair–Does It?

February 1, 2011

I arrive at the DASWI conference (Discuss and Argue Silly Wine Information) where a buxom brunette named Vinifera Galore meets me at the check-in table. She’s been waiting just for me. She hands me a glass of wine and with demure smile says, “Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Barber. Care for a Savigny les Beaune?”I look her in the eye and with a charming grin I coyly reply, “As long as it’s not a ’92.” My entourage of brown-nosers and wannabees politely laugh because the joke is actually on the ’92 vintage, which everyone knows was rather dreadful, really.

            “Splendid! Splendid, old chap!” they say as they gather around me in their blazers, silk scarves, and turtle-necks. I straiten my ascot, begin speaking, and they hang on my every word. I know all the wines, vintages, regions, and facts and I spew them liberally. Some passersby believe I’m speaking in tongues. Before long I’m pontificating obscure wine minutia with a passion that some astronomers reserve for arguing that yes, Pluto really is still a planet, damn it.      

If the above paragraphs appeal to you, you’re reading the wrong column. The true story is that I’m more likely to attend the IJAWA conference (I Just Appreciate Wine’s Awesomeness) while wearing an ABGB T-shirt (Anyone But Green Bay). The judging method I use is very simple. There’s one needle and it’s located front and center over the wow-factor gauge in my head. The wine that sends that needle highest wins. Does that mean I don’t taste and appreciate the hints of forest floor, the nuance of baked leather, or the subtle tones of moldy walrus hide? No, actually I do–but obsessing on it only gets in the way of discussing more important topics like why the Goddesses of India have so many arms or what on Earth the first person to ever milk a cow was thinking.

I love wine. But for me, once it becomes a matter of trying to outwine someone else, I bale quicker than when I had my blind date with Rosie O’Donnell.

This week’s recommendation comes from Washington.

Corvidae Lenore 2008, Columbia Valley Syrah ($11.99): I’m tempted to soliloquize about how drinking Lenore is like drinking liquid, silky, dry hay. Or espouse its light tannins and balance of pepper with fruit, etc. All of this would be true but I just won’t let that get in the way of appreciating its total awesomeness.

My Dumb Phase

January 25, 2011

I was pretty stupid when I was in junior high. When I was baking a cake in eighth grade home economics class, the instructions told me to grease the bottom and sides of the pan; so I did—on the outsides.  In seventh grade history class, I wrote a five page book report on the pheasants that lived during the old medieval feudal system. Not the peasants, mind you—the pheasants. According to the paper, the pheasants were not able to leave the fiefdom without first receiving the lord’s consent. Junior high was also the time when I thought the word “awry” was pronounced like “awe-ree”. Once during summer break I tied a rope to my friend’s mini bike to see if my skateboard could do thirty. Turns out, twenty seven was its top end. This was the first time of four that I broke my arm in junior high.

Let me continue. Once in social studies class I copied every single answer off a friend’s test paper—beginning with his name. On two separate dares I chewed tin foil, and pushed a pin into the wall socket. Rather than taking the $5/hr. caddying job, I stuck with the $3/hr. lawn mowing job because I thought it would look better on a resume one day. I remember wishing I could score with the ladies the way Freddy Mercury probably did. Once in a spelling competition I misspelled the word “Angel.” A-N-G-L-E–Angel. Another time I counterfeited a teacher’s handwriting on a hall pass to get out of going to math: “Please excuse me from class.” These are just a few examples. I could go on. I’m not saying I’m a brain surgeon now but I did get a little better.      

Some wines go through a phase like this too. It’s called their “dumb phase.” No kidding. It’s a period of a wine’s transition from youth to maturity. Shortly after bottling, the delicious flavors of fruit can begin to decrease before the complexities of maturity have developed. During this time the wine just doesn’t taste very good. It’s wine’s version of writing “pheasants” and just like some junior high kids, there’s no telling what causes it or how long it will last.

This week’s recommendation is a white wine and therefore typically immune to the dumb phase.

Sebastiani 2008, Chardonnay ($13.99): This wine contains a smart taste of pear, a clever use of oak, and an intelligent hint of butter. It all comes together in one brilliant Chardonnay.

Wine-Like Characters From Freshman Dorm

January 18, 2011

Trying to make sense of the diversity of wine on the store shelves is like trying to figure out all the new people you meet in the college dorm. It took the best part of a semester to learn enough about each dorm mate to determine if I thought they were cool or a complete dork. Likewise, with wine, a little exposure to the unfamiliar often produced a surprising and lasting relationship. The wine equivalent of the guy that cranks up Turkish folk music and never does his laundry can sometimes make a better friend than the Polo-shirted Corvette-driving dude. This is how it would look if wines were dorm mates.

Cabernet is definitely the dorm stud. Popular and with a good build, he’s on both the soccer and football team. He’s not right for every occasion, though. Sometimes he’s a bit over the top. Like when he wore his wrestling suit to class. Merlot is a lot like Cab but his sports are badminton and curling.

Beaujolais is so different from other wines. It’s like that weird guy at the end of the hall. Some people liked him. I did not. After a semester of hearing his ramblings about his spirit animal being the fish, I completely avoided him. Sorry Beaujolais lovers, I don’t get it.

Blended wines are like the dorm pharmacist who made it a lifestyle of trying to mix every possible concoction of native plant and cleaning product in an attempt to find the perfect buzz. While I didn’t relish the thought of trying his hallucinogenic bath salts, most of my favorite wines are a concoction of several varietals.

Pinotage has very different flavors: bananas or even tropical fruit. Every dorm has the Pinotage guy. He’s different, yes, but he’s also fun. Most of his siblings ended up as shepherds or in the circus and he definitely sports his family’s weird gene. Because of him you would never have the experience of air-playing a didgeridoo to whale songs.     

Brunello is the sultry diva. Everyone wanted a date with her but starting around $45 a bottle, we usually didn’t have the money to take her out. Bordeaux wines are the upper classmen with a few years under their belts. Boone’s Farm is the guy that dropped out two weeks into the first quarter when he learned there was no recess. 

This week’s recommendation is a white from Argentina.

Piattelli 2009, Torrontes ($13.99): Who hasn’t had a crush on a foreign exchange student? She even smells exotic; like flowers and honey. Have a fling with this one and you’ll brag to your friends about it.

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