What Do Ninjas and White Figure Skates Tell Us About Merlot?

October 28, 2010

When I was twelve, my best friend had a little brother. Being an eight-year-old little brother is about as cool as trying to be a ninja when you’re thirty-five. Of course, when you’re twelve, it’s a cosmic truth that no eight-year-old is going to seem cool, but this kid didn’t do much to alter that truth either. Here are some pointers I picked up from that eight-year-old about trying to fit in with his brother’s twelve-year-old friends:    1) If you’re the only kid on the hockey rink with figure skates, be sure they’re not white. 2) Bear in mind that any group of twelve-year-old boys who spent the last week playing army will not be favorably disposed to crawling under the ping-pong table to play rabbits.           3) When your middle name is “Neil” and your last name is “King,” repeating the phrase “Kneel before the king! Kneel before the king!” is not even remotely cool. There are more but those are a few of the big ones.

 As the years passed and the difference in our ages became less of a factor, I noticed some things. For one, at seventeen his jump shot was better than his older brother’s. At twenty three, he was always the guy at the end of the evening with the phone number of the hottest girl at the party–something his brother could never do. At twenty six he was working as an engineer—and not the train kind either. I eventually learned that he could show his own variety of cool that was unlike his brother’s.

 Cabernet Sauvignon has a dorky little brother too–Merlot. It grows in the same areas and has many of the same flavor profiles as Cabernet but it’s a mistake to think less of him for not doing what his big brother does so well. For example, he often doesn’t go with that thick steak as well as Cabernet. He does, however, work better with roast chicken. Merlot is often fruitier than Cabernet (as in real fruit, not the dorky kind of fruitiness encountered by playing rabbits under the ping-pong table) so it tends to not overwhelm food like his big bro. This week’s recommendation displays the best of Merlot’s unique and un-Cabernet-like qualities.     

 Artesa 2005, Merlot ($22.99): The light oak and tannins in this wine are completely supported by the soft fruit; much like a hockey stick completely supports a kid on two white figure skates.

What Can S’mores Tell Us About Wine?

October 15, 2010

In an effort to make the standard s’more a better choice for a camping snack, I attempted to improve or substitute all three ingredients–graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows with something healthier. The new packages listed all kinds of benefits. Below are the changes or substitutions I made and a brief description of how they differed from the original.  

 The graham crackers: Substituted with whole wheat and trans fat free graham crackers. This is the only snack whose flavor profile is based on gravel.

 The chocolate: Replaced with carob. Carob is a substitute for chocolate in the sense that Will Purdue was a substitute for Michael Jordan.

 The marshmallows: Substituted with sugar free marshmallows. They leave a persistent chemical taste stuck in your head that is more difficult to get out than that song “Muskrat Love.”

 I roasted the new marshmallows using the same formula we all do: 1) Starting slowly and holding them near the fire so they turn that golden brown color. 2) Losing patience and moving them directly into the fire. 3) Urgently jerking them back out when they burst into a hissing ball of flame. 4) Frantically blowing on them hard enough to burst an ear drum so as to extinguish the aforementioned hissing ball of flame.      5) Deciding the one tiny white corner that is still not a charcoal colored cinder can be turned to a delicious golden brown by again patiently holding the marshmallows near the fire. 6) Sticking them back in by the fire to begin the entire process all over again.

When they were done, I slopped the molten, ash filled cream on the Will Purdue/gravel cracker sandwich and placed another gravel cracker on top. I then bit into something about as pleasant as an African civil war.

 In spite of the improvements listed on the ingredients’ packaging, the changes could not be considered an upgrade to the s’more’s good name (unless increasing the price to $12 each is an improvement).

 Wine has similar upgrades on its packaging to be wary of. The terms “Old vine” or “Reserve” on a label does not necessarily mean it’s an improvement. Although it can be a step up for some producers, the terms have no legal or agreed upon definition. This week’s recommendation uses no such terms.

 Dry Creek Vineyard 2006, Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.99): Packed with coffee, tobacco, and chocolate covered cherries, it sort of reminds me of some of my camping trips in college.

Wine Critics and Romanian Moonshine-Be Skeptical of Both

October 7, 2010

When traveling through Romania in the early nineties, I had the opportunity to try Romanian moonshine. This drink was  . . . how can I put it? . . .yes, that’s it—bad. The locals brewed the mix in wash tubs in their basements with plums grown in their own yards. Without industry standards for consistency (or health and safety, for that matter) the drink was typically strong enough to warrant donning a hazmat suit when handling it. The distilling process was far from perfect as evidenced by the errant hair or lint or gnat floating pickled in the fluid. Wide mouthed mason jars and long-necked orange soda bottles were filled in back alleys when a fresh batch was ready for distribution. The array of bottle shapes and styles gave them all a kind of matching similarity, in a strange Twilight Zone sort of way.

One evening, a village official invited us to a little welcoming party. The party was the perfect showcase for the locals to show off their brew—kind of like a wine tasting, except maybe one organized by Satan. To my surprise, a number of local moonshine experts uniformly preferred a brew made by one of the townsfolk (Vlad the beet farmer). These critics were men whose opinion the rest of the village respected, men whose vast experience provided them with unique insight and expertise. These experts then goaded, pressured, and otherwise bullied me into trying a shot of their village’s pride.

I tipped the shot glass back and in a flash I wondered if I would ever be able to use my lips and tongue again in a meaningful way. I think I also briefly saw Jim Morrison of The Doors speaking with Genghis Kahn in the corner. The drink’s full potency hit me in the back of the head like my cousin’s numchuck hit me that day he tried to demonstrate his “chucknique” in grandpa’s basement. In that moment, my skepticism of drink critics was born.

With this week’s recommendation, I disagree with an expert as vehemently as a shot of Romanian moonshine disagrees with one’s gastrointestinal tract.

Trapiche Broquel 2008, Malbec ($15.99): This wine received a rather tepid score from a well-respected national critic. In a strongly worded letter, I told him of a small Romanian village in need of a good moonshine taster. I believe Trapiche is one of the best Malbecs on the shelf.

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