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.

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.

Anatomy of a Wine Buzz

December 14, 2010

We all know one of the big attractions to wine is that it just tastes good. But let’s be honest; alcohol is an intoxicant. It also makes us feel good. Thanks to a few college classes in biology, anatomy and physiology, and zoology I have learned exactly how alcohol affects us on a physiological level. Let me give you a quick run-through.

We take a sip of our favorite wine and immediately the alcohol comes into contact with glands located directly under the tongue. These glands are responsible for producing hormones that help us control the volume of our speech. Upon contact, the alcohol interferes with these glands by asking them things like, “Are you really going out wearing that shirt?” causing them to retract and produce less of this badly needed hormone. Soon we are talking way too loud.  

Then, receptors in your spleen detect the missing hormone and immediately release chemicals into the bloodstream. In the blood, these chemicals simulate a reality TV show, fooling the brain into believing that it’s both richer and more popular than it really is. People with an excess of these chemicals have an elevated frequency of saying, “You guys are my best friends,” and display a marked decrease in financially responsible spending.

Once the chemicals reach other receptors located in the pancreas, electric signals are produced and sent down nerve fibers to your body’s extremities. These signals mimic the popular kid in junior high and convince all the body parts to do things they shouldn’t. Before long, your larynx believes it can handle that Whitney Houston number, your feet can “outdance all these fools,” and your eyes are saying, “Hang on. I’ll find a karaoke machine!”

Eventually the excess hormones and electronic signals find their way to the base of your spine where they are collected by a small dwarf or frog that lives there and are recycled into carbohydrates to be used during exercise (these carbohydrates have also been known to interfere with decisions about appropriate swim wear in German men).

Yes, education is a good thing. This week’s wine recommendation is also a good thing.

Monte Volpe 2009, Primo Bianco ($8.99): A delicious, affordable, yet very well-made California wine created in the style of an Italian white blend. Like many Italian wines it is also very good with food. Don’t even get me started on what the food does once it reaches your digestive system.

Winter Wines

November 8, 2010

Is there such a thing as a winter wine? Technically the best wine for the occasion is whichever one you want to drink. However, because we tend to gravitate toward specific foods in the winter and during the holidays, we also tend to gravitate toward the wines that go so well with them. Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite wines to drink during the winter months.  

 Cabernet Sauvignon–The setting: This wine is perfect for a winter night right after the plow leaves that mountain of snow at the bottom of your driveway. Wait until your neighbor with the new snow blower arrives home from work. Just as he’s pulling into his driveway, make your way to the mailbox with a fake limp and your grandfather’s old cane. Smile, wave, and go back inside and pour a glass of Cabernet. Then watch from the window while he clears the obstacle for you. He’ll feel good because he’s helping someone in need. You’ll feel good because it’s so warm inside.

 Cabernet Franc–The setting: Keep a bottle of this wine on hand for when a relative brings lutefisk to the holiday meal. As you pour the wine into your glass, adopt a pained expression and explain that unfortunately lutefisk doesn’t go well with Cab Franc but you look forward to eating it tomorrow when leftover lutefisk is a holiday tradition after ice skating. True, you haven’t skated since you were four years old and the dish won’t make it out of the refrigerator until it has to be thrown away but your relative is left happy knowing that they’ve contributed to your holiday tradition. You’re left happy drinking delicious Cab Franc.

 Merlot–The setting: Choose Merlot when it’s time to wrap gifts. Tell your husband/wife you’ll get some cheese and crackers and pour some wine and will be right back to help. Stay in the kitchen while they get lost in the task at hand. Pour two glasses and begin to sip. Periodically clink glasses together and yell “Are we out of Brie?” Sip some more. Open and close a few drawers. When gifts are wrapped, return with two glasses while complimenting his or her progress.

 This week’s recommendation is a blend of all three of these wines.  

 Hook & Ladder 2007, The Tillerman ($17.99): Delicious and perfect with hearty stews and other big winter meals. Also a perfect wine to enjoy while not gift wrapping, shoveling, or eating lutefisk.

When Good Winemakers Go Bad

August 24, 2010

Cleaver Bill carefully lifted the plastic sack from behind the toilet. Removing the towel the bag was wrapped in, he wondered if the butterflies he felt were a result of his excitement or the fact that he caught the faintest whiff of the sludge inside. It didn’t matter. Now he had to concentrate. Using his prison issue boxers as a facemask, Bill removed the twisty from the top of the sack and peered inside. A cloud of warm gas flowed from the bag and over his shaved, tattooed head. Even through the shorts, his eyes burned and he knew better than to breathe.

 The mix looked different today. Gone was the color of crushed cafeteria oranges, replaced by a tepid gray. Gone too, were the chunks of bread crust he added for yeast, dissolved into the fermenting liquid. One by one, Bill lifted the thirty ketchup packets, the last additions to the concoction, and squeezed their contents into the bag. He had already ripped open each packet corner (he liked that part) so he could hold the bag with one hand and squeeze ketchup with the other. Omitting this step caused him to spill the sauce, making embarrassing stains on his orange jump suit. This was the good stuff–Heinz. He didn’t use the lesser generic brands which make the recipe taste kind of cheap. Those were the shortcuts the hacks down in cell B used.

 With unmistakable pride, Cleaver Bill resealed the bag and warmed it under the sink. He rewrapped the bag with the dirty towel, knelt by the toilet, and with reverence, placed it once again in its hiding spot. Bill didn’t care about the respect he would earn in the courtyard, he was just happy to be making the best hooch this block ever tasted.

 So why the ballad of Cleaver Bill? Because believe it or not, Bill is a good winemaker. He only considers using the best ingredients available and he strives to make the best product possible. Winemaker Gregory Graziano is a little like Bill except he has some of the best grapes from Mendocino County available for his wine. With this week’s recommendation, he skillfully integrates four Italian varietals and gets them to work together seamlessly like he was the Big House kingpin.

 Monte Volpe 2007, Prima Rosa ($11.99): Delicious and complex. Ripe blackberries and plums pop in and out doing short time while soft tannins lazily hang out on the palate like lifers.

Major League Wine at a Minor League Price

May 20, 2010

I like surprises. I don’t mean the kind where you arrive home to find your back woods in flames. I mean the other kind where you’re bumbling along and something unexpectedly good happens: Your blind date turns out to be hot, you get home five hours later than usual to find that your dog indeed has waited for you, you review your finances to find you really do have the money to take that trip to France (okay, this one hasn’t actually happened but I’m still hoping). That kind.

 My most recent wine surprise happened when I got a recommendation from a wine store clerk wearing a Metallica t-shirt. Not that 80’s era rock band t-shirts necessarily disqualify someone as a knowledgeable wine critic but I was in a hurry and it’s all I had to go on.

 “It’s like totally complex and everything,” he said. Hearing those words reminded me of past girlfriends where being described as “complex” was another way of saying “problematic”. Not wanting to appear as if I completely rejected his recommendation, I took the bottle. What the heck, it was only nine bucks. I brought the bottle home, placed it in my cellar next to my other cheap wines reserved for weeknights and promptly forgot about it. Weeks later when it was the only bottle left, I decided to open it in the spirit of discovery and exploration (Or desperation. It was the only one left).

 “It’s like totally complex and everything,” I blurted after the first taste. After discovering Luzon, I now I know how the junior high school coach feels when he discovers he’s got a future pro hall of famer on his team who so outclasses his peers as to make them somehow appear inbred. This was simply the most complexity per dollar I could ever remember. For anyone looking for a good entry into a “European styled” wine without the need to see your banker first, this is an excellent candidate.  

  Luzon 2008, Jumilla ($8.99): Tasting Luzon reminded me of a group of kids in the Scared Straight program: Licorice, mint, raspberries, smoke, and all the other characters were in attendance but none of them dared take a step out of line. After a little more research, I discovered the 2007 vintage was named Wine of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Luzon is a great example of balance and complexity.

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