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.

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.

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.

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.   

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.

Too Much of a Good Thing Ruins the Show

September 24, 2010

Years ago a friend of mine, Mike, got a ticket to the concert where Bob Dylan shared the stage with the Grateful Dead. He was so excited he could barely speak. As the night of the show approached, Mike was determined to make this the best evening ever. To fit in with the Dead Heads at the show (the group that follows the band for an entire tour by setting aside petty annoyances like jobs) he dug out some old hippie beads and borrowed his sister’s tie-dyed shirt.

 Upon arriving at the concert, Mike pushed through the turnstile, ran straight past his assigned seat, and headed for the best view of the show possible. Once on the floor, he figured why stop there, and with a light hop, vaulted over the three foot, wimpy fence that tour organizers somehow thought would hold back tens of thousands of rabid groupies. Everything he did just kept making the show better. That is, until Buford the security guy decided he would single-handedly restore order.

 Buford wore a crew cut and a pair of zebra patterned Zubas and was moonlighting as a security guard so he could open his own martial arts studio in the suburbs. He didn’t like hippies or their music and no hippie was going to hop the fence on his watch. He grabbed Mike, and like a wolf carries a squirrel, escorted him to the exit and unceremoniously deposited him on the sidewalk outside. Just as Mike heard the first notes of “Sugar Magnolia” playing, the door swung shut.

 So what happened? Why did the whole evening turn out so wrong? Simple: Mike went too far. He added one too many good things and by doing so the entire event was ruined. Wine makers do this all the time only instead of hopping a wimpy fence, the culprit is the addition of too much oak flavor. The oak comes from the barrels that the wine is aged in and is delicious—to a point. Time and again, however, the juice is kept in those barrels too long and it ruins the wine’s complexity. This week’s recommendation is aged in steel barrels and leaves oak out of the mix entirely.

 Mallee Sands 2006, Chardonnay ($12.99): Think of oak as makeup: a little can be good but we can’t always go walking around looking like KISS. With the oak left out of this wine, a natural beauty is exposed underneath.

Wine Pairing Made Easy

May 28, 2010

Walking into a wine store without knowing what I want can be as bad as walking into Blockbuster without knowing what I want. It’s always the same: After forty five minutes of doing isle laps, I pick a bottle with a good looking label and pray I haven’t chosen the wine equivalent of Leprechaun 4: In the Hood. Then, after the store clerk tells me my wine will only pair with Kazakhstani lutefisk I get the sinking feeling that drinking this wine with the pizza I had planned for tonight would be the pairing equivalent of showing the kids Reservoir Dogs.

 In the past I’ve used “red wine with beef, white wine with chicken and fish” as my pairing compass but I can’t continue to attempt brain surgery with something as crude as a wrench. A new tool is needed to help with this challenging dilemma. I need something more complex with more options to address the subtleties of hundreds of spices and grape varietals.

 Natalie MacLean, wine critic and sommelier, has the answer: The tool is called “Food & Wine Matcher” and is on her site here. With two or three clicks of the mouse I can now narrow my choices to a short list of wines that go with my dish. Tonight, for example, I’ll click on “Pizza” and a list of options appears. From those options, I then click on “Combination” and behold, there’s my short list of wines to drink with my combination pizza. For something so robust, the tool is very simple. The matcher will also go the other way where I can start with the wine and after two or three clicks have my short list of dishes to serve with it. 

At this time Natalie does not have a movie/wine pairing feature on her matcher. I’m sure having one would have spared me from Earnest Goes to Camp. However, by using the matcher I did learn that this week’s recommendation is extremely food friendly.

 Hook & Ladder 2008, Chardonnay ($17.99): This wine reminds me of a high school kid that has their act together: It’s youthful, fresh, crisp, and has a Sprite-like lemon-lime taste but at the same time it uses a refined amount of light oak to lend it a degree of sophistication.

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