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.    


Fear and Loathing in the Liquor Store

February 9, 2010

“Can you pick up a bottle of wine? I’m making chicken.”

Hearing those words is all it takes for the facial tics to begin. Pick the right one and I’m the hero. Pick the wrong one and it’s like I’m the guy wearing white socks with the tuxedo. Too much pressure! I step into my local liquor store, gazing at the labyrinth of wine racks, feeling the same dread as when I look at the mountain of snow that the plow makes at the bottom of the driveway. I take a few more steps past the Argentinean wines and my brain begins to make that noise the car makes when you try to start it after it’s already turned on. My heart beats faster. I walk further, past the Malbec and I see that scary clown from Stephen King’s movie It standing by the Chianti. Through brown and crooked teeth he spits out the phrase, “Red with beef! White with fish and chicken!” Does that old rule still apply? I begin to lose my nerve. With sweat pouring down my face I panic. I bolt past the Merlot, past the Chardonnay, and past the clown. In a few short seconds I’m safe once again in the beer section. Looks like it’s beer with chicken again tonight.

It shouldn’t be this hard. Choosing a wine for dinner shouldn’t feel like a meeting with the IRS guy. Below is a quick guide that will get you through many common dinners.

Steak/Cabernet Sauvignon: Many times Cabernet goes with food like cats go with vacuum cleaners but steak and Cabernet is a classic. Try Sebastiani 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.99).

Salmon/Pinot Noir: Yes, a red with fish. Pinot goes with most anything so if you’re on the spot in a restaurant in front of the in-laws, Pinot is a safe bet. Try Castle Rock 2008, Pinot Noir ($10.99).

Italian food/Chianti or Zinfandel: A good rule of thumb is to drink wine from the same region that the food comes from. Chianti works with most tomato sauces. Zinfandel is spicy enough to pair perfectly with spicy sausage. Try DaVinci 2007, Chianti ($13.99) or McManis 2007, Zinfandel ($12.99).

Pork/Chardonnay: Pork just works with Chardonnay. In addition, so many creamy sauces and rich herbs used with pork do, too. It’s like the guy dating the cute girl. If it doesn’t work with her, there’s always her hot sister. Try Chateau St. Jean 2008, Chardonnay ($13.99).


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