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.


The Great White Wine Migration

April 1, 2010

I can tell it’s spring again because the white wines are returning. One by one they show up, back again from whatever home they make for the winter, and settle into their summer grounds on porches and at picnics. As more and more arrive they begin to drive out the reds. With the warmer temps and longer days I start to spot the first Pinot Grigios here and there shortly after the snow is gone. Then, a few weeks after the last wind-chill advisories, the first Chenin Blancs appear. A friend of mine recently told me he spotted a Rose’ downtown someplace but that may just have been a fluke; one rogue glass that arrived too early and way ahead of the others. Or maybe my friend got it confused with a cranberry juice; the two have a very similar appearance.

The last to arrive are usually the Sauvignon Blancs. To attract them, try putting some goat cheese or feta on a small serving plate outside on a picnic table on a warm, sunny day. Last week my wife and I were excited to find a nesting pair in our refrigerator door so we expect to see a lot more of them this summer. Rieslings are attracted to almost anything but it’s still fun to see them show up. Chardonnay is one white that stays throughout the entire winter. To attract Chardonnay put out some Brie. I still have not spotted the more elusive Viognier or Gewurztraminer. I typically see them arrive with the summer salads, gathering around light fish and spicy Asian foods.

Although it varies greatly, around our household the whites stay in larger numbers through the summer months until the colder temperatures bring the reds back again. Following the great white migration is a great way to learn more about the variety and diversity represented within the world of wine. 

Below are a few whites that are easily spotted at local picnics and back porches on warmer weekend days.

Hermann J. Wiemer 2006, Dry Riesling ($17.99): This variety of white is easily identified by its lemon-lime mid palate. A complex specimen, it also has a unique eucalyptus element on its finish.

Kim Crawford 2009, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99): This white was introduced from New Zealand but large populations are doing very well competing against their relatives from California. Its grassy nose makes it easy to distinguish from other Sauvignon Blancs.

Tasting Wine Smackdown Style

March 10, 2010

When I took the Pepsi challenge I discovered one cola, Pepsi, tasted bigger and fresher than the others. By comparison, Coke seemed weak and thin. I needed to experience both of them right next to each other to really taste the difference. It was the same with Hostess Ho Hos and their leading competitor, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. When comparing them at the same table, in the name of science, I discovered Ho Hos to be moist, rich, and aromatic. By comparison, the Swiss Rolls, tasted like waxy sawdust, only not as delicious. The point is, I drank Coke and ate Swiss Rolls for years without knowing they weren’t my first choice. It required a side-by-side, head-to-head smackdown to really learn how one compared to the other. It went on from there. I began testing other things next to each other and can now tell you exactly why I prefer Vietnamese cinnamon to Ceylon cinnamon, Columbian coffee over Ethiopian, and don’t even get me started on why I prefer the AMC Gremlin to the Dodge Aspen.

Tasting two wines next to each other in the same way is a great way to learn what you like in a wine and why. Pop the cork on two different bottles and pour a glass of each. Start with two different grape varietals. Notice the differences in their aromas. Do they feel different on your tongue? Do the flavors of one wine stay with you longer than the flavors of the other? Push the cork back in and try them again the following day. They’ll last for a day or two. Have they changed after breathing for a day? For a tighter competition, try two wines of the same grape varietal next to each other.

Performing tests like this accelerates your wine knowledge quickly. Below are two good side by side tests to give you an idea of where your tastes lie with both reds and whites.

Oyster Bay 2008, Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99) vs. J. Lohr 2008, Chardonnay ($12.99): One of these is fresh, crisp, and loaded with citrus, while the other is rich, creamy, and loaded with butter.

Mark West 2008, Pinot Noir (13.49) vs. Ave 2007, Malbec ($12.99): Again, these wines stand on opposite sides of the isle when it comes to flavor profiles and body weight. One is driven by fruit and has a lighter body while the other sports bigger flavors of oak, cedar, and tobacco.   

Waiter! A Can of Your Best Wine!

February 17, 2010

People working in the wine industry often tell you that price has nothing to do with the quality of wine. I disagree. An $80 bottle is better than a $3 bottle every time. Having said that, I’ve found many $20 bottles show better than lots of $60 bottles, and many $12 bottles taste better than a lot of $30 bottles. The point is, if you do your homework, under-priced wines are easy to find. Knowing this, I decided to do my homework in the under $4 price range to see if I could find a true gem quietly hiding on the bottom store shelf next to the dusty cork stoppers.  

The requirements for this test were simple: each wine had to come in a regular 750 ml sized bottle, and cost under $4. I wanted to test the cheapest stuff available without going to Mexico. At this price, I could afford to try a lot of candidates so I was fully expecting to have a few good suggestions to pass on. After all the bottles, after all the hope, here is my suggestion: spend more.  

Anyone who tries these products and then claims he doesn’t like wine is like the guy who only rides “It’s a Small World” and claims he doesn’t like Disney World. It only takes another $4 to open the door to so many wonderful and truly top notch wines (I’ve recommended several of them in previous columns). Split the cost with a friend and move up to the next tier. After all the tasting, I arrived at only two wines under $4 that I can name here. One just makes the cut while the other is the big surprise of the entire experiment.

Crane Lake 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon ($3.99): I’ll give a slight nod to this bottle. If you’ve just lost a bet and need to save that $4, the structure in this wine is slightly bolder and more complex than the other similarly priced wines. But that’s really like saying it’s the valedictorian at summer school.

Charles Shaw (Three Buck Chuck) 2007, Sauvignon Blanc ($2.99):  This is the one bright star of all the wines sampled. Filled with citrus and summer, its acidity is nicely balanced. A crisp finish leaves just enough fruit and a hint of sweetness. Let me be clear, this is not just the best of a weaker lineup; this is a darn good wine.

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