Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wine Pigs, First Spin

The wine biz is a difficult industry for a woman. The same is true of the restaurant world, and the two are intimately entwined. I know the next few sentences might upset a few, but I wouldn't lay down a tale untrue. With stereotypes in mind and the knowledge of exceptions to the rule, mind your judgement and assess the story laid before you.

The past ten years of my life, I navigated the rat race of indecent proposals, profanity, butt pinching, breast brushing, chef snickers, scandalous sex rumors, vulgar come-ons, lude bartenders, drugs, booze, rage-devoured male managers, chefs, or owners, holier-than-thou male wine aficionados, (clearing of throat) excuse me, experts. Then to boot, a culture conducive to women with something to prove. The truth be told, I count on one hand the genuine gentleman I have encountered, a rare species to behold.

On a tame note, most male sommeliers and masters of wine prove to be sophisticated, fun, intriguing, intelligent, cultured, and perhaps a bit eccentric with an underlying arrogance, small doses or brazen, depends on each man and what he holds within. I don't know any masters of their craft who aren't somewhat arrogrant, pride is warranted where reverance is due. I'll never forget the ultimate snub when a famed MW turned his back on me in mid conversation to greet the male bartender at a restaurant where he was to dine that evening. With allegiance to reputable behavior, I paused giving him the benefit of the doubt, waiting for the admirable "Pardon Me," but I finally resorted to awkward interjection. He promptly ignored my interlude and rudely forged on to exclude me, mighty important talk it was too. With this instance in mind and countless others, I have come to the careful conconclusion that most men in the biz unconsciously or knowingly dismiss the female palette.

This tale to be told, though, has hope waiting to unfold, as I've found an oasis in the sludge pool of self-important male wine-Os. Many trips I do take to the house of Wine Pigs, a name they've been dubbed by friends of old. Iowa-farmboy-liquor-retailer meets master-mind lawyers, bonified wine salesmen, and little ol' me: just a gal into wine virtuoso. Greedy they are not. Male, and true to form with all their sexual inuendos they are. Doesn't matter, I enjoy their company and the vino experience they so graciously share in exchange for female flare. Rare form I sit, watching them weave their tales of extraordinary sips, wines of bygone eras, days of Bordeaux fetching prices shockingly low. Stock market numbers, chefs ever so bold, memoirs of friends passing to be told, voice volume rumbles as the cheese and wine flow.

With casual friends sharing the same plot in life, undying love for God's given grape lots, I have to say I will share many escapades to Chevy Chase where the Wine Pigs gather to slop. On this particular day we opened:

2007 Domaine de Baumard Trie Speciale Savennieres
One of my favs, Chenin Blanc, kissed with oak. Full body mouth delivery expressing quince paste, apple and hazelnuts, the perfect cue for a picnic lunch. Unique to describe, the acid hides under a layer of viscous aged notes, almost like oxidized but not, just a quality of this particular type found in the region of Anjou on the banks of the Loire. Savennieres produce amazing age-worthy whites loaded with sapidity, acidity and extract. The flavor that throws me a loop is ripe grain mixed with grapefruit.

2003 Chateau Destieux Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Woah boy, heavy, heavy on first impact, made me immediately think aggressive oak. This is a chateau that did not make the 1996  Grand Cru classification, but was incorporated in 2006. Interesting notes of coffee, plum, polished tannin, dark chocolate, maybe even some cedar box, but OAK, OAK and more OAK. Not my style, but riveting none-the-less. So aggressive I thought, which would mellow with something bold, like lamb, venison stew, or just a big ol' slab of ribeye done up for two.

2004 Cos d'Estournel Saint-Estephe
I asked the head Wine Pig to bring me Les Pagodes de Cos, but he refused on the grounds that we had too little time to lose. The highlight booze for sure. Definite finesse, less upfront aggression, which surprised me as Saint-Estephe tends to be blockbuster. Superb tannin palette-feel, lingering finish with that intoxicating melange of Indian spice that I just don't quite "get" yet--hard for me to depict distinct aromas. Cocoa dusting, red and black fruits galore. Expertly integrated oak, still young, but loved this. My kind of wine, so my love affair with Cos d'Estournel lives on lingering in the atmosphere of classics that never die young.

2007 Gould Campbell Vintage Porto
the whammy I had to guzzle so I could hit the beltway before mad rush hour set in. Just saying, port is a dying trend, but with the right pushing I think it could swing back around again. I'm tired of restaurant lists with poor selections. In a perfect world, grape utopia, I could stand to give lessons on Madeira and Porto. I wish entrepreneurs would dare to give in and make low margins on after dinner drinks, the sweet wines few care to "get." Wishful hoping, who knows what the leprechaun might bring? But back on track, the notes for Port. Rich, rich, rich, with layers of tannic grip. Blueberries on the rise, way too young to appreciate, yet great bang to finish on.

Ciao, till I write again...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Daybreak to Wine Love

Day break instills vivid impressions and bright inspirations. Daybright light--piercing color tones--probes dark corners of fading dreams, warms the household and grants promising hopes for the day ahead. A quick peak through the blinds: yellow daffodils smile at morning break, robins hop to broken chirps of song, deep breaths bring crisp, cool air, washing reminders of yesterday away. Pristine thoughts increase as I gaze on the earth stretching, giving one last yawn. If only I could forever capture the morning dawn.

Little did I know the tale about to be told: a recording of vintage interspersed with a love of old. 2002 Brunello di Montalcino, reportedly a sad year to behold, gives way to a startling account of poor quality inflated to stardom as context unfolds. The love of which I speak is none other than a relationship gone sour, yet continuously teetering as a love story never so bold.

Affairs of the heart are truly one of a kind, each to their own, exceptions all count, perceptions dilute, beginnings forgotten, ends eager and wanton. To speak plainly, my heart aches for a man I once had. A pain double-sided with desire on one side battling rational conscience on the other. Forgive and forget? Or move on with acceptance, constantly recalling hurtful deceipts, selfish acts, and lusty betrayals? Remembering my actions wanes deeply on my soul, giving in to temptation's threshold.

After a day spent lingering on romantic fantasies of how to rescind paths taken, the convoluted reality revealed itself during a simple tasting of organic Brunello. The night was late, the wine still young. Best friends convened having loads of fun. The mood was set, my spirits soared, freedom crashed my tranquil shore. Wine flowed, gossip flung, giggling girls poked fun, flirtatious rants with cute servers dared to be flung. Now with this in mind, I must reveal the hopeful vino poured by an owner wishful for my attentions still. In the moment, the 2002 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino exploded sweet swills. Nothing could make me more happy than the sexy aromas tip-toeing around the sensors within my nose. In the heat of the moment, excitement too palpable to quench the languid lackings of this wine and all its mid-drift packings. 

2002 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino promises fresh fruits, torrents of plum, and a hint of sun-dried tomato, vine-ripened with soft, powdery tannins from an organic run. Production persists amongst the hills southeast of Montalcino, where the climate approaches warmer pockets delivering luscious, mouth-puckering wine bits. But, lo and behold, the mid-palate went slush, leaving no room for fuss, tragically ending in simple disgust.

The aromatics still soared, so everything else I chose to ignore, because nothing in this moment could give rise to scorn. I missed the man I once knew, the man I once had, everything else left unsaid, nothing to brag. Now I know a lesson to be told. A wine can pose as something breathtaking and carouse, depending upon the company and context the drinking aroused. This resolves a riddle confounding my soul. Merriment is a choice, perception is reality. What could be more morose?

Now you'll know, truth be told, when you return from Italy with memories of gold and no wine in the shops here in the States compare, nothing is remiss, you just had something you'll forever miss: a moment of bliss enveloped in vino...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Better Your Batter with Wine & Beer

Better Your Batter With Wine
Batter, in bakery terms, comes in liquid form, pours easily, and generally results in sugary goodness. The words beer and wine do not usually appear in the same sentence as batter—a tragedy requiring immediate remedy.
Infinite pairings exist between food and wine. The trick is how to discover the moments of gustatory bliss when the perfect wine meets its synergistic match. Culinary experts and sommeliers provide elaborate guidelines to demystify the bonds a specific flavor shares with its wine mate. Most people know culinary aficionados, whether they be chefs, food critics, mom or pop, or your spouse. On the flip side, the term sommelier proves a bit more elusive. Who or what is a sommelier? What role do they play in food and wine pairings? In this case, a sommelier betters your batter; a sweetened cupcake batter, that is.
Sommeliers work in and around restaurant settings as wine connoisseurs. Besides managing the beverage program, a sommelier’s job description entails suggesting appropriate wines with your dish selections. Sommeliers spout many rules with which you are familiar. Meats pair with reds, white wines pair with chicken, pork or fish; while sparkling wines generally pair well with anything. Robust wines with rich food. Acidic wines with greasy fare. Exotic, off-dry wines with spicy cuisine. Lastly, the unquestionable rule for food and wine pairings states desserts match best with sweet wines.
With the cupcake craze in mind, why not question the traditional rules? Can dry, higher alcohol wines, red and white, and hoppy beers to boot, couple with cupcakes? In fact, batters in general have no accepted rules in the wine pairing arena. So, how do batter-made goods pair with wine or beer? Imaginative pairings require taste testers, whom I intend enlisting Sunday, March 27th. A toast to basketball mania, March Madness Cupcake Face-Off judges between batter, wine, and beer. Anticipate tasting dry wines with sweet bliss, rather than sampling ultra sweet wines.
In the professional field of wine connoisseurs, eggs, flour and butter translate into definitive pairing terms on a flavor sensation wheel. Close your eyes. Bite into a cupcake. Consider the aromas and flavors you perceive. Instantaneously, your teeth encounter sweet, sugary, buttery frosting matched on the underlining with cake stodginess, mouthwatering succulence, sweet tendency, and aromatic persistence.  Now, describe the cupcake effect on your tongue in layman’s terms: sugary rapture, buttery, fluffy, cake batter baked warm and fresh. Smells good going in and while chewing; upon swallow, you crave another bite.
After such a description, what pairs with this unique form of sweetness, since the flour and eggs add savory and stodgy sensations against the sweet? First, the actual cupcake flavors must be considered. Kristy Hofkens of Capital Cakepops--a hobby company she runs in Washington, D.C. when she breaks from government contract consulting—intends to supply Red, White & Bleu Wine Shop in Falls Church with five fun flavors: coconut with cream cheese frosting, Guinness chocolate with peanut butter frosting, vanilla with strawberry butter cream, banana cream with honey flavored frosting, and the last remains to be unveiled. The recipes are no bore, so the wines and beers will be equally fantastic. I anticipate sampling a high quality California white blend, an Oregon Pinot Noir, an Argentinian Torrontes, an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, and a California Petite Syrah.  All five wines face off against a different beer in each cupcake pairing, such as Heffeweizen, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Belgian Blonde, Abita seasonal, and Southern Tier’s Choklat Stout. Tasters vote on the winner of the pairs. Which team will win, Team Vino or Team Brew? Don’t have a clue, but I know it will be irresistible fun. Cupcakes? Wine? Beer? What could be more palate pleasing?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Beaujolais and BBQ

BBQ and Beaujolais? Never would considered, but Friday night lonesome fatigue was waiting for me on the couch. The finale of a long week with Audrey refusing to eat the delicious baby food I made her--reminiscent of Life As We Know It. So, I did the worst thing. I popped a California Pizza Kitchen Chicken and BBQ pizza in the oven. Of course, whatta ya know, but my 9 month old demanded hand-outs: BBQ smears, lip-smackin' cheesy goodness, and all. Note to self, my father was right. Kids love spaghetti and pizza. For me, my Friday dish delish was turning into a bombshell of salty preservatives, American factory-manufactured cheese, and that weird spongy chicken, not to mention pizza dough a far cry from wood-fired, yeasty freshness. What to do? I spied a bottle of Beaujolais on the counter....

I have to admit, I went on a Beaujolais kick back in January to experience the hype this region has received in the past couple years. I bought only Cru Beaujolais, and only from Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie and Brouilly. Was my palette off? Or did I just not get it? Every bottle failed to WoW me. Soft, undefined flavors flailed in my mouth, acid overran the fruit, and overall the flavor profiles and ashy aromatics failed to deliver my tastes to the moment of euphoria. But Garyvee, Jancis Robinson, and countless sommeliers proclaim Beaujolais as the hottest new wine wagon. Some argue younger generations will take to Beaujolais like the world smoldered Bordeaux. I'm thinking, Whhhaaaat? Am I missing something in my glass? Bordeaux WoWs me. I sway with tantric mumblings, intoxicated by Bordeaux aromas alone, the palate fascinates no less.

Ok, sidebar regress, putting Beaujolais back to the test. I opened a 2009 Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly bought at Wine Warehouse, Charlottesville, VA, took a big sniffy sniff, and enjoyed all the rest! Finally! I get Beaujolais and I'm ready to taste more. Aromatic yumminess bursted forth from the glass. Red raspberry finesse pumped up with watermelon bubblegum and pomegranate plush. Subtle ashiness in the back, but not a turn off, because it tickles your nostrils slightly with dusty appeal. Medium bodied, soft, supple tannins, bright red fruits on the front, middle and end. My kind of acid, meaning medium plus, well-balanced, salivating sweetness. Oh, and then I plunged the daring stunt, sinking my teeth into that monstrosity of America's classic TV dinner, frozen pizza warmed. Hmmm, I pondered, I smiled, I ate on. My Beaujolais transformed my meal. The BBQ sweetness melded to the wine's red fruits and high-wire acid while presenting a background smokiness that subdued the minerality of the wine, and passed on the ultimate effect: thirsty for more.

Cool beans, I want more, Beaujolais 2009 that is...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Zany Pairing: Sea Bass and Bandol

Mourvedre thrives as the mainstay grape of Provence's oldest vine-growing region, and grows in pebbly limestone, with pockets of sandy marls and sandstone. The terraced vineyards mostly face south, creating an amphitheater lined by man-made walls of river stone called restanques. 
Mourvedre produces densely pigmented wines with high levels of tannin and acidity. Being a late-harvesting grape and Spanish native, Mourvedre demands lots of sunshine and warmth to produce mature fruit. The grape's aromatic profile reveals herbs, ripe plum and strawberry fruit with a hint of meaty undertones in its youth, but turns to scents of leather and truffle after aging.

Bandol supplies Mourvedre with the perfect climatic arena due to its long, hot growing season and low fertility of the soils. My choice of red Bandol with Saturday night's dinner represents only 25% of the appellation's production, while roses comprise 70% of total production.

My brother, Bob--a chef at Willow Restaurant, Arlington, Va--purchased fresh sea bass from Washington D.C.'s fishermen wharf and prepared accompaniments of carrot vinaigrette, broccolini, and creamy lentils with mirepoix, shallots and thyme. Sea bass pairs well with Bandol because of its mild flavor, firm texture and high fat content. Lentils add a rich, nutty flavor to the dish which pairs well with the acidity presented by the Mourvedre. The combinations worked beautifully, the sensations striking, euphoria levels high.

2007 Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol rests amongst the La Cadiere hills west of Toulon with 25 year old vineyards positioned in a naturally southward facing amphitheatre. The winemaker blends approximately 10% Grenache and 90% Mourvedre, resulting in an aromatic wine with substantial tannins. On the palette, though, the tannins swell with softness--no abrasive, chewy or overly dry sensations. Herbaceous nose, pretty red fruits, bright acidity. As for terroir, limestone soils contribute to the acidity of the wine and produce lean, polished tannins. Pairs perfectly with the aromatic lentils and carrot vinaigrette, ultimately providing the fish entree with more substance, texture, and richness.