In The Flesh?

Wow. Three years (more than!). I reopened this blog on a whim, and was taken aback by how many posts I have on here. While I struggle with embarrassment when I read some of my more vehemently-held beliefs, I must admit that I kinda like the me that I see here. Let’s see if we can’t resurrect him.

 

So, who am I now, and what’s changed in my life? Well, I’m still in the wine industry, so there’s still hopefully a good reason to care about what I say on the subject. I run the wine program at the local branch of a national wine bar chain, which is invigorating in a lot of ways and frustrating in others- which is probably what a lot of people who pretty much like their job would say about it. This is my first on-premise experience in the wine industry, but I’ve been there for more than three years now, which is longer than I’ve worked at any other single employer.

What does it mean to be in the on-premise side of the wine industry? Basically it means that I run a list of wines that people can drink on the premises. It’s essentially the industry term for a beverage program at a restaurant. Now, our program includes retail sales as well, so it’s something of a hybrid model, but we do more on-premise sales than we do off-premise sales.

It’s fun. We pour a lot of great wine, and people come and buy it. So there we are. I’m on the on-premise side of things now. Yay.

 

I’m back!

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An Icon Passes

Jim Barrett, founder of Chateau Montelena, passed away at the end of last week. Barrett was propelled into fame on a world stage when his 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay took first place among the white wines at the famous (or infamous) Judgement of Paris wine tasting in 1976, and though American wine would no doubt have gotten the recognition it deserved eventually, he did his part. “A life well lived,” his son Bo says, and reports that the winery will stay in their family for “as many decades going forward as we have enjoyed during his life.” 

 

Not a bad legacy.

Something Other Than Wine: A Review of Willett Straight Rye

I did it. I shelled out the $60 and bought a bottle of Willett Rye. I did not mention to my girlfriend just how much it cost.

WFE-Rye-cropped-close

 

From the distillery good enough to have the web address http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/ comes this tasty little gem. Aged four years in new, charred white oak, it was surprisingly smooth for a rye. I tend to find rye whiskies a little abrasive; this had a tinge of that element,  but in a charming way. The nose was nice, slightly citrusy with a piney, spice element and not too much alcoholic heat. A nice burn on the palate (thanks, 110-proof!) that I really appreciated; I like to know when I’m drinking spirits! The pine element really came out on the palate as well, but like I say, this was very smooth for a rye. Pepper, mint, cloves. Lovely, warm length; it went on just long enough to satisfy, and then it was time for another sip!

Tasted neat, with a couple drops of distilled water.

Recommended! 92 points. Seek it out if you can.

 

Purchased at Downtown Spirits: http://www.downtown-spirits.com/

 

On Wine

The world is rife with important matters. Global warming, starvation, and disease are a few good examples. You also might include war, pestilence, and famine. Throw on top of that the economic uncertainties we face in the modern era, and you might think that humanity has enough to worry about without inventing pastimes to keep us occupied. Yet that’s exactly what we do every day. Whether it be film, theater, literature or visual art, mankind is constantly developing ways to entertain itself. The most natural of these ways is through food and drink; consumption is the basest form of interaction with the world, and at our basest, humans consume. The human body needs to devour anywhere from 1700 to 2500 calories to survive each day without turning to its own flesh for sustenance. With that in mind, we should find it unsurprising that we are as a race slightly food obsessed. To paraphrase Alice Waters, at some point in every single day, the question arises: What’s for dinner? And whether it’s a decadent, multi-course French meal or a simple plate of pasta, there is no better accompaniment to the dinner table than a bottle of fine wine.But the bottom line is: Why the fuck should you care about wine? With all the poverty, war, hatred, oppression, and various other extremely serious things that the world has to offer us to worry about, why waste time on something as frivolous as fermented grape juice? The answer, of course, is that people love to concern themselves with frivolous things! Rather than focus on the massive, daunting – nay, overwhelming – problems of the world and the universe we narrow our focus to that which is pleasant and fascinating, and wine is a particularly enjoyable way to while away your time as the world degenerates into chaos and inhospitable disorder. After all, it tastes good, it’s an engaging thing to talk about (what with the myriad methods of production, grape varieties, and news of the industry – not to mention the sordid, tawdry gossip that comes with any community), and – here’s the kicker – it gets you drunk! Not drunk in the hobo-on-the-street sense of the word, mind you, but drunk in the we’re-all-so-middle-class and life-is-such-a-parade sense. Tipsy, as it were. Good luck finding another way to remain oh-so-classy while still scratching that mid-twenties urge to get delightfully lit. (Craft cocktails are, of course, making a resurgence, and that’s a good example of a competitor to wine for its classiness – more on that later!)

So there it is, the dirty secret that sommeliers don’t ever want to talk about in their elevated discourses on region, vintage, and method of production: Wine will get you drunk. And easily, too! The average alcohol content in a dry red wine has got to be around 13.5-14% these days, and is steadily on the rise. Compare that to perhaps 5% to 6% in your average microbrew, and it makes you wonder why frat boys aren’t chugging Pinot Noir through funnels. It would certainly match the togas better.

Beyond the intoxicating appeal of wine, the sensory experience is amazing! Spend some time with a glass of wine and you’ll (on any given day) find rich, dark blackberries, black plums, red raspberries, tart cherries, subtle cola notes, cedar, spice box, incense, leather, horse mane, butter, lemons, limes, peaches, apricots, grapefruit, kiwi, passion fruit, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. All of these aromas and individual experiences are waiting in a glass of wine – and that’s before you even taste it! People who are into wine – call them oenophiles, wine nerds, cork dorks, or whatever else you may choose – are obsessed with these things; the subtle differences between perceived citrus fruits and tropical fruits intrigue and delight.

Because no two people’s nose is exactly alike, controversy and dischord can permeate a tasting group, destroying friendships and dividing communities. This is fine. Anything that riles passion in the human heart enough to draw people together will inevitably tear some people apart.

I digress. Wine can be a captivating experience, but you have to be willing to be wrong, willing to be clueless, and willing to accept that with time your tastes and your preferences will change and evolve, and that you will inevitably look back at your previous wine choices – your ideals of oenology, your idols of viticulture, your concept of what a great wine is – and say to yourself ‘what in the world was I thinking?’ This is right, though it can be a particularly expensive problem if you’re of a wine collecting mindset.

The point of wine, at its heart, is to engage in your senses, to connect with your body, and to embark upon a journey that will never end, an experiential odyssey that you’ll carry with you for your entire life. Through wine, a little bit of France, of Italy, of South Africa and of Walla Walla can travel to you; you, the winemaker, and everyone else who ever tries a wine can learn about the world, can grow as people, and can experience life in a mysterious and dynamic way that is never quite the same from person to person but is nevertheless part of the greater shared existence that makes us all human.

And, of course, you can get lit in the best possible way: Like a classy person.

Tasting Group

The tasting group assembled yesterday. Here’s what we tried:

Sorry for that terrible iPhone picture. Here’s a review (including my miserably embarrassing blind tasting attempts):

2006 Lan Rioja Crianza: Light ruby color, medium intensity. Notes of red raspberries and red currant as well as citrus fruits (grapefruit rind), along with a bit of spice. Not a lot of oak influence. The palate was medium bodied, and I got an intense pepper note on the back end. All in all I thought it was pretty pleasing, but not ethereal. I called it a Spanish Garnacha because of the lightness of color, the citrus note, and the pepper note. There’s probably some Garnacha in it, so I don’t feel terrible about that one.

2006 Seia Alder Ridge Vineyard Syrah: Ruby color, medium intensity (which will be a trend). This wine stunk. Green olives, barnyard, funkiness. Actually, not a displeasing little experience if you’re in the mood for something bretty. I called it a Cotes-du-Rhone, which is unfortunate. HOWEVER, the fruit had subsided to a level that made me think it must be an old world wine. So, wrong for the right reasons (which will also be a trend).

McKinley Springs 2006 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon: Ruby color, high intensity. This wine had some pretty intense oak influence. Chocolate, mocha, baking spice, cloves, et cetera. Hidden under all that was some dark plum and blackberry fruit. All in all not bad, though a little new-worldy for my mood. I called it a Napa Valley Cabernet, so I’ll take the points on that one.

Clif Lede 2006 Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon: Ruby color, medium intensity. I HATED this wine, which is unfortunate, because I recommend it all the time! Anyway, I thought that it was over-oaked in a disgusting way. I said that I thought it was oak chipped at one point. Oy. There were some pencil shaving elements that were kinda nice (and should have pointed me toward Napa Valley), but for the most part it was just 2×4 wood with no fruit concentration. The body on the palate was miserable as well – thin, and not able to hold up to all that oak. I should say that my cohorts liked it more than I did; I think I was in a funky mood yesterday evening. Anyway, I forget what I blinded it as except for absolutely awful – an overcropped Cali Merlot or something like that. Too bad; I still like Clif Lede as a winery, I think.. Also, I have a couple of these in my cellar. Bummer.

Plungerhead 2009 Lodi Zinfandel: Ruby color, medium intensity (yet again). This was unpleasant as well, but at least that’s to be expected. Overoaked and thin, et cetera. Actually, not that unlike the Clif Lede in flavor profile (mostly because they’re both oaked to Hell), but with less tannin structure. I don’t really have much to say about this wine. It was spicy and oaky and had red brambly fruit. I think I called it a watered-down Cali Syrah, though Zinfandel was thrown out there as an option.

Arrowood 2007 Sonoma County Chardonnay: Golden color, bordering on amber. At least I pegged this one! And right on the head, too, though I knew where the person got it, so it wasn’t that hard. It’s blatantly obvious Chardonnay – everyone in the group smelled it and said ‘Well, that’s Chardonnay.’ I rather enjoyed it for what it was; big, slutty California Chardonnay has always been a guilty pleasure for me. It is that, too, and in spades: Creamy, oaky, big, fat, and fun to drink. For $10 (the price Esquin has it on special at right now) I’ll drink it all day long.

Sauvion 2007 Vouvray, Demi-Sec: Pale hay color, tinged with green. Despite the color, this wine was showing notes of oxidation: Petrol and nuttiness. The only thing that I could find that made it varietally correct was a hint of spiced applesauce, which I rather enjoyed. On the palate its sweetness is pretty apparent, as is its one-dimensionality. However, chilled down on a hot day this is eminently chuggable. I knew what this was, as I brought it, and it was obvious. A couple of my cohorts pegged it, though, so good for them!

Not shown was the 2006 Le Boscq St Estephe that I brought, as it was corked. Bummer.

SO how did I feel about this tasting group? Pretty miserable. I wish I’d gotten more of them right – I really only pegged one, though I got close enough on at least one other to give myself the point. However, as they say (and as I keep repeating over and over again to salve my ego), at least I was wrong for all the right reasons.

Blogger Shout Out: The One, The Only, Arnie Millan

Some people have all the luck.

My coworker Arnie recently returned from a nice, long trip to Bordeaux. He apparently had a fabulous time. While I’m sure it must have been hard on him to tour all of those chateaux and try all of those barrel samples, he took it upon himself to do so for our edification. We all must bear our burdens, and this one is surely his.

Feel free to enjoy his ramblings on the trip (including pictures of pig-face delicacies) here. In truth, they’re quite enjoyable.