31 July 2006

Tasting Notes for July 29, 2006

This was a blind tasting of French wines, of which I did fairly well picking out the grape varieties.

Wine 1: 2003 Domaine Félines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet. Languedoc, France. I think this is the first time I've had wine made from Picpoul Blanc grapes. Lots of fruit, high acidity. Some peach and apple flavors. Not bad. 14.

Wine 2: 2004 Fat Bastard Chardonnay. Southern France. No discernible aroma, but a mild and creamy flavor with some floral elements. Saw this one as a Chardonnay from a mile away. $12.

Wine 3: 2005 Remy Pannier Vouvray. I love this wine. Light and sweet, honey flavors abound. Medium acidity. Perfect Vouvray. Loire, France. $12.

Wine 4: 2004 Pierre Sparr Alsace One. Alsace, France. A blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. Light, slightly sweet Riesling style flavors. Some lemon, but a slightly bitter aftertaste. Not a huge fan of Alsatian wines, but this is a good representative. $13.

Wine 5: NV Domaine de Pouy. Gascony, France. Very crisp, firm acidity, lemony flavor. I thought it was Sauvignon blanc, but it turns out to be made from Ugni Blanc. $10.

Wine 6: 2004 Verget Saint-Veran. Burgundy, France. Chardonnay. Mild aroma, mild, flavor, definitely an unoaked Chardonnay. Not impressed, but might have been better with food or a fuller glass. $28.

Wine 7: 2004 Red Bicyclette Chardonnay. Toasted bread aromas, aged oak flavors. A little hint of pencil shavings. Odd complexity for a bargain wine. Limoux, France. $11.

Wine 8: 2004 High Vines Pinot Noir. Limoux, France. No English websites with any useful information, and I got tired of reading German. Little thin, with some strawberry flavors. $14.

Wine 9: 2003 Guigal Côtes du Rhône. Rhone, France. Standard GSM blend. Cherry aromas, light tannins, some cherry flavors help with the finish. $12.

Wine 10: 2004 Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly. Beaujolais, France. Smooth and mild, low tannins. Another one that I guessed right away. Wild strawberry flavor, that included some spice on the aftertaste. $15.

Wine 11: 2003 Domaine La Milliere Merlot. Vaucluse, France. Pepper and cherry flavors. Medium tannins. Oddly flavorful for a French Merlot that's not from Bordeaux. $13.

Wine 12: 2003 Cellier des Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Rouge. Vaucluse, France. 85% Grenache, 15% Syrah. Medium body, with dark berry and earthy, spicy notes on the edge. Good bargain, odd old fashioned bottle shape. $10.

27 July 2006

Combinations 4: Combos Goes Green

This Combinations challenge was right up my alley, because I've got plenty of fresh herbs growing in the kitchen. For this recipe I used basil, rosemary, chives, and oregano, as well as fresh cherry tomatoes and jalapeño peppers from the outside garden. And what did I choose to make?

A French bread pizza.

Now, you may scoff as you remember this dish from its frozen dinner incarnation, or perhaps as a dried-out brick of grease from the school cafeteria. Fear not! While it definitely falls into the realm of comfort food, I'd like to think that the way I make a French bread pizza elevates the meal to delicious heights. I start out with half a loaf of good French bread from the bakery. You want to go softer rather than hard here, though if it's too soft you can crisp it up in the oven before adding the toppings.

I dug out the half loaf a bit, and then added leftover spaghetti sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, chopped basil and oregano and chives, thinly-sliced jalapeño peppers, halved cherry tomatoes (yellow and red), a healthy sprinkling of goat cheese, and a few sprigs of rosemary. I topped it with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and tossed it in a hot oven until it just began to brown on top. Finally, I finished it off with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

This tastes great, though since I've often got all of the raw ingredients readily at hand, this has been a frequent midnight snack in the past month or so...

As for the wine, I initially wanted to go with a Viognier. When I think herbs, I think of that grape. However, with a really powerful tasting meal like this, I didn't want to confuse any herbal notes, and instead wanted a milder wine with some fruity elements to help bring out the tomato flavors. Thus I popped open a bottle of the 2005 Georges Dubœuf Beaujolais-Villages. I've heard good things about this vintage, and felt like giving it a whirl. The wine has some of the slight banana aroma you've come to expect from this producer, but it's got a good wild strawberry flavor to it, as well as surprisingly firm tannins for a Gamay. It went well with the pizza. The pizza had lots of earthy and herbal flavors, yet the wine provided a light and refreshing counterpoint. And serving it slightly chilled didn't hurt either.

I know a lot of people look down at a "pizza wine", associating it with cheap plonk drunk out of plastic cups by college students, but a good pizza with the right wine can be a lovely combination indeed.

25 July 2006

Too Hot for Wine

Despite a cool weekend, it's routinely been near 100°F (38°C) here in Memphis this month. As such, I haven't been drinking as much wine. No, this weather is more suited to cool cocktails like top shelf margaritas, traditional martinis, and refreshing mojitos using mint from the garden. And beer. Plenty of beer.

I'm working my way through a four pack of the La Fin du Monde from the great Unibroue Brewery in Quebec. Pictured is a glass of the fine brew I drank this evening after working in the yard. The glass and bottle are sitting on a brick beside my jalapeño pepper plant, which has been dormant most of the summer but recently produced a lot of new growth and a dozen white blossoms.

The beer is quite good, though as always with "big beers", you want to watch out for the 9% alcohol. Drinking one of these is like tossing back half a bottle of Riesling. It's got a tart, fruity flavor to it, though as you can see from the photo, it's cloudy enough that there's some definite structure to it, much like a hefeweizen. Because of the presence of this residual yeast, this is a beer that can improve over time. Indeed, the higher quality Unibroue beers are available in 750mL bottles (with cork stoppers and wire cages like sparkling wine), perfect to sit alongside your fine wines in the cellar.

One amusing side note: the name of this beer translates to "The End of the World". I've known about this beer for a long time, and always assumed that the name referred to Armageddon or something, given some of the darker themes around Unibroue's other beers. Instead, the label shows the Labrador peninsula of Canada, which the first settlers assumed was the geographical end of the world. Eh oui...

I've drunk this beer with some odd things, because I've had strange food cravings recently. Friday, I drank the beer with a tray of sushi, which was delicious. Yesterday, I had it with fish tacos from the local Mexican deli. Again, incredible. Today, work took me downtown, and I stopped at Cafe 61 and had a po' boy containing fried alligator, sautéed crawfish tails, and goat cheese. I wasn't able to drink the La Fin du Monde with it, but I did enjoy the Abita Fleur-de-Lis Restoration Ale, a fine bitter beer whose proceeds go to Hurricane Katrina-related charities. For the benefit of Yankees and other foreigners, here's the definition of a po' boy. Personally my favorite variety is one made with fried oysters.

Pictured at left is my faithful mutt Wolfgang, who sat beside me on the porch while I worked in the garden, took the photos, and drank the beer. (His black speckled tongue is likely due to a Chow or Akita back in his genetic woodpile.) As my grandfather said on such occasions, "Fellers, it don't get much better than this."

23 July 2006

Mini Tomato Update

Four out of my six tomato varieties have produced ripe fruit and have been happily consumed by friends, family, and me. The shot at right is looking into a paper sack, where I've got a bunch of them ripening. The big ones are Sweet Tangerine tomatoes, which are yellow/slightly orange when ripe.

Once all six varieties have produced edible fruit, I'll put up a big post with detailed photos and information on all of them. Later in the summer, expect some food posts with dishes using the tomatoes.

Tasting Notes for July 22, 2006

This blind tasting covered Spanish and Portuguese wines. And with the exception of the rosé, I didn't identify a single one correctly. Of course, I have never claimed any expertise in that region, and I did get a couple of grapes right, just not the producer.

Note: I think most of these wines would be better with food. On their own I wasn't terribly impressed.

Wine 1: 2004 Torres Viña Sol. Penedes, Spain. Made from Parellada grapes. Light and fruity, but I found it to have a bitter aftertaste. $10.

Wine 2: 2003 Viña Mein Blanco. Ribera del Duero, Spain. 70% Treixadura, 15% Godello, 10% Loureira, and 5% Albariño. Alcoholic, bitter, thin. Not sweet, but there was that sugary flavor to it that tasted slightly chemical. $18.

Wine 3: 2004 Hermanos Lurton Rueda Blanco. Castilla y Leon, Spain. 60% Verdejo and 40% Viura. Light, medium bodied, but there was an off flavor that was difficult to pinpoint. $13.

Wine 4: 2004 Pazo San Mauro Albariño. Rias Baixas, Spain. Pungent citrus aroma and flavor, dominated by lemon and very ripe grapefruit. I loved this one. $22.

Wine 5: 2005 Marques de Riscal Rueda Bianco. Rueda, Spain. Full bodied and fruity, not sweet. Some grapefruit flavors. Good bargain at $11.

Wine 6: 2003 Condesa de Leganza Tempranillo Rosé. La Mancha, Spain. Lovely salmon color, earthy aroma, delicate unripe strawberry flavors. Not my favorite, but not bad either. $10.

Wine 7: 2004 Torres Sangre de Toro. Catalunya, Spain. Made from Garnacha and Cariñena. A creamy red with Pinot Noir-style feel and flavor. Interesting. $10.

Wine 8: 2003 Riscal Tempranillo. Duero, Spain. Mild tannins, some berry flavors but ultimately a little flat. $14.

Wine 9: 2003 Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro Douro Red. Douro, Portugal. 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 25% Toriga Franca, and 15% Tinta Barroca. Never heard of these grapes? If you've ever drunk Port, you probably have sippled some blend involving these grapes. I'm not as fond of them in their unfortified state, but this does have some of those spicy and raisin flavors you expect. Think of a thin ruby Port and you're halfway there. $20.

Wine 10: 2001 Osborne Solaz Shiraz-Tempranillo. Spain. An unusual blend of Shiraz and Tempranillo. Full tannins, dry, but with thin flavor. Maybe a little age or breathing would help. $11.

Wine 11: 2004 Dow Vale do Bonfim Douro Reserva. Douro, Portugal. No website found. Made by a Port producer, this is again an unfortified Port. 40% Touriga Franca, 40% Tinta Roriz, and 20% Tinta Barroca. Dry and a little bitter. Very strong tannins. Definite age needed. $13.

Wine 12: 2002 Castel de Remei Gotim Bru. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tempranillo. I picked out the Cabernet Sauvignon in this one. It's got firm tannins on top of a Bordeaux-style construction, but obviously it's a little different. Black cherry dominates the aroma and flavor. $12.

22 July 2006

2004 Hahn Estates Meritage

Recently, some bargain Meritage wines have begun to hit the Memphis market. I'm a fan of the Bordeaux grapes, and it's often difficult or confusing to find an inexpensive French "claret" that doesn't taste awful. But I've had pretty good luck with the California blends.

A few days ago I picked up a $15 bottle of the 2004 Hahn Estates Meritage from the Central Coast of California. It's 42% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec. This wine definitely needs some breathing--it's quite young and a little ripe right now, but drinks wonderfully with some time in the glass. A friend and I polished off the bottle tonight over steaks and the usual accoutrements, plus a handful of tomatoes from my garden.

There are some good plum and blackberry notes on this wine, with a medium tannin structure that softens with time. Lots more forward fruit flavor than you normally get from Bordeaux, but not candy-like. A good wine and a good bargain. Definitely goes well with food, and I'd like to try it again with a little age on it.

14 July 2006

Wine Glass Charms

If you've ever been to a big dinner party, or general booze-up where wine is the main beverage, you've probably had to use wine charms, ribbons, or similar methods to mark glasses so as to avoid confusion. Though by the end of the evening, if things are going well everyone's taking sips out of each others glasses and everyone decides to go European and start kissing goodbyes, so it's not that big a deal. Some have suggested writing on the base of the glass with a Sharpie or grease pencil, but I think that's an inelegant solution, and more importantly, it's difficult to see in low light conditions. Ideally a wine charm should be distinctive from a few feet away.

Until now, I've never had any wine charms of my own, I've always borrowed from friends. There's not a big selection around here, and I never liked the ones I saw in stores. However, I found myself killing time in a craft store (waiting for a wine tasting, oddly enough) and stumbled on to a lot of little kits for making your own. Pictured at right are the charms I made this afternoon--this particular kit had an ocean theme, though I'm not sure why a butterfly is in there. And the one on the second row, far left, is a pair of sunglasses. For $6, I was able to make eight good looking charms, and an additional eight that I can use in a pinch. I've got plenty of leftover loops, and I'm considering getting some alphabetical beads to make some for my friends and common wine-drinking companions.

God, I sound like a ten year old girl. And the turtle charm is mine, nobody else can have it.

10 July 2006

Rosé Squared

Summer of Rosé 2006 continues with two entries for the weekend, both on recommendation of local wine critic and wine blogger Fredric Koeppel. Here's two that I'd been wanting to try for a while, and finally decided to go for it.

The first entry is the 2005 Melipal Malbec Rosé from Argentina. This rosé has a deep cherry color and a bright taste. Crisp acidity, and just a hint of grape skins on the aftertaste. A little more powerful than your average pink wine. Some berry flavors are present once it warms up a little. This wine also goes to show that just about any red grape can make a good rosé with a little care. $13.

The second one is supposedly one of the best rosés out there, and for $16 it ought to be good. Brief tangent: rosés all seem to fall in the $8-15 range here in the US. I don't think I've ever seen one hit $20, nor have I seen any under $5, unless you're counting cheap White Zinfandel, but I don't. Also, there are some rosé sparkling wines that are in the $50 and up range, but typically the regular wine is affordable and tasty, a great combination.

Back on topic, I'm talking about the 2005 Hendry Ranch Rosé from Napa Valley. Made of Primitivo and Zinfandel. And Primitivo is the genetic ancestor of Zinfandel, so you may think that this is a White Zinfandel. No! It is a Zinfandel Rosé Say it a few times. It's like therapy to rid your mind of bad associations. Light raspberry aromas, delicate plummy Zinfandel flavors without the sweetness of White Zin or the hot alcohol of a full-bodied California Zinfandel. The girlfriend and I shared this over a dinner of steaks, steamed artichokes with homemade mayonnaise, and assorted side dishes. Quite good. I've never had a rosé with a steak before, but it's not bad. The milder flavor helps you appreciate the subtle flavors of the beef better.

08 July 2006

Tasting Notes for July 8, 2006

Last week was the first round of the blind tastings held by a local wine shop. They do this every summer, and it can be fun. All of the wines this week were Italian. Somehow I aced the whites and completely screwed up on the reds, which is unfortunate because I wasn't all that fond of the whites. Hey, I've never claimed to be an expert on Italian wines. I have found that I prefer them with food, at least in terms of the bargain wines. For the most part I was not impressed with these wines.

Wine 1: Terredora Di Paolo Prosecco NV. Campania, Italy. So this wasn't too hard to pick out. Two sparkling wines, one dry, one sweet. Fish in a barrel. The prosecco was crisp and lemony, with a sparkling mineral water quality to it. Prosecco is one of my bargain favorites for kicking off a dinner party. $11.

Wine 2: 2005 Principessa Gavia di Gavi. Piemonte, Italy. Very light and thin, with a slightly harsh aftertaste. Made from the Cortese grape. $15.

Wine 3: 2005 Kris Pinot Grigio. Vento, Italy. Mild, with a little fruit, but ultimately unspectacular. Very flat. And of course, it's a Pinot Grigio. $14.

Wine 4: 2004 Villa Sparina Gavi. Piemonte, Italy. Hints of nutmeg, bolder fruit than the previous wines. A little apple comes through on the flavor. $20.

Wine 5: 2004 Bigi Est! Est!! Est!!!. Orvieto, Italy. I don't think I've drunk any wines with exclamation points in their names. Light and watery, not interesting. Very little flavor. $10.

Wine 6: Scrapona Moscato d'Asti NV. No info. I love Moscato d'Asti, and this didn't disappoint. Honeysuckle aromas and flavor. Medium sweet. $19.

Wine 7: 2004 Tommasi Rompicollo Toscana IGT. Tuscany, Italy. Strawberries and mild tannins. Some plum flavors. $16.

WIne 8: 2000 Lodola Nuova Nobile di Montepulciano. Tuscany, Italy. Herbal and vegetal, slightly harsh aroma. Mild, light and slightly tannic. $24.

Wine 9: 2003 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino. Tuscany, Italy. Very thin, no tannins, no dominant flavors and slightly bitter. Made from Sangiovese. $18.

Wine 10: 2001 Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Abruzzi, Italy. I love this wine, and didn't recognize it. Great berry flavors, firm and tart and delicious. $16.

Wine 11: 2003 Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella. Verona, Italy. Dark cherry flavors, full bodied and tannic. $26.

Wine 12: 2002 Vidussi Ari di Miute Collio Rosso. Friuli-Venezia, Italy. No info. Fuller alcohol aroma, dark fruit, mellow tannins and a smooth finish. Actually quite nice. $29.

Fourth of July Weekend Continued

A day late, but here's the list of wines consumed over the Fourth of July weekend at the R family estate. By the way, I took pictures of all the bottles beforehand, and thus didn't have to take extensive notes on the wine labels. Sometimes people get impatient if you're writing down a ton of information from a French or German wine label and their glass hasn't been filled yet. Also, these notes aren't incredibly detailed, because I was busy cooking, clearing dishes, and talking to everyone as well.

2002 Brau De Bot Vi Jove Blanc. Catalonia, Spain. No online information found, but it's 90% Macabeu and 10% Chardonnay. A nice earthy nose, light acids, full body, and pleasant flavor and finish. Drunk as a cool sipper while hanging out in the afternoon.

2004 Forefathers Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough, New Zealand. Good and crisp, light lemon flavors. Clean with an even finish. Another sipper.

2004 Vidanueva Rosado. Rueda, Spain. I reviewed this back in June and wasn't impressed, but someone convinced me to try it again. It's pure Tempranillo with some light berry flavors. I enjoyed it better this time around, I think it needed to warm up from the chill at the tasting. Reaction to the wine was mixed, but I'm glad everyone tried it. Part of my continuing rosé ministry.

(Funny thing: at this point in my wine notes, I've got a page with a listing of how everyone wanted their rib roast cooked Friday night for dinner. The following four Bordeaux wines were served with the prime rib and mostly finished after dinner.)

2000 Château D'escurac Médoc Cru Bourgeois. Bordeaux, France. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. My favorite of the evening and perhaps of the weekend. Lovely vegetal nose, with those classic Medoc tomato leaf smells. (I'm intimately familiar with tomato leaves these days, and often finish up in the garden with tomato blossom pollen all over me.) Great dark intense flavor.

2000 L de La Louvière Grand Vin de Graves. Bordeaux, France. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. If you don't mind reading in French, here's some more detailed information. This was more tannic than the Medoc, but had a nice and smooth finish. Excellent claret-style flavor. Would that I had taken the time to note all the complexities at work here.

2002 Château Maucaillou Moulis. Bordeaux, France. The name Maucaillou means "bad stones". The link will take you to the official website, but it's one of those annoying Flash jobs. If you want more detailed information--once again en français--you know what to do. This one is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot. Lighter than the previous two Bordeaux selections, this had great fruit flavors, light tannins, and was a very easy drinker.

1997 Château Mayne Lalande Listrac-Médoc. Bordeaux, France. 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot. Good and peppery, very well balanced. Beautifully aged. Always a pleasure to drink a wine that's been well cared-for.

Fitz-Ritter Riesling Spätlese. Pfalz, Germany. The link takes you to the official website, but you won't find this particular wine there. It was custom made in a limited run for the 1st Battalion, ___th Aviation Regiment of the US Army. (Again, details left out to spare the innocent.) This is a Halbtrocken wine, meaning that it's half dry... or half sweet, depending on your perspective. Clear and crisp, and the light sweetness made this an incredible afternoon sipper.

2004 Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer. Alsace, France. Lightly sweet, with good spice characteristics. This was served with the root vegetable soup, if I remember correctly.

2004 Black Swan Chardonnay. South Eastern Australia. A standard Chardonnay, with a touch of Verdelho. Used to make the aforementioned soup.

2003 Georges Dubœuf Fleurie. Beaujolais, France. The main site doesn't have much information, but you can always read elsewhere. Fleurie is a wonderful wine, and I smile everytime I drink a higher-end Beaujolais. Very light and dry. A touch of the famous banana aroma, but there are hints of strawberry and cherry. Slightly drying tannins, but those are necessary for aging. Served with the bacon-wrapped scallops and affiliated side dishes.

(Note: the remaining wines were drunk with the pork tenderloin and acorn squash.)

2002 Croix du Mayne Cahors. Cahors, France. 85% Malbec and 15% Merlot. A kind gift from Tom, who knows my love of Malbec and inability to get any French Malbec (pretty much confined to Cahors) here in Memphis. The first Cahors he got me was oxidized, but this bottle was a winner. Light plum flavors, mild tannins, deep dark color. Fantastic structure. If I ever make it to France, I'm going to try to spend a weekend in this region and see what they eat with this style of wine.

2002 Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune. Burgundy, France. Light and mellow, black cherry flavors were prominent. Firm, drying tannins.

2004 Iris Hills Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, Oregon. Full bodied, strawberry aromas and flavors dominate. I'd suggested Pinot Noir for the pork, and between this and the Burgundy I think we were well covered. If I had unlimited funds, I think I'd drink a lot more Oregon wine than I do right now. So much of it is made in small production runs on small, independent vineyards. Naturally it's more expensive that way, but I love the stuff.

One final wine before we switched to the Ports described in the previous post...

1996 Königshof Riesling Auslese Bopparder Hamm Feuerlay. Mittelrhein, Germany. Couldn't find any solid information on this wine, and I spent fifteen minutes reading in German. Light and crisp, with honey and lemon flavors. Not too sweet. Some apple flavors became present on the finish. It was a lovely color, though I recall that the Riesling experts suggested that it needed some more time on the rack.

That does it for the Fourth of July roundup... With luck we can all get together sometime next year. If not, I'm sure we'll be toasting each other for the next few bottles we all open separately.

06 July 2006

Fourth of July Weekend

I spent the Fourth of July Weekend near Nashville with the R family (last name truncated to protect the innocent). My buddy Paul grew up with the guys in this family, and we were invited up for the weekend. Part of the bargain was that if I cooked both nights, the family cellar would be open for whatever food was served. With a couple hundred well-aged bottles in wait, how could I say no?

The first night, I slow roasted a prime rib roast. Roughly 12 pounds, about two feet wide. It took me a good five hours just to get it rare, but it was worth it. Served with creamed mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.

We had cold slices of the beef for lunch Saturday (whole wheat bread, horseradish sauce and green leaf lettuce--awesome), and for dinner that night, I started out with a root vegetable soup. It was supposed to be vichyssoise, but I had a few more diners than expected, and it smelled and tasted too good to strain and chill. Essentially, the soup was good chicken stock with three sauteed leeks and some garlic cloves, five russet potatoes, a parsnip, and a good chunk of fresh ginger. After long simmering and immersion blending, I added two cups of cream. This was quite popular, even though I'd never cooked it before that evening.

For the first course, I grilled bacon-wrapped scallops, served with some asparagus and twists of lemon and lime. Jenny was kind enough to make a caprese salad with fresh sliced Ripley tomatoes, garden fresh basil, and some good fresh mozzarella. Yes, it was indeed fresh and delicious.

The main course was roast pork tenderloin, cooked medium rare with just some cracked black pepper and homegrown oregano on top. Some diners were hesitant at the pink middle, but I showed the digital probe thermometer and everyone soon pronounced it the most tender and flavorful pork they'd ever had. On the side, I made some roast acorn squash with butter and sorghum, and as a sauce for the pork (served sliced in medallions), I mixed bourbon, Dijon mustard, and some homemade peach jelly from the Farmer's Market. (That combo is rapidly becoming one of my favorite sauces for grilled pork or lamb.)

But what, you may ask, about the alcohol? I'm getting there... Like I said, it was a long weekend, and I had access to a veritable treasure trove of fermented beverages. So I'm going to be mean and save the wine for last. None of this is in chronological order, or any other order for that matter, but I'm going to group them roughly by categories.

First, I'll start with the cigar. The gentlemen present gathered after dinner on Friday for cigars and fortified beverages. Paul wanted to buy the cigars, so I recommended the Romeo y Julieta Bully, a maduro hand-rolled cigar made from an Indoesian wrapper and Dominican filler. I'm not a cigar expert, but I know what I like: a short, thick, full-flavored cigar. I only smoke a few a year, but when I do, I like it to taste and smell good, and at the same time, I don't want to spend two hours smoking it. Just writing about it makes me crave another one... My precioussssssss...

Next, the beers. For lunch with the cold roast beef sandwich, I grabbed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, an old favorite from the company that helped start the microbrewery revolution over two decades ago. Crisp, slightly bitter, and great served cold. Late both evenings, to top things off, we sampled the Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter, which I reviewed back in May. Deep, flavorful, complex, and excellent at room temperature, served in a wine glass or brandy snifter.

Thirdly, the liquor. I brought along a bottle of the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon, an eight-year old Bourbon in an attractive bottle with a natural wood/cork stopper and a ring of burlap around the neck. Smooth with classic Bourbon aromas and flavors, and a clean finish. I sipped on this while cooking for much of the weekend. Also very affordable--$20 here in Memphis for a 750 mL bottle.

The only bad liquor I had all weekend was some Courvoisier Napoleon. It smelled like decent Cognac, but tasted like cheap brandy. Strong burning sensation on the way down.

A nice treat: brother Dave had a bottle of Nicaraguan rum. I'm a rum fanatic, and I loved this stuff. As near as I can tell from the native label vs. the website, we were drinking the Ron Flor de Caña 5 Year Old Black Label. It had a delicious sugarcane flavor, but was lightly spiced like cake. Smooth and delicious.

Dave also had a bottle of Grasovka vodka from Poland. It's flavored from buffalo grass. Now, I'm not a vodka fan. I don't mind drinking it, but I prefer something with more flavor. But this was awesome. The bottle actually has a stalk of buffalo grass in it. The flavor is creamy and grainy with light grassy elements. Vanilla hints top off the aroma. Strangely tasty, and I'm really glad I got to try this. Not sure of its availability outside of Europe.

Finally, the absinthe. Tom brought back two bottles of absinthe from Europe, one green, one red. To skirt past customs, he peeled off the labels and attached handwritten ones bearing the titles "Apfel Schnapps" and "Kirsch Wasser". We prepared it in the traditional French manner, five parts cold water poured over a sugar cube into one part absinthe. We only tried the green absinthe. The first couple of sips were fun--strong anise flavor, very bitter. With all the water, it's not that strong in terms of alcohol. As it warmed, it didn't taste as good. I also tried it with more sugar (too sweet) and straight (pretty goddamned strong). I can't say that I'll be drinking it again anytime soon, but I'm definitely glad for the opportunity to try it. And none of us became great artists or went crazy after drinking it.

On to the Ports! We enjoyed the old standby Yalumba's Galway Pipe. This is affordable, tasty, and classy. Available everywhere, mostly 12-14 years old, and fantastic. We all loved this tawny Port, until...

Mike grabbed two bottles of the Penfolds Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny. It pours sort of a ruby color but the flavor is pure tawny, blended in part from Ports that are 30-40 years old. Great raisin flavors, and very smooth. Made from Shiraz and Mourvèdre. Nice side note: it is plugged with a natural cork (and the top is sealed in wax), but the box also comes with a separate cork-based stopper for plugging the bottle after the initial opening. Friendly touch there. Runs around $70, and we mostly killed a bottle on the second night.

And the wines? But what about the wines? Please, for the love of God, write about the wines! And I will... Sometime Friday.

Tomato Update

Here's an update of the tomato crop here at Casa de Benito... I don't think I gave the link in my prior posting, but you can click the links for June 12 and today. Right now I've got over 150 tomatoes growing, and can't wait to eat them throughout the summer. After writing up this essay, I picked the two slightly ripe ones and brought them inside to ripen on their own.

04 July 2006

Wine Blogging Wednesday #23

So the theme is pair a wine with BBQ... Luckily, I was doing some barbecuing tonight in honor of the Fourth of July and we were also celebrating my girlfriend's birthday. I smoked ten pounds of Danish spare ribs, using a blend of hickory, apple, cherry, and sassafrass. They sat on the smoker for about four hours, and emerged delicious. Side dishes were simple: store-bought potato salad and cole slaw with some rolls (thanks, Paul!). I made the cake from scratch, and unfortunately don't have any pictures. The bottom layer was chocolate cake, the top layer was white chocolate, and it was covered in buttercream frosting--all made from scratch. I decorated the top with thin slices of kiwi and strawberry.

For the wine, I chose the Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay. This is a longtime favorite of mine, and can generally be found around here for $6-8. I like it with things like BBQ, fried chicken, chicken wings, etc. It's light and crisp, great served cold, and the sparkling character and decent acidity really cut through the grease. I also really like to use it as a starting beverage for casual dinner parties. As soon as everyone shows up, you pop a bottle of bubbly and everyone is immediately interested. It's not New Year's or a wedding, is it OK to drink sparkling wine? Hell yeah, and it goes great with those little fried appetizers.