28 April 2007

2001 Guenoc Victorian Claret

2001 Guenoc Victorian Claret, North Coast, California. No direct blend information, but other vintages show a mostly Bordeaux/classic Claret mix. This was part of a set of leftover cases that a distributor was unloading; a six-year old wine with some great structure for $10.

Plum aromas and flavors, full fruit beginning with a milder middle and tannic finish. Some notes of rose petals and a little leather.

25 April 2007

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

Every connoisseur has a couple of items that he or she is always striving towards. For instance, one of these days I'll have a Kobe beef ribeye. But this past weekend, I got to check a different one off the list.

I've written in the past about the amazing spirit behind the Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware. I've had the 60 minute and 90 minute IPAs, but I finally found a bottle of the Dogfish Head 120 Minute Imperial India Pale Ale. $10 for a 12 oz. bottle, and what does that time mean? From the website:
Brewed to a colossal 45-degree plato, boiled for a full 2 hours while being continuously hopped with high-alpha American hops, then dry-hopped daily in the fermenter for a month & aged for nother month on whole-leaf hops!!! Our 120 Minute I.P.A. is by far the biggest I.P.A. ever brewed! At 20% abv and 120 ibus you can see why we call this beer THE HOLY GRAIL for hopheads!
For comparison, a bottle of Coors Light is around 3-4% alcohol by volume, and rates only 8-12 International Bitterness Units. Approach this like a Port or brandy. Most American lagers tend to barely flavor with hops, but this is an opportunity to fully appreciate the unique and complex flavors of the hops. In fact, the fuzzy image on the very understated label is an illustration of hops. Also note the tag line "AGES WELL". While other breweries are urging you to drink their products as soon as possible, this is the kind of beer that can sit in the cellar for ten years or so, and improve over time.

It's definitely a strong, after-dinner beer, and I split the bottle with another person. It's slightly sweet, with a flavor between orange marmelade and sorghum. Think citric and bitter but smooth at the same time. The flavor is long lasting and you'll find yourself licking your lips to get every last drop of the golden barley goodness.

22 April 2007

2004 Col Sandago Prosecco

2004 Col Sandago Prosecco from the Veneto region of Italy. $15. Perfect with king crab legs, as the lemony crispness helped cut through the rich meat and savory clarified butter. Just a hint of pear and ginger on the finish.

For those who haven't discovered the joys of Prosecco, go out and buy one now. A lot of people get nervous about sparkling wines, thinking they're only for special occasions or for foods like caviar. But Proseccos are a great bargain and go well with all sorts of casual, fun foods. And though I've had some bad generic sparklers from California, I've never had a bad Prosecco. Want a better match than crab legs? How about fried calamari and a nice antipasto platter.

17 April 2007

2005 Becker Vineyards "Iconoclast" Cabernet Sauvignon

I spent last week in Dallas on a business trip. I didn't have much time to spend looking around the city, but I did hike three miles north of the hotel to purchase a bottle of Texas wine. And on the way home to Memphis, my luggage took a detour to Orlando. Despite all of that, the 2005 Becker Vineyards "Iconoclast" Cabernet Sauvignon held up quite well and I was able to enjoy it with dinner Sunday night.

For $10, this was a great little wine. Full fruit flavors, strong blueberries and black grape on the palate. Surprisingly light tannins, medium dry, and decent spice on the finish. For the meal, I cut apart a 1½lb Porterhouse into three portions: the filet, and then two equal pieces of the strip, each roughly ½lb. I used the method laid out in the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated. Basically, you cut thick steaks into half pound portions, tie into rounds, roast at 275°F until around 100°F internal temperature, then finish them off in a hot stainless steel skillet. The method is sound, but good marinating beforehand and heavy seasoning is recommended to provide the desired saltiness.

The recipe suggests a finishing sauce; I've tried this twice and haven't done the sauce, but I did use some butter blended with fresh sage from my garden to top the finished steaks. I've almost taken to carrying a sage leaf around with me just to sniff it every now and then.

15 April 2007

2004 Bohemian Highway Merlot

Another entry in the bargain wine category: the 2004 Bohemian Highway Merlot. $6, St. Helena, California. Lots of cherry, jammy, a little tart and tannic. Nothing terribly great or bad here, just an everyday wine. Looks like it's made in California for the Australian Foster's Group, a conglomerate that covers wine, beer, and spirits. I point out these large corporate connections on this blog not out of any personal feelings one way or the other, but rather out of my own curiosity about various business relationships.

When it comes to domestic wine, I tend not to care as much about conglomerates but rather individual styles. When it comes to foreign wines, I'll follow my own curiosity but in a pinch it's always nice to follow an importer like Dan Philips or Kermit Lynch.

I realize I should have served this with some bean sprouts and wheat germ paste, or other hippie fare, but if memory serves correct, I tossed back a glass of this with a burger after work.

09 April 2007

2002 Jewel Petite Sirah

I love Petite Sirah, and while it's starting to be taken more seriously, it's still possible to get decent bargain bottles. For instance, the 2002 Jewel Petite Sirah, Lodi, California. $6. Dark and jammy, low tannins, blueberry, plums, and leather. Has held up remarkably well for an inexpensive wine.

I served it with a lamb and beef chili (a pound of each, diced shoulder and chuck respectively). Purists eschew the use of beans in chili, but I soaked a half pound of red kidney beans overnight and added them part of the way through cooking. Most important addition: a can of my new favorite ingredient, Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes.

Otherwise there was nothing particularly special about this batch of chili, but it was great for a rainy day. I finished it off with some Jamaican Pickapeppa sauce, which is nice and tangy with just a little heat. I've seen it described as Jamaican ketchup, but it reminds me of A-1 Steak Sauce with a nicer flavor and sharper bite. I find myself putting a dab on a finger every now and then just to taste it. Too bad it's not available locally in bigger bottles!

04 April 2007

Benito vs. the Buffalo

Buffalo is a term of some culinary confusion. It can refer to:

- A style of chicken wing preparation pioneered in Buffalo, NY (and used to describe similar ingredient combinations in salads, sandwiches, etc.)
- A large and bony freshwater fish found in the Mississippi River and served in certain restaurants here in Memphis
- The water buffalo, source of the original and still best milk for proper mozzarella cheese
- And the American Bison, which is commonly referred to as buffalo here in the U.S.

For the purposes of this article, I am talking about the last definition. For the benefit of any overseas or big city readers unfamiliar with the animal, I stopped by after work and took photos of my friendly neighborhood buffalo herd. I was able to get within petting distance, but I wasn't keen on getting gored and just took pictures. These are not the buffalo that contributed to my dinner--more on the herd later.

Now, this isn't the first time I've eaten buffalo by far, and it's also not the first time I've cooked with it. The first would probably have been when I was 15 and made tacos. In a similar spirit, I had this pound of ground buffalo and The Girlfriend was coming over for dinner. I'd made chili earlier in the week, so I decided on mini burgers a la Alton Brown's recipe. When I first saw that episode, I thought that the idea of making Krystals/White Castles at home was ridiculous. But I decided to give it a try and throw a gourmet spin on it.

The burgers were topped with baby lettuces and Carr Valley Mammoth Cheddar, which I'm afraid, is not made from the milk of genetically engineered mammoth clones but rather from normal Midwestern cows and produced in gigantic wheels. Add some home fries made from the now-ubiquitous fingerling potatoes, and we've got a decent meal.

For the wine, we had the 2004 Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa Cabernet Sauvignon-Tempranillo. Navarra, Spain. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Tempranillo. Around $8. Cherry and spice flavors up front, with strong tannins that held up well with the meal. The aftertaste is oddly cola-like, which isn't a bad thing when matched with burgers. Nice casual wine, as many bargain Spanish wines are.

Shelby Farms is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. It's a huge area, and among many other things the park includes a small buffalo herd. Sometimes the nearby herd of longhorn cattle are allowed in and the two herds graze together. The park does have an Adopt a Buffalo program. Despite the posted speed limit, the buffalo were mostly moving at 0, with a few rolling on their backs in the mud to cool off.

01 April 2007

April Fools Wine Reviews

In honor of the holiday, here's some of the weirdest wine reviews you'll ever read. For the record, I've never tried any of these beverages nor do I ever wish to. I've had some homebrewed wines before, some bordering on decent, others... I remember one offered at a pig roast that was served from a quart-size canning jar. It was a white wine colored to the shade of tea due to its aging in old whiskey barrels. While some wines are made in a similar fashion with great results, this one smelled like gasoline from an arm's length, and I politely declined.

Warning: none of the links below are suitable for those with weak stomachs or those easily offended by foul language.

Move over Robert Parker, here comes Bum Wines, a site that reviews the likes of Mad Dog 20/20 and Thunderbird (What's the word? Thunderbird!). With all due respect for the plight of the homeless in today's society, you've got to be pretty desperate to drink these wines. And you've got to be damned stupid to actually try them and build a website around the tasting notes. (By the way, the reputation of these wines has probably set back the acceptance of screwcaps on decent wine by several decades.) The knowledge that these are made by major wine conglomerates is disturbing.

Pruno is the name given to a variety of "wines" made in prison. The ingredients vary, and the end result is almost never pleasant, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Follow that link for a version that is based off oranges and ketchup and other unpleasantness. Here's a separate account of someone making prison wine using the "moldy bread in a dirty sock" method.

Though I haven't observed it directly, apparently prison-style winemaking is popular in college dorms by students who are 1) desperate for cheap booze, 2) have no sense of taste or smell, and 3) haven't figured out the more reliable and safer methods of befriending someone over 21, joining a fraternity, or simply going to parties. I read one account that included a picture of a fermenting bag of apples and rice, suspended in a slurry of God-knows-what.