30 April 2012

Bonterra Organic Wines

Bonterra Vineyards of Mendocino, California has been making organic wine since 1987. The red wines I tried have corks and the white wines have screwcaps, which deliver a clue to the type of agriculture they're engaged in. The screwcap has a silhouette of a parasitic wasp used to fight other insect pests in the vineyard.

It's some member of the family Ichneumonidae, a group of predators that kill their prey in an elaborate, diabolical, complicated, and gruesome fashion. See a few videos like that and you start to think that a quick blast of poison would be more humane, but at the end of the day I'll take my own health over that of caterpillars and aphids and other pests, and it's also cool to know that millions of years of evolution have provided the precise biological warfare agent needed to protect your grapes. That's the kind of knowledge that will allow me to take over the world with an army of wombats and nematodes. (Strokes white cat, cackles maniacally.)

In addition to the wasps, the labels feature other helpful animals: butterflies, dragonflies, birds that eat rodents, and birds that eat insects. When I was in Sonoma visiting organic wineries, it was always fascinating to hear about how you just had to make sure that your vineyard was open to the right kind of predators--you didn't need to buy ladybugs, just create an environment in which they were welcome. At Bonterra, the founding winemaker Robert Blue is a pioneer of organic viticulture in California, and his bottles are a real delight.

2010 Bonterra Chardonnay
Mendocino County
92% Chardonnay, 4% Muscat, 4% Viognier
$14, 13.5% abv.
Bright and well rounded with a ripe pear profile. Just enough oak to be interesting.

2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc
60% Lake County, 40% Mendocino County
95% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Muscat, 1% Chardonnay
$14, 13% abv.
Crisp and tart, lemony with a clean finish. Definitely a great seafood wine.

2010 Bonterra Viognier
Mendocino County
81% Vigonier, 10% Marsanne, 5% Muscat, 4% Roussanne
$14, 13.7% abv
Amazingly bright nose with herbal and floral undertones. Firm ripe apricot flavors with a dark aftertaste that lingers for quite some time. Definitely my favorite of the half dozen, and reminds me why I fell in love with Viognier years ago.

2009 Bonterra Merlot
Mendocino County
78% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 4% Petite Sirah, 4% Zinfandel, 1% Carignane
$16, 13.6% abv
Black cherry and blackberry, cedar, light and mild and smooth with low tannins. A classic California Merlot with an interesting blend of supporting grapes.

2010 Bonterra Pinot Noir
Mendocino County
100% Pinot Noir
$16, 14.1% abv.
Overripe strawberry, tart acidity, rich fruit flavors, strong finish. Definitely the strongest of the three reds even though it's typically such a soft grape.

2010 Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon
87% Mendocino County, 13% Lake County
81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, 3% Carignane
$16, 13.5% abv.
Rich plum and black pepper, very mild tannins, short finish. Excellent balance and, like the Merlot, such a wonderful blend. I love seeing the Carignane in there.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

27 April 2012

Double Decker Wines from Wente

The Double Decker Wines represent the rebranded Tamas line from Wente Vineyards in California. I joined several other winebloggers recently for an online tasting with winemaker Karl Wente.

These are three affordable, approachable table wines. All three are enclosed with screwcaps, which means they're easy to take to a party or a picnic where the lack of a corkscrew might be problematic. These wines are not quite available yet but the full launch happens in May.

2010 Double Decker Pinot Grigio
$10, 13% abv.
This has a little splash of 3% Viognier and 4% Reisling in it, adding some depth and character what can often be a thin grape. Bright and fruity with pleasant citrus notes and a crisp finish. Lovely floral elements from the Viognier and Riesling. This is an easy drinking white good for roast chicken or light pasta dishes.

2010 Double Decker Zinfandel
$10, 14.5% abv.
A plummy and jammy Zin with a decent tannic structure. This one would be a fun BBQ wine, served just a little on the colder side.

2010 Double Decker Red Blend
$10, 13% abv.
This proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Barbera is a lot of fun. I'm not sure of the percentages but no one grape dominates, and yet it is balanced better than some other "kitchen sink" wines that I've had in the past. Definitely great with pizza after work, what I've called in the past a Tuesday night wine: not a special occasion, no something that needs to breathe and be deeply evaluated, just a relaxing and enjoyable bottle.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

25 April 2012

Domaine Serene

When I first got the e-mail about Domaine Serene I immediately thought I was going to get a rare wine from The Most Serene Republic of San Marino. But actually reading the text revealed that the winery makes Burgundy-style wines in Oregon, and I got more excited. Founded in 1989 by Ken and Grace Evenstad, the winery focuses almost entirely on Pinot Noir but also plants a few other grapes. I had the pleasure of receiving a pair of bottles of their "Evenstad Reserve". The Pinot Noir is an established hit, but the Chardonnay is a new release that has just been bottled and isn't quite available yet.

2008 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
$65, 14.1% abv.

Light and mild with soft strawberry elements on the nose. The first sips reveal just a touch of tannins and a plum flavor, with a slightly vegetal finish. As it breathes and warms up, there's additional depth revealing bits of licorice and prune and dark spices. It's definitely a wine that rewards some time to enjoy over the course of an evening, not one that can be properly evaluated from a quick sniff and sip. Lots of great elements in this bottle, but one that will probably reward a few years of cellaring.

2010 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay
Dundee Hills, Oregon
$55, 13.4% abv.

Light aromas of apricot and pear, on top , while those associated flavors emerge in the golden depths of the wine. A rich product of Dijon clones aged, like the Pinot Noir, in French oak. It is not a buttered popcorn bomb but rather has just light elements of toast. It has a long, lingering finish and might just be the closest domestic wine I've had to a great white Burgundy ever. Don't get me wrong, it's still got great Pacific Northwest character but is built in a richly layered fashion. Highly recommended if you get a chance to ever sip this wine, and that American Chardonnays can be produced in so many different fashions.

I paired the pair of wines with a festive spring supper: grilled salmon, roasted corn topped with butter and pepper sauce, zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes, Kumato tomatoes... I ended up laughing at myself because of the salt.

I don't heavily salt my food, but I am judicious in my choices. Start with unsalted ingredients and add the right salt at the right time to make the right flavor. On this meal I used some Chilean citrus sea salt on the salmon, French sea salt on the tomatoes, basic Kosher salt on the corn, and California Chardonnay-smoked sea salt on the sweet potatoes (because that's the only combination I've ever found for that odd but delicious salt).

Salmon is a classic pairing for restrained European-style Pacific Northwest wines, and while the side ingredients were decidedly more Southern I felt that it all worked quite well. The salmon went better with the Chardonnay but somehow the sides were far better with the Pinot Noir. Two hours later, the Pinot Noir is amazing as an after-dinner sipper, where certain herbal elements show a presence and the darker berry flavors are more pronounced.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

23 April 2012

White Sangria

Sangria is derived from Latin word for blood, so it is something of a paradox to make white sangria. But despite the logical disconnect, it is delicious.

I used Sauvignon Blanc combined with sugar, vodka, green apples, limes, oranges, and just because I was feeling squirrelly, star anise. As long as you're not offended by licorice aromas and flavors, this is a really wonderful way to spice up a wine cocktail.

The end result was amazing, and Julia and I sipped it alongside chicken tacos. At the end of the meal I topped off the jar with Chardonnay. Tomorrow I'll see how that tastes.

There are many uses for leftover wine, but a lovingly made sangria is one of my favorites.

20 April 2012

Book Review: The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook

I'm perhaps the world's biggest opponent to the concept of aphrodisiacs, mainly because I've dated a field hockey team's worth of women who are revolted by my love of oysters and who refused to be kissed for at least 24 hours after said ingestion. On my own side, I can go months without eating chocolate and when I finally do, it's just another flavor, nothing special. This cookbook arrived as an anonymous gift or possibly a press sample--there was no documentation, but I remember the original debut well.

The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook
by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge
Terrace Publishing
$16, 208 pp.

This is the 2007 update of the 1997 InterCourses, written by Memphians and featuring models and stories from this area. It achieved a kind of fame as a slightly racy wedding present, and while there are a lot of double entendres and seductive photos, there's nothing really naughty or scandalous about the book. The photography is stunning, and you'll never look at smoked salmon the same way again. But as always, it doesn't matter how pretty the plates are or how lovingly the type is set. At the end, it all comes down to the food, and this book delivers.

Most of the recipes are my favorite type: not too filling but seriously high on flavor. In my continuing hope that men of my generation become better cooks, you don't impress a date by throwing the eight pound brick of frozen Wal-Mart meatloaf in the oven. Dumping melted Velveeta over spaghetti doesn't cut it either, and if the two of you survive the meal you're just going to be reaching for medicine rather than each other. I love that the book has an entire chapter on figs, an ingredient that doesn't get enough love outside of the Newton form. And a chapter on pine nuts! And basil! Each ingredient gets three or four recipes, a story, and with the current edition, an update on those stories a decade later.

It's very Mediterranean in its approach, and back in 1997 that was a real revelation to me--and an even bigger surprise that such an eclectic cookbook would be written in my home town. I'd been to Italy the year before with the girlfriend at the time and I was primed for that kind of approach to cooking. I've gone through various waves and phases over the years, but even today on a date, my goal is to keep it light, keep it fun, and focus on flavor and balance more than anything else.

For more background on the book, there's a great interview with Hopkins about her self-publishing success, and of course there is additional content at the InterCourses website.

18 April 2012

2009 Κτήμα Σιγάλας Καβαλιέρος

Has it really been two years since my last Greek wine? It doesn't seem that long, but at times like this the blog serves its original function as an easy way to access my wine notes. Though in 2005 there was no iPhone, and I still don't have a smart phone, and thus have never accessed my own website in a restaurant or wine shop. Of course, I'd prefer to rely on personal experience and/or the knowledge of the salesperson. I reckon I could print out the whole blog into a series of 3-ring binders and push the Bencyclopedia of Wine around in a squeaky shopping cart.

When it comes to Greek wine, I think the grape with the best breakout potential is Assyrtiko. It's a delicious white grape that's not like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc but is approachable and affordable. This is a higher end bottle, though many can be found in the $15 range. Domaine Sigalas on the island of Santorini is relatively young (formed in 1991), but the vines are much older and the label bears the minimalist drawing of Kir Giorgos, a man who tended the vines for over fifty years. In fact, he named this particular vineyard Kavalieros because "it dominates all the others like a cavalryman". (Cavalry officer/cavalier/caballero/der Kavalier/chivalry/etc. Armed men on horses and the virtues/attitudes associated with them.) The name Kavalieros is an odd example of Romance language leaking into Greek rather than the usual opposite direction. The ancient Greek ἱππεῖς or Hippeis is probably closer, though you could split hairs and use ἑταῖροι/hetairoi.

2009 Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros Single Vineyard
Santorini, Greece
100% Assyrtiko
$40, 14% abv.
Tart with a citrus nose tinged with a touch of ash and an earthy, dusky undertone. Bright acidity and tiny bubbles, a crisp lemon presence with a sharp finish that lingers for quite some time, yet there's still that bass line that keeps it so substantial and interesting. I'd love to see this after a few years of aging.

I got to open this bottle on Orthodox Easter, and while a whole roasted lamb and some red-dyed eggs would have been appropriate, I went in a different direction. Here I had a foreign visitor that had traveled 9500 km/6000 miles to reach my table, and I served some homemade local food of the season. Cornbread muffins stuffed with aged cheddar, sliced tomatoes, deviled eggs with a bit of hot pickled okra, fresh bicolor corn with butter, chili pepper, and lime, and a bit of smoked sausage with sauerkraut. The wine was particularly wonderful with the deviled eggs, which is maybe not the best Easter connection, but the savory/salty/tangy worked really well with this style of wine.

For those of you on the edge who still think of Greek wine as weird or full of pine tar... stop and smell the Roditis. You're just cheating yourself out of six thousand years of wine history and missing some fascinating bottles.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

16 April 2012

Saké Weekend

We call it saké, but over in the Land of the Rising Sun the legendary rice beer is known as 日本酒 or Nihonshu, which translates to... "Japanese alcohol". I'm going to admit that I haven't been a fan of the beverage in the past, even publicly stating so in a previous post. But maybe I've just never given it a proper try, and maybe the low-rent faux Japanese restaurants where I've tried it in the past weren't serving good representative samples.

Just for the sake of simplicity I'm going to refer to it as saké for this post. Particularly because these bottles were brewed in...

THE BEAVER STATE! Yes, all of these are made by SakéOne in Forest Grove, Oregon, just west of Portland near the coast. Which also makes me wonder... I live next to the biggest rice producing region in the United States (eastern Arkansas), yet I don't think anybody is making saké there. Another day, another project... Anyway, looks like SakéOne is part of that Pacific Northwest ethos of small artisan production of wine, beer, and cheese. The company has been producing traditional and modern styles of saké for 14 years, and a lot of the marketing that came with this set involved the use of saké as a cocktail ingredient. Let's try them all straight, and then we'll talk food and more... 乾杯

Moonstone Plum Saké
$10, 7% abv.
Sweet and simple with a pronounced plum flavor and a pinkish-purple hue. It's a little too sweet for my tastes, but far smoother and more restrained than other plum sakés I've had in the past.

Moonstone Asian Pear Saké
$12, 12% abv.
I was excited to try this one since I love Asian pears, but there's not a lot of the flavor there. I'm all about lighter fruit notes, but this one is just a little too subtle. Very pleasant with a grilled chicken salad, though, and refreshing on a warm spring day.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo Saké
$13, 14.8% abv.
Bright and lightly fruity, dry with a touch of yellow apple aroma. Crisp and clean with just a hint of rice flavor, and an extremely short finish. Sipping this revealed something interesting about saké: unlike wine, there's almost no aftertaste, and your palate is ready for just about anything next. Unlike beer, it's not filling, and it's nothing like spirits. Really a unique experience.

G Saké Junmai Ginjo Genshu
$20, 18% abv.
This one is stronger, nearly gin-like with the barest hint of acidity. A little herbal and savory, and it reminds me of an extremely refined and mild martini with no kick from the higher alcohol. While I enjoyed it with food (more on that below), it really stands on its own quite well and would make a nice apéritif. Highly recommended, and very affordable for the chance to try an amazing bottle.

I think you'd really have to enjoy it (or any of these other sakés) on their own without competing alcoholic beverages, just because they are so light and delicate. And thus I discover the problem in the past has been that I was tasting saké between cocktails and wine or other drinks.

Before I ever opened the bottles, I was worried about pairing. What goes well with saké? I've never really done any Japanese cooking... But a bit of research revealed that to be a stupid question, because it's like asking what goes well with wine. Depends on the bottle and depends on your mood. One bit of advice I got was that savory flavors and vinegar tend to go particularly well, so on Friday night I grabbed some sashimi and pork gyoza from the deli. I mixed soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, and started with the dumplings, the Momokawa, and the G.

And that's the moment when saké finally clicked for me. It all made sense, and it was delicious. The sashimi was terrible--not as a pairing but as something I might reject at a bait shop. I focused on the dumplings and had a wonderful time. For the rest of the weekend, I decided to sip a bit of saké with different meals to see what worked. I hit upon a great combination Saturday: a burger soaked with a little soy sauce and dusted with Chinese five spice powder, topped with smoked Gouda and a little reduction of shallots, garlic, white wine vinegar, Sauvignon Blanc, and olive oil. I let it cook down, caramelize, and get nicely tender. This was a perfect pairing with the G Saké.

The samples came with an extensive list of eclectic cocktail recipes, and the Boston shaker is imprinted with several of them, e.g. the delightfully named Spicy Mothra (pear saké and ginger vodka). I didn't get around to any of them during this weekend, but might try a few in the next couple of days when I've got access to rose petals and lemongrass and Buddha's Hand citrus.

I don't know if I'll be incorporating saké into the standard rotation, but I have reversed my earlier opinion on the subject and look forward to exploring it further in the future.

Note: These bottles were received as samples.

13 April 2012


I'm fortunate to live in a town with easy access to good food ingredients, via the upscale grocery stores Whole Foods and Fresh Market, the local bounty provided at the Downtown and Shelby Farms farmers markets, a network of little Asian markets, and yes, even the monolithic Kroger empire has stepped up its game at several locations to provide a wide range of options for the increasingly diverse and culinarily curious market of Memphis.

I'm excited to be within walking distance of the new second location of my beloved "International Market", which goes by names like Farmer's Market, Mercado Latino, and many others. It's a sort of multiethnic supermarket with thousands of ingredients, non-mainstream meats and organs, fruits and vegetables you won't see anywhere else, and prices for fresh herbs that are low enough to reflect that the damn things grow like weeds in the right environment. "Here's enough mint to season a whole flock of lambs for 50¢." I'm really excited about walking to grab sugar cane or obscure dried chiles or frozen rabbits or all the other great things that I can't get anywhere else.

In the meantime, because that picture above was sub-par, and I think I was making the woman in the white car paranoid, here's a recent photo of an ersatz sangria that I really loved. A bit of grapefruit juice, a layer of vodka, and then a slow pour of leftover red wine.

The "blood in the water" effect was really beautiful and I only really captured it well on the second glass. Doing a manual focus while also pouring wine and trying to focus on each with separate eyes was daunting but ultimately rewarding.

As pretty as it is, the sangria was ultimately unrewarding. It tastes better after steeping with fresh cut fruit overnight, and a splash of brandy or orange liqueur makes all the difference.

So a note to my friends: when I show up with a load of weird looking potatoes, fish heads, monstrous carrots, and strange leafy vegetables, just know that when it comes to food, beauty and flavor don't always go hand in hand.

11 April 2012

2010 Rhiannon Red Wine

Noswaith dda, croeso i BWR. Mae'n dda gen i gwrdd â chi! Welcome to the world of Welsh wineblogging. May vowels be damned. I'm excited to write about... wait a second, this wine is from California and just has a Welsh name and theme. Mae'n ddrwg gennyf...

My first exposure to anything Welsh (aside from whatever Cymry blood flows through my veins) was in the form of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, about the heroic ascent of a pig-keeper. (Granted, the pig was magical, and there were villains and monsters and other neat things, not the least of which was the bard Fflewddur Fflam, whose name always caused me regret during Scrabble games.) I chose to read some of the original source material in the form of the dense Mabinogion legends. There I was introduced to a lot of obscure mythology that hasn't really made it into English literature, song, or popular culture. And one of those figures was Rhiannon, a queen or a goddess that might be a reflection of the earlier Gaulish horse goddess Epona, which is why she's depicted as a fetching copper-maned hybrid on the wine label.

Speaking of which, let's get our heads out of the 11th century and talk about the wine.

2010 Rhiannon Red Wine
Proprietary blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera
$15, 13.5% abv.
15,000 cases made

This is made by the Rutherford Wine Company, whose products I've reviewed recently. It's a ripe and fruity red blend with a lot of red cherry elements and a bright, clear mouthfeel. Low acidity and medium tannins, with an aftertaste of blackberries and black cherries. It's an interesting blend of grapes, and while I think that the Zinfandel carries most of the tune, the supporting players are definitely present.

I find it to be a fruity and pleasant afternoon sipper, good with weekend lunch fare and also one of those wines that's not going to be too aggressive for those just getting into red wines. It's a good example of the great power wine has: fruit flavors without sweetness, which is something so dearly lacking in American beverages. So throw a few burgers on the grill, maybe braise a few leeks in honor of the Welsh, pop the cork on this darling and shout a cheerful Iechyd da!

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

09 April 2012

2011 Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah

It was a Saturday morning and I was gearing up for my lunch date with Julia. Nothing too complex--sandwiches with Black Forest ham and smoked Gouda and chips with homemade aïoli. I have a lot of Chilean white wine on hand for an upcoming tasting, but was really craving a rosé. Two hours before lunch, a driver showed up with a Chilean rosé sample. Mirabile visu.

The wine worked well, and after lunch I stepped out to check the mail. No letters, but I did see my neighbors a few houses down, who happen to be from Chile. We've never been particularly close, but there's no bad blood, and I was in a cheerful mood. So I popped back out with a fresh bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley and a couple of wine glasses and enjoyed a driveway tasting along with my bad attempts at speaking Spanish. Then I broke out the Chilean olive oil and some wrinkly salt cured olives and... two hours and three empty bottles later, we parted ways and I've been told that I'm getting some homemade empanadas in the future.

Folks, nothing eliminates the stuffy, serious stereotype of wine and the bunker-like isolation of suburbia like enjoying wine barefoot in the driveway.

2011 Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah
Colchagua Valley, Chile
100% Syrah, Stainless Steel Fermentation
$15, 13.5% abv.

Darker than expected with a magenta hue. There's a fascinating herbal/vegetal aroma that was surprising and immediately tells you that this isn't a sweet pink wine. There's a strong fruit presence of red cherry and plum, with tart acidity and a clean finish. More tannic than most rosés. This is a substantial pink bordering on a red that is still fun and interesting, and is perfect for this kind of mild spring weather.

By the way, the label is drawn by the great Ralph Steadman, an illustrator whose frenetic ink splatters are most often associated with Hunter S. Thompson but who has also done great labels for beer and wine bottles over the years. In this one, he painted a caricature of winemaker Aurelio Montes as a diaper-clad cherub.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

06 April 2012

The Seeker Wines

Over the years I've reviewed multiple wine brands that collect various bottles from different parts of the globe under a centralized marketing scheme. It's a concept that I like, and if you buy the whole set you can pour an exciting "tour of the globe" if your guests are into geography and the romance of the vine. It's also a quick study for those hoping to expand their horizons a bit in a safe and inexpensive manner.

Today's example is The Seeker, and once again, I was seduced by labels, dominated by old prints of early airships. A lot of people don't realize that hot air balloons were flying shortly after the American Revolution and that gliders were sailing before the American Civil War. Such designs and prints are now a major part of the steampunk aesthetic and a wistful hope that blimps and zeppelins and other lighter-than-air craft had become major modes of transportation.

But it's not just a dream of an alternate history. The famous LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin flew over a million miles from 1928-1937 and touched down on fields all over the globe. The Seeker website features some fictional aviators and aviatrices with stories of exotic travels, but in the notes below I'll talk about the real life flight pioneers pictured on the labels.

2009 The Seeker Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
$15, 13.5% abv.

Full of grapefruit, touch of sweetness, firm acidity. On the finish there are some tropical fruit and floral elements, but the grapefruit peel is the dominant factor. I'd say serve this with some aggressively spiced grilled shrimp where the wine won't overpower the food.

This label shows an early hydrogen-filled balloon made by Vincenzo Lunardi, who toured around England in the 1780s. Boat oars were used for steering, though were not terribly effective. Lunardi barnstormed around England in a for a while before returning to his home country.

2008 The Seeker Pinot Noir
$15, 12.5% abv.

This is labeled as Vin de Pays Vignobles de France, a table wine designation covering the entire country that was only in use for a short time between 2007 and 2009. It has been replaced by Vin de France. This is a plump and fruit-forward Pinot Noir with lots of blueberries and blackberries. Medium tannins and a splash of tart raspberry round out the flavor. It's reminiscent of some Languedoc Pinot Noirs I've had in the past, and while it will never be Burgundy, it's a good burgers and BBQ wine. I served it with pulled pork shoulder and it made for a fun Saturday lunch bottle.

The label features the Giffards Steam Airship, built by Henri Giffard in 1852. A gondola hanging from the hydrogen-filled dirigible was propelled by a steam-powered propellor and steering could be accomplished by the use of a rudder. (Like the oars and anchor of Lunardi's balloon, early airships used a lot of naval engineering elements and terms.) It was a very successful proof of concept for navigable airships.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

04 April 2012

Campo Viejo "Color Me Uncorked"

I rarely enter contests. It's not that I don't enjoy winning, but I usually do some calculations and think, "Do I really want to eat that many pickled eggs in ten minutes?" Also, I get a lot of offers to promote various wine contests, and most of them don't really interest me, and by transference, I assume my readers won't be interested either. "How many corks can you hold in your mouth at one time? Take an embarrassing photo and enter to win... 100 USED WINE CORKS!"

But this one tickled my fancy...

Campo Viejo is a Spanish Rijoa producer that has sent me many wines over the years. I'm particularly fond of their trio of Crianza-Reserva-Gran Reserva, though in the current release the Crianza seems to be now labeled Tempranillo. I don't have detailed notes with these three, but the experience was very close to the last time I tried this trio, though the vintages are a little different. They're all very affordable, food-friendly red wines, and trying all three at the same time is a lot of fun for folks that don't get to taste verticals or similar groupings on a regular basis.

The challenge involved an original dish inspired by "the colors of Rioja". Spanish food includes so many ingredients and cooking methods that the sky was the limit, and if I expanded the definition a bit to include the old Spanish empire I could include some neat things. (I live in Memphis, which was first explored by Europeans during the 16th century travels of the Spaniard Hernando de Soto.)

I have a lot of strange ingredients and leftovers in my kitchen, and I decided to combine them artfully in a lazy, relaxed terrine. Here are the ingredients from bottom to top:
  • A base of cooked quinoa, in a nod to the Spanish conquest of the Andes
  • A layer of wilted arugula, because it's delicious
  • A think sprinkling of zante currants, because I think the flavor marries well with pork
  • A healthy layer of braised pork shoulder, mixed with a little local BBQ sauce
  • A poached egg, because I thought of this as a standup version of the congee I recently made
  • A little ladle of homemade habanero-carrot sauce, for the Caribbean islands
  • Finally, a light dusting of smoked chile flakes (merquén) from Chile, another nod to Spanish exploration that took the empire to the tip of South America within spitting distance of Antarctica
Overall, a lovely and savory meal, though I could barely make it through on my own. While mixing it up, the still-warm quinoa cooked the egg yolk a bit further and the merquén provided the necessary smoke flavor for the soft pork shoulder. The hot sauce satisfied my own desire for a little heat at every meal.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

01 April 2012

Dalen Products 100% Natural Jute Twine

Despite the many synthetic and natural twines I've reviewed over the years, when it comes down to my everyday workhorse I've always enjoyed a good jute twine. The word brings to mind old sailing ships and Rudyard Kipling novels and the Dutch East India Company.

Dalen Products 100% Natural Jute Twine
Made in China

This is distributed by the Knoxville, Tennessee company Dalen Products, which makes a wide range of gardening equipment including netting and domestically produced hand-painted owls to scare off pests.

This is definitely an all natural jute twine, with a good scratchy character and stray fibers poking out regularly (all that friction makes for strong knots that won't slip). The cord has great tensile strength and held up well as I was tethering a young Bartlett pear sapling in the front yard. Once the tree is strong enough to stand, I can toss the scraps in the compost pile because jute is biodegradable, recyclable, and on top of that, it's a renewable resource.

Inside I used the twine to tie up bundles of cardboard boxes to take to the recycling center, and used a few decorative knots to hang a hand-carved picture frame I made back when I was a kid. At the end of my projects, my hands were covered with the unmistakable petrol/cedar/hay aroma of jute. Such good memories from over the years. While I prefer a spool of twine that unwinds from the center, I was still very pleased with this twine and award it a score of 4.5 out of 5.

By the way, I hope to see my fellow twinebloggers at the Kleinburg Binder Twine Festival this September in Ontario, Canada. We all had a great time last year and this one promises to be even better, with a focus on locally produced twine. I'll be heading up a panel discussion following my presentation "Is the World Ready for Biodynamic Twine? I'm a Frayed Knot."

P.S. Be sure to check out my favorite twine reviews from 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.