01 July 2015

Dinner at Goldsmith's in Memphis, July 1, 1914

While nosing around on some sites about Memphis history, I found a particular curiosity well-suited to this here blog. Historic-memphis.com had a series of photos of the old Goldsmith's department stores, and buried within that set was a menu from exactly 100 years ago.

Goldsmith's was founded in Memphis in 1870 and was a local institution until 2005 when the name was completely absorbed into the Macy's chain. I got a lot of dress shirts and school clothes from their stores when I was a kid, and still remember getting sweaters for Christmas in those white boxes with the embossed lids.

The menu is from a celebratory dinner for Jacob Goldsmith, one of the founding brothers (and the lone survivor at the time) who was 64 in 1914. The brothers were from Germany and immigrated to Memphis after the Civil War. The dinner does not reflect German, Jewish, or Southern cuisine, and frankly seems a little bland. In fact, I can say with authority that I have had more spectacular meals on airplanes (minus the cigarettes and cigars).

Of course, not everyone from that era was having the epic 1912 last dinner for first class passengers on the Titanic. While now we might adore our roughly chopped and heavily seasoned roasted Provençal vegetables, at the time, this was a classy dinner for high society in our little river town. The Haut Sauterne wine was likely not a fine Bordelais dessert bottle but rather a domestic white blend of French-American hybrids.

The more I look at the menu, the more it reminds me of fine dining and weddings and my grandmother's flower society gatherings back in the 80s. French nouvelle cuisine and California modern hadn't hit Memphis yet, and things like stuffed tomatoes were considered pretty fancy. I'm thinking that next year I ought to recreate this menu in full for a dinner party. Who's up for some planked white fish?

12 June 2015

Writing About Barefoot Wines for Nomacorc

Here's my latest piece for the Nomacorc, a short piece on Barefoot Wines and the need for a better appreciation of everyday table wines in the United States. Check it out! The piece also features the freelance work debut of Bella, current dog intern here at Benito Wine Reviews.

I realize the blog has been a little quiet, but I've been busier than ever writing freelance as well as technical writing at the day job. But fear not... I have many reviews to release over this summer. Stay tuned!

26 May 2015

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc

My latest column for Snooth is up with a focus on Brazilian food:

Brazilian Cuisine is Begging for Wine

Oddly at the time of writing I did not have any Brazilian wines on hand, but a couple of weeks later one showed up for review. I did a lot of my article research at Brazil Flavor here in the suburbs of Memphis, and they were excited when I finally showed up with a bottle from the home country. It was much better than a lot of the wines that I had at a class in New York in 2013.

Vinícola Salton has been around since 1910 and is the first modern winery in Brazil. Best known for their sparkling wines, the winery produces around 20 million bottles a year including still wines under 50 different labels.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc
Campanha Gaúcha, Brazil
100% Cabernet Franc
$15, 13% abv.

Excellent Bordelais characteristics with a focus on green pepper, leather, and touches of black cherry. Smoother and less tannic than you'd expect from the grape and age with a medium body that softens gracefully over the course of an hour. Quite delicious and one of those bottles that would be absolutely perfect for bringing to a blind tasting.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

18 May 2015

Twig Wine for Nomacorc

My latest piece for the Nomacorc Blog is up, a short piece on a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo often referred to as "twig wine". It's a fun bottle that I've enjoyed over the years and I was glad to share it for this assignment.

Twig Wine: Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

13 May 2015

Markus Wine Co.

Markus Wine co. is a side project of Borra Vineyards in Lodi, California, run by Borra winemaker Markus Niggli. Niggli is from Switzerland, and given the dizzying number of grapes that we tried over that week, I asked him over dinner if he was growing any Chasselas. The laughing answer was "no". Apparently it's not a good fit for the region, and demand is decidedly low here in the US. However, the winemaker is producing some milder, lighter, European-style whites that once again change everything that you think you know about Lodi wine.

The labels featured on this series are the result of a collaboration with Michael Leonard and the University of the Pacific in Stockton. I'm particularly fond of the pure text design of the Nativo, because that's how I'm wired. All three of these wines can be purchased from the Borra website.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Nuvola
Lodi, California
100% Gewürztraminer
$19, 13.2% abv.

Dry and herbal with touches of honey. I know that sounds odd but it is possible for a wine to have some of the aromas of honey without the sweetness. Outstanding with a tuna salad sandwich on a croissant during these mild spring days.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Nativo
Lodi, California
75% Kerner, 19% Riesling, 6% Bacchus
$19, 13.1% abv.

Hurrah! I get to try another new grape for the first time (or the first time I've logged it). Bacchus brings me to 195 on the life list, and this particular bottle was light and floral with a touch of lemony acidity. I enjoyed it with a simple appetizer of steamed shrimp, lightly seasoned.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Joey Insieme
Lodi, California
95% Torrontes, 5% Riesling
$19, 12.8% abv.

Light citrus aromas pop up with a mild body and a slightly mineral flavor. Much more depth as it warms up. My favorite out of the three, and a unique expression of the Torrontes grape. Highly recommended with a large platter of raw oysters.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

01 May 2015

Repost: The Mint Julep

A timely repost for Derby Day tomorrow...

On Cinco de Mayo this year, I went out and had margaritas and Mexican food with Julia and some friends, but that afternoon I had to make a certain cocktail. The event was the Kentucky Derby, and the cocktail was the classic Mint Julep.

I've written about this cocktail many times before, but I don't think I've ever shown one in my nickel-plated brass julep cups. I love these things, but so rarely get to use them. Click on the photo for the bigger version and you can see the thousands of tiny drops of condensation clinging to the metal. Enjoying it through a whole bouquet of fresh mint is also a really wonderful sensory experience.

I achieved a perfect Mint Julep thanks to one special ingredient: a cup of ice from a nearby Sonic Drive-In For those not familiar, it's a fast food chain where you drive up to a parking space, order through a speaker, and if you wish, eat your meal there after it's delivered by a young woman who may or may not be on rollerskates. Sonic is decent enough when I'm in the mood for it, but they have this rough little pelletized ice that is just amazing for the Mint Julep, which is really sort of an adult snow cone.

As much as I enjoyed my classic cocktail, I looked around at my ingredients and thought I could try something fun yet profane. I used Buffalo Trace Bourbon for the former, and have found it to be a reliable performer in one of my other favorite classic cocktails, the Manhattan. Could I have a peanut butter and chocolate moment here?

Benito's Manhattan Derby
2 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Sweet Red Vermouth
Fresh Mint
Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Bitters
Bourbon-soaked Cherry

Muddle the Bourbon and Vermouth with fresh mint and small pieces of ice. Add more ice and shake thoroughly. Fill a tumbler with ice and add a few drops of a good quality dark bitters. Pour the cocktail over the ice and bitters and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and a cherry. (I like to get a jar of maraschinos, drain out the red corn syrup, and replace it with Bourbon. Leave it in the fridge for months.) While I don't think this cocktail will ever catch on, it was a lot of fun and tasted great. It's less sweet and somewhat smoother than a Mint Julep, and I'm now wondering which of my 20 different bitters would best improve that cocktail...

19 April 2015

Interview with Susannah Gold

Susannah Gold works in New York City in the public relations and marketing world of wine for Vigneto Communications. In addition she blogs at Avvinare, named for the Italian verb that means rinsing your glass and preparing it for wine service.

I first met Susannah during the Snooth PVA Awards weekend two years ago in Manhattan. We didn't spend a lot of time together, though I apparently got too loud during the Ribera del Duero presentation while we were arguing about kosher wine and there was a memorable moment with a Brazilian Tannat at the Saturday night party. I was a little overwhelmed during that trip, but have developed a lot of great friendships and professional relationships with many of the people I met that weekend, and since then it's been great to get to know Susannah better and learn about her fascinating history.

BWR: Tell me a bit about working as a financial reporter in Italy. If you were in Milan in December 1996, we may have briefly crossed paths 
near the Duomo or Galleria.

Susannah: I was in Milan in December 1996 in fact, a period of time I remember very well. I lived in Milan for 10 years and was a reporter for 4 of those years. I loved being a reporter in Italy because I am very interested in Italian politics and economics. It’s a very complicated country in many respects and there are so many layers of it to understand and analyze. Everything about Italy interests me, truth to tell.

BWR: Everyone that I know who has spent some time in Italy has a magical 
food moment, something that clicked and let you know that you weren't
 in Kansas anymore. Hot crespelle in a café, seared octopus on the 
Ligurian coast, or even a few roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.
 Did you have such a transformative experience?

Susannah: I have had many food moments in Italy that have been outstanding, starting from my first pizza on a side “street” in Venice overlooking one of the canals when I was 15 and with my parents but my real ah moment was when I was 20, living in Dijon, France and visiting Italy with my Mother, a sculptor and Art Historian by trade. I fell asleep in the train and when I woke up I was looking out at the Borromean islands rising in the mist from Lago Maggiore. That was the beginning of my real love affair with il bel paese.

BWR: We talked a bit about biodynamics in NYC with fruit days, but I'm
 curious to hear your four favorite seasonal wines, what you crave in
 spring, summer, fall, winter.

Susannah: Yes we did have that conversation about the biodynamic calendar. In the Spring I tend to crave white wines or a good French or Spanish rosé while in the Summer, Vermentino is always a favorite as is sparkling wine which I crave and drink all year long. Fall I like to drink wines with more body that pair with great fall foods like pumpkin, squash, turkey, etc. In winter, I am interested in a heavier red largely to pair with meat dishes or root vegetable ones. Again, sparkling wines are a passion in winter too. I also really like a touch of sweet wines throughout the year.

BWR: Was wine a part of your family dinner table growing up? If so,
 what was poured and what did you like?

Susannah: Wine was part of my family life growing up. I don’t remember when we started but during that trip as a 15 year old, I was most certainly already interested in wine. My Dad made wine in the basement of our house with our next-door neighbor who was Sicilian. He also once bought the contents of a liquor store that he owned as a real estate investment. We drank Louis Jadot, Ruffino, Chianti, Macon Village. I also remember a lot of Lancers and Mateus in the house. I liked it all if memory serves.

BWR: What is the one bottle or the one region that you've always wanted 
to try but have not yet had the opportunity?

Susannah: There are so many regions I would love to visit that I haven’t yet, in many countries, but if I had to pick one, it would be Pantelleria and the night harvests at Donna Fugata. I love Ben Rye that they make there and that is an experience that I haven’t yet had. I would also love to visit Salina again and see the CapoFaro resort of Tasca d’Almerita

BWR: Congratulations on the birth of Niccolò! A dear friend of mine
 recently had a baby and I was wondering if you experienced any changes 
of sense of smell while pregnant--a lot of experiencing wine involves 
training your nose with non-wine items: sniffing lime peels and
 jasmine blossoms and things like that. Has anything changed in what
 appeals to you, or what you can now discover in a glass

Susannah: During my pregnancy I was very good about alcohol of course but you are right you have a heightened sense of smell and can really pick out aromas that you might not have otherwise. When I was pregnant the wine I missed most and that appealed to me during that time was sparkling wine. I’ve always had a predilection but it was even more pronounced during pregnancy.

BWR: I'm also curious how you plan to introduce your son to wine, since
 it will be part of the family business. When he's old enough to start
 having a sip with dinner, what would you like for him to try first?
 Are you planning on setting aside anything like Madeira or Barolo for
the long haul?

Susannah: I imagine like most novice drinkers, he will probably appreciate something with a bit of sweetness like a moscato. I am thinking a lot about what I want to lay down for him. I have also toyed with the idea of buying futures from this vintage, 2014. Madeira is a good idea as is Barolo.

Many thanks to Susannah for participating in this interview series. You can follow her at Avvinare.

01 April 2015

My April Fools' Day Posts

Folks, just a quickie to let you know I'm still here and busy as ever freelancing. In honor of the holiday, here are six of my April Fools' Day pranks from previous years:

Have fun!

25 March 2015

2013 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier

Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier is an Australian winery founded by Anthony J. Terlato and Michel Chapoutier based on a friendship that goes back to the 1980s.

I've said it many times before, but Viognier does such a great job of softening the edges of Syrah/Shiraz in the style of Côte Rotie. Not to say that the latter grape is harsh, but it's a pairing that works so well and in such a peculiar way. Just a little splash of the white wine and you've got a lovely and different red.

Though made in Australia, this Chapoutier collaboration includes his standard Braille labeling in honor of a friend and family member who found purchasing wine difficult while sight-impaired.

2013 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier
Victoria, Australia
95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier
$18, 14.5% abv.

Light cherry and violet aromas with delicate red stone fruit flavors. On the palate it shows medium tannins with a lovely finish. This is a tremendous bargain and I'd serve it with a pork tenderloin, stuffed with walnuts and apricots and lightly seasoned. It's one that doesn't need too strong of a food pairing so as not to miss the lighter elements.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

17 March 2015

St. Patrick's Day Pairings for Snooth

My latest article for Snooth is up... Switch Things Up: St. Patrick's Day Wines. I have a lot of fun with these wine and food pairing pieces for them. I take a lot of the wine samples I've tried recently (or some that are theme-appropriate) and check out interesting combinations at local restaurants that don't have wine lists and employ a friendly BYOB policy. It's fun to share with friends and staff and recommend local wine shops where they can find these bottles. Always happy to make converts and get people excited about trying wine in new ways.

Check it out--there's more of a connection between wine and Ireland than you may have first thought! Sláinte!

11 March 2015

Lean Manufacturing for Nomacorc

Many people wonder what I do for a living when I'm not trying wine and food together, and while I don't go into specifics due to media policies at my employer, I can talk a bit about the concepts of quality assurance in an article for the synthetic cork factory called Nomacorc:

Getting the Muda out of Your Gemba: Lean Manufacturing at Nomacorc

The title of the article sounds cryptic but a big part of Lean Six Sigma and related efficiency philosophies is that you start learning some Japanese and begin integrating the phrases into your everyday conversation.

03 March 2015

NV Cooper's Hawk Meritage "Lux"

You don't really think of Chicago as a winemaking region, but back during Prohibition it was second only to New York City as a market for California grapes. Most people don't know that you could legally make 200 gallons of wine a year for home use during that time, with other exemptions for religious consumption. According to When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America's Wine Country by Vivienne Sosnowski (which I reviewed in 2009), lots of west coast fruit made it to the Windy City via train:
Chicago, California's second most important grape market, took 7,000 cars of California wine and table grapes in 1924. Nearly one-third of Chicago's inhabitants were foreign born, including 138,000 from Poland, 112,000 from Germany, 59,000 from Italy, 30,000 from Austria, and 5,000 from France. On one day alone--October 20--289 cars of California grapes arrived in the city, most of them destined for wholesalers on South Water Street.
Cooper's Hawk is a winery and restaurant based out of Orland Park, a suburb of Chicago. Sourcing grapes from California, Oregon, and Washington, they make wine at the main facility and distribute it to their restaurants in Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as through their website.

The company has recently launched a green initiative involving recycling wine bottles. From the press release:
In 2012, founder and CEO Tim McEnery installed a state-of-the-art wine recycling line (the only one in the US) that de-labels and sanitizes up to 2000 wine bottles per hour. This year alone, Cooper’s Hawk has saved over 215 tons of glass from landfills and 1 of every 5 bottles is reused again for upcoming vintages.

Cooper’s Hawk other ‘go green’ initiatives include reduced energy consumption, increased recycled component usage their wines and reduced water consumption. The winery also tries to make socially-responsible investments, whether by purchasing a Bottle Recycling & Sanitizing equipment or investing in smarter technology.
NV Cooper's Hawk Meritage "Lux"
59% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec
American (sourced from multiple states)
$40, 13.9% abv.

The blending makes it difficult to determine the age of this wine, but on whole this release presents as relatively young. It shows firm tannins with dominant aromas of plum, and black cherry. Dark fruit flavors follow through with a long finish. While a great steak wine at the moment, it will definitely show some improvement in the next five years as the bold body softens.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

24 February 2015

North Carolina Winemaking for Nomacorc

My latest post is live on the Nomacorc Blog:

Stomping Grapes with the Tar Heels: Regional Spotlight on North Carolina

It was fun interviewing the winemakers remotely, which is why the only North Carolina wines I've tried have been from The Biltmore Estate.

P.S. Check out Wine Turtle for a roundup of the 103 Best Wine Blogs. Your humble correspondent plus a bunch of other friends and great writers are represented!

21 February 2015

Ty & Maddy's Southern Sweets & Treats

I've got a complicated history with popcorn. I enjoyed it as a kid at the movies and at home with our little electric popper that had a slotted tray for butter on top. When I first visited the Mall of Memphis in the early 80s, I was amazed at a shop that sold nothing but popcorn in dozens of different colors and flavors... not to mention that said shop piped the smell of popcorn throughout the mall, luring everyone.

In 5th grade, I got my first set of braces and suddenly popcorn created a nightmare of picking and prodding. I avoided the treat for orthodonture reasons until my senior year, by which time I'd lost the taste for it. Flash forward twenty years, and I discover that the sister of a friend has a little shop right around the corner specializing in homemade popcorn blends. Hmmm...

Ty & Maddy’s Southern Sweets and Treats
1150 Dexter Lane
Suite 105
Cordova, TN 38016
(901) 359-1010

The brick and mortar shop grew out of a school and sports team fundraising operation led by a former math teacher named Michele Murgatroyd. Pictured above is the Chocolate Dream popcorn, made with dark chocolate. I didn't actually get to try this because I gave the bag to Julia as a gift. But I'm sure it is as delicious as...

I got a bag of the Buffalo Chicken & Ranch and a bag of the caramel cashew. I lean more savory than sweet but on a rainy Saturday afternoon it's nice to go back and forth. Both were delicious and tomorrow I'm going to find a good movie to watch at home while the weather continues to be bad here in our dear River City.

But Ty & Maddy's had more to offer...

Homemade dog treats! In many flavors and sizes. It was important for me to buy a mixed bag and bring it home for my blogging intern to sample.

I'd like to share a better photo of Bella devouring one of the baked cheese hearts, but it was difficult to keep her in check while balancing the camera. Suffice it to say that she is a big fan and I look forward to parceling out the other treats over the next two weeks.

17 February 2015

Ethiopian Coffee

I was sad to see the previous Cordova Ethiopian restaurant close, but a new one opened up a couple of months ago. And it was a joy to have lunch there this weekend with dear friends including Jennifer Biggs of The Commercial Appeal.

Ethiopian Restaurant and Coffee
8195 Dexter Road
Suite 104
Cordova, TN 38016

Biggs recommended the coffee ceremony, which I was not previously aware of. It starts with roasting yirgacheffe over medium heat until the beans are properly roasted.

While our hostess took the beans to grind by hand, sprigs from the coffee bush were burned in a clay pot like incense.

I said thank you in proper Amharic (አመሰግናለሁ) but managed to spill coffee on my shorts, so that's kind of a wash on the etiquette front.

I had mine with just a pinch of sugar as recommended by our hostess. While I love dark, bitter coffee, the sugar was a nice countermeasure to the smokiness of the freshly roasted beans. I hope to return with friends and will try to do a better job of balancing the demitasse and saucer.

13 February 2015

2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon

This is the third vintage of Faust that I've tried following the 2005 and 2011 releases. Previously I've tried these bottles on my own at home, but this one showed up at the family Christmas dinner last year.

I brought Austrian dessert wines for my Mom and sister-in-law, but Faust was chosen specifically for Dad who had spent the afternoon smoking a ribeye roast to a perfect rare in the middle using his Big Green Egg. With fresh horseradish sauce and Mom's amazing sweet potato casserole, it made for the perfect pairing. You don't necessarily have to wait for a big family holiday to enjoy a serious Napa red, but it's so much more enjoyable to share with loved ones.

That's why I love a good dinner party. We shouldn't have Thanksgiving dinner every night but once or twice a month it's a good time to have a special meal with a big group of people and open some nice bottles of wine. When you spread out the duties over the group it's not that expensive, and is always a lot of fun.

2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot
$55, 14.5% abv.

Rich plum and dark berries with gentle aromas of oak and coffee. Big flavors now with a long finish. On the palate it has a bold presence and solid tannins that are strong now but will certainly mellow as the wine approaches the decade mark. I continue to be impressed by this wine and look forward to future releases. Buy a case and try one a year to study how it develops over time. Highly recommended.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

09 February 2015

Saké and Cheese Tasting

In December, I got to participate in a very curious online tasting along with other wine writers around the world. We had a pairing of saké and cheese, two things that you don't normally think would go with each other. How did this come about?

Our tasting was hosted by a charming couple Jesse Pugach is the Sake Specialist Southern Wines & Spirits, while Liza Kaplansky works for the Marin French Cheese Company. Their mutual passions pair surprisingly well and it was great to share in their enthusiasm during the tasting featuring both domestic and imported bottles from SakéOne. Most of my notes were conversational and live on Twitter, but here are brief descriptions of the four pairings.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo
Forest Grove, Oregon
Clean and crisp with a beery flavor, excellent for the newcomer to the world of saké.

Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie
Thick and firm with a buttery flavor. Why am I just now learning about breakfast brie? This is amazing and was my favorite cheese of the evening. Highly recommended.

Momokawa Organic Nigori
Forest Grove, Oregon
Creamy and mild with a clean finish. Nigori is the style that is unfiltered and must be gently agitated before consuming, and it pours as a milky white fluid.

Laura Chenel’s Chévre
Mild, not too much of the classic goat aroma/flavor, with a salty mouthfeel. Needs some cured meats to go along with it.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry
Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
Kimoto is an ancient style that takes twice as long as the modern brewing process. The result for this bottle is earthy and mushroomy, which would definitely appeal to fans of certain French wines bearing those characteristics.

Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchette
Excellent pairing with this one, which was funky and earthy, a little tart, and very savory. It was difficult to move on to the next matchup and work on Twitter when I just wanted a moment to sit back and enjoy the two together. But that's what leftovers are for, and the next day I gave each element the time it deserved.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo
Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Floral nose with hints of anise. Very interesting and smooth, with a mild body.

Rogue River Blue Cheese
This Oregon cheese is perhaps the best known and most widely distributed of the four. Creamy, buttery, tart, with just enough earth, this is a classic domestic bleu.

Note: These bottles and cheeses were provided as samples for review.

05 February 2015

The Woodhouse Wine Estates

The Woodhouse Wine Estates is run in Washington by Bijal & Sinead Shah. I recently covered their Daríghe, and their other wines are named after family friends (Steve Dussek, retired chief operating officer of Nextel) or their children (daughter Kennedy Shah). Bijal operates a number of enterprises both here and in India focused on haute coture and high technology, while Sinead is a 777 pilot for United Airlines. Having made wine for years in Washginton, they're now a presence in Napa.

2012 Kennedy Shah Riesling Reserve
Yakima Valley, Washington
100% Riesling
$25, 13.3% abv.

This delightful bottle shows nice notes of ripe peach alongside elements of tropical fruit on the palate. Bright acidity and a gentle finish. Outstanding with grilled halibut topped with a mango salsa.

2010 Dussek Family Cellars
Columbia Valley, Washington
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$36, 13.8% abv.

Bright red cherry, plum, firm and chewy tannins, long finish. Good now, will certainly improve over a few years of aging and development. I'd love to try this with braised short ribs over polenta.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

30 January 2015

Return to Brazil Flavor: Feijoada

Brazil Flavor opened a few months ago in my neighborhood as a small grocery store, selling Brazilian dry goods, beverages, as well as meats and cheeses. All of that is fantastic, but what got me really interested was the empty kitchen in the back.

This week, they opened the kitchen.

There's not a menu yet, so expect different dishes each day. I would recommend following their Facebook page, which is how I learned that they were going to be serving feijoada on Friday. I put the date in my Google calendar immediately.

My closest pronunciation for those unfamiliar with português: fayj-WA-da. It's considered the national dish of Brazil, and its simplest form is rice and black beans with stewed meat. I've made some half-hearted attempts at home in the past, but there's nothing like the real thing made by people who grew up eating a dish.

Brazil Flavor
8014 Club Center Suite #8
Cordova TN, 38016
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

The takeout version from Brazil Flavor features rice and fried kale, and in the left corner is a pile of farofa, which is toasted manioc flour mixed with salted meat. On top you can see some grilled plantains and two green vegetables I was unable to identify (little help?). UPDATE: the vegetable on the left is a green sweet potato. Finally, and most importantly, the purple-black back section there is the stew itself, rich with black beans and a wide range of meats. I don't know precisely which cuts were included, but I'm pretty sure I got some chouriço sausage, beef roast, and pig ears. Ham hocks and feet are also common, but none of this should be surprising or new to anyone who has grown up in the Mid South with our long tradition of eating the "leftover" cuts of the pig. And what do you need after consuming more than a pound of offal and starch? The orange slices are there to aid digestion.

I loved it, particularly with the cold weather we're having. It's a hearty, savory dish, not particularly spicy, although I added a little hot sauce after trying it plain. Highly recommended if you're in the area and want to try something new. (Or something familiar--every time I go there I'm surprised at how many Brazilians are in the Memphis area.) They've got some plans for a buffet line that would allow you to sample different dishes at will, and I'm sure over time we'll see more regular menu items as they ramp up production. And for fellow Memphians that live in Midtown and Downtown, I keep telling you: there's some exciting stuff happening in the suburbs. Don't be afraid to leave the I-240 loop.

Super Bowl Wine Pairings

Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, check out my five food and wine pairings over at Snooth.com.

27 January 2015

2010 Daríghe Proprietor's Blend

This wine is called "red" in Irish Gaelic, and spelled out in Ogham script. How it got there is a little complicated.

Orthography is how a language is spelled, using whatever alphabet. For those of us that speak English, we're fixed into the Latin/Roman alphabet of the 7th Century BCE as it was modified over the years into the Roman invasion of Great Britain starting in AD 43. Over the years, the Romans ignored Ireland, where they had no real writing system for centuries. (Though ironically, Ireland would become a powerhouse of Roman Catholicism later on.) One of the earliest was the aforementioned Ogham, somewhat related to the runic scripts like Futhark that dominated the Germanic lands in the first millennium AD. Later attempts 1300-1500 years ago to use the Roman alphabet for Gaelic ended up in crazy spellings like cnamham, the verb "to waste" being pronounced cra-van.

And thus, I am aware that, within relatively recent history, my ancestors from the British Isles hadn't really figured out writing to a degree that the Sumerians were able to 5,000 years ago, or the Egyptians around the same time, or the Chinese around 4,000 years ago, or the Hebrews about 3,000 years ago. Yet I was delighted to see the scratchings on stone pillars known as Ogham show up on a bottle of wine delivered to my house in AD 2014. It demonstrates that the human story is still being told in even the most obscure places, through languages and scripts that have not been commonly used for long before the modern era.

2010 Daríghe Proprietor's Blend
Columbia Valley, Washington
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot
$65, 14.2% abv.

This is a deep Bordeaux blend made in the Pacific Northwest. Upon slicing away the black wax seal, it opens up with rich aromas of leather, coffee, chocolate, and blackberry. On the palate I experience medium tannins with muted dark fruit flavors and a long, complex finish. Highly recommended with a well-seasoned heritage pork chop, though like many wines in this category it will perform well with a few friends in a living room sipping and having long discussions about shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

25 January 2015


I woke up this morning and it was cold, overcast, and raining. Though in a good mood, I found myself craving old school German comfort food, and I'd been meaning to try out a certain spot in Overton Square. Memphis is not really known for its German food, and over the years we've seen places like Mary's in Collierville and the venerable but departed Erika's downtown. For years as a member of my high school's German Club, we planned a meal at Erika's but never went there, meaning that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out Sauerbraten at home from dusty recipe books.

I lied to The Bella and told her I was heading out to eat celery and eat cold soup. Off to Midtown!

2110 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN
(901) 347-3060

The restaurant is set up in the traditional Bavarian beer hall style, and the white and blue checked pattern is painted on the outside of the building. Seating is communal on long benches, though I was by myself at my table. I can't wait to go back at some point with a group or when they're busy to enjoy the Gemütlichkeit from such an environment. You make fast friends when the beer is flowing and you're running low on mustard.

I got the Wurst platter with a half litre of Dunkel. Don't know the brand, I was just enjoying lunch and in the mood for a dark beer. The platter featured three crispy Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut, Blaukraut (braised red cabbage), toasted bread, and then the sauces and sausages. You can't really see the sauces that well, but we've got a whole grain mustard, a molasses-mustard blend, and an apple Jezebel sauce.

There was one more sausage--a house blend that arrived after this photo was taken, but from right to left you're looking at venison, wild boar, and Weißwurst. All were delicious but I was really excited about the Weißwurst since it's hard to come by in Memphis. Made from minced veal and pork loin it has a mild but deep flavor and goes oh-so-perfectly with certain Alsatian white wines. I tried the sausages in various combinations with the sauces and did not come out with a clear favorite, but everything was delicious and I satisfied the curious craving I had. At the time I was there, nobody was speaking German but I look forward to a future visit when I can dust off the old Muttersprache and have folks laugh at my Plattdüütsch accent.

24 January 2015

2012 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec

This is my third review of a wine from the Scotto winemaking family of Lodi. First I tried the 2011 50 Harvests Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by the 2012 50 Harvests Meritage. Though it was also fun to try the younger generation's hard cider (and one of those guys, Paul Scotto, made this wine). This is also a continuation of my exploration of the wines of Lodi. While I'd obviously enjoyed Lodi juice for years (whether I knew it or not), my perspective changed a lot after my visit to the region last April. There are so many interesting things going on there right now, and it's amazing to watch as Lodi makes a push for national recognition and achieving the true potential of their historic vineyards.

This particular bottle is of a specific category that always makes me do a double take, or check the label carefully: California Malbec. Granted, the grape was widely used for table wine production in pre-Prohibition days, but modern domestic production didn't really start ramping up until Argentina made the grape popular in the 1990s. It's still not something you see a lot of despite the more traditional use of Malbec for blending Meritage.

Much has been said about the trendiness of Malbec, but hipsters have a unique opportunity to carve out a niche when perusing the wine list. "Sorry, but do you have any... California Malbec in the cellar?"

2012 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec
Lodi, California
97% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc
$15, 13% abv.

Part of the reason for the current popularity of Malbec is that it's a fairly easygoing, fruit-forward wine that also happens to be generally quite affordable. Your $15 Malbec from anywhere is probably going to have a better quality-price ratio than a $15 Pinot Noir. This bottle shows aromas of dark berries with a touch of chocolate. On the palate it is smooth with a little bit of a tart finish. Though fruity, it does not veer into sweetness and instead has a rather interesting aftertaste of plum and a hint of earth.

A Malbec like this will pair with a wide range of foods, but since I'm currently sitting here in below freezing weather with sleet pinging against the windows, I think it would be great with a nice heap of BBQ brisket. Some may think that I'm violating my Memphis heritage by wanting to eat what Texans consider BBQ, but the reality of the situation is that most places around here do a pretty good brisket in addition to our region's more well-known pork ribs and shoulders. Memphis beef brisket: a curiosity to pair with California Malbec.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

21 January 2015



There's a little button on my Blogger dashboard that lets you start a new blog, which I'm not doing. Way on the right side is a more useful button called "View Blog" that lets me check and see if the website has been hacked by North Korea or vengeful Ruritanian winemakers. I'm always a little wary of that new blog button and how easy it is to access. One click in 2005, and now I'm looking back on ten years and 1,488 posts. (I would have rounded up to 1,500, but Fredric Koeppel just hit that milestone for real today.)

Ten years.

Most blogs don't make it past a couple of posts, let alone a couple of years. And in fact, I've just performed my annual pruning of the links to other sites on the righthand column. Lots of great people, lots of great posts, but if they haven't written for a few months, I generally assume that they're not coming back. That's not a critique: few people have a vocation for this crazy pursuit, and there's no need for anyone to just go through the motions in order to put words online. At the same time, I want to direct my readers to a curated list of friends and colleagues who will provide a wealth of other perspectives on the world of wine and food.

I've discussed the BWR origin story many times in the past, but there were never any real goals for this site back at the start. Around about the five year mark I started thinking that it would be a real accomplishment to hit ten years. Now that it's finally here, I'm proud, but it's not just about the passage of time. There was a lot of hard work along the way, which is something that I don't think a lot of people realize. I hear this a lot: "It must be awesome just to sit around and drink wine in the evening!"

For every bottle reviewed here, I have communication with a publicist, a shipment that I might have to pick up somewhere later because I wasn't home to sign for it, voluminous packaging that I have to get rid of, excess wine that needs a home (usually the kitchen sink), and then the actual writing, photographing, publishing, and additional communication and social media engagement with the companies involved, followed by potential years of e-mails from readers asking, "Can you tell me which shops in Delaware sell this wine? Or can you just sell me a few bottles?" For the record, I've never worked in wine retail and I don't sell samples, which would be highly unethical as well as impractical. Nor do I get full cases of the same bottle as some folks think.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely.

Don't take the above as griping. Hard work and maintaining a good reputation have resulted in a lot of great opportunities for travel, meeting wonderful people, enjoying great meals, and increasingly, getting paid to write about food and wine for other publications. And there are so many future opportunities on the horizon. I don't see myself ever becoming a full time writer (the world is a different place today), but it's a nice sideline that engages a lot of skills that I don't always get to employ in the day job.

While paid writing gigs and social media command somewhat more of my attention these days, this blog isn't going anywhere and will always be the the central repository for reviews, news, and links to whatever I'm doing. Plus all of the other stuff that doesn't quite fit anywhere else, because I still love having full editorial control over my own piece of the web. The wines I get to sample thanks to the history of this site may end up featured here or on any one of a dozen sites I work for with lots more traffic and visibility.

As I've always stated, the real joy of this blog is the fact that people actually read it, and I thank every single one of you, even if you just click a little "like" on Facebook, retweet a link on Twitter, or comment on a bottle I've posted on Instagram. 2015 is starting out great and I'm excited to see where the second decade takes me!

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Doing any sort of look back with links would be a massive undertaking, so it's easier to link to prior efforts at chronicling my annual highlights. Starting in 2008, each year I've written an anniversary post and/or a retrospective look back at the previous year. The dates here refer to the year in review, not the year of publication (generally in January of the following calendar year):


18 January 2015

2012 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon with Nomacorc Select Bio Enclosure

It's very unusual that a wine sample shows up with packaging that talks about the cork (much less an extra, un-stoppered cork for comparison). This Cabernet Sauvignon from Avalon is the first bottling in the United States to use the Nomacorc Select Bio synthetic cork.

(Disclaimer: On the side, I write for the Nomacorc Blog, but this post is not sponsored by them.)

Last February I got to see a lot of the behind-the-scenes work on the development of Select Bio, from how it is manufactured from sugar cane to the end result: a recyclable polymer product that has a zero carbon footprint.

As I've discussed on previous posts, the Nomacorc technology is developed around specific rates of oxygen transfer for the proper development of a specific wine, along with the elimination of the threat of TCA contamination (a "corked" wine). The Select Bio line moves even further with the added environmental benefits, which are becoming more and more important to consumers in the American and global marketplace.

Avalon is one of the marques of the Purple Wine Company, whose products I've reviewed once or twice. This move to the use of Select Bio fits in with their Green Initiative.

2012 Avalon "CAB" Cabernet Sauvignon
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 7% Zinfandel and 4% Merlot
$12, 13.8% abv.

The wine opens up quickly with rich aromas of plum and strawberry, the latter being a little surprising for the grape blend. On the palate it shows mild tannins, big fruit, and a gentle finish. It's easily drinkable and I paired it with a savory roast beef sandwich. At the price it's a good bargain, and definitely a wine that is ready to drink now. Plus, the use of such a precisely engineered synthetic cork is going to eliminate a lot of the bottle variation that you can encounter from case to case. Enjoy this one with burgers or pizza in the middle of the week, and take a moment to appreciate the science that went into the enclosure.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

13 January 2015

Phifer Pavitt Wines

Over the holidays I tried two bottles of Phifer Pavitt Wine, made by the husband-wife team of Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and Shane Pavitt. Small production in Napa? You don't have to twist my arm.

I was enchanted by the labels with the image of a 1940s-1950s cowgirl. The woman formerly known as The Roommate had a lot of vintage cowgirl images around the place, though she could back it up with firing an impressive array of weaponry and wrangling horses as well. Nice little reminder during the nostalgic days of winter.

2012 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley, California
588 Cases Produced
$30, 14.5% abv.

Surprising touch of sweetness with overripe peach aromas and flavors. Big acidity. It is a bold and brassy Sauvignon Blanc that needs a rich roasted chicken or game bird dish for balance.

2011 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
875 Cases Produced
$80, 14.5% abv.

Firm nose but gentle mouthfeel. Dark cassis, coffee, leather, a little touch of herbal complexity underneath. Elegant and deserving of a bit of decanting at this young age. Should be enjoyed with the rarest slice out of an eight pound ribeye roast and a side of herbed new potatoes. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

08 January 2015

Three Christmas Wines from Austria

Right before the holidays, I received a trio of Austrian dessert wines from Kracher. Mom and my sister-in-law are fans of the sweeter style, so it was the perfect time to break out three late harvest bottles. On top of that, Julia became a fan of Tokaji a few years ago and it was interesting to serve her the Austrian equivalent.

Normally when I've got a bunch of wines for a group I will open everything and let people play and experiment on their own in a safe environment, but in this instance I insisted that everyone follow my guided tour to experience the increasingly complex levels of these three wines in small, elegant bottles. We got to go through the top three tiers of Germanic ripeness, when the juice becomes more and more concentrated, often influenced by the presence of botrytis.

2011 Kracher Auslese Cuvée
Burgenland, Austria
60% Chardonnay, 40% Welschriesling
$23, 12% abv.

Sweet and tart with a delicious lemon character, much like my late grandmother's lemon meringue pie. Bright and crisp, and one that would go well with a selection of soft white cheeses.

2011 Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvée
Burgenland, Austria
60% Welschriesling, 40% Chardonnay
$34/375mL, 11% abv.

Interesting to see the flip in the grape ratio on this next one. Deeper and duskier with more honey tones. The acidity is still firm but balanced by an even higher sugar content. At this level, I find myself not really wanting food to go along with it, just preferring to enjoy the dessert wine on its own in small doses.

NV Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese
Burgenland, Austria
55% Welschriesling, 40% Chardonnay, 5% Traminer
$28, 187mL abv.

I got a few well-natured laughs from my brother as I announced the "Trockenbeerenauslese" as a very special wine. But TBAs are special, and the grapes used to produce them have so little juice available that you'll often see the wines sold in small formats, and I admit that this 187mL size is just about perfect for something so sweet and rich. It has a lush aroma of honeysuckle and musk that is enchanting. On the palate it is like golden sunshine, and I would highly recommend it.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

01 January 2015

A Look at the BWR 2014 Vintage

Happy New Year, everyone! 2014 has been a busy year for me, and even busier here in the home stretch. I'll be posting some long lists of abbreviated tasting notes soon, but I wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the highlights from the past year, and thank everyone who made it happen: the publicists and wine companies that I worked with, the winemakers I got to know, and of course, the readers who are the reason why I keep cranking out this blog year after year.


I'd never given much thought to synthetic wine enclosures until my visit to the the Nomacorc factory in North Carolina. A few months later I was working as a freelance writer for their new blog. The trip ended up being a lot of fun despite the massive snowstorm. Perhaps it was even better because of the snowstorm--we all got an extra day to spend together eating and drinking and talking about oxygen transfer rates and lean manufacturing. I was able to take a lot from what I saw back to the day job and moved ahead in that career because of it.

It was also a great opportunity to work with a group of wine writers (some international) that I'd never met before. The networking benefits of such meetings are important, but I value more the additional friendships I've made in this crazy field of wine writing.

Nomacorc Posts, My pieces on their website


2014 was the year I fell in love with Lodi during my late April visit. This was a reunion of sorts for my group of wine writers I met in NYC for Snooth PVA in 2013. It was great to see these folks again and we got even closer while spending nearly a week in beautiful Lodi wine country. On top of that, I made great connections with the Lodi Winegrape Commission and many of the winemakers and winegrowers out there. I can't wait to go back some day, and this time I'll remember to bring my sunscreen.

Lodi Posts


As noted, the Lodi trip wouldn't have happened without the folks at Snooth. In addition to the trip I started writing some small articles for them as a freelancer. They're kind of light and fun and explore the world of curious wine and food pairings. Also like the Nomacorc trip, I'm forever grateful to them for dragging me out of Memphis and introducing me to some of the best friends I have in the wine writing world. I can't wait until we all get together again, wherever and whenever that might be.

My pieces for Snooth.com

Favorite Wine

You reach a point at which you still enjoy and appreciate wine but are rarely surprised. My life list of grapes is hovering at 194, 30 countries, and 17 of these United States. It is in these times that I appreciate the opportunity to study some of the classics, along with great pairings.

After so many years of obscure grapes and adventures in the wines of Eastern Europe, it was nice this summer to sit down with a wonderful lunch of vintage Champagne and oysters. The 1999 Artéis & Co. Champagne Brut was a real joy and I appreciated it now so much more than I would have ten years ago when I started this blog.

The Bella

After nearly a year of living with no dogs and no The Roommate, circumstances opened up for me to sort of foster Bella for a while. As of December she's still here and is being spoiled. In September I did a taste test on some locally made dog biscuits given to me by my mother. This and a few other dog biscuit reviews (more popular on Twitter and Facebook) resulted in Bella receiving dog treat samples from one of my media contacts with a wide portfolio of clients. She has become something of a superstar and threatens to take attention away from my rambling wine rants. But I've got to say, it's been nice having the little mutt around.

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All in all, a pretty great year on the wine writing front. In a couple of weeks I'll be celebrating the tenth anniversary of Benito's Wine Reviews with a look back at some of the highlights of the past decade as well as a few other bits and bobs rattling around in my head. I hope all of you are entering the new year with joy, energy, and enthusiasm. Cheers!