Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Life in the Big House

I picked up a bottle of 2004 Big House Red for one reason: My local package store wisely attached a laminated card boasting Big House's critical accolades to its cubby in the wall. I learned, in a glance, that Big House received 90 points from Wine Spectator, and earned Best Buy honors.

Big House Red is a blend of mostly Carignane, Petite Sirah Sangiovese, and Zinfandel, which gives it nice structure and complexity, and a satisfying long finish.

There are punches of ripe fruit throughout — dark fruits like blackberry and black cherries, framed elegantly by acid and tannins.

Cheap — $9 — and no corkscrew required. Plus you gotta love the label; from afar it reminds me of a highly stylized Quentin Blake illustration. My biggest complaint? The back label is nearly impossible to read thanks to the annoying ransom-note typography. But I almost wish I hadn't been able to read the copy; it's insufferably "irreverent" and "hip." That said, at least they put anything back there at all. I often get annoyed when wines have absolutely nothing to offer on their back label.

We amateurs need all the help we can get.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Read. Laugh. Repeat.

This advice column will cure whatever ails you. I swear.

California breezin'

Pepi 2005 Pinot Grigio is sweeter than many PGs, perhaps a little off dry, and packed with more fruity aromas and creamy textures than you'd expect from a cheap screw-cap.

The nose is full and robust, offering up healthy whiffs of apricot, apples, and tart grapes. A gulp of Pepi PG tastes creamy and full, its alcohol content on the strong but entirely manageable. thanks to the irrepressible and fun fruit overtones.

In my estimation, one of the best things about a good white wine is the smell of the glass after you've emptied it. Granted, empty glasses are never quite as much fun as full ones, but an empty glass of this wine smells sugary, almost like fruit candy, and makes me wish I had a whole lot more.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saturday night wine linkapalooza

Once upon a time, I might have been ashamed to blog on a Saturday night. Actually, that's not true. I'm embarrassed to blog on any night. But tonight I'm feeling kinda wordy and kinda nerdy and I've got a whole backlog of wine-related stories to highlight, so let's do this thing.

We're gonna need a bigger glass: The world's largest wine bottle is making its way to the states from Australia. The 1,300-pound bottle of Western Australia shiraz yields nearly 64 gallons of spicy red and stands six feet tall, the equivalent of 387 regular-size bottles. Full story.

Me wino, you wussy: A city councilman from Greeley in Northern Colorado argues against local wine stores being able to hold tastings by saying that womenfolk can't hold their liquor as well as men, therefore it's a danger to all living things to allow wine patrons to taste what they want before they buy it. You stay classy, Greeley.
Full story.

A curriculum we can all get behind: France's governing party wants its children to be schooled in the French wine industry, to keep the biz alive. Full story.

A holy union: Wisconsin woman combines yoga and wine-quaffing. Namasté, indeed. Full story.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Going green

When I am in a hurry at the liquor store (especially if it's at one with an unreliable selection), I have a habit of choosing whatever's cheap and stylish-looking. Most of the time my selections end up being disappointing (I can't wait to graduate to the $20-$40 bottle range! ha!) but every now and again I find something that sticks with me. You just never know.

The other day grabbed a bottle of Gazela Vinho Verde, if for no other reason than it was $8 and I liked the clear label. I stuck it in the fridge on Saturday, when it was kinda balmy outside, and then popped it open tonight, when it was 30 degrees out.

I'd never had a vinho verde before. Nor had I ever really heard of one or understood what they were. So when I began pouring a glass, I was kind of surprised at how pale and fizzy it was. It's practically sparkling. Which is fine, I guess, just unexpected. So I started looking for more info to see just what it was I was about to ingest. As far as I could tell, vinho verde seemed like a diluted white with some bubbles piped in. Its nose was timid — seriously, take a big whiff and you'll get the slightest hint of apple peels and melon, but mostly air — and its taste was mostly uncomplicated and unremarkable.

In other words, this wine bored the pants off me.

But, as I read, its particular eccentricities began to make more sense.

Vinho verde comes largely from northwest Portugal, and is made from grapes that climb trees, fences, and poles. It's meant to be light and sparkly, and its alcohol content is significantly lower than many other wines' (Gazela boasts about 9 percent). It is, apparently, a celebration wine meant to be served super cold during hot weather. It's entirely likely that my boredom with this wine stems from the fact that it's freezing in here and I'm not celebrating anything.

I can see sharing this wine at a picnic under a huge shade tree, with people digging into a giant salad bowl and cutting their sweet little fillets of salmon. It's cheap enough that you can bring plenty of it, and — thanks to the low alcohol content — you'll need plenty.

So, my initial reaction to this wine is still "Why should I care?" Maybe this summer I'll pick another bottle up and have a couple of glasses while sitting outside in the sun.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Red Bicyclette, I'll see you in the morning

I'm not sure how it happened, but I just ingested the entire bottle of Red Bicyclette pinot noir. I feel like I've just gotten to school and I'm having to come up with some sort of excuse regarding my homework: I left it in my car, I had to go to the hospital last night, my dog did't eat it but accidentally hocked a huge dog-loogie onto it.

It's 2:12 a.m. and, for the past several hours, I've been piecing together narratives culled from my trip home this weekend (fueled by a plate of Breton crackers and cheese; this fits into my diet since I didn't eat breakfast, right?). I am at the point now ‚ with a third of a glass left — that I am having trouble typing and seeing the screen clearly. This means I should go to bed.

I am quite sure I made a mistake — or two! — in starting and finishing a bottle tonight. But only time will tell how much I'll pay. I don't have to get up, really, until noon or so, so I've got at least eight hours to sleep this nonsense off.

I'm not worried, but I do wish I'd taken the time to note what this wine is like.

For the record, nothing's wrong with it. It's solid with some spice and heat. But it's subtle enough to stand alone. Another solid, cheap find.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Finally, 'Sideways'

It took me two years but I finally got around to watching Sideways last night. Sober! Which is good; I might have fallen asleep otherwise. That's not to say anything about the film; that's just to say that I am a sleepy drunk, no matter what stimuli jockey for my attention.

The film was great. A solid story featuring real people with real flaws and real vulnerabilities — not to mention real looks — in real situations is kind of hard to come by these days in the comedy genre. Or any genre, except maybe all them wacky foreign movies. Paul Giamatti is a master of the surly and smart creative everyman (again, as he nailed Harvey Pekar a few years ago, too). His ability to communicate rage and defeat just by a twitch of his brow and a clench of his jaw is superb. (Too bad Lady in the Water sucked so bad, dude. My condolences. I couldn't even make it to the end of that flick.) Thomas Haden Church plays the aging frat boy/charmer with such slimy ease that I kind of feel like maybe he wasn't doing too much acting. Virginia Madsen, who I have never really cared for before because of her overwhelming vanilla-ness, was warm and smart. And Sandra Oh is just fabulous in anything she does, especially if she gets to beat the shit out of womanizers with a motorcycle helmet.

You can't help but feel squeamish as you root for Miles, seeing as he is sort of insufferable and dishonest and all (he stole money from his mom!) But compared to Jack, Miles is the Pope incarnate. Jack might be larger than life and the type to relish the spotlight while Miles slinks into a corner, but he's a total self-centered jerk. Well, they're both kind of self-centered jerks. KIND OF LIKE US ALL.

Of course the scene that had everyone buzzing is the Miles-Maya conversation about wine, in which Miles describes why he loves pinot noir, which becomes a metaphor for how he sees himself. It's a beautiful scene, almost painfully so, when you consider the paper-thin discomfort separating Miles and Maya, and the way Maya so warmly tries to bridge the gap but is ultimately awkwardly rebuffed by a nervous Miles. It's just so fucking perfect, that scene. The dude realizing after the woman has made a move that he missed his opportunity to do his part, and then trying to come in and do the duty after the moment has passed. It's humiliating and if we haven't all been there yet, then by god we will be some day.

We're all supposed to see a little bit of ourselves in this movie, if we're obsessed with self-definition (like we are; don't deny it). And, in me, I see the surly and anti-social behaviors of Miles mixed caustically with the completely irreverent and ignorant tendencies of Jack. Miles has enough patience for wine to spend time with it, sniffing, looking, thinking, then tasting. Jack throws that shit back and says, "It tastes fine to me!"

In many ways, I feel like I do the same thing. Which, really, is fine. It's a learning process. It's much more easy to learn to be less like Jack than to learn to be less like Miles — someone whose expectations are always so high that they can never be met, someone who is so socially awkward that he can barely even stand conversations with people he doesn't know but who he admires. Someone whose life is playing out very differently from how he had envisioned.

I think Miles' loving description of the finicky pinot noir is so sweet. Before I'd ever seen this movie, I'd decided that pinot was the varietal that played nicest with my palate, so what a surprise it was to see it given the attention this movie gave it. In fact, it made me kind of giddy to see Miles snobbishly rail against merlot and give pinot all his love. (I don't have anything against merlot except that it's kinda boring and one-dimensional, but I'm always looking for exceptions.)

I get that. I get feeling a kinship — however contrived and flimsy — to a grape that is finicky and temperamental, but whose harvest can bring unimaginable delights. That's how life itself feels to me, every day. And that, I think, is why this movie was such a hit. It's a metaphor for existence, but one we can connect to something so common as alcohol or road trips or friendship or, when we're really lucky, all three.

Mmmmmm, Mondavi

I'm sitting here with my first ever glass of Robert Mondavi wine. Oldman's Guide turned me on to the old man's charms; being an incurable amateur, I'd never been struck by the name or the label while browsing in stores, so I'd never ventured to pick up a bottle until today.

Naturally, I opted for a pinot noir (my oft-mentioned favorite varietal) — one from 2005 (I'd still like to learn how and where to shop for vintages; as far as I can tell it's a crapshoot when you go wine shopping around here, and by that I mean, what year you see is what year you get) and from Mondavi's "private selection," no less. (Fancy sounding, sure, but I'm confident this is a meaningless differentiation and marketing ploy.)

This is a solid pinot (which I bought for about $14 but I found out on the website that is SRP is $11; d'oh!) of thick ruby coloration, with good structure. The nose is a little alcohol-y for my taste (it's kind of hypnotizing, though, to stick your nose in a glass and just inhale ... mmmm), but put some in your mouth and it the alcohol is tamed by some excellent tannins and the unmistakable presence of an oak foundation, upon which a subdued group of rich berries and subtle spices (coaxed into the spotlight by the vintage's small percentage of syrah in the mix) rests.

Mondavi is the American master. Which probably means a lot of what he does has been inflated and over-hyped. And yet! This pinot is sophisticated and yet playful, in the way it continues to dance in your mouth long after you've put the glass down. It will be fun to work my way through his other varietals, especially the much hyped fumé blanc, which is really a sauvignon blanc in hyper-marketed clothing.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The unremarkables

I've been doing a piss-poor job lately of keeping tasting notes, and I'll tell you why.:

1. I am lazy.

2. (and this is the one I'm really banking on) I have had a week full of whites, against which I exhibit an unintentional bias. I am a red drinker by nature, by preference. When I imbibe whites, it just feels like fruit juice that gets ya drunk, and I am not diligent about paying attention to the scents and the colors and the tastes.

(This proves my undeniable amateur status, if ever there was a doubt.)

So let me try to recap the week in whites, which has really only amounted to a bottle of chardonnay plus a magnum of pinot grigio plus a bottle of Wrongo Dongo, which is a red table wine that I enjoyed but can't for the life of me describe now that I'm several days removed from it.

Rock, Paper, Scissors chardonnay: I have been reading Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine and I have learned that big Cali chardonnays are often unremarkable and boring and overbearing, and I'd say that this screw-top variety definitely falls under that category. Although, I do feel like I should note that this is a fine wine for sipping with low expectations. It's cheap, the label is fun, the wine itself is fine if you don't expect it to do tricks for you — I can't imagine a $12 chardonnay being any better, to be honest, despite its poor showing when paired with a lemon-pepper chicken and brown rice dish.

Wrongo Dongo: This basic red was deep and rich yet fruity enough to keep my interest (I get put off if wines are too spicy and too rich). Its lack of outstandingness makes it cheap ($9!) and, therefore, makes it an excellent candidate for food-less quaffing. I wish I could remember more and ponitificate further, but, as you know, I suck.

Fetzer pinot grigio: Fetzer makes my favorite guwurtz, but I've not yet latched onto a particular pinot grigio that I love, despite knowing that at least one of my pals (Amanda) has a perpetual hard-on for PG. This PG is adequate enough; it exhibits peachy and floral scents while having an off-dry body that can be quaffed at length without getting too puckery, if you know what I mean. I've been nursing a huge bottle of this all week. It's my goal to further explore the piniot grigio world, but so far, Fetzer's cheap-ass $14 magnum has kept me entertained and fully hydrated for the past couple of nights. Maybe some day I'll actually document the wine itself as opposed to its impression. I'm getting hints of peach, apricot, and — glory be! — grape as I sniff and taste. It's solid. It's relatively light and uncomplicated — what you sniff if what you get. And, despite the zeitgeist, which insists that wines have to keep on keepin' on long after they've been swallowed, the Fetzer PG works for me.
I've not yet paired it with any foods (besides a slice of trusty old Kraft American, with which it paired beautifully), so I can't speak to the foodie aspect.

Sigh. Before January's over I'm going to rediscover my prized routines. Gym, careful wineblogging, etc. Bear with me. :)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Christmas 2006: The year of the wino

I started getting into wine in March, if memory serves, so I had most of the year to obsess about wine to my friends and family. And you'd be amazed how much easier you become to buy for when you establish an interest in something.

So, in addition to the book I mentioned in this post and the Millington wine I mentioned here, here are the wine-related things I got for Christmas/birthday this year:

From Tamara:

• A gorgeous wine rack (photos to come, once I get some batteries for the camera) that's dark chocolate-brown wood in a Tic Tac Toe sort of layout that requires you to slide bottles horizontally into slats. It sits on the counter and makes my kitchen look about three hundred percent cooler.

• A wine glass that I have dubbed "The Queen's Goblet." It is medium-sized, with a triangular bowl, a roped glass stem, and gold accents. It's lovely, and I am the only one allowed to drink out of it. Unless, of course, Tamara visits.

From Ashley:

• Four very large LSA handblown red wine glasses. The glasses are huge. My guests and I drank out of them all weekend and we marveled at how, when you tipped them up to take a sip, your entire face was swallowed by the bowl. Very dramatic but very fragile. These four glasses plus my Queen's Goblet are the only dishes I refuse to put in the dishwasher.

Phrom Phil:

• Two Oneida wine stoppers, perfect for saving wine without getting that funky moldy cork taste.
• One Argyle Vacuum Pump, perfect for storing an opened wine a little longer than you might have originally intended. I haven't actually used this yet, because once a bottle is open, I rarely let it sit there undrunk, you know? But I know this will be awesome once I use it.

Next year I'll be rooting for some glass charms so that guests can tell their glasses apart.

What other wine-related gifts did you get, or would you like to get?

Buy this book for everyone you know

I've sort of made half-assed attempts to find a good wine guide but haven't committed to anything because, well, everything seemed so similar that I wasn't sure what I should buy and why.

Luckily, Kristin solved my problem for me by giving me Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine. This book is amazing, and I've barely scratched the surface. I've learned a ton of stuff already — about why certain flavors come through in certain wines depending on their aging techniques and such and the importance of the scent of a wine — and there's no telling what sort of wine freak I'll be when I finally finish the book.

The tone of the book is just irreverent enough, and the design is simple and sophisticated-yet-quirky. The chapters are bite-sized, so you could plunk this book down on your toilet and make bathroom time into learnin' time if you found yourself lacking any other time to read.

I can't imagine finding a wine book more suited to my personality and disposition.