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Short ribs browned after sprinkling with salt and clove then slow cooked in a red wine/beef broth reduction with yellow onions, red pepper, mushroom stems, a dash of soy sauce, thyme, and bay leaves.  Served over a puree of golden potatoes and golden radishes blended with a touch of milk and butter.

Wine: Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rouge 2011

FullSizeRenderNotes:  Look, I understand that my wine and food pairings have now been classified as cruel and unusual punishment due to the fact that you are not able to enjoy them, but I really don’t think that’s my fault.  You can have these too.  I believe in you.

The red wines from Bandol are made predominantly from the Mourvédre grape or Monastrell if you’ve been drinking Spanish wines.  Depth, structure, complexity; this particular Bandol is a ponderous wine which I spent at least 15 minutes sniffing to suss out the particularities of its vanilla notes.  I eventually decided on vanilla extract if anyone cares.  This wine enhanced the savoriness of the dish and the light clove buoyed the oak the wine was aged in which all created a heady experience during which I had to exhale a number of satisfactory sighs to keep from exploding with euphoria.

If I were to repeat this, I would have slow cooked the short ribs for around 8 hours instead of the 5 that I did so they’d be “melt-worthy”, but in my defense I only envisioned the dish at lunch time that day.

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P.S. That’s Jamie Goode’s latest book: I Taste Red that the bottle is sitting on.

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Welcome to 2017! This is the year that all of your wine dreams come true* so please look forward to it.  Amidst all the noise of the wine trends, predictions and recommendations that will be starting up today I would like to offer one small gift to help you get through the onslaught: Permission.  Permission to not have a favorite wine this year, or ever really.  Permission to respond with a shrug, or “I actually like quite a few wines, it’s hard to find a favorite” to the predictable question while hobnobbing with a new fellow wine drinker of “What’s your favorite wine?”

With this comes the freedom to not feel defined by a single wine and the responsibility to not turn your nose up at a wine that you feel doesn’t define you.  You are more than one varietal, one blend, one producer.  You are allowed to change; to ebb and flow.  You are allowed to mature, because really, it’s kids that have favorites isn’t it?  Favorite color, favorite super hero, favorite toy?  You’re an adult now.  You set a bar of acceptable quality and you’ll enjoy anything that meets that expectation. That’s not to say you won’t still be a discerning individual, but you’ll take pleasure not worrying if there’s something better.  Way to go you. Nice work.

While we’re at it, you don’t even need to seek out what someone else decides is the best wine.  Why? Because it’s a subjective measure based largely on preferences that you may not hold.  If you ask for the best at a restaurant/wine shop/winery, those in the industry will immediately identify you as their favorite type of customer in the world known as the sucker.  Let’s not be suckers in 2017.

Cheers to a new year.

 

*Disclaimer: Author’s definition of what your dreams are may differ from your own and may not be based in reality.

 

Let’s be honest, you are probably the social nexus and best entertainment source of all of your friends and acquaintances. Given this, it is inevitable that this holiday season you will most likely be hosting one, if not all of the the premier holiday parties in your neighborhood/city/region/world.  As a result of this, and the fact that your social network inevitably includes some thoughtful people, you will undoubtedly receive a number of bottles of wine brought by these guests as gifts.  Naturally, you, as a gracious host will follow the standard lines of polite society:

  • Say ‘Thank you’.
  • Add the bottle to the “Open bar” amongst the ones you’ve provided.
  • If you have prepared wine pairings with a specific meal, ask if you can hold on to the bottle for Tuesday Taco night.

But what if someone brings a bottle of wine that is truly undrinkable? I’m not talking about someone bringing a bottle of California Pinot Noir to a Francophile’s house, because that host just needs to get over themselves.  I’m talking about the bottom of the bargain bin, of dubious origin, might not actually be wine, bottle of wine.  These wines aren’t accidentally acquired.  One has to purposefully wander into the specifically set up section of the store that other shoppers are avoiding like the plague and then select a wine solely based on its lowest price status. Yet, it’s still my general assumption that no one brings these wines as gifts on purpose, but then again, I don’t know your friends.  The question then becomes what to do with these wines.  The answer of course depends on whether you’re good or evil.

The Good Way:

First, let Jeff Goldblum teach you how to act:

Then you have to figure out what to do with the wine short of pouring it out in front of the person.  Your best option is to tell them you’d like to save it for Tuesday Taco night (This is a thing people do, right?) and then toss it out the next day.  Do this discreetly if they are neighbors.  Now, some so called experts will tell you to add this wine to a festive holiday punch or cocktail, but if you’re adding bad wine to these things, you’re not making a good punch or cocktail are you?  At a minimum you have to add the other ingredients at a quantity that masks that bad wine taste which is kind of like throwing good money after bad.

The problem doesn’t stop there either.  What happens when you see the person again?  Yes, you can hope the topic never comes up again, but what if they ask you how you liked it?  Like a lost puppy, bad wine follows you.  You have to come up with a back story. Sure, you could just tell the truth and say it wasn’t the type of wine you prefer, because after all, you’re a good person, but you also don’t want to hurt their feelings because you’re a good person. So what else can you do?

  • Use the bottle for a candle holder or art project.  You’ll probably want to remove the label first because no one wants that in their house.
  • Use the wine to catch fruit flies.  It works.  The whole “Catch flies better with honey instead of vinegar” thing is a complete lie.  The opposite works.
  • If it’s a red wine, use it to dye some fabric.  Get crazy.  I don’t know, I’m not crafty.

The Evil Way:

  • Give the person a sympathetic smile and say “I’m so sorry, you’re uninvited to this party now” and then hand them back the bottle of wine.  Close the door slowly.  Lock the door.
  • Graciously accept the bottle of wine (see above Jeff Goldblum tips on acting) and then secretly serve it back to them and only them throughout the party.
  • Ask guests when offering them wine whether they’d like the good stuff or whatever “wine” (air quotes acceptable) [insert guest name here] brought.
  • Re-gift the wine on the next event those who gave you the bottle host.
  • Tell them your Elf on a Shelf drank it…and then died.

 

Whichever path you decide to take remember that wine is there to help you celebrate so share it with those you hold dear and be grateful they’re willing to put up with you.

 

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This turkey attempted to attack the car shortly after this photo was taken.

By now, on this day before the most gluttonous of all American holidays (Save the Super Bowl) known as Thanksgiving, you have probably seen a fair number of blogs and magazine articles about what wines you should bring to the table.  Oddly enough, you’ll probably also notice that no two articles agree on which wines to bring to the table even though they all declare their picks to be the best.  Well they’re all wrong…or perhaps all right depending on if you’re a wine glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.

The safest option for you would be to acquire ALL of the wines that have been recommended.  However, I understand that some of you have a limited budget and that may not be an option.  Even if you could, there’s the issue of finding the wines in the first place.  I would hope if you’re reading an article by a local wine expert that they at least listed which shops to find the wines at and how much they’re priced at, but this sadly isn’t always the case.  Most will leave you scouring the internet to hunt down these bottles and if you’ve waiting until now to do this, you’re going to be out of luck to get them by tomorrow.  The majority of seasonal wine recommendations that are given by actual wine experts are for wines that aren’t distributed to all 50 states.  At most, you have a moderate chance at finding them if you’re in a major city.  If you’re in the suburbs or beyond, don’t bother hoping your wine shop will carry them.

Given this, what wines should you go buy?  First, if you have a wine shop you like to go to, ask the “wine person” there.  Regardless of how much of an “expert” this person is, they’re the ones buying the wine for the store you like and they’ve tasted these wines so you can trust their recommendations.  If you don’t even have this, just buy some wines that you like to drink and don’t worry too much about how well they pair with the odd assortment of dishes on your table. Even pairings that seem off won’t make you unlike a wine.

For those that want to get a little more technical, here are some base recommendations that you can ask your wine shop about:

If you want to bring out any of those traditional Thanksgiving baking spices, especially clove, go for a red wine that has been aged in oak.  The aromatic compound, eugenol comes from toasted oak, and it’s the same compound in clove.

If you want to bring out the butter in your croissants and everything you are slathering with butter, get a Chardonnay that has been through the Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) process.

If your dishes are all carb/fat/savory/make-you-want-to-sleep-forever get a wine with some acid in it (usually from cooler climates) to brighten up your dishes and perhaps bring out their flavor a little more.

If you want a wine with dessert get a sweet wine (bonus points if you follow the baking spices recommendation above too).  If the wine isn’t as sweet as the dessert, you’ll notice.

Regardless of what wines you get this Thanksgiving, feel free to make fun of the person that brought their pumpkin-spiced beer.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!!

 

catbookwine

There has been an increasing amount of discussion over the past few years over what a ‘Fact’ is which is interesting in itself, because the word has a definition as all words do and that is a fact.  However, in this era of truthiness, an aspect of that definition that is more and more frequently being warped is the process of turning experience into fact. This insistence that things that are not actually facts are in fact facts is something that the wine world has been dealing with for quite some time.  Perhaps it correlates with the invention of the wine snob, but I can’t verify that as a fact.

If an experience happens; that’s a fact.  The fact that the experience happens though doesn’t mean that the experience was perceived accurately or that the experience is reflective of some larger truth.  As one example let’s say Person A believes, based on their experience, that all people with the name Aaron are horrible people.  Person B doesn’t believe this because they’ve had quite a few pleasant experiences with people named Aaron.  Additionally, some research has been performed which defines what a horrible person is and there has been a reasonable evaluation of a sampling of Aarons and that sample didn’t meet the definition of  horrible people.  However, neither Person A or Person B is fully aware of this.  In this case the facts are this:

  1. Person A believes people named Aaron are all horrible people based on some bad experiences.
  2. Person B believes people named Aaron are generally decent people based on some positive experiences.
  3. Research shows that people named Aaron cannot generally be defined as horrible people.

If someone bothered to look into the issue (and they really should;  highly critical issue here), we could see that while it is a fact that Person A and Person B believe different things based on their experiences, there is evidence that Person B’s belief is more in line with the larger truth.    Therefore, if Person A went around telling everyone that it’s a fact people named Aaron are jerks, they would in fact, be wrong.  No matter how many times they said it.  Even if Person A said: well, it’s their opinion and they have a right to voice it, they are still, in fact, wrong and should be encouraged to not purport their opinions and/or beliefs as facts. Even if Person C comes in to the conversation and says they agree with Person A, they are still, in fact, wrong.

Unfortunately in the wine world, there are a lot of Person As running around and have been for quite some time.  It seems that it is almost the standard rate of currency in wine knowledge that the more opinions/beliefs stated, the more knowledge that is held.  The sad part is that there is now quite a lot of research and evidence that people can reference to check these opinions/beliefs against.  People don’t generally question a statement coming from an “expert”, and usually take a statement expressed as fact at face value.  There have been a number of times that I personally have made statements regarding wine that I believed to be true and purported them to be facts. Why? Because I was told they were facts by experts.  I tend to be more careful about that since my younger days.

I would love to have an exhaustive list of all the mis-truths paraded around as facts in the wine world, but that would most likely be impossible and if it is, it would be better presented in an encyclopedia format.  Therefore, I’ll just address the major categories that seem to contain all of the issues and what to look for.

What Wine Professionals Learn in Class

I went through the International Sommelier Guild for my “official” wine training.  Through conversations and demonstrations of knowledge with people who have gone through other wine schools (International Wine School, Wine and Spirit Education Trust, etc. ), my impression is that the curricula are roughly the same.  While the breadth of knowledge should certainly be viewed as impressive for anyone coming out of this education, it should be emphasized that the main focus as you reach higher levels of the education is on the memorization of wine regions, what wines they produce, and what appears to be unique about the wines from those regions.

  • A historical overview of wine’s role in society.
  • The very rough basics of how wine is made and the various styles it can be made into.  Anyone attending these classes does not actually make wine as part of the course.
  • A high-level look at viticulture and the common ailments grapevines can face.
  • The wine regions, which grape varietals are most commonly grown in those regions, what styles of wine are generally made from those grapes, and what laws govern wine production including the legal descriptions of what “Quality” wine is in wine producing countries.
  • Sensory training to identify and describe acidity, astringency, sweetness, alcohol content, and basic aroma descriptions (see more on aroma descriptors below).
  • Traditions and expectations around wine service at restaurants including wine storage.
  • Traditions of pairing wines to various foods and a collection of “rules” to follow when creating pairings.
  • Cursory overviews of beer, spirits, and cigars.

It should be noted that little to no actual science is included in this education.  Wine schools are geared toward preparing students to work as Sommeliers, be in wine sales, and writing articles entitled “The Top 5 Wines You Should Be Drinking NOW!!!”…which it seems a lot of people forget, is still wine sales.   I always compare wine to fashion; if you are a fashion “expert” generally you’re just promoting certain brands and talking about trends and styles, but that doesn’t make you an expert on how the clothes are constructed, production costs, labor issues, the science behind dyes and fabric production, etc.  Most wine “experts” I know and come across still haven’t even bothered to make a single batch of wine and therefore when they talk about the subject, it’s really from an armchair perspective.  If you like sports commentary, maybe that’s your thing.  A wine’s legs or tears (the drips down the inside of the glass after you swirl it) is an aesthetic that is sometimes evaluated in wines, but it means nothing in terms of quality despite the opinions of some.  Therefore, it’s appropriate to question whether what is being related is a fact, or just this person’s opinion especially when it comes to statements as to what makes something better than something else.  It is also appropriate to question sensory assessments, but more on that later.

Wine and Food Pairing

There are a lot of facts about how we interact with wine from a physiological and psychological standpoint.  I address a number of these in my wine sensory experience series that starts here.  When it comes to wine and food pairing advice though, these are all matters of opinion and not fact. Most current wine and food pairing advice can be boiled down to one of two things: 1) What grows together goes together (Traditional pairings), or 2) Flavor matching, or putting wines that have certain flavor characteristics with foods that share those characteristics.  There’s a lot of talk about “perfect” pairings, but given that the designation is wholly subjective, as in, not based on anything objective or measurable whatsoever, we can throw out the idea that people are using any metric besides their preference to declare what wines go better with what foods.  This is why we spent at least decades with the thinking that white wines can only go with fish and chicken and red wines can only go with beef and, depending on some cultures or who you’re trying to impress, Cabernet Sauvignon should be ordered with absolutely everything.  Therefore, saying you had a certain wine paired with a certain dish and you enjoyed it is a fact.  Saying a certain wine pairs better with a certain dish than all other wines is a matter of opinion and given that the person probably didn’t taste test all of the wines in the world with that dish, it is perhaps an uninformed opinion regardless of who they claim to be.

Wine Aromas

If there’s one thing all wine buyers are constantly exposed to it’s tasting notes.  They’re on the bottle, they’re posted in reviews on-line, they’re heralded as the highest art form in the wine world.  People who are respected by other wine drinkers are said to have a “Good nose” or a “Good palette”, and what the hell does that even mean?!?! Are these people quantitatively more in tune with their senses than the rest of us?  Are the physically and mentally superior?  Usually, the answer is no, they’re just better at bullshitting (Important life skill kids.  Don’t say ‘bullshit’ though).  Now, there is a way to see if someone was actually superior to someone else at identifying various aromatic compounds and it is a skill that can be developed. In a nutshell, we teach ourselves to match up the aromas we are smelling with the “image” of an aroma in our memory banks, but that process can be conflicted and conflated by a wide number of different things.

Let’s face it, most people in this world aren’t that great at describing what we smell.  It’s not our fault, we just don’t have the words for it. Yet it’s the central focus in the world of wine.  To alleviate this, various lexicons of aromas have been developed.  Most notably is Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel which is a great way to have a discussion that compares and contrasts various wines.  But the aromas listed on that wheel were taken from looking over tasting notes, which as mentioned above, aren’t really a scientific analysis of the actual volatile aromatic compounds in the wines.  They are people’s perceptions or opinions of what they smell.  Therefore, if someone says “There are lilac and peach aromas in this wine.” the fact that they are meaning to convey is “I smell aromas that remind me of lilacs and peaches in this wine.”  You may very well smell something different.  This isn’t to say that there are no “correct” or “wrong” answers.

Regardless of what we interpret as the smell, one could chemically analyze the wine and compare it to the 40+ million fragrant molecules that have been identified that our noses can sniff.  And each varietal of wine has it’s own aromatic spectrum or range based on its genetic code of things it could possibly smell like…not to mention the addition of aromas that come from wine making practices, but we don’t have a definitive index yet of which fragrant molecules are absolutely found in certain wines based on terroir, or some might say, phenotype.

If someone tells you they smell cinnamon in a wine, you can wonder if someone else could interpret it as clove, anise, Thai basil, wild basil, malted barley, fresh mangoes, apricots, pineapple, strawberries, rosemary, potatoes, cooked asparagus, mozzarella cheese, or grilled beef.  Why?  Because all of those descriptions of aromas contain the aromatic compound eugenol.  But if someone said that the chemical analysis of this wine reveals that there are molecules of eugenol, estragole, s-carvone, apigenin, r-carvone, menthol, and anethole.  One could assume that an anise aroma could be found and one could also assume that someone wouldn’t interpret the aromas as butter (that’s primarily diacetyl).

But no one says that, and it’s highly improbable that you’re going to chemically analyze the wine you’re drinking. Let’s just say that when it comes to a wine expert describing a wine to someone it’s more of a performance and exercise in creativity than anything.The same goes with blind tasting.  But since I’m not writing a novel on the subject right now, I’ll just say this: while training does help with identifying a typical variety of wine from a particular place, a wine of a different variety from a different place can be made to taste the same way.  Education in wine builds the skill of identifying typicity, and that’s good for two things: recognizing when something is either atypical or typical of what it is supposed to be, and a neat party trick to impress your friends and potential mates.  Actually, there’s a third thing: verifying the server brought you the correct glass of wine.  Perhaps the best use of the skill, I’ve had to make corrections only a couple of times, but that was when I ordered a wine that I really, really knew.  I’ve probably been served the wrong wine multiple times, but it was similar enough I didn’t notice.  Mistakes in restaurant service happen and it’s ok.

The list of chemical compounds and aromas was taken from the book Taste Buds and Molecules and is the result of the chemical analysis of a large, but obviously not complete sample of wines.

To top it all off, there are a lot of “facts” floating around out there that have been disproven that are still in popular circulation: our tongues have certain areas that only perceive certain tastes (false), steak goes with tannic wines because the fat softens the tannins (false), sweet wines are always lower quality than dry wines (false), or even that people who prefer to drink red wines are more superior or somehow better educated than those who drink whites (false…in case you were wondering).  Therefore, it’s acceptable and encouraged to question anything being presented as fact in the wine world until you can have it proven for yourself.  You can prove that the more acid a wine has, the more saliva will rush into your mouth.  You can prove that wines made in typical styles from different locations are different from each other.  You can prove that when wines have certain characteristics, you tend to enjoy them better.  But if something being said seems ungraspable, unreachable, untenable, there’s a good chance it is.  While demonstrated experts should certainly be trusted, wine is not a magical beverage no matter how much we claim it to be so it’s best to also be skeptical.

 

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Picture selected based on the artist’s misunderstanding of when the USA was founded and when bards and swashbuckling pirates existed. 

Recently, I had a birthday dinner at a local restaurant here in Minneapolis.  It was French.  It was delightful. It was serene.  The most wonderful part of it though was the fact that this restaurant was offering half-glasses of wine (2.5oz instead of 5oz) on their menu of any wine they poured by the glass.  Even better, the price of that half-glass was exactly half the price of the full glass.  It was brilliant.  I was inspired.  I wrote a ballad about it:

 

The Ballad of the Half-Glass Pour

As I sat down at the restaurant,
Menu soon in hand,
I was craving bubbles from a Francophonic land.

But as my eyes danced merrily,
From savory small plate to sweet,
My wine desires multiplied, how would my cravings be complete?

But what was this? Could it be true?
I spied in the margin,
Half a pour for half the price? A fair and even bargain.

How else could I sample them all?
Mix and match as I pleased,
This restaurant was offering half glasses of wine, it seemed like such a tease.

Unlike the up-marked volume sales of the airport,
Where they offer you 6 ounces or 9,
I’ll take variety so 2.5 will be fine.

In the end a similar volume
Will probably be consumed,
But who can choose just one flower, when the entire field is in bloom?

Bubbles to start
Then I selected a Cab Franc rosé
Could have gone on to a red, but I’d already had a glass that day.

For dessert, I had the Byrrh,
A digestif to settle all that food.
Having only just half glasses had put me in the mood.

Satiated, satisfied,
I sat back in my chair with a delighted sigh.
It felt as though Utopia had finally drawn in nigh.

If you chance upon a restaurant
Whose menu begets a paradox of choice
You’d best hope they have the half-glass pour, and if they do rejoice.

For the wine flight is constructed
Meant for comparing and not completing
The option for the half-glass pour however, is certainly worth repeating.

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Taken in Lyon, France…not the bottle I drank from the night of the half-glass pours. 

 

I really do hate to keep bringing up wine producers that I’ve mentioned in the past because there is a megaton of wine in this world and I have a secret goal to experience 75% of it.  Alas, I only have access to an estimated 10% through my local wine shop, a paltry 45 additional percentage points through the internet, and perhaps a lousy 2.5 percentage points more through my worldly travels.  That’s only 57.5% of completely made up figures!  The point is, we all live in a bubble.

Anyway, I had a smashed burger and a glass of Washington Chardonnay so I’m winning at life.

4oz of not so lean ground beef, divided in half and rolled into balls.  1 cast iron skillet perched atop a burner set to 11.  2tbsps butter thrown into the skillet and melted which was immediately absorbed by the two halves of a delightfully fluffy hamburger bun and then toasted.  Oh yeah, you gotta roll that bun in the butter and make sure a little gets on the outsides too.  Just toast one side of each bun half though, let’s not get too crazy.  When the skillet was smoking, the two meat ball were thrown on and smashed as skinny as I could make them.  After they browned in their own fat (Le Burger Confit, no?) in a couple of minutes, they were flipped.  Salt and pepper were then applied.  A 2yr aged cheddar was put on one of the patties because every burger should have cheese.  Once the Maillard reaction had set in on both sides, the patties were scooped a placed on the bun.

Wine: Dusted Valley Chardonnay 2014

IMG_5925Notes:

OK, yes I had a side salad made of who cares and that was nice too.  I just want to get that out of the way for anyone worried about my health.

I don’t know why people still assume red wines pair better with burgers.  Maybe it’s the whole red meat, red wine thing? Regardless, I’m pretty sure everyone who has done it is completely on board.  Why does it work?  Well fat flavor begets fat flavor, for one. The trick with Chardonnay, and we’re talking the MLF, maybe some oak kind*, is always to find one with that delicate balance of butteriness and acidity, primarily in the form of green apple flavors.  Chablis is always the standard-bearer for this style and exemplar of balance, but they are certainly not alone in producing quality Chardonnays.  The best Chardonnays I’ve had are generally from cooler climates than central California, don’t carry too much oak, if any, and pack enough acid to make you not think you’re drinking a stick of butter.  Then when you mix that balanced Chardonnay with a fine cheeseburger to bring out the fact that you’re ingesting some delicious fat, protein, and carbohydrates…well, then you’re just living on the edge.

Oh yeah, the next night I added a dab of duck fat to the pan for a “twist”.  Then the third night I didn’t, but I just used 6oz of beef instead of 4…I may have a problem.  Good thing I ran out of meat.