Thursday, January 26, 2006

What drinkin' wine's all about: 1995 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici

It may seem, if you've been keeping up with my teeny little blog, that I've been on an Italian kick. Well I have. Italian wine effin' rules.

Ever had an Aglianico before? Please do. Aglianico is one of those ancient grapes that hasn't yet been yanked out of the ground and replaced with Chardonnay. It's Southern Italy's answer to Barolo, and while it shares little of the international limelight, it has all the intoxicating aromas you could ever hope for. They're tannic monsters in their youth, but once they're all mellowed out, they're gorgeous.

The first bottle I had of this was so dreamy after we decanted it that I went out the next day and bought the only other bottle at the store. The second bottle lay sleeping in my cooler for another several months, until night before last, when the Hub and I decided to indulge once again.

We even paired it with the exact same dish it went so well with the time before---a flank steak with an olive, pepperdew and basil sauce. This time, instead of decanting it, we let it evolve in the glass, and spent the entire evening geeking out about what we could smell and taste. Because we're dorks like that. We didn't even watch the movie we rented until the whole bottle was finished, and all the glorious sediment had been admired.

Sediment porn

So what did we smell and taste? Rich, stewed fruits, cocoa powder, pepper, violets, and after that, we were just getting silly with word association. It was the kind of wine that makes you giddy when you smell it, and that, friends, is what it's all about.

Now, wouldn't it be a shame if the international wine market bullied out beautiful varietal wines like this? Next time you think: oh well, give the world the Merlot/Shiraz blends it wants and stop whining, you need to try a bottle full of velvet like this one. I've seen this bottle, and even this vintage, for fair prices on the internet. It's well worth your time.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Cork and Demon Western Wine Tour Update: Head Demons

I emailed a friend to ask her something that's been bothering me since I started looking at the southern New Mexico leg of my tour today: once in El Paso, should I tack on several hours of driving time and hit Carlsbad caverns, or should I stick to The Plan, which is to travel on a winery-finding route, and not diverge?

She thought this was such a non-question. You've wanted to see Carlsbad and the Guadalupes since childhood? Then, duh. Go there. And that might be obvious--for someone else.

The big head demon I've had lurking round while planning this trip is that I must treat it as a JOB, and I am my own BOSS, and certain things must get DONE, or else I am a wandering loser HIPPY wasting my inheritance.

Certain things must get done. I'm gonna talk to winemakers and sample their wine and teach myself how to write about what I tasted. But what really needs to get done doesn't have a damn thing to do with wine. I'm doing this to learn how to trust myself. Now, I didn't say find myself; Lord knows I know where I am at all times. But if I can shove off from south Texas and make a grand loop across the Western United States on my own, for no other reasons than my own, I can probably trust myself with just about anything else.

So yeah, I should go to Carlsbad, and to see the highest point in Texas (you're right, Kym, I can't call myself a Texan and miss that opportunity!) Even if it means some extra milage and time. Not because it's practical or productive, but because I WANNA.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I Quaranta 'Momento' vino di tavola and a Cork and Demon Wine Tour Update por la gente

The story of the Tenuta I Quaranta estate is the story of a lightning strike, of love at first sight...

Reading the brief biography of this super-amazing woman (a car designer who cured her ennui with a degree in onology) will make you wonder aloud, "Jeez-o-Pete, what have I done with my life?" Or, maybe, like me, you'll wonder, "How can my skin look that fantastic at forty???" Either way, both the wine and the woman who made it have a great chance of making themselves well known.

I was first introduced to this bianco by the only wholesaler in Texas to receive it. According to him, there were only 150 bottles shipped to America. Yeah, bottles, not cases. I have had the luck to drink the better part of two of those.

The name 'I Quaranta' represents the age at which winemaker Annalisa Batuello (did I mention how fabulous she is?) released her first vintage.

This vino di tavola is fully Chardonnay, in stainless steel. The color is deep golden and bright. Up front is silky-soft ripe tree fruit, with good acid balance and hints of savory spices. I noticed something I never had before: I could feel the slight, fuzzy-soft tannins that some whites have. Sigh. Lovely.

The only thing that bugged me about this wine was that it seemed a little boozy-hot. I've left a message with the distributor to see if he knows any reason why this might be. But despite that, the whole package, from label to swallow, worked for me. As a matter of fact, it reminded me of all the pretty things Chardonnay can do if you don't turn it into a G*ddamn coconut macaroon.

Cork and Demon's Western Wine Tour Hootenany 2006 Update: So far, so good with the planning. Got my map up on the wall and even some o' those fancy map pins. The Texas leg is shaping up nicely. The whole Texas Wine (capitals intended) thing is still perplexing me: why aren't we making really great wine now? Yeah, yeah, there's a few that stand out, but like I said, you put those on the market at those krazier-than-shit prices and they don't compare in complexity or quality. I don't have my MS or anything, but I don't think you need it to know that you've had better juice for far less clams. So needless to say, I'm hoping to learn as much as I can about what's going on out there.


Monday, January 16, 2006

2003 Fontanfredda 'Eremo' Langhe

Okay, so before I taste this wine, I have to ask: have you ever had potluck anxiety before? See, today was a busy-ass day, and I didn't get the message until today that a potluck was happening tonight. Not being in the mood to show off my cooking skills, I...should I even admit this?

...I made tabouli. From a box.

Now, before you go all phreeky on me, I do want to say that I spent ample time chopping the vegetables and fresh (-ish) garlic, and used only the finest e.v.o.o. that 6.99 can buy. It's not that I don't care, it's just that, well...sometimes, like a painter or writer, the muse just isn't there, nor is the time. But of course, now, I'm feeling the anxiety of the possible reactions to said tabouli.

There'll be people there I don't know. Will they judge me by my tabouli ineptitude? Will the host roll his eyes, even though I lovingly garnished the bowl with slender lemon wedges? Or, gads, even worse: will I be the fourth slacker who brought boxed tabouli???

Jeez, I need a drink now:

2003 Fontanafredda 'Eremo' Langhe (70% Barbera, 30% Nebbiolo)

I couldn't think of a damn thing to write about, so I went to the store and picked up this bottle. I'm a fan of all things Piedmont, so wot the hell, I forked over the fifteen bucks, thinking that I could have a glass today, and since it's barbera and nebby, it'll probably taste real good tomorrow, too.

I'd like to let it sit longer, 'cause it seems a bit tight now and could probably use more than the twenty minutes I've let it sit. But a girl just don't have that kinda time. It smells like young nebby--deep cooked black fruits, licorice and chocolate. The palate, however, is the bright, tart red fruit of barbera, with plenty of lemony fresh acidity on the mid palate. Those nebby tannins kick in at the end, and how. Nice stuff. I wish I had a hunk of lamb to go with it, though: as with most Piedmontese wines, this guy's not so much a sipper as an escort to tasty meat.

Oh, and just so you know--this is definitely not a tabouli wine. Gives me heartburn just thinking about that.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nashville Eats and Drinkies

I don't know if I want to admit what I was thinking I'd find in Nashville, it being my first time and all. I had already decided against the Opry, since recent reviews had declared it "tired", and the only piece of country music culture I wanted was a whip-ass Scully shirt to add to my collection. While I didn't find the shirt of my dreams, I did find the kind of grub I was looking for: straight up Southern fare that puts the meat on yer bones. Or fat, rather. Whatever. Unfortunately, upon diverging from that cuisine, I found disappointing results. Here's the highlights, and lo-lights, of the gustatory leg of my Nashville trip.
What Texans call a 'blue plate', Tennesseans call a 'meat-and-three', and while there were several places listed in the Nashville Scene, I wanted to hit the most anachronistic diner I could possibly find. I was not disappointed by Elliston's Soda Shop in the West End (2111 Elliston Place, near the Vanderbilt campus). From the framed posters urging you to indulge in a wholesome malted milk or Southern fried chicken basket to the indie juke boxes for each booth, this joint was full-on 1955. And the grub? Check it out:

That's meat-and-three like the Lord intended, people. Fall-off-the-bone spareribs with greens, white beans, and cucumber salad. I paid less than six bucks for this meal. And yes, dammit, the tea is sweet.

There's usually a line out the door of the Pancake Pantry (1796 21st Ave. S) and I just had to know why. This line moves fast, though, and my companion and I conversed with a young aspiring country singer who later picked up our bill (thanks, Jared!). Inside you'll find those whitehaired waitresses who call you 'hon' and have coffee on the table within seconds.

The pancake selection is mind-boggling: corn cakes, buckwheat, Sweedish potato, orange-walnut, every manner of compote on the planet. I chose the sweet potato pancakes with cinnamon-cream syrup. Holy mother of Elvis, that's good eatin'! Do not miss the pancakes, man.

On our dine-in evening, I popped the bottle of Nero D'Avola I brought from home: the 2003 Valle Dell'Acate 'Il Moro'. Such a lovely thing. I notice that in my part of the world, Nero D'Avola seems to be the new favorite 'cheap' Italian; this bottle definitely does not fit that category. While it's labeled as 100% Nero D'Avola, I've seen info that it might have been blended with a bit of Inzolia, maybe for aromatics. It's fermented in stainless steel and sees a year in barriques. Good stuff; silky, well balanced, lots of baked fruit, meaty, and earthy aromatics.

I was suprised to learn that my friend has a wine bar just right down the street from her apartment, so I had to check that out. Rumors is the name, (2304 12th Ave. S) and while it was a nice enough joint, please, people--do something about that name. 'Rumors' has been the sign above every third strip mall dive bar in America since 1982. It evokes bad images.
That aside, the place has a nice, cozy vibe and seems to be intimately connected with the local art and artisan scene, which is very cool. The wine I had was the 2000 Castell de Falset from Monsant, a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Cab. I didn't care for it. It was very plush and fat and not my style, and overpriced at $13 a glass.

My sole disappointment was with the Chapel Bistro (701 Chapel Ave). The service was great, we had a very sassy waiter who was prompt, entertaining and honest about the menu choices. The bistro itself is very warm and ecclectic inside; being a rennovated landmark pharmacy building, the original walls and windows were preserved and blended with local art and a nice color palate. HOWEVER, the food needed some work. The 'deconstucted Caesar' salad was one of the worse of the foibles. In a failed attempt to be clever, this salad consisted of a handful of shredded romaine in an uninspired vinagrette thrown over a piece of chewy grilled bread and topped with a blanket of melted, then cooled asiago. Nearly flavorless and texturally unappealing. Made me wonder if what hit my table was anything close to what the chef had intended. My entree, prawns in a tarragon-beer reduction, had great flavor, but the polenta in the middle seemed to have neither jalapeno nor cheddar, as promised, and was pretty bland.

Oh, yeah, and while it's perfectly acceptable for a restaurant to mark up the wine list, the Chapel's prices was a joke. You guys want $30 for a bottle of Equis vino de la Tierra de Castilla? Damn. That's over a 300% markup, dude. Forget it.

As soon as it's out of the oven, please check out the other non-food and wine highlights of my Tennessee trip on Cocktails with the Noonday Demon.