Articles from December 2009

Driving Under the Affluence

austin-motelWine is made in every state, but, of course, 95% of the domestic wine I drink is from California (although at the moment I happen to be enjoying a Cab from Washington). I always just assumed (and really still do) that California makes the best wine in America. But I also always assumed that France and Italy produce the best wine worldwide, though lately I have found that I think I prefer Spain.

So is there a state out there that makes better wine than this beautiful one we live in?

On Sunday, we embark on a 3 week roadtrip through 3 other states and plan on tasting as many wines locally as possible. Who knows, maybe I am a huge fan of New Mexican wines and I don’t even know it.

As we are busy preparing we realize that some of our daily regular features (Big Mac’s Mondays and Wine Web Wednesdays) have been preempted. We promise to make up for it with posts from the road.

Our round trip route currently looks like this:

LA to Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon to Albuquerque
Albuquerque to Dallas
Dallas to Austin
Austin to Marfa
Marfa to Deming
Deming to Phoenix
Phoenix to LA

We are going to stare at the Grand Canyon for a minute and then drive to Albuquerque to visit Gruet, recommended by Thomas Favorite and TriceraPops. Then we are heading to Dallas to see my family for Christmas. Dallas is home to several great museums: Ando’s Ft Worth Modern, Kahn’s amazing Kimbell Museum and Renzo Piano’s Nasher. We may also cash in some Starwood points and spend a night or two in the stunning new hotel The Joule.

Next we are going to Austin for NYE. She usually stays at the San Jose, but we already booked a Starwood Hotel here (Our points expire in February). I assume we will visit Barton Springs on New Years Day to alleviate our hangovers before we hit the road to Marfa, TX. We are both Donald Judd fans and very excited to take the tour. We are gonna stay at the non-Starwood Thunderbird, which happens to be owned by the same woman who owns the San Jose.

On the way back to LA we are stopping in Deming, only because it is a nice stopping point (although any other suggestions at or around there will totally be considered). Then a night in Phoenix and some pizza at Pizzeria Bianco, the best pizza in the United States of America (She went there for the first time for Suzanne Goin & David Lentz’s wedding). And then Silverlake bound…

Any food, wine (or anything else) recommendations for any of these locations is greatly demanded and mildly appreciated.

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Quiz #3: Answers

quiz 3

So this quiz sat around for awhile. It got some wine spilled on it, torn a bit, wet… but finally answered, if only partially. She has since told me the answers and here are my comments:

1. Pinot Gris was a guess. Riesling is one, but I thought California was too cold to grow Riesling

2. I should have known Walla Walla and Columbia Valley. I just forgot. I have had Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, should have known this.

3. It’s 15% not 20%. Fair enough. I knew it was small.

4. ’49, gold rush, should have maybe put that together.

5. I didn’t know who gave it the name, but knew it was SB.

This test was actually fun.

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“What Can Best Be Left Unsaid”

I’ve been following with interest the comment thread on Eric Asimov’s post on The Pour addressing what not to write about when writing about wine. He explains:

“…writing these sorts of columns for a general audience is always a sort of balancing act, where providing basic background information for novice readers needs to be done without boring more learned readers. And sometimes, one needs to take the public temperature and decide that the basic information that was required in one year is no longer necessary in another.

Asimov’s struggle and his reader’s responses got me thinking about my own pet peeves in wine writing (even though he is my favorite bad-boy wine writing hottie, I read beyond Jay McInernery). But every time I thought of something that irks me, an intrepid commenter would bring it up.

Instead of creating my own list, I’ve distilled what I think are the best points from the readers. I’ve paraphrased and/or summarized and/or restated what others have said. I have original thoughts…but apparently not on this topic. (The first commentator, Thor Iverson, should get props for getting the comments thread going…the first seven points below closely reflect his.)

1. No holiday columns (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc.)

2. Take care when writing about Beaujolais: avoid instant condemnation and the use of  “banana yeast;” avoid re-telling the Nouveau marketing story

3. No need to mention chenin blanc being called “steen” in South Africa; no need to mention syrah is referred to as shiraz in Australia, South Africa and Canada

4. No more pointing out the linguistic and stylistic versions of the words “blanc” and “gris;” no need to mention fumé blanc is sauvignon blanc

5. German wines: do not discuss at length the labeling and pradikat system; no need to remind readers that not all German wines are sweet

6. Avoid the history of petite sirah as an offshoot of syrah

7. No need to point out Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti, etc. are places

8. No need to point out that pink does not mean it’s sweet; no need to bash White Zinfandel

9. Statistics about the ranks of countries in wine consumption and production are dull

10. No need to finely dissect the differences between biodynamic, organic, sustainable, and natural when these wines are discussed

11. California wines are world class–no need to rehash the Judgment of Paris

12. The history and meaning of the term “Super Tuscan” is widely known

13. The history and meaning of the term “terroir” is widely known

14. Don’t appeal to the lowest common denominator– no need to explain the definitions of widely used wine terms

15. No need to dispute a myth: Napa Valley is not full of Ferrari’s, ridiculous snobs, and plastic surgeons turned winemakers. (Okay, that one is all me…distilled from a comment I made on Asimov’s blog in 2006.)

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Field Trip Fridays: Wet, Wet, Wet & a Dry White

Today we ventured out in the rain to Hollywood for what He (for whatever reason) thought was the annual Barney’s Warehouse sale. When we arrived at the locale, Siren Studios, He mentioned something about Barney’s to which She replied:

“We’re not at Barney’s. This is the James Perse sample sale.”
“Oh. Then why the hell did I come?”
“Duh…He makes men’s clothes too.”
“Oh, OK.”

And all was seemingly fine… except for the fact that the sale is next weekend. We’ll try again.

Since we were in Hollywood, we decided to explore a little bit. He had been intrigued by the Hollywood Canteen since he drove by it a few months ago and She had never heard of it, so that was our first try. It was closed. But we’re intrigued by this little out of the way place tucked in between a million studios. We’ll try again.

After some back and forth about where to go next (this is the most organic, unplanned Field Trip Fridays ever), She told Him about Mercantile, a new wine bar He had never heard of, so He tried to make a B-Line for The Well. It was closed. We’ll try again.

Where can you get a drink in this town on a rainy Friday afternoon? After driving around for a few more minutes He gave in, and we were off to Mercantile. [This is He talking: I don't know what my trepidation was about going to Mercantile, I really don't. But I didn't want to go.]

The Mercantile


Image from Yelp.

Upon entering we were both a bit confused. Do we seat ourselves? Where do we order? Can we get wine at the counter too, or do we order that at the bar? Luckily, a waiter handed us a menu on a clipboard and told us to order at the counter. The food looked delicious. He still wasn’t convinced.

Half of the aesthetic of the place was good, half bad; the blue & white wallpaper still makes us both scratch our heads. The industrial part of the place’s design is great. The faux French/Italian café part is not. He, as an architect, likes the unfinished pine and plywood and the metal screwed to the bar top. [This is She talking: Okay, Arrogant. You don't have to be an architect to appreciate the beauty of unfinished pine. And, did I mention, as a graphic designer, I really disliked the clipart graphics on the menu?]

We sat ourselves in the corner of the bar after ordering a Croque Monsieur (for Him), Poached Ahi Salad w/ Frissé (for Her) and Potato Salad (for Us). He still wasn’t convinced.

We had only quickly browsed the wine list before ordering, because we saw it at the last minute. We both ordered reds. When we had more time to consider and peruse the list, He exclaimed excitedly “Txakolina!” We had been offered a taste of this exact same wine by Steve at Palate a few months ago and it had been kind of a Romancing The Stone treasure hunt for Him to find it again. Nobody in LA seems to have Txakolina after the summer.

His whole mood changed.

merc-1He got up to see if they sold the Txakolina by the bottle, which in fact they did for $20. Sold. Then the food came. Totally fantastic, His sandwich and Her salad were both great, and they had dueling forks in the potato salad. Then the bartender, Paul, saw that we had a bottle of Txakolina in front of us and came over to talk it up. When he found out we had tasted it before and actually knew a thing or two about it, he poured us both a complimentary taste, and talked to us about his time at Bar Pintxo and all of the other Txakolina we should try. (A rosé? We had no idea.)

The food, the wine selection, and Paul the Bartender were great enough to erase any questions we had about the place. He was totally convinced.

As we were leaving we saw Paul making everyone who worked at the restaurant taste the Txakolina, including the chef, who she thought was hot. [Him speaking again: I sometimes don't get her taste in men. She likes the uber-hot young model untouchable types, but also the heavyset, bearded, interesting (but, not "hot") looking types. Of the chef she said "I believe his smile." I think that is a very nice thing to say, and thank whatevs I don't get jealous. He does have a nice smile. And I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle of the uber-hot and the heavyset-interesting.]

Back to Paul for a minute. We just want to say “Thanks.” It’s very nice to find an engaging, intelligent, welcoming young bartender in this town. Not saying they don’t exist, just saying it’s nice, and he (along with the wine and food) really made us enjoy our experience. We’ll try it again.

2006 Bodegas Neo “Sentido” Ribera del Duero, Spain ($9/glass)

He said: Very dark in color with blueberry, cassis, tobacco and cedar on the nose. My first sip wasn’t that impressive; not bad not good. After Paul poured us Txakolina, I let this wine sit for about 45 minutes. When I drank it again it was terrific. I don’t know if it just needed to open up, or if it was the food, or my mood change, but now this wine was terrific. Milky, creamy, chocolate and coffee textured with a nice vanilla finish. Great tannins (that lightened nicely over the course of the meal.) I think I am becoming a fan of Spanish wine. Salud!

2007 St. Innocent Pinot Noir, Yamhill ($8/glass)

She Said: Bright ruby color and thin, as is typical. Aromas of sour cherries, a bit of under brush, and dried flowers. No real spice sensed. In the mouth the wine has high acid, is a bit tightly wound, but finish is long and luscious. Not an overly complex or brambly, big fruit-forward pinot. Rather it is elegant with supple, approachable tannins. Highly enjoyable. Would have chosen differently with my salad, which had a pretty acidic dressing.

2008 Talai Berri Getariako Txakolian Hondarribi Zuri, Basque Country ($20/Btl)merc2

She Said: His excitement and passion for this wine is infectious. And I love it that He has been able to make strong declarations about what He enjoys and doesn’t in a wine’s flavor profile. This is real progress. I’ve been drinking Txakolinas for years…Manfred Krankl had it on the list at Campanile when I was his assistant. For a hot summer day they can’t be beat–bright, bracing acidity, low alcohol, refreshing, mild apple and unripe pear flavors, and with a slight, zingy fizz. Turns out the wine is great with poached ahi tuna as well…should have ordered this wine with my salad. At $20 a bottle I can’t say it’s a bargain…there are plenty of delicious, quality whites for under that price out on the wine market. But Txakolina is fairly rare and I’m sure not the easiest thing to import. The price does knock down the score for me.

He said: This wine is meant to be poured into the glass from a certain height, and when Paul poured it I could see why right away. It bubbles like the Basque Ciders I remember having a few years ago. Very lemony on the nose. So refreshingly dry in the mouth with some fizz. Very high acid and again totally reminds me of drinking Cider from barrels in the wall in the Basque hills (think: bite). It should be noted that I am a Basque-o-phile. I have studied the place for years, visited on several occasions, met the greatest people, and had some of the best food of my life there. It is intrinsically connected to my life; the place is why I am an architect. I’ll just say it: I love this wine. It may be my favorite white wine I’ve ever had. It’s great by itself and I think it would be great with seafood. I can’t wait to go back to the Basque Country and visit the Museo de Txakoli, and try this in some of my favorite San Sebastian restaurant. Postscript: this morning some friends twittered us saying they were going to Mercantile and wanted recommendations. Of course, I said to try the Txakolina. They re-tweeted to say the wine was perfect, and they too bought a bottle. I really just love this wine.

drawing-room

The Drawing Room

He used to frequent this mini-mall bar semi-regularly and had just been on a recent afternoon with His architectural partner. (A business meeting with cocktails.)  At night it’s the Silverlake/Echo Park/Hollywood crowd. (Sidenote: Let’s all stop saying “hipster” to describe this crowd. It’s vague, blanketed and a little ridiculous. We’re tired of it.) It’s a much different place during the day when the place is full of quite serious day-drinkers. So we ordered as such: She had a Maker’s on the rocks, He had a Absolut+Tonic.

One of the daydrunks offered us some pizza, when we declined he opened two pizza boxes sitting on the bar to reveal they were empty. Thanks, Cocksucker. By the way, you aren’t Bukowski, get a job.

The bartendress, in between coughing, would sing along to the music on the jukebox and we were both struck by what a beautiful voice she had. We both knew we were just having one drink here. It is a nice neighborhood bar, a little dingy and scary, but everything shouldn’t be clean and safe…that would be boring.

Back Home

The rain has put a damper on our SoCal lifestyle. We tend to do most of our drinking/writing/living on Her beautiful deck ‘neath the orange tree. But the rain 86′s that. We trekked up to the cabana by the pool to light a fire and make some Hot Toddy’s while we wrote and read. Not bad for a backup outdoor office:

cabana-pano

Not bad at all…

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Educational and delicious at the same time

He hasn’t touched the quiz. It’s just sitting there, kind of crumpled, languishing on the chair. Be brave. You can do it.

jay-mcinerney

He’s not totally slacking though: He’s been reading Jay McInerney’s Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, I book I greatly enjoyed myself. And not just because I’ve had a crush on Jay since like 1988. Well, that’s part of the reason. In fact, he is the only reason I subscribed to House and Garden; the wine column was so good. And that cute little picture of Jay that accompanied it… Damn I miss it (the column–I have a picture of him). And I told him so when I went to a book signing for The Good Life. Held up the queue a bit, but it was worth it. And I swear he winked at me.

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Wine Web Wednesdays


Kevin from Native Food & Wine eats a Century egg. Watch the video to find out more. I had one in China a couple of years ago by accident. It was on my plate already out of its shell, I thought it was Jello; boy, was my mouth surprised.

We eat out a lot. The following list doesn’t try to be comprehensive, it just highlights some of our local culinary go-to dishes. While we cannot recommend a Century Egg, we highly recommend these dishes from some of our favorite restaurants.

With Pepcid for dessert: poutine and the pig’s ear at Animal.

While we do some laundry: pulled pork sandwich and Hook’s cheddar at Lou.

If She drags Him to BH: grand plateau de fruits de mer at Bouchon.

The only place we eat chicken: chicken and whole branzino at Canelé.

A short walk for small plates: deviled eggs at Barbrix.

Rap music & wine: potted meats in mason jars at Palate. (sit at the bar in the back).

Sit at the bar He built: bacon-wrapped matzoh balls at The Gorbals.

A break from mid-day shopping: Nancy’s chopped salad and ipswich clam pizza at Pizzeria Mozza.

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Big Mac’s Mondays: Hail a Cab?

bmm

Each Monday (well, nearly everyday, actually) We trek down the hill to our favorite neighborhood liquor store to buy a bottle or two. In our quest to learn about and taste wine that is accessible and inexpensive We’ve found Big Mac’s to be a great place to spend our money. (We’re also regulars at the many local wine shops–and you should be too.)

Here are our weekly tasting notes from a bottle purchased at Big Mac’s. Although We don’t do background checks, some facts about the wine can be useful, so We provide some notes at the end of our review. As usual, We follow a basic tasting method: swirl, smell, slurp…and savor.

Granted, it’s Tuesday. Yesterday We were caught in a tropical downpour here in LA and too busy putting up tarps and moving outdoor furniture to higher ground. Her patio is now what He refers to as “The Shanty Café”. Also, We were really enjoying two days worth of Hot Buttered Rum Toddy Un-exact Whatevs.

Today She sent Him to Big Mac’s for a bottle of wine and some stopgap olive oil. He saw the weird shaped bottle of FFC’s Encyclopedia Cabernet Sauvignon for $9.99 and thought it would be the perfect bottle for a Big Mac’s Mondays. Away We go.

Francis Coppola Encyclopedia, Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux) 2006 ($9.99)

She Said: When He brought home the wine I thought it was a gigantic bottle of balsamic vinegar (to go with the olive oil that was also on the shopping list). Ugh, the packaging is bad, bad. Hideous, actually. And it’s hard to pour because the mouth is so big. But not to judge a wine by it’s looks…here’s the straight review. Color: deep purple, almost opaque but swirling shows it is fairly thin. Nose: burnt wood (American oak?), licorice, prunes, burnt raisins. Nothing bright or fresh about it. First sip: yuck. Just nothing going for it. Tastes stewed or cooked. No obvious fruit flavors. Light tannin in the finish but otherwise light bodied and very little structure. Could it be oxidized? Tastes like the bottle was unscrewed five days ago. Could only manage two slurps. The rest of the bottle is all His.

He Said: Deep purplish in color with anise, tart cherry and old wood on the nose. There is also a weird aroma, like someone getting a perm or dying their hair. Totally uncomplicated in the mouth, a little chalky with a nice level of tannin; hits me right away in the middle of my tongue and the top of my mouth. Kind of a weird hot aftertaste. I don’t love it and wouldn’t buy it again (and really couldn’t recommend it) but I don’t hate it at all. (Her first response when she took a sip was “Ugh!”. Ha! That’s for making me drink hot wet trash last week.)

Facts: From the FFC site: “From how it’s made and where it’s made to why we drink it when we do, wine is not just wine. With this in mind, our winemaking team traveled the world in search of varietals that best represent the culture and traditions of different winegrowing regions. Packaged in a custom shaped bottle with an oversized screw cap, Encyclopedia Wines begins a journey into understanding how geography, history, food and religion, to name a few, all determine how and why wine is made and enjoyed.” She says: whooey.

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His favorite: it’s quiz time

Tasting is an essential part of The Wine Education, obvs, and we do a lot of it. But beyond all the slurping we are also learning (Him) and reviewing (Her) about growing regions, grape varietals, vinification, the history of wine, etc.

Our ritual is to read to each other from various wine books (typically He slowly reads aloud and She interrupts Him with additional facts, asides, or questions) and then we taste a bottle or four described in the chapter we’ve read.

To gauge how well He is retaining the facts not just the flavors of wine, She gives him quizzes. So far He’s done…okay. (See Quiz #1 and His answers, Quiz #2 and His answers, Blind Tasting #1 and His answers.)

Here’s the latest quiz: a review of Class Two from Kevin Zraly’s excellent book Windows on the World, Complete Wine Course. Topic: “The Wines of Washington, Oregon, and New York / The White Wines of California.”

Good luck.

quiz-3

(Correct answers posted in the Comments of His response.)

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The Hottest Toddy

hot toddy

It’s cold, err, it’s California cold. We tried red wine. It worked until we actually had to put on scarves. Then we had to bring out the big guns, which in this case means boiling what we drink.

As is our style, we kinda half used recipes, half winged it (which is also carrying over to the “quesadilla-casserole” that She is currently making). It ain’t too exact, but that’s how we like it.

Here is our recipe for Hot Buttered Rum Toddy Un-exact Whatevs:

1 Stick of butter
1 Cup of Sugar (we didn’t have brown, so we used regs, whatevs)
Some Cinnamon
Some Nutmeg
A Little Salt
Like 2 or 3 splashes of whiskey.

Mix all that shit together and put it in the fridge. We have an old school analog-crank-mixer, don’t recommend it; use a wooden spoon (taste it, if it’s good, it’s done).

Boil some spiced apple cider (Trader Joe’s has a good one).

Boil some water.

After the butter-sugar stuff is kinda hard, put a large dollop in a mug. Put a cinnamon stick in too.  Fill that mug halfway up with rum. Add a splash of Maker’s Mark whiskey. Fill the mug almost up with the boiling water. Add a little bit of boiling apple cider. I added a little bit of unsalted butter for richness.

Drink. Enjoy. Be careful; these things are strong. I’m pretty drunk after two of them.

But pretty sure I’m having two more.

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Red-y to go

We’ve been hooked on bright, crisp whites for months. It’s easy to do this in L.A.; three days ago it was 75 degrees. We were sipping rosé poolside in December, I kid you not. But with the change in the weather (Storm Watch Winter 2009) it seems like the perfect time to move on to some reds.

As if He was reading my mind, yesterday He came over with a bottle of 100% Tempranillo Rioja by Viña Santurnia from Silverlake Wine. Truly delicious and a great buy for under $15.00.

Looking forward to trying a whole bunch more while We wait out the storm. Big Mac’s Mondays is going to be fun.

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