Food, booze, art: everyday, standard necessities

This time last year We were planning our Big Awesome Road Trip 2009. It was quite a ride: a rambling six weeks on mostly backroads to Dallas and back. We ate and drank our way through the Southwest and almost all of what We sampled was great. One of the culinary highlights was Marfa. Yes, We Marfa.

Shockingly there’s lots of to indulge in in this little out-of-the-way town. It’s not just about art, but there is also great shopping (Prada anyone?), especially food and booze-wise at The Get Go Grocery. It’s a wonderfully curated market offering both the essential and the unexpected.

We fantasize about opening our own such shop with our couple friends M & D. We’d offer homemade pies, crispy pickles, rose water, kick-ass wine, kitchen essentials like my favorite wooden reamer, Have-a-Corn-Chips, doggy milk bones, and all the other stuff we love. Great, right? But what to call this sweet, everything is unique boutique? After much debate we decided on Shit We’re Into. Like I said, it’s a fantasy. (Sorry for the profanity–I know this is usually a family blog.)

As our ongoing plans evolve (locals can keep their coffee cups in the shop, organic flour and grains will be sold in bulk, have music/theatre/comedy performances), just about everything (meaning: all shopping, arting, eating, and drinking excursions) become research for Shit We’re Into. Taste a cheese We love (Hooks 15 year old cheddar, oh my) and it gets a SWI thumbs up.

Here’s some SWI “research” We’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks (can We write them off on our taxes?):

  • There’s a don’t miss tasting of Sherry, Port, and Madeira at K&L Hollywood on Saturday, December 4. It’s an awesome opportunity to taste through some unusual wines that many of us don’t know enough about. I’m a huge fan of the salty, nutty, oxidized flavors found in some Sherries and Madeiras and the right Port can me weak in the knees. It’s going to be a tasty, educational afternoon.
  • Next weekend there is a great event happening in Sonoma: The Mutineer Magazine Holiday Comedy Festival at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. It’s a chance to have some big belly laughs and drink excellent wine–all so kids can drink clean water (sounds like a sacrifice We can make). The cool folks at Mutineer know how to throw a party and that handsome, suave Dos Equis dude is going to be there too. His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.
  • And keeping in the wino theme, The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has put together an intriguing modern adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing with Center Theatre Group. The production is set in a California vineyard, the cast sings Lyle Lovett tunes, grapes are stomped…and trickery, love-making, and laughs ensue. (Sounds like my place a couple of nights ago.) Really looking forward to catching the show with D & M in a couple of weeks. And where, or where shall we go for a little pre-game cocktail? And how about for the post?

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Saving the best for last

Friday after Oinksgiving Day (we made an amazing pork loin with romesco and melting leeks) I was up too-early and on the freeway from my folk’s place near Santa Cruz en route to Napa Valley. Finally, after a year and half being back in Los Angeles, it was time to collect the very last of my things. It was time to get the wine.

So instead of vegging on my parent’s couch, I spent the after-feasting day in a very chilly garage and cellar (kept at 55 degrees, of course) sorting through, dividing, and boxing up bottles. My handy helper, Jana-Banana (aka: Mother-of-the-Year), spent the day carting away my portion of the collection to a storage facility down valley. She got in four trips and filled a locker before the place closed.

Although it was an awfully long, cold day (not to mention a little surreal to be back in my old house), sorting through the cellar mostly felt like X-mas in November.

Wow, there were some treats in there. Several vintages of Salon, Kracher stickies, Mouton-Rothschild and other first growths from the year I was born (yes–old bottles), “Brune et Blonde” Guigal’s, Bruno Giacosa Barolos, Tardieu-Laurent, Chave Hermitage, d’Yquem, et cetera. And of course there was a whole bunch of domestic stuff too, but I’ll stop name-dropping before I sound like a complete asshole. Believe me, I feel very lucky: my former partner and I really have collected some great bottles over the last dozen or so years.

Division went fairly easily as there were multiples of most bottles, but there are still about 300 or so single bottles to go through. Oh, how to decide? I’m thinking a flip of a coin will be making a lot of the tough decisions for us. Really hope I get the Krankl/Alban Tant Pis.

Once the cellar is all divided up (and finally this very saving-the-best-for-last part of my move comes to a close), the big question is: What do I do with all the wine?

There are many bottles I will want to keep and/or pop open soon (say all those 10 year old California chardonnays that somehow didn’t get drunk–yikes), but collecting (or in my case: storing) wine doesn’t quite fit into my lifestyle like it used to.

Auction? Consignment? Donate to charity? Give really generous holiday gifts? Throw a bunch of really awesome wine parties? (We’re overdue for that.) Or maybe I’ll just pay that storage bill through 2011 and think about it next year. Took this long, what’s a little more time?

It’ll probably be a combo of all of those options. I’ll ponder it all while I pop open one of the bottles I brought back to Hollywood with me. Perhaps one of  the three ’99 Pierre Peters magnums? Or the ’04 Hyde Vineyard Kistler? Or should it be the ’02 Hudson Vineyard Kistler instead?

Maybe just a vodka tonic.


United Slurps of America: Colorado

Every state in the US produces wine. Why not taste them? We’re doing just that…welcome to the United Slurps of America. The next stop on Our tasting tour: Colorado.

We spent the weekend in Palm Springs celebrating Her something-th birthday with a bunch of Our friends. We packed up the puppy, swimming attire, minimal clothing, and maximal wine and headed to Our rented Mid-Century Modern house. Included in the wine suitcase were 2 Colorado bottles sent to Us from Boulder Creek Winery that we would sip between dips in the heated pool.

In addition to Our friends celebrating with Us in Palm Springs, We tasted with Kyle of Colorado Wine Press. We are grateful to Kyle for making all of the arrangements with Boulder Creek Winery and flattered that he contacted Us to be involved in the project. Kyle tastes and writes about wines from around the world on his blog, but there is a local slant that we appreciate as he covers the burgeoning Colorado wine industry. As Kyle puts it, “The Colorado wine industry is a rapidly growing teenager…with now nearly 100 wineries.”

100 wineries? Who knew? Colorado is, of course, known for beer with the world’s largest brewery in Golden… the “Silver Bullet” and all that. However, there are two AVA’s located in Colorado which produced a rather large variety of varietals. The Riesling and a Cabernet Sauvignon from we received are from the Front Range growing region.

Boulder Creek Winery is a family owned business run by Jackie, Mike, and Will Thompson. Jackie, the primary winemaker, holds a degree in Plant and Soil Science, and was a home winemaker for years. Likewise, her husband Mike, a former wine steward and life-time wine aficionado, has been an avid home brewer for decades. Their son Will acts as assistant winemaker and is responsible for the winery’s award-winning Riesling…one of the many awards and accolades the winery has earned since its inception in 2003.

Gen Y Riesling, Boulder Creek Winery, 2009 (sample, $16)

She said: When tasting I always start with the color, swirl the wine around a bunch, give it many sniffs, and then taste (yes…swirl, smell, slurp). This wine is rewarding on all fronts. A pretty, bright golden yellow and highly aromatic and perfumey with honey, ripe pear, pineapple, and other tropical notes. I would happily dab a few drops behind the ears, like a favorite perfume. The aromas continue onto the palate with the addition of the tell-tale Riesling flavors of petrol and minerals. There is enough acid to prevent the wine from being too cloying or sweet, but there is obvious residual sugar. Highly enjoyable and surprisingly refined for the price. The nose is simply gorgeous…I happily sniffed and sniffed before each sip.

He said: Not knowing what varietals We were receiving from Colorado, my thought when seeing the bottle of Riesling was, “Oh, that makes sense.” Not exactly from a cold Rocky Mountain stream, but a varietal I equate with colder regions. This wine is all about the nose, very aromatic. Honey, pineapple and pear, and I can smell it with my face 5 inches from the glass. In the mouth, the honey continues, and some minerality. A little too sweet for me to drink much of this, but all-in-all a very nice wine (and a great value for $16).

Colorado Wine Press Said: This wine was actually made by Will Thompson, Mike and Jackie’s 20-year old son. Will has been instrumental in winery operations since its inception in 2003. Last year, winemaker and mother, Jackie, decided to give Will a bit more authority in the winery’s operation and allowed him to choose one wine to make from start to finish by himself (with mom closely watching, of course). Will chose Riesling, the winemaking tradition was passed down to the next generation and the 2009 Gen Y was born. This pale yellow Riesling is very aromatic. Citrus, pineapple and ever-so-slight petrol aromas emanate from the glass. The Gen Y is medium sweet with honey and Asian pear on the forepalate. This sweetness is followed by good acidity of citrus and piña colada flavors briefly on the midpalate. Minerality and Riesling’s characteristic petrol rounds out the finish. This first wine by a first-time winemaker provides a good balance of sweetness and acidity. The nose is just fantastic. It is a touch too sweet for my preference, but overall it is a very good wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Boulder Creek Winery, 2007 (sample, $24)

She said: Very deep, dark garnet in color. Obvious oak on the nose, and I would guess its American as it has a burnt, pencil shaving smell. Also evidence of tobacco and brambly herbs. I was initially put off by the overly smokey nose, but let the wine sit in the glass for an hour and the flavors mellowed and reveled some subtle dark red fruit. The same is true on the palate, which is initially overwhelmed by tannin. But over time the wine reveals flavors of ripe plums, currants, pepper…and the smokiness remains. Some wine remained in the bottle and I tasted it again two days later…the sharp flavors had subsided and the wine was silky, herbaceous and rich…very pleasant. The wine could use more time in the bottle, but if drinking now decant! And pair it with a hearty steak or bbq. My score reflects the two-days-later slurps.

He said: Very dark, looks like cherry cola. Smokey and peppery with oak, oak, oak on the nose. Tannins overpowering the initial sips but mellow throughout the hour or so that We are drinking. Smokey and rich with flavors of dark fruit. I didn’t like this wine at all at first, but it’s totally growing on me as it opens up [edit: and as We finish the bottle 2 days later]. (At $24 it may be a little overpriced, but i’ll keep my rating 3/5 bottles)

Colorado Wine Press Said: This award winner is Colorado’s rebuttal to anyone who says good Cabernet Sauvignon cannot be made in the Centennial state. This wine is almost black throughout but with a dark red rim. It smells dark and brooding. The complex nose provides aromas of characteristic black currants, herbs, pencil shavings and black pepper. A hint of tobacco and smokiness is evidence of its time in oak barrels. After just smelling this wine for a few minutes, it fills my mouth with a good amount of smooth yet strong tannins that don’t dry out my mouth like so many over-extracted Cabernets and is balanced by a healthy amount of acidity. Currants and dark plums come to the front of the palate but are quickly replaced by a long finish of mesquite and pepper. Another aromatic wine by Boulder Creek, but I would like the fruit flavors to linger around for a while longer. This wine definitely deserves to be paired with a proper meal.

14 down, 36 to go.


We said: We began this project at the beginning of March with the intention of tasting a state a week. That didn’t quite pan out. However, We have now tasted 14 states; that’s an average of 1.75 states per month, a statistic We can live with. We got busy and it’s harder than Boardwalk Empire makes it seem to get booze across state borders. But thanks to people like Kyle and the family at Boulder Creek Winery we will finish this project. Meeting like-minded people and learning about wine regions We had absolutely no previous knowledge of is way too fulfilling to give up on. So, see you with another United Slurps of America in 0.875 months. We hope. Cheers!

Previously on USA: Georgia, llinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington

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Wines of Note: Last Rites

Despite all the wine and liquor We enjoy each week, my recycling bin has virtually no glass in it. I’m not a bad, anti-green citizen: all plastic gets recycled (tonic water, various juices, and other plastic encased mixers are regular visitors to the bin). And all fruit and vegetable waste gets composted. (Limes are of particular popularity in the compost pile.) The lack of glass is because We don’t recycle empty bottles…We plant them upside down in my back yard.  Slowly a beautiful, Gaudi-esque border for the plants and pathways is emerging in what was a big dirt patch.

If there is a particular bottle of wine We especially enjoyed We’ll hold back the empty, as a reminder to write about it on Swirl. Needless to say, as Our posts have slowed the last couple of months but our consumption has not, there are quite a few empties littering my kitchen, waiting for their time to shine as “Wines of Note…” Here are four to mention before they get the burial treatment:

White X, North Coast, XWinery 2009 (sample, winery sells for $14.99):

An interesting blend (49% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Albarino, 20% Muscat Blanc, 6% Chardonnay) that offers both refreshing acidity, with limey, grassy notes but also a very lush, tropical palate. He enjoyed its richness (likely from the Muscat Blanc and Chardonnay), favoring wines that are not overly acidic. I found it a little unrefined, but highly enjoyable and food friendly. Ripe apricots, tropical flowers, and zing of citrus. We both agreed the price was right and it was a great match for the salmon roasted with veggies We made for dinner. Despite the fact We think their label design is a bit meh (nice type, but the mosaic is hokey), We’re endeared to XWinery. They are doing cool things philanthropically, practice sustainability in the vineyard and winery, and seem like overall good corporate citizen and folks. These things matter.

Beaujolais Blanc, Jean-Paul Brun 2009 ($16.99 at domaineLA)

If you’re friends with Us on Facebook you no doubt have seen a few pictures of His very new, very mod, very awesome Vespa. Suddenly quick trips to the store are so much fun…and He’s always volunteering to pick something up on the way over. The other day He showed up with a bottle of white from a favorite local wine shop, domaineLA. After a tough day of riding around in the sun with a buddy (who happens to have a matching bike–so cute), He was ready for a glass of wine. We popped it open and wow, it was great. The chardonnay is unoaked but there is an almondy toastiness on the nose with peaches and fragrant blossoms. Nice structure (no flabbiness here) with that licking-a-wet-stone minerality I really enjoy. A delightful, complex wine, making $17 a great price. (It’s worth noting that over the years winemaker Jean-Paul Brun has gotten all kinds of flak from the French government for making wine the way he wants to. We say: eff The Man, keep on doing what you do.) A bonus: Jill at domaineLA made Him customer-of-the-day. Vespa/wine/helmet hair glamor shot here.

Riesling, Helfrich 2008 (sample, retails for about $12)

An enjoyable dry Riesling (and the end to his Riesling phobia?). Fragrant, grapey and somewhat musty nose leading to ripe pear, peach, golden delicious apple ––late summer/early fall fruit flavors that is aromatic and full without being overwhelming. A backbone of minerals keeps the fruit from becoming overly cloying and gives the wine a nice long finish. Hints of spice and ginger add some complexity, but overall the wine is on the easy drinking simple side. Enjoy it, don’t ramble on about it (so I won’t). Priced right at $12.

Grüner Veltliner, “Lois,” Fred Loimer 2009 (sample, retails for about $12)

We drank a lot of Grüner over the hot summer months–it’s perfect quencher on a scorcher day, generally inexpensive but of good quality, great with oysters and seafood (which We eat a lot of), and when at a restaurant/bar with a sketchy wine list, usually a sure thing. But why is it a restaurant/bar with a sketchy wine list? Is Grüner going through its Pinot Grigio phase wherein as the popularity of the wine grows, the quality suffers? Our non-scientific poll says: Yes. Increasingly We’ve been tasting Grüners that lack freshness and structure. The Lois bucks the trend, remaining affordable and highly drinkable. It is sprtizy, limey, minerally, “fun” wine. Lots of grapefruit, some unripe pear, and a fresh, clean finish. Twelve bucks is the right price.


Hot Captain

Last winter We made what We called The Hottest Toddy. We drank them inside Her tiny little cottage during a grey, rainy LA day (which turned into evening which turned into night). Hot cocktails don’t even enter my mindscape until the weather dictates drinking them. Last week we Angelenos suffered through the hottest day on record; it was like 147°. This week it’s cold and rainy. Climate change is totally voodoo science, of course. Sarah Palin says so, so it must be true.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, it’s cold and rainy and We want a warm/warming cocktail. Tonight We are having Hot Buttered Rum, which I am calling a Hot Captain Munnerlyn; titled for my current favorite name in professional football. Here is how you make it:

Drive your Vespa to your nearest Trader Joe’s.
Feel sorry for everyone having trouble parking while you park right next to the entrance.
Grab a bottle of spiced rum, some cinnamon, some brown sugar, some heavy cream, some nutmeg, some butter and salt.
Pay for it, put it in the cloth bag that you brought to the store and then figure out how to artfully fit it into the pet carrier of your Vespa.

Get home, kiss your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/life partner/BDSM sub; whichever applies.

Combine in a mixing bowl:
roughly 5 Tbsp of butter
a cup of brown sugar
grate some cinnamon until you get bored
a pinch of salt
I poured a little heavy cream in but you don’t have to
I decided on some vanilla too

Mix all that together until it tastes good.

Whip some cream and put it in the fridge.

Boil some water.

Find a mug that works for hot liquids. I became very aware that She has more glassware than anyone I know but nothing that really screamed “Hot Captain Munnerlyn” at me. So We are using coffee mugs.

Put a dollop (spoonful) of the buttery mix into the stained coffee mug
Fill it about an inch and a half with spiced rum.
Fill it the rest of the way with hot water.
Spoon some whipped cream on it.
Grate some nutmeg until it seems like enough.
Stir it.
Drink it.

It tastes really, really good. And if you do it right it gets you pretty drunk too.

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Cocktails of and for the common people

Oh the delights of a Floc Fizz with friends on a fine Summer evening. A simple and inexpensive drink that is a bubbly, fruity, quenching delight. Love it.

The Floc de Gascogne was left alone, served as an aperitif in a little glass at Church & State. I snapped this picture a few weeks ago of their Sunday supper menu. If the food wasn’t so good and the wine pairings not so spot on, We’d file it under “fail,” for (hopefully) obvious reasons. It makes me laugh, how poorly designed the menu is. And printed on copier paper, no less. And what’s with the way the wines are listed? Zind Humbrecht is a maker, not a region or even a wine. Am I a snob? Absolutely. Or, Maybe. Did I love the dinner and the wine, Oh yes, I did.

Things like this are all about context. Church & State is delightful. The menu design is dreadful. The French bistro and its menu don’t mesh.

A couple of weekends later We went to a swell French themed birthday party on the East-side (Our favorite side, the East-side). A rakish young man wore velvet culottes. The birthday girl had powdered Marie Antoinette hair. Macaroons, minted radish sandwiches, cheese, shimmering crystal glasses, gold-toned forks. It was all very c’est bon and trés chic.

There was even a French person present. Well he’s not really French, but grew up there, is fluent, and says “pfffft” a lot. I’ve known P for years and he is a dear friend. And a complete wine snob. That said, he always brings delicious wines to a party (and then kind of hoards the bottles, deciding who gets tiny pours in their glass). Naturally I gravitated towards him and had some divine sips of of a pale salmon-toned rosé.

Conversation turned to wine, of course. A new-found friend (or savvy party guest who figured out who had the good stuff) asked about Our involvement in wine. I mentioned Our tongue twister blog, Swirl Smell Slurp and how We—P interrupted me and said, “They’re wine populists.”

Yes, this is the best back-handed compliment We’ve ever received.

The rosé went too quick. And I got sick of the wine talk. (I like to drink it and share it with friends at a party, not spend too long pondering it…is this the definition of a wine populist?)

I left the group and made my way over to the liquor table. It was eclectic: a bottle of Scotch, a bottle of cheap gin, a few limes, Trader Joe’s Prosecco, and Barefoot sparkling Moscato.

I quickly made a quick, quasi French 75. It was delicious. I shared sips with my populist partner and a few curious lookers-on. And then I went back to the table and made several more. I do love to share a boozy, fizzy drink on a fine Summer evening.

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United Slurps of America: South Dakota

Every state in the US produces wine. Why not taste them? We’re doing just that…welcome to the United Slurps of America. The next stop on Our tasting tour: South Dakota.

What’s in a number? We feel compelled immediately to apologize to our tasting partner, Rachel of the delightful food blog, Tramplingrose, and to the kind folks at Prairie Berry Winery. The 13th state in our Slurpin’ USA tasting trip took about 13 weeks to get published. We don’t consider ourselves superstitious people, but geez-la-weez, it’s been a doozy getting this post up. The summer months have been cruel for the blog (oh malware, how we despise you).

As soon as We conceived USA, She contacted Her blogging buddy Rachel in South Dakota: “You’ve got to be our Mount Rushmore State corespondent…” Rachel was game and jumped right in, doing the leg work for Us contacting SD wineries (yes, there are wineries…plural in the state). Frustration ensued: first by unresponsive wineries and then by bizzaro shipping laws…but then along came Prairie Berry. Here’s Rachel’s account:

I then contacted Prairie Berry, out in Hill City. Within 2 days, I received an email from the very nice Michele, as well an email from Karen, as well as 2 phone calls regarding their willingness to not only ship me 4 bottles of wine to try, but they would send the same to Sacha. South Dakota has goofy-assed laws about alcohol shipments, meaning while Prairie Berry had no trouble sending wine to California, they couldn’t ship it to me, an 8-hour drive across the same state. So they worked with the local liquor store, and had a box sent to me, care of Brookings Municipal Liquor Store.

In no time the wine arrived in Hollywood and Brookings. Rachel took the opportunity to do what she loves: cook a great meal, and have some friends over (an impulse We fully endorse).

After a long, lucky 13 delay, here are our collective notes, with a preface by Ms. Tramplingrose:

I know virtually NOTHING about the proper way of tasting wine, although I know a little. Hal [an invited guest] asked me if I was planning on having spit buckets placed around my living room, but I told him that even though the booze was free, we were NOT wasting it, so no spitting (and he didn’t end up coming over anyway, so it didn’t matter).

Frontenac Gris, Prairie Berry, 2008 (sample, $21)

She said: The color is a rather unattractive  orangey beige like a 1960′s monochromatic living room. On the nose: petrol, pine needles, burnt oak–similar to some intense Rieslings. Syrupy in texture, with pleasant flavors of peaches, apricots, and honey initially on the palate, but the wine hollows out and finishes with chemical-like notes. Strange and out of balance. Lacks acid and finesse.

He said: Looks like a German beer. Peach, apricot and honey on the nose… and it looks like honey in the glass; a German beer with honey. Too woody in the finish. It’s way too light in the mouth, totally lacking acid. The 3rd sip tastes better than the first, but that uncomfortable aftertaste kills it for me.

Tramplingrose said: This, I liked. A lot. I don’t usually care for white wines, as I find a lot of them too sweet (but that could just be that I’ve never had a good white wine). It was rather rosy-gold colored, kind of like Black Hills Gold (and we all wondered if that was done on purpose, since that’s where Prairie Berry is located). Jay and Melissa both also agreed that the color was a little off-putting, and both thought it looked more like a cognac or brandy (my thought was scotch). This actually smelled like wine–Crisp, and clean. I thought the taste was fruity, but slightly acidic. I don’t remember much of an aftertaste.

“red ass rhubarb,” Rhubarb and Raspberry, Prairie Berry NV (sample, $19.50)

She said: In color it is a pretty, bright, translucent red, like Oceanspray Cranberry Juice Cocktail. Smells sweet and tart, like a Jolly Rancher or fruity Sno-Cone. Immediately thought it would be great on the rocks with a splash of vodka or sparkling wine. In the mouth there is no hint of alcohol and a very dry finish. Refreshing, quenching, and with its bright, cheery color, very festive.

He said: Weird nose… I guess this is what rhubarb smells like, I haven’t had it since I was a kid. Whoa, it’s good. Like real good. It tastes like the tri-colored sno-cone you get from an ice cream truck when it’s melted and all of the three colorflavors have mixed together, coconut and strawberry and a third mystery colorflavor. This would be a great mixer. This is strange and/but wonderful.

Tramplingrose said: This seems like more of a novelty wine than anything else…Kind of like the Klingon Blood Wine that’s permanently holding a spot on my wine rack because I refuse to open it. Or one of those wines that people who grow up in South Dakota then move away buy whenever they return home for a visit. According to the label, it’s 90% rhubarb & 10% raspberry. I should also qualify this by saying that I’m a weirdo who has never had rhubarb before in my life. No strawberry-rhubarb pie, no rhubarb cake, nada. So I might not have the best frame of reference here. After I first sniffed it, I commented that it smelled like a Bath & Body Works lotion–Very fruity and floral. My first sip was slightly medicinal and coconutty. After that, sadly, it was downhill. Jay thought it looked like Kool-Aid, and thought it tasted like an instant wine (if such a thing existed). Melissa did not like it at all, and the more I drank, the less I liked it. For a semi-sweet wine, it was more sour than anything. Out of the 3 wines we tasted that night, this was the least popular.

“Lawerence Elk,” Black Currant, Prairie Berry Winery NV (sample, $20)

She said: Deep cranberry juice in color. Smells like what it is: currants and with a hint of green bell peppers. Bursting with fruit in the mouth, and because We served it chilled immediately brought to mind black currant sorbet. Simple and sweet, but not cloying or syrupy. Very cassis-like with a touch of white pepper and a pleasant tartness in the finish. Tastes like the perfect kir. Later friends came over and We made a spritzer by pouring the wine over ice and adding splash of soda water. We all agreed it was a delicious and festive concoction.

He said: Smells like a sweet cabernet with, umm, a lot of black currant. Feels like cranberry juice in the mouth– juicy but dries your mouth. It’s really refreshing. Can We mix some vodka with this, a South Dakotan Cape Codder? No hint of alcohol even though it’s 12%. I want a bunch of this and the rhubarb for next summer.

Tramplingrose said: I should point out that I am a huge cornball, so the name of the wine and the label cracked me up. It’s a black currant wine, and fairly sweet. It looked, smelled and tasted basically like cranberry juice to myself, Melissa, and Jay (I forgot to get Jen’s thoughts on it, and Jessica wasn’t drinking because she’s expecting). I did think something about it smelled like the produce section of the grocery store–Very green; Jay described it as leafy-smelling. It went down easy, and was very berry-centric. Overall, we liked it.

13 down, 37 to go.


We said: Remember when We thought We would taste a state a week? Ha! Life has gotten busy for both of Us, but We are still committed to our initial goal of tasting wine from every state– it’s just going to take a little bit longer. But it’s worth it. We would never have tasted so many wines and would not have known that rhubarb wine even existed. Thanks to Tramplingrose for taking the reins on this one and making it happen. And thanks to Prairie Berry for the wine. We really enjoyed it. Cheers.

Tramplingrose said: Prairie Berry has been making wine in South Dakota since 1876. According to the pamphlet that came with the wine samples, the winery was started by Anna Voltja, a Moravian immigrant, who made wine from the “prairie berries” she found. They still focus on using native South Dakota ingredients. While I have yet to visit the Black Hills, the area looks beautiful, and when I make it out there, I am going to make a point of visiting the winery, just because the ladies with whom I spoke and emailed were so nice and helpful.

(All photographs from Prairie Berry Winery’s Facebook page…go “like” them.)

Previously on USA: Georgia, llinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington

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Rewriting the Review

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A trial with errors

Saturday night We got in a cab and headed west to Test Kitchen, a new concept restaurant which showcases a rotating roster of chefs and bartenders (which they refer to as “mixologoists,” but that is just silly) who are experimenting with dishes and drinks. Our double dating partners D & M scored a reservation for Jordan Kahn’s stint as he previewed items from the soon to be open Red Medicine. Behind the bar was Joel Black and Julian Cox.

We arrived  5 minutes late for the 9p reservation, but it was no problem: the place was packed and our table wasn’t ready anyway. Cocktail time. The list and chalkboard specials were incredibly intriguing. Condensed Milk Foam? Cherry Heering and Kombucha in the same drink? “Paper Planes:” was that an MIA reference?

We each ordered a different cocktail, determined to have sips of them all. Love MIA and love Aperol, so I got the Paper Planes. Delicious. D’s frothy strawberry number came with a single ice cube the size of a Rubik’s Cube. Delicious. His had purple basil leaves floating around in it. Delicious. I don’t remember the particulars of M’s, but it too was delicious.

From our stools we watched the kitchen and rather harried waiters and managers running food, looking at tickets, conferring. They were obviously in the weeds. Not only was it a test for the kitchen, but the front of the house as well. And they appeared to be scrambling. The chef’s body language on the other hand appeared calm and determined, as he plated the dishes, hiding behind his very long asymmetrical bangs.

We were finally seated (your table is ready, we get up and leave our bar stools, oh wait, your table isn’t ready, we stand for 10 minutes with our dripping drinks, oh your table is ready) at a large round that previously sat 6 (whom we suspected were blogger papparazi with their constant iPhone updates and picture taking–it made me second guess my own plan to take shots). Instead of spreading out, we scooted close to each other around half of the table. The basement location of the restaurant with it’s low ceiling makes for a loud dinning room, so this helped in being able to hear each other.

Another round of cocktails for M and Him, initially a glass of Gruner (corked) and then Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer “Wintzenheim” for me, and a glass of LIOCO Pinot for D. Later we split a bottle of Demessey Chambolle-Musigny–allowing ourselves to indulge and take advantage of cabbing it.

The food began to arrive. The standout of the twelve different dishes (which the menu declares “In no particular order”) was the next to the last one, a dessert parfait with: Coconut bavarois, coffee, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory. The best dessert I have ever had. Ever.

As for everything else? I thought it ranged from strange (mushy carrots and coconut) to mediocre (saigon tartine) to good (cured amberjack). Nothing wowed me. And this is okay, I thought, because it speaks to the concept of the restaurant: testing the kitchen. Jordan Kahn and crew were experimenting, developing, tweaking.

But if the kitchen was testing, don’t they want to know the score? Throughout the meal the service was spotty (forgotten drink orders, slow in between courses and then two at once, runners who dropped off food without describing it), so I’m not surprised we were not asked how we enjoyed the dishes as they came and went.

The boys bought dinner,  and as we were heading up the stairs I said, “You guys saw they add gratuity, right?” I was the only one who had noticed the “18% service charge will be added to all checks” declaration at the bottom of the menu. They caught the manager just as he had closed out the checks. Waiting to hail a cab out front, we all agreed the server should have said something, as should the manager who would have noticed the extraordinarily large tips.

We hopped in the cab, headed back east, and rhapsodized over …the cocktails. Which we had a lot of time to do: the cab driver unwittingly took Franklin through Hollywood. On a Saturday night? Are you kidding me? He really should have asked us our feedback on the route.

My tweet the next day sums up my take on the food (and cab ride).

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Writing on the wall

(An occasional series featuring favorite wine and booze Facebook wall posts. This one from a dear and witty friend who is a buyer at a standout East Coast wine and liquor store.)

New Favorite @ the store: Willie Nelson’s 86 Proof Old Whiskey RiverStraight Bourbon Whiskey, from Nelson County, Kentucky, comes hot, new and cheap with a guitar pick. Next week, oooh I can’t wait, I can’t stand it…Whipped Cream Flavored (French) Vodka!!! Follies Bergeres meets [store outpost]. The Roller Derby chicks are washing their petticoats in it before they imbibe the nectar. Nymphs.

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