Yes, We had a ‘gorgeas’ stay

Rain again this weekend, L.A.? Sigh. Longing for last weekend’s Palm Springs getaway.

Getting out of town was tough– holiday traffic in the rain. It got dull, it got irritating. And We don’t smoke anymore, so it got a little anxious too. We asked the car, via voice command for an alternate route on GPS. A game begins. And so does the tweeting.

The charm of the game wore off. The puppy napped in the back, We stared at brake lights in front. Finally traffic started to ease up and We were cruising.

Within a few minutes We got to The Ace, our desert oasis for the long weekend. We stumbled out of the car into the rain, and rushed into the lobby.

While We’re checking in, the “PRIVATE” door opens behind the front desk, dude walks out in a hurry, interrupts our helpful check-in guy: “Jen just called from Portland. A couple of people Tweeted from the road. They’re rolling in from L.A. and they’re ready to party.”

Wait. What did you just say?

That’s Us.

What We didn’t realize is that moments earlier We had received this @ reply:

.

As We arrived to the room, so did cocktails. Yes, We love The Ace Hotel.

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Taste Memory: September 6, 2004

Years before He and I hooked up and started Swirl Smell Slurp we both had personal blogs. Wine was not my focus (shoes, booze, books, art, and a diary I found in an alley were– and still are), but mini wine reviews would pop-up. I’m always game to try something new, but I still seek out these bottles I wrote about all those years ago. Here’s a taste.


Juicy

Today is so about sunshine, last night’s messy hair, short shorts, flip flops, laughter, and firing up the Weber.

Hey, skip the beer and go for wine at the bbq.

The perfect breakfast wine: 2003 Moscato d’Asti, Rivetti. A slightly sweet, low alcohol sparkler with nice quenching acidity, floral notes, and mellow pear and melon flavors.

Which is my la-ti-da way of saying it’s really effin’ good.

The perfect grilling wine: 2003 Sauvignon Blanc, Thelema Mountain Vineyards (South Africa). It’s like licking a wet rock. Minerals, bracing acid, and oh-so-fresh and clean with notes of cut grass, granny smith apple, lemon.

Cheers, big ears.

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Rewriting the Review

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What Zin our mouths

The annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Zinfandel Festival kicks off on the 27th in San Francisco. The Fort Mason Center a gorgeous location for this raucous and lively tasting–I’ve been a few times and walked away with purple teeth, rosy cheeks, and a new found enthusiasm for Zin. We haven’t decided if We’re going to make it to the festival this year. We’ve put something like 6,000 miles on my car in the last six weeks (including a delightful jaunt to Napa Valley this past weekend). We love the road trips, but I’m feeling a little road weary. And looking it too: both my car and my body could use a detail.

Lucky for us Bruce Patch of Wine Guerrilla breezed through town a few weeks ago and dropped off some bottles of Zin at my place. (A hand delivery to Hollywood–wow that was nice. Should I have tipped him?) So while We may miss ZAP, We’ve been having our own little Zin Fest. (And it’s too has been raucous and lively.)

Tasting wine Guerrilla’s line-up side-by-side was fascinating. Same grape, same vintage, same producer but each bottle distinct and unique. It’s really fun to experience wine this way–gather some friends with strong livers, a bit of time, and give this type of tasting a go. (What would one call this? It’s not a vertical tasting: same type of wine, different vintage. It’s not a horizontal tasting: same vintage, different producers. It’s a sort of vert/horiz producer-centric hybrid.)

Here’s are the 2009′s We slurped our way through:

Adel’s Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, $30
Conte Vineyard, Russian River Valley (field blend), $30
Harris-Kratka Vineyard, Alexander Valley, $30
“Old Vine,” Forchini Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (another field blend), $35
“Old Vine, Block 1,” Coffaro Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, $40

(We greatly enjoyed the 2008′s We sampled last year: read the cleverly titled review here.)

It’s difficult not to pick favorites when tasting this way. Inevitably you pick the “winner of the group.” I found myself taking extra slurps of the Harris-Kratka. I enjoyed it’s brightness and zing. It wasn’t overloaded with syrupy fruit or earthiness, which can turn me off in Zins, but rather it was sleek and spicy. At the other end of the tasting spectrum was the Forchini which had wild, oily like texture and very meaty flavors. The Conte falls somewhere in between these two. It struck me as less complex and therefore maybe a little easier to drink (but not my favorite). There is lots of blackberry and blueberry fruit flavors in the Coffaro and a hint of spicy wood. These were present in Adel’s Vineyard, which I found more fresh and with hints chalky, cocoa powder.

Ah, the nuances. This is what makes a vert/horiz/all-about-one producer/grape/vintage tasting so fun. Bottom-line: they were all delicious. If you’re heading to ZAP, seek out Wine Guerrilla–and say “Hi” to Bruce from Us. And if you’re not, do like We did and have your own private festival. And don’t forget the two other Zinfandel tasting essentials: chocolate and teeth whiteners.

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4,649 miles, nineteen days

click to enlarge

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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.

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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.

Summary:

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.

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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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