Acronym for millennials… and the rest of us

I stumbled upon Acronym GR8 Red Wine on sale, $9.99, at Smith’s (Kroger, to you non-Nevadans) this week. I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle, and paired it with spaghetti carbonara and sauteed zucchini. 

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The 2011 California red blend, primarily pinot noir and syrah, is thick and viscous with a deep cherry color. The tobacco, vanilla, bold black cherry flavor is delicious on its own, but takes on a sweet tinge when swigged after a big bite of bacon-laden carbonara. 

The wine was develolped by Winery Exchange with “millennials” in mind… whatever that means, Actually, it seems to mean that it was designed to appeal to users of LOL, WTF, and BRB, and I have to say that I really like this wine despite not being part of its target market. Perhaps I’ll take that as affirmation that I am most certainly not a millennial.

The irony of illustrating this post with an Instagram pic is not lost on me, however. 

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Everyone needs a friend… called petite sirah

My last entry was about pairing wines with emotions or situations rather than foods. Tonight is more of the same. I had a rough day at work and eagerly looked forward to a glass of wine. But what wine could properly comfort me? And without hesitation, my mind settled on Le Lapin Petite Sirah (Rabbit Ridge Winery, Paso Robles, $8).

Le Lapin Petite Sirah: A girl's best friend!

Tonight I’m in no mood for a spirited zin or a light and flaky pinot noir. The chardonnays on my rack will take too long to chill, and I need an instant friend. The cabs and merlots aren’t dependable, sometimes there for me and sometimes aloof. Ahhh, petite sirah. It’s the one wine I know is strong enough to handle my problems.

Petite sirah is the perfect wine in a crisis. It’s dark and throaty and just the kind of friend to sit with you and listen to your problems. It’ll hold you and rock you and tell you everything will be alright. It’ll wrap you in velvet and ooze a black cherry salve on your wounds. Hints of comforting cigar smoke will blend with espresso as it sagely breathes comfort: “This, too, shall pass., baby doll.”

And when you’re done crying, it’ll say in the most deceptively silky voice, “OK, that’s enough now. Quit your whining and suck it up. You’re being a baby, and self-pity is NOT a good look on you, missy!”

Thanks to your muscular purple friend who is as strong on taste as she is on advice, you’ll remember that life comes a day at a time, and things will surely look cheerier in the morning. Life is full of ups and downs, and we are lucky if we can surround ourselves with friends who can comfort, inspire, and commiserate. And God bless the friends who can do all three. (You decide who that friend might be!)

Bond… Double Bond

A good friend invited me over to try a new wine today. Enter Double Bond. She poured a glass of what I expected to be  just another good red wine. I was wrong. This was a great red wine!

The 2009 Pinot Noir is fantastic. It’s so smooth, light silk rather than heavy velvet. I asked her what it sells for and she said “$45 or so.” And I have no doubt that it does. It tastes like $45. It’s no wonder I fell in love at first sip.

It’s a dark cherry color, not watery as so many pinot noirs can be. The aroma is a blend of fruit, clove and vanilla. Lest you be fooled into thinking this smooth drink is weak, let me argue that it’s complex in its simplicity. This is the Harry Connick Jr. of  red wines – disarmingly charming, full of finesse, yet obviously deeper and more complex than just a pretty face (and a voice like butter). You could drink the entire bottle without giving it a second thought, or you could spend an entire night studying its nuances and tones.

The winery sources its grapes from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo in California. The whole Central Coast region is known to produce excellent pinot noir, thanks to the cool nights.

Double Bond gets its name from chemistry – the state of molecules forming two bonds rather than one, creating a stronger, more complex bond. The winery and winemaker pride themselves on marrying biology and art, creating the best wine based on both the science of vinification and the non-science of good taste. Quoting the website: “Science and art; both are required to make fine wines and they define our connection to the craft.”

While this wine is certainly out of my usual $10 budget, I thought it worthwhile to mention because it is a reliable pick for a special occasion (unless $45 is your everyday price point, in which case, bottoms up!). And let’s be honest, since “Sideways,” every Central Coast pinot noir purports to be The Best. But this is one I’ve tasted and can say it truly is a fantastic wine.

Follow what the winery is up to or to find out where to get it through its Facebook page or on Twitter @DoubleBondWine. It’s available in most well-stocked wine stores. Get shopping!

Comfort food

December. Winter. Cold. Comfort food.

I needed to use up the leftover meat from my husband’s pheasant dinner last week. And I wanted something savory that would warm up the house with its aroma.

Enter pot pie.

I found a recipe for chicken pot pie in an Amish cookbook. It called for five pounds of chicken pieces, so I used two pheasant carcasses and simmered them in water with onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves to make a basic stock and collect meat.

By the way, read this blog about hunting for food to get the Cliff’s Notes version for why I love using hunted meat, and I try to use all the meat from my husband’s kill. It felt really good to get a second meal out of the pheasants, and to make a dish entirely from scratch.

The recipe called for five cups of stock, so I was able to freeze two quarts beyond what I needed tonight. And I was surprised by how non-oily the stock was. Even as I pulled the meat off the bones, I noticed that my hands were not greasy, and there was virtually no fat to skim off to the cooled stock. That, my friends, is another reason to eat wild game.

I suppose this is a good time to talk about the wine for the night. I wanted an zinfandel. There was no rhyme or reason to my wine choice tonight; I wanted a zin, I drank a zin. I thought it would be appropriate to drink Black Pheasant with my pheasant pot pie. Very poetic, dontcha think?

The plummy, jammy flavor of the wine was perfectly suitable for drinking while I cooked. Nothing outstanding, but just nice and homey. Like the rest of my dinner.

I’ve made many a pot pie, and I usually use cream-of-something for the sauce. Mix a little cream-of-potato soup with milk and herbs and you have an easy, delicious sauce. Tonight’s Amish pot pie, however, called for a REAL sauce. It was stock (made earlier from the pheasant carcass) thickened with butter and flour and seasoned with thyme, dry mustard, salt and pepper. What a difference this makes! I love the cream-of… sauces, but if I have the time, I’ll be making my pot-pie sauce with stock and flour!

I mixed up some dough for the pie crust and stretched it over the pot-pie filling. I use my grandma’s pie-crust recipe: 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of shortening, 1/2 cup of cold water. Super easy! I’ve found that putting the dough in the fridge for a half-hour or so makes it extra flaky! I added a personal touch to the pie crust – a sprinkle of seasoned salt on the top – something I like to do to most pot pies.

While the pot pie baked (1 hour and 10 minutes total), I made a little extra dough to make cinnamon rolls. This is something my mom used to do, and I try to carry on the tradition whenever I have cause to make pie crust. It’s another easy recipe: roll out the pie crust, brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar. Roll and slice and bake about a half-hour or until browned on top. Easy!

Tonight’s dinner was the ultimate comfort dinner. I used miscellaneous ingredients I had in my fridge, and added a dash of creativity. Just a dash.

I have to admit, I didn’t really care if tonight’s zin was good or not, it was just a glass to complete the dinner. So I was pleasantly surprised by the 2010 Black Pheasant Zinfandel. It was a steal in a WineInsiders special offer – $5.99 per bottle with $.01 shipping. It understandably did nothing for my pot pie. Black Pheasant isn’t necessarily meant to pair with pheasant. But, oooh, what a nice drink with the cinnamon rolls!

The cinnamon brought out hints of spice in the wine while taming the jam flavors. This is certainly a good wine to pair with desserts when you don’t want to brave a heavy dessert wine. The fruity-forward taste balances really well with sugary desserts.

So while tonight was not about gourmet cuisine or exceptional wine, it was about comfort, about making something easy and satisfying. It was about the 98 percent of the year when you just want something dependably good. Mission accomplished.  s

Sacre Sangre (de Toro)!

Ok, so the miniature bull hanging off the bottle is what first grabbed my attention, then the price tag ($7.99), then the description. Sangre de Toro 2007 Red Wine, hailing from the Bodega Torres family winery in Catalonia, Spain. So exotic! Such a nice way to warm my cold December night!

The aroma is tart, mostly berries and green pepper. The color is such a deep purple, I’d believe this is sangre de something! The taste is like the smell, heavy with tart berries and spicy yet fresh green pepper. While the color implies a thick wine, it’s freshingly light on the palate, the flavor wisked away leaving the mouth asking for more. Well, ok, more it is! There is just a hint of floral taste to complement the tart fruit.

A worthy side note: the winery bottles into lightweight glass, lowering its CO2 emissions (yay!). It was the international winner of The Drinks Business Green Awards and even goes so far to include as the tagline on its website: “The more we care for the earth, the better our wine.” Gotta give kudos to a winery that appreciates the earth that provides its bounty.

I’ll blog… ahora o Manyana

I’ve been traveling a lot for work, and unfortunately my day job interferes with my hobby (wine!). Between hopping on airplanes, checking e-mail on my BlackBerry in the backseat of taxis, scheduling meetings, coming home to mountains of laundry and an empty refridgerator, getting my kids back on a normal schedule after a week of spoiling at Grandma’s, and trying to catch up on sleep — well, it’s been tough to enjoy a decent glass of wine, let alone write about it.

But tonight the laundry is done and my husband is engrossed in Bear Grylls’ survival adventures, so the wine bottle and the computer are mine — ALL MINE! (insert maniacal laugh here)

I have a couple of bottles of REALLY cheap wine, but I don’t have the patience to waste the night on questionable wine. So I opened a bottle of 2002 Manyana Crianza tempranillo. I found it on sale at Smith’s (Kroger) for $8.99, but I believe it’s usually about $11.

I have been loving tempranillos lately. They’re solid, hearty reds with a nice fruity component that mellows without sweetening. I HATE sweet wine.

There are several things I like about this wine, and only a few of them have to do with taste. Let’s start with the label. The label explains the wine, even defining “crianza” — it means “aged” and is a distinction given to wines that are barrel-aged for six months and bottle-aged for another six months. The label includes tasting notes and suggested food pairings; it recommends spicy pork or beef dishes, so I suppose my pizza dinner with spicy Italian sausage will do. 

My tasting experience mirrors the label’s notes. The wine has a bold fruity, almost jammy, taste but nicely balanced with oak and vanilla. I used to think heavy oak was the signature of great wine, but I’ve since grown up and learned to appreciate the delicate balance between fruit and oak.

This Manyana hails from Carinena, Spain, and is an excellent example of what a good, value tempranillo should taste like. It has earned a permanent slot on Mama’s wine rack!

The Joker and Pillar Box

My husband is a big joker. So I could have sworn he was up to his old tricks when I opened the 2007 Pillar Box Red (Australia) and smelled grape juice.

“Ok, honey. Really funny. How’d you do it?”

“Do what?” he asked with his usual devious grin. (I still don’t know what that grin was all about!)

“Pour grape juice into my wine bottle. It’s a screw-top, and I didn’t even notice that it was already open.”

“I didn’t do anything!” he said with that omnipresent smirk. (Really, what was that about?!?!)

So I tasted the wine, and sure enough, it tasted like wine. I stand corrected. It’s not grape juice, but wow, I’ve never smelled a wine quite as juicy as this!

Fortunately, I care more about taste than smell, and taste is downright yummy! (ah, I beg to differ with those who say the memory is the first to go. For me, it’s the vocabulary.)

The Pillar Red (regularly $11.99, on sale for $8.99) is bright with berries and jam, but not heavy and overly sweet like many jam-rich wines are. The wine is shiraz-cab-merlot blend, and the shiraz really dominates with the bright fruits, and the cab and merlot mellow the tang that’s sometimes overpowering in shiraz.

Ok, so my husband hadn’t tricked me after all, but I still say he could have. And my 3-year-old agrees.

“Mommy? Why are you drinking grape juice?”

“Um, mommy likes grape juice with dinner.”

“Oh. Me too!”

Sigh… that’s what I’m afraid of.

It’s bordeaux, you kneaux

I’m just going to throw this out there. I think a lot of winetasters are full of shit. To put it more delicately, they’re pretentious and throw around descriptive words that don’t actually say anything (other their ability to open a thesaurus). I don’t want to be that. I want to drink good wine and describe it in a way that’s understandable and applicable to the Average Jane.

In my college wine-tasting class, we had a session devoted to pairing wines and foods. I went into it thinking, c’mon, merlot tastes like merlot. Sometimes a grape is just a grape. When the professor made us take a bite of bleu cheese (oh, vomit!) and then swig some sort of red wine, I decided this whole pairing business is really just ridiculous. Then she made us take a bite of dark, bitter chocolate paired with a port. Oh. My. God. Explosions of flavor! Then the strawberries and champagne… oh ecstacy!

Now I get it.

Tonight I opened a bottle of Mouton Cadet bordeaux ($6.99 at Raley’s) and was infatuated with the first swish and swirl. Little bursts of green pepper and plum. Thick, slow legs on the glass and a full body on the tongue. Mmmmm, yes, this is good.

Then I popped a potsticker in my mouth (hubby and kids are gone for the night, so I’m dining on frozen appetizers and loving it!). I forgot about the wine as I savored the potstickers and spicy teriyaki sauce. I may have also been savoring the silence of no kids in the house. Joy! I grabbed my wine glass and absentmindedly took a sip and was stunned. The bright, peppery bordeaux mellowed under the spice of the teriyaki. It didn’t lose its body or full flavor, the pepper just stepped down a bit and made way for the sauce. Simply amazing.

I’m not very familiar with bordeaux, but I do believe it’ll be a new project of mine to understand what goes into a good bordeaux (besides the grapes, of course) and how to identify one. The Mouton Cadet is a fabulous introduction to this varietal and it will definitely be a new favorite in my wine rack.

Motherhood with a side of malbec

Once upon a time, I enjoyed glasses of Rombaur and Ferrari-Carano. I couldn’t afford it then anymore than I can now, but at least the $18 glass of wine didn’t come out of my kids’ diaper fund. Indulging occasionally in a really great bottle of wine was the equivalent of shaking my silky, blond hair (in my dreams!) at a camera and saying, “I’m worth it!”

Now, I’m worth it, but so are my kids. They’re worth cutting back and searching the bottom shelves for great deals on, hopefully, great wines. I’ve come to believe that smart shoppers can find good wine for $10 or less, and I stick to that rule pretty closely. But I do still miss being able to experiment and buy whatever bottle I want. I miss going to wineries and buying multiple bottles rather than one token low-budget vintage.

So on my last wine-tasting trip to Sacramento (we hit wine bars rather than tasting rooms), I asked the wine-tender to surprise me with something different. Tall order, right? I told him I wanted to try something GOOD in the area of dry and oaky. I told him I like zinfandels but wasn’t feeling like something quite that spry and tangy. I’ve gotten a little tired of pinot noirs; for a while that was all I drank in a stand of solidarity with my Oregonian family (ok, my motive was a little more boring that that – I just liked pinots a lot).

The helpful gentleman suggested I try a malbec. He was the second person within about three weeks to tell me to try malbecs, so who am I to argue? And what do you know? It was just what I was looking for. Full and dry like a cab but with a splash of tang like a zin.

Whatever he poured for me was wonderful but definitely not under my $10 limit. So my last visit to the grocery store included an in-depth look at the wine shelves, and I found an interesting malbec. Alamos 2008 malbec – on sale for about $9. It’s from Argentina, as I’ve learned that the best malbecs are, and it’s the perfect winter wine. Pinot noirs are too thin for the cold January nights. Sure, a merlot would be ok. But dammit, I’m not a boring mom. I don’t want a plain ol’ merlot. I want something exotic. I want something different. I want a malbec!

Yes, you can call me a snob. But at $9 a bottle, I don’t think that name would stick. Besides, next week I’ll probably be over my malbec kick and ready to try something new.