Monday, November 26, 2007

The Naked Vine in Monsoon Valley

There are occasional perks to being a shamelessly self-promoting fledgling wine writer. Every now and again, perks appear. Several weeks ago, I was working with my fellow blogger Harlan Weikle, proprietor of "Here's Cooking at You, Kid." (Click on the picture of Bogie in the sidebar to check his stuff out.) We did some commentary on the Build a Better Burger contest.

Through a series of tangents after the Thai burger ended up winning, I ended up emailing a representative from Red Bull in Britain. Turns out Red Bull is exporting wine from Thailand. The wine is called Monsoon Valley and is supposed to be made specifically to pair with food from that part of the world. The guy said that he'd send me a couple of bottles to sample. I was, of course, agreeable.

I never realized how difficult it was to get wine shipped internationally. After hangups in customs, with import regulations, and with missing the shipper for delivery numerous times, I eventually landed three bottles. The duty charges ended up being more than the wine itself, but that's another story…

Anyway, Monsoon Valley -- the idea of it is pretty fascinating. If you check out their website, you'll learn that they can get two harvests a year from their grapes, many of which are grown on "floating vineyards." Considering that most grapes grow best in almost arid conditions, it goes to show you that where there's a will and a wine press, there's a way. (Although, for a good laugh, watch the "Floating Vineyards" video. I've never imagined grapes harvested with golden shears by attractive, well-groomed Thai women…)

How were these wines? We broke out some Thai recipes, opened the wine, and…

Monsoon Valley 2006 Blended Red Wine -- The first we had a chance to try. This wine is a blend of Shiraz and the native Pokdum grape. The nose is soft with some berry and cherry scents. It's not a heavy wine in the slightest -- the light body has a decent amount of fruit, and finishes dry and a little bitter, like coffee. I wanted to make a Thai dish to pair, and we settled on a green curry with beef and potatoes over some rice noodles. One of our favorite recent recipes was a Thai-flavored beef salad, and the suggested pairing was Beaujolais. This wine is very much along those lines, and it complimented the curry quite nicely. Most reds wouldn't have been able to handle the spices in this curry. Like Beaujolais, it also should be served chilled.

Monsoon Valley 2007 Blended White Wine -- Next up was this blend of the native Malaga Blanc grape along with some Columbard. On first taste, I was a little disappointed. This is a very thin wine. By "thin" -- I'm not just referring to the light taste, but it seemed somewhat watery. There was some fruit on the nose and the finish quickly drifted off. We were a little unsure of what to expect from a food pairing so I decided to play it safe, or so I thought, by doing a Thai hot & sour soup. We often enjoy doing soups as entire meals. I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque (or Angkor Wat, as the case may be) with my chilies and lemongrass and ended up creating a broth that was…well…a challenge to work through. I think this one might have even given my asbestos-palated friend James pause. Even so, the wine actually stood up nicely to the heavy heat. The fruit came out more strongly, and it certainly cooled the fire a bit. However, we ended up going to a plan B for much of dinner, and I ended up being able to refinish some furniture with what was left of the broth. Still, a surprising backbone if you want a wine to go with something super hot.

Monsoon Valley 2007 Blended Rosé Wine -- The last of the three, a blend of Malaga Blanc, Columbard, and Shiraz. We decided to go a safer route -- I did a pretty basic chicken stir fry with veggies and some Thai seasonings (along with some of the shrimp and mushrooms that I strained out of the aforementioned varnish-stripping soup) to accompany the rosé. The nose was an interesting blend of pears and flowers. The flavor, though, was odd. The body of the wine was almost soapy. There wasn't a ton of fruit and much like the white, the finish wasn't all that crisp -- it simply drifted off. And, like the previous two wines, the rose didn't show its true colors until we got it next to some food. Once again, it stepped up to the challenge. The soapiness buoyed the flavors of the wine against the spices and it became a decent quaff with dinner.

The tagline for Monsoon Valley is "Thai Wine for Thai Food." I agree. I wouldn't recommend it if you're just going to sit around a have a glass either before or after dinner, but if you're planning to have some spicy food; this is probably a good choice. All three of these wines are right around $9.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wine for Thanksgiving

Hard to believe it's been a year since the last time I looked at wines for the Most Gluttonous Time Of The Year. Lots of calories under the bridge since then. We're again faced with the same dilemma -- big table, many family members with various issues, wildly varied foods, and a need for wines to please everyone.

Good luck.

Actually, there are a number of wines that would work just fine with almost any table. Since thinking basic is a good idea, there's a lot of decent product that will work. A few possibilities follow. And, like last year, if you find yourself cooking -- I still recommend a flask of Maker's Mark stashed inconspicuously behind the potato masher.

Paringa 2004 Sparkling Shiraz -- Full disclosure -- this was the first alcoholic sparkling red I've ever tried. I'd heard sparkling shiraz mentioned as a flexible wine, and I was quite curious, since I couldn't quite put "Shiraz" and "sparkling" together in my mind. If you drink this wine thinking "Shiraz," you're in for a shock. The strong fruit and slight sweetness of Shiraz gets amplified. While the wine was a little bit sweeter than I usually take, it was still very interesting. The nose is crisp, with a little blueberry. The flavor is soft. It's sweet, but there's a little bit of tannin running underneath. The finish is very crisp for a wine this sweet. If you put it with the typical Thanksgiving table -- roast turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and such -- it would really shine. There are enough interesting notes in here to echo almost anything you'll find in the food. If you pick it up at another time of year, have it as a brunch wine. Fruits (we had it with cherries and chocolate covered blueberries) match this wine very well. $10.

Covey Run 2005 Gewürztraminer -- What can I say, I'm still a sucker for wines with umlauts. While Riesling is probably more flexible, if you've got a group that wants something a little different or if you're with a group that doesn't know better, bust out a Gewürz. It'll be fun for people to try to pronounce after a couple of glasses, at the very least. This offering from Washington is a really flavorful wine, starting you with a nose of honey and apples. The body is quite full and fruity, and it's not as peppery as many of its cousins. I generally prefer them with a little more spice, but this will be much more accessible to a larger group. More importantly, it does have enough acidity to stand up to most foods. It will compliment almost anything that you might think to cook, unless you're going to do a beef roast or something along those lines. For $8-9, you'll get a bottle you can use either with dinner or as an aperitif.

Louis Jadot 2006 Beaujolais-Villages -- A quick side note here. I wanted to do a Beaujolais as one of the wines, since that's a classic pairing. I was struck immediately when I checked that section of the aisle at the sheer number of Beaujolais cru that were available. If you remember, those are the ones made in particular towns in the region and are supposed to be the "top of the line." Then I noticed -- every single one of them was from Georges Dubeouf. I shouldn't have a prejudice, since his wines are generally very quaffable -- but with this onslaught of cru, I was skeptical. I followed my instinct and took the one bottle of Beaujolais among the dozen or so that wasn't from dear ol' Georges. I wasn't disappointed. A friendly, nice nose of strawberries and cherries. Those scents are echoed in the body of the wine. The tannins are light, and the acidity's not too strong. A good all around red wine to just straight-up drink or that will work with most anything you'll have on the table. Only $6-7, so you can load up and not break the bank.

Gnarly Head 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel -- "Come on, Mike," a friend of mine said, "You do these wines for big groups and parties, and you do things that will appeal to the middle of the road. But Thanksgiving is a big ass meal, so you need a big ass wine. What would you do?" With a gauntlet like that thrown down, you need a red wine where people will know that they're drinking A Red Wine. Still, you have to have appeal for lots of folks, and it does have to go with what you're serving. One wine raises its hand -- Zinfandel. Specifically, big, cranking California Zin. The Gnarly Head fills the bill perfectly. The very definition of a "fruit bomb," this wine announces its presence with authority. Lots of big plummy scents lead you to a huge fruity body. There's a little tannin and a little oak in there somewhere, and you catch hints of it on the finish -- but it's largely a big wine that would pair with big flavors. Most Thanksgiving tables would be perfect. At close to 15% alcohol, it'll liven up any party. $10.

Enjoy the gorging, enjoy the wine, enjoy the football, and celebrate the family. Whether tied by blood or by love, they're what makes us us. Raise a glass.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hang on, Sloopy...

The Naked Vine continues its march through the Buckeye State with the very welcome addition of The Other Paper, the official entertainment weekly of Columbus, Ohio.

When I was in grade school, one of my best friends was originally from Columbus. He introduced me to the joys of COSI. A number of years later, a friend of mine who used to play in a band in Cincinnati introduced me to the joys of a number of the establishments in the Arena District...

Hearty greetings to the denizens of the Arch City. Grab a glass and stay awhile...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Testosterone Sauvignon -- Wines for Men

Men like wine. Why don't we see it advertised to them?
Watch typical "male" programming. You know, talking sports, wrestling, action movies, "24," and so on. You don't see wine ads among the deluge of "light" beers, gadgets, and John Mellencamp singing about Awrrr Countreee. Heck, they'll advertise a flippin' minivan, but not a decent bottle of cabernet.
Men are a stable wine buying population. We drink the stuff. We write songs about it (from the Rolling Stones to Merle Haggard to Axl Rose). The majority of winemakers are men. The manliest writers -- think Hemingway, London, Kerouac, et al -- feature it prominently. Behind the pursuit of "yabyum" and enlightenment, a close third-ranking activity in "The Dharma Bums" was finding a jug of wine and hanging out. Basically, the same things we still do…
Perhaps winemakers think that men aren't a good target demographic. Perhaps they think that other avenues are more effective -- I'm not sure. Even with females making up the larger percentage of wine drinkers (52.5 to 47.5%), that still leaves about a billion bottles consumed by men each year in the U.S. alone, and they haven't even surveyed me yet. In my opinion, the first winemaker to catch on to the fact that there are more than Neanderthals watching "everyday man" shows will make a mint. Maybe a couple of winemakers are wising up. I heard an ad for Dancing Bull Wines on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio, so who knows?
Regardless, as a rule, men are usually more clueless than women in a wine store. Why? Genetics. We're preprogrammed to a) be the authority and b) never ask for directions. (That thud you just heard was the Sweet Partner in Crime braining me with an Introduction to Sociology textbook.)
Let a typical man loose in a wine store and what happens? A little aimless wandering, perhaps the "what have I heard of before" thought process -- and, eventually, the same thing happens to a man as a woman. He looks at labels and buys something that looks interesting. Shiny objects and pretty colors, you know. Breweries figured that out a long time ago.
Slowly, wineries are coming around to this way of thinking. I put myself in a mindset of looking at labels and walked the aisles, thinking, "What looks interesting?" Here are a couple that jumped out:

Bohemian Highway 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon -- For the ex-and-present hippies among us. This is a pretty straightforward cab. A cab you could pour and enjoy with a meal, or sit around and Kerouac right out of the bottle. The fairly strong nose is currants and blackberries. The body is big and fruity. Nothing you have to work too hard to wrap your palate around. The finish is straight fruit, almost Zin-ish. Not a lot of tannin to be found, so it would be an excellent party wine. The flavor blends well with anything smoky. $7.
Joe Blow 2005 White Wine -- Even more challenging than finding the right marketing for men would be finding a way to market white wine to men. At least red wine has the romance and the better descriptive words on the cards in the aisles. You don't hear a pinot grigio described as "muscular" very often. So, create a label that says, "Hey…no big deal…it's just wine." Ironically, the Joe Blow is made from three very "female" varietals: chardonnay, viognier, and chenin blanc. The nose is very interesting. I guess you'd call it "tropical," but I got an odd combination -- butter and papaya -- and it worked. The viognier makes the nose strong, the chardonnay gives it a full body, and the chenin blanc adds a nice crispness. A good hot weather wine or with anything spicy. $10.
Jarhead Red California Table Wine -- The Marine emblem stands out on this simply labeled wine, marketed as a wine "made by Marines for Marines." I'm not a veteran, but I certainly appreciate the service of the Marines and the fruit of the labors of a couple of them. Made in conjunction with Firestone Vineyards (most of the wines are out of Vine range, but if you get a chance to try their cabernet, splurge.) The Jarhead is a solid red, definitely a cabernet dominated blend. Plenty of fruit on both the nose and palate. The finish is dry, but not very long. More of a get in, get out wine with any kind of red meat. We had this outside one night in the company of one of our neighbors. The proceeds from the sale of this wine go to the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund ( This organization provides educational assistance to the children of fallen Marines. $13.