Friday, June 27, 2008


A post to take care of some much-needed housekeeping...

First off, The Vine would like to welcome Recoil Magazine to our print outlets out there. Grand Rapids will never be the same. Recoil's online version focuses on news satire (which, these days, largely needs very little help...) and commentary, so check them out.

A couple of friends have started their own online ventures and I'd like to give them a shout.

First off, David Lazarus -- one of the most knowledgeable folks about wine I know and generous host for the Sunday Salon in February -- has started writing about his experiences. His blog, Too Many Good Wines, Not Enough Time -- is running commentary on his own wide-reaching wine experiences.

Also, a recently relocated-to-Cincinnati couple whom I know are starting a pretty ambitious project: Cincy Eats A to Z. Their mission? In their own words: "Eating our way through the Cincinnati metro area, letter by letter." For more details, see their about page. A wonderfully ambitious project.

And, sadly, one of our benefactors has closed its doors. The Durham Flyer has pulled up stakes. Thanks to all the folks there for the opportunity.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Ballad of Barolo

As I mentioned, more on the birthday celebration...

Just after New Year's 2008, I decided to put the wheels in motion for the Sweet Partner in Crime's 40th birthday. I thought it might be an interesting idea to get a bottle of wine born two-score years ago and open it during our celebratory shindig.

Trouble is, options get pretty limited when you're trying to procure a wine that old. Ports, brandies, cognacs, and armagnacs are regularly that old -- but none of those are faves of the SPinC, especially not while enjoying dinner on the patio in summertime. There are some French wines that can hold up that long, but they're prohibitively expensive. See what the going rate on a 1968 first-growth Chateau Latour is these days, for instance.

That brought me to Italy, where several types of wine are built for the long haul. The one I really wanted to see what I could do with was Barolo. As I'd mentioned before, I'd tried the Italian "Wine of Kings" before and wasn't all that impressed -- largely because Barolo takes 10-15 years to get into its wheelhouse. Also, since the Sweet Partner's favorite kitchen creation of mine is my somewhat nontraditional eggplant parmesan, it seemed a natural match.

Any wine aged that long is going to be a crapshoot. A buyer is gambling that the bottle has been stored in good, stable conditions and that the cork has managed to hold together in a reasonable fashion. You're also hoping that the natural fermentation hasn't already turned the wine into an expensive bottle of vinegar. Unless a wine's been cared for properly, maybe 1 in 100 bottles will be drinkable.

There are companies out there who specialize in selling "collectable wines." A little research led me to one whose name I won't publicize here (for reasons that will become apparent). In mid-January, I called them to inquire about some of their selections. They had five Barolos from 1968. They put me through to "Troy," their Italian wine specialist. I asked him which one he would get if he wanted one that would drink well. He made a recommendation and I placed my order. He said it would be to me in a couple of weeks.

Three weeks passed. I called Troy again. He said there "had been a dock strike" and the wine shipment was held up in port. He said to call back in a couple of weeks. Three weeks passed again. I called again. Troy told me that the "strike was over," but that my wine wasn't on the shipment, he'd be checking on it, and he'd get it to me for sure. Then came the height of basketball season, and I got distracted for awhile. The beginning of April rolled around, and I called yet again. I was informed that "Troy was no longer with the company" but my order was still pending. I started to get a bit nervous.

Finally, the beginning of May rolled around, and I still hadn't received the wine.I called back one more time and spoke to their new Italian wine guy. He told me that the original Barolo was unavailable, but there were a couple of other potentials he could check on. He said to give him a week. I finally heard from him after ten days, and he gave me the news that there were no Italian 1968's to be found anywhere. He offered me a refund. I took it, swore loudly after hanging up, and then started madly Googling.

Call it fate, divine intervention, or just dumb luck, but I stumbled across, a sort of eBay for wine -- and discovered a seller with excellent reports and several Barolos from that vintage. After a couple of emails, I placed another order. Four days later, I had a bottle of 1968 Renato Ratti Barolo in my greedy little hands. I smuggled it into the house, put it in the wine fridge, and set the wheels in motion.

After a birthday dinner and wonderful brunch from Julie Francis at Nectar, picking yet more cherries, some absolutely top-notch massages, and some relaxing at home, I was ready for the main event. I put together my parmesan (I grill the eggplant instead of deep frying it. The smoky flavor is perfect, in my opinion.) got it to baking, and relaxed for awhile on the patio with some Pinot Grigio.

Just after taking it out of the oven (it needs to sit for a few minutes before digging in), I made the presentation. At first, I think she thought it was just another bottle of Italian wine -- until she saw the date. "Ecstatically Stunned" would be an apt description. We shared some happy tears, then went inside to open it. The wax seal on the bottle was intact, and the cork looked to be in good shape. However, after the first half inch or so, the rest started to crumble when I extracted it. With the help of a mesh screen and some slow decanting, I was able to salvage almost all of the wine.

The first small pour was enough for us to know that what we had was an actual bottle of wine, not vinegar. The nose was fragrant and unique -- cherries, sort of, but other aromas I couldn't put my finger on. The flavor was actually somewhat thin, which surprised me, knowing how big this wine was supposed to be.

We served up the parmesan and poured a little more of the wine. Even after another 20 minutes, the wine started to change remarkably. The nose, tight at first, began to open up into a broad combination of cherries, spice, and smoke -- mirrored by the flavor continuing to deepen, becoming more tannic, but certainly not overwhelmingly so, and the fruit flavor deepened as well. The most interesting addition was the finish, which lasted for what seemed like ages. To me, it was a sensation of peeling back smoky layer after layer, balanced on top of the tannin. Needless to say, it echoed the flavors in the meal exceptionally well. We ended up eating and drinking much more slowly than we usually do, savoring the changes the wine continued to exhibit.

Finally, we settled into the lounge chairs to enjoy the rest of the wine. We tried it with some dark chocolate with mixed results, but we simply sipped the rest of it over the course of the next couple of hours, relishing the evolving and deepening flavors.

I'll draw the curtain at this point. While every day should be a celebration, I don't think there's anything wrong with going a little over the top. While the bottle certainly wasn't in the neighborhood of $15, I would recommend any wine lover trying something like this once, just for the experience. Just make sure you share it. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Commissioning a Symphony in "C"

Many thanks tonight to Sherri Prentiss of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for arranging the conclusion to the Sweet Partner in Crime's birthday celebration. We went to Riverbend this evening to take in "Vintage Classics" -- a wonderful combination of a performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a well-appointed wine tasting.

If you're one of my Cincinnati-area readers and you haven't availed yourself of the music of the Cincinnati Symphony, perhaps thinking it's not your scene, you're missing out. As Sherri put it in her interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, she's "targeting individual niches."

And as long as she's targeting the wine drinkers -- we should do what we can to encourage her...

(But wait...there's more on the celebration. Stay tuned...)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cherries Jubilee

When the Sweet Partner in Crime and I consolidated households and moved northward, one of our favorite features of the house we ended up with was a couple of wonderful old cherry trees in our backyard. The blossoms welcome in spring in a beautiful way. We're also able to get some wonderful tart fruit from the trees.

These were some of the best "pie cherries" we've found, and I made a pretty tasty batch of cherry-flavored beer a couple of years ago with part of our pickings. Last year, unfortunately, a late frost followed by a drought killed our entire harvest. We didn't know what we'd see this year.

The trees bounced back in style. We had a bumper crop this year. Our neighbors, Jeff and Christine (from a few earlier episodes), came by for a partial harvest. We've still got more on the tree than we know what to do with. They're going to be out of town later this week, so they won't be here for the SPinC's monumental birthday celebration.

Christine, bless her soul, had the fabulous idea to take the cherries and put together a meal with that tasty fruit in each course. The results were wonderful and, since cherries are coming into season just about everywhere, I thought we might share some of these potential pairings for public consumption.

We started off with an appetizer of goat cheese topped with a "cherry-walnut-bourbon thing" -- which was close enough to chutney for government work. We initially had this with a cherry-vodka cocktail that Jeff whipped up, but if you wanted wine, I'd probably put this up against something relatively light, a little sweet, and bubbly. The Lazurro Moscato d'Asti ($8-9) would be a possibility. It's quite a sweet wine, reminding me actually a little bit of a sparkling grape juices, except not as carbonated and with a kick. The sweetness and a slight acidity would cut through both the cheese and the chutney nicely.

Our next course was a salad made from our neighbor's "yeah, you betcha" garden with tomatoes, cucumbers, and a cherry vinaigrette dressing. We had this with Lindeman's 2007 Bin 99 Pinot Noir. ($9-10) Ordinarily, I haven't been a big fan of Australian pinots. I think they tend to be a little bit heavy for this type of wine -- but this one worked pretty well. I think that we needed something relatively fruity and non-tannic without being overwhelming, and this worked. I think even inexpensive pinot will work if you need something relatively food friendly and flexible. Just don't expect the wine of a lifetime.

The main course was grilled pork tenderloin with a cherry sauce and asparagus. We had this with another pinot noir -- this time one that was safely out of Vine Range -- Amphora 2006 Pinot Noir. Amphora is one of our favorite wineries from Sonoma -- but they're known more for big cabernets and zinfandels than pinot. This one was more lush than many pinots, but had a delightful smokiness to it that worked well with the grilled flavors.

For dessert, of course, cherry pie. Pie-making is one of Christine's considerable talents and her cherry pies are unmatched. We had this with Oak Grove 2005 Reserve Zinfandel. ($7-8) You'd definitely want a relatively fruity wine to go with a pie like this. The Zinfandel worked reasonably well -- this wine is certainly that. By this point in the evening, it also held up as we continued to drink on it through the evening. If I'd had it to do over, I'd probably have gone with a dessert wine made from Zinfandel -- a late-harvest Zinfandel of some kind. Rosenblum Cellars does a late harvest called "Rosie Rabbitt" that you can often find for right around $15. The sweetness would have worked quite nicely with the pies.

All in all, a delightful evening in excellent company, and an exceedingly proper way to kick off the Sweet Partner's week of birthday celebration. More on that as it unfolds, of course...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wine for Makin' Whoopee...

"When are you going to write about wine and sex?"

I got this question from my friend R.D. a couple of months ago, and I've been at a bit of a loss. However, considering spring has finally sprung and this is the Vine's 69th entry, it seems fitting.

Disclaimer: The information following should, in no way, be considered a guarantee of sexual satisfaction. However, if any readers, male or female, get lucky as a result of the advice contained herein, I expect thanks. Only readers healthy enough for sexual activity should continue reading from this point. The following is not an endorsement of random, drunken hookups -- you're better off with bourbon or tequila in that event, anyway. Do not operate a motor vehicle immediately after reading this column, drinking a bottle of any of these wines, or after having sex. Your partner will think you're rude.

Where to begin? Wine and sex have a long, long history. My patron deity, Bacchus, was devoted to wine and pleasure. Omar Khayyam wrote the Rubaiyat as an ode to love, life, wine, and his beloved. More than any other libation, wine is historically associated with romance, with sensuality, and good ol' gettin' it on. Wine is a delicious tone-setter and completer of ambience. If you're trying to create a conducive atmosphere, adding wine can only help.

Sex and wine are very personal. Every person has a different experience each time and everyone likes certain flavors better than others. And when you share with someone who has similar passions and tastes...well...the possibilities are practically limitless. For the sake of time, space, and the desire to actually try these out...I'll just forward a couple of potentials for potential coupling...

The Picnic -- A park, a secluded shade tree, a blanket, some food, and -- of course -- a bottle of wine. This setting calls for a selection that both brings happiness and goes well with whatever you've stashed in the basket for the prelude. You're going to want to go with something relatively simple to set up and easy to eat. Perhaps a Mediterranean board of some kind -- olives, pita chips, hummus, get the idea. Alongside, I might recommend a sparkling wine. Bubbles are always arousing. I recently tried the Zardetto Prosecco Brut ($12-15) with some similar selections. This Prosecco is fairly dry and has a pleasant, slightly yeasty character. The finish was a little fruity, quite crisp, and complimented the foods very well. You'll have to supply the witty conversation thereafter on your own.

The Dinner -- Whether you're dining out or putting something together in the kitchen, you're going to want a wine sultry enough to amplify the mood, yet flexible enough to go with whatever you're ordering or plating up. One wine quickly steps to the fore. Pinot noir. You can't go wrong with decent pinot, whether it's a traditional Burgundy or an offering from California or the Pacific Northwest. The Concannon 2005 Limited Release Pinot Noir ($13-15) from California's central coast was a delicious wine. Cherries and berries on the nose, followed by a fruity, smoky body and a finish of vanilla and smoke. It would be a very flexible food wine -- especially if you were thinking something roasted -- whether it's duck, pork, or vegetables.

The Dessert -- Dinner's over and you're lingering. The meal and conversation have gone well, signs are pointing to "yes," and you've got something in front of you that's some version of chocolate. If there's no chocolate, stop. Back up. You've chosen incorrectly. You MUST have chocolate at this stage. Its powers as an aphrodisiac are unmatched. Port pairs particularly well with chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Sandeman's Founder's Reserve Porto ($9-11 for a 375 ml bottle) slides in easily next to such a dessert. Don't waste your time with little port glasses. Be decadent. Pour it into larger wine glasses so you can swirl and enjoy the lush fruity aromas. The nose is strong with deep dark berry and grape scents. The body is rich and full, and the sweetness balances the delicious bitterness of dark chocolate for a sensually intertwined finish.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find the Sweet Partner in Crime...and some dark chocolate...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Support the arts in Dayton!

My "print persona" has run for the longest continuously in the Dayton City Paper, so I'd like to ask my readers in Mad River Country (and anyone else!) to consider making a small donation that might end up netting you some tasty vino.

Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company is currently having a wine-related fundraiser. Tickets are $20 apiece and 6 for $100. The winner of the raffle, drawn at the final performance of HRTC's new show, Five Course Love, will receive 30 bottles of wine selected by Arrow Wine, arguably Dayton's best wine store. The street value of this ready-made cellar is right around a grand, apparently -- so it's potentially a heck of a return.

Tickets can be purchased at Arrow Wine or by calling the HRTC at 937-461-3823.