Saturday, December 27, 2008

Help Kentucky join the modern era

Speaking of wine and law, I saw this article in the Enquirer today. Some grocery stores in Kentucky are starting a petition drive to allow wine sales in supermarkets.

Non-Bluegrass readers probably read the above sentence and went, "Huh?" Yes, what you read is correct. It is currently illegal in the state of Kentucky for a grocery store to sell wine. You'll usually see a liquor store, often owned by the grocery, next door -- but the law requires a separate storefront and separate transactions.

Kentucky's a pretty bass-ackwards state when it comes to alcohol sales. Of Kentucky's 120 counties, only 30 are truly "wet," meaning that alcohol sales are permitted. 52 are truly dry, meaning no alcohol sales at all. The rest have some weird combination of regulations usually around restaurants and golf courses. (I remember my uncle Alan's reaction when he learned about dry counties at my sister's wedding a couple of years ago. Alan is from NYC. I think the shock still hasn't worn off...)

Needless to say, this setup is patently ridiculous. According to the article, "Liquor store operators and legislators, opposed to expanding the sale of alcohol, are against the bill." The former probably fear a drop in their business, but I would guess the impact would be negligible. The latter are likely the same legislators who demand creationism side by side with evolution and who require the state Homeland Security office to credit God with keeping the state safe.

Anyway, there's an online petition to support changing the law so that you can do your food and wine shopping together. There's also a Facebook group if you're into that sort of thing. Take a couple of seconds and sign the petition if you can.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

A little Christmas cheer...

...from the Federal Appeals Court in Cincinnati. They ruled yesterday that the state of Kentucky must allow wine shipments into the state if an individual makes a purchase, even if that purchase is over the phone or online.

More "activist judges" like this, please!

(h/t Vine Reader Steve G.)

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Best Meal of the Day -- Brunch wines

Breakfast is "the most important meal of the day." Lunch is all too often fast food or something you scarf while you're plowing through the workday, since America hasn't adopted the tremendously civilized siesta. Everyone puts their focus on creating tasty dinners. I'd venture that upwards of 90% of wine pairings, tastings, et al focus on dinner.

But what about brunch?

Brunch is decadence. It's the "No alarm. I slept in today." meal. It's flexible -- go light or heavy, healthy or greasy. It's my most mood-dependent meal. At what other time will you see a Reuben, poached eggs, breakfast sausage (or goetta for the locals), fresh fruit and a panini happily coexisting on the same table? A good brunch means you've had a good time the night before -- either in a big group (which often means nursing a hangover along with your V-8) or with one other lucky person so that, come late morning, you're gazing moonily across steaming lattes.

Of course, if you're going to be truly decadent, you need wine. [I know, I know -- there are some of you out there saying "Beer. It isn't just for breakfast anymore," but let's move past shotgunning a Schaefer's to get ourselves going on a morning after.]

If you're thinking of wines to go with brunchiful goodness, keep it simple. Sure, you could put a lot of thought into finding the perfect wine, but just like with Thanksgiving, you're probably not going to have much success. Honestly, who has that kind of mental energy in the morning?

So, easy enough...Sparkling wine. You can't miss. No one's going to care. Most people's palates wake up more slowly than they do, so give them something that's basically going to cut through the clutter of foods and just plain ol' taste good.

If you're out and about and you want to impress a group without breaking the bank, order a bottle of Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine ($15). While it may sound like a French bottle, it's actually produced in New Mexico and, for my money, is as interesting as almost any sparkler out there. The reason, I suspect, is that it's made in the traditional French method, called "Methode Champenoise." (If you want to know more about that, I wrote about it once before.) The result is a very crisp, balanced sparkling wine that pairs with almost anything -- but dry sparkling wine really shines when you've got something that's a little bit (or a lot) fatty. So, if you need a plate of hash browns to go with that throbbing headache and queasy stomach, this will be the perfect hair of the dog.

For those of you who aren't big fans of dry wines, you're not out of luck. One of the best brunch wines out there is on the sweeter side -- Moscato d'Asti. Moscato d'Asti is, in general, a sweet, fruity, lightly carbonated wine. "Asti" refers to the Italian locale where the wine is made.Also, these wines are traditionally only between 5-6% alcohol, so if you're looking for something you can drink without catching too much of a morning buzz, this type of wine is a perfect choice. These wines generally have a lot of peach and pear flavors, and are quite refreshing. The nicest thing about them is that they're generally rather uniform in quality, so the majority are going to be decent, and usually around $8-10. The best I've tried is the Tintero 2007 Moscato d'Asti. (Many thanks to the Liquor Direct crew for turning me on to this one.) While it shares many of the same characteristics, for a couple of extra dollars, I thought its flavors were more defined and more interesting. See what you think.

Finally, there's the "champagne cocktail." Way back in January, I wrote about toasting in the new year with cava, and then saving the bulk of the bottle for morning mimosas. Now, honestly, if you're just mixing together some store bought OJ and some leftover bubbly, you don't have to be too choosy. That said, if you're doing this right, and you've got some fresh squeezed on hand, I'd prefer to use some relatively decent wine as a mixer. I've also discovered that "extra dry" sparkling wines make better mixers, largely because they have a little bit of residual sugar. I started the year with Freixenet and I'll finish the same way. I stand by Freixenet Extra Dry Cordon Negro Cava ($10) for any of your mimosa-making needs. It would also work well with kir (which is sparkling wine with crème de cassis) or bellini (sparkling wine with peach puree).

And, with that, The Vine closes the book on 2008. Your humble reviewer is going to take a couple of weeks off to let his liver recover, and I'll be back with more fun in the new year. Thanks to all of you out there for sticking by me in this little venture. You guys are my motivation, and I appreciate all the good vibes.

Have a great holiday season, travel safely, enjoy the parties, and may the new year bring you health, happiness, and wonder.

Later days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Green Wine

No, no -- not another verse-filled vinho verde's the environment, silly!

I enjoy being greener. Call it "Gore's example" or clean living, or just plain old smart, but I like it. I like looking for everyday ways to trim a little here and there from the ol' carbon footprint. I do what I can. I try to keep the house energy-efficient. I drive less. I recycle more. I try to buy local when I can. I've got a composter (code name: "The Muffin Machine") humming silently, happily away in the backyard.

But what about my other habits? Am I as green as I can be when it comes to this little literary enterprise of mine? Thankfully, wine and winemaking contribute nicely to the "green experience." Winemaking is an exacting process. Vinifera grapes (WineSpeak for "the major grape varietals in wine") tend to be finicky critters, so companies that use huge, soulless mass-production methods, lots of pesticides, automated harvesting, and the like -- the grapes don't respond well and what ends up in the bottle is generally an inferior product.

"Organic" is nothing new in the wine world, nor are environmentally friendly agricultural practice. Regardless of the price of a wine, the care taken as the grapes move from bud to bottle almost always shows through in what winds up in the glass. There's much more to conservation than just being organic, so here are a few bottles I've tried (and recycled) lately that contain a "green tint"

I discovered X Winery 2006 "X3" Cabernet Sauvignon one day at the wine store when I was looking for a cabernet with a Stelvin screwtop, largely because, honestly, I wanted a wine I wouldn't have to fool with all that much when I was ready to drink it. Yes, there are some days I'm too lazy to pick up a corkscrew. This winery is focused on using new technologies, environmentally friendly production techniques, and the growers that they work with are committed to sustainable agriculture -- meaning that they try to do as little harm as possible to the ecosystem while farming. What I didn't realize was that I found a very, very good wine to boot. This wine is their second-line cabernet at around $15. This cab has a big nose of vanilla and blackberries. The body is well-balanced with some smoke and chocolate flavors. Paired with chocolate, you've got a big winner.

Seeing a display for the Yellow Jersey 2007 Pinot Noir surprised me. At first, I thought it was simply a bunch of half-liter bottles with bright yellow labels. I was wrong. The bottles were a full 750 ml, and they were made entirely of plastic. It makes sense that a plastic bottle would be smaller -- they're not going to be as thick as a glass one. The wine itself? Well, it wasn't bad for a $10 pinot. I certainly didn't taste anything significantly different from a glass-container wine. This was honestly a relatively nondescript pinot, meaning that it wouldn't get in the way of most foods, and it wasn't a bad quaff if you just wanted a glass of something without thinking too much. Now. where this wine would come in very handy is any picnic, hike, or somewhere that you'd have to pack it in and out. The bottle itself is 90% lighter than glass, shatterproof, and, of course, recyclable. When the weather's nice, a bottle of this with a cheese and meat board somewhere outside would be delightful. Just make sure that you clean up when you're done.

One of my favorite couplings of environmental improvement and wine quality is box wine. As I've written before, the days of Vella and Franzia are thankfully coming to a close. Companies are starting to package more and better qualities of wine in boxes. Although, as I think about it -- I don't know how much of the box itself can be recycled. The cardboard of the box is obviously recyclable -- but the spigot and the Tetra Pak plastic inside the box...I'm not sure. I did some research and couldn't find anything definitive.

Regardless of the specific container, a single box of wine is a more efficient transport than the four glass (or plastic) bottles of the same amount. The Chateau de Pena 2005 Cuvee de Pena is one of the more interesting wines in a box I've had. This blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre from a cooperative in Roussillon bills itself as "the world's friendliest red wine." I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but it's definitely an affable companion which will nuzzle up to any number of recipes. It's the earthiest box wine I've had. There's even a little bit of that Old World funk on the nose. The finish is dry and a little earthy. I'd call it a "Cotes-du-Rhone Lite" and be happy. A bottle's around $8, but the 3 liter box, my purchase of choice, is around $25.

On an interesting side note, I recently met the parents of Christine the Pie Queen. Her father is a former engineer at Dow who worked on the technology that eventually led to bag-in-a-box wine. He said that the bags are usually several layers of plastic laminate thick. Each layer does something specific, whether preventing oxygen from getting in, esters (those yummy smell molecules) out, protection from pollutants, etc. The innermost is the most important, because it's the one that would impart (or, rather, not impart) flavor to the wine. Hearing the process by which these things are made was nothing less than fascinating.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"econnoisseurs" unite!

Via vine reader John C. -- today's Urban Dictionary word of the day:


One who insists on the highest quality at the lowest price.

Being an econnoisseur I bought the ten dollar chilean wine instead of the fifty dollar french.

Guilty as charged!

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Welcome to the most exhausting time of the year.

Thanksgiving travel gives way to familial dinner table stress. Black Friday comes, with its yearly dose of lines, crowds, stampedes and shootings. Blood pressures rise. Tension mounts. TV, radio, email, Twitter, Christmas music on all stations, bad weather, road rage. The long stretch of holiday parties, shopping, budgetary woes, seasonal affective disorder, all screeching towards the end-of-month holidays and...finally...New Year's, after which everyone is too hung over to be stressed.


I'm tired just thinking about it all.

In our rare moments of downtime, calm is not something that we as Americans either value or savor. There's always something in the inbox, waiting on the DVR, or around any corner. Here at the Naked Vine, I'm proposing the Minute of Calm. At least once a day, every day, between now and the end of the year, I'm going to try to stop for sixty seconds and quietly reflect on...nothing.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Try it. See if you can be still for one minute.

Don't worry about me. I'll wait.

[tick...tick...tick...15 seconds...20...30...]

Couldn't do it, could you? Don't worry. Neither could least not at first. I need at least something to distract that nervous little voice in my head. I needed an assist.

Of course, I went for the easy way out...a glass of wine. Something I could pour, sit back, and savor while I let my mind go dark. This site being an egalitarian place, I wanted to give you some options. For me, it's all about the time of day:

The Just-Home-From-Work Glass: Stepping over the threshold after my evening commute, drop the lunch bag on the counter, play with the pups, change into some sweats, reach for a glass and pour myself a dollop to pause and refresh. I generally want something a little crisp if this is going to be the Minute. Ecker 2007 Grüner Veltliner is a recent find that fits the bill. "Grapefruit and rocks" was my first thought after tasting this high-acid, cool white. It's fragrant for a Veltliner, and the flavors cut right through whatever stress might manifest on your tongue, both giving you a little jolt of energy and allowing you to sit back and unwind. Best of all, it comes in a 1 liter bottle, so you get a little extra for your $10.

The Relaxing Evening Glass: Sitting in a comfy chair or laid out on the sofa, a glass to exhale fully and then breathe in the bouquet. Something lovely and supple, like...say...a pinot noir. In this case, Bearboat 2006 Pinot Noir. One of the prettier wines I've had the opportunity to sniff in quite some time, the cherry/vanilla/smoke triumvirate of a good California pinot is in full effect here. First on the nose, and strongly on the tongue, the full fruitiness of this wine quickly slides into a smoky, sinuous middle and a long, lasting finish. Absolutely a delicious wine over which to sit and ponder the meaning of life. (And you could even invite a friend along if you felt social) Now, I'll be honest -- you may have a hard time finding this one for $15. I found it on sale, and after all -- you deserve it. Splurge if you gotta.

The Nightcap: Perhaps you're not going to get to spool down until just before you head for bed. One of the evening rituals around here is a piece of chocolate or a two-bite brownie with a glass of wine. That combination sends anyone into a deliciously contemplative mood, in my opinion. So, as winter's grip starts to tighten, get those port glasses out and pour yourself a dram or three of port to go with some chocolate. For this, I chose Graham's "Six Grapes" Reserve Port. A big, robust port, full of plums and cherries -- and a bouquet of fruit and pipe tobacco. (I kid you not.) A 375ml can be had for around $15. Well worth the price.

Don't let the holiday season overwhelm you. Focus on the peace and the calm wherever you may find it. Who knows? The Minute of Calm may last beyond New Year's. That may well be my New Year's resolution.