Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Day In The Life

I was talking to the Sweet Partner in Crime over dinner this evening (bulgogi-style chicken, fish sauce-soaked cucumbers, kimchi, and a tasty Brancott Sauvignon Blanc if you're curious) and I was feeling a little down. I got nominated for the international Wine Blog Awards, and I wasn't named one of the five finalists. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed, especially after I looked at the finalists and figured I could write circles around a couple of them. I was gritting my teeth a little that people didn't recognize.

When I started this little wine blogging adventure of mine, I had no idea where it would lead. Sure, I had "Julie & Julia" fantasies that I've mentioned before -- that someone from the Food Network would stumble across the Naked Vine one day, be so impressed that they'd ask me to take my "sommelier for the common man" act on the road, and people would know my bald pate all over the place.

I think I do what I do pretty damned well. But every single writer I've ever known who's published publicly does as well. While there may be nothing new under the sun, every writer thinks that he or she has a unique take, even if it's a topic that's been covered a million times before. It's like the old guitar joke:

Q. How many lead guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. Four. One to screw in the bulb, and three to say, "I could do it better."

Anyway, there are now thousands of wine blogs on the Internets, and there are a fair number of good writers. Complicating matters, I'm a bit of a throwback. I'm not much on social media. Hell, I have an actual job, people...I'm at a loss as to how people have time to work, tweet 200 times a day, and harvest their Farmville crops. I'm more interested in getting in print than being a Twitter trending topic. I also lack the energy to play the grip and greet game, so I don't know too many of the "people who know people."

Leave it to the SPinC to give me some perspective. She looked me right in the face during the midst of my little rant and asked me, "Do you still enjoy doing this?" In a typical display of my brilliant repartee, I looked right back at her and said, "Huh?"

"Really, why are you doing this? Are you having fun, or is this just something that you're doing to try to get people to give your site hits?"

I've learned one thing over the last eight-plus years. When the lady's right, she's right.

Every now and again, it's really is a good thing to count your blessings. Ever since my conversation with Scott so many years ago, this little endeavor of mine has allowed me to meet some pretty damned cool people, exposed me to a body of knowledge and science that I didn't fully understand, got me the occasional wine sample, and is something I take pride in.

So yeah, I do have fun, especially when I get on opportunity like last weekend. D.E.P's Fine Wine and Spirits let me have the run of their tasting table for their weekend tastings. I decided to do a live version of my last column.

I had a great time talking with people about the wines and why I found them interesting. I used to worry that I sounded like a complete clod, and while I still may, at least I'm a semi-authoritative clod, and most people walked away from the table with a bottle or two in their hands and a smile on their face, so I must have been doing something right. Since I have that little victory under my belt, I give you, straight from the soundboard, my picks:

I poured a pinot grigio next to a pinot gris to illustrate the difference. I had the Kris 2008 Pinot Grigio from Italy ($13) and the King Estates 2008 Pinot Gris from Oregon. The Kris was light, crisp, and full of citrus. A great lawnmower wine. The King Estates was fuller, had some softer fruit and had a honey-ish sweetness. I found it an instructive contrast between the two styles of the same grape.

I'd picked out a pinot noir to go between the two contrasts, but K2 let me know that there wasn't enough of the one I'd picked, so he substituted the Underwood Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir instead. This was a super-light pinot. Some nice cherry flavors out of such a light body. Not as much smoke and depth as I'd usually like. I prefer my pinots a little bit heavier, but it was certainly drinkable. At $10, a pretty decent value.

The last two wines I did was the syrah/shiraz comparison. I had the Gordon Brothers 2005 Syrah ($17) set up next to the Torbreck "The Woodcutter" 2006 Shiraz. ($19) The Gordon Brothers is from Columbia Valley in Washington State. It took a little while to open up, but once it did...yum. A somewhat restrained syrah, there were layers of dark fruit, coffee, and chocolate. As I told more than one person, "Pour a glass of this and get some dark chocolate, have some of both, and just lay back and let it happen..." The Torbreck was a typical ballsy Aussie shiraz. Lots of fruit with enough backbone to keep it from being a mess. Lots of in your face flavors that pair well with anything on a grill.

Like most writers, I fall into the trap of taking myself too seriously -- but yes, this is still fun, especially because of all of you out there -- both those who I've met and those I haven't. Thanks to all of you who came by the tasting to visit, that regularly read me or who have stumbled over here for the first time. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate you letting me share this little experiment with you. You guys make my life better. Thank you.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guest Column – Wine & Dinner of the Month Club – May

It’s May, and spring is in the air. Summer is just around the corner and that can mean only one thing–it’s grillin’ time. This is the first wine and dinner of the month that used the grill and the results were excellent. We had a nice Asian grilled chicken, Thai inspired salad and a yummy desert, all washed down with a great wine.

Asian Sugar Snap Pea Appetizer

Grilled Asian Chicken

Green Salad with Mandarin Orange Slices and Peanuts

Banana Spring Rolls

2008 Maso Canali Pinot Grigio

I started preparing the meal by making the sugar snap pea appetizer. You can serve this hot, but I preferred to let it cool to room temperature, which allowed me to make it ahead of time and not be as rushed to get everything together at once. I served the peas as a side dish and coolness of the peas provided a nice contrast to the warm chicken. Another time saving step was to plate the salad greens ahead of time and put them in the refrigerator, ready for their final preparations.

Once I started the meal in earnest, preparation went pretty quickly. The chicken needed to marinate for about 15 minutes in a fairly simple sauce, so that was a perfect time to start cooking the jasmine rice over which the chicken would be served. But perfection is not my forte and I, unthinkingly, actually started the rice before preparing the marinade. So the rice sat in the pot a while, but it stayed warm and was none the worse for it. The lesson learned there was to give a little thought to timing.

After the chicken was done marinating I put them on the grill at high for six minutes per side, basting them with the left over marinade. I brought them into the house and Christine asked if they were done. I said, “Sure they are!” indignantly. Christine had suffered from food poisoning in college so she is a little paranoid about underdone chicken and convinced me to cut into one to check. Good thing she did because the thicker parts of the chicken breasts were just barely cooked. In my concern to avoid overcooking I had pulled them off too early. Properly chastised, I put the chicken back on the grill for two minutes more per side. This time they came off safely done and also moist and tender. The lessons learned here are to always check the chicken for doneness and listen to your wife when she is trying to keep you from giving both of you food poisoning.

I plated up the chicken over the rice with the sugar snap peas on the side. We opened the chilled wine and sat down to dinner.


Both the sugar snap peas and the chicken marinade had some ginger in them, but just enough to be flavorful without being overwhelming. The sugar snap peas also had a dusting of toasted sesame seeds which gave them a nice nutty flavor. The wine was crisp with flavors of citrus and maybe a little green apple, and was not overly dry. It had just enough residual sweetness to complement both the chicken and the side dish.

After the main course I prepared the salads by topping them with canned mandarin orange slices and peanuts to give them an Asian flair. The dressing was a simple soy ginger dressing from a bottle. The wine went very well with the salad.


After the salads we took a little break from the meal and I took some time to clean up the kitchen before starting the dessert. The dessert is very simple but provided a tense moment and then comic relief. The whole idea is to wrap bananas and brown sugar in spring roll wrappers and deep fry them. I have never used spring roll wrappers and when I opened the package they looked like floppy plastic discs. “Oh, well,” I thought, “they must work.” So I tried rolling one and it broke in several pieces. Stupidity being defined as doing the same thing over and expecting a different result, I was pretty stupid because I broke three more (as if by sheer strength of will I could make them work) before Christine got on the internet and looked up how to use them. The trick is to moisten them and then they become almost papery and sticky.

Having figured this out, I rolled up the bananas with the brown sugar and put them in hot oil to deep fry. I only left them in for about 15 seconds per side, but that was actually too long and burned them a little. I would recommend putting them in the oil for only a few seconds and rolling them around until they are cooked to a nice golden brown. I put them in bowls and after letting them cool a little added vanilla ice cream and a little whipped topping.


The brown sugar had caramelized inside the spring roll wrapper and that, combined with the soft banana and crispy outer coating made for a delicious ending to the meal. The only real problem was that the spring roll wrappers were a little too big for the banana pieces which created some thickness on the ends and made that part of the rolls a little chewy. If I had it to do again, I would trim the wrappers to reduce the size.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Naked Vine -- Live!

A special message for Vine readers in the Cincinnati metro area (and beyond if you want to make a road trip!) :

Come join me at D.E.P.'s Fine Wine (formerly Liquor Direct) in Covington and Ft. Thomas on Friday and Saturday, respectively. I'll be doing a live demonstration based on my last column -- I'll be demonstrating my take on the differences between Pinot Grigio & Pinot Gris and Syrah & Shiraz. I'll throw in a pinot noir for good measure.

No cost, either...Free is good! I'll be at the Covington store from 4-8 pm on Friday evening and at the Ft. Thomas location from 2-6 on Saturday afternoon. Come on by, say hello, and the tastes are on me. Well, at least the tastes are *by* me...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Flipside of Syrah -- Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris

I did a little background piece back in the Wine School days on the difference between syrah and shiraz. Which is to say, there isn't one. Same grape. What matters is terroir, vinification, and the whims of winemakers. You may remember the basic rule: "Syrah" is the grape's name in France, where it, along with Grenache, is the backbone of many Rhone reds. French Syrah tends to be deep and earthy. "Shiraz" is the name in Australia Those wines tend to be fruitier, bolder, and less tannic. The American tradition, such as it is, is usually to tag the wine with whichever "profile" the flavor more closely resembles.

Red wines aren't alone in this multiple monickering of single grapes. Look over on the other side of the wine store, and you'll see one of the more common dual named wines -- Pinot Grigio & Pinot Gris. Now yes, I realize it's just a language difference between Italian and French -- but there's a similar process at work.

A quick aside: Pinot Gris is a "cousin" varietal to Pinot Noir. "Pinot" is French for "pine tree," which is the general shape of the tiny-berried clusters of grapes. The difference in their names stems from the color of the fruit. One is dark ("noir" is French for "black"), the other is more grayish ("gris" and "grigio" are Italian & French for "grey").

There's actually a third grape in the family, pinot blanc, but it's not grown very widely. If you see a wine labeled "pinot blanc," it can be made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir fermented as a white, Auxerrois Blanc, or any blend of the four.

Anyhoo, I digress...back to pinot gris and pinot grigio. Both wines' styles are light, usually citrusy, and quite easy to drink. So easy, in fact, some of them are so light that some of the more inexpensive of either give you the experience drinking flavored, slightly alcoholic water. In general, this wine is made to be drunk young -- usually within a couple of years of bottling. The varietal has been tagged with this "don't think, just drink and work on your tan" image for quite some time. Thankfully, any number of winemakers now treat these grapes with a little more care, and versions worth taking seriously are readily available.

I can already hear you asking, "Other than the language of the grape's name, is there any real difference between the two?" The answer is yes. Italian Pinot Grigio tends to be light, have a distinct citrus character, and be very crisp. French Pinot Gris usually has a more floral nose, more mineral flavors, and usually a little more fruit and honey on the body. Versions from the rest of the world tend to follow the naming convention of the region that the flavor most resembles. For instance:

Start with Italian pinot grigio. Much of Italy's pinot grigio is grown in the Veneto, the area around Venice. I tried the Zenato 2008 Pinot Grigio della Venezie ($13) as one example. The nose is pleasantly light and peachy. It's not in the least bit watery, and certainly has some weight, with a little bit of a sugary undertone. This gets followed by more peachy flavors with an edge that tastes a little like orange peel. The finish starts soft, but eventually becomes tart, crisp, and dry.

Along those lines, if you look at an American version, you'll see many of the same characteristics. The Estancia 2008 Pinot Grigio is from California. Like its Italian counterpart, it's a citrusy, high-acid wine. Even so, it's a slightly fuller wine than the Zenato, although neither wine could be considered "heavy." Otherwise, there's a very similar flavor profile to the Italian, plus a little extra lemon on the finish.

The hub of French pinot gris production is Alsace. Alsace is famous for its dry, minerally Rieslings and Gewurztraminers. It seems like what little residual sugar is left in the country ends up in the pinot gris. These wines give you a "fuller" experience and can usually be aged a little longer than their Italian counterparts. These wines tend to be somewhat richer and more floral.

For instance, the Lucien Albrecht 2006 Cuvee Romanus Pinot Gris ($16). The nose is really "blossomy" and quite pretty. It has almost a metallic quality when initially poured, but that flavor dissipates quickly when it's had some time to breathe or been given a good swirl. What's left is a full fruity flavor. Pears and sweet apples dominate, rather than the strong citrus of the Italian versions. It still finishes reasonably crisply.

On the American side, I tried the Acrobat 2008 Oregon Pinot Gris ($12). I found a lot of the same characteristics here -- a floral nose, and a fuller body. While it is somewhat acidic, there's a lot more creaminess to this wine that you'd expect. Very nice structure and balance.

I'd really suggest that you do a pinot gris/pinot grigio side-by-side tasting, especially with summer just around the corner. Find out what you like best before the heat sets in! Also, as far as food pairings, trust the "home" regions. Pinot grigio will go well with anything light and traditionally Italian. We tried it with broiled rosemary shrimp, and it was scrumptious. As for pinot gris, it goes nicely with most of the things you'd think of with dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminers. It was very tasty with chicken and chickpea curry.