Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Raleigh Wine Shop -- well-deserved kudos

My friend James Voltz owns the Raleigh Wine Shop -- a wonderful store in NC which any of my friends in the Triangle area should get to know. James a certified sommelier -- and trust me, if you're looking for a transcendent wine experience, let his conscience (and his incredible palate) be your guide.

The RWS was just named one of the Top 50 Wine Education programs in the country by Wine Enthusiast. James has maintained a strong business in these recent days, partly through his commitment to an educational mission for oenophiles. What makes the RWS special, though -- James is an epidemiologist by training. He's set up his house rules, deliveries, staffing, tasting, and guidance with COVID prevention protocols strictly in place. And guess what? Turns out people want to be safe while  they're getting their wine!

Check out the Raleigh Wine Shop at https://www.theraleighwineshop.com -- and if you stop in, tell 'em The Naked Vine sent you!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Proof of Life -- And a Big Box of Rosé

Hello, friends. It’s been awhile.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to restart here, so I’m just going to ramble for a bit.

I intended to have a lot to say this year – was going to revamp things a bit and try to reboot the ol’ blog – but I started a new job at Penn State in October, which drew a lot of my energy, as did the day to day grind of surviving the reign of Der Gropenf?hrer.

2020 rolled around. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I decided to try to reset our respective livers. We more or less successfully completed a Dry January. Admittedly, we cheated a couple of times for special occasions (hey, Holly!) – but we managed to keep to the spirit of things.

Honestly, Dry January wasn’t as tough as I feared…at least for the first two weeks. We whipped up a supply of mocktails that kept us going, but I’ll tell you – the last week or so, until we staggered soberly across the finish line, were a real slog, because there were just some times that a glass of wine would have been perfect. We made it.

I lost some weight. I gained it back. I lost more. I weigh the same now as I did when I was half my current age. I started meditating regularly, which has been revelatory. Charlie and Rosie are still wonderful pups. The Sweet Partner in Crime was named a Fellow by the leading national organization in her field.

Then came COVID.

We went into our homes and, by all indications, started drinking our collective faces off.

Well, except here in Pennsylvania. Because of the crazy liquor laws – beer stores stayed open, but wine & liquor stores were all shuttered. Wine started getting in short supply around these parts. The grocery stores ran out quickly.

Thank goodness for our friends who drive the delivery trucks. Scott, our UPS guy, has been a godsend. Pennsylvania is a much easier place to ship to than our former address.

Which brings us to the actual wine content you’ve come here for, right?

As we were getting hard up for any kind of juice, particularly rosé -- I decided to venture onto Groupon and pull the trigger on a deal I saw for an inexpensive 15 bottle case. I’m happy to report that my experience with Splash Wines was highly positive. My order came with three bottles each of a selection of five rosé:

  • Midnight Black Rose (Italy -- Trentino)
  • “Rosé All Day” Beaujolais Rosé (France – Beaujolais)
  • Maison Williams Chase Rosé (France – Provence)
  • Domaine Jacourette Rosé (France – Provence)
  • Mazzei Belguardo Rosé (Italy – Tuscany)

Ah...good to have you back at the homestead...

Seeing a raft of Italian and French pinkness looking back at me from the box filled me with hope. My major worry when I ordered this grab bag was that these inexpensive wines wouldn’t really be “rosé-ish” – meaning that they’d be overly fruity, slightly sweet, and somewhat heavier in body.

Not the case here at all. I’m not going to do detailed tasting notes on these selections. All of them are fine. Do any of them have flavors that leap from the glass to choirs of angels and transcendent goodness? Of course not. But are they, as a whole, light and crisp with enough flavor to be interesting, perfect for sipping while contemplating (or trying to avoid contemplating) both the excitement of a real social change in this country and the terror of the inevitable pain that will follow as the dying mule of racism kicks back hard? You betcha.

We’ve tried all five of these by now in various contexts. They’re perfectly food-friendly, pull and pop wines that aren’t just plonk. After shipping, the price was about $5/per bottle. At that price point, who’s to complain?

My friends, we’re a long way from the end of our various national turmoils. The levels of dumbassery we keep seeing are only going to increase as people demand that lockdown be lifted so other people can be forced to wait on them. Political ideology is no match for epidemiology, so no matter where you are – be safe, listen to and embrace the experiences of people who don’t look like you, and wear your damned masks.

And, of course, vote against anyone running for office, incumbent or challenger, who won’t do those things. Because not to put too fine a point on it -- they don’t care if you die.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

One More One-Hitter: End of Year Barrel Bomb

I guess I wasn't completely accurate -- there is one more Naked Vine left in me for 2019.

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I recently returned from a whirlwind holiday trip to visit various family and friends. We started with my fam in Eastern Kentucky, then made our way back to our until-recent home Newport to spend some time with friends, and concluded our jaunt in Dayton to see the SPinC's family.

Thanks to a new Yeti cooler, we were able to pack along holiday meals for both families, including some truly decadent ice cream from the Berkey Creamery and a holiday ham from the Meats Lab at Penn State.

We arrived in Dayton on Christmas Day, only to discover that Pam's brother-in-law, Dapper Donnie, had been hit hard by the flu and spent Christmas Eve in the hospital. Alas, he wasn't able to join us in our holiday feed -- so we sent him a hammy care package. Donnie did send us a gift, though -- a bottle of wine that goes right along with the bourbon-barrel theme we've had running through the site's electrons this year: Barrel Bomb 2017 Red Blend.

Barrel Bomb has a similar origin to some of the 1000 Stories wines I've covered recently. The wine's made from a blend of red grapes sourced from Lodi, California. I'm not sure what the exact blend is, but figure that Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon figure heavily. The wine comes in a stubby bottle with a replaceable cork -- which might make it easy to lose among the bourbons in your liquor cabinet.

Let's start with the truth-in-advertising bit. "Bomb" is an accurate descriptor for this wine. Any wine backboned with Zinfandel has the potential to wind up as higher potency, but the trend over the last decade has been towards more restraint in alcohol content. By contrast, the folks at Barrel Bomb decided to party like it's 2010 all over again. This wine clocks in at a muscular 16.5% ABV.

The winemakers, however, throttled back on the fruit-foward nature of these grapes. The flavor is actually somewhat restrained, if you can believe it. Perhaps the 12 months that the wine spends in oak, with the last 90 days in bourbon casks, mellows it out. The nose is big and fruity, with vanilla riding the back of blueberry and cherry. The body's not subtle -- big fruit, licorice, and smoke over a pretty considerable tannic base that hold on through a powerful but balanced finish.

In my mind, I think this might end up a better end-of-night sipper than a real dinner pairing. There's a little "portishness"  here, so I tried it with some really nice brie that we got as a gift from Lady Vertu, and it worked well -- although I'd probably go with even a bigger cheese, like a Stilton. Chocolate is also an obvious accompaniment.

All in all, if you're looking for something to sip on during these colder months -- you might give this a try. Also, if you're giving any more gifts, the aesthetic of the bottle itself is interesting.

Barrel Bomb retails for $16-18. They also make a straight Cabernet Sauvignon, which I haven't tried yet.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Ho! Ho! Ho! -- Go Fo' Merlot!

If you’re a wine drinker of a certain age (say basically anywhere in Gen X), odds are decent that one of your first experiences with “grownup” wine was with Merlot, which exploded in popularity in the early 90’s, briefly eclipsing Cabernet Sauvignon in domestic demand.

Why wouldn’t it? Merlot is a wonderful grape. The flavor is very approachable – and it responds well to whatever a winemaker wants to do. Merlot can be a plummy fruit bomb or a subtle, graphite-infused glass of sensuality. Merlot’s the backbone of probably 80% of the Bordeaux you’ve had in your life, and it plays very well with other grapes in blends. Among red grapes, it’s arguably the most flexible primary varietal.

But then came 2004 and “I’m not drinking any fucking merlot.” The Sideways Slump is real, and it’s the opposite of spectacular. The damage dear Miles did to this poor grape goes beyond the immediate drop in demand. When Merlot disappeared from many a wines-by-the-glass menu, not only did my g-g-g-generation stop drinking the stuff, but Millennials were left to their own devices for a starter wine – and they decided, “Nah. Not for me” before making poor choices underneath a handle of Fireball.

So now, practically no one knows Merlot. I don’t know when the last time was that I heard someone order a glass or bottle of the stuff. I think that’s due for a change.

If you’re with me on this little challenge, one place I might recommend starting is in the South American aisle of your wine store, specifically the Chilean section. Chile cranks out a great quantity of the stuff, and a lot of it is high quality. And until Commander Smallgloves decides to levy tariffs on everything worthwhile that comes over our borders, the stuff’s pretty reasonably priced. If you’re willing to stretch a little bit on price, there are some simply superb bottles out there to be had.

One recent example I had the chance to try is the Marques de Casa Concha 2015 Merlot from the Maule region in central Chile. This wine, sold under the Concha y Toro label, was a $25 container of real deliciousness.

I thought there was a lovely bouquet on this. To me, it smells of plums and cherry pie. There’s a really nice fullness on the body, along with flavors of more red fruit and blackberries alongside a solid smoky tannin. The finish has real staying power as some initial tartness drops down into chocolate and smoke at the end. There’s a real “roundness” to the whole experience and I thought it was a damned sexy wine.

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I had it with a West African stew we made which included chicken, sweet potatoes, and collard greens, all seasoned with peanuts and peanut butter. I know, it sounds like a weird pairing, but it absolutely worked, much to my surprise. Texture on texture. The stew had a smooth round flavor as well – and the wine’s fruit played off the peanutty richness. And needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), it was divine with some chocolate at the end of the day.

This will be the last post of 2019, more than likely. Thanks to all of you for continuing to hang in with me through all the changes of the last few years. Looking forward to a wonderful 2020. Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter -- One More Story from 1000 Stories

The Sweet Partner in Crime was traveling right before Thanksgiving. She was scheduled to fly back to our house in the woods late afternoon of the holiday, so we weren’t going to be whipping up our usual nontraditional Turkey Day feed.

Instead, to celebrate the SPinC’s return, I tried my hand at dry-aging steaks at home. As her flight headed for home, into the sous vide bath went these ribeyes. They turned out wonderfully – full of incredibly rich flavors – but I was glad that we had a spare fridge to “age” the steaks in. The process is not without a distinct odor. Had these steaks alongside some roasted brussel sprouts and mushrooms, which just makes for a good meal.

Anyway, the day before, I got a visit from the wine fairy, courtesy of the good folks at Colangelo after the publication of my 1000 Stories wine piece – 1000 Stories 2016 “Batch Blue” Carignan.

As you remember, 1000 Stories does some of the barrel aging of their wines in old bourbon barrels, which imparts some smoke and vanilla to the wine profile. They’re known for your typical California varietals like Zinfandel and Cabernet, as well as blends.

But Carignan? That I didn’t see coming.

Carignan is an interesting choice for a single varietal wine, largely because it’s rarely used for such a purpose outside of the Languedoc region of France and particular regions of Spain. The most common use for Carignan is as a blending grape. Here in the U.S., Carignan is grown largely in the Central Coast regions of California. The most prevalent use for the varietal domestically is – no kidding – jug wine. As such, I was curious to see what this wine, designed by 1000 Stories’ winemaker Bob Blue and his son, had to share.

So, let’s get the immediate out of the way first – this bottle is most assuredly not plonky jug juice. The grapes are sourced from a couple of plots in Mendocino County, which boasts a cooler climate than the Central Coast, so my expectation was for less in-your-face fruit and a little more subtlety and balance. My expectations were correct.

While pretty straightforward, I thought it was a much “rounder” experience than the other 1000 Stories wines I’d tried. The nose struck a decent balance of vanilla and cherry, with a little bit of a smoky note – all of which were echoed on the body, along with some blackberries and dark chocolate. There’s a toasty undertone to it all, but the smoky flavors were much more subdued than in their other wines. The finish was softly fruity, smoky, and altogether pleasant. Even though the SPinC is still shying away from bigger wines, she was able to enjoy this one.

Since the timing of this bottle was so fortuitous, we cracked it with our dry-aged dinner. To be honest, it worked well. I thought this wine was nicely balanced alongside the deep flavors of the steak. There was enough tannin in the mix to keep it interesting, and the fruit held up against the range of flavors.

I certainly enjoyed this wine as much as the other 1000 Stories offerings – and in certain contexts, would probably be my top choice amidst their selections. Like the other wines in this particular portfolio, you’ll find it from $18-20.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Sis!