Yes, your mouth should be watering right now, but not for food...
What would you say if I told you that I was about to write a whole post about Pi...Like, math pi. You know, 3.1415926535897932384626433...You get the idea. Sounds exciting right?! I love math! ...Said very few people ever.
Don't worry, I wouldn't subject anyone to that, or not in the way you may be thinking. We are going to talk about Pi, but this is one variation I think everyone can get behind. This is a Spanish wine that you'll definitely want sitting in your wine rack...Or better yet, your glass! So put away your protractors and TI-83 graphing calculators, and put on your drinking pants, things are about to get fun!
So why am I so excited about this wine? Well because it tells a story, and we all know how I feel about stories! Also, it's just delicious, duh.
This wine is made 100% from a little grape called a "Concejón" (Con-See-Oh-N) but is also sometimes referred to as "Moristel" (More-Is-Tell). I think Concejón sounds more exotic though, so we're sticking with that.
The fist time I picked up this wine I did it for the same reason most of us pick up a new wine, it had an awesome label! Don't judge me, you know you do it too, and you know what? That's totally ok! How else are we going to discover the hidden gems if we don't pick up a few pretty rocks first?
So Why The Name Pi?
This wine comes from a region in North Eastern Spain called Aragon. Our exotic grape is a super finicky one that really, when it comes down to it, is just a pain in the butt to grow. Over the years there have been efforts to plant Concejón in various places, but the only one that has had any real success is a tiny little vineyard in Aragon. Essentially all of the Concejón for the world is grown in this one place that is 3.14 Hectares...For those of us (read: pretty much everyone) who don't know what the heck a hectare is, it's a unit of measure about equal to just over two acres.
So there you have it, 3.14...Pi. Not that exciting, but interesting I guess. Where I get excited is where the similarities run deeper. This is a wine that, much like our old friend Pi, is complex, intricate, precise, and yet infinitely tricky to master.
Do you remember those old 'Choose your own adventure' books? Well, if they had a version for adults that was a wine, it would be this.
The first thing to note is the deep, rich, inky color. It's a color that just screams of mystery and intrigue; of strangers in the night, and sultry glances exchanged across hazy clubs in the 1940's as a trumpet trickles out a lonely tune, and dames and fellas are ringed by the unfiltered smoke of their cigarettes in the dimly lit alley outside. All that and you haven't even tasted it yet!
Ok, so we've got the color down, let's move on to the nose, raise that glass and draw it in...Right about now your senses should be easing back into a large, leather wingback chair. You should be getting hints of dark fruits, tobacco, leather, and a little woodiness, reminiscent of the rich mahogany that surrounds your mind's eye.
This wine is the quintessential old study, with a bar in the globe, old books lining the walls, and the glint of the firelight reflecting faintly in the brass features that punctuate the room.
Now, let's drink! This is really where you have to make a choice of what sort of night you're going to have. Do you want to start the evening with more of a Bonnie and Clyde feel? Or perhaps you're in more of a Casablanca mood? Well the great thing about this wine is that you can choose! Eventually, it'll all end up Casablanca, but how you get there is up to you. Confused yet? Good. I've done my job. So what do gangsters and lovers have to do with how this wine tastes?
If you were to just do the ole' Pop N' Pour with this wine you'll be getting yourself into more of a Bonnie and Clyde situation. It's big, bold, intense, and has a will that won't be tamed. Dark fruit flavors such as black current, plum, and spiced black cherry will bombard you like a runaway bank robbery shootout. From there you'll experience a dry, tannic, spicy finish, riddled with white pepper like Bonnie and Clyde's car at the end...Ok, I'm probably trying too hard with this analogy but you get the idea. It's awesome, but not for the faint of heart.
If you're looking for a wine that screams of romance and a long kiss on an airplane runway, then simply let it breath.
That's just a fancy-schmancy way of saying open it up and walk away for a bit. Let it sit open while you cook dinner for two (or one, that's how I roll most nights.) Or, alternatively, if you don't want to wait, you can go out and buy an aerator. This is basically a contraption that simulates the wine sitting open for a while, don't worry, I'll do a post on all that. But basically letting the wine be exposed to air takes out the harshness and leaves the really good flavors. This particular wine will probably need about 20 minutes or so, longer if you can spare it, of just sitting open,, to start opening up the flavors.
The big difference you'll notice is that, while you still get those bold, intense dark fruits, they will have taken on more of a soft quality. Rather than ravenously devouring them, you will feel like they are being fed to you sweetly, as you lounge on pillows, Greek style. The once, 'punch you in the face finish,' will turn to a soft velvet of supple flavors slipping gently across your tongue.
This truly becomes a decadent wine as complex, and intricate as the number for which it's named. You'll want to go back and try it again and again, just to relive the magic and mystery!
Today we're talking about Hereford Bonarda out of Argentina! So naturally it would make sense to talk about cows right...? No? That doesn't make sense to you? Oh. Well then...I guess we won't spend much time on that. Basically the name "Hereford" refers to a specific type of Beef Cow that originated in Herefordshire, England way back in the day and now Argentina has them as well. So...Yeah, there's a cow on the label.
So now that we have the important stuff like the cow on the label out of the way, we can really dig into the meat of this...eh...meat...cow? I'm sorry, it's early and coffee hasn't kicked in yet.
The grape is actually a little deceptive here, and it threw me off until I did a some digging. In Argentina the grape is called "Bonarda" (Bone-Are-Duh) which is the same name given to a few variations over in Italy. HOWEVER, it is actually NOT the same grape at all! In an M. Night Shyamalan-ian plot twist this is actually a grape that originated in Savoie, France called Douce Noir (Doose New-Are). Didn't see that one coming did you? In keeping with the theme of surprises, it's also the number two most planted grape in Argentina, right behind Malbec, and for good reason; it's freaking delicious!
This is another one of those wines that you just keep around the house, for those nights where you just want to have a great wine, but not have to think about it. It's a "Tuesday night in sweatpants" kind of wine as I like to say. It's a "all my wine glasses are dirty but I have this juice glass...Wine is juice right?!" Kind of wine.
I think about it like this: I'm very much an introvert, and I crave my alone time. I love my job, I really do, I love everything about it, but it wears me the [GROWNUP WORD] out sometimes. There are days where I come home and all I want is to make a pillow fort with snacks, my dog, and Netflix inside and not leave for a week. However, there are days, when I'm holed up in my fort of comfort and solitude, where I just want people near me. I don't want to talk to them, or interact, but I want them near me. You know what I'm talking about; that friend who can come over and you both play games on your phone, or watch a movie, or they take a nap or something, and hours go by without you all saying a word, and at the end of it you clap each other on the back and say, "Thanks for coming over, I had a great time!" And you genuinely mean it. That, to me, is Hereford Bonarda.
It's a friend for all occasions really. You want to grill out? Hereford is down. Canoeing and camping? Just let me grab some paper cups, because Hereford is down for that too! Quiet evening in watching Top Gun? Let's just say Hereford will be...Inverted.
Ok, this Hereford friend sounds great, but what are they actually like, besides awesome? Well it's a lighter style red wine. It has no oak aging, but was finished in stainless steel. I will probably do a post sometime about what effect the different materials have on aging a wine, but for now just know that aging it in stainless provides a fresh, bright, clean type finish.
The color is a vibrant shade of Ruby, think liquid Wizard Of Oz slippers. Right away on the palette you get intense cherry, and a little bit of five spice. It has a very fragrant nose that I can only describe as intriguing and luscious. Subtle hints of spice and floral notes will dance through your nostrils. It has very low tannins and higher acidity so it's a very drinkable wine on it's own, but goes great with just about any food. It's light enough that you could put a slight chill on it (not cold, but just below room temp) and have it with fresh fruit and cheeses, but there is enough body and flavor that it could pair just as easily with pork, or even burgers or steak. It has enough fruit to combat spicy foods like Thai or Indian, but not enough that it would be too fruity with something like a fresh salad with walnuts and cranberries in it.
It really is the ideal wine for pizza, pasta, burgers, salad, fish, chicken, jalapeño poppers, huge Renaissance fair turkey leg, mom's spaghetti, chocolate...whatever, you get the idea here.
So if you're looking for a great wine, at a reasonable price (around $10-12) to have around for an any occasion, grab a bottle, or six, of Hereford Bonarda at your local wineshop! Drink on!
Today's wine may not be for everyone, it's kind of a funky one, and not an everyday wine, but a fun one every once in a while! So buyer beware.
I first heard about this wine, or really this grape recently, when it was described to me like so: "It's just...I don't know, weird. That's really the only way I know how to describe it, it's not like anything else I've had." So naturally, I was intrigued. Boy oh boy was that guy right, it's like my mouth was confused, but happy...I think?
The grape is called Mission, and unlike many other grapes we've covered so far, it is NOT named for a region, but for a vocation. Brought over to New Spain (California) by Franciscan Missionaries in the 1700's, Mission wine was, and is still, mostly used to make fortified wines, by mixing it with brandy. In addition to this, it was commonly used to make sacramental, or "church wines." During the 1800's and early 1900's it was the most widely planted grape in California, but that has obviously since changed.
It goes by a few other names around the world such as Criolla Chica in Argentina, and Pais in Chile, but isn't used much these days in the sates. Probably your best bet for finding it, would be in it's fortified form, called Angelica Wine, which is super sweet but mellows significantly with time and is quite a good bottle if you're willing to wait. Notoriously Mission wines in their unfortified form are subpar, somewhat "meh" wines, especially if you're used to big bold heavy hitters from California. I actually really enjoyed it though, like I said earlier, not an everyday wine, and kind of funky, but I like that. Again, I see wine as liquid storytelling, and I think it's an interesting story, worth hearing from time to time. This wine tells a story of religion, and a greater purpose. It tells a story of mission bells in the distance, of musty old robes, and funny little haircuts. It tells a story of a seed that grew into a mighty oak, the first of the grapes to be planted here, clearing a path for an entire industry in California, and the new world.
Ok, so you now know that this wine is funky, weird, and subpar. I'm selling this so well, right?! Like I said before, there aren't many 100% Mission wines floating around, but I got my hands on this one from Broc Cellars, a super cool, all organic winemaking operation out of Berkley, CA, known for doing unique, awesome wines! (Check them out if you get a chance)
So what is it actually like?
Well right off the bat, the first thing you'll notice is that color! It's a beautiful, light, bricky red, bordering on pale magenta. Not quite what you'd expect from a California red, but then again, get used to that with this wine!
If you have one of those funny double sided Sherlock Holmes hats, you may want to put it on before diving into this wine, you'll need to do some serious sleuthing to pick out all of the subtle flavors going on here. I love that kind of wine. It's like an adventure in your mouth. Take a sip and you can almost hear Sloth (Goonies reference here) yelling "Hey you guys!" from your tastebuds.
Up front you have intense ripe red fruits that feel like they're going to get too sweet but never do. From there you'll notice a very thin mouth-feel, which I realize sounds like another one of those stupid snobby wine terms, sorry about that.
Basically, picture drinking maple syrup, how it fills your mouth, coating all of it's surfaces, with it's flavors lingering for a while. I equate a "heavy mouth-feel" to something like that. Now go the other way. Picture drinking a light tea, or flavored water. Picture how easily it slips across your tongue, down the sides of your mouth, and then virtually disappears, leaving very little to remember it by until your next sip. That's how I would equate "thin mouth-feel."
Back to the wine. So you have ripe red fruits, and a soft, thin mouth-feel, a quick slip-n-slide for your tongue if you will, and then, right there at the end there's something I would call ever so slight spice, and a little acidity. You'll know this less by the taste, and more by feeling. It should feel a little like pins and needles for just a second, dancing across your tongue. Not in the "ouch! ouch! My leg is asleep!" kind of way, more in a "Ooo, that was an exciting little tingle" kind of way. The lingering feeling (it's too light to call it lingering flavor) would be a dry, earthiness, that quickly dissipates and leaves you curious and wanting to go back to it.
This is a wine that needs to be served with a slight chill, and lighter fare, if any. I plan on grilling pork tenderloin tomorrow, and will probably have a bottle of this on hand. Pork is about the heaviest I would go food-wise with this though. I'd say it lends itself more to a picnic with cheeses, and fruit, maybe some salami to balance the light acidity.
So all that to say...Mission wines are kind of weird, but I like weird. If you want to try something a little out of the norm, head to your local wine shop and see if they have one, or you can always ask if they can order one for you! As always, drink on!
Ah...Italy. Is there any other country in the world that evokes such a strong feeling of history, culture, and beauty? France maybe? Greece, perhaps. But remember that at one point or another both of those places, and much of the rest of the known world at the time was under Roman rule...Aka...Italy. So in the truest sense of the phrase, all roads really do lead back to Rome.
(DISCLAIMER: THIS POST MAY BE ON THE WORDIER SIDE, BUT IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT, SO STRAP IN!)
So with all that history, all that culture, and all that Italy has truly given the world, isn't it interesting that one of their most well known wines, Amarone, (Am-Ah-Rone-Ay) has only been around for about 70 or so years?! It's baffling really. I mean, there are vineyards and estates over there that were established before Christopher Columbus (who was Italian for the record) accidentally discovered this big ole' rock we call America.
But it seems the Italians have a knack for making lemonade out of lemons. I believe it was the great philosopher and painter of the 1980's-90's, Robert (Bob) Ross, in his timeless classic "The Joy Of Painting" that coined the term, "There are no mistakes, just happy accidents." Well no one grasped that concept better than the winemaker who accidentally made Amarone. That's right, Amarone was a mista...er...A happy accident.
First off: What the heck is Amarone? It is a version of what's called a Valpolicella (Val-Pole-Ee-Chella) which is a place in the region of Verona. Maybe if Romeo and Juliet had some Amarone they wouldn't have killed themselves...Spoiler alert by the way...Romeo and Juliet die...Whoops. Ok so what is a "Valpolicella wine"? Well there are several variations on them, but the 10,000 foot view is that they are red wines made mostly using the main three grapes of that region, Corvina (Core-Veen-Ah) Rondinella (Rond-Ee-Nel-Ah) and Molinara (Mole-Ee-Nar-Ah). The most notable of these wines is something called Recioto Della Valpolicella, or just Recioto (Reck-Ee-Ote-Oh). This is a sweet wine that is made by harvesting those three grapes, and then laying them out on large open air straw mats for up to four months to let them dehydrate until they are almost raisins.
Once the grapes are nice and pruney, and most of the water has evaporated, leaving the sweet, rich, juicy goodness of pure grapiocity (that's a word right?!) then they are pressed. Because of how much they shrink, and how much liquid is lost during this drying process, it takes an average of two and half times as many grapes to make one bottle of Recioto than a normal wine.
Ok, so we have raisin juice, now what? Well it starts the fermentation process, but is stopped early on by the winemaker before all the sugars can turn into alcohol. This produces a very rich, full bodied, sweet wine. The ancient Romans loved the stuff.
Ok, so now you know about a different wine than I started with, how do they relate? Well, in the late 1930's an Italian winemaker was making Recioto and apparently forgot about a barrel. Nature kept doing it's nature thing, and the sugars in the wine kept fermenting and turing into alcohol and by the time the winemaker (we'll call him Bruce,) so by the time Bruce found the forgotten barrel, something completely new had been born; our happy accident, Amarone!
No longer was this the sweet, sugary dessert wine that was sipped upon by Caesars and centurions. This was a beast all it's own.
Amarone means "The Great Bitter," which doesn't sound appealing, but that's what it was compared to it's sweet ancestor. A new Italian heavy hitter was born, and let me tell you, I will never be apposed to being hit in the face by it.
It is a big, bold, dry red wine, with a high alcohol content usually in the range of 15-16%. The palate is bursting with lucius dark fruits like black cherry, figs, and yes, raisins. Touches of spice, molasses, and brown sugar swirl in perfect balance, bringing an almost intense harmony to your senses. This is a wine that screams of milestones, anniversaries, and celebration. This is a wine that will typically cost you a pretty penny (usually starting around $75-100 and going up from there, although there are some less expensive gems out there that can be found for around $40-50) but is a must have for anyone with a desire to embrace the joys of life from time to time.
One of my favorite descriptions comes from Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly (side note: Wine Folly is amazing and you should all go follow the blog, instagram, anything you can get your hands on.) In her blog on Amarone Madeline says, "...[Amarone] is one of those wines that you buy and sit on and pray your marriage stays together long enough so that you can drink it on your 20th anniversary. It’s one of those holy-jesus-I-may-now-die-complete wines..." She couldn't be more right.
So yes, Amarone is a relative newcomer in the wine world, but hey, even the Colosseum had a grand opening once, right? In the short time Amarone has been on the scene it has already cemented it's place among the wine greats of the world, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Like I said earlier, there are many different Valpolicellas, and I'm sure we'll cover some of them in later posts, but I felt Amarone deserved it's very own. So that's where we'll leave it. Drink on my friends!
Let me set the scene for you; it was a Tuesday, and I had just picked my dog Banjo up from Doggy Daycare after work. As always, he was happy, exhausted, and of course, filthy. Daycare days in my house also mean bath day for him. He knew, I knew it, and the bottle of wine sitting at home waiting for me knew it. The problem with getting Banjo clean, is that it means a general transfer of filth from him to, essentially, all of my bathroom. Because of this more often than not, bath day for him also means bathroom cleaning day for me.
I want you to sit back and think about your feelings towards bathroom cleaning. Depending on your level of hygiene it may range from general annoyance, all the way up to a rage rivaling that of Bruce Banner (The Hulk, for those of you playing at home.) Now picture instead that you are cleaning that same bathroom, but with a sidekick. Slightly cooler right? Now picture that that sidekick is not some scrawny orphan running around in tights, but a real life, honest to God, Kung-Fu Girl.
Now in reality Kung Fu Girl is an awesome, refreshing Riesling made by Charles Smith, a quirky, borderline nuts but awesome winemaker out of Wala Wala, Washington. However, for our purposes, she (Kung-Fu Girl) is the perfect motivator, and totally lives up to her name. She’s light, subtle, and if you’re not careful, she just might sneak up on you.
So there I was, sitting on the floor of the bathroom, with a still damp (but clean) Banjo sitting next to me. He was waiting for his favorite part, where I sneak attack him with a towel and give him the drying of a lifetime. Show me a dog that doesn’t love essentially getting a vigorous head to toe scratch, and I’ll show you a liar.
We had just been through an epic water battle. There were water cannons (read: a small plastic cup to rinse him,) monsters foaming at the mouth (read: lavender scented, oatmeal and aloe dog shampoo for dogs with sensitive skin,) and a giant explosion at the end (again, read: Banjo jumping gingerly out of the tub.) Adrenaline was running high, and, although Banjo’s part was done, my quest to clean the bathroom was only about to begin. I opened the door to let my canine companion loose, then, with my Kung Fu Girl and I hand in hand, turned to face my nemesis, the dirty bathroom.
The ensuring battle was brief, but brutal. Sponges scrubbed, cleaners sprayed, paper towels ripped, and through it all, Kung Fu Girl kept me strong, focused, and ever so slightly buzzed. The gentle notes of apricots, tangerines, cumquats, and subtle hint of fresh limes honed my senses, making me one with my citrus-based cleaners. While the crisp minerality, and slight acidity, dancing on my tongue reminded me that the best way to cut through tough grime is with scrubbing bubbles.
I wish you could have seen us. It was like a well choreographed dance. Clear, sip, spray, sip, wipe, sip, replace aforementioned cleared objects, sip again, repeat in a different area. In the end Kung Fu Girl left me feeling similar to how I felt my bathroom must feel: clean, refreshed, and reinvigorated.
She was the Robin to my Batman, the Hobbes to my Calvin. That perfect mix of devious, joyful, unrestrained loyalty and devotion, and I wouldn’t, nay, couldn’t have done it without her. So the next time you need a companion to help you through those hard, or even the mundane times, reach for a bottle of Kung Fu Girl. I guarantee it will leaving you feeling like Banjo here...
Ok, ok, I get it, it was a cheesy title...But hey, you're reading this now aren't you? I'd say that's mission accomplished.
If you follow my instagram (which you should...Like now...Stop reading this, seriously...Pull up Instagram and search for thecasualsom and click that little button that says "follow.") Anyways, as I was saying, if you follow my Instagram you probably saw a post recently where I said I would tell you about Cahors. I drew you in with some pithy statement about it being the sultry, smokey French ancestor to Argentinian Malbec, and that piqued your interest because I used interesting words. Now here we sit...Me rambling on, trying your patience. You wondering if I'm ever going to get to the point, and debating whether or not to just get up and make another hot pocket and forget me forever. Well, please don't do that. I'm vain and need the virtual comfort that your readership provides...
So here we go: What is Cahors wine, and what does it have to do with sultry Frenchmen and South American party animals? First of all, strap in, because this is going to get a little historical and semi-sciency, but I promise it's interesting.
Like many European wines, the name refers to the region, not the grape. Cahors is a region in south western France, located along the river Lot. The region has a long, rich history riddled with mystery, deception, wars, and torn lovers (probably...I kind of made that up but I'm sure those things happened.) It was originally a Celtic city, and later was concurred and occupied by the Romans, but really what wasn't, am I right? In addition to the beautiful landscape, and secret gardens tucked away around the city, Cahors is also renowned for it's architecture. All over the region you can see whispers of the past. Ruins of Roman monuments, and the beautiful pony valentré, a 14th century fortified bridge spanning the river Lot, pictured below, draw people from all over the world.
The other thing that has put Cahors on the map is, of course, wine! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is where our sultry ancestor comes into play.
When you hear the word "Malbec" what comes to mind? Probably Argentina right? Well that makes sense, because about 70% of the world's Malbec is grown there now, but it wasn't always. Malbec originated right here, in our quiet little region of Cahors. It wasn't actually introduced to Argentine until the mid-19th century.
Known in France as Côt Noir, Malbec was called "black wine" because of it's dark, inky, quality. So what's the difference between French and Argentinian Malbec, besides a cool bridge and a fancy name? Well, a ton actually. It all has to do with another fancy French word, terroir. Pronounced Tair-W-Are, it refers broadly to everything in nature that affects the wine. This includes soil, bugs, temperature, geography, small furry woodland creatures that may run wild in the area, and pretty much anything else you can think of that would have an influence on a plant growing outside. (I told you this post would get sciency.)
The soil that the grapes are planted in around Cahors is full of rocky limestone, with a very thin layer of topsoil.
What this means is that the roots have to work overtime, and dig deep to get the nutrients they need. This produces a strong, mineral-rich, robust wine, bursting with dark fruit flavors. It is earthy, and quintessentially French. With notes of blackberry, black current, leather, smoke, and spice dancing all the way through it.
Contrast that with Argentina's soft, sandy terrain, and warm sunny climate, which allows the grapes to take on more of a "new world wine" characteristic. Bursting with ripe bold fruit flavors, and a subtle kick of pepper on the end, this wine embodies the vibrant excitement found in South America.
Think of it this way: you have two brothers, with very different personalities, and interests. One is more of the pensive, brooding, thoughtful type. The kind of person you see walking into a coffee shop with a scarf on, and Bukowski tucked under his arm. He probably has a lot to say, and is bursting with information on this or that. Sit down with him and you could both wax poetic for hours by a fire. However, you can only take so much of that, sometimes you need something a little more fun and energetic, that's where the younger brother comes in.
This brother skipped college to follow his dreams of opening a surf shop. He also has his brother's ability to soak up and retain knowledge. He too enjoys a good cup of coffee around a fire, but instead of espresso in a sitting room, he would prefer drip in a paper cup by a bonfire on the beach. He's complex, and vibrant, and full of life, just like his older brother, but expresses it in a completely different way.
That is the difference between Cot Noir, and Argentinian Malbec. So the next time you want to enjoy a glass of Malbec, ask yourself, which brother am I in the mood to hang out with?
As always, drink on!
I honestly hope that isn't true. I hope that you have all had the joy of tasting some of the truly kick-ass wine that is coming out of Brooks Winery in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. If you haven't, then do me, and more importantly, yourself a favor and get in your car right now, drive to your local wine store, pick up a bottle of literally anything from Brooks, come back, open it, then resume reading this. I'll wait...In the meantime, for the rest of you, look at this place! If that doesn't make you want to sit back with a delicious adult beverage, then I give up.
I have a pretty awesome job working at a wine and spirits store, and if you're ever in the Nashville, or Franklin area of Tennessee, swing by Red Dog, I'd love to meet you. One of the perks of my job is that I get to taste new wines almost everyday. I taste wine like it's my job, because it literally is. Reps come in and taste us on their different brands to see if we want sell it, yata, yata, boring stuff, you get the idea. All that to say, over the past few years I have had the privilege of sampling many wines. Some good, some not so good. I've tasted wines that instantly brought back memories of summer, or evoked longings for a cozy fire, and a warm blanket, with my complete box set of Calvin and Hobbes next to me, and a glass of whatever it was in my hand.
The point is that I've tasted a lot of good wine over that time, and also a lot of bad. But when I tasted Brooks Pinot Noir for the first time, my co-worker and I both literally stopped. We looked at each other, and without saying anything, unanimously decided that it was way too good to spit that out. (Most of my wine tasting at work consists of tasting, then spitting it out, you know, so I'm not hammered at work all day everyday.)
That Pinot was the first wine in a while that made me stop and say, "Dang...This is what good wine is all about."
It was complex, it was fruity, it was spicy, it was delicate but at the same time kicked my mouth in the face. And it was a Pinot?! Pinots from the West Coast were supposed to be big jammy fruit bombs. They were supposed to be Meiomi, and Mark West. But this? This was none of that.
(Side note: There is NOTHING wrong with jammy fruit bombs, this just wasn't one and I expected it to be.)
This was bright, and acidic; this hinted at earthy old world European wines, while still being uniquely it's own thing. This was something I loved and wanted in my life, and in my mouth. Is that weird? Whatever, it is what it is.
We kept tasting the other wines our rep had brought from Brooks; a dry riesling that would turn anyone into a riesling lover, a juicy, red blend that made me feel like a rock band made of velvet and joyful unicorns was playing a concert on my tongue, and a white blend that can only be described as liquid summer, and you know what? They all kicked so much ass.
One of my favorite things about wine is that it is so much more than grape juice. It's history, and geography, and war, and conquest. Wine is liquid story telling. And brother, Brooks has an awesome story to tell.
It's a small operation, run by a handful of friends and family. It's founder Jimi Brooks was a Portland native who traveled the world, fell in love with winemaking in France, and brought his knowledge back with him.
Tragically, in 2004, at the age of 38, Jimi passed away suddenly of an aortic aneurism. The entire winery was left to his then 8 year old son, Pascal, who still owns it to this day.
Immediately following Jimi's death, which happened right around harvest time that year, locals snapped into action to help out a family in need. They all pitched in to help harvest the grapes and produce the wine in honor of their late friend.
Years later and that spirit of passion, and community seems to still be alive and well within the walls of the Brooks Winery, and they're making damn good vino.
So go out and get your grubby little mitts on some of their wine, and drink one for Jimi!
P.S. If you ever make it out to OR, swing by their facility, it's high up on my bucket list. In the meantime, show them some love on Instagram (brookswinery) or visit their website www.brookswine.com
Now, that we have all the formalities and boring stuff out of the way, let's get into the fun stuff. A large part (read: the whole freaking point) of this blog is going to be talking about some of my favorite wines. The hope would be that in the process we can all learn more about the wines, where they come from, and what to expect from them.
So without further ado, let's dive into three of my favorites from Spain: Marina Alta, El Coto Rose`, and Flaco
Let's start white and move red. Marina Alta is a Muscat wine. The grape is a really cool one called "Muscat Of Alexandria," and yes, that Alexandria...The one with the big library and stuff in Egypt. Since it's beginnings in Africa it has been grown in other parts all over the world, and notably, in southern Spain. Unlike most other grape varietals in the world, it has remained genetically untouched for thousands of years, and is considered an "ancient grape." Used by the Egyptians way back when to make wine, sipped on by Cleopatra (careful, she's coming atcha) and served as a go-to favorite wine by the current monarch of Spain, Felipe VI.
It is what we in 'the biz' affectionately refer to as the perfect porch pounder. It is light, crisp, refreshing, and has just a touch of sweetness.
Think of biting into the perfect apple, or that first refreshing bite of honey dew melon, or smelling the first whiffs of honey suckle in the spring. Then bottle that, and you have this wine.
It has the perfect balance of sweetness, and acidity. It's complexity makes it perfect for pairing with spicy Thai food, or just sipping on it's own out of your favorite jumbo coffee mug while playing corn hole in the yard. (There's no judgement here, remember? Wine is about pairing your personality, with fun, and grape juice!)
So basically, if you want to feel like royalty as you sit on your deck, in cut off shorts, wondering why they don't make music like they used to; the sweet dulcet tones of early 90's rock dancing in your ears, then pop of bottle of this, and drink on...Your highness.
Ok, are you ready for this? We're going into full on Rose` mode now. I know what you're thinking, "Pink wine? No thanks, I don't like sweet stuff..." Well ease up poindexter, not all Rose is sweet. In fact, true rose` wines aren't sweet at all. All they are is a white wine, that has been made with red wine grapes to give them color, and dryness. Most grapes produce a white juice, the red color comes from the skins being left in during aging. So while you're favorite Cab may have had the skins left in for months, or years, giving it a bold, full bodied, tannic characteristic, Rose` wines only have the skins left in for weeks, sometimes less. This gives them a softer, more bright, refreshing quality.
Typical flavors to expect with a true dry rose`range from fresh strawberry, and raspberry, to watermelon, or blood orange, and a whole host of things in between. But basically it's a bottle of refreshing goodness, and you should start drinking them.
El Coto is no exception to this. The grapes used to make this are two of Spain's heavy hitters; Tempranillo (Temp-rah-nee-yo,) and Garnacha (Gar-Nah-Cha), also called Grenache (Gren-Osh). The nose on this (fancy way to say what the heck it smells like) is bursting with ripe red fruits like wild strawberries. Upon taking a sip your mouth will continue to be pleasantly surprised, and utterly elated.
Up front on your palette, you will get the fresh, bright hints of strawberry and raspberry. As the wine continues on it's glorious path down your tongue, you will be greeted with a slight citrusy bitterness, like the rind of an orange, that will give you a slight pucker but leave you already craving your next sip. It finishes off with a beautiful, dry, slightly spiced note that screams to be relived. It's like your mouth is a three year old child who is being thrown up in the air, screaming, "Again! Again!" and because you're a good person, you oblige.
This would be a perfect wine to pair with a cheese and charcuterie plate, or with fresh fruit, or heck, even with a burger or something! Just do yourself a favor and start drinking rose` wine, you won't be disappointed. If you're still nervous about sweetness, here's a tip. In general, the darker the juice with rose`, the more fruity it will be. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it tends to be the case. Also know that any rose` from Europe will most like NOT be sweet, while ones from the states tend to lean more towards that side. When in doubt though, ask. The people at your local wine shop are there to help you, so let them!
Ok, this leg of the Spanish train is pulling into the station for it's final stop. Oh how I love Spanish red wine...In another post I'll cover some of the terms you may see, like Crianza, or Reserva, but for now just know that when it comes to Spanish reds, it doesn't matter what you pour in my glass, I'll always be a happy camper.
Let's talk about Flaco, shall we? This is the wine that initially piqued my interest in Spanish wines. It's a fantastic wine at anywhere from $9-12 (ish). Made 100% from Tempranillo grapes, it is a wine that I make sure to have at least one bottle of on hand at all times. One unique thing about this wine is that it is only aged in stainless steel tanks, then transferred to concrete vats, it never sees any time in oak barrels. This gives the wine a "brighter" quality. What I mean by that is that the wine keeps a lot of it's fruit and acidic qualities, rather than those being weighted down, or over shadowed by the heavy quality that oak imparts on wine.
So why do I love this wine so much? Well first off, it's inexpensive, which is always a plus. I tell people all day long, "You really don't need to spend more than $15 to get a great wine, you just have to know what to look for." Now, that's not to say that it's pointless to spend more than that. There are most certainly phenomenal wines that you really do have to pay more for, all I'm saying is that just because a wine has a big price tag doesn't mean it's automatically great, or that you'll enjoy it. But I digress...
Another reason it's a go-to for me is it's versatility. This is a wine that is subtle enough that it could be served alongside pork, chicken, or even fish, but also has enough body and structure to hold up to sausages, burgers, or a good steak. It is a perfect wine to serve if you don't know what people like.
So taste-wise, what are we working with here? Well let's start by saying I would let it breath for 10 or so minutes when you open it. So maybe pop the bottle and just put it aside while you set the table, or while you pull those tater tots out of the oven and pile them on your plate. (In the spirit of being honest, there have been multiple times where I have made a full dinner out of nothing but tater tots and Flaco...And I wonder why I have gotten doughy in the middle...oops!) As another teaser to later posts, we'll cover why letting a wine breath matters, and what it does, but for the time being just take my word for it.
Ok, so you've got your tots, you've lit the candles (gotta keep it classy right?) and you're ready to take that first sip, what can you expect? Well upfront you will be greeted with bright, luscious cherry compote flavors, that finish with a slight white pepper kick. It is medium bodied, which just means it won't feel like you're drinking water, but won't sit heavy with you either. The wine finishes with soft tannins. (Real quick note on tannins: tannins are a compound that occur naturally in the skins of grapes, and in various other things like tea. In wine, tannins are what will give a wine it's dryness. Wines with heavy, or firm tannins, will typically leave your mouth feeling dry, or like you have a fuzzy coating on your teeth. These types of wines are usually best with food.) So Flaco having soft tannins means that you will still know you're drinking a red, but won't have to worry about having he Sahara in your mouth. It has enough fruit, and a smooth enough finish that if you like a fruiter wine, you'll enjoy it. However, it has enough body to it, and enough tannins, that if you tend towards a bolder red, you'll still enjoy it too! Like I said, a great wine if you don't know what people like. It's an all around crowd pleaser for ten bucks!
Ok, so now that you know some stuff, go drink! Talk to your local wine shop, see what Spanish wines they are loving, and give them a try! Drink on!
It's a fair question. I don't have any fancy certifications. I've never traveled the world over. Heck, I struggle to pronounce words in the English language, much less words in foreign ones! However, I would argue that my lack of paperwork makes me the perfect wine buddy!
Before I started working at my current job, a one-location wine and spirits store outside of Nashville, TN, I was pretty sure a Cabernet was red. Pretty sure, but not 100% sure...My history with wine was more or less limited to shoplifting bottles of Yellowtail Merlot as a seventeen year old, and passing said bottle around while hanging out by the river with friends. We've all been there right?! Ah the good ol' days...So what changed?
Well, besides just growing up, and leaving my five fingered discount days behind me, I decided to just take a step. That's it. Nothing fancy, nothing special. I found myself in a job where I was surrounded by bottles of various shapes, colors, and sizes. Some had funny names, or cool looking pictures on them. Some of them were cheap, some were expensive. But they were all new to me, and it scared the crap out of me. I was a tattooed, motorcycle riding, pit bull owning punk who liked craft beer...I didn't know where to start.
So I did what most people do. I looked for a bottle with a cool label, and I took it home. (Don't worry, I paid for it this time.) And you know what? I hated it. I don't even remember what it was at this point. But that's ok, because the door was opened. In an Edison-like moment, I now knew one thing I didn't like. So the next week, I found another bottle that had a cool label, and I took it home, and so on and so on...I started to see patterns in the things I liked and didn't like. Slowly, my taste profile, and my palette were forming, and here I am, several years later, feeling confident enough to be asking you to start your own wine journey; to take that first step into a wine shop, and pick up a bottle.
So why should you listen to me? Because I'm just like you. I'm a regular guy, who just wants to drink some good grape juice and not feel like an idiot about it.
Starting your wine adventure shouldn't be stressful, it should be fun. Make it something to look forward to! Start by doing what I did: pick an evening, throw on some comfy pants, put on some good music, sit on the porch with your dog, and try some wine!
I'm a firm believer that you should drink what you like, and have fun doing it. So do me a favor: take that notion that you're not classy enough to enjoy fine wine, or that you have to spend a ton of money to get good wine, or any other silly notion that the wine world has shoved down our throats, and throw them out the window.
My goal for myself, and for others, is to find a way to fit delicious wine into my everyday, boring, mundane, run of the mill life. If you don't have an "occasion" for wine, then make wine the occasion. Enjoy that new Cab to the soothing sounds of your favorite Netflix show, or slide across the floor in your socks, Jerry Maguire style, with a glass of Pinot in your hand! You do you, just do it with wine now!