Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Time To Party

My girlfriend completed the first draft of her novel today. That's 124,000 words in just under four months, and what does she want to do? Break out a bottle of Barolo or pop the cork on some Prosecco? No: She wants beer and Korean BBQ. That's just one of the reasons why I love her.

I'm not one for sappy posts, but this one's worth it. Remember the name: Kristin Kearns, American Author.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Proof That Puglia Has Terroir

It has become almost redundant to describe Puglia’s wines as “sun-drenched.” It’s as common a wine descriptor as “crisp” in regard to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, as “jammy and spicy” for California Zinfandels, and, what do you know, "elegant" in regard to anything expensive. When living in Puglia, I made a 5-post investigation to answer the question: Does Puglia, Italy have terroir? I found the results inconclusive, but learned that most winemakers believe that Puglia does in fact have terroir, that Puglia's terroir will most likely come out with time and hard work, and, further, that the grape that will express Puglia's terroir is Negroamaro.

Fast-forwarding to the present, Puglia's wines are blowing up, as is the region in general. Wine writers, sommeliers, and restaurant's wine directors are repeatedly describing Puglia's wines in the same way: sun-drenched. I don't think that this is a poor or unimaginative description, as is "elegant." Why? Because Puglia's terroir might come from the sky as much as from the ground. I think that all this -- the fact that so many people describe Puglia wine using the same words -- suggests that Puglia's wines have a geographic identity. Further, that Puglia's wines do in fact taste so particular that they could not be recreated in any other growing environment. What do you think? Do Puglia's wines have terroir? Or is it still too early to tell?

Below are a few photos I took that show what Puglia's terroir means to me:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Absurd Wine Descriptions

A poet, a novelist, and a screenwriter walk into a tasting room…

Yesterday, tasting my way through Willamette Valley as part of the Passport Tour, my companions and I decided to “geek out” by describing wine using only all-new descriptors. Perhaps it is my love of the literary movement of Russian Absurdism, but as we drank more and more, and our words became more and more absurd, a bright light suddenly shone over the entire language game of wine descriptions: Wine can evoke images and personal associations as valid as any tasting notes.

Four Graces

2006 Dundee Hills Black Family Estate 1.5L Magnum

“Objective” Rating: 9

G: None of these wines quite have the aroma I want. I want the smell of Tanya, a model that I was casting in Paris. Beautiful; she would undress in front of anyone, and her blond brown hair, her big boobs (gestures)… I want this wine to smell like Tanya when she was naked. She was the type of girl who would say, (Parisian accent) “I’m going to the store to buy a guitar; this afternoon, I will teach myself to play.”

Domaine Drouhin

2009 Rosé

“Objective” Rating: 5

K: I love this wine.

Me: I hate this wine. Flabby.

G: It’s a classy French female vocalist… Carla Bruni...

K: Edith Piaf?

G: No, she’s too edgy. She’s a red.

Me: This wine’s more fleshy. How about Barry Manilow?

K + G: Ha ha, you’re disgusting.

G: I’m thinking Brigitte Bardot. What I really want is a Joan from Mad Men.

2008 “Willamette Valley” Pinot Noir

“Objective” Rating: I don’t get it

K: Literally tastes like dirt.

Me: A dirty politician? Dick Cheney.

K: No, like a homeless person. Mel Brooks in Life Stinks.

G: It’s like a person who appears to be one way, then turns out to be another.

Domaine Serene

2008 Cote Sud Vineyard Chardonnay

“Objective” Rating: 10

Me: Is this Joan from Mad Men?

G: No, I don’t like this wine.

Me: This wine is fascinating! It’s crème brulée and vanilla, but so much more. Karen McNeil wrote that “a complex wine almost defies you to describe it,” and this wine absolutely shocks me in a way that few wines ever had. I have no idea if I like it, but I find it awesome.

Then, in the Domaine Serene tasting room, we reached a whole nother level of tasting, with the help of the best Tasting Room Lady ever...

2007 “Evenstad” Reserve Pinot Noir

“Objective” Rating: 10

K: It tastes like — and I mean this in a good way — the backseat of a car...my grandfather is driving.

Tasting Room Lady: Is it summer?

K: No, no, and it’s night.

TRL: Are you going to stop for ice cream?
K: No, we’re coming back from a day trip. It’s very comforting.

TRL: You’re safe with your grandfather.

N/V “R” Rosé

“Objective” Rating: 8

G: A French sewing room in an apartment. There are walls and walls of fabric, predominantly satin.

K: I see it. Sun streams in through the windows, and the cushions have faded.

TRL: What color are the cushions?

G: They’ve faded too much to tell. There’s a cat lying in the sunlight.

TRL: What kind of cat? I’m seeing black and white.

G: I think it’s a blue-haired Persian.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Woman I Admire and 1998 Brunello di Montalcino

From the What's A Heroine Got To Do With Brunello Department

The complexity of a fine wine is never less than astonishing. I received two bottles as a gift from Francesca Caliolo, one of my Italian students when I was teaching English in Italy. Francesca is an outspoken activist; her husband died a tragic death in the steel mill "Ilva" in Taranto, Puglia, and ever since she has fought for safety and workers rights, both in court and on the street. She's raising two wonderful children, Roberta and Gabriele (he's gone north to college this year), and she taught me a new definition of the word "stolid." She stands up for what is right, even when it's unpopular. If I'm ever given the same opportunity, she will be my guiding light.

I carried one of the bottles in my backpack from Puglia to Verona and back down to Abruzzo, when I wrote the Italy From Bottom to Top Travelogue series for EuropeUpClose.com. I checked the bottle on the flight from Naples to New York. I checked it again on the flight to Portland, Oregon. I checked it again on the flight to Mammoth Mountain, California. Up on the ski slopes, I was as far away from Francesca as I could possibly be, but she remained with me. Her kindness. Her sincerity. When we opened the wine and I toasted with my girlfriend and her father, I said a silent 'salute' to Francesca. Workers have had to fight for their rights forever, and it is sadly true in the region of Puglia, which is still backwards and feudal in far too many ways. Besides agriculture, there are few jobs available outside of the steel mills in Taranto and Brindisi.

Wine Review: Castel Giocondo's 1998 Brunello di Montalcino
Price: $40-$80
Short Review: This wine is awesome
Pairs With: Howard Zinn, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, anything by Kafka
Tip: Decant 5 hours or more
Just to set the mood, Brunello is a wine grape; it is a clone of the Sangiovese grape (which is the most important grape in Chianti); by Italian law, Brunellos can only be made in the growing region around the town of Montalcino, Italy. Sangiovese grapes are great for aging (wine guru Charles Scicolone recently compared several with typical lucidness, including the Giocondo's 2006 Brunello di Montalcino). The wines are so expensive because it costs a lot of money to make a product that you do not sell for 10+ years.

Review of Castel Giocondo's 1998 Brunello di Montalcino:

At 13 years, the wine wasn't in the least bit tired. I tasted everything characteristic of Brunellos: licorice, leather, eucalyptus, boysenberry. The wine was so complex that you could have extracted hundreds of different flavors... or none: the balance was as even as a Keith Moon drum beat. Its foremost characteristic was its structure, which was magnificent and held its own with the coq au vin made with cabernet sauvignon. Each sip was a pleasure, then it was gone.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wine Snobs Suck vs. It's An Acquired Taste

This BBC article was absolutely noteworthy, not only because it showed unbelievably low standards of journalism, but also because it received over 216 comments in less than 15 hours. The article Cheap wine as "good as pricier bottles" - blind taste test reports that random people, when given wines of contrasting prices, can only identify expensive or inexpensive wine correctly 50% of the time (the law of chance). As one astute commenter said:

“Who funded this? [...] a survey that proves people who most likely know nothing about wine, know nothing about wine. Really groundbreaking research.”

Is it too much to ask the guy on the street to identify good wine? Can a person who is unfamiliar with wine be a fair judge of quality? Comments like this suggest not:

“I find that decanting a bottle of 2.99 red improves the flavour no end and everybody drinks it quite happily”

But then again, I'm probably a wine snob; that loathsome creature who dwells in the dark corners of fine-dining restaurants. And everyone hates wine snobs:

“Just goes to show how pathetic and snobbish the whole wine process is.”


"The comments from the wine snobs are hilarious. 'They didn't understand the complexity'? Much like the little boy didn't appreciate the fine stitching of the emperor's 'new clothes'!"

Damn straight! Don't-know-much-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like common sense! In the words of Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Go out and find 50 others that are rich enough to take pleasure in this facade. It seems that us wine drinkers are caught in at crossroads. Is it true that "price is no indication of quality," and that "There is no such thing as good or bad wine it all depends on what you like?" As one Freudian said, it's all about "perceptive expectation, which simply put means that paying more for something creates the expectation you will enjoy it more and you actually do enjoy it more."

Wait a minute. No. Wine is an acquired tasted, and there is definitely a difference between expensive and inexpensive wine. How do I know? I’ve worked in the wine business and know what goes into wine. Low-end wines have additives in them that shouldn’t be there and wouldn’t be there if winemakers were not trying to produce large quantities of wine. Do these additives taste good? Of course, why else would you put them in there? But you don’t have to be a genius to recognize the fact that a wine produced with little pieces of arobois (oak dust) in it results in eating wood. Some wines are absolutely crammed with sugar to get higher alcohol levels. This means that the wine is mostly water and that it needs to be given both alcohol and flavor through additives.

The difference between high-end wines and low-end wines (the extremes) is the difference between eating a grape and sucking on a grape-flavored Jolly Ranger. I like budget wines, and nothing makes me happier than finding that amazing wine that’s great tasting and cheap. It’s totally possible to find good wines for cheap, but high-end wines usually taste better because they have fewer additives and more natural flavor. Low-end wines can make us happy, but after you’ve drunk enough good wine, you really can taste the differences. It's sad but true and it deeply wounds your wallet. It takes time to develop a good taste for wine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Puglia Week on Do Bianchi

Just a quick shout out to Jeremy Parzen and his blog Do Bianchi, which is dedicating a week to Puglia wine, food, and travel stories. He's got some great photos and videos, so check em out!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Puglia Wine Review

If you've noticed the ads for WineChateau.com at the top of my posts, you've noticed that I've found a sponsor. Visit the web site if you get a chance; they have a great selection of Puglia wines. Which brings me to the difficulty I've been having: It's difficult to find high-quality wines from Puglia in Portland, Oregon. I've noticed that the super market chain Fred Meyer carries Taurino winery's Notarpanaro, one of my favorite wines from Puglia, for a mere $18. However, the best Puglia wines are still in Puglia.

As a result of Wine Chateau's sponsorship, I'm going to begin a monthly search and seizure of Puglia wines in Portland. Once a month, I'll post reviews of Puglia wines and tell you where I found them in Portland. If you're in Portland, it might be fun to follow along, and maybe we can organize a wine tasting in connection with my supper club, Hip Nana.

Two reviews of Puglia wines:

Terravecchia’s 2007 “Lámia” Primitivo

Rating: 4

Price: $11.50

Where to Buy: Pastaworks

Short Review: This wine shoots itself in the foot

Terravecchia is a brand of Alberto Longo Winery, which is located in the north of Puglia. With a nose of plum, chocolate, and a some cola, I thought the wine was going to be a great example of a typical Primitivo. At first, the mouth was silky and rich. Sadly, about nine tenths of the way through, a sharp sour-cranberry acidity breaks out, leaving my mouth to pucker and my mind to wonder: why the hell did that happen? This wine would otherwise be excellent. I’ve experienced the same disappointment drinking Alberto Longo’s 2004 Cab Franc/Merlot blend, which also had too much total acidity.

Note: Alberto Longo’s 2006 “Capoposto” Negroamaro is a winner if you can find it. It was one of my Top 10 Negroamaro Wines from Puglia of 2010.

(Photo: Cantele's masseria-styled winery, located on the Salento Peninsula in southern Puglia)

Cantele Winery’s 2007 Salice Salentino Riserva

Rating: 5

Price: $12

Where To Buy: Pastaworks

Short Review: Dependable, but nothing special

Salice Salentino wines are predominantly composed of the Negroamaro grape, around 80-90%, and Malvasia Nera usually fills in the rest. Nose of plum and dried cherry; mouth of cherry fruit, cedar, and smoke; the finish is thin. Overall, the wine is great with food but lacks oomph. It is not a typical Salice Salentino either: If you asked me to identify the wine I might say Montepulciano.

Note: If you’re going to buy Cantele wines, go for the 2009 or 2010 rose (one of my Top 5 Rosés from Puglia of 2010), the 2008 “Teresa Manara” Chardonnay, the 2008 “Alticelli” Fiano, or the 2006 “Teresa Manara” Negroamaro.

Tomorrow I'm bottling wine at Brooks Winery in Willamette Valley. Can't wait!

(Note on Rating System: I balance my rankings between quality and price, both elements go toward 50% of the rating)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Puglia Spotting: Enzo's Caffe Italiano

Two nights ago I met with an Italian language group in a newly opened Italian restaurant on NE Alberta Street. Called Enzo's Caffe Italiano, it features traditional Pugliesi food. Chef Enzo Lanzadoro is from Puglia, and he grew up near the city of Matera (pictured above and below), which was made famous by Mel Gibson's movie the Passion of the Christ. The region is best known for making wines with Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Aglianico.

Walking into the unpretentious restaurant immediately took me back to Puglia. The Italian language group, with 15 or so people, looked like an Italian family at Sunday dinner. The table dominated the small restaurant, leaving only two other tables for the other diners. The components of the restaurant's antipasto were on display, from marinated peppers to salami. Some of the traditional dishes that Enzo serves are orecchiette con rape (orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabb) and Spaghetti Carbonaro alla Bari (spaghetti carbonara is known as a dish from Rome, but the people of Bari will strongly disagree: the Baresi version includes carmalized onions). Enzo's wife explained that she makes the orecchiette daily and that she uses 90.999 percent semonlina flour; the remainder is a secret.

Especially awesome was seeing the wine list, which almost exclusively featured Pugliesi wines (prices between $19-$30). There are wines by Castello Monaci, Vincenzo Vita, Paolo Leo, and others. If you want to go to Puglia for a decent price, I definitely recommend Enzo's Caffe Italiano.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Two Excellent Cabernet Sauvignons for Under $15

Italian wine - buy 6 or more bottles and get 1/2 off shipping with code "tun39"

I find inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignons pretty hit or miss, and sadly, most of the time when I buy an unknown Cabernet Sauvignon for less than $15 it's just no good. I recently found two very popular Cabs that you can probably find everywhere in the United States. They suit my tastes, are exceptionally delicious with all of the typical characteristics that I expect from a Cabernet, and they're cheap.

2006 Hogue Cellars "Genesis" Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Price: $11 at Safeway
Pairs With: Charles Bukowski, Russian Absurdism, Stephen Elliott
Like many Columbia Valley cabs, this one has a nice herbaceous character. It's medium to full bodied with good spice. It has tannins but nothing over the top. Most importantly, it has neither bright fruit or jamminess. This wine was one of the top picks at a recent blind-tasting party. Wine Spectator Score: 88/Robert Parker Score: 85

2008 Rodney Strong "Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon"
Price: $13 at Safeway
Pairs With: Dostoevsky, George Bataille, Truman Capote
I prefer this one just a tad. Full bodied all the way, it is as silky as they come. Fruit takes a back seat to earth. Strong tannins: You can pair this bad boy with anything robust. Long, long finish. No reviews out yet.

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottl...