Archive | December, 2007

Sparkling Pinot Noir: Mission Wines Tasting

30 Dec

At Mission Wines, my friends and I are the sole representatives of the 25 and under demographic.

It’s a bit sobering to chip in five or ten bucks each for a $20 or $30 bottle of wine–nothing to shake a stick at–and watch as silver-haired gentlemen wearing well-worn L.L. Bean vests and Eddie Bauer sweaters carry out cases (CASES!) of $50 wine to their idling sports cars.

That’s why I love going to wine tastings. For $10 I can try five different wines. Nothing’s worse than spending good money on a vaunted bottle of wine and finding that it’s terrible. (I guess the same goes for first dates, eh?)

The five wines at the tasting today were:

  • Juve y Camps Brut Rosé | Sparkling Pinot Noir (Sant Sadurini D’Anoia, Spain)
  • Breggo Ferrington Vineyard | Sauvignon Blanc (Anderson Valley, California)
  • Luzon | Monastrel/Syrah (Jumilla, Spain)
  • Chateau Puygueraud Cotes de Francs | Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Malbec (Bordeaux, France)
  • Graves | Syrah (Paso Robles, California)

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“Champagne Makes Me Do Craaaazy Things!”

28 Dec

I’m not the biggest champagne drinker–I’ve found that champagne gives me a big headache, probably on account of the residual sugar and carbonation–but it’s absolutely the best drink for special occasions: weddings, anniversaries, New Year’s Eve, bar and bat mitzvahs, promotions, or Valentine’s Day. And, with New Year’s coming around (as Kris was kind enough to point out!) I thought I should talk a bit about champagne and its bastard half-brother, sparkling wine.

There are different categories of champagne based on the amount of residual sugar:

  • Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 3 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Brut (less than 15 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Extra Sec or Extra Dry (12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Sec (17 to 35 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Demi-Sec (33 to 50 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Doux (more than 50 grams of sugar per liter)
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    2001 L’esprit du Silene

    27 Dec

    This is a wine that is very near and dear to my heart.  This is one of the first bottles of wine that I drank and actually paid attention to.

    Alex and I split the cost of the bottle, which in retrospect seems ridiculous as it retails for $10.99.  No matter: at that time we were of the impression that $5 was too much for a bottle, much less $11!


    This wine is from Domaine du Silène des Peyrals in the Languedoc region of France, specifically the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation.  The Languedoc might be new to people (especially relative to its more famous cousins, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne) but it accounts for more than a third of France’s total wine production. 

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    Valentine’s Day 2006, or “Why Always to Have Rosé Champagne on Hand”, or “Why I Love Women Who Love Jack Daniels”

    26 Dec

    Valentine’s Day 2006 was shaping up to be more like Single’s Awareness Day. Having gotten out of a relationship that spanned the two Valentine’s Days previous, I found myself in my room at Clark Kerr, alone, a tea candle or two lit, drinking some tea and listening to Nick Drake.

    But then a rapping on the door! I drag myself out from under my duvet and open it to reveal my resident L. and her friend A.

    You know how sometimes you look at an attractive person and you’re like, “Sure, they’re pretty, but whatever”? And sometimes you look at an attractive person and you’re like, “My God I must holler at them.” (In my thoughts, I sound like a white suburban kid trying to be a gansta’.)

    This girl, A., was in the latter category. Pretty face, big dark eyes framed with dark lashes, supple red mouth, all framed by “long dim hair” (a point for anyone who can identify that literary allusion). I was drawn to her lips, her eyes, her hips… her hips were womanly, curved and full of life.

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    Al Wazir, Zankou, and Wine

    26 Dec

    This post originally had nothing to do at all with wine. It has to do with the debate in my office about which is better: Al Wazir Chicken or Zankou Chicken. It also has to do with the fact that I’m eating Al Wazir as I type, which makes for good eatin’ and terrible typin’.

    Zankou is a Pasadena institution, made famous by Beck in his brilliant song “Debra” (I met her… at J.C. Penny…). EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER loves Zankou chicken. And you can’t beat their kitschy shirts:


    But I’ve found that their chicken is lacking (gasp!). Their portions are small, the chicken is greasy, and the skin–the most important part!–is rubbery. It’s like eating a rubber chicken–a delicious one, but still, a rubber chicken.

    People love Zankou’s garlic sauce. I agree. It’s damned good. But even with their combination plates you don’t get rice pilaf! You only get pita and hummus and tomato and pickled turnips. And their standard 1/2 chicken plate is $7.98.

    Al Wazir is on the corner of Hollywood and Gower. They roast their chickens using the 2000-year-old “Al Wazir” method. A standard 1/2 chicken plate is $6.45 and includes hummus, salad, pickled turnips, AND rice pilaf. It’s enough for two people.

    But the most important part is the chicken itself. The skin is superb, crisp and crackling. The flesh is moist and tender. It’s obviously superior to Zankou, though most of the people at my office don’t agree.

    Now the connection with wine: Al Wazir, and maybe Zankou, is great with beaujolais nouveau–specifically, the Louis Tête mentioned in a previous post. Beaujolais nouveau is perhaps the lightest, most white-like red wine. It’s fruity, juicy, and meant to be gulped joyously. It’s refreshing and, the best thing, it gets you drunk.

    If you hurry, you might be able to find bottles of nouveau in stores–it’s a bit late for beaujolais nouveau, but I suspect that there are thousands of bottles sitting around, waiting for their moment in the sun.

    A Wine Store for the People

    25 Dec

    I love Berkeley.

    Actually, let me qualify that statement a bit: I have a love-hate relationship with Berkeley. But, as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” So, being at home now for nearly a year and five months, working at, I love Berkeley now more than I hate it.

    One of the great things about Berkeley is the abundance of absolutely wonderful food and drink. There is a culture of organic produce, slow cooking, artisanal craftsmanship, and good living.

    There are a lot of wine shops in Berkeley or in the surrounding areas. Kermit Lynch is the one everybody knows about–he imports all those small French producers and sells them retail at his store on San Pablo. Then there are Vino! locations everywhere–one on College in Oakland, another on Solano, one off of Fourth Street in Berkeley, another in San Francisco. The Andronico’s market on North Shattuck (accessible on the 7 or 9 buses, for you college kids!) is also surprisingly good.

    I want to focus on “A Wine Store for the People”–Vintage Berkeley, which is appropriately on Vine Street near the original Peet’s Coffee:


    (My apologies for blatantly ripping off this picture from the Vintage Berkeley webpage!)

    The store itself is housed in a former water pumping station, which makes entering the place a whimsical experience (if only there were special pipes that carried wine instead of water… try taking a bath in that, eh?).

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    An Afternoon of Wine

    24 Dec

    I am fortunate to have had a few good drinking buddies over the years. One of them, Alex, was a fellow Resident Assistant at Clark Kerr Campus. Being German (or Bavarian, more properly) he was quite fond of drinking. Being in a fraternity (and Korean) I, too, was quite fond of drinking. Unfortunately, with the exception of Brian and Diane and a few others, there weren’t too many drinkers on our staff.

    No matter. Drink alone and you’re an alcoholic. Drink with someone else, even to the point of utter disregard for personal safety, and you’re just being sociable.

    Alex was home for the holidays and decided to take the Amtrak down to Burbank, where I picked him up. We headed promptly to the Los Angeles Farmers Market on Fairfax, where we lunched magnificently at Moishe’s–he had the falafel plate while I had chicken shawerma. Afterwards, we went to Monsieur Marcel for a post-meal glass of wine. As we fully intended on drinking much more during the course of the day we decided to start with whites.

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    Three-Buck Gewurztraminer

    24 Dec

    I’ve gotten my first ribbing from a college friend who for privacy’s sake we’ll call Matt D. (no, that’s too obvious… let’s say M. Dally). Verbatim off my Facebook wall:

    Could you possibly cover best wines for $1.99?”

    The answer M. D. (that’s better!) wants is Charles Shaw, the wine we know and love (or hate) as “Two-Buck Chuck.”

    There are legions of people who love Charles Shaw–there are even apparently wine critics who like Charles Shaw. I personally don’t like Charles Shaw (though their 2005 Nouveau Gamay Beaujolais Valdiguie was actually not bad–I must add the disclaimer, though, that the Shaw version of beaujolais is NOT actually made from gamay and is instead made from the valdiguie grape, and that it is not nearly as delicious or refined as actual beaujolais from France) because it just tastes watery and cheap, off-balance, and “out of whack” if you will. Of course, I don’t have a degree in viticulture from UC Davis, so this judgment is a matter of opinion.

    Trader Joe’s does have a *decent* gewurztraminer from J.W. Morris, a subsidiary of JFJ Bronco Winery (which is owned by Fred Franzia, the man behind the college staple of Franzia, the wine in a box, and the Trader Joe’s incarnation of Charles Shaw). It’s very sweet–maybe a bit too sweet–but surprisingly doesn’t suffer from that plasticine taste so many cheap white wines have. You could probably spend more money and get a worse wine.  Besides, you could throw it in the fridge for an hour and the cold will mask the imperfections!

    Also, M. D., this wine retails at Trader Joe’s for $2.99!!! It’s not $1.99, but hell, it falls in the lower range of the venerable $2-$5 price category.

    Beaujolais (Nouveau)?

    23 Dec

    I love beaujolais, which is a type of wine made from the gamay grape. I even get excited about beaujolais nouveau, the grapey, fruit juice-like concoction that comes out the third Thursday of every November.

    A lot of people hate beaujolais nouveau, and as a result completely dismiss beaujolais.

    First, if your only experience with beaujolais nouveau has been Georges Dubeof (zhohrzh(uh) dew-buhf) you should consider trying a better version! Critics say that Dubeof’s nouveau is worse than Kool-Aid–my experience generally seems to corroborate this. However, I have had very good nouveau:


    Louis Tête produces a delicious nouveau that is thirst-quenching, balanced, and easy on the budget ($11 – $12).

    I have to admit that beaujolais nouveau is strange: it’s as close a red will get to a white wine. There is zero tannin versus a fair bit of acidity, a bit of sweetness and fruitiness. It’s meant to be served chilled, and meant to be gulped. Nouveau itself has a production time of two months or less, and unlike many reds it is NOT supposed to be aged.

    And that’s just “new” beaujolais. Beaujolais itself is another matter that will be discussed in another post.

    Cimicky 2005 Grenache/Shiraz Trumps

    23 Dec


    A few weeks ago I was at a Saturday wine tasting at Mission Wines in South Pasadena with my co-worker Erica and her boyfriend Jack. A representative from Epicurean Wines came to display his company’s wares. Among the five selections were:

    1. Glaetzer 2006 Amon-Ra Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
    2. Glaetzer 2005 Godolphin Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
    3. Charles Cimicky 2005 Grenache/Shiraz Trumps (Barossa Valley)

    There were two other wines–one was a sparkling shiraz which was interesting, and another was a rosé of some variety.

    If you couldn’t tell by now, Epicurean Wines specializes in wines from Australia.

    (An aside: one of the first wines I remember was a shiraz… I was a sophomore at Griffiths Hall in Unit 2, and a sultry and much more mature junior transfer named Veronica invited me to her room for a glass of wine. I don’t remember the name of the wine, but I remember thinking how well wine went with women [and alliteration, apparently]).

    The Amon-Ra and Godolphin from Glaetzer were billed as the headliners of the tasting, and at $70 and $60, respectively, were a bit too expensive for this college grad’s wallet. They were delicious, to be sure, very full, very round, very “classic” shirazes. Erica bought a bottle of the Godolphin as a Christmas present for her mom. But the standout for me was the grenache/shiraz blend from Charles Cimicky.

    Grenache itself is a very peppery, high-alcohol grape–to my untrained palate it is a bit sharp and seems to lack heft. Shiraz, on the other hand, is pretty hefty and very round. The Trumps blend is 60% grenache and 40% shiraz.

    When I first tried it I was blown away by how high up in my mouth the flavors seemed to hit. Rather than staying low on the tongue like the other shirazes I have had, this one was elevated, rising up to my hard palate and floating through my nose. However, it was still grounded (it does have 40% shiraz, after all!) and overall was nicely balanced.

    The price was right too: it retails for anywhere between $16 to $19. It was a family favorite as well–both my sister and mom loved it, and it’s hard to get them to agree about anything!

    FOOD SUGGESTIONS: Lamb or barbecue, even chocolate.

    OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: This is a very friendly, approachable wine. Easy on the budget. I think it’s a safe bet for a romantic evening or a dinner with friends.