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A Very Refined Evening

13 Nov

It’s nice to be back on an actual college campus.

I am typing this from Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street in Princeton Township, NJ, where I am visiting my former roommate Alex who is now making a name for himself at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.  All around me are people who are younger than me and much older than me: young students with nary a care in the world and gray-haired professor types.  They’re nursing coffees and perhaps hangovers caused from Princeton football’s drubbing at the hands of the Yale Bulldogs yesterday.  As I’m a Cal alumnus, this is a feeling I know all too well, but unlike the people keeping me company I at least am not suffering from a hangover despite sharing two excellent bottles of wine with Alex.

Those few of you who have kept up with my blog know I love Ridge Vineyards to an absurd degree.  To me Ridge represents the best of California winemaking, and its wines are never disappointing.  I might disagree with a few of them, but much more often I love them.

Ridge is well-known for its Zinfandel, but it made its mark on the wine world by making the legendary “Monte Bello” Cabernet.  Monte Bello was selected as one of the California Cabs to go head-to-head with Bordeaux in the now-legendary Judgment of Paris of 1976.  Their 1971 Monte Bello came in fifth and was the second-highest rated California Cabernet in the tasting, not bad for a wine made only nine years after the start of the winery.  More tellingly, however, a re-enactment of the tasting was conducted in 2006, and the 1971 Monte Bello came in first, beating out all other California and French wines!

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Restaurant Review: Firefly DC

27 Mar

It’s tough being a student in DC sometimes.  Unlike LA or Berkeley or NY, DC seems to have a dearth of good, cheap food.  It’s sorely lacking in great street food (although there are a number of food trucks nowadays, like Wonky Dog and the Fojol Brothers) and has barely any serviceable $10-$20 dinner options.  It does, however, have some excellent high end restaurants like, oh I don’t know, Citronelle.

So it’s nice to find a solid restaurant with well-executed food and great service.  Firefly fits the bill perfectly.  In a nutshell, it’s a wonderful place to have happy hour drinks with a few friends or take a date: it’s cozy without seeming small, social without being loud, and as comforting as a warm woolen blanket.  It is a bit more expensive than it looks like it should be, but still worth the price.

Mary Kate and I went to Firefly for dinner this past weekend and it did not disappoint.  We started with a cocktail each: she had the grapefruit spritz and I had the tarragon fizz.  The grapefruit spritz was a glorified greyhound and a bit too sweet for my taste.  However, the tarragon fizz was right up my alley, with tarragon-infused vodka and St. Germaine, fresh lemon, and topped off by sparkling wine.  It was garnished with some sliced tarragon and was pleasantly herbal; it was a nice aperitif.

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Two Sips of the Beaujolais “Vintage of a Lifetime”

21 Mar

There are dichotomies in the world of wine and partisans for both.  For instance, Old World versus New World, Burgundy versus Bordeaux, oaked versus unoaked.  Another one that I haven’t read about online but have experienced frequently first-hand deals with Beaujolais: specifically, people tend to either love or hate Beaujolais.  (Assuming they’ve had any Beaujolais to begin with.)

This is understandable.  My first experience with Beaujolais was in 2005, when I was still an RA at Berkeley.  I purchased a bottle of basic Beaujolais from Kermit Lynch.  I chilled it, just as the KLWM staff recommended, and served it to a few guests.  None of my guests liked it.  It was too thin, too acidic, a washed-out excuse of a wine.  I agreed with them to an extent, but there was something about it that I liked.

A few years (and a whole helluva lotta bottles of Beaujolais) later I’ve managed to articulate what I like about Beaujolais.  It’s not just one thing; there are many great things that make Beaujolais one of my favorite appellations.  For starters, it is inexpensive.  You can buy some serious bottles for less than $25.00, and you can buy most for under $20.00.  It is a joyful wine, one that you chill and gulp down, especially because Beaujolais is low alcohol (anywhere between 11-13% ABV).  It goes well with a wide variety of foods, from roast chicken to fish, and even to red meats.  Finally, it’s just tasty, full of fresh fruit but with some of the better examples featuring dark earth, minerality, and significant structure.

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The Next Stage of My Vinous Adventure: or, How I Will Be Spending All My Money Upon Graduation

2 Mar

I’ve always wanted a wine fridge–you know, something in which I could store 16 or 32 bottles of ageworthy wine.  There are three reasons I never took the plunge and purchased one, however.  First, they obviously cost money.  Second, it seemed sort of pointless to me to collect rare and expensive wines while I was in DC, only to have to move them–at great cost and effort, and taking them from the protective cocoon for which I would have shelled out a few hundred dollars–across the country upon my graduation.  Third, many of the personal wine fridges do not control for humidity: they keep the bottles cool but at the risk of potentially drying out the corks.

Thus, my efforts to become a serious wine collector were put on hold for the past three years.  BUT NO LONGER!  “How?” I hear you, my one reader, asking.

I am back at home now (though I haven’t been able to have much fun… “Spring Break” for law school means “catch up with all the work you haven’t done / do all the work you’ve been assigned over Spring Break,” and I’m also busy with my very late moral character and fitness application for the state bar and with studying for the MPRE) and, as breaks from work, I have been cooking quite often.  For instance, on Monday evening I made choucroute garnie and on Tuesday I made roasted lemon chicken with roasted pine nut and lemon cous cous and sauteed broccolini.  One of the standout wines from this week?  The 2000 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva, an 11-freaking-year-old rosé!!!

Made from 30% Tempranillo, 60% Garnacho, and 10% Viura, this wine is an absolutely gorgeous copper/salmon color.  I am at a loss to describe this wine–there’s definitely oxidation from the long aging (four and a half years in barrel and five and a half in bottle before release!!!), something approaching savory and tangy, with metallic notes and just the suggestion of cantaloupe.  I don’t think anyone else in my family really liked this wine: this is not a bottle you’d take to a casual barbecue.  However, at $27.99, this is a fantastic wine to bring to a tasting of esoteric wines, and a terrific way to try a Gran Reserva at a very low price.

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Obituaries for Two Figures in Wine: Marcel Lapierre, 60, and Robert Sandall, 58

14 Oct

Metaphors are not life, but they go far in approximating life.  If we are talking in metaphors, then, wine is an excellent metaphor for life.  Wine is made, and wine is drunk; we are born, and we must die.  Wine collectors eagerly lay away bottles from different vintages–the ’83, the ’84… the ’99… the ’09–to open up some far-off gray day.  Vintages are metonymic–they are years, and as they add up and the bottles gather dust they remind us of our own passing seasons.

In the news I read about the recent passing of Marcel Lapierre, 60, known as the “pope of natural wine,” a man who helped prevent Beaujolais from utterly disappearing into the inanity of nouveau.  He died on October 11 of melanoma, leaving behind his family, who will continue his tradition, and his life’s work in the form of wax-sealed bottles.  There’s not much about him out there, but he seems to have been a humble man: “I’m just making the wine of my father and grandfather,” he told a magazine in 2004, “but I’m trying to make it a little better.”

In September I had purchased a half-case of wine for my mom on account of her birthday, and among them was a bottle of Lapierre’s Morgon.  My family just opened the bottle a few days ago, not knowing that its maker was dying.

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In Defense of Drinking Alone

12 Aug

We’ve all done it.  There are those evenings after a bad day at work or school or whatever where the only thing that will get us through the evening is a drink.  Alone.

There is such a stigma attached to drinking alone, for a variety of reasons.  For one, drinking alone implies that you have no one else to drink with, i.e. you are a loser.  Or, drinking alone implies that you have a drinking problem, i.e. you are an alcoholic:

But drinking alone is not in of itself a bad thing.  It is a useful tool, one of the great friends of mankind.  There are times when you need to take the edge off of life, or times when you just want to forget about everything and just get to the next morning as quickly as possible.  Obviously, indulging in individual imbibment on a regular basis may be indicative of deeper problems, but then again, merely drinking with other people doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem, either.

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What Have I Become, My Sweetest Friend?

10 Aug

One of the good things about Wilmington is that being here forces me to read.  I don’t have regular access to internet here, I don’t have very many friends here (awww), and I don’t have a car.  All those mean that my joys here are eating lunch, working out, drinking (usually by myself–awww), and reading magazines that I purchase from the Amtrak newsstand.

One of the bad things about Wilmington is that I’m pretty much limited to purchasing my magazines at that newsstand, which is small.  Thus, I’ve already read this month’s Esquire, GQ, Atlantic, Men’s Health, and Details magazines.  Unless I want to delve into, say, Cosmopolitan or People, I’ve pretty much gone through all my options.

Merits of Wilmington aside, Details had an interesting spread on the artisanal movement and how ubiquitous it’s become.  As stated by the author:

What’s new is the astonishing ubiquity of the aesthetic. Small-scale has hit it big. Farmer’s markets sell artisanal cheeses— and so does Costco. Suits available in midwestern malls have machine-made details that mimic the hand stitching once found only on a Neapolitan tailor’s eccentrically rolled lapel.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong per se with this newfound appreciation for craftsmanship.  Indeed, I think it’s great that we can purchase exceptional items made by small producers.  I recognize, however, that just as with “biodynamic” and “organic”, “artisanal” can be co-opted by large corporations (or even by small producers who don’t necessarily use the best ingredients, components, or methods and are simply coattailing on the efforts of others) for their own benefit. 

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Now There’s a Reason for Me to Head Out to Clarendon: Northside Social

13 May

One of the things I loved most about Berkeley as a student was the café culture.  There were literally three dozen cafés I could go to in Berkeley and Oakland, and I could go to any number of these shops to fit a particular mood.  The standard was Caffe Strada, which being on the corner of College and Bancroft was the most convenient place to get caffeinated in the morning or between classes.

For a $10 meal of iced coffee and a fresh-baked pizza I would go south on College to Espresso Roma.  Further down College Ave. was the great Cole Coffee with its poached eggs, toast, and jam, and way down College, near where College became Broadway, was Hudson Bay Cafe, which with its triangular nook and plate glass windows always seemed to me to be the edge of the world.  Of course, there were a number of other cafes not on College (Free Speech Movement Cafe, owned by the same man as Caffe Strada; the International House Cafe; Nefeli; Au Coquelet; the original Peet’s Coffee on Vine Street).  It’s something I miss in DC, where the only options for me are Peregrine Espresso, Big Bear (which is inconvenient as heck), SoHo (where I was once caught in the crossfire of a transvestite-lesbian catfight), Bourbon, and, thankfully, the excellent and recently-opened Filter Coffeehouse.

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New Article in the Palate Press!

5 Apr

Check out my newest article in the Palate Press!  It’s about my five days managing Ansonia Wines, which is a newish small boutique wine shop in the North Dupont neighborhood of DC.

http://palatepress.com/2010/04/from-connoisseur-to-entrepreneur-five-days-as-a-wine-store-manager/

There’s a Reason No One Reads Wine Blogs: A Response

3 Apr

You’ve probably done it.  You’re researching for a term paper and you get engrossed in the Golgi apparatus or the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  You start talking about it to your friends to the exclusion of almost anything a normal person would find remotely interesting.  Then, somewhere between the cisternae and the endoplasmic reticulum you realized that you’ve developed tunnel vision.  The more you specialize, the less you interest the average human being.

There’s an excellent post on the Palate Press that explores the topic of why no one reads wine blogs.  The author, Tom Johnson, looks at the utterly abysmal readership numbers–citing, for instance, the fact that “the top 100 wine blogs combined would be the 280th most popular blog in the country”–and offers two reasons for this phenomenon.

First, he observes that most wine blogs only offer wine reviews, leading to a “recipe for insignificance.”  I would tend to agree with Tom.  Wine reviews are useful but not intrinsically interesting, and they are available through a whole variety of sources such as wine magazines and review databases.  I personally dislike wine blogs that are 100% review-driven, although I do recognize that some people create such blogs primarily to keep track of what wines they’ve tried.  Nonetheless, as Tom writes, the best blogs are those that provide context and and tell stories.

Second, Tom points out that political blogs are nine times as likely as wine blogs to link to other related blogs.  He writes, “Wine bloggers in general are failing to use the defining characteristic of the worldwide web: the ability to link.”  Linking more often would create conversation and increase readership for all concerned.  I recommend that you read Tom’s article, which is well-researched and provocative (if the ninety-two and counting comments are any indication).

That being said, I would like to elaborate on one of his observations.  His article states the following:

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