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Virginia is for Wine Lovers: DC Wine Week’s “Virginia Wine Versus the World”

20 Oct

I often felt dislocated when I lived in LA after college.  I had grown up there and my family is there, but I felt that I was lacking a community.  I had left Berkeley after just having started to meet people who were interested in writing poetry.  My efforts to revive some semblance of the poetry community often resulted in less-than-satisfactory results.  In a similar manner, when I decided to start writing Vinicultured, I found that the LA wine blog community was fragmented.  This is not to say that it doesn’t exist: it probably does.  However, finding and relating to other writers/wine aficionados was a difficult proposition for a young fledgling wine blogger.

It was only when I got to DC that I started to find some semblance of a wine community.  Some of my law school friends and I started the DC Wine Appreciation Society, which was basically an excuse for us to get together and drink good wine to the point of excess.  I made contacts at local wine stores (like Patrick Deaner at the now-defunct Wine Specialist, Jeremy Silva at Potenza, and Phil Bernstein over at the excellent MacArthur Beverages).  Working at Ansonia Wines was and continues to be an excellent and insightful experience.  And starting the DC Wine Buyers Collective was a great way for me to start to get a feel for what members of the 25-35-year-old demographic wanted to drink.

With my decision to stay in DC after graduating from law school, I have had more incentive to get out there and network.  Fortunately, many networking opportunities have come up, especially this past week.  I was invited to a comparative tasting of Schramsberg Vineyards‘s excellent sparkling wines, which I attended yesterday afternoon, and will be first volunteering at and then covering the DC Wine Riot tomorrow and Saturday.  I was also invited to DC Wine Week‘s “Washington Wine Academy Tasting Class” (a.k.a. “Virginia Wine Versus the World”), which featured Virginia wineries.

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Embracing the Funk: 2006 Francisco Alfonso Pedralonga DoUmia

19 Oct

While I’m not as dogmatic as Miles from Sideways, I do tend to stick to what I know when it comes to wine.  When I go to a restaurant and have to order among white wines I don’t know, I stick to Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling.  When I go to parties with tables covered by anonymous bottles, I choose Côtes du Rhône.  At home, I really like to drink my Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and White Burgundy (when I have the money!).  With wines costing what they do, it can be difficult to commit to a bottle of wine I know nothing about (which is why doing reconnaisance is so important whenever it is possible).

I should be willing to take chances more often.

I had a bottle of the 2006 Francisco Alfonso Pedralonga DoUmia ($24) squirreled away from the January 25th deal of the DC Wine Buyers Collective.  It had survived a lot longer than the other wines I acquired from that deal.  I don’t know why… maybe it’s because I simply didn’t know what to expect from this wine.  What if I opened it and it was undrinkable with the pot roast with which I was trying to pair it?

This wine is from the Rias Baixas region of Spain.  This is a coastal region that is famous for its seafood and for a wine that pairs exceptionally well with seafood: Albariño.  Such is the supremacy of Albariño that most people, myself included, don’t know that this region also produces red wine (apparently red wine only makes up 1% of the total wine production in Rias Baixas).  This particular wine is composed of 70% Mencía, 20% Caiño, and 10% Espadeiro.  I’ve never even heard of the Caiño or Espadeiro varietals!

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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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A Day in Santa Barbara County, Part One: Stolpman Vineyards

30 Dec

The Amtrak is not so bad.  Actually, it’s very nice except when it’s delayed, which is a matter for Part Three.  At the time, however, I knew nothing about flooded tracks and two-hour delays; I only knew how nice it was to be riding a train up the coast as the rain fell around me.

My destination was Santa Barbara, where my former roommate (and current Princeton grad student) Alex would pick me up.  That first day and evening, including a wonderful dinner at Bouchon, will be the subject of Part Two of this series.

I’d like to talk about Stolpman Vineyards, a winery located in the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley.  If you might recall, my friend Billy had brought a bottle of Stolpman, the excellent 2007 L’Avion, to a tasting at Mission Wines we attended two weeks ago.  Alex had planned a late morning of tasting, so we went to Los Olivos to look around.  You might recall, if you were in Southern California, that the weekend of December 18 was rainy as heck.  This made driving a bit precarious but also had the unexpected benefit of clearing Los Olivos of nearly every other tourist and taster.  Alex and I basically had the town to ourselves.

We started with a light repast at Corner House Coffee, where freshly-brewed Peet’s awaited us and we could play a few rounds of Hive while we dried off.



We walked around Los Olivos, which was absolutely beautiful:



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Celebrating Christmas with a Cab and a Chihuahua

25 Dec

I have quite a few entries to post, including some from a very nice wine tasting trip up to Santa Barbara, but I will post this one first.  I had purchased a bottle of 2002 Chateau St. Jean “Cinq Cepages”, a wine composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot from Sonoma.  While one could think of this as a meritage the people at CSJ classify it as a Cabernet because of the high percentage (at least 75% in any given vintage) of that grape in the blend.

I was very excited about this wine, having had it shipped from invino to my home back in California.

We opened it up yesterday for dinner, which was New York strip steaks topped with caramelized onion, creamy mashed potatoes, and a nice green bean, tomato, and feta cheese salad.  True to form, I opened it up about an hour before dinner to drink while cooking.  Very dark, saturated color.  On the nose there was prune and blueberry, and herbs.  When my mom tried it she said it tasted salty–I agree: there was sort of a cured olive aspect to the wine.  I got the prune and berries, along with tar, tobacco, licorice, and stone–nicely integrated, soft tannins.  It had a long finish, resolving to lighter red fruit notes.

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Getting Reacquainted with Home: or, California Versus France

13 Dec

You wake up one morning and you realize that two and a half years have passed. And yet, this time did not just fly by: it was full of wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) memories and experiences, and with friends and family.

Of course, this being a wine blog, the time was also filled with some excellent wine.

I type this from sunny California. It is literally sunny (yesterday was 77 degrees, today is going to be 80), with uncharacteristically perfect blue skies through which you can see the San Gabriel Mountains. I just flew in from DC on Saturday and have already had some great Chinese food–great Mexican food awaits.

Bookending my flight: Life by Keith Richards, which I highly recommend; two finals, courtesy of law school; clinic work, also courtesy of law school; drinking, courtesy of my nascent alcoholism; and a few bottles of wine had on either side of the continent.

The first bottle I want to write about is the young 2008 Roger Belland “La Fussière” Maranges 1er cru (Ansonia Wines, $22).  This is almost criminally young, but despite that (or because of that…?) it is tantalizingly good.  The nose on this is incredible, just exploding from the glass with strawberry and red fruits.  It has pronounced acidity and not too much tannin, and it is very lean and juicy.  It is a pretty expression of Burgundy, fruit, not funk; berries, not earth.  This is reminiscent of good Beaujolais cru.

Contrast that to this bottle right here:

The 2008 Meiomi “Belle Glos” Pinot Noir (Pearson’s Wine and Spirits, $20ish) is a blend of Pinots from California’s Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara counties.  I had had it before at Mission Wines in South Pasadena, but that was years ago.  All I remembered was that it was a quality wine but one I didn’t necessarily want to purchase again.  I tried it again at Pearson’s with Heather, and again it was not impressive–except that there was something about it, some Mickey Rourke-like spark that kept me from writing it off.  There was some funk hiding beneath the tired waves of old fruit that made me wonder if this had something else to offer.  I told this all to Larry, the pourer, who said that this bottle had been open since the day before and that he would open a fresh bottle (so nice of him, right?  I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND Pearson’s to anyone with access to Glover Park).  The new bottle: wow!  What a difference!  The tired waves of old fruit were rejuvenated and became supple cascades of ripe plum and jujubes, offset by baking spice and underlined by that funkiness I had tasted in the first bottle.  Substantial body and great tannins to balance the acidity.  Very fragrant nose.

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A Night of Eating and Drinking Well

22 Nov

What happens when you are part of a Wine Buyers Collective and a Wine Appreciation Society?  A lot of wine to drink with a lot of people.

Kate and Rahul, who are esteemed members of both organizations, thus found themselves with about two cases of wine.  They invited us over for dinner where they would provide the wine; Meredith, a trained chef, agreed to coordinate a dinner to go with the wine.

The menu, as put together by Meredith, was as follows:

  • Mushroom paté
  • Bitter greens salad with shallot-dijon vinaigrette
  • Coq au vin over potato puree
  • Quince tarte tatin

I was responsible for the mushroom paté, which recipe you can find here.  It’s one of the few dishes I’ve made that requires more than two kinds of mushrooms (three kinds of mushrooms?!?  A double boiler setup?!?  Chilling afterwards for six hours?!?  It was only the day of that I realized this dish was significantly more labor intensive than I had anticipated.)

But the mushroom paté turned out surprisingly well; actually, all the food turned out extremely well.  The coq au vin, made with love and care by Meredith, was supremely flavorful and tender, with some caramelized onion and carrot that hit me like sweet/umami bombs.  The greens were a fine balance between bitter and buttery, and the quince tarte tatin was like something out of heaven.



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Why You Should Read About Wine: Reason #1 – Crazy Wines Are Often Where You’d Least Expect Them

23 Aug

You always hear the stories about how someone buys a painting or, say, negatives from a garage sale for five dollars and it turns out to be a long-lost Cézanne.  But how often does that happen, right?

It happens all right, and you can improve your odds of such discoveries by having expensive tastes and keeping your eyes open.

Two Fridays ago I was at the Dover farm of the Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice.  Chief Justice Myron T. Steele was kind enough to open his home (and extensive lands) to legal interns, clerks, and staff–past and present–for a barbecue.  There were fireflies, barking dogs, frisky ponies, and the good smell of roasting chicken and ribs: there was magic in the air.

There was also a big tub of beer and wine on the lawn.  It had nothing too fancy–mostly Bud Lite and Yuengling on the beer side, with some standard-issue Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay on the wine side–but who cared?  It was perfect, lazy evening weather, and the conversation was good.  I was also very thirsty, so I returned time and time again to the tub to get fresh beers.

On one such trip I rummaged around the ice and saw a bottle of white wine I had not previously noticed.  It was a gorgeous honey-amber color.  My first thought was that it was a Spanish wine of some sort–I’ve had some good Verdejo that came in bottles that color.  But this wine wasn’t in a colored bottle: the bottle was clear.  I reached into the tub and turned the wine around, then audibly gasped.

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