So the thermostat has been going up slowly but steadily–we now are in the high 80s here in SoCal. This means beer and white wine weather.
Yesterday, as we all know (or all now know) was Father’s Day. My family decided to stay at home and cook dinner instead of go out for some fancy affair. My brother decided upon angel hair pasta with a sauce of mussels, shrimp, basil, tomato (apparently from Canada and therefore 100% immune from salmonella), garlic, and white wine. He was in charge of buying the food: I, of course, was in charge of getting a wine to drink and with which to cook.
We found ourselves at Whole Foods, which apparently is the nation’s #1 wine retailer for 2007 or something. They do have a pretty good wine selection, and I spied a bottle of grüner veltliner, that spicy, peppery Austrian white that is one of the next big things in the wine world (though not according to David J. D. over at Horny for Food). It’s still relatively obscure–though almost cliché in some circles–so it’s a great bargain, especially given its quality. I picked up a bottle of velt.1 grüner for a cool $9.99. Excellent.
When I think of wine, I think of terroir: I think of the essence of the land, the air, the sun blended together and refined into a thing of utter and wondrous beauty. An especially well-constructed wine transports me in one sip to the dry fields of Ribera del Duero or the slate of the Mosel, though I certainly have never been to those places.
But who could have imagined that every sip was imparting more than just terroir?
Given everything else that is wrong with the world, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn about the presence of pesticides and other chemicals in wine. Recently, Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) reported a study in which 35 out of 40 bottles of European wine were found to have pesticides–four different pesticides on average but as much as ten in one particularly unfortunate bottle. One of the six organic wines tested also contained trace pesticide residues.
It has been a while since I last posted on this blog. To my loyal readers (all two of you): never fear! I intend to update this blog frequently. Being a “writer”, however, I find myself in long periods of time where writing is the LAST thing I want to do, especially after a day of work or a night of carousing. These days–and nights–I find myself in the mood not to write about wine but to drink wine.
These past two or three quiet weeks have been filled with drinking. I can’t say I’ve had anything too spectacular to drink: however, I’ve had some solid, easygoing, and inexpensive bottles. Even better–I was joined by my family, who have slowly started to look at wine not as a drug, per se, but as something that can have health benefits in moderation.
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 LegalZoom.com, 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?).
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.
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.