For some people wine is just fermented grape juice, no more exciting or magical than a bottle of soda. It is much more than that, however. It is the proper accompaniment for any number of occasions: celebrations, milestones, and, as in yesterday, goodbyes.
Rebecca left this morning for her three-week cross-country journey through which she will be exploring America and relocating to Alaska, where she’ll be clerking at the state intermediate appellate court. We spent yesterday in Philadelphia, stopping first at Metropolitan Bakery for pastries (she had a chocolate croissant and I had a slice of a delicious prune log) at Rittenhouse Square. We grabbed a quick bite at Tria wine bar (we shared poached black Mission figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto di parma, and an absolutely wonderful cold duck salad with spinach, strawberries, and pistachios in a citrus-mint vinaigrette), browsed perhaps the best Italian market ever, and ended the evening in Philly at Marathon on the Square where we had amazing fried calamari and she had shrimp and crab pasta and I had a beef brisket quesadilla. (We also took a detour to Anthropologie and then to Fishtown, which was not well-advised.)
One of my favorite pastimes in DC is to discuss ways in which California is superior to every other state. This usually takes place in the company of fellow Californians, as people who aren’t from Cali simply can’t comprehend how their domiciles are inferior.
All kidding aside, California does have a lot going for it. This being a wine blog, I will restrict the discussion of California’s awesomeness to wine. Of course, there’s Napa. Sonoma. Paso Robles. There’s Cabernet. There’s Pinot. There’s Chardonnay. Etc., etc., etc.
But just as overexposure to sun can lead to premature wrinkles and skin cancer, and being in the shadow of Hollywood creates self-aggrandizers, posers, and shallow B-list types, so can the sun lead to huge, overly-ripe wines, and so can being in the shadow of Napa create wines that, in undergoing sugar Botox and oak augmentation, have become caricatures.
Thus, there are so many California Cabs that are as undrinkably oaky, and California Chards that leave nothing to the imagination. Hence my migration towards the refined, subtle graces of Burgundies.
Thank God for Zinfandels.
I am writing this post from my plain wooden desk here in DC. It’s freakin’ cold here, and drafts blow in from the assuredly-closed plate-glass windows to my left, turning my poor feet into blocks of ice. I’ve been in DC only since around 9 pm on Sunday, and already the healing properties of sunny SoCal rise again as memory in my mind.
I was fortunate enough to have spent the past two and a half weeks in Los Angeles with my family and my sister’s Chihuahua, Twinkie:
Aside from food from Lucky Boy, Taco Bell and various Mexican restaurants of varying degrees of authenticity, endless Chinese, and some delicious, delicious omakase-style sushi at Sushi Sasabune courtesy of my brother, I drank a fair amount of wine (though not as much as I had hoped to). Of particular note was a bottle of champagne I purchased for New Year’s with my family, a delightful Louis Roederer brut that went well with Peking duck.
Another year, another few scores of bottles of wine. I’m not sure if the start of a new year necessarily engenders hope and thankfulness–usually, I feel more of a mix of relief and a creeping feeling that maybe my life is slipping past me–but 2009 in Washington, DC, has found me in a very thankful mood.
For one, I’m living in a nice, comfortable apartment with great food. I have a wonderful family that I appreciate more as I get older; great friends. I am going to a good law school with outstanding professors and classes. I have nothing to complain about, and I am going to try to be more appreciative of the incredible opportunities I’ve been given.
To kick off the new year, my roommate and I hosted a champagne and sparkling wine tasting, the details of which will be coming out in the upcoming Nota Bene (GW Law student newspaper); I will write up my blog observations on that evening a bit later. Suffice it to say that the big winner in the tasting were a beautiful sparkler from France, the Charles de Fere Blanc de Blanc Reserve Brut ($12.99)–was, as I described it, “the group’s favorite, with a nose of hazelnut and toast, a light, almost ethereal mouthfeel, and notes of apple and pear.”
I love wine tasting–actually going to a wine bar to try a flight of different wines. Unfortunately, I don’t like WRITING about the tastings afterward because there are just so many to list. I can’t imagine how Robert Parker and Kermit Lynch do it (though, of course, they get paid $$$ to do so).
I took a few days off of work just to chill out and get my second wind, so to speak, before heading off to law school in July. Thursday and Friday were spent with the family doing nothing in particular, so Saturday afternoon was ripe for something fun: Mission Wines with the co-workers was in order.
The official lineup for the day was:
2006 Leitz Drachenstein Riesling
1996 Lopez de Heredia Gravonia
2005 Rauzan Despagne
2005 Foulaquier Pic St Loup
2005 Ridge Lytton Springs
Finally some free time in which to write about the remaining five wines from last Saturday’s Mission Wines tasting!
7 | 2004 Arzuaga Navarro Crianza | Ribera del Duero, Spain | $29.99
This was the seventh wine of the series, second round of overtime. Dave from Mission Wines was kind enough to pour the party a tasting of this really excellent tinto fino (as tempranillo is known in this region) from the dry river of Duero. Being a crianza, it was aged for thirteen months in oak. I was expecting it to be huge and powerful, expecting some forceful tannins (I’ve found tempranillo from Ribera del Duero is “stronger” or more assertive than those from Rioja), but this wine was surprisingly smooth. Plummy, a little hint of leather. I think this wine probably benefited from my having tried the tannic firebombs of the Barrel 27 and the Tejada beforehand. I would love to compare this one to the Tinto Pesquera, which is another wonderful tinto fino from Ribera del Duero.
(95% tinto fino, 3% merlot, 2% cabernet sauvignon)
8 | Sean H. Thackrey “Pleiades XVI” | Bolinas, California | $23.99
This is a crazy wine. Dave poured this for the party and told us to try and guess what it was. I sniffed and got menthol. A lot of menthol, as in eucalyptus. I also detected a bit of anise as well as other herbs.
This picture is from an older vintage, but you get the picture.
The taste was amazing and yet, very polarizing. No one else in my group liked it at all. Erica compared it to drinking rubbing alcohol. Someone else said it was like Listerine. I can understand: the menthol did impart a bit of a fiery element to the wine, and it did have a fair level of acid. However, it was complex and unlike any other wine I’ve ever had. Tar and citrus, earth and fruit. I don’t know quite how to describe it other than it’s probably the most interesting wine I’ve had in a while and one that every “serious” wine drinker should pick up.
Yet another tasting at Mission Wines, this time with my co-workers: Erica, who resembles a surly Irishman the more she drinks; Denny, the soft-spoken yet outrageous DJ who somehow lost his way coming back from the restroom to his turntables at some dark club and found himself working in a cubicle on the ground floor of LegalZoom.com; and Katherine, a newbie whose only distinguishing feature to me at the present time is her being Korean. And female. (Kidding, Katherine! You’re not female.)
Manning (Peyton? Eli? Archie or Cooper?) or, if you will, womanning the bar was Debbie, a delightful woman who crossed over years back from Colorado to pursue a love of wine. Heck, I would drive hundreds of miles for wine. In fact, that’s the primary reason I head up to Berkeley so often (sorry Jonathan!). She served us the five wines on the menu, as well as two more “bonus” pours.
The wines were:
J. Hofstatter “De Vite” Pinot Grigio | Alto Adige, Italy | 2005 | $11.99
We took turns writing tasting notes. My notes for this wine were “uber-light.” Kat’s notes were a star surrounded by a circle, along with the word “unfabulous”, which I’m not even sure is a word (thanks, spell check!). This pinot grigio was too light, too insubstantial. It was citrusy, which isn’t a bad thing, but to my palate at least it also seemed to have that plasticine taste I abhor in whites. As Mark Oldman notes in his Guide to Outsmarting Wine, much pinot grigio is “often like experiencing an IKEA rug, Ben Stein’s voice, or a dose of Paxil: neutral, monotone, and devoid of highs.” And watery. The region of Alto Adige is apparently home to some more “interesting versions” of pinot grigio, but this particular bottle was not one of them.