Welcome Home Wine

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My husband has been sequestered in Minneapolis conference room for over 12 days, learning the finer nuances of credit, enjoying a steady diet of Midwestern hotel food and gamely weathering the balmy 3 degree temperatures.  We miss him, I miss him. So, tonight, to welcome him home I will prepare him a hearty Italian vegetable and sausage soup and a from-scratch manchego and herb pizza.  We’re talking wood-burning-warm kinda food, and of course we’ll need a deeply satisfying red wine for this meal.

I’m reaching for Bordeaux.

Chateau d’Issan, 2007, Margaux, Grand Cru Classé, (which means this vineyard was awarded a special ‘fancy pants’ designation by the French in 1855…so it’s got street cred as far as quality is concerned). $45

Tastes Like: First, decant and let it get comfy. This is a wine to get familiar with over the duration of an evening. Taste some now, let it sit, try again in 30 minutes. You’ll get layers of chocolate, warm cigar box spice and loads of round supple black fruits from start to finish…rather like enjoying the heady aroma of  freshly cut cedar deep in the forest. Made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon this wine can easily age 10 years, but is delightfully drinkable now.

Sorry this image is so lousy---but the gold label is just not camera friendly, and I never said I was trying to be a photo journalist.

This Wine is All Ears.

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Tucker---Thinking Dog

Our rescue dog Tucker is a pure peach of a mutt.  He has this uncanny ability to make eye contact and connect; honestly if he started talking one day it would seem fitting. He’s cool to look at too, and sporty and fast…just an all-around great dog.  And yet, despite all of his esteemed qualities, the velvet whorls of fur behind his ears are what I love most about him. Soft and soothing, those tufts possess an almost floral quality, smelling of dried hay and sunshine. It’s a uniquely Tucker smell and it’s in this Chinon I am drinking tonight. Chinon is made primarily from Cabernet Franc and grown in France’s Loire Valley. It’s almost always elegant, light bodied and utterly feminine. Tonight’s wine is all of that and more. Aromas of dried rose petals and blue fruits evoke sunshine and warmth…and Tucker’s ears, which for me translates into the undeniable appeal of dog love.  Possibly it’s this singular aroma that makes Chinon so fetching and uncomplicated. Cheers to ears.

$12, Château de Rivière, Chinon, 2009.

Chinon

Ode to Summer

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Snowmaggedon—The Ice Capades–Day 3

Late last night I stood in my kitchen and conjured a sound—the swell of locust and cricket song on a mid-July eve.  It brought to mind the annual late drive home from 4th of July fireworks… the evening having cooled enough to bravely roll down a car window. We drive slowly under the massive oak canopy that covers our neighborhood; the thrum of crickets and locusts fills the ears. This nature’s symphony is summer at its peak. It is warm, soothing, humid…a uniquely southern cocktail.  Sigh.  Tonight I am sipping a wine whose aromas weave that summer spell, helping me to ignore the ice, snow, wind and cold that have darkened my mood. I inhale wet leaves, dark cherry, spice box, even a nudge of sulphur (fireworks anyone?).  It is dark and rich, supple and soft with a lingering finish. If you need to conjure your own summer, drink this now:  Estancia Meritage, 2007.  A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. $35

www.estanciaestates.com

Knife Skills are Important When Serving Wine…

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Just ask the St. Regis Sommelier Harry Constantinescu.  Every night at 6pm (just outside the Wine Room) he gathers a crowd together to enjoy a bottle of French Champagne—with a cutting edge twist (the puns are just killing me). Armed with his shiny big sword Harry sabers that cork right outta the bottle, deftly lifts it upward, containing the bubbles, and pours everyone a glass. Apparently all this knife wielding originated with Napoleon’s army—too busy handling their horses they elected to open their Champagne with a one-handed swipe of the sword.  Regardless, free champagne, a sideshow and you get to sit around end enjoy the St. Regis’ fine digs; this is how I like to enjoy happy hour.

Everyday is a good day for this Sparkler…

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I love Champagne, but my wallet does not.  Let’s just own the fact that nothing out there can hold a candle to the Real Deal—French Champagne with all its mineral glory and feisty bubbles is the bomb.  But, when we are living in the Real World (the one where I have to save money to send my kids to college) I drink other bubbly wines from little-known regions.  Enter: CJR, Reginato ‘Celestina’ Rosé of Malbec and CJR Reginato Blanc de Blancs.  The Rosé is around $20 and the Blanc de Blancs runs about $15.  These are hand-crafted boutique sparkling wines from Argentina and certainly the best value in bubbly on the market today.  The Rosé is rich and toasty with a charming floral nose and serious enough heft to drink with dinner.  The Blanc de Blancs won rave reviews at a recent party (several people called me later to get the name).   Crisp and fresh with citrus and stone fruits on the nose and zillions of tiny, luminescent bubbles in the glass, it’s a perfect start-the-party wine.  Cheers!

Channeling My Inner Cowgirl

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Slim's Draw

Slim's Draw

When I picture the hereafter, this is just what it looks like…except there would be a pile of dark chocolate truffles and a case of Bordeaux in the picture too.   Lucky for me this place really does exist here on earth.  All you have to do is fly to Denver and drive a few hours north…you’ll crest a foothill in the Sierra Madre Range and in the sweeping valley below you’ll see it: The A Bar A Dude Ranch. There’s loads of stuff to do at the A Bar A…but really, if you didn’t come to ride than why bother?  The picture is of Slim’s Draw.  My trusty steed, Bourbon (no lie), squired me along the two-hour trail to this magnificent bald, high above the Wyoming plains. Upon arrival my husband, David, and I are greeted by the heady aromas of fried potatoes and grilled beef tenderloin.  The A Bar A staff has been busy all afternoon preparing an extravagant meal for the Slim’s riders!  How can it possibly get better?  With wine, of course.  The Slim’s Draw experience does not disappoint…I am served an earthy, Cabernet Franc from Quady Winery located in Southern Oregon. (Yes, there is far more to Oregon than Pinot Noir).  Succulent with cinnamon, spice and wild blackberry jam, this wine was made for the wilds.  Quady wines are hard to find and not made in massive amounts, so your best bet is to order online from the winery.  http://www.quadywinery.com

Really, your best bet is to ride to Slim’s with a bottle of this wine and raise a glass to America’s western beauty.

Best $10 Cabernet Sauvignon this year!

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Jade Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon—$10 at Green’s.  At first sip it was a bit stand-offish. Some wines are just like that, shy at first.  I left it alone a bit (well, 30 minutes, I was thirsty).  It was worth the wait.  Velvety and layered without being overpowering (like so many California Cabs can be)…I tasted new things in every sip: cedar, mint, spice, dark, dark berry. Oh this is a happy wine!  Honestly… TEN BUCKS…I only spent TEN BUCKS. What’s not to be happy about?

This is absolutely a great wine to serve at all those big holiday dinners you’ll be having, to give as a hostess gift or to sip by the fire.  I seriously considered not sharing this deal of the century with anyone, but it is the holidays and Santa is watching.  Enjoy!

Value Wines

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Had a posse of friends over last night and put ’em to work tasting 11 wines, blind…all the wines were those everyday value wines we see around, priced in the $10 range, but just for fun I threw in a $70 bottle to see if anyone might notice.  Everyone had to rate each wine—the scale:

1.       Swill

2.       I’d cook with it.

3.       Decent.

4.       Superior, a wine I’d be proud to pour.

5.       Rockstar—tastes like an expensive fancy pants wine.

Top Three Whites

MOST HIGHLY HIGHIEST RATED WHITE WINE: Martini Prosecco, $14, average score 4

This one was a crowd-pleaser as it rated highest amongst our whites. Most sippers liked this for its easy, delicate taste. A simple pleasure to enjoy, not getting too complicated or fussy. There are probably better Proseccos on the market at this price, but Martini is an easily recognizable brand and hence easy to find in a pinch.

Woodbridge Brut, $10, average score 3.5

There were more than a few surprised sippers when we uncovered the Woodbridge label—most everyone characterized this sparkler as pleasantly bubbly and refreshing with some citrus and apple on the nose. At this price it’s certainly a nice party pleaser to spike with some cranberry juice for a holiday cocktail or just enjoy alone.

The sippers take this job seriously.

Martini Sparkling Rose $13.99, average score 3.5

With its soft pink hue this is a lovely wine to look at and to taste.  Not overly heavy or moussy for a sparkling wine…sippers liked the peachy taste and citrusy kick this wine had.  Perfect to serve as guests arrive for the evening, or to toast in the New Year.

Top Three Reds

MOST HIGHLY RATED OVERALL:  Budini Malbec, 2009 $13, average score 4.5

This Argentine malbec was the most highly rated wine of the evening, getting lots of love from sippers for its chocolate and dark cherry notes.  Soft approachable tannins (many called it ‘smooth’) and a lengthy finish gave it big points too.  A steal at this price.

Mirassou Pinot Noir, 2009, $12/ average score 4

Bright red fruits and strawberries were the big notes in this wine. Crafted by one of California’s oldest winemaking families, this is a classic pinot noir. Soft, light-bodied and drinkable before dinner and during the meal, pair it with a roasted salmon or lamb.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Meritage 2009, $11, average score 4

The only blend of the evening this wine is comprised of the five classic Bordeaux red varieties: cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, cabernet franc, and merlot. Sippers found this wine balanced and enjoyable with tastes of black cherry and velvet—pour this along with the Budini at your next big party and everyone will be happy.

Oh yeah and what did our $70 wine (who shall remain unnamed for reputation reasons) score in the game?  The most expensive wine on the table scored right down the middle, (average score 3) with most tasters either loving it or just hating it.  Big and bold, it tended to be just too much for a cocktail party and overall it scored the lowest of the reds.

Leggo my Lego

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Remember that commercial, Leggo My Eggo?  It rang true in a funny way yesterday after my son announced he no longer wanted any of his prized Legos.  “Just toss ’em in a bin for later, someone else can play with ’em,”  he announced, “I don’t care.”  I stared at him, stunned…his room is a veritable temple to Lego.

 “Yeah, I just don’t like Legos now mom,” he continued casually. Unable to process this sudden decision I blink and stare, then it occurs to me that he is getting too big to play with Legos.  No, not getting too big, he has just announced apropos of nothing that he IS too big.  Leggo my Lego.

 This is where I do that thing called “leave my body” and pretend I’m in a good parenting movie where the mother says the ‘just-right, perfect thing’ punctuated by meaningful pauses and the grateful son nods knowingly, thinking to himself, “Gee my mom is sure swell, she just knows how to make me feel alright about everything, especially growing up. I hope I know as much as she does when I’m a parent one day.”

 Instead I sit down on his bed and blurt out “Why are you doing this?”  As if he’s leaving us forever. Guilty accusation #1. Then I babble about how he’ll miss them, how they are special and how much hard work he’s put into them.  He just looks at me. I leave; this is not the movie moment I imagined. Kicking the Lego habit is only a sign of one thing, growing up. Little boys grow up and leave home; this is the beginning of all of that.

 I return to his room where he has been busy tearing down his rated ‘G’ posters, little league pennants and framed artwork from the wall. There is a scar on the drywall from the old tape he pulled away.  I run my finger over it and say, “I wish you had asked before you did this,” READ: I wish you had told me you were going to come home from school today and grow up.

 My wise boy gives me a nod, “Sorry mom, I just want to change things in here.”  Sigh. I know, I know.  I muster a movie-worthy moment and say, “Let’s do that, let’s change things together.” Well, not really, I fuss at him for the drywall mess and tell him to clean his room while he’s at it, then I get a glass of wine.

Harbingers of things to come call for wines with bottled up potential.  Tonight I want a wine that changes, matures if you will, from the first glass to the last.  A wine like this is gonna cost ya…they tend to be top drawer Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Potential is costly no doubt, much like raising a child, it takes time and money. 

Best Bet? 

Quintessa from Napa Valley, a gorgeous Bordeaux style red and around $90 a bottle. It demands your attention at every sip ranging from lush leather and chocolate to warm spice and sandalwood. Grill a tenderloin, bake a potato and raise a glass of this wine to change

Her First Set of Wheels

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My five year old rode a bike without training wheels today.  I wasn’t involved really, she just got on the bike and coasted down the drive…nodded her head as if agreeing with herself that this bike thing was going to be a good idea and took off.  Once again I found myself gaping…motherhood brings that out a lot in me.  I’m either gaping at the sassy third grade girls flirting with my middle son (they’d better watch it) or I’m gaping at the amount of mud my kids can bring indoors.  Anyway, there I was gaping.  She just decided that she’d ride her bike and took a moment to let me know.

I watch as she glides away, her long hair spinning like a kite behind her, confident and sure.  I ponder this shift in my world, picturing her waving to me as she backs the car out of the drive—confident and sure behind a real set of wheels.  How does time just fly like this?  Parenthood has given me a keen appreciation for time.  I sigh (motherhood brings that out a lot too…sigh), and try to hold onto this very minute as she wheels her bike around and speeds down the driveway dressed in a navy blue leotard and grinning madly. Hello?  Speeding? I’m thinking she can get behind real wheels maybe age 25?  No worries, we’ve got time.

This leads me to wine–because just about everything in my life leads to wine.  Today I need something feminine but with a youthful, fresh edge to it…a rose (picture an accent over that ‘e’) fits the bill.  One of my standbys is Coppola’s Sofia Rosé.  It’s a gorgeous wild salmon color accented with aromas of strawberries and rosewater.  A kick of citrus keeps it snappy and fresh.  Crack this open and invite the girls over for a whine and wine in the driveway on a humid summer afternoon and raise a glass to time.   Bottle retails for about $16. If you can’t find Sofia, add these to your shopping list:

Albemarle Rosé, 2007 (Virginia) $12

Angoves Nine Vines Rosé, 2007, (Australia) $12