I want to take a moment and thank MUG for the mention on their site. I have been doing this for about five months now and had no clue it was being looked at. My lonely little counter at the bottom of the screen would inch up a couple of hits a day and by the fourth month or so I was at a whopping 800. Then one day recently I loaded my blog and…wow…I had some comments. People were actually reading my stuff and responding. Comments are always exciting when you’re writing just because you love it and someone picks up on your focus and chimes in. I went down to the counter that day and saw that my hits went from 840 hits to about 1300. I was floored.
I came to find out that a website called Manhattan User’s Guide (amazing website by the way. I have a link to it in the title of this post and on my links list) had reviewed my blog. So I went on and sure enough there it was. Thanks MUG for such a nice blurb. I did recognize the statement that I do not post regularly. For this I am truly sorry. I love writing about wine and talking about food and life here in New York City. I am going to try and make an effort to post a little more frequently and keep this moving forward. I began this blog just because I love wine so much I had write about it, and found that it was a great release for me. Someone was nice enough to mention me on their site and now I would love to continue that relationship.
So, although I do not post on a schedule, please check back and see me for more babble about my wine experiences with my wife and my friends. Wine should be enjoyed and its knowledge should be shared. When I open a bottle it is all about the wine…in my head. I am a geek, I can’t help it. But first and foremost it is about the company I am lucky enough to share it with. Thanks for stopping by and keep coming back for more craziness.
I had never seen anything like it. I couldn’t believe it was true but there it was in front of me. I’m sure we have all heard of “wine in a box” and we all know the craziness that is two-buck Chuck. But have you ever heard of Iron Wine? It is not from California and it is not from Europe. No it is from the beautiful Mendoza region of Argentina. And it is packaged in an aluminum can. I shouldn’t even continue. I should just leave it at that. When one says, “wine in a can” that should be the end of it. It shouldn’t be opened and swirled and analyzed. We’ll just have a good chuckle and move on with our lives and try to forget we saw such a thing. No such luck. I had to try this bizarre mutation of industrial wine marketing.
I must say it sat for many days on the shelf just taunting me. I just couldn’t bring myself to “crack” it open. But there it was staring at me. Taunting me. Every once in awhile I would pick it up and look at the text and design of the can. Smooth brushed steel text on the sides of the can asking me if I can handle it, “Can you drink wine?” interspersed with “Wine you can drink,” challenged me to a taste test. And when I read what would normally be placed on the back label of a “bottle” I knew it was time to get the crew together for a quick crack. It read:
“Thousands of years ago wine was stored in clay amphora. Finally it has evolved to this unique blend that combines Argentina’s best grapes with the latest evolution in wine packaging…” Now that is an ambitious statement. Using the word “finally” really clinches it. Ah…finally. It even goes on to give some very colorful tasting notes, “Flavors of cherry, blackberry, leather and cocoa abound…smooth and comfortable on the palate.” Wow. And then to sum up the whole experience before you even open the can, “Iron Wine…unabashedly modern!” Okay I said to myself let us see what “unabashedly modern tastes like.
Gal, Mr. Wolf and myself sat around the Iron Wine staring at it with wonder and confusion. What conference room came up with this idea and why? We brought out the wine glasses and placed them next to the…can. It just didn’t look or feel right. I mean, we were about to taste wine but there was no bottle. It felt like something was missing. It was all a bit bizarre. But we are wine geeks and just letting something like this fall by the wayside was just out of the question. We were obligated as experimentalists to bite the bullet, crack the can and give a report. There was no better time then right then.
Crack went the can. Just holding it felt weird. I am used to a certain way of pouring wine into a glass where I twist the bottle upwards as soon as I am ready to move on to the next glass so as to avoid dripping. This was a whole other story. I might as well have been pouring Budweiser into a wine glass. The motion of it all felt odd and even though I knew I was pouring out of a can I still did the upwards twist out of habit and heard the snickers and giggles of my colleagues turn into genuine laughter.
And so there it was…in the glass…Iron Wine…blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon. I swirled the wine to coat the walls of the glass, took a deep breath and experienced the first nose. I pulled away quickly and looked at the guys’ reactions. We stared at each other and simultaneously said, “sulfur.” There was a moment of silence and Gal spoke up. He said it wasn’t as bad as he thought it was going to be and I concurred. He had verbalized what my brain was trying to register. Mr. Wolf was still in awe trying to figure out what else was going on in the glass. The weird thing was that there was actuallly a nose to this wine. Granted it was underneath a large dose of sulfur and now, as it “opened” notes of aluminum. Of course all this was before we actually tasted the wine.
We took our first sips and the deal was done. The honeymoon was over. That was all she wrote. The wine went down and threatened to come back up. There was an insipidness to the taste that could not be ignored. No cherry, No blackberry either. We all coughed and laughed and chalked it up to a learning experience. I watched as Gal and Mr. Wolf shook their heads and poured out the wine. I on the other hand had to really get the full picture here. I took one last sip to actually feel why this was so bad. I know that tasting notes on such a wine should not even exist. I know that I shouldn’t be taking it seriously at all. And I wasn’t really. I just had to understand why it was bad. The sulfur and aluminum taste along with lingering trail of acidity still attacking my throat was all the indication I needed to tell myself it was over and follow suit by pouring the Iron Wine down the drain.
Marketing has no shame. This product might serve as a cheap way to make individual sangria maybe with some orange juice and some sprite to cut through the uncomfortable flavors but even then I think the quality of the wine might mess with one’s stomach after a couple cans. Well, there you have it. We did it. We tried something that should be scoffed at and forgotten. We dug in our heels and gave it a go. And sure it was a pretty bad wine but the experience was fun and I will always remember trying a wine in a can. But in the end if this is “unabashedly modern,” I am a traditionalist.
Man, it is amazing outside today. I can feel it. Autumn is upon us and I can dig it. I love this time of year in NYC. Seasonal menus start a changin’ and red wine really starts a flowin’. It is the perfect time of year to have some of those big reds that have been hard to look at in the heat wave of 2006. Comfort food and strong cheese, butternut squash, pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, cream sauces, butter and sage, hearty Italian fare. Oh yeah, this is great. I love me some seasonal change. I can’t wait to go to the farmer’s market and check out all the new produce coming from the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes region. All that warm, fresh bread and ripe squash. I also can’t wait to really start exploring those biggins in my “Cellar” and pairing them fall dishes. Okay…wait a second…I need to slow down a bit here. I am still deep into my Trader Joe’s experiment. Sure it’s almost done, but I need to batten down the ADD and stay focused. I also have an interesting wine to talk about but I will save that one for tomorrow. I need to take a picture of it and put on the post just to prove it exists. All I will say is it is served in aluminum can (freaky? Si Buay). Anyway, I just wanted to drop a post about how exciting it is to be in the greatest city in the country ready for a fun Autumn. Oh the wine to be drunk and talked about.
In the past two weeks my wife and I have had a chance to explore the Lower East Side. Our good friend, Lauren lives below Houston and she and August gave us a great tour of some bars and clubs down there. But what really got me is where the four of us had dinner before hoppin. We met them on Broome between Ludlow and Orchard. They couldn’t remember the name of the place so I when we got there, a rush of excitement ran through me. It was Barrio Chino. I had heard about this place a month or so before. There was mention of the best margaritas around and I remember telling myself that we had to give it a go before summer came to a close. Then my running a restaurant took over and I completely forgot.
Well, thanks to Lauren and August we were able to experience it just in time. Fall is right around the corner and all I will be thinking about is red wine and winter whites…oh, and scotch. Barrio Chino is a very small place with a rough-around-the-edges yet sexy look that fits perfectly into the Lower East Side. It has decorative Chinese flare hanging on the walls and from the ceiling to give props to the Chinatown border on which they reside, yet it focuses on Latin cuisine, hence, the name Barrio (neighborhood) Chino (Chinese). The menu is simple yet thorough within their theme, offering a wide range of traditional dishes with little nuances to make the items unique. The drink list that I had heard about is offered at the tables and written in sharpie on cut up pieces of produce or beer box cardboard. I had the grapefruit margarita and I must say it was spectacular. My wife had sangria, which was actually really good. I wasn’t daring enough because of the night ahead of us but next time (there will many next times here) I am going to go for the jalapeno infused margarita.
The food is excellent. The portions are a bit tiny but when you bite into them that don’t matter anymore. The steak in my soft-shell tacos was absolutely amazing. The reason I say this is because the meat in these types of dishes can sometimes be dried out. Whoever they get their meat from knows how to take care of it. And, actually, in the end I was diggin’ the fact that everything was bite sized. I think that when you have ingredients this fresh and with so much flavor you don’t need to pile it onto a plate and compensate for compromised taste. Also when you see the menu initially and notice the prices you think it is going to be a huge New York sized portion. This is soooo not the case, and I welcome it. I would rather pay more for smaller portions of quality ingredients than less for less.
Barrio Chino is a great place. The food is excellent, the drinks are fantastic and the service is right on par with a good time. Thank you Lauren and August. My wife and I recently went back but instead had the brunch. I had another one of those grapefruit margaritas (I couldn’t help it, they are so damn good) and the huevos con chorizo. Get it. It is amazing. They serve the little tacos separate in a warm napkin with a side of salsa verde and its do-it-yourself from there.
Trader Joe’s has been open for a couple of months now and my wife and I have been going there as often as needed to stock up on anything we need. The reason I say as often as needed is because that place is AMAZING! The price you pay for a week’s worth of food whether you’re buying ingredients or quick, precooked or frozen food is ridiculously lower than Key Food or the corner super deli. The quality of their products is outstanding and they pretty much have everything you need. I could go on and on about the beauty that is Trader Joe’s but I must move on to my point.
Trader Joe’s also has a wine shop and being a wine geek I had to check this place out. I always see it when we are there; I am just too busy trying to weed through the crowd just to get items in the cool, little red cart and then waiting fifteen to twenty minutes in line that usually wraps around to the entrance of the store (I am not complaining I can dig why we are all there) that when we get out we just want to go home and start cooking. We figure we’ll just pop one from the old “wine cellar” I carefully wedged into the kitchen when we moved in. On our last trip, however, I told my wife I would meet her in the organized chaos after I checked out this Trader Joe’s wine shop thing.
The shop was packed with people. I had never seen a wine shop that small with that many people in it at one time. I browsed among the masses ogling at the prices. It was like the whole store was a bargain bin. Awesome. As I moseyed around I kept on coming back to an extreme yet potential bargain. It was a 2005 malbec from Argentina (Mendoza) for…drum roll please…. four bucks. I am a sucker for malbec and other Argentinean blends so I had to grab it. I was embarking on a journey, an experiment if you will, on whether the cheapest of the cheap can hold up to the rest. This was really fun, I thought to myself and wondered how my wife was doing over in the other throng. Ah…she can handle it.
I clutched my new four-dollar bottle with unexpected excitement and I walked another round just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I was pretty tight on cash that day so I didn’t want to go crazy and get a case or something. I just wanted one or two bottles to go home with and try with my wife over dinner. I wanted to take baby steps with this newfound bargain place. I wanted to be a bit selective. On the last round I came across a wine that Eric Asimov had reviewed and enjoyed in a recent $10 and under piece. It was a Mondavi Private Selection 2004 merlot…or was it the pinot noir? I turned around and behind me was the pinot noir Private Selection. I couldn’t remember which one it was that he had written about. After some consideration I decided to go with the one I had seen first, the merlot.
Sure enough when we got home I went online, found the article and it was not the merlot it was the pinot (oh, well…next trip). No stress here man, I was going to pop that Trader Joe’s pre-made pizza in the oven, break out the Trader Joe’s pre-made arugula salad with walnuts, raisins and gorgonzola, uncork both the four dollar malbec and the nine dollar merlot and just go for it.
The pizza was great. The salad was really good for a pre-made item. The wine was…well…not…too…bad. We started with the malbec. It wasn’t too bad. Keeping in mind that it was a 2005 I was not blown away but definitely pleasantly surprised. It was soft and full of berries with hints of smokiness that came out a bit more in the glass as it breathed. It was quite approachable with no insipid characteristics that would make one cringe and a nice roundness to it that I found went well with the salad. There was a bit of heat from the alcohol and the acidity was a little strong but all in all it was a pretty enjoyable four-dollar bottle of wine.
The pizza was ready and we poured a glass of the Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2004 merlot. It was immediately hard to find the subtleties of mild vegetal notes and interwoven fruit that I am used to with merlot. The nose was a bit mute and difficult to gauge. The color was nice though, so it was bound to have something going on on the palate. Sure enough it did. The palate was a bit lean but at least more impressive than the initial nose. We each had a glass of the merlot with the pizza and I guess it went well together. It had a sort of pinot noir quality when matched with the sauce that brought out the acidity and added some character to the wine. After the pizza we ended up going back to the malbec and corking the merlot for the night. I purposefully didn’t finish either bottle to see what twenty-four hours did to them. If nothing came of it I would cook with them or make nice sangria.
The next day I hit the farmer’s market in my hood and grabbed a bunch of fresh, seasonal produce and planned a nice, simple dinner for my wife and I. When all was said and done I had made baked acorn squash with a honey-Dijon mustard-butter sauce and a side of freshly shaved corn and couscous salad with pimentos. For dessert, fresh apples from the market (the only apples worth buying) with salted natural peanut butter from Trader Joe’s.
I decided to revisit the merlot while I was cooking. I poured a taste and gave it a swirl. It had actually improved some. I let it sit for a bit and continued to cook checking back on the glass every five minutes or so. It continued to improve. I wasn’t about to decant it but I was definitely enjoying much more than the night before. This was an interesting twist in my Trader Joe’s wine shop “experiment.” I kept it uncorked for the duration of the recipe and waited to polish it off with my wife.
When we sat down to eat she asked me which wine this was. When I told her it was the merlot from the night before she was kind of taken back. The wine had filled out more and the structure had come more into focus. The fruit was quite prominent and the tannins had shown up to say hi, subtly but definitely present. It went really well with both dishes soaking up the couscous and matching the sweetness of the corn with smooth fruit and mingling well with the acorn squash giving a lean flavor to the creamy-sweetness of the dish. Good stuff.
As for the malbec, don’t buy this wine unless you pop it and finish it in one sitting. All the nuances of this decent four dollar Mendoza were gone leaving nothing but the reminiscence of fruit and body. It was actually a bit salty with watered down candy on the palate. It was a complete reversal of preference in a twenty-four hour period. I would say the experiment was a mild success. Both wines were pretty damn decent. If the malbec is consumed in full the day it is opened it can be quite enjoyable. Also, because of the price, it has a structure for nice sangria. The merlot needs some time open up but it isn’t half bad. I know I was supposed to get the pinot but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. The experiment is not yet over. I am not done with finding decent wine in the crazy little shop. I have since gone back and purchased the private selection pinot, which is in the queue for the next blog.
I thought I would add a little something today. If anyone read my 4th of July post they will remember (or not) a wine that was thoroughly enjoyed. It was the Foppiano 2004 Pinot Noir and it gave me hope for the pinots of Cali. I have since had a couple more that were great, especially a Merry Edwards from the Russian River Valley. I had it with my wife on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina at this amazing restaurant, which is another post all together.
Well, last night our good friends had us over to check another bottle august had picked up at Foppiano when visiting Cali, the 2002 Zin. We had just had dinner and went back to Lauren’s apartment to check this sucker out. We popped it and sat around talking about everything except wine. Lauren has some great wine glasses that allow you to really get a feel for what you are drinking.
As we were talking and drinking I kept wanting the Zin to open up some. It was giving me alcohol and ripe fruit on the nose with none of that welcome spice and thickness. It wasn’t bad it was just different from what I was used to. I haven’t had too many zins but the ones I had were a bit tougher on tannin and structure. I have had a good amount of primitivo which is very similar to zin (some people actually think it is zin or a clone of it) and primitivo generally tends to be a bit lighter than Cali Zin but this one was almost on par with a medium bodied primitivo. Also I thought in the end that it was lacking the acidity needed to bring the body into balance. As these thoughts were going through my head August mentioned to me his thoughts on the wine that thankfully reflected mine. He said he much more enjoyed the pinot from them.
In the literature that August gave me about the vineyard it says they have been around since the 1800’s and their flagship wine is petit sirah. This would make sense as the zin vines may be a bit too young and are more susceptible to varying weather conditions, affecting the ripening process of the grapes, which add to the body and flavor of a wine. The pinot was great and whether they are young or old vines of all the varietals out there pinot reflects the soil in which it was grown more than the majority of the grapes out there (tempranillo is another). So it seems that 2004 was a better year for the “terrior” of Foppiano. I would like to try a 04 Zin and compare but with these Cali wines costing an arm and a leg it’s hard to justify the risk. But then again what’s life without a little risk. When I find one I will be calling on August and Lauren event.
What was more important than the wine was the company. I am posting these tasting notes from recesses of my memory. I was not hanging out with my pad and pen. My wife and I were just kicking back on a Saturday night with good friends and enjoying each other’s company. I am a wine geek and it’s hard for me to not analyze wine but when it comes down to it wine was being made long before tasting notes came around so was the communal aspect of wine. In the end this is my favorite part. Thank You August for bringing back wines to share from your jaunt to the Russian River Valley. The next one is on me.
So it was time to explore France via the east village. One night last week Gal, Mr. Wolf and myself popped two bottles of French wine. First up was a rose form Provence. The producers name is Chateau Rouet and it was a blend of 60% granache and 40% syrah and had a beautiful pink color and a wacky curvaceous bottle. It was also a reserve (for rose…pretty cool). Next was a bottle of 1990 chinon 100% cab franc from the Loire region of France. The Loire is mostly known for their whites but who can pass up a $40 1990 from France. It was worth the risk.
The rose came first and we were pleasantly surprised. It was a well balanced and had all of its parts in place. The way I drink and think about rose is that it should be drank and not thought about. I believe people know right away whether a rose is right for them or not. With reds (especially) and whites it could take a bit of contemplation and verbalization before giving it a definitive yeah or nay. This rose was also not only from two of my favorite grapes but also from Provence; an area of France known for it’s wonderful rose. And at $13 it is so worth it. I wanted to keep the bottle and do something with it like a decoration or something because it was so unique.
Next up was the mystery wine. I had tried Cab francs from Italy, Cali and New York State but not from where it was born, France. Of course I had tried it in Bordeaux blends but that is another story altogether. The rose was familiar because it was summer and I had tried a lot of rose form all over the wine regions of the world. They are, for the most part, inexpensive so I went into the chateau Rouet with some fresh knowledge. We popped that puppy and poured a tasting amount. I was struck by the lightness. The color wasn’t too light per se it was just that I could tell that it was light in body just by swirling it and coating the sides of the glass before taking in the aromas.
Speaking of aromas on the first nose I was confused. I smelled the vegetal cab franc signature note but it was much more pronounced than I was used to. And we had just opened the bottle. It stayed that way for a while and we sat back waiting for more to happen as oxygen played with the wine. Gal was torn. He liked it because it was what it was but his face just as perplexed as mine. Mr. Wolf was enjoying the journey of this wine picking off tasting notes as Gal and sat and thought whether we liked it or not.
I wish there was more to say about this wine but there really isn’t. I was not too impressed with it. There is a reason this wine was $40 as a 1990. It wasn’t horrible but I wouldn’t go back to it again. I thin Gal came around to Mr. Wolf’s side in the end. I can say something about cab franc in the Loire though. I was reading a great article in The Saturday Financial Times a couple of weeks ago about the state of Loire cab Franc today. The article mentioned that the Loire, because it is known mostly for its Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc wines cab franc has seen a decline on an already low export rate. Well, this apparently troubled the Loire producers and the board of producers in the region got together and hired an expert (I believe his name is Sam Harrop) to come in and help them acclimate better to their terrior. And apparently it is working.
The article stated that before 2003 the general rule with cab franc in the Loire was to pick when the grapes were quite green and press them to within and inch of their lives. This I believe added to the vegetal notes in the wine that we tried. The piece is very informative and if you can get it online I highly recommend reading it but to maker a long story short, This expert convinced the producers of cab in the Loire to lower there yields and pick according to the weather and pay attention to the heat and sun and as a result, apparently the 03, 04 and 05 vintages are showing quite well. I am curious and will be rummaging around for one of those vintages.