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Preview: Adventures of a Wine Noob

Adventures of a Wine Noob



An honest and unpretentious chronicle of a wine noob's adventures as she learns everything she can about grapes, vintages, the wine industry and more while working full-time and going to school. In other words, a normal cubicle-dwelling Denver, CO girl wh



Updated: 2017-02-08T21:56:38.185-07:00

 



Vote for Angel Flight Central to win a lot of money. Do it now.

2011-05-27T18:22:36.794-06:00

So, I wrote this on another blog. It's important.

Vote for Angel Flight Central to win a lot of money. Do it now.

Mille grazie.



An Unusually Explosive Ribera del Duero

2010-09-03T22:33:48.424-06:00

(image)
One of my favorite reds for the last year has been El Arte de Vivir, a gorgeous, smooth Ribera del Duero with blood orange, Ranier cherry and dark chocolate notes that just hit the spot every time for a fantastic price. I'd been looking forward to this bottle (a 2008) for a few weeks now, but I was having troubling finding a good time to open it.

Well, I got my chance tonight. I rinsed a wine glass, fished my corkscrew out of a drawer of kitchen utensils, and dug it into the cork. All very status quo.

Well, it was all going normally until I began to pull the cork out. It broke in half, and the remaining half was buried deep inside the neck. I gave the corkscrew another shot, and came up with nothing more than a few splinters.

Now, my home corkscrew is the kind that Dave loathes, the kind with the wings that fly up as you turn the screw in, so it's reach was too short to get to the last bit of cork stuck deep, deep in the bottle neck. I searched my drawer for the little skinny kind that would allow me to reach in deep, but then I remembered that corkscrew actually lives in my desk at work.

Shit.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I pushed it in with a steak knife.

If you've been around wine for a long time, you can probably guess what happened next. This beautiful Spanish red erupted like a volcano, leaving both me and my white kitchen cabinets soaked.

I ran to the bathroom to wipe it off my face, and when I caught a glimpse of my wine-soaked face in the mirror, there was nothing to do but laugh!

So I probably lost some juice to the explosion, a little more when the bottle fell over onto the stove top, and it has the mutilated remains of a bad cork floating in it, but my face and the kitchen both have been wiped down and the wine tastes none the worse for all the drama.



China: 1 Billion Wine Noobs

2010-08-01T15:03:00.183-06:00

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit China in May for an international business field study. While in Beijing, it just so happened that our itinerary included a visit with Carl Crook of Montrose China. our group was ushered into a conference room stuffed full of wine bottles, and I knew it would be my favorite company visit of the trip. Unfortunately, since it was an official university visit, we didn't get to sample the product, but there were many interesting insights about the wine culture developing right now in China. Traditional western wines are a fairly new concept in China, and Chinese palates have thus far shown a preference for ice wine above all else. I think of this being a lot like high school kids who cut their teeth on wine coolers and Boone's Farm, cheap, sugary drinks which are more like Kool-Aid for adults. Ice wine certainly has its place, but it's still a dessert wine and "sweet" seems to be a common point of entry across cultures. Give them time to refine their tastes and they will become a powerful wine market.A day or two later we spent an afternoon at 798, Beijing's trendy art district. The bus dropped us off, leaving us to explore the galleries and shops, and the skies promptly let loose with a torrential downpour. When it showed no signs of letting up anytime soon, a handful of us ducked into a wine bar whose name now escapes me (and Google is not being helpful, boo!) This place was definitely more of a western-style wine bar, with the standard array of reds and whites subcategorized by country of origin, though I didn't recognize much of anything on the list. At the next table, a couple of Chinese hipster photographers were doing a food shoot, I'm guessing for the wine bar's menu. Despite the language barrier, I was able to recruit them to take a photo of us with my D80.Being the resident wine expert of the group (hah, imagine that!) it largely fell to me to pick something, and with the waiter's help I settled on a bottle of something red, I think it may have been a zinfandel. It was alright, nothing to write home about, but not terrible and definitely a nice way to wait out a Beijing rainstorm. On our last night in Beijing we took the bus over to the bar district near Houhai and found a hipster restaurant, painted all in white. There was another photo shoot, this time on couches with models, happening next to our table. Again, we had a wine list. This one was smaller but of better quality than the one at the wine bar in 798 and I chose a glass of something red - again I have no recollection of what it was, but it was something I actually recognized and was impressed by. After dinner we stumbled across a tiny bar called The Awesomeness Bar, which was hidden away in a fairly dark alley off the street. We were the only customers, but it was, well, kinda awesome. The walls were covered with vintage board games and other hipster accouterments, the seating was a maze of mismatched plush sofas and chairs, and the music was classic jazz featuring the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When we walked in, one of the bartenders was shopping for bartending books on Amazon. Ha! No wine here, but delicious and expensive mixed drinks? Absolutely. Anyone looking for a chill place to drink with friends in Beijing should make it their mission to find the Awesomeness Bar.Overall, my experience with ordering wine in China underscored Carl Crook's point about western-style wine appreciation being something that's just catching on among China's upper middle class. If we found it, it was in trendy hipster bars and restaurants.In a historical context, it makes some sense. During the Cultural Revolution there definitely would not have been a place for wine. It probably would have been actively sought out for eradication, being either too intellectual (which was bad) or too foreign (which was also bad). It's only when the country reopened to the West in the early 1980s that it would have slowly begun to find its way back in. They're lear[...]



A long hiatus

2010-08-01T13:42:47.595-06:00

This last year of school has been hellishly busy, and my wine adventures were a victim of studying, project deadlines and the exhaustion they produced.

I now have the MBA, though - no more school! And so today I made a trip to Tipsy's to replenish my supply. Two Spanish reds and an Italian. El Arte del Vivir and Monte Antico, both tried and true. I don't remember the name of the second Spaniard but it was a syrah/grenache blend.

Now that I have the time again, I intend to post more often. I'll post something about the Monte Antico when I open it a bit later today.



Wine appreciation in the Web 2.0 era

2009-09-24T21:54:33.605-06:00

Just how plugged into the internet is the wine industry? I'm actually seeking to answer that question for a group project in my IT Management class this semester. I don't have a lot to say on the subject of IT use in the wine industry just yet, but I have a story to share along these lines.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I tracked down a bottle of 2004 La Crema 9 Barrel Chardonnay, which I'm saving for Christmas dinner with my family. What I couldn't find is any reviews or tasting notes. I mentioned this to Dave, which launched the following series of events.

1. Dave calls his contact at La Crema.
2. La Crema emails him a PDF of the 2004 tasting notes within minutes.
3. Dave forwards it to me; I get the email on my Blackberry.
4. Dave mentions the excellent customer service to a Twitter friend who works a couple doors down from La Crema's tasting room.
5. Said friend then walks over, introduces himself, takes a picture of Dave's contact with his camera phone, and posts it on Twitter.

Email, PDF, a Blackberry, a camera phone, Twitter, plus whatever hardware Dave and his friend used on their respective ends... never mind that I bought the bottle online from a vendor in New York City through Snooth, or that the first thing I did when it arrived was to post a phone pic of it to Twitter:

(image)
Wanna see the original Twitpic post?


None of that could have happened ten years ago. It's pretty obvious, even to this relative outsider, that the internet - and social media in particular - is revolutionizing wine marketing. I'm looking forward to exploring the subject more in depth for our IT Management project.

Isn't technology grand?



Treasure Hunting at the Farmer's Market

2009-09-13T13:38:10.018-06:00

I don't think of a farmer's market as a place to find wine. I was there for the produce and a loaf of fresh bread, after all. But it does make sense when you stop to think about it. Wine is an agricultural product, after all.

At the Highlands Ranch Farmers Market, tucked away between tables of organic produce and fresh-baked breads was a plain table that didn't feature overflowing baskets of brightly colored Fall harvest vegetables. Bijou Creek Vineyards had only a white plastic table cloth and a couple bottles of wine on display. While all the other booths had swarms of people - the line for sandwich bags full of roasted chilies was five deep - this little table was neglected.

Of course, a free wine tasting for me is irresistible.

A friendly older gentleman gave me a sample of the 2006 Bijou Creek Cabernet Franc in a tiny plastic cup. He referred to it as "off-dry", and it definitely has a lot red fruit. Smooth and sweetly fruity with a hint of vanilla, it's very easy to drink.

While I probably wouldn't buy this when pitted against other more sophisticated reds, for $10 at a farmer's market, it was a good lazy Sunday sort of buy. This would be great with a plate of cheese and fresh fruit.



Wine, Wine and More Wine in Springfield

2009-09-06T12:29:58.579-06:00

On Saturday, Dave was running a wine party in Springfield, where most of our haul from the Peoria run would be going. I took a walk around downtown Lincoln before we left, taking pictures of landmarks and interesting things I would have overlooked as a child growing up here.Various vendors were setting up around the square for the annual balloon and arts festival. I remember the balloons drifting past my house in the country, the sound of the fire waking us up in the morning, my sister and I waving at balloonists from the driveway. I didn't see any balloons today. Fast forward to the wine party. A gorgeous house in an upper class neighborhood. A younger, hip couple. It was her 40th birthday. We shared a bottle of Guenoc Victorian Claret before the guests arrived. This wasn't an expensive bottle by any stretch, but it was a nice icebreaker. Once the party was rolling, Dave served up four excellent wines:King Estate 2007 Signature Pinot Noir2006 Stags' Leap Napa Valley Petite SyrahLa Crema Nine Barrel 2006 Chardonnay Russian River ValleyTrimbach Pinot Gris 2005 ReserveIt's now been a week and a day since I tasted them, so my impressions are not very specific, but honestly, you can't go wrong with any of them.I tried the King Estate Pinot Noir first. It was excellent. Dave was kind enough to send me back to Denver with the wineries' tasting notes, and honestly, I don't remember the flavor and aroma very much. I remember that it was lovely, and compared to the others it was lighter-bodied. Next was the Trimbach Pinot Gris. Of the four, this one is the least up my alley. I'm only really just starting to get into white wines of any kind, and this was sweeter and fruitier than the other three. I remember it was very citrusy. Looking at the tasting notes on this one, I see it isn't aged in oak, which is probably why I liked the others better. When Dave was trying to find a white I would like, I happened to try a chardonnay and didn't hate it. The common factor between chardonnay and red wines is that they're aged in oak, and that was probably what I was liking so much. This pinot gris? No oak. That's not to say it isn't excellent wine, however, not by a long shot. Any pinot gris fan should adore it. The third wine I sampled was the La Crema Nine Barrel Chardonnay. It blew me away. I don't remember the fruit, really, though the tasting notes tout Meyer lemon, citrus and pear. Mine run more along the lines of "silky, creamy, buttery, vanilla, creme brulee, first kisses and pixie dust". The notes also mention baked apples and butter cookies, and I'll consider that our common ground since I can totally see it. This is the one Dave was raving about for days afterwards. He told me I wouldn't be able to find it since it was rare. He'd tracked down what was supposedly the last three bottles in the state of Illinois for this party. And believe me, in the last week I have looked. Search is my job, after all, so if it's online anywhere then I should be able to find it. And well, he's right. It's exceptionally hard to find (online, anyway), though I did find a bottle of the 2004 vintage somewhere in New York. They're loading it onto a UPS truck headed to Colorado right about now. I'm taking it home with me for Christmas dinner with my family.Finally, I tried the Stags' Leap Petite Syrah. Stags' Leap is legendary, of course, for beating the pants off the French reds in a blind tasting in France back in 1976, and along with Chateau Montelena put California on the wine map, in a victory so stunning that they made a movie about it. Judging by the taste, that storied reputation is well-earned because DAMN... it's a thick, inky, stain-your-teeth purple. The taste is velvety and rich. The tasting notes mention cocoa powder, raspberry and other dark fruits. Sure. They can describe it however they like, and while they're thinking up some marvelous adjectives I'll just enjoy it and drink t[...]



A Little Chianti Goes a Long Way

2009-09-03T21:11:47.129-06:00

Tonight I am drinking the 2006 Tractor Shed Red that I opened two days ago. I like it. Super fruity and jammy, lots of berries. An awful lot of berries for something made primarily of sangiovese, actually, but the sangio seems to give it that nice, blood orange tang just beneath its berry-ness. It's a nice, easy every day sort of wine. Not at all bad for something with a cutesy name from the marketing department.

So. There was a trip to Illinois. I'll start with Friday night, the day of my arrival back in my hometown of Lincoln.

I knew before I left Denver that I would be tagging along to a wine party in Springfield. I was to be the photographer. Or assistant. Or whatever. Dave had ordered the wine he would be serving, but it needed to be retrieved from Pekin and Peoria. I wasn't even in Lincoln an hour before we hit the road to pick it up.

After checking the party's order, we shopped for our own to drink for the weekend. There was a really nice chianti that I don't remember. A Palo Alto sauvignon blanc. A Guenoc claret. A Kenwood red table wine that I'd had before and liked in about the same vein as this Tractor Shed Red that I've got open tonight. At the second store we found a decent champagne on sale. I think there were a few others.

Then we drove back to Dave's place in Lincoln and took this picture of our loot:

(image)

We opened the chianti before heading to Guzzardo's Italian Villa for dinner. It didn't take much to get me tipsy that night. It's a good thing that Guzzardo's was only a block and a half away. Lincoln blocks. Which are about a third of the size of what you get in a city like Denver or Chicago.

At dinner, everything Dave said was hysterical, the food was just as fantastic as it's been my entire life, and I managed to not publicly embarrass myself. All in all, this outing was a success. After that, however, I was done. We wandered back to the apartment. I was just wiped out. I fell asleep on the sofa. At some point I made it to the air mattress my host had graciously provided for me.

Between the two of us, we only made it halfway through that chianti... but after my long day of getting up early, flying to Dallas and then to Bloomington, and then driving to Lincoln to Pekin to Peoria to Lincoln, it was more than enough.

Next post: Wine, Wine and More Wine in Springfield.

Edit: Dave tells me the chianti was Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico 2005. And now I remember that it, too, came from the second store, though that's a very minor point. What's important is that it made me happy. I give it an A.



A post is coming, I swear...

2009-09-01T21:32:49.508-06:00

The wine this past weekend was incredible, and I can't wait to write about everything, but well, there's this pesky thing called "school" that is getting in the way for now.

I will say this, though, as a sort of teaser:

My friend Dave McEvers is kind of a wine genius. After the wine party on Saturday, I swear, we giggled ecstatically over how completely amazing the 2006 La Crema 9 Barrel Chardonnay was. Just remembering it, even days later, all conversation would abruptly halt. A serious conversation dissovles into laughter. He looks over at me with the smile of a kid on Christmas morning and says, "That chardonnay was killer, wasn't it? Wasn't it?"

That happened several times on Saturday after the party. Then all day Sunday. And a few times on Monday before I left for the airport.

Yes. It really was that good. I'm back in Colorado now, and he's still talking about it. I'm trying to track down a bottle of my own, even of a different vintage, to take home with me for Christmas. It would be an amazing Christmas dinner wine to share with my family.

I'm going to shoot for Thursday for that post. How does that sound? Just let me get through my class tomorrow. Do we have a deal?



The Wine Noob Tries Her Hand At Tasting Notes

2009-08-22T18:26:48.983-06:00

I opened a bottle of 2006 Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz from Henry's Drive Vignerons this afternoon. It's an Australian, and at $20 it is by far the most expensive bottle of wine I've ever bought. Yeah, I'm just extravagant like that.

So how does one properly taste wine? I called upon my trusty sidekick, Google, for some guidance. There's plenty of information out there, to be sure, and I settled on How to Taste Wine Like a Pro from the folks over at eHow.

Step one: Observe the color. It's pretty. Deep, inky purple. I want that color on my toenails. It would be sassy.

Step two: The classic Swirl'n'Sniff maneuver, which wine snobs in movies execute with a dramatic, comic flourish. "Try to detect the smell of fruity or floral notes. Decide what they remind you of if possible."

Okay. Um. I dunno. I drew upon the article's own list of example adjectives for some prompting. Peppery. Chocolaty. Burnt toasty. Those made some sense to me. Maybe a little bit of burning Autumn leaves in there, too. (They had "smoke" on their list, but that felt inadequate.)

Step three: The Sip'n'Swish, a small sip with a bit of air swished in. "Spicy" is a slam dunk. Syrupy. Toasted. Mole sauce and cheap cigarettes. It was reminding me of something, but I couldn't put my finger on what, exactly until I rummaged through my spice drawer. Cardamom. Yes. That would be the missing link.

Step four: Note the length of the finish. Hmm. Well, it seems longish to me. The aftertaste leaves me badly wanting a thick slice of fresh buttered sourdough.

Frankly, this particular Aussie shiraz isn't really my cup of tea. I think it was very highly rated by one of the wine rags, or I wouldn't have picked it up for the price. However, the bottle does say it benefits from decanting. I don't have a decanter, but I'll usually pour a glass and put a potholder over it for an hour to let it breathe, figuring that's close enough for government work. I might like this better tomorrow after it's had some more air time.

So how do you taste wine? I probably still don't know, but this was a fun little experiment that tickles my natural wordsmith streak, so it's definitely one worth repeating.

EDIT: For amusement, here's the Wine Advocate review:
"The grapes for the 2006 Reserve Shiraz were selected from the best Shiraz parcels used to make Pillar Box Red. They were aged in new oak, 75% French and 25% American. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a classy bouquet of smoke, vanilla, saddle leather, bacon, and blueberry. This leads to a full-bodied, plush, seamless wine with no hard edges to its lengthy finish. It has the stuffing to evolve for 2-3 years but I can think of no reason for delaying gratification. It is a great value." - Wine Advocate



Coming Attractions: The Wine Noob Hits the Road

2009-08-22T10:41:38.877-06:00

I haven't done anything wine-y this week, partly due to school and partly due to being half-sick the last two days, sorry about that!

HOWEVER!

One week from today I shall embark on a weekend of exotic travel, consorting with exciting characters and sampling a variety of fine grape-based libations! There will be pictures! There may even be VIDEO!

Where am I going, you ask? Is it Costa Rica? Paris? Bangkok?

NO! It's better than all of those places! It is... *drumroll please*...

LINCOLN, ILLINOIS!

I'll be hanging out with my wine industry buddy, Dave, in the land of our mutual childhoods, in the shadow of the courthouse dome. Drinking wine. Possibly LOTS of wine. Because frankly, there isn't much else to do in Lincoln.

However, this is exciting to me because I haven't spent more than 20 minutes in Lincoln since my family moved away while I was in college. I didn't go to the ten year high school reunion since there wasn't really anyone I was dying to see. I went to Italy instead. My family and I occasionally take a drive through to see landmarks like our old house, if family Christmas is nearby and we have some time to kill, but Lincoln is not a place I have ever experienced as an adult.

I am anticipating. Imagining what it will be like...

A Lincoln where I can drink without worrying about the cops busting the party for underage drinking.

A Lincoln that's much smaller than I remember since I'm twice the height that I was for so many of my years there and have grown accustomed to the size of an urban city block.

Lincoln as seen through the lens of my camera while rediscovering a place I hated passionately while growing up.

A Lincoln where I have friends who profess to be excited for the opportunity to hang out.

I expect it to be an intriguing, spooky, and deeply satisfying sort of trip. With copious amounts of wine. Yes. Indeed. Get ready for it, my darling wine loving readers. This is a bag full of wine stories waiting to happen!



Back to School Means Keeping Wine Open Longer

2009-08-16T15:17:42.745-06:00

I start school again tomorrow. I only had two weeks off between classes this time, but it feels different because for the first time the end is in sight. This is my last year, and I will graduate in May. And when it's all said and done, I will have a masters degree - an MBA in International Business.

Wow.

Now is the time for me to start asking myself: "So, what was the point of all that?" And that is a very good question.

It has occurred to that wine is a very international business by nature, and I'd be lying through my teeth if I said that wasn't a very, very appealing direction. Any wineries or distributors out there want to hire an MBA? Haha... (but no, seriously...)

But that's still about a year away. I have five more courses to get through first. And that is kind of a big deal since it's invariably going to cut into my wine appreciation time. It will take me longer to go through a bottle once opened.

Here's my current wine-saving protocol: stick a stopper in it (which I got as a party favor at a friend's wedding) and put it in the fridge. Yes, even if it's red. If I happen to have two open bottles, I'll cap it off with some aluminum foil. Ta da! I'm sure there are better methods out there. I should probably look into one of those wine saver vacuum pump kits.

However, I have to wonder if this is a good argument for screw caps. The problem with a cork is that once it's open, it's open. Sure a cork is an aesthetically pleasing, satisfying bit of tradition dating back to the cavemen who poured their pinot noir into wooden cups and coconut shells around their bonfires. I get it. But fast forward a few million years to me, my eyes bleeding from reading a hideously boring text on information systems management, and dammit, I need to keep it for more than a day or two!

Or, half bottles. A half bottle would be awesome. Wine for a single girl whose cats are sadly disinterested in splitting a full-size bottle with me.

Wait. I mean, "For a single girl who is too busy to split a full-sized bottle of wine with a date since she has no time for dating while grad school commands so much of her time." Right!



The Beautiful Disaster of Pertinello (Or, How I Learned The Definition of "Corked")

2009-08-12T21:10:44.852-06:00

It's not the point of this blog to write about specific wines, but it's bound to happen from time to time. This review is a tale, though, one that is long and storied. Way back when I was making that first horribly misguided wander through my local wine barn, one of the bottles I picked up was a sangiovese called Pertinello. I chose it because the label was different: a red circle the size of a slider bun. I thought this was novel and of course had to try it. It was my first sangiovese, and, honestly, my first true love in the wide and wonderful world of wine. (See what I did there? ALLITERATION! That's how you know I'm getting all misty and poetic.) Instead of that inky, purply red everyone attributes to red wine, Pertinello is the color of a blood orange. And tasty, ohhh, still so tasty, even after having learned what I'm doing! It was a lucky strike for one so "young" as I. I am writing this with a bottle open, in fact. Even after all the grief it has caused me, I love it still. Yes, grief. PAIN. This is also the wine that put me in my place. The first thing you should know about Pertinello is that it is hard to find on a shelf. You can find it all over the place through the online retailers, but good luck finding a review. It's Italian, from Galatea, produced by Tenuta Arpineto. This website is the best I've ever been able to do, and keep in mind, internet search is my job. (And it's a job I am damn good at, by the way.) So here I was, bragging about my favorite wine, this brilliant and obscure sangiovese no one has ever heard of, to my wine industry buddy. In a terribly misguided attempt to impress him, I helped him track down a bottle to try. I patiently waited for him to tell me what he, a sort of wine genius/savant, thought of it. "It's good," he told me. "It's very good. A bit corked, but still good."I had no idea what he meant. And, well, I'm new to this, he knows that, and he's been a great teacher. I can't fake knowing what I'm doing with him. If I ever tried, he would know. I know this. I've never tried. I had no idea what "corked" meant, but I already knew it was a bad thing. I already knew he was just being nice to me. My heart broke a little bit. A deep breath, then, "I don't know what 'corked' means, not the way you're using it."And so he explained it. How the wine had soaked into the cork a bit too far. How the top of the cork had been pushed up above the glass rim. And why it was bad: that it means it's been stored in heat, that the cork quality wasn't that great to begin with, that it's been oxidized and how that's just not supposed to happen. "But it's still pretty good stuff," he tried to console me. "It would have been tight if it had been stored properly, but this comes out of the bottle just about perfect."No one had to explain to me what "tight" meant. I figured that one out on my own.Sigh.I know this conversation. It's the same speech we girls give guys after a, uh, disappointing night. You know, the "It's okay, it happens to everyone, and I still love you" speech. My beloved Pertinello was, ah, how can I put this politely? Not "up" to par. So I checked my own bottles. (I keep it in stock. I currently have too many bottles, actually, a customer service fiasco which will probably spawn another entry someday.) Sure enough, one was raised well above the lip, the bulging foil straining like the flesh of a fat guy in a Speedo. Did you feel a piece of my heart die there? This was a seriously heartbreaking revelation.And yet, here I am, draining a corked bottle of Pertinello as I write this entry. When I opened the bottle tonight, the cork wasn't bulging, but it was so soaked through and disintegrated that it broke in half as it was extracted. There's a good metaphor for real li[...]



Getting Converted by a California Wine Evangelist

2009-08-09T11:44:21.881-06:00

My wine industry friend is a California evangelist. Which makes sense, since it's essentially the source of his income, but it's pretty clear that he would still heap his adoration upon California if it were not.

My point of entry in this whole wine adventure was Italy. Mia bella Italia. I have a rather wretched Italy fetish, and so with nothing else to guide me it made sense that, when I hit that wine barn for the first time, the Italian section was the first place I went out of sheer sentimentality.

So my friend was evangelizing California wine to me, and I was being hesitant and stubborn. Every time we talked, he was trying to convince me to try a bottle of this or that. My entire experience with California up to that point was cheap, mass produced white zinfandel, which I'd grown up knowing as "California Kool-Aid". He had quite a job ahead of him.

He finally managed to talk me into trying a Hayman & Hill Meritage, though. And it was good enough that the door was opened to further California experiments. ("Good enough" is understating, by the way. It was actually really good. Or, sticking to "good enough", it was good enough to buy again - which from me is a pretty high compliment since I don't often buy the same bottle twice.)

He was pushing me to look into red blends. "What's your favorite wine, again?" he asked me. It's sangiovese. "Okay, then I want you to look for one that's blended with sangiovese."

So I trolled the California aisle looking for just that. It was harder than I thought it would be. Lots of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz blends, but I wasn't finding anything at all with sangiovese. I was getting frustrated.

And then, there it was. It was perfect. It was a blend of a bunch of old school Italian varietals grown in California. Monte Volpe Primo Rosso. It felt like a little bit of a cheat, since they were all crazy Italian grapes like sangiovese and nebbiolo plus a few others I'd never heard of before, but it fit the criteria. And, of course, since it was straddling that line between California and Italy, I adored it. Big and meaty, fit for a carnivore. It made me want to dive into a juicy medium-rare steak.

When I described it to my wine industry friend, he was shocked and amused. "That's a big boy blend. I was thinking of something simpler, but damn, you went all out..."



Drinking Wine from Tea Cups at a Taiwanese Restaurant

2009-08-08T09:50:45.592-06:00

For several years now, my friends and I have had a sort of "family dinner" every Friday at the same Taiwanese restaurant in Denver. We've gotten to know the owners, who consider Monica, Dave and Sean to be their kids. We'll clear tables and take orders if they get overwhelmed. So whenever we bring beer or wine in to share over our potstickers and dumplings, they don't mind.

I've been looking for an excuse to open the dessert wine I bought on my day trip to Palisade, Colorado two weeks ago. It's called "Vin au Chocolat". Red wine infused with chocolate. Its maker, Garfield Estates, only sells it in its tasting room.

Garfield Estates was my last stop on my whirlwind wine trail "Get the Hell Out of Denver for a Day" roadtrip. To be perfectly honest, while their traditional wines were not by any means bad, neither did they blow me away. However, I was getting a bit tired of tasting wine at that point, and my wallet was beginning to feel uncomfortably light, so my taste buds were demanding brilliance or nothing at all.

And then the lady pouring for me broke out the Vin au Chocolat. Now, I'm not normally all that big on sweet wines. The fruity sweetness is so much of why I have traditionally disliked white wines. But this one, a chocolate infused red, was a stroke of sweet tooth genius. I generally can't pick out flavors for tasting notes, but this one to me was distinctly raspberries and dark chocolate. It was divine.

So I took it to dinner with me tonight, to our little Taiwanese dive. We drank it from tiny Chinese tea cups over dumplings and sesame cold noodles while the swamp cooler whirred nearby.



How To Make Amazing Homemade Fried Rice

2009-08-04T18:24:49.803-06:00

What does this have to do with wine, you ask? Well, let's just say that this is my dinner tonight, and it's going to be fantastic with the Chardonnay I picked up at DeBeque Canyon Winery in Palisade a little over a week ago...

First, you'll need a bit more than a cup of cooked brown rice. I like to add a little sesame oil to the cooking water. While it's cooking, prep the chicken and veggies:

You'll need unmeasured handfuls of the following:
- diced chicken breast
- chopped scallions
- snow peas
- chopped shiitake mushrooms
- chopped fresh garlic cloves (LOTS.)

Stirfry these together with eyeballed quantities of these:
- lemongrass paste (be generous)
- chili paste (roughly 1 teaspoon or less)
- black bean paste (a dollop)

Once the rice is finished, add it to the skillet. Once it's mixed and heated through, make a "bowl" in the center. You should be able to see the bottom of the skillet. Make it as sturdy as possible.

Crack an egg into the "bowl", and scramble. Cook the egg until it's almost completely done - then mix it throughout the rest of the rice/chicken/veggie mix. Heat through until egg is finished cooking.

Enjoy this miraculous concoction with an awesome, buttery, old school Chardonnay, like my 2004 DeBeque Canyon.

Ta da!



How Not to Buy Wine in Italy

2009-08-02T13:13:19.875-06:00

November 2003, just outside Vatican City. My feet hurt after tromping through the cobblestone streets of Rome in the worst boots ever. And after threatening all day, the skies finally opened up. November is the rainy season in Rome, and though I'd been lucky with good weather for my vacation thus far, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I ducked into a tented flea market. It was an opportunity to shop while I waited out the rain. There were lots of vendors selling touristy things like Murano glass elephants and cheap Vatican souvenirs. Many were selling wine.

This is the tragedy of my trip to Italy: I was still in my wine-hating days. However, I thought some bottles of wine from Italy would be good gifts for family and friends, so I started perusing the bottles.

I was in way over my head. I knew nothing about wine. I didn't recognize any of the varieties printed on the labels. The selection was truly dizzying. I had no idea what to buy. But, I figured, how hard could it be to transact wine in Italian? I'd taught myself as much as I could before I left the United States, and well, "wine" "red" and "white" were easy enough.

One of the wine vendors approached me and began to speak to me in Italian. I don't remember if I knew what she said, but I do remember stumbling over something along the lines of "Bisogno vino... dolce..?"

It should have tipped her off that I probably spoke English, but it did not. There was something about the way I said it that led her to ask me, "Hablas español?"

This caught me off guard, because I do speak Spanish. Not fluently, but certainly better than Italian, and definitely well enough to buy some wine. In retrospect, it makes sense to me that she would have picked up on this, since my Italian was undoubtedly tinged with a Spanish (not Mexican) accent. "Sí," I gratefully replied.

She pointed to bottles. "Blanco... rojo... dulce..." I have no idea what I bought, except that they were Sicilians. I didn't keep any of them for myself. Ohh, how I mourn this missed opportunity! In many ways, as amazing as that trip was, I think I went to Italy too soon. Today I would revel in the wines and take much better pictures with a professional grade camera. I also speak Italian as well as Spanish now.

And that, my friends, is the story of how I went to Italy and ended up buying wine in Spanish. Actually, most people I met in Italy thought I was European, though, with my fair skin and green eyes, most guessed Scottish.

During that same trip, I wandered into a basement pizzeria near my hotel and found myself seated between a priest and two drag queens. When I asked for a Coke, the waiter brought me a glass of red wine instead.

Here's a picture of me from that trip, sitting on the Spanish Steps. I hope I can go back sometime and do it right!

(image)



Once upon a time, I woke up and decided to like wine.

2009-07-29T22:08:02.853-06:00

Twelve years ago, I spent a year working at a high end restaurant at a certain rat-themed resort in Central Florida. It was the sort of place where the menu changed daily according to whatever the chef was able to buy at the dock and whatever produce was in season. If there was a new dish, we all tried it.

The wine list, all California wines, was the same way. If we got something new, we opened a bottle and passed it around so we could describe it to our guests. At the time, I did not like wine. I quickly learned the difference between good and bad, though just because I knew a wine was good didn't mean I liked it. I learned to like a lot of things that year, like braised red cabbage and, to everyone's utter shock, salad, but wine wasn't on that list. Over the years, I would sip at whatever my parents poured for Christmas dinner, but I never acquired a taste for it.

In retrospect, I realize that my parents' sweet, dry, fruity whites were not the right point of entry for me. Because one day about two years ago, I woke up with a mission, and it was this: I was going to acquire a taste for red wine. When those kinds of sudden impulses hit, I tend to obey them. I figure they happen for a reason, and I like to see where they go.

And that is how I found myself cluelessly wandering around a liquor barn, picking bottles almost at random. I came home with six. Most sane people would have bought just one to try, but well, somewhere in the back of my mind, I already knew I was getting it right.

Maybe you can blame my Disney restaurant training. Maybe you can blame that trip to Rome a few years earlier. Maybe it was simply time. Whatever it was, I don't question it. I'm typing this while sipping on an exquisite glass of 2005 Christian Moueix Bordeaux Merlot to celebrate being done with my summer Econ class. One review I found calls it "gentle and delicate", and that feels right. It is indeed a thing of beauty. Is that worth questioning, really?

Earlier this year I reconnected with an old classmate from grade school who happens to be in the wine business, and we naturally talk about wine quite a lot. His informal mentorship has turned my clueless little wine hobby into something more front and center. It's turned into an opportunity to tell stories. And I like that.



Who is this Colorado Wine Blog chick and what business does she have writing about wine?

2009-07-29T22:09:12.014-06:00

Welcome to the blog of a Colorado wine noob. I am not a wine expert. I am not blogging for a winery. I haven't the foggiest notion of how to score wines or how the hell those who do can pick out words like "raspberry, nicotine and leather" to describe them when all that occurs to me is "smells nice" and "tastes yummy". I didn't even know what "corked" meant until last week, a story I'll save for a later post.

I only really started to get into wine at all two years ago. I will hold a glass of French chardonnay in one hand while taking down notes about Chinese Economics with the other. I take a half-empty bottle of rioja out of the fridge to warm after working all day in a cubicle for an internet marketing firm. I spend too much time on Twitter considering what the female equivalent of a "douchebag" would be with my buddy Dave. (We have a strong contender in "skunty twatwaffle", but no final verdict has been rendered.)

So am I qualified to comment on wine? From a snob's perspective, probably not. I am many things, but a wine snob I am not. What I do have is a writing degree, some SEO know-how, a growing network, three-quarters of an MBA degree, and a compelling subject which lends itself nicely to goofy stories that prove that wine isn't just the province of the cultural elite. Wine can belong to Skunty McTwatwaffles like me who aren't afraid to use words like "twatwaffle" in a wine blog.

So greetings, and welcome. Tonight I'm sipping on a 2006 Cabernet Franc from Canyon Wind Cellars, a cute little winery over in Palisade, which is Colorado's wine country. It's nice stuff, full and mellow. A good Econ homework wine that went nicely with my dinner.

Speaking of Econ... I should go study some of that.