Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tannin my hide -- the Marquis Philips 2005

I'm Professor Harold Hill and I suggest you step on down to get your tannins, right there, folks.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you've even been wondering what's ailing you, what's getting you down, what's keeping you down, I suggest you know -- but you won't tell yourself.

It's the old tannins.

That's right, folks. Tannin's start with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for profit.

That, I believe, is what is happening here with this Australian blend: the idea that a good wine is all about tannins. Add tannins and you have yourself a wine. Even if you don't have a wine, just give me a dollop of tannins and send me on my way.

Tannins are a natural product of the winemaking process that can help control balance and structure. Winemakers can adjust the tannin level through finely honed techniques, but the more I taste reds, the more I see the use of it into exuberance.

When I opened this bottle, the waft of wine itself told me this burst with tannin. That would be fine had it been balanced with fruit and mineral flavors. I could detect some pepper and herbaceousness, but that likely came largely from them damn tannins (the title of my next stage musical).

I'll try the wine again because I suspect a lack of letting the bottle breath could alter some of those overwhelming tastes.

But in this instance, it was all too much (tannin) with too little (other stuff).

Pay attention in the next couple of days for my first video, wherein I interview a wine expert about the daunting task of finding a great French wine at a reasonable price.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Can you say ish?

Oak Leaf Cabernet

Oak Leaf Chardonnay

As a common man, a regular guy, a mensch even, the last thing I want to be is a snob. I might like drinking wine, but I might drink it while eating a frozen pizza (cooked of course) while watching "Tommy Boy" -- for the sixth time.

Take that into consideration when I say Oak Leaf wine, available exclusively at Wal-Mart, is not good. If it were good, like "Tommy Boy," I would say so.

I bought some because I used to get Two Buck Chuck, which is to say wines by Charles Wilson and not some dude, and I thought Oak Leaf might offer the same promise for $3 a bottle.

It does not.

The cab starts with a strong vinegar taste that stays throughout. You can detect some fruit, maybe a mineral -- particularly if poured over real rocks -- but it's not a good wine. I wouldn't even use it for cooking because that strong vinegar taste would be compounded in cooking.

The chardonnay isn't as bad but it also has a vinegar taste that cannot overcome any fruit flavors that might be there.

I've found some $6 bottles, which I will recommend later, that are worth the extra three bucks. If you're like me, I can get four glasses from a bottle. In this case, the few extra quarters per bottle are worth it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What wine goes with this here critter?

I've eaten critter.

It didn't occur to me until breakfast one morning with my then 5-year-old. I explained how bacon and sausage came from the animal, a conversation reminiscent of an episode of "The Simpsons."

She asked which animals I'd eaten and, after going through the main dinner entrees -- cow, chicken, turkey, pig and lamb -- I started in a list of critters.

To me, a critter is something not typically farm raised. As a son of the Nort'woods (God didn't give out h's in da Nort'woods) I've washed a few critters down my gullet.

So beyond the regular: deer, bear, raccoon, possum, rabbit, squirrel, elk, pheasant, duck and even sandhill crane (sausage from a friend who hunted in South Dakota).

"Dad," she said kind of shocked. "You've eaten the whole woods."


This came to mind recently in a Facebook entry from my friend Kirsten, who apparently passed so many roadkills she felt the need to sing a Mourners' Kaddish. You can follow her here and her cool sales shop here

So what wines go with the whole woods?

With deer, depending on how it's prepared, I'd say a cabernet or pinot noir. You need something to stand up to what can be a gamey meet -- particularly if it's cut across the bone.

If you're eating raccoon or possum, you're likely quite drunk already. My rule is I'll try anything once. That explains certain scars, broken bones and facial tics. Raccoon and possum remain the most disgusting things I've ever put in my mouth. As they're critters that will eat anything, they taste like fetid garbage. Therefore, I'd suggest starting with a big peppery Zinfandel. Then cut that with some vodka. And nothing nice. Buy some Skol vodka, something you purchase by the gallon. The heat from crappy vodka will cut the garbage flavor and hopefully expunge the night's memories -- as well as several past marriages and a feeling like you failed to accomplish your goals in high school.

Rabbit is a delicacy in some places, but again it has a different taste that needs a bolder flavor like a oaky chardonnay. Squirrel, well, if you're eating squirrel, your favorite whine is, "Pa, I ain't be able to read." If you must, try a Riesling or Gewurztraminer -- both German varietals -- to go with squirrel and then keep repeating a phrase from the philosopher Sgt. Schultz: "I know nussing."

A bold white like a viognier would go well with pheasant but I'll always take a nice red with duck, something like a syrah (shiraz in Australia).

Finally, sandhill crane. A famous Wisconsin poacher once told my newspaper it "tasted like bald eagle." I don't know about that, but it taste like red meat. A cabernet or merlot would do well.

Thankfully I didn't begin to explain to my little girl how many sea critters I'd taken in -- but I don't look forward to trying krill.

Finally, I would avoid road kill. I've known people who don't mind it, but you can't find a wine that stands up to Firestone and asphalt. I've tried.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Restaurant that does wine right

I hate restaurants that have wine lists with bottles I'd find in the local grocery store -- at two to three times the price.

I hate restaurants that have a wines that don't match their menu.

I hate when I write, and I sound like a bad Andy Rooney. Why is that?

While running errands on a recent day off, I decided to have lunch out. As always, I looked for a locally run restaurant vs. a chain and I realized I hadn't been to Mezza in some time.

What started as a lark became great luck, as I had a wonderful lunch with a memorable wine experience. You can check out their Web site at:

Their wine list matched the food, which is described as Mediterranean fusion. And the wine list wasn't long. But it had a selection of Turkish, Lebanese and even a chenin blanc from India.

As my Nort'wood friends would say: "How frickin' cool."

I'd had a taste for chicken shawarma, an addiction formed at a little Middle Eastern restaurant I frequented in Lansing, Mich.

I asked for the Turkish wine, even if I wasn't eating Turkey -- or any other small country.

The Kavaklidere Emir de Nevsehir was a perfect accompaniment for a chicken heavily spiced and served with a beautiful hummus. The white wine mixed strong citrus and flower notes balanced by medium mineral tones. You could almost envision the rocky Turkish vineyard.

But the nice combination became an experience when the chef herself, Sarah, checked on me and we started talking wines. She let me taste two other whites, a Lebanese wine and the chenin blanc from India.

A chef who engages a cheap patron is a treasure.

She said she tries to find wines that surprise but still complement the food, which is a challenge because Mediterranean food usually has an array of spices.

That's what good restaurants, do, though. It's a mixture of a challenge -- in the form of offering unusual wines -- and comfort -- knowing what goes with the food while playing perfect partner.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Renwood 2002 Zinfandel Fiddletown

When I buy a Zinfandel -- and I'm talking a real Zin, not one of those syrupy sweet "white Zins" -- I'm looking for the big bold pepper and spice flavors.

This Renwood has it.

I bought the wine at a clearance price, about $13, because it could be on the edge of its viability -- not unlike me.

The wine was so rewarding, with some of the strongest pepper notes I've ever had in a wine, that I bought several more bottles to cellar.

Now all I need is a cellar.

The pepper flavor is matched by great spice flavors, some allspice, some cumin. And that weighs against nice underlying flavors of raspberry and citrus.

It's a great wine to play against big, bold flavors like barbecue.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Big House Red 2005

After my review of Big House Pink (see the manly man post), I received a note from friend Tom Wyatt on my Facebook account. We'd previously discussed vintner Bonny Doon and how it doesn't do anything poorly.

He also said that Big House Red was his favorite.

Clearly he has good taste, in both wine and friends. (I should note that Tom was a frat boy in college, where any fruit flavor of Mad Dog mixed with Sprite rated 90 points -- IQ points that is.)

Big House Red is meant to taste like a Rhone and it does so by mixing a strange concoction of grapes, so much so it's like reading the ingredient label on the Twinkies package.

But it achieves its complexity in this brew of many varietals, with a mineral and stony base that has bursts of berry flavors, including strong hints of sweet, wild strawberry. You can also glimpse some citrus notes and pepper underpinnings. (I had to wear pepper underpinnings to my English boarding school -- but that's another blog entirely.)

For about $9, it's hard to do better.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Goats do Roam 2005

Goats do Roam.

Get it?

It's supposed to sound like "Cotes du Rhone," the great French wine it's supposed to emulate.

Only it doesn't.

It tastes like your average consumer wine of today, using heavy tannins and little fruit to balance that is supposed to make it seem sophisticated. You can taste some blackberry and blueberry flavors but throughout it starts, moves and ends with that tannic taste that coats the tongue.

Goats do Roam, a South African wine, is only $11 a bottle but the vintners want it to taste more like the wines in the Cotes du Rhone appellation. Those wines vary in style and cost, but of the many French styles, you can get a Rhone wine at a good price that has great fruit flavors with enough structure to make it a great wine. In fact, if you're like me and learning about wines and want to learn French wines at good prices, the Rhone region is a great place to start.

For this price, you can do better.