Monday, June 29, 2009

Hopping along trail

I've made no secret of my love for hoppy beer. Saranac, Stoudt's, Red Hook - these will always have a home here. I'm also a big fan of Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale and picked up a 12-pack last weekend. While at the counter, one of the employees asked if I had tried the Torpedo yet. Huh? What's that? Torpedo? "It's a newer offering from Sierra Nevada...pretty hoppy. Good stuff." How hoppy, I asked. 90-minute IPA hoppy? "No, not quite, but still up there."  A mental note was made to pick up some on the next run.

I mentioned the clerk's recommendation to Mrs. Big Dubya and lo and behold! she arrived home with a six-pack a day or two later. God bless that woman. The following evening I poured a bottle of the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra Pale Ale into my favorite glass (thanks Boston Beer Works!) and admired its coppery, bordering on brown, color. I give it a good whiff and I'm encouraged by a pleasant citrusy, piney, hoppy aroma. There's also a faint odor of malt which blends nicely. And, what do you know, its taste did not disappoint. It is, again, hoppy with a faint malt taste - quite similar to the initial smell. It is a bit bitter from start to finish but that is to be expected. However, the bitterness is not quite as overpowering as some of the big IPAs and Pale Ales out there. The Torpedo's 7.2% ABV is also noticeable, there is a slight burn, but it is blunted by the hops.

All-in-all a very solid beer from a solid brewery. Don't be turned off by its IPA label, either. This fine offering could easily be a great summer beer if you want to avoid the lemon-, lime- and seasonings-infused beverages marketed by other brewers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I screwed up half the assignment, but the half that I didn't screw up was delicious

Okay: once again, I've failed. I've failed The Whinery, I've failed Mrs. Big Dubya, I've failed the American people... and I've failed you, gentle reader. The form of my failure: I did not complete the June assignment whilst complying with all the holy tenets of The Whinery — namely, the "keep it under $15" guideline.


See, here's the thing: I kinda suck at following the letter of the law. The people at Burger King once told me that sometimes, you've just gotta break the rules — and frankly, I'm in no position to question the good people at Burger King. With that in mind, I've embarked on a life of gentle crime: producing hopelessly verbose responses to assignments with little regard for the actual wishes and goals of those who... uh... assigned the assignment in the first place. I'm sure there's some deep-set, subconscious authority issues hidden within my psyche that enable this charming character trait, but really mine is not to question why: mine is but to drink and write.

And thus, I offer you a shining and delicious example of this month's assigned varietal: pinot noir. I've been a tremendous fan of pinot noir for years - ever since I read The Heartbreak Grape and was utterly fascinated by the idea that any wine could be that subtle and complex, that difficult to grow, that easy to ruin and that sublime to taste - and in the years since have sampled more than my fair share of California, Oregon and New Zealand pinots. I still think one of the best I've ever sampled is one of the first I ever tried, the spectacular Rex Hill Reserve... but this weekend we enjoyed another Oregonian that's well worth seeking out.

Here's the name you need to learn: Patricia Green. She produces tiny amounts of spectacular pinot noir that gets very little distribution beyond the Pacific Northwest (or so I've been told by people far more well-informed than me), but once in a blue moon my favorite local wine spot manages to get a case or two... and the owner parcels it out, bottle by bottle, to a selected few afficionados much in the same way that a distant and terrible father might parcel out hugs or kind words to a child.

I generally end up with two or three bottles of Patricia Green a year... and this weekend, we opened one. The 2006 Willamette Valley Reserve, to be specific. I paid $36 for it, which puts me well over The Whinery's specified limits. However, insofar as that it's a foregone conclusion at this point that Mrs. Big Dubya is going to kneecap me, I'm throwing caution to the wind and talking about it here. And you, gentle reader? You can either join me in a virtual glass... or grab yourself a crowbar. The choice is yours.

But enough idle chatter: the wine! The wine! The wine wine wine wine wine! (Say it like the Grinch, and it'll make sense.) It is, in truth, a thing of beauty. Just... elegant, quiet layers of flavor that build upon one another to create the kind of gentle, sublime experience that makes a great pinot such a thing of rare wonder. Ours was paired with a pair of especially thick and well-marinated pork chops and a handful of crackers with a gouda/sun-dried tomato spread, and it tasted a bit like heaven in a glass.

The point of all this? As is true with most things I do, there is no point. But should you find yourself in the market for an upscale bottle of pinot noir, and should you find yourself in the presence of virtually anything Patricia Green has ever created... splurge. She's worth it — and what's more, you're worth it.


Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Crafty

Picked up this bottle of 2004 Craftsman Cabernet Franc at BinEnds last week -- it lists for $14.909 -- I got it for $11.20.

The label's description isn't very informative -- "This wonderfully balanced and easy-to-drink red has been aged 6 months in new Hungarian oak barriques, as well as large oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Faithful to its European pedigree, it will age beautifully. Lovingly crafted by winemaker Akos Kamocsay."

I wasn't really sure what to expect -- I've never had a Hungarian wine before. But, I was making a quick pasta-toss for dinner and needed a splash of wine to add some depth..... well, that and maybe a glass or two for me too.

I opened the bottle and it smelled nice -- it poured nice too. As I incorporated it into my sauce, I suspected I had a winner. It wasn't over powering -- but was definitely going to add some richness to the dish.

It had a smooth, fruity flavor -- medium body -- gentle finish. It complimented the dinner really well -- didn't add too much, didn't take anything away.

This seemed like a good wine to have on hand -- versatile enough to go with pasta, pizza, grilled food -- whatever you are having. It was good value for the price and I'd certainly buy it again.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Should you bother? Non-alcoholic wine...

I've been reading the recent reviews and have been envious of all the tasty sampling that has been going on lately. So why not join in the fun you may ask? Well I'm taking a bit of a sabbatical from drinking - a 9 or 10 month ( depending on how you track things) sabbatical to be exact.

Now before this gets out of hand, I know people tend to have very strong views on whether drinking a 1/2 glass or glass of wine or beer now and then while pregnant is acceptable or not. This isn't the place to discuss that topic and that being said I will not be reviewing any alcoholic wines or beers while pregnant. I will however be taking a tour of some non-alcoholic wines that I come across to see if they are worth the effort. (And before you get started, I know that non-alcoholic wines and beers do contain some alcohol - less 1/2 of 1 percent in most -- so flame away if you must) I have my first victim in sight. In fact I tried a glass the other evening, but I'm going to give it another chance with a more suitable food pairing. But first...

Where to find non-alcoholic wines? Well it's not as easy as one might think. My first attempt, a small, but great, wine shop in the center of my town, came up dry. They usually keep a couple of bottles in stock but at the moment they were out Next stop was to a much larger liquor store that is close to where I work. Jackpot! (Julio's never let's me down!) While the selection was small there were a handful of whites, reds and sparklings to choose from. To start with I chose a Cabernet Sauvignon. Stay tuned for the review in the next couple of days.

If anyone has had success with non-alcoholic wines, please let me know. Recommendations are definitely welcome!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bin Ends

I happened to be back in my hometown earier this week and while I was there I popped into BinEnds. It's a non-traditional wine shop a little bit off the beaten path -- I've been following them on Facebook and Twitter, I really like their story -- I thought they might be worth a visit.

It's been around for just over a year, but when you walk in it still smells and feels new.

It's easy to navigate -- nice & spacious -- I hate feeling claustrophobic when I shop for wine.... narrow aisles just make me feel like I'm going to turn around too quick and break something. Bin Ends is huge..... and at first it felt kind of empty -- but, no -- there's plenty there it's just nice & spacious.

They offer free tastings, and unlike most wine shops I've been to -- you don't have to chase them down and beg them for a taste like some deranged alchoholic -- they come right out and offer.... don't mind if I do, thank you very much.

While I was perusing the wines, a gentleman (one of the owners) came over and introduced himself -- gave me a brief history of the store, explained that they are in the process of restocking (the do this on Thursdays) and welcomed me to ask any questions. There was no pressure or hard sell -- just a guy thanking me for coming in. Here's the kicker.... I think everybody gets this VIP treatment -- NICE!

BinEnds takes advantage of overstocks, closeouts, inventory reductions, etc. in order to offer fine wines to people like me.... people who like good wine but don't like to pay fine wine prices. They typically have between 200-400 wines to select from, and they have this amazing automatic mark-down system -- so you can get some real steals (up to 45% off)! Some of the wines were a bit out of my budget -- but many were priced just right.

The downside (or maybe it's an upside) is that their selection is constantly changing -- you may find a bottle you love, and then never see it again -- eh, c'est la vie -- they have more wines to try, right?

I picked up three bottles in the $11-$12 range, based on my internet research I saved a couple of bucks a bottle. Everybody else in the shop had at least 10-12 bottles in their cart, so I believe it when they say their inventory turns over every week.
If you live in the Boston area, I say -- go check 'em out -- if you don't.... don't fret -- they offer shipping!!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I just don't think I'm ready, are you?

In the wine shop (okay, so it was really the Liquor Depot... whatevah!) last week.... perusing some pinots for this month's "assignment" and I came across this contraption.....

Now, I know wine-in-a-box has come a long way since it was first introduced, but this.... I'm just not sure I'm ready. Although, it definitely looks like a great idea for picnics, tailgating, etc.

Please feel free to share you thoughts and/or experiences.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Vacation Whining

It’s been months since I’ve posted here on The Whinery. So I should probably slip back in, write a low-key post on this month’s assignment, and pretend that I’ve been here all along.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to skip the assignment, break the “guidelines,” and whine about it while I’m at it.

Last month, Sue (the wife) and I went to Disney World with Clare (our seven year-old daughter). We’d originally waited a year for a reservation at the Beach Club Villas, had to change dates and lost that reservation last year, and waited another year to go back. The hotel was fantastic. Unfortunately, it rained five out of our seven days there. The rain was bad. Biblical bad. There was about two feet of rain in central Florida in a few days time.

So what did we do? Apart from staying out of the pool, we went on as usual. We went to the parks, enjoyed the shorter than normal lines, and had fun despite the weather. We also lingered a little longer than usual in some great restaurants (and even got a last minute reservation at one of Disney’s best) and enjoyed a few bottles of overpriced wine. Thinking ahead, Sue jotted down the names of each wine. Not thinking at all, I tossed out the envelope Sue’s notes were written on when we got home. Here’s what we remember.

Our first Disney wine, at bluezoo in the Dolphin, was a 2007 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. (I guess that is the assignment—although we drank it in May.) We both had fish, and it paired really well. It wasn’t too dry, and it wasn’t too fruity. (The restaurant overall was really fantastic too—even Clare liked it.)

Our second wine of the week was a Paolo Masi Chianti Reserva at the Yachtsman. We both liked it. We both had steak, and again it paired really well. That’s all we remember. Knowing us, that probably means that it wasn’t too heavy and it wasn’t too light. Chianti usually gets two thumbs up from us. (This is another great restaurant that we all liked too.)

Out third and last bottle of wine (we went with mixed drinks and beer some other nights) was a California Merlot at California Grill at the top of the Contemporary. This is the reservation that we snagged at the last minute, which is unusual since it’s the prime place to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks (especially when it’s raining). The wine? We know we liked it, but we don’t really remember any specifics at all. This isn’t much of a wine review, is it?

Here’s what I’m interested in though. Have you ever ordered a bottle at a restaurant (we probably paid $50-60 for $20 bottles of wine) and then bought a bottle to try out again at home? Did it live up to expectations? If we try it with these three (well the two we remember the names of at least) we’ll let you know.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June's Assignment

I know some are still working on May's assignment, but..... onto June!

Some like Reds..... Some like Whites...... So this month's assignments is to try a wine that you've never tried before that begins with "Pinot".

This can be a Pinot Blanc (Pinot Bianco), a Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), a Pinot Noir.... whatever tickles your fancy.