How do you write a wine blog if you can’t drink wine?

You’ve probably noticed my lack of activity here on the Scamp… attributable previously to a renovation of my kitchen, a more permanent condition has arisen: that’s right, gentle readers, the rumors you’ve heard are true! Remodeling will get you pregnant! Home Depot and Lowes are nothing but well-disguised baby factories!

Seriously though, all 2+ of us here at the Scamp household are delighted, terrified and otherwise blown away by this (not entirely unforeseen) development. I’m going to be a mom! For the rest of my life! Hurray! Help!

The only pallor this casts over my life is right here at the Wine Scamp: if I’m forbidden from imbibing (much, regularly) for most of 2008, how on earth am I to complete my plans for world domination via wine blog writing? What will become of my gentle readers, bereft of my whimsy and wit?

OK, well obviously I can spit. I’ve spat in the past, I spit on occasion presently and I will certainly spit in the future. Don’t let anyone tell you, however, that this is a preferable way to taste wine. Sure, Robert Parker does it when he tastes 1,987 wines a day, as do Tanzer and Robinson and Laube and anyone who attends a mass tasting. Maybe it’s just my own fault, then, as All The Cool Kids are doing it, but when I taste wine and spit, I never do get the kind of sensory input that I get when I taste and swallow.

Part of the reason, I think, is that I don’t get the scents/tastes from the wine that I would if I had swallowed, at least not the scents that would be wafting up behind my epiglottis. Without this pseudo-aftertaste olfactory input, I tend to feel like I have one eye closed while trying to interpret a painting. Wear an olfactory eye-patch for 8 more months? Bleh.

Right, I hear you – pregnant women can drink a small glass of wine from time to time, with food. Well, not in the first trimester when the nugget’s just getting its cells organized; it doesn’t have the wherewithal to handle its Cabernet just yet. When the autumn leaves start to turn, I’ll let a few sips past my gullet, but until then it’s the spit bucket all the way, I fear.

I must confess that the prospect of opening up a good bottle so that I can swish and spit a mouthful does not hold the appeal that enjoying a nice glass does. Also, as a mama-in-training I’m all about learning my lumps before accidentally folding my child up into origami. My life is changing permanently, and thus so will this blog. Heretofore, we’ll be talking both wine and womanhood, juice and gestation, Pinot Noir and propagation.

Stick around; it’s going to be a hell of a ride!

reviews wineries

Tasting Wichita Falls Sangiovese 2004

Wichita Falls Sangiovese 2004Oregon family came to visit for Easter weekend, and bought some Texas wine for us all to enjoy together! I had never tasted this one, which they picked up at Specs for about $15.

Bright, clear red in the glass with soft corners. Rusty strawberry aromas, with some crushed strawberry leaves as well.

On the palate, hot strawberry syrup and some tart cranberry edge and some dirty green notes. Kind of a lipstick sidebar there in the attack (which is to say, at the beginning of the flavors when you taste). Not terribly acidic, but decently balanced between acid and tannin. Very competent other than the chemically floral note.

Wichita Falls is located far to the north of me in Texas, almost in Oklahoma. Most of the truly great grapes being grown in Texas right now are from the northern growing areas, especially around the Panhandle plains. Wines with the Wichita Falls label are from 100% Texas grapes; the winery also produces wines under the Gates label, which are blends of Texas and California fruit.

Alton Gates and his wife Lana founded their Wichita Falls Vineyards & Winery in 2002, having begun planting vines they bought in California back in 1997. Armed with only a few oenology classes from Grayson County College and a Texas-sized sense of adventure, they now produce about 15 wines between their two labels. They currently grow Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Typical for Texas, their most popular wine is a sweet red blended from Zinfandel, Cabernet and Sangiovese.

Their straight Sangiovese is varietally correct, though, and a very drinkable wine that would pair well with pasta or barbecue chicken. If you’re in Texas and you can find it (again, Specs y’all), I recommend giving it a whirl.


Tasting Verget Au Fils du Temps NV

Verget Au Fil and toolsWhat wine goes with celebrations? Champagne, of course. What wine goes with contemplation? Perhaps an aged Brunello or Burgundy or Bordeaux. What wine goes with sitting on the porch on a summer’s evening? Rose, surely.

What wine goes with a short break from home improvement gyrations? I have no definitive answer, but in this case it’s Verget du Sud Au Fil Du Temps (as time goes by), a French vin du table (table wine) that I paired with a microwaved Michel Angelo’s Chicken Parm last night. One of the things that makes this an excellent wine for the occasion is that it won’t add to the mounting Home Depot and Lowes bills you’re likely to rack up during your remodel project; it’s priced at Specs for only $6.62 a bottle.

Dark red in the glass. The wine presents a yeasty nose, with earthy blueberries, violet notes and black pepper aromas.

Earthy on the palate too, with just enough structure to rap the berry fruit on the knuckles and tell it to sit up straight. Slightly raw like a nouveau, but not scratchy at all. Verget Au Fils and toolsMore of a corduroy texture: soft but with ridges. Nice acid, and even earthier with the bland frozen dinner.

The wine’s a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon; the idea is that Burgundy negociant Verget takes all its leftover juice from all the fine wines it blends every year and tosses them into this “bistro blend.” Jean-Marie Guffens’ Verget was founded in 1990, and is a good value brand that you can count on, especially for Chablis. Specs has a great offering of their wines.

Fortified by a nice big glass and most of Robert Altman’s incredibly goofy movie Popeye (a certified Middleton Family Cult Classic), I’m ready to start back to work. Feel free to try this solution whenever mounting tasks threaten to sweep you away in their wake.

wine bars

Wine Bar Espionage

The GroveOn my way home from work, there’s this new wine bar called The Grove, on Bee Caves Road just west of 360. It’s actually called a “wine bar and kitchen,” and its ALWAYS packed. Seriously. The place shares a strip mall with a Jimmy John’s, a nails place and a Reids cleaners, and when I drive by at 6 or 7 every weeknight, the parking lot is invariably full.

I turned into said parking lot to check things out last night, and snapped a few pics from my car, feeling like an unsophisticated Kinsey Millhone. I even went to the lengths of going inside to scope the place, and looked at the wine list though I did not have time to have a glass — we grouted the kitchen floor last night at Castle Scamp, an activity which I can not, dear reader, recommend to anyone for any reason.

There was a small bar with tables (packed), a restaurant floor of tables (packed) and a large outdoor patio (empty because we were expecting rain last night). The list offered about 10 flights that seemed to range from $11 to $16ish, and a long, extensive by the glass list on top of that, and a long bottle list on top of that. I did not get a look at the menu, but this is definitely worth investigating when I can finally shake the dust of home improvements from my heels and venture back into the world of wine again!

Have any of you been here? Is it a chain, or a local sensation? I’ve done no research, I admit, but I’m dying to know if this place is a gem or a gyp… discuss!

food & wine pairing reviews wine bars

Tasting Saint Cosme “Les Deux Albion” Cotes du Rhone 2005

Saint Cosme and listJeepers, it’s been a week since I stopped in to Vino Vino for a glass of wine to let stupid Austin traffic die down. VV is one of those places that make me really wish I lived closer to town. They have engaged, educated servers who provide a cozy experience for someone just wandering in by herself. The bar is dark, but with warm light spilling from lamps and bottles lining the walls. In another two months, when the Texas Heat of Death begins to really hit its stride, this place will be a cool, soothing godsend.

Plus, they’ve got a hell of a sense of humor. I had to try the Saint Cosme at $9 a glass because of the following description on the list:

“There is no reason to believe this wine isn’t made by elves… or gremlins, trolls or fairies for all one can find out about it on the internets. I’ll have to wing this one. This wine is 100% syrah or 50% syrah and 50% white clairette or the love sweat of rutting goat-gods which has been bottled by little, bitty people with their teeny tiny hands and shipped to us by winged squirrels.”

I mean, seriously – how do you NOT taste a wine written up like that?

I personally found it to present dusty, heady raspberry aromas, white pepper, slight truffle and some of that umami edge of aged cheese.

On the palate, it’s crispy with tannin on the edges with an ooey-gooey fruit center. This wine gets a tight grip on your lips and teeth and proceeds to spew all over your tongue with earth and brick-house raspberry goodness.

Saint Cosme labelMy bartender tasted it for the first time near where I was sitting, and I overheard her comment that the wine “smells like Jewish Christmas.”

I chose the country pate to go with my wine, despite the bartender’s recommendation of the “Portuguese gumbo” soup, and I probably should have gone with her idea. The pate was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it was too rich for the Cotes du Rhone. Or rather, the wine’s tannins met their match with the fatty pate, but then the acidity just went crazy. It was much better when I added some red onion, capers, olive or a cornichon. I bet it would have been great with a thinly sliced tomato, too.

Vino Vino will open most everything on their shelves for a nominal fee, and their wine by the glass list is really unusual. They’re pouring a Franciacorta, a Dolcetto and a Corbieres, among other gems. Lots of wines you’ve probably never heard of, but all of them good.



Kitchen beforeI’ve been neglecting you, dear reader, and I confess that I may continue to do so for just a while longer. Kitchen remodeling, a little-known torture originating in the 12th century, has ensued at Scamp Central, and I am somewhat the worse for wear. I could tell you all sorts of things about my current adventure, but none of them, sadly, are wine related. Well, except for this one thing:

Oak CountertopsWe’ve installed oak butcher block countertops in most of the kitchen (there will also be tile near the sink). They come from the store unfinished in standard lengths, so we had to cut them to fit, and then sand and oil. There are lots of ways to learn what oak smells like, but I think this might be one of the most effective… right after going over the falls in a barrel. Vanilla, spice, smoke, toast, and woodsy aromas dominate, with a sawdust and mineral (oil) finish.

Wish us luck in the tile work… 6 square feet of countertop, 11 linear feet of backsplash and 150 square feet of floor to go, and I’ll have a functioning hearth once again! Yes, I know we probably should have tiled the floor first, and I’d rather not discuss it.

personal reviews Wine Blogging Wednesday

Wine Blogging Wednesday #43: Comfort Wine

800 boxes of kitchen with wineYou’ve probably noticed that The House of Scamp favors a certain Scandinavian home furnishings store. Well, we’re remodeling our kitchen, and guess where the new cabinets are coming from? That’s right, I have 800 boxes of kitchen piled up in my living/dining room, and for the next 2-3 weeks I’ll be assembling, installing, and then playing with tile as well.

So I’m very glad that this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme was chosen by Joel at Wine Life Today to be “comfort wine,” because I could really use some right now. Tearing up my kitchen is starting to have a rather profound effect on my psyche; something about chaos affecting the hearth makes my house feel less like a home and more like a take-out dumpster.

But from this destruction will arise a phoenix of a kitchen: a kitchen with more than 36 inches of counter space, with more than 5 cabinets and enough room for all of my appliances! (For the record, “all” equals 7, including the toaster, coffeemaker and blender. OK, I meant for that to seem like Not A Lot, but instead it seems like A Lot. How many appliances do you have?)

La Vieille Ferme Rouge 05And I have my comfort wine to keep me warm in the meantime. It’s not fancy by any means, and I mean that: La Vieille Ferme Rouge is a mere Cotes du Ventoux, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. It’s a friendly little table wine from the Perrin family, the makers of the iconic Beaucastel Chateauneuf-de-Pape, and I discovered it when I was in the wine business. As you can see from the label, it’s not much of an eye-catcher on the shelf, and thus it’s a well-kept secret. I’ve been drinking it for years; some vintages it’s a little lighter and sillier, some vintages it’s more intense and rich.

Dark, deep red in the glass. Nose of grape must and raspberry juice, as well as dusty earth and a hint of white pepper. Pretty structured this vintage, with brusque tannins, dark earth, cranberry and blackberry on the palate. Really, this wine would go better with barbecue or kielbasa than the turkey and dressing I frequently pair it with (it’s been a go-to Thanksgiving wine for many years now). Also, it’s less of a quaffing wine this vintage; however, it sells for about $6.99, tastes damn delicious, and really takes the edge off of a slight mis-calculation in kitchen dimensions and the subsequent gnashing of teeth.

Thanks to Lenn at Lenndevours for inventing Wine Blogging Wednesday, the wine blogosphere’s most enduring meme, and to Joel at Wine Life Today, for reminding us that wine can soothe just as much as it can excite.

news world of wine

Moderation in all things

According to the Guardian, the British Medical Journal suggests that alcoholic overindulgence could be curtailed by selling bottles of wine that are 500 ml instead of 750 ml. The notion is that if two people open a bottle over dinner and have a glass each, they then proceed to finish the entire bottle so as to not waste any wine, getting dangerously sloshed in the process. It’s likened to the way “super-sized” portions on a plate induce a diner to eat too much food.

Thus, British supermarket chain Waitrose is debuting a line called Vin à Deux, consisting of eight premium French wines in 50 cl (that’s 500 ml in Britain) bottles. They’ll also expand their selection of wines in 250 ml bottles, while phasing out 375 ml — your typical half bottle — altogether.

Is Waitrose saving the British public from their own sot-like impulses? Gracious, but it seems to me that we have more than enough options for wine containers, especially that of the wine “box,” in which the plastic bladder-like container never allows air in and thus never lets wine go bad in the first place. If having a 5-liter box of wine in the fridge doesn’t lead to “overserving,” at home, then why on earth would having three-quarters of a liter in a bottle? This is the perfect opportunity for a new poll, don’t you think? Please direct your attention below and share your opinion via a few clicks or, certainly, a comment!