Author Archives: scamp

Guest Post: I’m a Wineaux Wannabe

Martha is a single work-at-home mom. She works as a social media strategist and consultant at Yellowfly Social Media. She also blogs over at Momsoap, where she writes about parenting and race-related issues, because her daughter, Annika, is biracial. Her blogging style is irreverent, which mostly means that she swears a lot. She likes wine, but she’s never quite sure if Shiraz is a brand or a type of wine.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a wino when it comes to wine. But last week I realized something, since becoming a mom, I’m no longer a wino. I’m a wannabe wineaux. I wish, with just a hint of desperation, that I knew what good wine tasted like and how to tell a hit from a dud.

I like to imagine that I know what really good wine tastes like. I dated a guy once who proffered me French wine from menus without prices. I pretended to understand how delicious they were. To me, they all tasted like wine has always tasted. Some wine is delicious, and some just leaves my mouth feeling like someone mixed cardboard with grapes and bottled it with a vineyard label.

My first bout with wine was, I kid you not, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I was not even legal drinking age yet. But I thought it was delicious. I drank the entire bottle while waiting for a friend to show up, who was supposed to be sharing it with me. I was shamelessly drunk and entirely happy with myself after that experience. For years, all wines paled in comparison to that enjoyable evening where I was mostly drunk on the delight of being drunk from a $3 bottle of wine.

My standards moved up when I started working at an Olive Garden, at the age of 19, and I learned that the choice of wine with your dinner depends on the color of your meat. It seems ridiculous to me now, but yes, people actually came into a place that serves endless baskets of bread and salad and expect the servers to know about wine.

I always had a good answer. My answer depended on the price of the bottle and the appearance of the customer. To my surprise, they always believed me. It’s amazing what a knowing look, slight bend at the waste and a flourishing touch as you wipe the lip of the bottle with a napkin can do to assure your customers that they have, indeed, made the best choice of wine to go with their pasta primavera.

And perhaps they did. Perhaps I was better at guessing than I gave myself credit for.

All I know for sure is that I’ve always felt like a fraud when it comes to wine. It seems like there should be some knowledge I could have picked up by now, after traveling around the world and drinking wines from varying restaurants.

Mostly, I just pick out the prettiest label for the best price. But I know there’s a better way. I just know it.

Behind the Curtain: Wine Chicks Guide

I’m always looking for new wine blogs.  There are plenty out there, and my favorites focus on easily-found, reasonably-priced wines.  I also particularly enjoy wine blogs written by women, partly because there aren’t as many out there as I’d like.  To find new blogs, I generally surf around other wine bloggers’ blogrolls…

That’s totally not how I found Wine Chicks Guide; I ended up meeting Kellie through Facebook, as one of my FB friends (who is completely not related to my wine life) also happened to be one of Kellie’s childhood friends.  This is your world, gentle readers; watch it shrink!

Kellie Dolan Stargaard’s blog is Wine Chicks Guide; she’s been blogging about wine since 2009, when she lost her job and decided to start writing about one of her passions.  I’ve been wanting to do some wine blogger interviews for a long time, and Kellie very kindly agreed to be first.  I really enjoyed her candor – I hope you do too!

What’s the first wine you ever drank?

Oh wow, I’m sure it was something really cheap and horrible back in high school. In college I progressed to Boone’s Farm, yes I have come a long way. Somewhere in my 20’s I discovered Blackstone Merlot. I think this is the first wine I can remember drinking that had any redeeming qualities. My love affair with wine grew from there.

What’s the most common reason you drink wine (stress relief/enjoyment/celebration/anesthesia/etc)?

All of the above! Seriously, I think I drink wine just for the enjoyment. When people find out I write a wine blog and receive wine samples they, think my husband and I are drunk all the time. I don’t drink wine because of the alcohol; I drink it because I enjoy the act of opening the bottle, pouring the glass and analyzing the flavors. There’s something about holding that glass and watching the wine swirl around the glass.

When did you start your wine blog, and why?

I started my blog in August of 2009. I’d lost my full-time status at the company I had worked for 10 years and was feeling a little lost. I found myself with extra time on my hands. So, I decided I liked wine and liked to share my experiences with wine, hence Wine Chicks Guide was born.

Has it taken you where you thought you’d go?

It’s taken me much further than I ever imagined it would. In October 2010 I was inducted into the Order of the Raven by Ravenswood founder, Joel Peterson. A group of 10 wine experts and journalists were flown out to Sonoma for a 3 day tour of the Ravenswood Single Vineyards. We spent everyday and evening with Joel and it truly was a remarkable event. I can truly say I never thought I would take a helicopter tour of Sonoma Valley.

How do you shop for the wines you review (every time you’re in the store/special trips to wine shops/online)?

I swing by the wine section in my local supermarket to see if they have any specials or anything new on the shelves. I also hit my local big box wine retailers once a month to stock up on new wines to include in my blog and inexpensive wines to just enjoy. Most of the wines I blog about now are between $8.99 and $20. Since I receive many of my wines from PR firms, they tend to be on the higher end but I do try to include some wines under $10.

What is the most rewarding thing about blogging, for you?

The people I meet, fellow bloggers, winemakers, public relations or just wine lovers. It’s opened new doors to connect with people who share in my passion for wine.

What is the most difficult aspect of blogging, for you?

Carving out the time in my day to actually write. I don’t want my blog to take time away from spending time with my husband or interfere with my paying job. I try to blog in the afternoons only and stay off the computer as much as I can once my husband is home. He’s very supportive of what I’m doing but I have to keep my priorities straight.

What aspect of the wine world do you wish you knew more about?

Funny you should ask, because I’ve wanted to take viticulture classes but unfortunately none are offered in my area. For now, I have to settle for reading books on wine.

What aspect of wine can people not shut you up about?

My passion for family owned wineries. So many of the big wineries have now been sold to conglomerates. I think it speaks volumes when a winery big or small is still family owned and run.

What are some blogs you read regularly?

TaylorEason.com and Vinography are the two I read most often. Taylor Eason is from Tampa and I’ve had the opportunity to meet her and I really look up to her.

What are some blogs you’ve just discovered?

That would have to be Wine Scamp. I’m so glad we were brought together through a mutual friend.

What should people know about you (that they probably don’t)?

I’m not a wine expert and I’m not a journalist. I’m just a wine lover trying to break down the wine walls that make wine intimidating to many people. Wine has a bad rap as being a bit of a snobbish and affluent drink. I can’t buy a bottle of Caymus just for everyday drinking and I don’t know many people who can. My goal is to convey to people you can find great wines at affordable prices and to give them a little background on the wine.

Thanks so much to Kellie for allowing herself to be interviewed! I really enjoyed learning more about her.

House Wine Bar

A friend and I dined the other night at Casa de Luz, an awesome place to eat some delicious vegan fare.  After, we walked over to House Wine, a new-ish wine bar (I’ve been out of the wine bar scene for so long, it may be 2 years old for all I know) near Lamar and Barton Springs Road.  All I had with me was my phone, so pardon the grainy shots.

My friend ordered the Muscadet they were pouring, and that’s one of the things that should send you right down to this spot – they are pouring a Muscadet.  And multiple Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays and Rieslings and white blends and… well, 33 white wines and 43 reds.  And 5 or six sparklers, as well as some 6  sweet wines.  All the bottle prices are pretty reasonable, and basically any flight is $15.  If you like variety, and I know you do, gentle reader, this is your place.  Variety Central!  It’s like they opened it just for you!

I ordered a flight of three Malbecs: the Llama, Terra Rosa and Tomero.  All from Mendoza, all around $9 per glass.  The flight setup was very sensible, given that all wine is served at a bar for the patron to carry with her to a table.  I was there to socialize and not to scribble wine notes, so I don’t have tasting notes for you, but the Tomero was my favorite.  The other two were more tannic and might have been happier with food.  The Muscadet was really lovely, with tartness as arresting as a slap in the face from an old Southern lady.

Oh!  And Sundays they do a great deal in which they pour all the wines by the glass half-price, as long as the bottle’s already open (usually from the night before I bet). And they do wine cocktails!!! I love wine cocktails!  I’m going back just for the cheese plate and the wine cocktails.

What other things do Austinites care about in a wine bar?  Let’s see.  Big patio.  Dogs allowed on patio.  Street parking.  Probably gets crowded at the bar when it’s busy.  Minimal food but interesting cheese and chocolate. Good happy hours.  Go see them; I bet you’ll like it too.

 

Amazing Austin Tasting Alert for 3/30/2011

If you are in Austin and happen to be free between 4 and 6 pm today, I highly recommend you go to Austin Wine Merchant and taste wines from Tablas Creek.  I will not be able to attend, alas!  But everything Tablas Creek does is phenomenal, and you will not regret the expenditure of time.  Winemaker Tommy Oldre, will be there – ask him about his trip to Chateau de Beaucastel last year.

AWM tastings are awesome, anyway.  And they discount the wines they’re pouring, usually.  Which, FYI, is not to be sneezed at when you’re tasting Tablas Creek wines – they’re not ruinously expensive by a long shot, but they are high of quality and priced fairly given that fact.

Oh!  And I just noticed… dude.  Dude.  They’re going to pour the Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge 2008.  (expletive)   That is some gen-you-wine premium juice, Austin.  If you can possibly manage it, get your wine drinking self to this tasting, my friends.  And then tell me what you thought!   You don’t mind me living vicariously through you, right?  Awesome.

Tasting Middle Sister Drama Queen California Pinot Grigio

My dear friend spent a decompression day at my house after SXSW Interactive, and brought me this wine, which she says someone dropped off at the WordPress booth.

Free!  Free wine is my favorite price.

I confess that the marketing of this wine has me on the fence. I like accessible, approachable wines that straight-up tell you what to expect. I especially like them when they’re affordable and easy to find. I feel happy when they help people feel more comfortable with drinking wine, a beverage that so often is perceived as exclusionary and snobbish.

But I don’t like it when I feel I’m being pandered to, and I recognize it’s a fine line. The Middle Sister wine brand is one of  ten brands developed/owned by Canopy Management. Their brands all “tell a story,” which to my ear means that what’s selling the wine is the marketing/packaging, and not necessarily the wine’s flavor or quality.  Which, to be fair, could be said about nearly any foodstuff or beverage that I have not tried already or researched before buying. So, OK: hall pass.

Canopy Management also owns a company (site? group? concept?) called Wine Sisterhood, which describes itself as “celebrating and sharing the world of wine from the female point of view,” and encourages people (women people, presumably), to “actively participate in the creation of the next new hot wine brand.”

All this is prompted by the fact that women drink more of the wine in this country.  Plus, we do most of the shopping.   The wine industry wants to figure out how to get women to buy their wine, stat.

Enter Canopy Management and their Middle Sister brand.  It’s ingenious in many ways; it fulfills the consumer’s need for personalize-able variety.  It appeals to the oft-ignored middle sister, and every woman, no matter her birth ranking, has felt like the ignored girl.  Each wine has its own “personality;” what’s more, on their website, you can take a Cosmo-style quiz to see “which middle sister you are.”

It’s been a while since I’ve done a magazine quiz… and guess what?  My Middle Sister Wine Personality is actually the wine that had randomly been brought to me!  Spooky! Fate!  Something!

Here’s my Middle Sister Wine Personality synopsis (with comments):

Drama QueenYou’re a Drama Queen. Nobody does quite like you do.* You like to make an entrance. You know the best color/cut/face/eyebrow/wax lady.** You are friends with the bartender, the chef, the kid who started Face Book and the mayor.*** You’re a social butterfly.**** When it’s time to land, it’s poolside in South Beach with a glass of Middle Sister Drama Queen Pinot Grigio. And a cabana boy.*****

This actually describes some women I love dearly, who wish I would buy sassier shoes and less schlubby clothes (and probably, secretly, that I would wax my eyebrows).  I like to take them shopping with me, because then I look much more elegant than I would if I dressed myself.  But I have yet to discover what this persona has to do with Pinot Grigio or those who like it.  And, while I enjoy being arbitrarily how fabulous I am by a quiz just as much as the next gal, it’s a reach to connect gender to personality to wine preference, if you ask me.

Anyhow, let’s taste what’s IN the bottle, shall we?

Pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose of pear, lime and melon.  Very heavy honeydew on the palate, with a spritz of lemon and a white grape juice finish.  Not frightfully… dramatic per se, but quite pleasant and easy to drink.  Keep it cold – when at a cool room’s temperature, it gets a little clunky.

Brass tacks: if you like kitschy wine labels or gimmick names, I can extrapolate from this one wine’s quality that Middle Sister makes drinkable, uncomplicated wines which will not let you down. The Drama Queen is very pleasant.  I will mention that when I want a wine to “tell a story,” I prefer the story to be about a region, a grape or a winery’s vision.

*(thanks, that’s very kind and pretty much true of everyone)

**(Actually, I don’t know any of these people; I go to the salon about every 6 months, and have never waxed anything, ever.)

*** (Except for the last three.)

****(more of a groundhog – oops! shadow!)

*****(If his name is Tom.)

 

Tasting Schramsberg Brut Rose 2006 (with Deb Harkness at Wink)

Last night I went to Book People to see fellow wine blogger and NYT bestselling novelist Deb Harkness speak about her fantastic novel, A Discovery of Witches.  Go buy it.  Right now.  It’s OK, I’ll wait.

Cool.  Anyway, after the talking and the signing, Deb and I went to Wink for some wine and conversation, which were equally delicious.  I will comment at this point that, while Yelpers reference issues with attitude and portion size at Wink, our experience included an exceptionally warm, gregarious staff and what I considered reasonable portions.  But then, we just had wine, cheese and dessert, so I’m not sure my portion size wisdom is worth much.  I was very pleased with the host and our server, however – we had actually intended to just go to their wine bar, but when we stumbled in to the restaurant first, the host walked us over to the wine bar… and then offered us a table at the restaurant if we preferred.  We did, as the wine bar was packed.

When reviewing Wink’s list online, I had my eye on the Schramsberg Brut Rose 2006, as I (1) love sparking wine SO MUCH, (2) love Schramsberg SO MUCH and (3) thought it was really reasonably priced on their list at $60.  Seriously, it practically retails for that.  (Please don’t tell Wink.)

THEN, when Deb and discussed, I discovered that she had never tried Schramsberg’s vintage wine, which had me agog with horror (on their behalf, and hers), PLUS 2006 is when she started blogging, so it was… let’s be honest.  It was Wine Fate.  Sometimes Wine Fate takes hold of your life, and it’s senseless to struggle.  Just let go, and let wine.

Schramsberg was the first winery in California to make sparkling wine, let alone methode champenoise (meaning in the style of the Champagne region) sparkling, and I still think their vintage bubbly rivals great Champagne.  They’re a Napa house, though the 2006 Brut Rose contains grapes sourced from Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.  The 2006 vintage was 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay.

Dear, dear readers – it was SO GOOD.  This wine was a perfect, glittering jewel box of salmon pink, with pinpoint bubbles that never quit.  The nose was of the most flawless wild strawberry on Heidi’s mountain.  I confess I did not linger there because I so desperately wanted to taste… the palate was crystal clear and whistle-clean, yet simultaneously creamy and slightly spicy, with complex flavors of strawberry, apple and nectarine, and a finish that could go all night.  Sublime.

We ate “lightly,” ordering the Texas cheese plate (which included CKC Farms Baby Caprino, Sand Creek Gouda, Texas Gold Cheddar, and Bosque Blue), and then going on to dessert.  We had fun tasting the wine with the four cheeses, agreeing that the Baby Caprino was the best match for the wine, though the other cheeses were also very delicious.  The cheddar was beautifully nutty, and the blue was fabulously rich and pungent.

Based on our experience with the cheese, we were excited about pairing the wine with Wink’s chevre cheesecake, which sits on a shortbread crust with a riesling syrup reduction, little balls ‘o pear, and candied pecans.  We also got the Wink trio, which included their flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee and lemon merengue pie/confection.  But mostly I need to tell you about the cheesecake.

The chevre cheesecake was, on its own, resplendent in its perfection – and with the wine, it hit a superlative level that blew us away.  The tanginess of the chevre, balanced with the buttery shortbread and then mixed with the pear and the frosted nuts… THEN combining all THAT with the creamy yet crisp wine, with the pear coaxing out more of the Chardonnay than we had tasted before, transforming both the food and the bubbly… it was one of those alchemical pairing experiences, when 1 and 1 make 3, that all wine & food lovers treasure.

The other three desserts paled in comparison with the above, so I won’t bore you with it – but I will mention that the bubbly did a great job with the intense chocolate cake, gratifying me in my memory that Schramsberg Brut Rose is an awesome chocolate wine.

Deb and I talked of everything under the sun, including wine blogging, feminism, fiction, academia, Texas, motherhood, self-actualization and cowboy boots.  The whole evening was a blast, and I am so grateful for a world that has Deb Harkness in it, both for her whip-smart, generous self and her engaging, complex fiction.  Can’t wait until next time!

 

Live Blogging James May’s Road Trip Premiere (on BBC America)

One of the few shows my husband and I get equal enjoyment from on the television is the BBC’s Top Gear.  He likes cars, and I like intelligence and funny.  And British.  So when I came in from my evening bike ride (daylight savings time, I forgive you) and saw that Top Gear announcer James May’s new show with Oz Clarke, James May’s Road Trip, was premiering tonight on BBC-A, it was like the universe was helping me out with that whole “what do I blog about on a Monday when I have two old bottles of wine in the fridge to finish before I open any more and I have no good wine-related ideas” thing I was wrestling with.  Thanks, TV!

Taking a page out of one of my favorite blogs, Haiku of the Day, I’m going to live blog the premiere of the show.  (If you get bored of this process, you should go read this or this, by Kari.) Watch along!  Comment!  or read the whole thing tomorrow and go read Deb Harkness’ fabulous new novel A Discovery of Witches, which I finished last week and can’t stop thinking about.

So, some reservations I have about this show: James May?  Old white guy.  Oz Clarke? Old white guy.  Possibly some of the least interesting people to listen to/watch, talking about wine? Two old white guys. How will they make this show NOT make people think that Good Wine is for Old White Guys?

Granted, Oz Clarke is famous for being accessible in his wine reviews, and James May has that kind of Alan Alda/bumbling but well-meaning/non-threatening white guy thing happening… so it’s not like Bordeaux was in any danger of testosterone poisoning when the boyz drove in.  Still, I’d be a bit more pumped if this show were… I don’t know, Adele and Eddie Izzard?

What? you say May and Clarke have done multiple successful shows together since 2006? Everyone loves them, and I know nothing? Ah. Well, that’s what I know.

9:20 Who starts a show at 9:20?

9:21  What? there’s nudity?  And we’re talking about what mature Chardonnay does to women’s nipples?

9:23  I feel for May, looking for the best way to spend his ten pounds, and worried about hating his traveling companion.  Clarke’s talk about wine seems pretty annoying, so far.  Am I like this when I talk about wine to people?  Gah. Shut up already!

9:25  Ha, Clarke made May get down on his knees and smell manure.  Not sure I agree that a whiff of barnyard is a fault, though, to be fair.

9:33 OMG James May is touching a 1940 Bordeaux – Oz Clarke’s ass is so tight right now.  Don’tdropitdon’tdropitdon’tdropit…

9:36  Will my teeth be that scary if I drink as much wine as she does?  Wait, there’s no way that’ll ever happen.  Shew.  Wait.  Is it worth it?

9:38  Judging from the ads, the network totally sold this show as a car show. And possibly a show about hating the telephone company… and fruit cocktail. Psych!

9:41 Not sure how we’re all going to teach James May about wine if he has to be the designated driver all over Bordeaux.

9:43 They’re sleeping in a tent together and reminiscing about past romances? Wow, that’s not homoerotic at all.  And now everything’s all wet?  Gracious, how did that happen?

9:46 Grape facials – possibly not the most wine-educational thing in the world. “Feel all that gelatinous flesh rubbing over your face.” Cough.

9:47  Wait.  IS Oz Clarke gay?  Didn’t he see that Glee where the gay kid learns it’s impolite to make a pass at guys you know aren’t interested?

9:48 That’s a lot of older naked guy skin. I’m going to need more popcorn.

9:56  Do you have to be British or Robert Parker to love Bordeaux this much?  Maybe I just can’t drink pricey enough to love it this much?  Also, James May is totally not ready to taste this stuff.  Why doesn’t Clarke have ME drive him around in my 2005 Honda Civic?  He could leave a banana on my dashboard if he wanted.

9:58  OK, James May is cracking me up right now.

9:59 Pink sweater totally wants to do James right now.

10:00  Wait.  It’s over? That’s it?  I’m confused.  What did we learn?  Was the whole point of today’s show to get May to smell tobacco on a Bordeaux?  Because I think they could have done that a little bit earlier and then just spent the rest of the time on the budding courtship between May and Clarke.

And now it’s Top Gear again.  Wow, BBC-A has a lot of confidence in the appeal of Road Trip to a wine-loving audience.  I dunno – it was fun enough, with the whistle bit to keep the Wine Bore chatter to a minimum.  Maybe a little less “here, smell this” next time, guys?  or is that just a natural hazard of a TV show about wine?  Teaching us to smell stinging nettle seems a bit much.

Well, since no one’s going to drive up in a Jaguar to pack the kidlet’s lunch tonight, I must, alas, say adieu to both screens.  Thanks for coming along for the ride, gentle reader!  (Pun unintentional.)