Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On "Natural" Wine

In my attempt to not become the "Bill Simmons of Wine", I thought I'd actually talk about wine today.

I had planned to write a post today on "Natural" wines and the processes or lack of processes that make them "natural."  Then Eric Asimov went and stole my thunder.  No matter, Eric is a writer I have a ton of respect for (honestly, NYT wine critic and nephew of esteemed author Isaac Asimov?) and I often agree with his viewpoints.  It just so happens that we've been in sync the last two weeks (first Canary Islands, now natural wine). 

Natural wine has been one of the big buzzwords or trends in the wine-geek community for the last few years, and nearly everyone has an opinion of some sort, whether actively positive, actively negative, or actively neutral.  In order to not conceal my biases, I'll just get my opinion out in the open.  I think that people should make wine however the fuck they want to, and that if people like said wine, they should drink it.  As I've said before, wine is too often mythologized into some sort of elite, ephemeral luxury good that should only be enjoyed on special occasions, when in fact it's just a food.  There, I said it.  There's nothing special about wine other than the fact that it tastes really good.  If my opinion on natural wine doesn't make sense to you yet (it shouldn't because I gave my opinion before I explained what natural wine is) then keep reading and it'll become illuminated (not in the way that a manuscript is illuminated though, unless you're reading this while tripping on acid, in which case, go be outside and enjoy yourself).

Natural wine is problematic mostly because it doesn't have an official set of regulations or even a distinct theme other than the desire to make wine with as little intervention as possible.  For some natural winemakers, this means using biodynamic practices (a load of hogwash IMHO) or organic practices in their winegrowing, then adhering to more traditional winemaking practices.  For others this means using fertilizers and pesticides in their vineyards, but then only using native yeasts (yeasts already found on the grapes) for fermentation.  For others, this means using as little sulfur dioxide in the winemaking process as possible (or in some cases, no sulfur at all).  So, when referring to a natural wine, it's clear that the customer is not exactly sure what made the wine "natural" in the first place.

Natural wine has also come under fire from those who do not adhere to any of the principles of the movement.  They assert that when these winemakers refer to their wines as "natural" they are, by implication, referring to all other wines as "unnatural."  To that I say grow up and stop whining.  If a winemaker makes good wine, people will drink it, it's as simple as that.

So, why did I choose today to talk about natural wine?  Because I enjoyed a fantastic bottle of an extremely "natural" wine over the last two nights.  The wine in question was a 2003 Cousin-Leduc Anjou pur Breton.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Anjou AOC.  I scored this bottle on deep discount, something like $5 marked down from $25, because it is on the older side for a wine like this.  Most natural wines, and especially those that have extremely limited sulfur dioxide, are meant for immediate consumption.  The reason being that the sulfur dioxide acts as an antibiotic agent, preventing bacterial spoilage.  Regardless, I took the plunge, and I am so glad that I did.

Upon opening the nose showed a lot of, well, funk.  There was pure cherry fruit and some balsamic notes, but there was also a lot of barnyard and leather aromas.  These might daunt many drinkers, but they usually aren't something to be afraid of.  I poured a little bit into my biggest glass, and swirled it aggressively.  The funk subsided a bit and the wine started showing more earthy, herbal (rosemary, lavender) characteristics.  The palate was full of sweet cranberry and cherry fruit with some of the same herbal notes I found on the palate.  Was it the most profound wine I have ever had?  No.  But it carried an unmistakable sense of the place it was grown, and of the person who made it--which brings me to my next talking point.

This wine was made by Olivier Cousin, a man who exemplifies the natural wine movement.  He still plows his vineyards with horses and his vineyards are certified biodynamic.  He uses only native yeasts, and does not use sulfur at all.  His wines, therefore, are incredibly unique from vintage to vintage.  He has run into a bit of trouble recently because a few years ago he withdrew from the AOC system in France.  He found the rules imposed too restrictive, and was annoyed by some of the inherent hypocrisies of the system.  The board that controls all wines from the Loire has recently imposed huge fines on him for some of his creative labeling, which you can read about in the link above (also, sign the petition).  The wine I sampled was made when he was still working within the system, so it still bears the "Appelation Anjou Controlee" designation on the label.  After leaving the system, he kept the name of this wine the same, but removed the AOC designation on the bottom of the label.  This did not sit well with the authorities though because in the name of the wine, "Anjou Pur Breton" there are two additional problems.  Anjou is the name of an AOC, and Breton is the local name for the Cabernet Franc grape.  Wines, like Cousin's, that are labeled as "Vin de Table" (the lowest level of the pyramid) are not allowed to specify place name or grape varieties used in the production. While France currently has no sense of humor about this, winemakers have a long history of spurning governmental regulations in the quest to make better wine (see Toscana IGT in Italy).  For me, and this goes back to my original opinion about natural wine, I don't care what the label says as long as the wine inside is delicious and speaks of its place.  Hell, I'll usually even settle for just delicious.

So, what's the moral of this story?  Go forth and try a couple natural wines.  Unless you have a high tolerance for weirdness, I'd save Cousin's wines for a subsequent trial, but I can highly recommend the wines of Arianna Occhipinti from Sicily (she does dirty, dirty things with Frappato and Nero d'Avola).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Boston Wine Expo, Some Random Notes, and the Ghost of Myra Kraft

This weekend sure did not want for excitement.  The two cornerstone events--the Wine Expo and the AFC Championship game--were both on Sunday, leaving a Saturday sized black hole in my schedule and causing me a little bit of unease.  However, I somehow persevered.  I'd like to first talk about the football game.  In a weekend full of wine tasting and borderline over-consumption, watching the Patriots game, while drinking only water, was the most damaging activity to my health.

I've covered my love for the Patriots before, so I won't go into the history.  Suffice it to say, I was pumped for this game.  I wasn't as confident in victory as so many were, but I thought the Pats had the edge.  Then again I thought the pats had the edge in 2009 too, but it only took one 83 yard Ray Rice dagger to prove me wrong. Many others have exhaustively covered the events of yesterday's game, so I'll only touch on a couple highlights/key moments.
  1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis scoring on an 8 yard run, then pointing to the MHK patch on his jersey. (I knew I shouldn't have been cutting onions during the game)
  2. Brady going over the top on 4th and goal then nearly being cut in two by Ray Lewis.  I'm surprised more hasn't been said about this.  Lewis (an obvious first ballot HOFer) has made his name by playing juuuuust this side of dirty, and this was a perfect example.  He knew Brady was in, but took the shot anyway.  
  3. Brandon Spikes' awesome INT, followed by perhaps the single worst play call (and execution) of the Patriots' season.  How do you follow up a death blow like that by calling a deep pass to your #5 WR? For a second I thought it was Bill O'Brien that had died the previous night.
  4. Bernard Pollard.  Honestly, what an asshole.  Takes out Brady in '08, Welker in '09, and now maybe takes Gronk out of the Super Bowl. On my list of hated athletes, he is firmly #2 behind this guy.
  5. Billy Cundiff is probably resting on the bottom of the Chesapeake right now.  At the risk of sounding cheesy, I'm with Jerod Mayo in saying Myra may have had something to do with both Cundiff's yanked kick and Sterling Moore's sudden ability to play football.
A short footnote on Myra Kraft (MHK).  By now everyone knows the story, Myra died this summer as Robert Kraft was working to end the lockout.  She was a tireless philanthropist and just an overall good person.  In my first year of teaching, one of her granddaughters was in my class, and meeting her on Grandparents' day was wonderful.  A genuinely nice person.  Feels right that the Pats will get to wear their MHK patches one more time.

So--the wine.  I shared some delicious wines with friends on Thursday night which I want to talk briefly about here.  First up was the 2006 Buronfosse Cotes du Jura "les Ammonites" that I bought on Thursday.  I simply couldn't wait to open this up.  It showed just as beautifully as I expected.  It was slightly less oxidative than my previous Jura experience and that, I believe, was to its benefit.  Beautiful lemon and subtle pear fruit mixed with a delicious almond and peanut skin characteristic that made it really fascinating.  This wine was showing very little at refrigerator temperature, but when it was a little warmer, the full spectrum of flavors and aromas was present.  I'd recommend serving this a little warmer than most of your whites. (Side diatribe--almost everyone, restaurants included, serves white wines WAYYY too cold and red wines WAYYY too warm.  I like to let my whites warm up slightly from fridge temp before serving, and I like to chill my reds in the fridge for about 15 minutes before serving.)  I served this Jura wine with Comte cheese, a gruyere made in the Jura region.  The pairing, as one would expect, did not suck at all.

Next up was the 2009 Ch√Ęteau de Mayragues Gaillac.  I bought this wine down at Chambers St. in NYC this fall.  I buy nearly every Gaillac I see, because they are so rare and, to me, so delicious.  I have uncles that live in Montauban, France just north of Toulouse and just outside the boundaries of the Gaillac AOC.  While there, I completely fell in love with the wines.  They use local, obscure grapes like Duras and Fer mixed in with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.  This wine was 60% Duras and 40% Syrah.  I find wines made from Duras to be incredibly unique.  The nose on this wine was almost overpowering in its spiciness.  It was like walking into a Penzey's store.  It also showed some dark fruits like plums and blackberries.  The palate was filled with the same dark fruits as well as cumin and white pepper.  This was a very well executed blend.  I find that too often winemakers mix international varieties with local varieties in an attempt to overpower the local varieties.  Here, the Syrah played well with the Duras.  It was still present (white pepper), but let the Duras do most of the talking.  A wine worth seeking out, as are any wines from Gaillac.  They certainly will not be run of the mill.

Lastly I want to talk about the Boston Wine Expo.  My mother lovingly gave me two tickets for Sunday's event, so a friend of mine and I set off to the World Trade Center yesterday to taste some delicious wines.  I had looked at the list of exhibitors before hand and had narrowed the list down to those I was interested in.  At a big tasting like this, it's easy to be overwhelmed, but I figured out 3 priorities and we stuck to them pretty well.  First was to get a broad sense of new regions.  Second was to taste any local wineries that were pouring.  Third was to visit small, domestic wineries that we were already fans of.

We spent a great time tasting at the table of Finger Lakes, NY wines.  Quality has skyrocketed in this region, and with some increased distribution, this should be mainstream sooner rather than later.  They are capable of producing bracingly dry rieslings, delicious pinot noir, and some of the best Cab Franc in the country.  This is an area to watch.  Wines I particularly enjoyed from this area included:
  • 2009 Fox Run Dry Riesling
  • 2008 Fox Run Cabernet Franc
  • 2008 Fox Run Cabernet Franc & Lemberger (Blaufrankisch) blend
  • 2009 Ravines Riesling
  • 2010 Ravines Rose of Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Ravines Cabernet Franc
  • 2008 Ravines Meritage (Cabernet Franc and Merlot)
  • 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Pinot Noir
  • 2009 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli
Next up we spent a great deal of time at the Hellas Imports table featuring the wines of Greece.  I've made it my goal in the coming year to learn more about the wines of Greece.  They are delicious and completely underpriced due to limited recognition as well as the complete inscrutability of most of the labels and grape varieties.  Excuse the lack of vintages on these.  They're all the current vintage available in stores though.  I loved:
We also stopped at the table for Laureate imports which specializes in Slovenian Wine.  I was hoping for some oddball stuff along the lines of Alex Kristancic, but settled for some moderately priced Pinot Grigio that didn't suck, and the Traviata Ribolla Gialla which was decent as well.

Next we focused on two California wineries that we both love: Truchard Vineyards and Inman Family Wines.  It's worth noting that JoAnn and Tony Truchard were pouring the wines at the Truchard table, and Kathleen Inman was pouring the wines at the Inman Family table.  Can't get much closer to the action than that. These are wines that you should buy if you see them.  Between these two tables the standouts (and the standouts were incredible) were:
  • 2010 Truchard Rousanne
  • 2010 Truchard Chardonnay
  • 2008 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Truchard Syrah
  • 2010 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Gris
  • 2010 Inman Family Chardonnay
  • 2007 and 2008 Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard. (I preferred the 07 to the 08, as did Kathleen.  It's a leaner, lighter wine with more structure)
  • 2007 and 2008 Inman Family Pinot Noir Thorn Ridge Ranch Vineyard. (Again, I preferred the 07)
  • 2009 Inman Family Brut Rose Nature "Endless Crush" (a ridiculously good, sans-dosage sparkler)
Lastly, before we headed out, we stopped by Turtle Creek winery located in Lincoln, MA.  I've been singing the praises (to anyone who will listen) of their "Conservation Hill" Cab Franc and Chard made entirely of MA fruit.  They were only showing their CA wines (including a rocking barrel sample of 2010 Pinot Noir), but those were also excellent.  I also learned that there's a connection between the winery and my school, which makes me like it even more.

So, there you have it.  A not-shitty weekend.  Thanks for reading and enjoy your week filled with Billy Cundiff/Scott Norwood jokes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Some Great Wine Shopping and the End of an Era

Yesterday afternoon/evening was historic for many reasons.  First of all, my basketball team put a serious hurting on the Applewild School in a 24-6 victory.  The game was especially fun to coach because it gave me the opportunity to make sure that my beginning players got shots.  I made it the mission of my more experienced players to put the ball in the hands of the beginners in places they could succeed.  There's nothing better as a coach than seeing a kid who thinks they suck at basketball nail a 12 foot jumper and break out in an enormous smile.  It was almost worth the 2 hour round trip to Fitchburg.

On my way home to Somerville, I decided to stop in at one of my favorite wine stores in the area (and my favorite in Somerville) Ball Square Fine Wines.  Some of you may remember a post from a month or so back entitled "Drinking, Off the Beaten Path" in which I extol the virtues of drinking obscure wines and mention my desire to try a wine from the Canary Islands.  I figured I'd have to wait until I made it down to NYC and Chambers St. Wines, so I kinda shelved the idea in my brain and forgot about it.  Then the New York Times "wines of the times" column yesterday was about, wait for it, wines of the Canary Islands.  Immediately the idea became un-shelved and I spent the majority of my morning stealthily figuring out ways I could locate one.  I checked the Ball sq. website because they, unlike many sites, actually list their full inventory online, and lo and behold, they had a wine from the Canary Island of Tenerife.  Moreover, it was the wine that placed #2 in the NYT tasting.  And best of all, it wasn't hugely expensive.  So--long story short--I decided to do some shopping last night.

This brings me to part one of this post: the excellent shopping I have done in the past week.  Using three of my favorite local retailers: Ball Sq. Fine Wines, Winestone, and Brookline Liquor Mart, I've scored about a case of obscure and excellently priced beauties.  So let's look at the 6 most interesting.

Everybody Smile!
 These are 6 wines that because of geography, scarcity in the local market, or geek factor, were really interesting finds for me.  A note on pricing: I am usually uncomfortable paying more than $15 for a basic wine, I tend to up that to about $25 if it's something I'm really seeking out, or an obscure variety/region.  I'll break them down now 2 by 2:

2010 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso: Let's just start with the coolness factor: this wine comes from vineyards cultivated on the slopes of an ACTIVE VOLCANO.  Seriously, this thing erupts.  Grown on Mt. Etna in Sicily, the volcanic soils provide a solid mineral structure.  The grape variety here is Nerello Mascalese, which is not terribly common, as you can discern from the linked Wikipedia article.  Wines from Mt. Etna have been rapidly improving, and I have been increasingly seeking them out, but have been unwilling to pay the $35 tariff.  Finding this beauty for $20 at Winestone made me a very happy camper.

2006 Buronfosse Cotes du Jura "Les Ammonites": since I can't read French terribly well, I can basically discern that this wine is made from 100% chardonnay and has excellent mineral quality.  This will be my 2nd wine from the Jura, and I have been on the lookout for more ever since I had my first wine from the Jura just before Christmas.  I don't know if this will have the same oxidative qualities that the last one had, but I'm excited to find out.  Now I just need to find some Comte cheese to have on hand.  Jura wines are easy to find in NYC but have proven incredibly difficult for me to source here in Boston.  So, while picking up my Canary wine last night, I grabbed this for a cool $22 from Ball Sq. 

2004 Puzelat/Bonhomme Touraine "In Cot We Trust": Cot is the grape variety here, and is the Loire name for malbec.  Malbec has surged in popularity in recent years due to thousands of incredibly drinkable and affordable examples from Argentina.  However, Malbec has its roots in France.  It is one of the 6 grapes allowed in Red Bordeaux (the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere), but its presence in Bordeaux has plummeted.  It is also found as the primary grape in the Southwest France AOC of Cahors.  I find Malbec to be most interesting, however when It's grown in the Loire Valley.  The cool climate doesn't produce the type of fruit that producers feel the need to smother in oak.  Instead it is vinified as a lighter bodied, savory wine with plum notes.  I'm very excited to try this example as it has 8 years of age on it.  It could be completely shot, or it could be wonderful.  Half the intrigue is in the not knowing.  Even better, it was on double discount at BLM for $6.

2009 Domaine des Terres Dorees Morgon: The winemaker here is Jean-Paul Brun, one of the masters of Beaujolais.  Morgon is one of the "Crus" of Beaujolais, meaning it makes a wine of distinctive terroir that grants it the ability to put its name on the bottle rather than simply putting "Beaujolais" or "Beaujolais-Villages."  Beaujolais (or Bojo) gets a bad rap due to the sickening influx of Beaujolais Nouveau that arrives every November.  Cru Beaujolais is so not that stuff.  It's made from Gamay and is a light bodied, low alcohol wine with bright fruit and herbal characteristics.  This is definitely going to be delicious. A steal at $19.

2008 Monje Tacoronte-Acentejo Tradicional Tinto: From the island of Tenerife, this was my holy grail find yesterday.  I can't explain why I'm so interested in this wine other than to say this-- While the Canaries are part of Spain in a legal sense, in a geographic and geologic sense, they are part of Africa.  How can I not be fascinated to taste wine made on islands off the western coast of Morocco?!?  I have no idea what this is going to taste like, but you can be sure there will be a post on it!

2007 Rene Favre & Fils Dole: This is a Pinot Noir and Gamay blend from the Valais region of Switzerland.  Switzerland produces a ton of wine but very little of it gets exported.  Most of what gets exported is white wine made from the Chasselas (aka Fendant) grape.  While I enjoy those wines, they do little for me at the price point.  I have never seen a red wine from Switzerland until yesterday when I spied this at Ball Sq.  Much like the wine above, I have zero idea what to expect here, hence my excitement!

All in all a great week of wine shopping.  I seem to be streaky when it comes to buying wine, often going through spells where I'm uninspired and can't seem to find anything interesting, followed by weeks like this one where there seem to be surprises at every turn.

I'd be remiss if I didn't close this column out by acknowledging the fact that after 13 years and 252 matches without a loss, Trinity College squash was defeated 5-4 by Yale last night.  Yep, you read that right, 13 years.  While this is a historic streak in many ways, I'm going to put it into the context of what it means in my life.  I started playing squash in November of 1997.  Trinity's last loss came on February 22, 1998.  Essentially, for my entire squash career, Trinity hasn't lost.  We used to play against them while I was at Bates and it was incredible how good they were.  As a fellow NESCAC school we looked up to them and rooted for them for breaking up the stranglehold that the Ivy Leagues have historically had on squash.  While we only ever got as high as #9 in the country, they inspired us.  Congrats to Yale, but also congrats to Trinity and Coach Assaiante on an amazing accomplishment.

Until next time...

Monday, January 16, 2012

On the Restoration of Order in the AFC (Up With Brady, Down With Tebow)

Having spent my entire life in the Boston area (minus an 8 year stint in NH then ME for school), I've grown rather fond of the New England Patriots.  There is little reason for this to have happened, since for the majority of my childhood they were absolute crap.  When your childhood idol is Drew Bledsoe, you're likely not going to experience many championship thrills.  The pinnacle of my love for them was when they reached the '96/'97 Super Bowl.  Being a naive 9 year old, I, and my entire 4th grade class, believed that we'd clearly beat the Packers and win a championship.  Those of us born in 1987 had to deal with the existential crisis that we may have been the cause for the city's collective championship drought since 1986.  I was convinced that the 96 Pats would prove that wrong.  Instead, they were stomped by Desmond Howard.  Repeatedly.  It wasn't until 2001, when Bledsoe was mercifully injured by Mo Lewis, that things really got good for us in NE.

This has all been a long way of saying that this weekend was about one thing, and one thing only: Pats/Broncos.  The game was full of intriguing storylines, but Tebow/Brady had been the most hyped.  For people outside of Boston, this was apparently an actual discussion with actual people believing both sides of the issue.  For me, Tebow is a cute little phenomenon, but much like Tickle Me Elmo, or Tamagotchis, his shelf life is inherently limited.  The only thing making this game interesting to those of us from Boston was the increasingly porous nature of the New England pass defense.  If there was a defense in the NFL (or even in NFL Europe, or the CFL) that Tebow could pass on, it was this one.

To celebrate this game, ladies and gentlemen gathered in Somerville to imbibe and to eat a delicious steak and blue cheese salad.  Accompanying this bounty was a veritable fridgeful of beer (no, actually). I cannot divulge the number of people that were counted upon to make a dent in this array of beverages, but I can assure you (at the risk of earning myself a one way trip to an episode of Intervention) that it is fewer than you're estimating.  Luckily there are many leftovers.

Some of the highlights were:

And there were also growlers of some now forgotten Berkshire Brewing Company beers.  However, this all paled in comparison to the piece de resistance:

A 30 pack of Genesee Beer.  Don't be fooled by the amazingly low score that Beer Advocate gave them. They don't want you to buy it so they can have it all for themselves.  This is a tremendous beer.  Much like the Schlitz that accompanied my Rose Bowl watching, this Genesee was a perfect match for football.  It's like a Bud Light that doesn't suck.  

Genesee is the beer that Rob Gronkowski would have invented if he were a brewer.  Also, new bucket list item: drink beer with Rob Gronkowski.

Hope you all enjoyed your weekend.  I'll be back in a couple days with some more wine-centric posts.  I haven't forgotten, I just haven't had anything inspiring recently.  There's nothing less exciting than writing a blog post on a mediocre wine.  Happy MLK day everyone from Wines Over Somerville.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Some Rye, Some Rum, and the Rose Bowl

Having returned from a sunny land where rum and golf were plentiful, it was a harsh reality to return to my apartment and find that not only was there no golf to be had (expected), there was also no rum!  This tends to happen to me rather frequently, because I forget that I really like rum.  I spend too much of my time buying bourbon, and not enough time on its sugar based, yet equally complex, cousin.  So in my first liquor store(s) run after returning to tepid Somerville, I picked up three necessities for the Rose Bowl festivities.

First, I couldn't pass up a bottle of the Willett Distillery 3 year Single Barrel Rye Whiskey which has quickly become one of my go-to bourbons/ryes.  While I am a Bourbon enthusiast by birth and heritage, there are times when I am more in the mood for the extra pepperiness that Rye brings to the table.  It has a slightly sharper flavor profile and can be more assertive than Bourbon, where the rye content is mellowed with wheat and corn.  For the legal differences between the two, you can look here for rye, and here for bourbon.  The CliffNotes version: Rye whiskey must be at least 51% rye, and Bourbon Whiskey must be at least 51% corn.

This is a fantastic whiskey, and it's available in local stores (such as Cambridge Wine and Sprits in Fresh Pond) for about $30-$35/bottle, which counts as an extraordinary value in my book.  This is a whiskey that will likely command twice that price once Willett becomes more established as a brand.  I've been drinking this neat with one rock and find that it has strong caramel flavors as well as leather and toasted oak.  I'd hesitate to mix this with anything, but I suspect that you could make one hell of a manhattan or sazerac with it.

The second necessity that I picked up was a bottle of Rhum Barbancourt 4 Year.  Barbancourt makes an excellent range of rums, and are unique in that they are one of the only, if not the only, Haitian rum available in the USA.  Though Haiti obviously has a centuries long tradition of cultivating sugar cane, and therefore rum production, their products rarely leave the country itself.  Barbancourt is reasonably easy to find, and the most common are the 4-year and the 8-year.  The 4-year will run you about $20 for a bottle, and is an absurd value.  The Barbancourt rums are unique in that they see extensive oak aging, which adds a whiskey-like taste to the finish.  I find this delicious and enjoy that it is not as cloying as many rums are.  I suggest this as a sipping rum, served on the rocks with a wedge of lime.  While you certainly could mix it, it won't bring the expected sweetness to a mixed drink.  I could imagine making a sort of mint julep with it would be wonderful though.  In fact, I must remember to try this when the mint starts popping up in my mother's garden this spring.

The final necessity that I picked up at the liquor store was more directly related to the football game taking place that night.  I needed beer and it didn't take long for me to make a decision when I saw a beautiful case of 24 Schlitz TallBoys sitting right beside the rum section.  Call me nostalgic, but nothing refreshes me like a cold Schlitz.  Of all the trendy retro/hipster brews (also including Pabst Blue Ribbon, Lone Star, and Narragansett), Schlitz is my favorite.  It's the only one that has a slightly different taste than your average Bud Light or Coors Original.  Plus it's just awesome to be drinking Schlitz.  Needless to say, the guests enjoyed many a Schlitz, and movements have been made in an attempt to secure a keg of Schlitz for next year's summer party.

Happy Monday everyone, and enjoy LSU/'Bama tonight.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy 2012 (The Year We All Die)!

I vaguely remember, through a haze of presents and Presidentes, promising a bunch of blog posts while I was on vacation.  That simply didn't happen.  Instead of spending my break writing for WOS, I spent my break "researching" for the blog.  This is a fun thing to do when one's blog is alcohol themed.  So what follows is a crapload of miscellanea that may or may not make sense to anyone except me, and that's perfectly fine.  The rough outline is as follows:

  1. Top 10 songs/Top 10 albums of 2011
  2. Things I did after I left the children but before the "holidays" (i.e. 12/16-12/23)
  3. The holidays (12/24-12/25)
  4. Things I did after the holidays but before I went back to the children (12/26-1/2)

So, without further ado, I bring you Wines Over Somerville's 2011 review of music.  I am fairly obsessed with music and spend a great deal of time looking for new music that I will like.  The last 12 months have been a very good time for me in that respect.  For many of my findings, I'm indebted to friends (you know who you are) who have turned me on to blogs such as This Song is Sick, TGIF Jams, and Sunset in the Rearview. Other than that, I just browse iTunes and see what happens.

Top 10 Albums of 2011 (meaning the album was released within the calendar year):

10(t): Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
Kurt Vile has a laid back, smoke-infused alt-country/americana sound that is very easy to listen to and appreciate.  This is an album to listen to after dinner with a glass of rye and a cigar.  It also makes a great Saturday morning hangover cure.

10(t): Drive-By Truckers - Go Go Boots
To say I have a soft spot for DBT would be an understatement.  IMHO they are one of the finest bands in America right now.  Their material deals with the demons of the south (demons that country music would like to pretend doesn't exist).  Definitely check out "I Do Believe."

9: Robbie Robertson - How to Become Clairvoyant
Robbie Robertson is better known as the frontman of The Band.  I had zero expectations for this album and yet it delivered.  It's definitely not The Band, but there are moments where their sound is unmistakably present.

8: Wilco - The Whole Love
Wilco is another legendary band.  Formed by Jeff Tweedy (of alt-country inventors Uncle Tupelo), they've been spewing out great albums (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot anyone?) for 15+ years.  This might be their best album yet.

7: The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
A little bit Lady Antebellum, a little bit Bon Iver, a little bit Allison Krauss/Robert Plant, The Civil Wars deal, logically, in conflict and paradox.  And it sounds wonderful.

6: M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
This is like crack for your eardrums.  I can't say anymore.  Just listen to it.

5: Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne
Watch the Throne can be viewed either as a tremendously ambitious hip-hop album, or a narcissistic failure depending on your opinion.  I'm going with the former.  Tracks like "No Church in the Wild", "New Day", "Murder to Excellence," and "N*ggas in Paris" more than make up for some lackluster tracks.

4: Glasvegas - Euphoric///Heartbreak\\\
I fell in love with Glasvegas' eponymous debut a couple of years ago, so this was an immediate download upon release.  It keeps the spirit of the first album, and songs like "Shine Like Stars" and "Whatever Hurts You Through The Night" are haunting and expansive.

3: The Black Keys - El Camino
Love the Black Keys, and this is easily their best album.  Polished yet rough, with shades of Zeppelin throughout.

2: The Decemberists - The King is Dead
Though this came out in January, I immediately know it would command a high ranking on this list.  This is their most mature effort and is inflected with folk and alt-country.  It's infectious.

1:  Bon Iver- Bon Iver
By far and away my album of the year.  It wasn't even a close contest.  From start to finish this album is gorgeous.  In my opinion it blows away "For Emma, Forever Ago."  The sounds are haunting and the lyrics are poignant yet hard to completely make out.  It's a dreamlike state, but a dream you want to stay in forever.  And then there's the 80's synth/Phil Collins inspired Beth/Rest to close it out.

Top Songs of 2011 (meaning the album that contained the song was released in 2011)

10: The White Panda - Mo' Free, Mo' Fallin'
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers meets Notorious B.I.G.?  Yes Please!  There is no way this should work.  No way.  And yet...

9: Glasvegas - Shine Like Stars
Glasvegas, this summer, was one of the best concerts I've ever been to.  His voice is the real deal.

8: The Knocks - Brightside
It's probably impossible to dislike this song.

7: Childish Gambino - Sunrise
Gambino is quite the lyricist.  Take this: "And I'm lookin' at her butt / That's that 20/20 hindsight / My shit be Jackson, Jordan, Bolton, Keaton, Tyson: 5 Mikes." Play this loud.

6: Drake (ft. Rihanna) - Take Care
I have no idea why I like this song.  But I like this song.

5: Bon Iver - Holocene
The best track off the best album of the year.

4: Britney Spears (ft. Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha) - Til The World Ends (femme fatale remix)
This one probably calls for revocation of my "man-card," but I stand by it.  The anthem of our summer party, this one will live in beautiful infamy.  One of the best moments in song this year, when Nicki hands it off saying, "I'm Nicki Minaj, and that's Ke$ha" followed by Ke$ha just killing it.  Why do I like this crap?

3: Coldplay - Paradise
If only Coldplay weren't so damn good, I could hate them and dramatically increase my hipster cred.

2 (tie): M83 - Midnight City / M83 - Steve McQueen
I couldn't pick just one.  To decide for yourself, I recommend listening to these extremely loud.  I like to make decisions like this while listening in the shower.  Your mileage may vary.

1: Avicii - Levels
I didn't like electro/house anything.  And then I found Avicii.  Just turn this way up and try not to dance.  This is one of the best cooking songs in the world, especially if you're doing something labor intensive like making risotto or polenta.  Also check out "sunshine" which he did with David Guetta.

Now, on to what I did before the holidays.  Phew.

There were several highlights of the first week of break.  The coolest was getting to see the new Ropes & Gray headquarters in the Pru.  They've been there for a year, but I hadn't been to see them yet.  My dad proposed that my sister and I come to lunch on the 22nd and see the new digs, and it was well worth it.  The view, seen at left, was pretty spectacular, and the clam chowder/crabcakes at Legal Seafoods were also pretty good.

I also had the chance to hang out in Marblehead one evening, which is one of my most favorite activities.  Aside from an excellent showing at a local trivia night, the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly this 2007 Michel Gahier Chardonnay Arbois La Fauquette.  From the Jura region in eastern France, this wine is 100% chardonnay from a reasonably cold climate.  Like many wines from the Jura, this was slightly oxidative, a flavor profile that is unusual and can be off-putting, making the wine taste almost like a fino sherry.  However, there is beautiful lemon and pear fruit and searing acidity that make this a pleasure to drink.  We drank this alone, but I'd suggest a pairing with hard cheese as the ideal way to enjoy this unique wine

The following wines we had over the holidays...and I'm sorry I can't do them more justice, but my memories are cloudy and there are just too many of these.

2009 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers Blanc
2005 Chateau Larose-Trintaudon

Dogfish Head Sahtea (ale brewed with Chai and Juniper Berries)
1982 and 1990 Chateau Gruaud Larose (Both fucking corked!)

The holidays were, as usual a blur, but it was great to spend time with family and eat and drink together.  Highlights included the Black Maple Hill Bourbon that we shared on Christmas Eve, and the 1995 Penfolds Grange that we had Christmas night (after the afore-pictured Gruaud Larose debacle).  On the morning of the 26th my Dad, Stepmom, Sister, and I left for Casa de Campo in La Romana, Dominican Republic.  We shared a villa with my Uncle, Aunt, and 2 cousins.  The villa was set right on the 8th hole of the Teeth of the Dog golf course, and overlooked the ocean.  It did not suck.  I played a lot of golf (and had my 3rd ever 79), and drank a shitload of Presidente and Brugal.  I'll leave you guys with pictures of that, and will be back to updating this blog more regularly.  If you've somehow read this far, then I apologize for the time you'll never get back.  Happy new year and cheers!

Palm reflections in the pool on Day 1

The view from the living room of the villa over the 8th hole.
The sunsets in the Carribbean were fun for me to take pictures of.

When I wasn't golfing, this was pretty much standard operating procedure.
The 9th hole at the Dye Fore course's Marina 9.  I double bogeyed (ugh) this for my 79.

The 4th hole on the Marina 9 at Dye Fore, overlooking the Chavon River (where Apocalypse Now was filmed)

This was the sunset that greeted us as we arrived.  It pretty much set the tone.
More sunset action.

The 5th hole at Teeth of the Dog

The 7th Hole at Teeth of the Dog