Posts Filed Under Wined Down (Playboy.com)
When Playboy.com asked me to put together a primer on Champagne (for the NYE celebration holiday season), I was sporting a seriously large sh*t-eating grin on my face.
I mean, c’mon… the homework involved in that requires me to raid the sample pool for all of the Champers I could get my grubby little paws on; and while there are many strong contenders outside of the region, when it comes to sparkling wine, a strong argument can be made that Champagne still reigns supreme. Just try finding wine geeks who don’t like it… (now there’s a needle-in-the-haystack treasure hunt for you).
Put another way: there are far worse assignments, okay?
Interestingly, while the annual New Year’s Eve run-up on sparkling wine articles was in full-force (I think there were more of those in the last week of December than Lindsay Lohan rehab stints), the most interesting piece of bubbly news at the close of 2012 came from NPR, of all places…
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“You can beat the sh*t out of something, and all you get is powdered sh*t!”
– Johnny Graham
As part of some prep work for recently-published Playboy Port Primer (For Your Holiday Port-ing Pleasure), in November I was a guest of importer Frederick Wildman for a lunch/tasting and dinner/tasting with Johnny Graham, the force behind relative Port newcomer Churchill’s.
The F-W folks didn’t actually know that I was sort-of on assignment for my Port Primer, but it turned out that Johnny Graham – to whom I now owe a return on a much-needed pre-dinner beer that he bought me en route to the evening event – had so much Port worth talking about that I wanted to highlight him here. I think I also owe him a beer for providing the above quote, which slipped out when we were tasting through some of the Churchill’s lineup at F-W headquarters before our dinner, while we were discussing wines that exude finesse as well as natural concentration, versus those that simply display an overly-extracted sense of concentration (for an example of the former, try Churchill’s elegantly understated Ten Year Tawny Port, which I likened to Sancerre – seriously – in terms of its prettiness).
Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a trip to NYC’s Hearth restaurant, where I finally got to see/taste what all the (well-deserved) fuss was about when it comes to Paul Grieco (and his massive soul patch), who did an admirable job pairing an entire multi-course meal to vintage Port selections from Churchill’s (not an easy feat, even if the wines are quite good, since they’re also quite demanding, and in some cases quite sweet – in short, a culinary mine field).
Graham’s family Port biz started in the 1800s, and he told me that he was “fortunate, in my youth, I was able to taste vintages like the 1908s; Vintage Port can age 20, 50 years or more, and there just aren’t many wines that can do that.” To that end, given the sh*tload of non-sh*tty wines we tasted that evening, I hope you’ll forgive me the list-and-review style format post, but I thought it worthwhile to give you the scoop on several past vintages of Churchill’s Vintages… including a sneak-peak at the yet-to-be-released 2011…
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My vote is “YES.” It is possible, people – it’s just a bit tricky and, like going up against the better NFL defenses, requires careful planning. Wine can work at a tailgate party. I’m trying to stay interested this season, despite the Steelers’ lagging playoff run hopes. And yes, I realize that we lost to the Browns this season. Still trying to deal with that one…
Anyway… wine + tailgate requires a strategy because, as anyone who has ever braved freezing cold stadium parking lots can attest, beer has an all but complete lock on tailgating festivities. I happen to love beer, but I don’t think that should mean that wine never sees the fun of a good tailgate. To get an insider perspective on all of this, I recently got some time in with former NFL rookie sensation Rick Mirer during wich we talked wine, football, and the tailgate for my latest Wined Down column for Playboy.com.
Why talk to Mirer? He is uniquely positioned at the intersection of wine and American football; after he left his journeyman career in the NFL, he started up a Napa wine label and a charitable foundation for children’s health and education. He seems to be a pretty nice guy; at least he didn’t hang up the phone when I told him I was a die-hard Steelers fan (“hey, I appreciate loyalty,” he told me when I asked him if my cheering for an NFL team that was one of his staunchest rivals was a deal-breaker for our conversation). And yes, I know we lost to the Browns this season, okay?!??
Anyway… For the record, Mirror makes a fairly complex and hefty Cabernet Sauvignon (I enjoyed the 2008, but its rich, dense and chocolaty style is better encountered at the steakhouse than on the back of an SUV outfitted for a tailgate party); their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc won’t be mistaken for Sancerre anytime soon, but does the Napa SB thing pretty well, and has a nice acidic line to carry the low-hanging, ripe tropical fruits.
Personally, I’ve had success with both inexpensive and pricier screw-capped wines at the tailgate (cork extraction – and corked wines! – are both generally a bit of a buzz kill in the parking lot) as well as with Tawny Port (paired with stogies) in post-victory, wait-for-the-cars-to-thin-out environs.
How about you? Have you pulled off wine successfully at a tailgate party? Or should we all just stick with beer and forget about it? Shout it out in the comments!