Achievement Unlocked!

2016 Garzon Tannat Reserve.

I am an unabashed carnivore. I willfully seek out the flesh of lesser beasts to feast upon. Fish, fowl, pork and beef. I love it all. I took a pretty big step towards this carnivorous commitment by raising a couple of steers this past year. I split them with seven other folks – splitting the costs and the proceeds. Tonight I’m making a top sirloin, which is about 1.5” thick and almost as big as my head. This is the cut they make at those “Brazilian Steakhouses” where they call it a “Picanha.”

I figured I had to pair it with something from The Southern Cone. I’ve been drinking too many Malbecs lately, and it called for something closer to Brazil, so to Uruguay I went and opened this Tannat from Bodegas Garzón.

Typical of the Tannat I have tasted before this one was very tart upon opening. A few hours in the decanter (while the giant slab of top sirloin was in the sous vide) served to soften things up nicely.

I really like this wine. Too bad it is so rare to find here in the USA. It is quite different from what we usually drink. Somewhere close to Syrah or Tempranillo but with the spicy kick of a Cabernet Franc or a Nebbiolo. When you can find it, you will discover, like with so many Argentinian and Chilean wines, it is dirt cheap. I think I paid $9 for this bottle!

It paired wonderfully with this giant slab of beef, from a steer I raised myself.

Achievement Unlocked.

Chewy!

Just a bit of sediment.

This was a Rock Wall Wine Company 2013 Jack’s Dry Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah. I paired it with a round roast for dinner last night. The world’s most wonderful woman, Testa Rossa gifted me a sous vide cooker for xmas last year, and I’ve been cooking up a storm with it ever since. (The best so far have been some pork ribs, which I slow cooked for days prior to finishing on the grill with wood chips providing the smoke.) At the moment she is gone to visit her sister, leaving me alone with the dogs for the weekend. Day before yesterday, I sealed and cooked a 2.5lb round roast for 24 hours. When it finished yesterday I drained the juices from the bag into a saucepan and then was pulling the roast out of the bag to sear atop the stove in a pan when it slipped out and landed on the kitchen floor with a loud, wet “PLOP!” I snapped it up, and put it in the pan, loudly spewing a string of four-letter words throughout.

This was only the start of a comedy of errors.

I grabbed this Rock Wall Petite Sirah, (one bottle from a half-case I purchased in 2015 around the time I met the lovely Testa Rossa, to accompany my meal) – both as a drink and as an ingredient. I poured off some into that small saucepan with some butter to make a reduction sauce. The roast meanwhile, sizzled in a larger pan which had been used previously in making some pepper-bacon. The hope was to make a nice crust around the roast with the dry rub it wore in the sous vide (well, what was left of it after it’s rapid deceleration on the tiles of the kitchen floor… now being cleansed by the happy tongues of two canines) and the pepper and bacon grease layer of the pan. My grand plan was to make a salad, perhaps roast some veggies as well, and sit alone for a nice dinner with a tablecloth and even perhaps, a candle.

Just me and the dogs.

The dogs of course would have their own meal, and have that served in bowls on the floor. But still, it would be a semi-formal affair.

I set the small saucepan to simmer, and worked the roast around to bark it up as best I could. Setting it upon a carving board to rest, I couldn’t resist a slice to have a taste. It was impeccably cooked. A perfect medium rare, with a uniform pinkness edge-to-edge, and a nice crunchy black bark. I poured off the juices from the board into the simmering sauce and left the kitchen to attend some evening tasks.

Sadly, those tasks waylaid me quite a bit longer than I initially estimated, to the point that I completely forgot my dinner plans altogether…

…until I stepped back inside the house.

Ah, carbon! That most elemental of odors, is what confronted my nose the moment I stepped over the threshold. The reduction had indeed reduced, as far as stovetop chemistry would allow. I now had a saucepan of the sixth element, carbon. The fourth most common element of the universe, and the Achilles heel of Freshman Chemistry majors since Wöhler synthesized Urea in 1828. Any attempt to separate the carbon from the saucepan was futile, so I let it cool and figured I’d soak it in dihydrogen monoxide overnight. I sliced off three more bits of my roast, wrapped the rest and placed it in the fridge, poured myself a generous amount of the Petite Sirah, and sat down on the couch with some Netflix, and beef.

The wine? Delicious. Punching way above its weight as Petite Sirah often does. Terrific nose. Big, but softened with age on the palette. Yummy goodness on the finish. The beef long gone, with each of the loyal canines getting three tiny nibbles apiece, I continued to pour glasses as the movie unwound. The final glass, poured in the darkness of a world lit only by fourteen and a half square feet of Korean OLED, I clearly overtipped my hand and filled the bottom with a rather large amount of sediment. I only realized this as the credits scrolled by and I knocked back the last of my glass, and felt an avalanche of grit fill my mouth.

It was a fitting end for the meal.

The soundtrack of our lives…

Viña Olabarri 2010 Gran Reserva

I really like Riojas. I rarely talk about them here as they usually fall a bit above the self-imposed price limit of what I review here. This one weighs in just under $30 a bottle, so worthy of mention. It recently became available and I purchased a half case, without having tasted it yet. As I have mentioned before the 2001 vintage was truly transcendental. I guess you could stay I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since. The 2009 vintage was “okay” and I have to say this 2010 rates somewhere between the two. The 2001 was mind-blowing from the very first pull of the cork, with an amazing nose and phenomenally complex everything else. The other vintages have been … just good Riojas.

Nothing wrong with that.

I was a guest on a podcast recently. Nothing to do with wine at all, but related to my profession and hosted by three people, two of whom I know, and another that I have listened to for a long time but never met. They used Zoom as their methodology for conducting the interview. We’ve all been using Zoom, FaceTime, etc for the entire past year to keep connecting with friends, family, etc so there was nothing unique about this situation to be honest. In fact there is a group of people I have been having “Saturday night Zoom (drinking) parties” with for almost the entire year since the pandemic started. But something about this evening was different. For some reason I grabbed this bottle to sip along with my interview (probably since it was sitting atop one of the racks in my office), and it was the joy of telling old stories and interacting with two old friends and one new one that made this a special evening.

We talked, and I sipped along with this delicious Rioja. Like the coffee mug of a diner my glass never quite reached empty, when, like that sassy waitress who calls you “Hon”, my left arm would instinctively and seemingly of its own will, lift the decanter and refill my glass. I would tap the stemware with my fingernail each time this happened to make that distinctive “RING” of quality glass. I was having a truly wonderful time. The podcast will be available for download in about a week and I imagine I might be embarrassed by how many times I hear that ring sound, or perhaps by my apparent tipsiness… we’ll see.

But I was reminded of something someone I know says about wine, and life: “It can be the soundtrack of our lives” meaning that often we can remember a wine by the moment in time when we enjoyed it. Like the link above, when I shared that 1962 Unico with my extended family at my father’s table, I will always associate this wonderful experience of reconnecting with some old professional friends and acquaintances over a Zoom meeting on a Sunday night.

Gud onya mate!

Yellow Tail Big Bold Red

I lived and worked for a while in England. London specifically. I was an IT Manager for an international publishing concern. I was one of two “Yanks” in the office. The other was from Baltimore, which may as well be a different country from my upbringing. So I felt very alone in a sea of Brits. The Brits don’t really like Americans, mildly accept Canadians. Are a tad annoyed by South Africans and Kiwis. But Australians? Oh boy…

I was on the phone with a personnel sourcing agent who was trying to place temp workers in my company. He kept offering me vastly overqualified people for the needs that I had. I gently reminded him of my modest needs and general skills I was looking for, and he replied “Oh! You need an Australian!”

The British think about Australian guest workers about the same way Americans consider the guys who loiter around the Home Depot early in the morning, making themselves available for day labor, payable in cash. If you know the combat history of the British Army in WW1 & 2 it all begins to make sense. Cannonfodder. Disposable. Australians.

I was a bit taken aback, but he did send over an Aussie and I ended up hiring the guy as a full time employee. Certainly not disposable, I considered him indispensable! Fantastic work ethic. Always cheerful. Super smart and creative. The Brits of course all thought he was a moron.

It took me a while, but then I finally figured it out. It’s the accent. To a Brit, all Aussies sound stupid. Sort of their version of a Hick. Like when an American movie portrays someone of being stupid, inevitably they have a drawling sort of accent from some part of the USA that we collectively consider “backwards”. Like Mississippi, Kentucky, or South Boston.

My Australian guy worked for me for well over a year. I learned from him that this accent/perception thing effectively prevented him from getting any sort of traction, romantically, with any British woman. I told him that American women would practically throw themselves at him as soon as he opened his mouth and said “gidday”.

It has been decades, but I’m still friends with that Australian guy. In fact about a year after I came back to the US he stopped by to visit on his way home to Australia. I picked him up from the airport, and he spent a few days with me and my family. I showed him the sights, saw an NHL hockey game, and went skiing. I then put him on a train to Los Angeles where he was going to resume his flight path to Sydney. I learned later that he did indeed have a woman throw herself at him within moments of meeting. She was a daughter of some wealthy record producer in LA and he ended up delaying his return to Australia as he and she spent a week of debauchery in daddy’s Malibu beach mansion.

GOOD ONYA MATE!

I’ve enjoyed almost every Australian wine I’ve ever tried. Like my Australian friend, they always try hard and often score when enjoyed in the right context. This wine is right in the wheelhouse of this blog, circa 2009. Cheap, CHEAP bottom shelf grocery store wine. Did I mention cheap? My wine tracking app pegs this one at $6.99/bottle. Given that it comes from the literal opposite side of the planet, that price is shockingly cheap.

I didn’t buy this wine. It was left at my house by someone at some pre-pandemic party. For all I know it could have been five years ago! It has been buried in a wine rack with a bunch of other wines for quite a long time. Frankly, I was sort of afraid of trying it, expecting (like those British expectations of Australians) to be terrible.

Testa Rossa returned last night from ten days away with family. She wanted some wine to sip while we soaked in the hot tub and I didn’t want to sacrifice a “good” bottle for that and frankly I wasn’t even planning to have any myself, so I grabbed this bottle of cheap Aussie wine.

I poured her a glass and took a sip. “Not bad!” I thought. So I poured myself a glass and we both enjoyed it during our moonlit soak in the tub. So I’m now slapping myself for making the snobby assumption that I did. Sorry Australians!

Mucho Malbec! 2014 Pascual Toso Reserva

2014 Pascual Toso Reserva Malbec, Barrancas Vineyards, Argentina

On a visit to some relatives in Texas at least five years ago I first tasted this wine. It wasn’t this specific vintage, but it was certainly this wine. I snapped a photo of the bottle and went online to find some to buy. I bought three bottles of the 2014 for about $24 each and cellared them. Trying one every two years or so. This one was my last bottle, which I opened to accompany a steak dinner and a hockey game on my Roku. My team has not done well during this second pandemic season after a great showing in last summer’s weird “bubble” playoffs. Last night they played really well, about as stellar as this Malbec.

It has a wonderful brick red color in the glass. A mildly dusty nose. And an explosion of amazing flavor in the mouth. Perfect pairing for a peppered steak!

The first two bottles I opened required some time in the decanter to soften, but this last one was killer from the moment I pulled the cork. It stayed killer into the following day. Great value Malbec.

Revisiting an old friend, Cameron Hughes Lot 458, Paso Robles Petite Sirah

Cellar Treasure: Cameron Hughes Lot 458

Here is a cellar treasure for you. A $15 dollar wine that was made almost a decade ago, and has been laid down in my cellar(s – I’ve moved three times since it was originally purchased!) since acquired. It came to me first as a single or maybe pair of bottles as part of my semi-annual wine club shipment from Cameron Hughes. After trying it I bought a full case. I’ve pulled a bottle out from the cache now and then over the years and it has yet to disappoint! I’ve written about it before, and today I’m making a mixed grill BBQ of pork ribs and Nashville style chicken thighs and need a “big boy” wine to stand up to the strong flavors and spiciness of the dinner. Petite Sirah is always what comes to mind when seeking a big wine that can handle such a pairing. (Zinfandel too, but as we all know, I’m a Durif sort of guy… Mais bien sûr!)

I pulled the cork and decanted it right when the ribs came out of the sous vide and onto the grill (with hickory chips for smoke). One thing I’ve appreciated about Cameron Hughes from the very beginning has been the astounding value of their wines. This one as I said cost me $15/bottle when I bought it way back when. Another thing that has impressed me has been the quality and longevity of their enclosures. Have a look at this cork:

No cork problems here.

I drink a lot of older wines and all too often my corks are halfway (or more!) saturated after a decade, and an epic and often losing wrestling match after twenty years. Not this one. The bottom is saturated, but the wine has intruded barely 1.5mm into the cork itself. Well done Mr. Hughes!

The wine? Still as big and bold as it was seven years ago when I first tasted it. It has mellowed a minuscule amount, and benefits still from time in the decanter. The only thing lost over time has been the intense opacity it displayed when new. It has become much lighter in appearance (though NOT in flavor) to a more brick red from the deep dark purple it showed in previous years.

It really pays to let some of your bottles rest in a cellar. Try it and see.

Cellar Treasure: 2000 Château Saint-Saturnin Médoc

21 years old… old enough to drink itself.

I bought six bottles of this wine in 2017 from my favorite online crack dealer. I’ve consumed one bottle a year since. They have never failed to please. I paid LESS than $10 a bottle for an aged Bordeaux(!).

It is everything one expects from a French Bordeaux blend: ultra funky nose. All sorts of earthy aromas, and classic old world red flavors. As it has aged the color has faded, yet the flavor keeps getting better.

Best $60 I ever spent.

Cellar Treasure: 1978 Château Montrose

1978 Château Montrose

The purpose of this website has always been to unearth great bargains. It started on the bottom shelf of my local grocery store’s wine section, and the wine lists of a few small town restaurants. It has evolved, much like the overall market has evolved to interesting bargains I find online. Bargains. Stuff you can drink that won’t cost you more than about twenty bucks a bottle. Mind you I’m stretching that goal more towards forty bucks these days, but still really try to find the good stuff for under twenty dollars.

I’ve always been a bit of a wine aficionado, coming to it honestly as my father was a serious wine drinker before I was even born. I once heard him say that he was able to buy bottles of 1961 Château Haut-Brion for $4 each as the store was clearing them out as the 62 vintage was arriving soon. (go ahead and search what that bottle would cost you today.)

I learned a lot from him about wine, as it was a staple at our dinner table, even before I was drinking age. I’ll never forget my first few months away from home at college, watching so many fellow freshmen loose their self-control and party their way to failing grades and dropping out by Thanksgiving of their first year… right around the time of your midterm grades. Mostly because they grew up in strict households where drinking was forbidden (echos of Prohibition that still reverberate through American society.) In our house alcohol was no big deal. Wine was part of cuisine. From family feats to hamburgers on the patio. We drank all sorts of wine, from the cheap to the Grand Cru.

A man I admire once called wine “a soundtrack of your life”, meaning that when paired properly with moments, meals, and good relationships it becomes a marker of time. In that way I can recall several specific bottles that have punctuated important times, places, and people in my lifetime.

This 1978 Château Montrose was likely purchased by my father around that very time of thanksgiving of my freshman year of college, which was in the early 1980s. I imagine he bought six to twelve bottles of it back then, and as he was in the habit of doing, pulling a bottle out every few years to both enjoy, and check on its progress. My father passed away a few years ago, but before doing so apportioned out his remaining collection to me and my siblings. My eldest son helped him sort them all into various boxes to split between myself and my two sisters as they were packing up the multi-decade family residence before they sold it and moved into an assisted living facility. I haven’t perused what my sisters received (if I ever do, my luggage might clink as I leave their homes!) But what I ended up with has some real gems. For Thanksgiving Dinner, I pulled this 1978 Bordeaux from the wine cooler.

You never know what you’ll get with an old wine, so I cheated a bit and did some research on Vivino to see what people have said about this vintage. Universally the opinion was decant for at least three hours prior to serving. Thanksgiving Dinner was planned for 6pm so I pulled the cork at 3pm. The cork of course broke, even with me using an “oops” style wine opener. That cork was saturated in wine two-thirds up. Thankfully my father also left me his array of cork pulling and recovery tools. After a bit of struggle, the bottle is open and its forty-two year old contents are going into the decanter.

At both first whiff and small taste it is pretty harsh. Very sharp and funky. I texted a photo to my mother, who is still in possession of perfect memory, and her instant reply was “Let it breathe!”

On it mom!

I take a sip every hour or so and sure enough it is mellowing and improving steadily. Come dinnertime it is absolutely sublime.

The funk had settled into mild forest floor, and the finish was exquisite. The color was more like a Burgundy, very light brick red, and translucent throughout the glass. The flavor however was a classic Cabernet Franc & Merlot blend. One of those experiences that is worth the delayed gratification, and diligent storage and care efforts totaling four decades.

I could have likely sold this bottle for a modest four-figure sum. But I’d rather have, and glad I did experience this reconnection with my father. Cheers Charlie, you are missed!

Cellar Treasure: 2005 Marqués del Puerto.

2005 Marqués del Puerto Gran Reserva Rioja

Mind you, I haven’t had this in my cellar for very long. I purchased two bottles about eight months ago from one of my favorite online wine shops, Wine Exchange for less than $20 ($19.98 to be exact). I’ve been buying from them for over a decade. They seem to specialize in finding estate aged great value European wines. Some of my best French and Spanish wines have come from them. They send out emails almost every day with great deals. For far too long I’ve been grabbing some of those deals. I’ve recently broken that habit, as my cellar reached a state where I figured I could keep a buzz going for about a year straight.

So now I’m working through the cellar in the opposite direction, consuming rather than collecting. It’s like a whole new outlook on life.

I have learned that Riojas seem to be like old-school Barolos, or at least like one-third of an old-school Barolo in that they seem to hit a perfect note between ten and twenty years of age. I don’t know if that’s an accepted axiom, or not, but at least from my tasting seems to be true. I was going to grill some USDA Prime grade Ribeye steaks and figured I needed something special to pair it with but given the hot weather of late wasn’t really up to something big like a Cabernet or a Petite Sirah, so I thought “why not a Rioja?”

I likely have two cases of various Riojas, ranging in vintage from 2001 through 2015 and dove into the wine cooler to find something ready to drink. I pulled this one out with anticipation. I always uncork and have a glass while I’m prepping and cooking to get a sense of what is to come.

To start off the cork broke. A significant struggle ensued to get the remaining cork fragment out of the neck, a task at which I failed miserably. I gave up and decanted it through a strainer. The first taste was discouraging. It had a great nose, but a harsh flavor.

Thankfully it mellowed in the decanter for the hour or so it required to get dinner on the table. It paired perfectly with the steak and salad. Soft and supple. Absolutely delicious.

Life is too short for boring wine…

Sometimes a bargain isn’t really a good deal.

It’s been HOT recently. Really hot. Way hotter than I really can tolerate. I’m an autumn/winter sort of guy. Summer has never been my favorite season and in the times I was forced by life circumstances to live in hot places I have fled the area in summer and head north and/or higher in altitude to find cooler weather. Well, now I live both “north” and a relatively high in altitude, but even here it has been too hot of late. Perhaps it is climate change?

The only saving grace has been that once the sun goes down the latitude and altitude do kick in and things cool down quickly. Sadly, right as temps peaked recently our home’s air conditioning died. The day it happened we were forced outside for dinner and I had an inspiration: Rosé!

I went to the wine cooler and pulled this one out. A 2014 JCR Rosé of Pinot Noir from California’s central coast. I had picked it up a few months ago, for $19.98, marked down from almost thirty bucks.

It wasn’t cold enough at first sip, so I put the cork back in and placed the bottle in the fridge.

Even chilling it further didn’t really help. While it wasn’t really that bad (we finished the bottle over two nights), but it really wasn’t great either.

I’ve had some great Rosés over the past few summers but this one wasn’t even worth the twenty bucks I spent on it. Kind of disappointing. The best have been either from France or Oregon, perhaps I’ll stick to those.

In good news, our A/C has been fixed, though it took several days for the new part to arrive. Thankfully the weather cooled down two days after it broke and stayed cool until today, a week later. Hot temps are coming back tomorrow, so the pink stuff is going into the fridge now!