Welcome friends to Wino Wednesdays; a place where the tasty and the tipsy meet! Every Wednesday (so long as I am sober enough) I will review the previous week's noteworthy alcohol consumptions-namely: wines, beers, and cocktails that stood out (for better or worse) and deserve some literary attention. I will include, whenever possible, photos and/or videos of relevant "nectars of the gods," and sincerely hope that you may find yourself enjoyably lightheaded and dizzy after this segment. So kick back, crack open, pour, sip, shoot, or chug, but always do so responsibly!
Before I get into this week's edition I want to sincerely thank my readers. I know that you are all busy people, that many of you have a plethora of compulsory reading or research material to trudge through on a daily basis, and that you are often exhausted by the time you sit down and make the extra effort to read my blog. I may not be Mark Bittman or Tommy Smith, but I'm really trying my best to engage and entertain you. I simply want to applaud you all for lending me an eye over the past few weeks.
Thursday May 19:
The weather may be improving, which would typically mean more white wine and increased outdoor alcohol consumption, but as I mentioned before, I like to alternate between rouges et blancs.*Note: by outdoor consumption I did not mean public consumption, which is inexplicably not very legal in this country. I say inexplicably because socially "tolerant" European countries like the Netherlands, Spain, and France mostly permit controlled outdoor drinking and generally have low rates of alcoholism and drunken disorder, but this is a discussion for another time.*
On my day off last Thursday I decided to make a trip to a reputed vintage clothing store in Allston, aka "Rat Town." As soon as I got off the bus from Cambridge, it started to pour, just as it has this entire spring, but luckily I was equipped with an umbrella. Unfortunately the store yielded disappointing results, as such stores often do for men's clothing. Why exactly is that though? Is it that men care less about their ensembles? That we simply have fewer types of clothing to choose from? Or that we sell back our clothing less often?
In any case, I began to feel as though my trek to Rat Town was a waste. I had not planned any other stops and hurried through the lashing rain back to the bus stop on Harvard and Brighton Avenues. Across the street from the stop was Blanchards, a veritable mecca of alcohol, mostly serving BU students and young urban professionals in the area. I blazed across the street, entered the store, and upon entering was abruptly asked by an employee to show id. Confusing and slightly off-putting as this initial grilling may have been, Blanchard's selection was impressive and their prices very fair. Since I consumed the refreshing Gewürztraminer last week, I decided on a red, and maybe while I was at it, a white to chill in the fridge until its time came.
It's difficult for me to explain the logic behind my wine shopping methods, but they're usually based on what I will eat for dinner. Having gone for a run and walked a long way that day, I did not feel like preparing an elaborate meal, but for some reason became fixated on steak. I consume red meat at most once a month, so this would be a real treat. Working at a prime meat market also provides me with ample selection of some fine carne (that's Spanish for meat). To pair with my beautiful meat, the trick would be to find a medium-to-full bodied red that would stand up, but not overwhelm.
My search for red wine typically begins by an examination of attractive bottles that are on sale, until making my way over to the usual suspects: France (Burgundies if I'm looking for Pinot Noir, Rhones if I'm looking for medium body, or on occasion, Languedoc, as Bordeaux's of any acceptable quality are almost always out of my price range), Argentina (their famous Malbec, a reputable Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah), and the US (Napa or Central valley Cabernets, Merlots, or Syrahs, and on the rare occasion, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir). If I fail to select a bottle from the usual suspects, I either move to wines from countries that I have less knowledge about, or ask for advice.
On this occasion, I was initially distracted by a bright orange bottle; an "old vine" 2008 California Zinfandel on sale, which was called "Brazen," a word that I had learned in my GRE studies meant bold and without shame. Brazen, I thought, could either be a good or bad, but my gut told me that it was a solid buy at $13.99, having been reduced from $18.99. But what the hell does "old vine" mean anyway? Does it actually mean that the vines on which these grapes grew were once transplanted from Europe during the devastating Phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century? Or is it a clever marketing term meant to evoke images of pastoral idealism and "old world" Europeanism? Considering that much of the non-local wine industry, that is, the globalized commercial wine business, is focused on marketing, I am tempted to suspect the latter.
I admit that my experience with Zinfandel is limited and that I tend to associate the word with the eponymous "White" version, a sickly sweet American wine cooler that was popular with Soccer Moms and thirsty, broke college students throughout the 1980's and 90's. I have a vague memory of drinking a Napa RED Zinfandel during a Thanksgiving meal, but was a bit too sloshed to remember whether I liked it or not.
If you haven't noticed, I've recently been on a "try new things" kick, so I grabbed the Brazen and continued browzin' (I'm sorry I couldn't resist). Not content to give up my search so easily, I continued sauntering around the store, strolling past the trusty Chilean Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, a grape unique to Chile that I must praise for its consistency, deliciousness, and similarity to some Argentine Malbecs. I briefly stopped in Burgundy and pined over the Gevrey-Chambertin and Mersaults that easily climbed into double and triple digit figures. One thing I've noticed about French wine is that it has become increasingly difficult to find good value in reputable regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Provence, and the Loire Valley. I did, however come across an inviting 2009 Chorey-les-Beune (Burgundy) Pinot on sale for $14.99 and snatched the bottle to compare it with my Brazen Zin. For five or so minutes I paced around the store with the two bottles in my over-sized left hand and by the time I arrived at Argentina, had come to a decision-it would be the Brazen, a better pairing for my steak.
Once in the Argentina section, I came across two reasonably priced Torrontes, a super fragrant white wine that is not well known outside of that country, but which I was fortunate to have discovered while living there. There were two Torrontes, one, a 2008 from the well known producer Crios for $14.99, and the other, a 2009, from a lesser known Altivo vinyard for $8.99. The Crios I had tried in Buenos Aires (where it cost only $24 pesos=$6 US dollars) and knew to be good, but it was four dollars more, and I wanted to try a different bottle, so I put back the Chorey-les-Beune and made my way to the register with the Altivo Torrontes and the Brazen Zinfandel.
On my way home, I remembered my brother's girlfriend describe a pepper encrusted steak that she once made based on a Thomas Keller recipe and after a brief phone consultation with my brother, I stopped in at work to buy a flank steak, some canola oil, and a large batch of green kale. The recipe called for salting the steaks with sea salt, then slowly infusing canola oil with whole black pepper corns, straining the oil once cooled, crushing the peppers with a mortar and pestle, then laying the crushed pepper flat on a plate, before dipping both sides of the steak in the pepper, and finally pan searing it briefly on each side. Ironically, even the back of the Brazen Zinfandel recommended consuming it with pepper steak, which made me confident that I would thoroughly enjoy the evening's gastronomic experience.
And now for the review...I was once taught by a quirky French friend of my father's to open a bottle of red wine at least an hour before drinking it so as to aerate and soften the flavors. I thus uncorked the Brazen before starting the steak. The first thing I noticed about the wine was its inky purple color. It had an Argentine Malbec-like nose of soft plums and red berries. In the mouth the Brazen Zin was full bodied, but not overbearing, and juicy, but not overly green or zesty. It was surprisingly smooth for possessing an alcohol content of 15% and to my palate gave off subtle undertones of leather and spices. The steak was beyond potent, and the wine accordingly toned down the meat's cough-inducing pepperiness. It finished easily, giving off little acidity. I did not think that this wine would disappoint, but it greatly exceeded my expectations and would highly recommend it.
A final note on wine-I despise with all my heart the hackneyed saying "money doesn't buy happiness," mostly because money provides opportunities to incredible experiences-like the means to assemble a wine cellar, go on wine tours, and eat memorable meals with perfectly paired bottles of wine. Nevertheless, it is possible to match homemade food and wine on one's own, but much more convenient when selecting from an extensive wine cellar. Alas...I can always dream.
Saturday May 21:
While the sun was high in the sky and the temperature a comfortable 68 degrees farenheit, my roommate and I decided that we would take advantage of the good weather and head to a park or outdoor bar in Boston. By the time we got to Boston, it was completely foggy and 53 degrees...I hate New England weather!
Underdressed in shorts and a short sleeve polo, we parked at my roommate's work and walked around the Fort Point channel Harbor in search of a bar. Remembering an innovative Mexican tequila bar and restaurant that he had once been to, we decided to make for it. Papagayo was a massive loft-style space in an old factory building on Summer Street. Though slightly tacky in decor and color, the place was inviting, and we made our way to the bar, passing by a large group of young bachelorettes who gawked at us. We were immediately greeted by an overly tan and muscular female bartender. She was extremely friendly, and admittedly quite facially attractive despite her veiny arms and tanning bed complexion. Papagayo had an incredible array of tequilas, but I have never been a fan of shooting it, so decided on a mixed drink instead called the "Oaxaca," a combination of Mezcal (a tequila like liquor made from a plant similar to agave), fresh lime, agave nectar, and ginger beer.
Based on the prices and the bourgeois clientele , I expected a high quality cocktail and was not disappointed. The combination of flavors and senses: sour, sweet, piquant, gingery, and verdant, perfectly combined to refresh and satisfy. Having played 90 minutes of exhausting soccer earlier in the day I greatly appreciated the refreshment and strength of the Oaxaca and its deep lime-ginger color added to my overall enjoyment of the occasion. Of course, having a drink served by a friendly and attractive bartender also helps ;)
Saturday May 21: Later on that evening...
After a brief stop at work on our way home to pick up supplies, I made a delicious dinner of homemade Bolognese with polenta (a Sasu speciality). My roommate and I then made our way to the Starlite Lounge on Beacon Street near Inman Square. The Starlite has become a go-to bar for me over the past few months, especially in light of the fact that I dislike the majority of the personality-less bars in the Boston area. But the Starlite has spunk, skilled bartenders, reasonably priced drinks, good music, and a younger crowd. You may refer to the clientele as "hipsters," but I feel comfortable there.
We met up with an old college friend and a few others at the Starlite and immediately I realized how thirsty the soccer and the salty Bolognese had made me. Sometimes all you want is an icy, thirst-quenching beer without any afterthought about price, quality, or aftertaste. So attractive is this thirst quenching quality that American brewing giant Coors attached the the phrase "frost brewed" to its light beer product, which somehow attracts consumers.
Don't worry, I didn't order a Coors Light! But what I did order was not substantially more luxurious. Noticing several young men around me, who were wearing bifocals that I was sure they did not need, while drinking Miller High Life, I was inspired to order one. It may not be as tongue in cheek-chic as a Pabst Blue (or Narraganset in these parts), but it was certainly $2.00 for the pale yellow "pilsner." While hardly a "pilsner" in the traditional Czech style, the "Champagne of Beers" was extremely cold and thoroughly satisfying; that is, until it got warm. Once warm, such beers become "skunkish" or overly yeasty and undrinkable, but one High Life definitely hit the spot. It may not be a quality beverage, but it certainly did the trick and delivered exactly what it promised-refreshment at a cheap price. It's been another wondrous week in my alcohol adventures, and I'm always excited about what's to come, so drink up. Here's to you: chin-chin, kippis, salut, and cheers!