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10 June 2011

Wino Wednesday Pt. IV ('Thirsty Thursday' you say?)

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!

Did you think I was taking a break?  Absolutely not!  I enjoy this far too much to consider a hiatus from gastronomy writing.  Please excuse my tardiness this week, but due to a fairly hectic work schedule, going away celebrations for my friend Andrea who is moving to Shanghai, and the hypnotic, thirst-inducing heat wave, this particular edition of 'Wino Wednesday' will otherwise be known as 'Thirsty Thursday.This past week has given me plenty of opportunity to consume delicious alcoholic beverages, and with more moderation than last week when I resorted to the time-tested solution of drinking away my sorrows after a devastating sports loss.  In any case, this week's review will include a delightful rosé wine from Provence and the prototypical summer beverage Campari and Soda, or what I like to call the  "Grumpy Old Italian Man Classic." 

Monday June 6:

There are essentially two types of people in this world-those who like bitter/sour alcoholic beverages, and those who prefer sweet.  My love for one of the original Italian cocktails goes back, sadly, to my childhood.  The first time I was offered a sip of Campari and soda, I nearly cringed.  Bitterness is admittedly a taste that I have only grown to love only in my later years.  Just like many children, I grew up during an era in which processed and overly-sweetened foods reigned supreme.  Having successfully untrained my palate to favor bitter, salty and sour flavors over sweet, I now yearn for bitter over all others.  Campari, a deep red-colored Italian aperitif flavored by an infusion of herbs and chinotto oranges has long been popular throughout Italy, Western Europe, Argentina, and the United States, though it was in Argentina where my love for it began to flourish.  Comically, the drink is incredibly divisive amongst my friends, at least half of whom  are disgusted by it.

Meeting up with a friend at my favored Starlite Lounge, I decided that the steamy night called for the mother of all alcoholic thirst-quenchers, a Campari with soda (carbonated water, or "seltzer" as it's called in the United States) and a slice of orange.  I typically add a splash of grapefruit or orange juice to the equation when constructing my own Campari cocktails, but it's perfectly satisfying without fruit juice.  

The expert tall, bald bartender at the Starlite measured out the perfect amounts of Campari (one part) and soda water (two parts), and correctly garnished with a slice of navel orange.  At 25% alcohol, Campari is no softy, but it is much smoother than the majority of popular herb-infused alcohols.  At first sip it is slightly syrupy, but the carbonation from the soda rapidly quells any unpleasant sweetness that one anticipates, thereby leaving the mouth completely refreshed and eager for another taste.  In Campari and soda I find not only an unequaled thirst-quenching beverage, but one with substantial complexity in taste and texture.  The syrupyness of the Campari, the effervescence of the soda water, the bitterness of the orange, the medicinal perforation of the herbs combine to make this cocktail an absolute classic.  Just as I usually do, that night I drank my Campari and soda too fast, but certainly managed to enjoy it in moderation.  Aw Yea Babe!

Friday June 3:

I find it incredibly shortsighted when people tell me that they prefer "reds over whites."  Such misinformed statements are based on inexperience, as in, the subject has not consumed good quality white, sparkling, or rosé wines; or, a wholly negative experience like overly-oaky chardonnays, sickly sweet sparkling wines, or characterless rosés.  Having negative wine experiences are natural, but also difficult to recuperate from, and have potent discriminatory consequences.  If there is one goal I hope to accomplish via my Wino Wednesday segment, it is to dispel such myths in the hope that my readers will step beyond the confines of their typical wines of choice and accept, like I have, that any grape, varietal, blend, or style can be magnificent.  

'Enough with the pedant,' you must be thinking, and on with the "nectar of the gods!"  
Aside from all of the positive aspects of summer described in last week's segment, I forgot to mention farmer's markets.  The opening of summer farmer's markets is a highlight of living in this part of the world.  Eating seasonally and locally is one of my main gastronomical goals, and farmer's markets are so conducive in allowing me to achieve this.  In addition, farmer's markets in the area are usually more affordable than supermarkets or boutique grocery stores (like the one I work at).  

Before my soccer game last Saturday I strolled up to the first Union Square farmer's market of the season and was delighted to find an active and colorful affair.  I intended to buy vegetables, fruit (if available), and some protein source (meat or fish).  Though summer fruit has not yet begun to emerge, there was a plethora of vegetables, of which I bought some beets, heirloom tomatoes (I know they're considered a fruit, but I will continue to list them as a veggie in my ignorance), pea shoots, and spinach.  I then noticed a fish vendor and decided to purchase some wild salmon, which was so deeply ruby orange that it nearly blinded me.  

Typically I plan one "nice" dinner per week that requires thorough planning, delicate execution, and delicious, healthful, and mostly local ingredients.  On this week's menu: sweet orange wild salmon on a bed of sauteed pea shoots surrounded by sliced heirloom tomatoes and avocado (made a non-local) exception here).  At the market I reasoned that recovery from a warm day of 90 grueling minutes of football and three hours of work would require plenty of protein, fat, fiber, minerals and antioxidants.  The dish I prepared, then, was both a perfect summer treat and very healthful.  I won't bore you with the specifics of the meal preparation, but will admit that I never knew broiling fish (especially salmon filets) made it so tender and succulent.  

When I put effort into cooking I like to emerge with a product that is both delicious and visually appearing.  This is a photo of the meal, which I felt satisfied both standards.

But I digress.  An unfortunate 2-1 loss and a red card in my game was followed by me gorging myself on bread and chicken for the post-game lunch, after which I took a two hour nap.  After the siesta and three hours of work, I stopped by the good ole' Wine and Cheese Cask.  Since last week I enjoyed a refreshing white wine (the 2009 Altivo Torrontes), this week I had decided on either a Pinot Noir, or a Rosé-both good lighter bodied wines to pair with fish.  Sun-kissed, slightly delirious, hungry, and in no mood to dawdle, I committed to a rosé, a style that I rarely drink, but knew would be a good choice for today, and inevitably more affordable than the finicky "devil wine."  

Limping into the main wine room, I asked the salesman what rosé he might recommend as an accompaniment to broiled salmon.  He pointed me to two rosés from Provence that both seemed affordable and adequate.  As Leslie Moch put it, "Rosé is usually so awful, but every time I go to France in the summer I realize that French rosés can be wonderful."  For those of you who do not know, the magical rosé is typically a wine of:

"black-skinned grapes crushed with skins allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period, typically one to three days.  The must is then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation (as with red wine making). The skins contain much of the astringent tannin and other compounds, thereby leaving the structure more similar to a white wine. The longer that the skins are left in contact with the juice, the more intense the color of the final wine."

I ended up going with a 2010 Domaine Houchart, a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault from the newly recognized Saint Victoire appellation to the east of Aix-en-Provence, for $9.99.   Luckily, there was a pre-chilled bottle, which I bought before heading home.  The meal was exquisite and the wine, thoroughly refreshing and an impeccable accompaniment.  

It is often said that rosés share characteristics of both red and white wines, possessing a color somewhere between the two.  This particular rosé had a very flinty nose, a quality that I associate particularly with Burgundy whites (Chardonnays).  It was firmer than a white, but softer than a red with a pleasant lingering finish.  To my palate the rosé possessed notes of bright red fruits-raspberries and strawberries, pear, and hints of orange blossom.  It was not exactly a subtle rosé, but effortlessly calmed the piquant-sweet flavors of the salmon rub.  However, I am not willing to universally praise this wine.  By occupying such a middle ground between red and white, it seemed to lack true character to the point where I found myself wondering why I wasn't just drinking white wine.  Nevertheless, it was a decent bottle with good value.  I would give it an 80/100 and recommend that everyone reading this in the northern hemisphere take advantage of the summer months by sporadically consuming reputable Provencal rosé.

Thanks again for reading.  I pour my next glass, mix my next cocktail, and crack my bottle cap to you.  Cheers, Kippis, Salut,  Chin-Chin!


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