Friday, March 22, 2019

Genetically Modified

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 18 - 2010

I'm a coach for my son's soccer team, and we just returned from a game against some genetically modified 8- and 9-year-old kids. My children go to a public Montessori school (in case you were wondering, no it's not easy to reconcile public Montessori with No Child Left Behind...), and today's opponents were from our traditional neighborhood public school. Said school is only nominally larger than my son's school, so I'm dying to know why there was such a size disparity.

We got stomped.

It was not really a fun game, and the other team's coach made it even worse. He was the kind of guy that you know actually exists, but you are still surprised when you meet him. He is an INTENSE DUDE. Now if I'm saying that, then he must have been insufferable. The guy even yelled--inexplicably--at us (the three opposing coaches). As it happened, I know the assistant coach of the other team, and I got the sense from our brief discussion today that he is there to inject a little joy to their practices.

Last night I drank the 2005 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz (from grapes grown in McLaren Vale), apparently in unwitting preparation for that genetically modified opposing team. The wine was so much more than "too much" that even "genetically modified" seems tame. Good flavors? Sure, though they had a roasted quality that didn't appeal to me. Overwhelming in that Aussie sort of way? Sure--if the wine were a person it would have been the life of a party (no one else would have gotten to talk, but still). Hedonistic? So I've read, but it strikes me more as masochistic. Apparently it has a very high Marquis Fruit Weight™, and I can only imagine what kind of unnatural manipulation was required to achieve this. I did find myself hoping it might inject a little joy into my glass, but really it tasted like an effete state of BS. If you keep assaulting your tongue with this stuff, pretty soon you'll be numb and miss out on not just the rest of the wine, but LOTS of other things.

Like your dinner.

I had been putting off drinking the wine because I couldn't imagine what the heck I would eat with it other than pancakes (on which it would seriously have made great syrup), and this is not the sort of wine I want to drink all by itself. The wine was a gift, which is really a shame, because this kind of wine, which was a 99 or 96 pointer (and no doubt bought because of that), represents everything I DON'T want in wine. My menu options were few, so I had ribs. I made the Best Ribs In The Universe, which calls for my least favorite BBQ sauce (KC Masterpiece) to be SWEETENED EVEN FURTHER with honey. Well, I've made it a few times before, and the ribs are indeed great, so I held out some hope that the wine wouldn't overwhelm the ribs. I fired up my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and smoke-cooked them with some Canadian maple as the smoke wood. Mmm...Good! Too bad the wine was still too much for my hyper-flavored ribs!!!

Okay, so apparently genetically modified crops are better for the environment. I'm skeptical, but open minded. Wines like the Mollydooker, which aren't technically genetically modified, are apparently better (than their peers) according the point-scores ascribed to them. I'm skeptical but NOT open minded. I mean, IT OVERPOWERED MY RIBS!!!!! In fact, I'm more than's just plain wrong.

So what the heck is the purpose of such a wine anyway? Knowing a bit about what I'm tasting, I understand how one arrives at this style, but shouldn't wine aspire to be about something bigger than the Mt. Everest of Wines? I realize that I'm a wine professional and all, but it's just a drink. The "Mt. Everest of Wines" seems like a pretty low and unimportant peak.

Of course, I want a wine to have a use beyond pouring it on a waffle (or a lover...titillating and tasty as that might be). And for God's sake, working with some baby back ribs shouldn't be too much to ask, even for the most self-conscious of wines. In my view, food, which is my main sustenance (in spite of the fact that I write multiple wine blogs), shouldn't be subservient to wine. Any wine that is so self-sufficient that the only thing that might go with it is Dinuguan (a delicious classic of the Philippines, though my wife--a Filipina--won't eat it), is practically worthless.

As if to underscore this, I went back downstairs and fished out a different Australian Shiraz--Hewitson Mad Hatter (also from McLaren Vale)--and it was so good with the ribs that I wanted to write a song about it.

But, as the missus is OOT and I had to wrestle the kids into bed alone...I fell asleep early and didn't get to it.


Popularity: 7% [?]

A Syrah from Dry Creek & a Bowl of Chili

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 16 - 2010

Ridge Vineyards shipped the 2004 Lytton Estate Syrah as last month's ATP wine. I sat on it for a few weeks before popping one open. The wines from Ridge are the archetypes for food friendly California wine, reminding us that a wine from the Golden State need not be a shameless hussy to be delicious. In fact, non-slutty wine is actually useful for something other than horrendously expensive pancake syrup or an overly sweet and tarry glass of "wine" (which is about the limit of utility for any overtly self-conscious wine). To wit: we were having beef brisket chili with butternut squash (a variation on the one in Bon Appetit a while ago) that I had made last week, before it got warm, intending to have it the following day, but of course it was 65 degrees the next day, so we waited. We had it Saturday night, as the temperature outside dropped. This meeting of flavors in the mouth provided me with an good illustration of the vagaries of wine pairing.

If you stick your nose into the glass, the wine has a heavenly and complex scent dominated by aromas of oranges and blackberries. Ridge's Syrah is comprised of co-fermented lots of Syrah and Viognier, with an addition of Grenache to add some complexity as well as corpulence. As for the chili, its spice is driven by dried ancho chiles with an underlying flavor from puréed oven-roasted tomatoes. The chunks of brisket stand up well with a mighty beefiness. I included accompaniments of diced red onion, cilantro, and chihuahua cheese to finish it at the table.

A taste of the wine after a mouthful of the chili provided a beautiful confluence of flavors--the smokier notions of the wine emerged, the fruitiness lying in the background of the ancho chiles came forward, and the feeling of the two together was very smooth. Yum.

My next bite happened to have no red onion in it, and when I tasted the wine, it had a strong flavor of black pepper, no presence of fruit, with the result of a rather searing quality. Yikes.

I made sure to have red onions in every bite after this.

I've said this a few times in other articles, and many times in other venues: one change can make all the difference in a successful wine pairing. BUT!--if you know your chef (or your own cooking), and you know your wines (i.e., the wines you happen to have on hand), then choosing wine for your meal should be a matter of imagining the flavors in your food (or just taste what you're cooking) and recalling the flavors in your wines and imagine the way they might fit together. This takes some trial and error, but is not an insurmountable problem (this is more about feel than science, so it's accessible to everyone). Besides, as you experiment, you get to drink a boatload of wine (be responsible), so where's the problem?

Popularity: 6% [?]

Misspeaking & Drinking: Cahors in Paris

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 24 - 2010

I arrived at Chartier, a classic Parisian brasserie, before my companions. This was our second day in Paris, and my wife had just called to say that some of her co-workers wanted to join us, which suited me fine, because who was I to complain about being the only man dining with four women? Chartier does not take reservations, but they do move fast, so I got in the perpetual line outside the door. I hadn't been in the line ten minutes before the hostess asked me how many were in my party, but in the din of the six languages going on around me (and surely because of my Day 2 French ear), I reacted as though she had said "who" instead of "how many"--so I blurted out, «J'attends que mes femmes. Quatre des eux.»

I immediately realized that I had said, "I am waiting for my wives. Four of them."

The hostess certainly heard it this way, too. She clutched my forearm and doubled over laughing, like an American might. Since Parisians are usually more reserved, I'm hoping that she was seizing her chance to blow off some steam from a very busy evening....

Anyway, once my wives joined me (one of whom turned out to be male), we were seated in a flash, and we immediately ordered some wine. We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec.

Malbec is one of the darlings of the wine world, thanks to its success in Argentina, though it's popularity isn't as robust among retailers as it was a couple of years ago. This is because it is easy to grow weary of a popular wine, and a common sentiment arises..."Oooh, another Argentine Malbec...." Enter Cahors, a region of southwestern France where Malbec is the required principal variety.

Cahors was widely treasured in the 19th Century, in part because of its longevity. The region fell on hard times when the phylloxera louse destroyed its vineyards, and it has taken nearly a century to recover its mojo. Cahors is literally awash in good wine these days, as was evidenced by the very good wine offered as a special at Chartier.

Chartier is a spectacularly ebullient restaurant with an atmosphere so infectious that even a morose teenager would be delighted. Shoehorned onto a table for four, we started off with the bottle of Rosé (despite the 30°F temperatures outside, it was like the sunshine we hadn't seen for a while), the name of which I couldn't tell you, and we continued with the Cahors, which was called Noir de Casteyrac (it is almost certainly unavailable in the U.S.). The Cahors was particularly satisfying, because it was really delicious and complex, and it cost the equivalent of $20! Find me a wine this good in a U.S. restaurant for this price and I'll show you someone who's losing money! It was a hearty, robust, slightly rustic wine that was a fabulous partner for the lamb and rumsteck that we ordered. It overwhelmed the other two dishes, free-range chicken and Choucroute, but no one complained, because the experience of the restaurant itself obscured this small weakness.

If you can't find any Cahors, then get your retailer to order some. Cahors has been on a upward trend in quality for a century, and since at least 1998, early-drinking wines have become commonplace, so really no one has any excuse for not stocking at least one (unless even their wholesalers are afraid to stock it...). It takes a little bit of imagination to sell it, I mean, who the heck has heard of Cahors? Oooh...there's the sales opening right there!

Popularity: 11% [?]

Winter Cleaning

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Posted by Burke Morton On January - 15 - 2010

Dirty Wine CellarIt's time to clean our basement. It is a naturally cool space that is conveniently damp thanks to the hydrostatic pressure applied by the hillside that rises behind our house, so naturally I have stashed my wine there. I have a fair amount of wine, some of which is neatly stored in racks. The rest of it is stacked rather haphazardly in front of the racks, which is sort of impractical, but there's precious little space to choose from, so there they sit.

This is, of course, the problem. The state of our basement--for which my wife (wisely) refuses to take responsibility--has become a 'situation' because I couldn't find the wine that I wanted to have with dinner. This is not the first time this has happened, but the results were certainly the most outré.

Needle in a Case Stack
I had just served linguine with a Gorgonzola cream sauce with peas and figs, and my wife said to me, "It seems like we should have a bottle of white wine with this." Oooh!!! Throwing down the gauntlet! Of course I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought of this, so I headed for the basement to try to regain my dignity. I wanted a Viognier, but the challenge was finding one. I thought I knew where the Viogniers lived, but after digging through 12 cases of assorted wines (food's getting cold!), the only thing I could actually lay my hands on that seemed appropriate was Alsatian Pinot Gris. Despite being the biggest enthusiast of Alsatian wine I know, I just didn't want that (I have had LOTS of it recently...). So I went with a Chardonnay, which might have been okay had it been a Monterey Chard with a butterscotch thing going on flavor-wise, but was Chablis.

Even if You Believe Hard Enough, You're No Less Wrong than "We'll Be Welcomed as Liberators"
It was a bottle of Verget 2004 Chablis. This was wrong. I knew it was wrong. Chablis would never have occurred to me under any other circumstance. Chablis is, by nature, tensile and minerally, which was not right for the Gorgonzola cream. But I suspended my own disbelief and sought some credible way of shoehorning the choice into place by rationalizing that the Jean-Marie Guffens (the man behind Verget) treatment (which yields a cool creaminess) would help it out. Any help this style of wine making may have made was negated by vivid clarity brought by the 2004 vintage, which energized most white Burgundies beautifully (the reds have not fared so well).

It was delicious wine, no question, and it didn't ruin the food, but it didn't really work, either. It became a little black peppery, which was not the flavor I was seeking. My wife put it well: "It's on the edge of clashing, but it still makes my mouth water." Yes indeed--perfect description.

A Viognier, on the other hand, would have really been lovely, and when I finally found one the next day, it provided a delicious lift to the leftovers.

...I Meant to Do that!
Coincidentally AND ironically, the Chablis was a success with our dessert: we had M&M Bars that I made with my children (essentially Toll House pan cookies made with M&Ms instead). The moment I took a bite, I knew that the Chablis would work, and it was indeed an extraordinary companion. Ha! Redeemed right at the end! .

Of course I planned it all along....

Popularity: 8% [?]

Sublime Turkey Wine Suggestion

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 23 - 2009

Au Bon Climat HildegardAu Bon Climat Hildegard
I just yanked a 2002 of this out of my cellar, opened it and wanted to scream for joy, but my kids were asleep, which doesn't happen easily, so I just went outside and whooped around, pretending the Braves had actually won the World Series.

Its flavors were so vivid and potent that I couldn't have been happier (obviously). The aromas alone were unique and heavenly enough to seduce me--almonds and lavender--but it had a bit of fennel emerging when I tasted it, making it seem at once possessed by the freshness of youth and the wisdom of the ages. This blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Aligoté (!) from California's Central Coast is a unique wine to be sure, and it comes in the single heaviest bottle I have ever held, but it cried out to be drunk with the Thanksgiving feast! One among many I will be drinking (I have a hard time stopping at one, but I don't suggest that everyone take my approach!).

Run, don't walk, to your local retailer (or call them--if they don't have it they can probably order it in by Thanksgiving) and get the current release, which should be the 2004--an amazing vintage of the wine. It's not inexpensive (in the mid-$30s, as I recall), but it is an extraordinarily special wine. And if you are lucky enough to find an older vintage (it matures beautifully--see below), don't hesitate to grab it!

Indeed It Can Last a Long Time...
A friend brought me the 1999 Hildegard recently and it absolutely made my WEEK! Its original release date was September 11, 2001, but that suddenly seemed a frivolous thing, I am sure, and they forgot eventually about it. It's available now at the winery, and may be available in the marketplace, if enough people ask for it.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Wines for Thanksgiving

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 19 - 2009

Wild Turkey (photo: Alan_Vernon.)There is only a week remaining until one of the most important events on the food/wine pairing calendar! I have always looked forward to this time of year, and when I was a wine retailer it was especially invigorating, because sales were excellent and it was fun to get excited (and get customers excited) about wines for the holidays. Time to spread the joy once more!

Dealing with Thanksgiving Food
The flavors of the foods on the Thanksgiving table are so disjointed that one would almost be better off having a companion drink for each dish rather than a single libation. Or just have water (which is asinine unless alcoholism is a factor, so we'll set THAT idea aside). Back to the food and what's often on the table...turkey (relatively bland); stuffing (rich taste made all the more intense if sausage or oysters are added); green vegetables (green beans are the norm at my house, typically hard on wine); sweet potatoes (rich flavor and welcoming of many wines); cranberry sauce (exuberant flavor, not all that wine friendly); and these are just the basics! Obviously there are too many dishes to even consider multiple wine pairings, so let's look at this a bit more nonchalantly: if you want to taste your drink with your feast, you'll need something with bold flavor. If you want to taste your feast with your drink, you'll need something with some grace. My favorite wines with Thanksgiving are not-necessarily full-bodied, but are somewhat warming, even if normally served cold.

An Opening Consideration
Let's go ahead and eliminate big, fat, oaky wines (this means Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their typical guises). Heavy oak treatment generally inhibits a wine's utility with food. There are obviously some Chardonnays and Cabernets Sauvignon that would work fine with Thanksgiving fare, but these will be out of the ordinary. Wines with other stylistic extremes like those with high alcohol levels are fine (as long as they are not too much about themselves (i.e., like the overripe swamp juice out of Australia)), as are those with low alcohol (so long as they still have vivid character). Wines intended for the Thanksgiving table should also have enough zip to pull through the fats in the food, but not so much that your mouth puckers (nor should they be so devoid of "zip" that they seem flabby).

If any of the following suggestions make you think, "What is that wine?", "How can I find that?", or "Now I'm even more confused!", then you should talk to your local retailer. They can help you find the best option for you.

Here are some of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving:

How can you go wrong with rosé? The answer is, YOU CAN'T!!!! If you have any left over from summer, now is the time to drink it, and you'll be glad you did. I particularly like rosés made of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon (here's a good place for Cab Sauv!). Rosés from the Sancerre region of France's Loire Valley are exceptionally good, as are the famous rosés of the Rhone Valley's Tavel region. I just tried a rosé from Oregon--the Big Fire Rosé from R. Stuart that would be perfect.

The white wines I am particularly drawn to for Thanksgiving include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, but there are many others that I find just as scintillating. Gewürztraminer is a mighty, intensely aromatic wine and it can be like a warm blanket for your palate. In my retail days, I sold more Gewurz at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year because it is so wonderful with the feast. As for Riesling, if you choose off-dry, I prefer Spätlese or Auslese in ripeness, but there are many Kabinett-level wines that can have just as much depth (this is where you'd ask your retailer). If you want a dry Riesling, a big serious wine from a great growing site works best, and usually these wines get better and better with aeration, so if you don't finish it, drink the rest the next day (there's hardly a more soul-stirring experience than this). Grüner Veltliner is glorious here, and you'll be happy you tried it, because it has the staying power to work with the food (surprisingly seamlessly across the table), and is qualitatively superior to it's peers at a similar price point.

I'll also be drinking some Zinfandel. Skip the White Zinfandel, and go for Red. Some like to point out that this is "America's Grape" and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving? I like to point out that it is genetically identical to European grapes with names like Plavac Mali and Primitivo, so let's drink it for it's merit, shall we? And it has plenty of merit: this year I'll be drinking the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel, and I drank the 2002 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel last year and loved it. A well-made Red Zin has good balance of acidity and fruit and pulls so much of the food on your plate together that it is in the same league as the whites listed above for harmonious food:wine rapport. Another option--a sensational one at that--is Grenache. I like it in the form that is found in the Rhone Valley regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. These velvety wines are so gratifying and emotive that they'll make you think of home, and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving?

For some other suggestions, go to the Wine Pairing Search and look under "Turkey"

Popularity: 10% [?]

Video Today

You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 76% [?]


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