Archive | April, 2011

Spring cleaning giveaway: Picco Vino cards

24 Apr

I bought a bunch of these handy little thingies for impromptu gifts and stocking stuffers. They’ve always been a big hit, and now I’m giving five of ’em away to whoever emails me at the address below.

Picco Vino: the world of wine...at your fingertips! Whee!

These Picco Vino “Professional Wine Tasting” folders are about the size of a stack of three credit cards, fold up into a handy spill-proof plastic sleeve and give you a crash course in awesome top-secret wine flavors, tasting technique and terminology so you too can look like a pretentious douchecanoe knowledgeable wine consumer and patron. The folder profiles flavor aspects of numerous different wines, so you can fake your way convincingly through blind tastings. It has an aroma wheel which can help prompt you when you can’t think of what that wacky fruit you taste or smell is, and provides guidelines for the “correct” serving temperatures and how to remember your jeroboams from your rehoboams.

Caveat: the copyright on this is 2004, 3rd edition, which renders the vintage chart on this pretty useless. But through the power of Googlemagic, I’ve determined that this seems to be the most recent edition ever printed, so it’s not like this is like one of those purposefully mislabeled $5 used textbooks on Amazon where you’re looking for the 13th edition and get the 11th.

A peek at spining the aroma wheel.

A peek at spining the aroma wheel.

But seriously, I tend to ignore vintage charts, and you probably should too. First, 90% of wine purchased is chugged in the parking lot on the way home usually drunk the day it’s purchased, so chances are most of you out there ain’t collecting and saving it for the apocalypse (unlike me, but better a single woman collecting Cabs instead of cats, amirite?). Second, vintage charts oversimplify regions: there’s no way, for instance to accurately gauge the maturity of wines in one area, say Napa or the Loire, without taking into account the dozens of microclimates you encounter in the same region. Third, not every wine is mean to be stored for the long term, so no chart is going to help you if the wine was stored badly, made shittily, and tainted from the get-go.

Vinodivino in Newton, where I picked them up in the first place, still has a lot of them if you ever need a cool party favor or mass group gift.

The first five people who email me at kissmyglasswine at gmail get one!

Recipe: White Trash Yuppie Sangria

11 Apr

So, I finally started my taxes today. Unfortunately, the IRS won’t let me claim the 120 bottles in my wine collection as dependents so I can be a welfare queen and get my own reality show parading my utter lack of remorse and accountability around.

Instead, I’m scrabbling around the local packie for cast-off scratch tickets to claim as gambling losses my files to find scads of deductibles to get that 1099 income liability under control (I have a side copywriting business doing both sassy catalog descriptions for some Big Brand Names and really staid by-the-book financial writing on Your Retirement and Why It’s The Most Expensive and Important Purchase You’ll Ever Make. Hey, versatility!). Oh, and then I helped the Gin Savant do his taxes, and he’s getting a shitload of cash back. Which means he’s now on the hook to take me to Menton this time.

So to cope with the sticker shock of being a freeborn resident of these United States of ‘Merica, I scavenged around chez moi to help take the edge off:

• 4-5 oz (Who knows, I didn’t measure) of whatever red wine you’ve got near at hand or open (pictured: Albino Armani Foja Tonda Casetta, Urban Grape, $26)
• 6.5 oz cheap-ass strawberry soda
about half a shot of Trimbach Kirsch because that’s all that was left in the bottle (Blanchard’s Jamaica Plain, about $28)
• A squeeze of pre-fab lime juice (you’re poor. You can’t afford fresh)
• A medium-handed pour of Trader Joe’s simple syrup
• A heavy hand of Luxardo cherries and syrup (I yielded two cherries)

Stir with chopstick.

Measurements? Proportions? Hell, I’m not good with numbers; I’m a writer. Do what feels right. Add Dole canned fruit cocktail if you got it. Just make sure you have some spirits in with the wine.

I suppose if “white trash” is offensive to some, they can call it “Thrifty Girl Sangria” or “Cheapskate Calimotxo” or “Uncle Sam Hates Me.”

Knock, knock, knocking on Death’s Door (it’s here!)

8 Apr

As a few of you know, the Gin Savant and I are huge huge fans of Death’s Door gin out of Wisconsin, which wasn’t available in Massachusetts. For a couple of years, we were using, uh, alternative means of procuring it, such as bringing duct tape and bubble wrap with me when I flew to Omaha to visit family (yes, there is something terribly wrong when I can purchase craft gin in western Iowa at a local grocery store-owned packie instead of Boston, home to Drink, Eastern Standard, Trina’s, et al) and then we’d cherish and ration each drop carefully once it was in our clutches.

Why all the fuss? Instead of a potpourri of botanicals which can get metallic or, yeesh, taste like your great-auntie’s potpourri she made with a heavy hand, Death’s Door uses only three of ’em: wild juniper they harvest themselves, coriander and fennel. They distill it three times. If you’re into gin, it’s a really clean taste, but it’s not some walk in the park. It’s got a little bite, a little stretch, and it’s a challenge to use in a martini. It’s kinda like a wild little mustang pony you have to break with just the right vermouth.

And, happy of happiest, it’s coming to the 617. Through the power of social media, we were lucky enough to get an invite to an industry-night party last night at Toro in the South End to enjoy all three of Death’s Door’s (boy, that’s weird to punctuate) offerings: the gin, their white whiskey, and their vodka.

Death's Door vodka in, ahem, chewy vitamin form

First up was Honey Badger punch with the whiskey, which was being served in a choice of glass or poured down the ice luge. A little pink, but drinkable. Apparently the whiskey also makes a good white Manhattan, if you use Dolin vermouth. See the pic for how we tested the vodka.

The Gin Savant approves.

And finally, our first “licit” Death’s Door gin drinks in the bay State, which were Toro menu items: Fresita, with strawberry and rhubarb; and the Contessa II, with aperol. The fresita was sweet and aromatic, and a great reminder that despite the April weather here lately, that spring (or better yet, summer) is coming. And the Gin Savant was very excited with the amaro-like overtones of the Contessa.

I’ll be posting a list of retail outlets of where to get the DD goods; I know of at least one for next week, but want to stock up before everyone else visual confirmation so I don’t send anyone on a wild goose chase. In the meantime, check the Ken Oringer empire (especially Coppa, Toro), Deep Ellum, and the higher-end haunts around the Back Bay. Special thanks to J.C., Death’s Door’s Duchess of the East Coast (and about whom I overheard someone say was lovely enough to make Uma Thurman nervous–I concur) for the permission to party crash.
UPDATE August 2011: The CHEAPEST place to find Death’s Door (all three) in Boston that I’ve found so far is Macy’s Liquors, West Roxbury, next to Roche Bros.–$29!

UPDATE: Find Death’s Door Gin at Liquor Land and Brookline Liquor Mart, $34. You can also find the vodka and white whiskey at BLM.

A wino takes it on the Smuttynose

2 Apr

A moment of silence for the dead soldiers, please.

Despite the photographic evidence of me as a baby sucking down my grandfather’s can of Schlitz, I never got into beer until I went to London my junior year and realized that John Cleese’s canoe-copulating take on American beer (“fucking close to water”) was spot on. After I got over my girly phase of shandies and snakebites, somehow I just started liking what I call “chewy” beers like stouts and porters. I don’t know how it happened–maybe one too many Long Island Iced Teas (I know, in London, go figure…well, no. I was drinking legally in a foreign country, rubbing elbows with the occasional rock star, and was rooming with two sorority chicks. That’s just what you do). So it was probably understandable that I’d need to reset those tastebuds back to dry and bitter(ish).

But that didn’t ignite a total conversion to beer. Since then, I’ve still maintained an ambivalence toward it. Sure, I guess I’ll drink it if you put one in my hand, as long as it’s not an overly hoppy Belgian or IPA, or swill like Bud, Coors (I have some political issues with them), or Sam Adams (yes, I know what I typed just then). But it’s not my first choice.

But beer’s the first choice of most of my best friends. And when one of them decided to turn 40, his wife planned a party around it; more specifically, a weekly “fireside chat” lecture/demo/meal yesterday at The Fireplace restaurant in Brookline, Mass. New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewery was the special guest star to the locally-grown and sourced New England cuisine.

Smuttynose's Star Island Single, Summer Weizen and Smuttynose IPA

The lead-off beers

First course: Star Island Single (mermaid Dixie von Trixie on the label) and Summer Weizen (vintage photo of somebody’s mom) paired with a salad, with vinaigrette, blue cheese and pecans. I think I preferred the salad over the beer this round, but the food with each beer together were very good–even though I don’t like the beery lighter spectrum.

Second course: Old Brown Dog Ale and Finestkind IPA (pic of Bartles & Jaymes-type local guys) paired with a) a pulled pork tartine (open-face sandwich), or for the vegetarians, pasta with greens. I opted for the pasta, but from what my companions were saying, this was a pretty big hit. The beers went well with the pasta, too. It felt a little odd for me not having, say, some Italian white, but I got over that after the third bite. What was also cool is that the Brown Dog is probably the best brown ale I’ve ever had. It gripped your mouth without taking it captive and holding it for ransom–I could see this going well with lots of different food. It had presence without being a pain in the ass about it. I’d even go so far as to say they could amp the taste up a notch or two and still have a damn good beer.

Free beer for me!

Probably my favorite of the afternoon. And not just because I got a second one.

Last up: a caramel brownie sundae with Robust Porter (circus performers) and Shoals Pale Ale. The latter was a pleasant surprise: usually, heavier beers pair well with the caramel, especially with their coffee or burnt overtones, but the Pale Ale was heavy enough in its own right to stand up to it. One of the staff of the restaurant noticed me eying an orphaned bottle of porter and even slipped it to me. (Yes! Free beer is the tastiest beer of all!)

A moment of silence for the dead soldiers, please.

The good mood was running high among the staff, the speaker, and all 40 or so of us. In addition to hearing all about Smuttynose’s scrappy start-up story, there was a bit of trash talk about how beer is better than wine because it’s more food-friendly and involves more ingredients than grapes and water. All I’ll say about that is Twinkies have more ingredients than cake, too. And if I were a religious woman, I’d probably point out that if beer’s so great, why wasn’t Jesus tapping a keg at the Last Supper with his fraternity brothers apostles? There was also a bit of trash talk aimed at the Gin Savant for being a Yankees fan, but we’ll move beyond that…

If you ever get a chance to hit the Fireplace for one of these Saturday afternoon chats, jump at it. The Fireplace has been a very reliable go-to for me on the major holidays when my parents come to town, and it was cool to be there kicking back with my “other family.” The room was cosy without feeling like you were giving the strangers next to you a dental exam. There were a couple of blips with the service (e.g. not every one at my table got beer at the same time, a couple of stray MIA courses) but these were resolved pretty quickly.

Ok, Smuttynose. You’ve won me over. Just let me drink up my stock of Abita Turbodog and Yuengling (which I have for sentimental reasons, not taste reasons) first so I can make room in the fridge for ya.

Grand tastings and why they’re usually gross

1 Apr

If there’s one rule wine stores should live by (I could cite more than that, but will limit myself for purposes of this post) it would be “Always be tasting” (ABT)–that is, always have a bottle of something open so your customers have a perfect excuse to stop by on a whim or on an errand.

Most people are neurotic enough about “not knowing enough” about wine that they don’t want to risk spending their hard-earned money. I think people have a similar reluctance to buy a full-fledged album when they like just the lead-off single, but that’s for another blog, and why we have iTunes. That’s why store tastings are so important: they’re a chance not only to bring customers in and educate them, but to build up trust and a better relationship with customers that will lead to upselling and repeat visits.

The problem is when stores only open the cheap stuff. Now before I get a crapload of grief for being a wine snob, consider that you can go into any high-end department store and sample the $150 cologne, right? Not just sniff it, but spray $8 worth of it all over yourself if you want to smell like a Tijuana peel palace. Ok, yeah, a bottle of $150 Eau de Sniffy lasts longer on the counter than a $150 bottle of Chateau Night Train; I know THAT. But what does trying that $150 bottle (either the cologne or the wine) do for customers? It’s a fantasy they can live. It’s luxury within reach. It’s a great anecdote to tell their friends and coworkers–“hey, I tried a $150 bottle of…”– who might want to stop by the store sometime and try it too. I know a store that has Enomatic tasting machines. They offer wines from $13 and even upwards of $60 to sample every day. I’ve found two new faves ($42 and $58) that I got to try from those machines. Would I have bought them without trying them? Probably, because I am such a wine-ho and have a problem. But might someone else buy them because they got to try before they buy? Oh, probably yes as well.

And that brings me to one of the many reasons I was annoyed at the semi-annual grand tasting I went to a couple of nights ago. It was at a liquor store that’s got a reputation for a good overall selection of alcohol, and a solid stock of wine. I’d been to a couple of this store’s tastings in past years, but it had since fallen off my liquor calendar for a few reasons–it was just too crowded and too poorly laid out for me to navigate without me wanting to get stabby on someone. And it seemed badly managed: I had even once placed an order for a few premium wines which had never been processed. When I called to re-place the order and hopefully get the tasting-night special discount, I was informed they couldn’t do that. (oh, yes, you can. You just choose not to.)

I went to go meet a Tweep IRL, as the kiddos say, and hoped for the best. Eye-yi-yi.

As I expected, the crowds around the table were four to six deep (again, the store had a piss-poor layout), because the people who had made it to the front were bogarting the space. Seriously, does free booze make everyone forget what they learned in kindergarten about taking turns, keeping your hands to yourself, and sharing?

Customers were hovering around the snack table like sharks around a wounded dolphin, jabbing the shards of pretzels in their hands into the last scrapings of hummus, chevre and pub cheese dip. Seriously people, gorging on crackers and cheese and getting your drink on is not a good substitute for dinner. EAT FIRST. The wine will still be there. Distributor reps had little plates of discarded or uneaten food on the table next to them as they poured. People draped their grape stems on rum bottles in the aisles, left their empty plates on displays, and the employees working the floor weren’t paying attention to the cleanup. The store, which isn’t the swankiest to begin with, looked like the last night at sea on a cut-rate cruise.

I decided that the fastest, least inebriated way to get out of there was to limit myself to tasting wines over $30. I had to drop that down to $20, because nothing was over $26. So I got to sample only about six out of 100. (FWIW my order that never went through at the tasting two years ago included six wines over $36) Is this a sign of bad times in the wine store industry, or a reflection of the neighborhood’s hispter demographic (This store had a tasting the previous week at their location in a more yupscale nabe)? Yes, I know a lot of great wines can be had for under $15; I own about 50 of them myself. But again, it was a missed opportunity for the store to educate and upsell. Even with the event’s 20% discount, they would have a chance to increase the per-order amount had they gone a little higher up the sales list. At least my visit with my contact was worth it!