Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Teriyaki Flank Steak, Baked Potatoes and a Decent Pinot Noir = Deliciousness

Sundays are for grilling. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I rely on the trusty bucket grill from Crate and Barrel because a) it is a real grill, b) it saves me the indignity of trying to cook a full meal on the Foreman and c) even though Arlington prohibits gas or coal grills on balconies, the bucket grill is easily portable. It allows me to combine convenience with the ability to cook things over an actual fire. I like this. And, as I noted, Sundays are the best day to do this. I’ll leave it to either science or religion to determine why that is, but there really s no better way to observe the Sabbath than to throw some meat over an open flame, and serve it with wine and potatoes.

In this case, the potatoes were baked, covered in spray butter, sour cream and cheese (known as a light snack back in the Midwest) and the wine was a Ropiteau Dupuis 1848 Vin de Pays D’Oc 2008 Pinot Noir. I did not find this exact wine on their website, but it is a decent, reasonably priced and enjoyable pinot. Maybe I am biased towards New World, specifically Central Coast and Oregon pinots, but this one wasn’t bad. In my experience, French pinots lack that certain something that makes New World pinots so interesting. I stopped myself from writing that they lacked a certain je ne se qua because then I would have had to punch myself. And with its price point around $10 means that it can serve as a good red wine to bring with you on a picnic or bring as a gift to party if you want to bring a distinguished-looking, yet inexpensive bottle for the host. 

The Ropiteau was a good, albeit very light, pinot noir that would compiment lighter fare much better than the red meat that we paired it with. I couldn’t help but think that it was missing something. It looks and smells like a pinot, but there was a certain lightness, thinness even, that makes the wine more complimentry to chicken or fish than the steak that we had. 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our Anniversary with Water and Wine

Caitlin and I celebrated our two-year anniversary over the weekend. To mark the occasion, I made us a reservation at the Tides Inn in Irvington, VA. It is a kitchen sink luxury resort in the best possible way.

Aside from well-appointed rooms, all of which have views of the Chesapeake Bay, there is a golf course, spa, marina, water sports, pools and two restaurants that have a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence wine list with 340 selections. It should be noted that The Tides is pet friendly, so Kopek got to get away for the weekend with us.

Of the Tides two main restaurants, the Chesapeake Club is the more informal and the East Room is the more formal of the two. For dinner, we selected a Rosenblum Cellars Vintner's Cuvée XXXI Zinfandel. Zinfandels traditionally are considered good wines to pair with BBQ, pizza and pasta dishes, and are not known to go well with seafood, though it did go fairly well with the crab cakes that I ordered. It was not an overly-powerful zinfandel, which I was nervous may have been the case. Instead, it was more medium-bodied that balanced fruit and berry flavors with the characteristic spice of a zinfandel well.

While the weekend was very relaxing and romantic – the perfect way to spend an anniversary, a couple of nit-picky details deserve some attention. First, we were on the Chesapeake, which is where the world’s best crabs come from. True, Deadliest Catch makes Alaskan crab fishing sexier, but blue crabs taste better. I hate when places try to gussy up their crab cakes too much by adding filler peppers, or anything much other than crabmeat. The crab cakes at dinner had peppers in them, which gets points deducted in my book. That said, the crab cake we ordered from room service earlier in the day was pretty much all lump crabmeat and was delicious.

Since the Tides has an award-winning wine list, I was confident that whatever we ordered would be good, and what we ordered would be labeled properly. The zinfandel that we ordered was listed as a Sonoma appellation, but the bottle labeled it as a California wine. I know that it is a small detail, but for a distinguished wine list, I would have expected a bit more truth in advertising. In any event, neither the peppers in the crab cake or ordering a Sonoma wine that was actually a California took away from the overall enjoyment of the weekend.

If Caitlin and I make it back to the Tides, we will make sure that we arrive after the room is ready so we can drop off Kopek right away and explore the grounds on our own. Ideally with a glass of wine in hand.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rain, Wolf Trap and Wolftrap

Friday saw DC's

first break from the rain for the first time since the Clinton impeachment…Or thereabouts. And how did Caitlin and I celebrate a beautiful and not too humid summer night free from rain in DC? By going to Wolf Trap to see a band called, Rain. They are a Beatles tribute band, and they did a great job of taking on the persona of the different eras of the Beatles – from their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show

to Abby Road. Paul is right-handed in Rain, but aside from that, they are pretty much spot on.

Even though I love the Beatles, Wolf Trap is only partially about the music. It is more about being outside, packing a picnic and, of course, drinking good wine. We were listening to Beatles music, eating great food outside and drinking a South African wine that was also, not coincidentally, called Wolf Trap. It was the Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2008. Syrah is the dominant grape of the blend, and it is mostly syrah characteristics that you taste. The Viognier balanced some of the spicier and heavier flavors to make for a more well-rounded wine that worked well with the heavier cheeses that we packed.

I bought the wine from the wine shop at the Wegman’s in Fairfax, VA. The person who helped me told me that Wolf Trap and The Wolftrap have no relationship, which seems to this PR guy like a totally lost marketing opportunity. The wine clerk also informed me that the wine is very well known in South Africa, and expats will come to the store simply to buy cases of it. The bouquet was a bit strong and peppery, as strong syrahs tend to be. The body of the wine was not as heavy as I was anticipating. And unlike other syrahs and shiraz’s that I have had from South Africa, the Wolftrap wasn’t so thick that I felt like I had to chew it. It was a good red to accompany the cheese, spreads and grapes that we brought to eat while listening to the fake Beatles.

I personally do not believe that a bucket or bag of fast food qualifies as “picnic food,” but that may just be me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You’re Merlotkin’ Me Crazy

Sideways brought merlot hatred into the mainstream when it was released in 2004. Even before the film came out, many in the wine world would roll their eyes and tisk-tisk the ordering of a glass of merlot. Five years later, there is still no wine that is as derided or as mocked as the wine made with the offending merlot grape.

Why has merlot been awarded the dubious honor of being the redheaded stepchild of wine? It can’t be just because it is a popular red that is easily ordered in restaurants and bars. Many places have merlot as their house red. If someone asks for “red wine,” what they get is usually a not very good Central Valley merlot.

However, the same can be said for chardonnay and house whites. Yet chardonnay does not carry the same stigma that merlot does. Caitlin suggested that part of the reason chardonnay does not insight people’s wine fury the way merlot does is that bad whites tend to be more tolerable than bad reds. There is some merit to that, but it does not wholly answer the question.

A great article defending merlot comes from a 2005 Slate piece written by Mike Steinberger entitled, “Defending Merlot”. It is telling that the subtitle is: “It’s not Always Bad.” Even merlot’s defenders, it seems, need to concede that there are many, many bad merlots out there. I don’t have enough knowledge to know if the proportion of bad to good merlot is comparable to that of other varietals or not. I can’t imagine that the number of bad merlots out there is wholly responsible for it’s pariah status.

There are still some very good merlots out there. If people dismiss an entire class of wine simply because it has an image problem, then they are missing out on some very good wines. Just last night my aunt and uncle brought over a merlot for dinner. It was a 2005 Beringer Napa Valley Vineyards merlot. It had many of the qualities that you expect from merlot: a medium body, some fruitiness, hints of cherry and little in the way of the tannins that distinguish merlot from the heavier reds. It tasted good, accompanied some of what we were eating (Chinese, which always seems to be a challenge for wine pairings) and while I braced myself for the worst knowing that we were drinking merlot, I actually enjoyed it.

I know that some vinoistas will deride me for admitting that I liked a merlot. And not just any merlot, but a merlot from a huge California winery. The biggest shock of all is that it was a good, easy drinking and enjoyable wine that won’t even set you back $20. It was light enough to drink during the summer and interesting enough to enjoy. Those who dismiss merlot outright don’t know what they’re missing. I just hope that one day, we will reserve wine judgment until after we have tried it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rockfish from a Bucket Grill and a Finger Lakes Pinot Grigio

After the DC area got what seems like enough rain to frustrate Noah, the weather cooperated enough last night that Caitlin, (Kopek) and I could eat outside. The menu consisted of roasted red potatoes, squash and rockfish. The latter two items were prepared on the Crate and Barrel Bucket Grill. The bucket grill is exactly what it sounds like – a bucket that has been modified to be a grill. Since the fire code in Arlington prohibits gas and coal grills on balconies, the bucket grill is a wonderful and portable way for people who live in apartment complexes and condos to be able to cook on a real fire. As handy as the Foreman grill can be in a pinch, it is not a real grill. And every time you use it, somewhere, a bag of charcoal is laughing at you.

Accompanying last night’s meal was a Pinot Grigio from Dill’s Run Winery in Aurora, NY, which is on Cayuga Lake. Caitlin and I visited Dill’s Run last time we were in the Finger Lakes. It is a small winery that gets by primarily on its charm, its friendly and hospitable proprietors, and its curly-haired lab Abe, who is the winery’s mascot and inspiration for some of their wines. I am a huge fan of places that allow dogs, especially when they are big, friendly, and goofy ones like Abe. If you are able to get to Dill’s Run, ask one of the owners about how Abe came into their lives. It is a great story. Abe and I became fast friends, and I am sure he is part of the reason why we left Dill's Run with several more bottles of wine than expected.

As for the wine itself, the pinot grigio was not to my liking, though I am sure that it would be ideal for some people. It was a little too apricoty for my taste, and a bit more buttery than I would have liked. I tend to like the crisper, more fresh-tasting whites. Still, the heaviness of the wine went well with the rockfish. Since the food was grilled on cedar planks, the smokiness of the fish went well with the heavier body of the wine. I would not, however, recommend the Dill’s Run pinot grigio for those heavy, hot and humid days that are just around the corner in DC. When those hit, the wine needs to be light and refreshing, regardless of what comes off of the bucket grill. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Welcome to a New Wine Blog!

Welcome to my new blog. The title of it is "Beltway Bacchus" because a) I live inside the Beltway of our Nation's Capital and b) Bacchus was the Roman god of wine (among other things, many of which will not be covered in this blog) and this blog will focus primarily on wine, as well as anything else I want. But mostly wine. 

Why wine? Because my fiancée and I love wine. “Love” might not be exactly the right word. We love each other, and we can still get into arguments from time to time. We love our dog, but she can occasionally be a pain. So maybe it's not "love." I have never argued with wine before. It has never argued with me, though it has caused me to argue with others. Nor have I ever felt like wine was being a pain. I have never had to walk wine at 3.30 in the morning, or relegate wine to the balcony, though being on the balcony with a glass of wine, my fiancée and my dog is perhaps the best place in the world to be.

With that all said, welcome, again to this blog and thank you for reading this far. Since you have made it this far, permit me to tell you a little bit more about what this blog is about. In a word, the blog is about wine.

In a paragraph, this blog aims to be a place for people to learn about wine, share their stories about wine, and take advantage to the culture of wine that exists both within the Beltway at the numerous restaurants, wine shops and markets, and beyond the Beltway in one of the most diverse and interesting wine-growing regions in the country in Virginia. Caitlin (my aforementioned beautiful fiancée) and Kopek (my aforementioned dog) will also be participating if I can persuade them to.

My qualifications for discussing wine are rather limited. I am not an expert. I am not someone who berates people for swirling their glass improperly. I do, however, make up my own wine terms (along with bouquet, my glasses tend to have haircuts…This is only the first post, there is plenty of time to learn.) And Caitlin and I never shy away from a wine tasting. We try a lot, sip a lot and enjoy a lot of different wines. We have been to many of the wineries in the DC region and are not shy about going back. We have spent some time in Napa and Sonoma where we learned to be snooty, yet sophisticated and honest about what like when it comes to wine. We have also had the privilege of spending time at New York wineries in the Finger Lakes region. Once, we even attended a wine tasting in the middle of the Caribbean while we were on a cruise.

So basically, Caitlin and I are like you. We like wine, we want to discuss it, learn more about it and enjoy it. It is with that in mind, and a glass of Corcoran Malbec in my hand, that I am writing this post and invite you to join us, comment and add your thoughts about being a vinophile in the Nation’s Capital. Bacchus, after all, would have wanted it that way.

Check back often for updates!