The Race for 57 – Day Two

What’s interesting so far is that the first two wines I’ve tasted in my chase of Joltin’ Joe is that neither wine has its own website.  Not sure if this is simply a result of these wines only really existing in the imagination of their importers (see shiners) or these folks are humble winemakers who’ve not yet traveled as far as the 21st Century.

The good news I suppose is that in not spending for an overpriced web presence, the money is all in the bottle.

Next up for me is a wine called, La Ferme Julien (Julien’s Farm?) a mellow blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault.  I’ve enjoyed all these varietals individually and together this wine is a soft and elegant blend, which mixes the main red grapes found in the Cotes du Ventoux region of the Rhone Valley.

The nose is dominated by pepper and black fruit, it’s mouth feel almost candy like.  An alcohol soaked Jolly Rancher if you will.  As has been my mantra of late, its 13.5% alcohol makes for very easy drinking and food pairing.

The one negative is the slightly tannic finish, which also ends with little fruit.

With a nod to Jason’s Wine Blog lets just say I fooled the infield with a bunt down the first base line and motored this one out for a SINGLE.

$5.99

Published in: on September 29, 2008 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  

The Race for 57 – Day One

Was I facing a tough pitcher or was I just rusty from last stepping up to the plate for the Seaford Little League Yankees in 1976?  Either way it was not a good start.

The wine, a Spanish red called, Slow Paseo, was I realized upon pulling the cork, what we in the biz call a “shiner.”  At least I think it was.  A shiner is basically someone elses bulk wine that has already been bottled but no label has been affixed yet.  Companies, often importers, buy this wine and then add their own label to the “shiny” but unadorned bottle.

There is nothing wrong with this very common practice and many solid wines begin their lives meant to be something else.

As such I poured the wine undeterred and took my first sniff.  I’ll admit here from the outset that I’m no Gary Vaynerchuk when it comes to being able to quickly (and probably accurately) tell someone what I smell.  In fact I always tend to go the opposite way when someone asks *me* what *they* should be smelling.

What may smell to you like Albany, NY after two days of rain, a nearby road newly paved, while grass is cut with a hand mower by a sweaty postal worker on his day off, may to me smell like Anise, that flowering Mediterranean plant used to make the liquor Anisette, which is what the Slow Paseo wine reminded me of.

The first taste did not have much fruit, but was mild on the mid-palette before dropping off a cliff on the finish.  Not impressive.  I tried it again two hours later and got some black cherry on the nose and a hint of fruit but again nothing dramatic in the mouth.

I had contemplated scoring this first wine as a walk but to be fair it’s the first one I’ve tried so for those scoring at home lets call this one a:  SINGLE.

$5.99

The streak begins…

Published in: on September 26, 2008 at 8:43 am  Comments (2)  

Joltin’ (Trader) Joe

As the saying goes, “Records were made to be broken.”  Yet after almost 70 years (70!) one baseball record has stood alone as perhaps unbreakable.  That of course is Joe DiMaggio’s streak of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games.

I’d put this in some better metaphorical perspective, something that would blow your mind like, “laid end to end, these hits would reach to the moon and back” but truth be told I’m not much of a baseball fan and am only using DiMaggio’s record as a cheap way to introduce a wine tasting stunt I have percolating in my brain.

And what does Trader Joe’s have to do with all this?

Well, is there a funner place to buy wine if you’re lucky enough to live within traveling distance of one?  I say no.  Where else can you browse wines you’ve never heard off, with prices also unheard of, to serve later that day with your daily food choice?  They’ve certainly changed the landscape of wine buying in LA for me, best evident by the way places like Whole Foods and Ralphs now approach wine sales.  Choices abound in the under $10.00 range everywhere you shop.

Yes, this speaks of a better emphasis around the world (and here at home) for high quality, low cost wines, but in my mind you have “The Joe” to thank for that.  Someone has to find all these wines to set up for our pleasure.

So this brings me back to Joe DiMaggio’s streak.  Here’s what I propose to do.  Each night, I will open a bottle of wine I bought at Trader Joe’s and report back on what I think of it.  Using a familiar system: single, double, triple, home run (damn, I’m clever!) I will try to break Joltin’ Joe’s streak of 56.

I intend to do this honestly, meaning if I try a wine that is a true clunker, the streak is over.  At worst, this experiment will be done tonight when I step up to the plate to try a wine called, “Slow Paseo”, an Organic Spanish red distributed by Latitude Wines in Danville, CA.  At best though, we’ll have at least 57 new wines we can add to our collective rotation.  Hopefully more!

Now batting (batting, batting), from Encino, California (California, California), Eric (Eric) Cohen (Cohen)…

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 10:57 am  Comments (4)  

Wine Education

As if it’s not bad enough that I’m one of the only dads who volunteers at my kids school (and as such must be pegged as some out of work sitcom writer to those who don’t know what I actually do for a living), my beloved kindergartener, Joss, came home with this completed worksheet on Friday.

The assignment is called “Safety Math” and asks the children to look at five sets of pictures and “X” out those objects which are safety hazards to the average five year old.

Some are self-explanatory: the light socket, lit candle, and sizzling BBQ are all dangers to be sure.  But what’s that next to the book of matches (and is the danger there the actual matches or the potential social diseases of the cocktail waitress who wrote her number on the inside flap)?   A jug labeled, “Wine.”

This too has some subjectiveness to it.  Is the assignment saying that jug wine is something that could, in the words of the handout, “harm you” or is it the alcohol itself?

I ask only in jest because obviously we know that jug wine is bad for you, offering up nothing in the way of upfront fruit but compensating with a dull headache the day after drinking it.

This whole assignment got me thinking about my place in the educational system being a member of the alcohol industry.  On one level, we donate a lot of wine each year to various school auctions throughout the country on behalf of our customer base, which is a true win-win because wine is always a popular thing to bid on, while also giving us some exposure to the wine buying public.  And yet, if it came down to buying an ad in the school newsletter, say offering up a discount to my fellow parents who lets be honest, probably need wine more than anyone I know, I’m pretty confident the ad revenue would be turned away.

That’s okay.  I’ve made lots of good friends as a result of answering the simple question, “What do you do?”  and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Better still, when I asked my son if he said anything to the teacher regarding the wine, hoping he’d defend his dad and his profession, he replied, “I told her wine isn’t dangerous, I love wine.”

And I love him…

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 3:24 pm  Comments (8)  

Putting the “W” in Wine

We’ve had a running wish for the past few years at Waugh Cellars, that before George W leaves office to learn reading and writing, we’d have the pleasure of serving him a bottle of our wine.

And although I’m not surprised by this, I never knew that The White House has their very own wine guru.  Now the trick will be to get it into his hands before January 2009.

Why our wine you say?  Take a gander…

If ever there was an appropriate wine to serve, frankly, every night at the Bush White House, ours would be it.  Imagine, George and Laura sitting down to a leisurely dinner of Pepper-crusted sirloin steak and popping a bottle of our Cabernet.  The President might say, “The wine is a mouthful of bright blackberry fruit, which shows a richness and softness in the middle palate. Silky tannins deliver another burst of fruit as the wine’s finish shows all the varietal characteristics of classic Cabernet Sauvignon both in structure and aging potential.”

Or something like that.

Laura would love our Riesling or Chardonnay and could serve either in the late afternoon when she entertains her girlfriends and gets set to flick on the Tivo and watch last week’s eposide of “Gossip Girl.”

Maybe I’d be invited to come in and explain the Friends of Waugh Cellars Club to them, ensuring that after they leave the place they’ve called home for the last eight years, they’ll never go without our limited production, highly allocated wines.

And maybe, just maybe, the White House will commission Ryan to become America’s official winemaker where we’ll craft a new brand for the next President, perhaps something fresh and exciting, a wine with great character that harmoniously blends fruit from several competing sources, a wine that will stand the test of time even though unproven at first, to become one of the best wines ever.

The only thing we’ll have to work on is the name though.  I’m not sure “B.O.” quite works…

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 2:18 pm  Comments (3)  

They hate us for our…wine?

While the terrorists may hate us for our freedom (the freedom to do what exactly – be a bunch of repressed semi-literate, overweight, misinformed, fooled by shiny objects town folk?  With no health care.) there’s a home grown group who’ve found a way to hate us too.

The group doing the hating is the friendly Republicans.  Their target?  The Dems?

No, wine drinkers.

As I briefly touched upon in a previous post, somewhere along the political landscape, various code words for liberal include, latte drinking, Volvo driving, New York Times reading, arugula eating and yes, wine and cheese drinking.  I may be a liberal but I don’t drink lattes, don’t drive a Volvo, do read the Times and certainly drink lots of wine and eat wheels of cheese.

So why is this last one so offensive?

Well for starters, I’m genuinely curious how any of the above can be seen by anyone who might use such phraseology as inherently bad.  Is it un American to drink coffee in the morning, to want a safe car to transport one’s children, to read a newspaper that has been the world’s informational record for over a hundred years or eat a green leafy vegetable that is low in saturated fat and is a good source of Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Zinc and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Manganese.*

*Source

While they’re at it, why don’t they go ahead and make fun of people who go to Harvard or Yale or Brown?  Oh wait…

I guess it was somewhat infuriating to watch parts of the Republican convention and watch west coast trailblazers like Rudy G. and Mitt R. make fun of those east coast elites.  Perhaps the addition of Tina Fey Sarah Palin to the ticket prompts a new mantra (please use JFK voice) – “Today, we are all Alaskans.”

So you can take my Manchego or Brillat Savarin or Cave Aged Gruyere when you pry it from my…well, you get the idea.

As for the wine, here’s my hope for this great nation of ours and whoever becomes the next president.  If you truly are going to be reaching across the aisle to make our country great, please, please, please have a bottle of California Cabernet in your hand when you do.

My name is Eric Cohen and I approve this blog post.

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 1:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Amazon.com moves closer to selling everything on Planet

I guess it should have came as no surprise that Amazon announced yesterday that it would start selling wine through its vast online universe.  And don’t get me wrong, this may be a good thing.  I say may because there is something unnerving to me about going online with this shopping list (and finding it all on one place):

Philip Roth book
Vacuum cleaner
1950’s gift basket
2007 Volvo Station Wagon
Trombone

Is it cool to be able to place such an eclectic order online?  I suppose it is.  But something tells me here are some more things you’ll be able to buy on Amazon within five years:

Human kidney – Type O blood
The Moon – Serious inquiries only
Little Billy Johnson (age 6) – housebroken and cute as can be
Happiness

I’ve bought many things on Amazon and have found the shopping experience nothing but pleasant.  But on the business side I’ve also seen how they, like the Wal-Marts of the world, drive down prices in the name of their bottom line.  For them, making a dollar profit on a product (or no profit at all) makes sense to gain market share and add revenue.  This model however makes much less sense for the small company whose dilemma falls somewhere between getting their product to the marketplace and extinction.  On the surface, selling one’s product through Amazon (and becoming obsessed with your sales ranking – go ahead I dare you not to) is a double edged sword.  Not only does it take your most valuable asset (you) out of the sales equation but just makes your product one more item in a sea of what is surely ka-billions of others.

And I’m not so sure wine was made to be purchased that way.  For me and many others, wine is a product you buy in person, either at a wine shop, hanging with the local vino-heads or better yet at the winery itself, where you’re tasting what you buy.  Even buying mass market wines at say Trader Joe’s is fun because you know some wine buyer, a person who presumably cares about wine, has selected the wines they think their customer base will enjoy.

And if you’re not going to do any of the above, I humbly suggest you purchase from the winery directly via their own website.  You may pay a few dollars more but what you lose in money you absolutely gain in your connection with those whose hard work and dedication are evident in every sip of wine you take.

Buying wine at a place like Amazon gives one about as much connection to the real world as watching “Project Runway” on your computer while IM’ing your friend who’s in the next room.

No thanks.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Living La Vida Wine Country

It’s an age old complaint no matter where you live, “There’s nothing to do here.”  What most of us mean to say is, “I’m too lazy to do anything here.”

I’ve heard this said (okay, I’ve said it) my whole life.  When I lived in New York (imagine saying there’s nothing to do in NYC) I did not partake in the theatre as much as I should have, only went to the Met when there was a specific exhibit to see and spent most of my time within walking distance of my own neighborhood at 34th & 3rd.

It got worse when I moved to LA and as any Angelino who’s had to listen to some ex-New Yorker whine that there’s nothing to do in LA, that there’s no good bagels, or pizza, or you can’t get Chinese food at 2am, the proper response from now on should simply be, “Shut up.”

For as I’ve learned in the last eighteen years out here, there is in fact stuff to do everywhere and no matter what you are looking for, there it is.  So after being told about it for months, I finally visited Malibu Family Wines for one of their last summer winery gatherings for 2008.

Yes, this is what it looked like five minutes after we arrived.   People with picnic blankets, people on big comfy wooden chairs, people with spreads from Whole Foods, and Gelsons and Bristol Farms, and Trader Joes, people with instruments (the live music) kids on tire swings, everyone with wine glasses in their hands.

Heaven.

Okay so they established an ideal setting, gave me a shady, cool place to sit down, introduced my kids to some other kids who they could run around with leaving Linda and I alone to relax.  But how were the wines?  For nothing would ruin this idyllic landscape more than a few sips of some mediocre juice.

I had heard of Malibu Wines before and was admittedly skeptical.  Not for any other reason than the cynical belief that if I owned grape bearing land in Malibu, slapping such a world famous cities name on it would be all that was necessary to bring the hordes in.  Somehow I don’t think putting “Newark” in front of “Wines” on a label would have nearly the pleasant impact of that glittering jewel off PCH.

I looked at the wine list with nothing but the desire to find a varietal I could leisurely sip for an hour or two and I quickly landed on their 2002 Semler Syrah.  At $24.00 it was reasonably priced and I bought it, along with their Saddlerock Rose, a steal at $14.00 for Linda.  Part of their summer programs is that you can’t bring in outside wine but are encouraged to purchase theirs, where they’ll pop the cork for you and if you do not have glasses, give you as many as you need just by leaving your driver’s license.  Easy.

I poured the first glass with minimal expectation, mostly (and this is the key here) because they already had me at hello.  The environment they’ve created just off Mullholland Highway is one where you’d never guess you were six miles from the 101 freeway.  You felt as though you were just off the 29.

As luck would have it (or really, raising a glass to their winemaker), the wines were wonderful, exactly what was needed to complete the perfect early Saturday evening in the city I now call home, a city we all seem to love to hate.

But the good life is out here, I promise, and I got through the next two hours without thinking about traffic, reality shows or the election (see: reality shows).

All you have to do is stop being lazy…

Published in: on September 10, 2008 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Are you Ready for some Football (and wine)?

As my friends and I have gotten older, our regular guy events have gotten more subdued.

The most noticeable change in our habits these days is the inclusion of wine when we get together.  As a group, we’ve done many an “Open that bottle” night, where everyone brings a super special bottle and we pop them all with delight.  We’ve done our blind tastings, where I recall my ringer bottle of ’95 Gevrey Chambertin getting way outloved by a $12.99 bottle of Coppola’s Diamond Label Pinot Noir.

Well played, Francis.  Well played.

Now though, wine is associated with our most “manly” get togethers, the monthly poker game, where smoking is strictly prohibited and seven or eight Riedel wine glasses share space with our chips, bad language and sub standard card playing skills.

But no where have we left those  American Sunday values behind us more than drinking vino when we watch football.  I’m not saying we’re imbibing it for the 10am PST Eagles game, but any time we’re watching the second game, a bottle will surely be opened.

I can only imagine what it would look like if the fans at the game were looking through a screen at us, as we sit in my friend’s plush home theatre, stadium seating giving everyone a great view of his 105″ Hi-Def screen.  My guess is we’d get beer thrown on us, complete with slurs about our manhood, how we probably moisturize our faces before we go to sleep (at least I do), how we drive Prius’ (which many of us do) and how we’re probably voting Obama (which I suspect we all are).

In the immortal words of coach, Reg Dunlop of the Charlestown Chiefs, “Go ahead, call us Names.”  Just don’t expect us to share our Lewis Cellars Cabernet with you.

Ain’t gonna happen…

Published in: on September 9, 2008 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment