The Race for 57 – Day Eighteen

Amazingly, Joe DiMaggio ended 1941, in the winter after his streak, by enlisting in the army during World War Two.  Granted he did not see any combat time, rather he mostly played baseball with other servicemen, but he did not return to the Yankees for another four years.  To put that in its proper perspective, could you imagine Derek Jeter or A-Rod or Kobe, leaving professional sports to serve in the armed forces during war time?

Me, well, the only troops I’ll been entertaining as 2008 ends is the kids to play minature golf (thank you Southern California) before ringing in the new year on East coast time and being in bed by 10, or as I like to call it, my usual evening.

I did however find time to sneak in one more wine in the race for 57, a 2006 Tempranillo Barrica called, Albero.  This wine comes from Latitude Wines, the importer also responsible for the Slow Paseo brand  that began the streak a few months ago.

This wine has great color and a solid nose of black cherries.  There’s not much fruit but the structure is good.  And after about an hour it opened up very nicely, adding some more black fruit to the mix.

This is a solid effort at $5.99 to end the year with.


And if I can offer up any last thoughts as we head into 2009 it’s that there are no wars to send anyone to, baseball superstar or otherwise, by the time my own streak ends…

Happy New Year!

Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Race for 57 – Day Seventeen

Before my Bordeaux trip a few weeks ago, I had not drank any wine from the region in easily two years.   It wasn’t anything personal as I’d not drank many Burgundies (my favorite) or even much age worthy California Cabernet (other than the stuff Ryan makes).

Part of this is strictly logistical (my 200 bottle cellar’s cooling unit died on me – curse you, Vinoteque) and economical – I no longer like to spend money on wines I’m not going to drink for ten + years.

100% of the wines I buy these days (as are most bought by consumers today) are meant to be drank immediately.  As such, not only have age worthy wines fallen off my radar but I believe my palette has changed to favor more fruit forward and balanced wines – wines that can be enjoyed now or just a few years down the road.

So when I stuck my nose in that first glass of Cheval Blanc earlier this month I forgot how wonderful these wines smell, and when made well, taste.

As such my last trip to the Joe had me seeking out some Bordeaux’s and the first one I spied was J. Calvet’s 2006 Reserve De L’Estey.  This wine from the Medoc is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Its nose was all chocolate and mint for me with hints of that oaky, smoky, earthy smell our olfactory glands have come to associate with wines from the region.

The wine was noticeably dry, with an absence of upfront fruit but after settling for about an hour the wine softened and was pleasantly drinkable.  Nothing spectacular, but balanced and smooth.



Published in: on December 24, 2008 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Don’t Watch Mad Men Either

For years now, I’ve worn the fact that I’ve never watched an episode of Friends, The Simpsons, ER, CSI: Anywhere, Law & Order, Sex in the City, Lost, Entourage, Weeds, Dexter, Monk, or any of the critically acclaimed, rabid inducing bits of television entertainment, like a badge of hon0r.

I assure you this is not a statement on how TV has ruined our culture, that I gave ours up years ago in favor of books on Abraham Lincoln and by Malcolm Gladwell.  In fact, I watch a lot of TV.  But the more I’ve been told how much I should watch a show, how it will change my life, the more I’ve found myself holding off, claiming to wait until I can watch the DVD’s.  And maybe there is a kernel of truth there.  But more than that I think I’m just too lazy to commit to something else that I may or may not like, simply because the public at small has given a show their undying blessing.

So it was with great joy that I read Adam Sternbergh’s recent New York Magazine piece, “The Mad Men Dilemma.”  You see, I’ve not watched an episode of this show either, adding another notch on my, “I’m too hip to watch your hip show just because you tell me to” list.

But what this article really did was make me think about the recent Top 100 lists released by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.  These lists are not new but they seem to have been setting the tone for many in the wine buying public for at least as long as The Simpsons has been doing so for the culture at large.

On a base level I’m suspect of these lists, not because I think there is anything untoward about compiling them, but more about their trying to establish for us what is the “best” of a given year.  And just to prove there is no bias against the hand that feeds me (so to speak), I feel the same way about Rolling Stone’s, 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, every issue of Los Angeles Magazine, and of course in context, EW’s 100 Best TV Shows.

While some have taken a fair, semi-scientific approach to the process, none seems to have the potential purchasing punch that the wine lists do.  I know several people who look at the list and have a standing order on at minimum the first ten, to be bought on their behalf regardless of cost.  Again, this is not inherently a bad thing.  I guess my point is, is it a necessary thing?

Can we not, as wine consumers take more joy at finding those wines that tickle our palatel fancy, without being told what our palettes will like.  More importantly, how realistic (or humbling) is it for most of us to peek at the Top 100 wines of a given year only to see that a vast majority of the best ones are far out of our economic reach?  At least if I decided to buy the top TV DVD’s of all time, they’d be roughly the same price.

Don’t get me wrong, wine reviewers review wine.  This is what they do.  And I have no doubt that the Top 100 issues of both publications are their best selling newsstand sellers of the year.  I get it.

I’m a creature though who loved the joy of having discovered, “Arrested Development” on my own, before everyone was talking about it.  That allowed me to tell all my friends, co-workers and anyone who listened why they should be watching it, not the other way around.

So during this season, as it should be all year, it’s always better to give than receive!

Happy Holidays!

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 10:50 am  Comments (3)  

The Race for 57 – Day Sixteen

I wonder how it was for a major league hitter in the Seventies when they realized they were going up against Nolan Ryan or in the eighties against The Rocket.  Knowing there was a good chance your bat would never touch the ball in four trips to the plate.

That’s kinda how I felt looking at and taking my first sniff of the 2006 Aquila D’Oro, a Tuscan Red billed as a “dry red wine.”  My first thought was, “the streak is over.”

There was just something about the lack of nose for me, nothing coming through, that told me this wasn’t going to be my night.

The first sip was like a 100MPH scorcher right down the pipe that I didn’t even have time to swing at, which translated meant, this wasn’t going to be my night.

I let the wine sit open for about a half hour before coming back to it and the wine had settled in a good way.  This was a mellow wine, and definitely as dry as advertised.

Ultimately, it wasn’t great, a real battle between pitcher and batter, working the count to two and two.  The next pitch was off speed, but crazy and I managed almost a check swing, just tipping the ball with the end of the bat.  It corkscrewed up the middle past the pitcher and just out of reach of the shortstop.



Sometimes you have to be lucky to keep a streak like this alive.  This was one of *those* nights…

Published in: on December 18, 2008 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Bordeaux – Act III: The Food (or What I Didn’t Eat on my French vacation

120px-foie_gras_et_sa_gelee_modified-21As many of you have been reading, my magical week in France was full of sublime pleasures.  The rolling countryside, the luscious wine, the Mona Lisa.

But the one thing missing from this trip, something that really would have made the journey an unqualified success was the food, or for me, the lack thereof.

It can now be said, not in a derogatory way, not with an ugly American accent but merely the statement of fact, France is no place for a vegetarian.  That is not to say they do not sympathize, nor wanted to make it right for me.  No, the sad reality is that the concept of foregoing eating meat is truly foreign to them.

This is especially surprising (and frustrating) to go hungry in the land of bread and cheese, which perhaps coincidentally were the only things I did eat during my trip.  That and omelettes, at any and every meal.

Note:  If you are a Vegan, visit Italy instead.

As I said, people were friendly enough about it.  But upon my declaration, “Je suis vegetarian.” I was met with a grimaced face normally reserved for when someone watches a squirrel  run across a busy street (a meal I no doubt could have ordered had I eaten small rodents).

The first reaction was always the same (and it’s a fair question) – “Poisson?”  Fish?  Now, I’ve been known, when my choices are between the grilled vegetable plate with cous cous or a non sentient being like a shrimp or clam, to sometimes opt for the latter – please refrain from your blood throwing, PETA, I love you but I can’t save the world all by myself.

So the one night when I skipped the eggs and agreed to a piece of white fish (and some of you must know where this is going) – I got a pretty big piece of white fish.  It was so big in fact that it included things like its head, its tail, all four-thousand tiny bones, and I presume the hook that snared it.

What was missing from said meal was my appetite…

So for you animal lovers headed to Marseille, or Beune or Paris or Tours, might I humbly suggest smuggling as much food as you can in your suitcase.  You’ll need it.

Footnote:  Ironically, one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life was in France.  At a little cafe in Cannes.  It was called La Pizza.

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 10:03 am  Comments (4)  

The Race for 57 – Day Fifteen

What wine tasting stunt featuring wines found at Trader Joe’s would be complete without the inclusion at some point of the wine that arguably put TJ’s wine on the map?

I’m talking of course about Charles Shaw (aka Two Buck Chuck)

When I started the race for 57 I’d cruise the wine aisle, avoiding the familiar, uninspiring, black and burgundy label with the generic gazebo on the front.  That’s not to say I was never intrigued by the $2 price tag in the past.

In fact, when I first heard about it (whenever the first vintage was released) I, like everyone else was curious as to how a wine so cheap would taste.  Prior to that, any mention of a truly horrible wine was referred to as “Ripple” or “Mad Dog.”  Now we had an actual wine we could mock and knowingly laugh at those who brought it as a gift when they arrived for a dinner party.

But something strange happened on our way to the Shaudenfraude.  That first vintage of Cabernet was really good as I recall.  Maybe it was really good at two bucks but I remember being impressed.  This said, I only felt this about the Cab.  Others enjoyed the Shiraz but not this refined palate.

After a few vintages though, the quality went severely downhill and I had not drunk it for years.  So when I came across the gleaming racks of infinite Chuck a couple of weeks ago, I thought, “Why not?”

The 2006 Vintage is a little light but the nose was pleasant enough, with a bit of licorice and pepper.  The wine was pretty well balanced, a little tart with some nice fruit.  The finish is longer than I would have expected and left me with a bit of a sucking candy sensation but at $1.99 it’s hard to complain about this year’s crop.

I’m not ready to proclaim that Chuck is back but he’s in the building with this one.


Published in: on December 12, 2008 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bordeaux – Act II: The Wine

500522508209_0_albSo the composition of this photograph leaves a lot of creativity to be desired and that little smiling speck with the ugly green jacket is me (standing next to winemaker Ryan Waugh), but I’m hoping you can see where we are at the top of the picture.

It says, “Cheval Blanc”; a wine famous for 150 years on its own but then made even more well known by “Sideways.”  For it was the ’61 Cheval Blanc, a gem as coveted as a Ty Cobb baseball card, that anti-hero Miles enjoyed with his hamburger at the end of the film.

Our wine tasting journey (one week ago today, mind you) began at this famed house and it was every bit as memorable an experience as you can imagine.

884352508209_0_bgThe cold, rainy skies only made it more appropriate.  This is what France’s wine royalty should look like, fitting ever so nicely with the cold, ancient stones of the Chateau (part of which were actually going under renovations.

The vines pictured here, one of three main vineyards on the property are 95 years young and in their dormant state are still maintained to get ready for Spring.

What’s fascinating about spending time here is the simple fact that they’ve been doing the same thing, on the same plots of land for centuries and all you’re doing is taking part in this long and storied process.

Our tour was lead by a young oeneologist named Pierre (you can’t make that up)264352508209_0_alb – pictured right.  His easy demeanor, coupled with the fact that Cheval Blanc is his first job ever begged you to envy (read: hate) him but he was just too charming. We all hung onto his every word like a wallflower hoping to be asked to dance by the captain of the football team.

Tidbit I loved:  There were many but my favorite had to do with their barrel selection.  Each year they buy barrels from several cooperages in France.  And each year they are invited to taste the wine blind from one of six barrels.  They do not know which is their barrel and are asked to rate the wines from all six.  After the scores are tallied the barrel makers are told how their work fared.  That’s how they insure that each manufacturer will send their best stuff every year.

Okay, I’ve officially become a wine geek…

After lunch in the medieval city of St. Emilion, where we saw the actual stone bed of the monk which gives the town it’s name (“Sit and Sleep will beat any advertised (rock bed) price or your rock bed is free!) we spent time with a winemaker who makes a Grand Cru in the same place his family has been making wine since 1821, Chateau Laniotte.

501303508209_0_bgIn fact, no tour would seem complete here without the proprietor entertaining us with illusions and wife jokes.  His wines (all priced around $30.00) were a little bit of magic too.

One thing that became evident here though, with everyone we met, from wines known and collected around the world to the small producer who only makes enough to sell in France, these people are simply doing what they were born to do.  Some have found this calling from a love of wine but others like the Todeschini brothers of Chateau Mangot that I had dinner with that night have it in their blood.  And from speaking with them, they’d not have it any other way.

Yes, they must (by law) make wine differently than we make it here in the States, and for most of them there is no great desire to make tons of money from wine.  We like to wax poetically here about the passion of wine – and make no mistake, it exists.  I know it does because I have it.

But for the fine people who shared their lives with us last week, there is no other life.   What else would they do?

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 7:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Bordeaux – A Blog in Three Acts

Act I:  Observations

963372508209_0_bg1Call it the cradle of wine civilization, the region that built the bridge that all others have crossed over or just The Capital, Bordeaux amazes from all angles.

I’m no Ansel Adams but it seems hard to take a bad picture in France.  Whether pointing your lens at the vineyards themselves, the architecture, or even the simple gray, rainy sky, this place is a living, breathing postcard.

We arrived in Paris before being squeezed into a tin can (aka. the Airbus 318) for the short flight to Bordeaux.  I’m not sure why I expected the quaint environs of Burgundy, but the landscape coming in reminded me of flying into JFK.  That all changed when we made our way through the familiar high windowed, eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings of the town itself.  Somehow the thrill of driving by Paul Revere’s house in Boston does not hold the same romantic appeal.

I must give a shout out to the Mssr. and Madame’s at The Regent Hotel who did everything in their power to make me feel like I was George Clooney in town to shoot, “Jeux de dupes Deux.”

655107508209_0_bg1 I returned their unbelievable hospitality by butchering their native tounge at every turn, my nasally, New York accent making each syllable of their beautiful language sound like an episode of”The Sopranos.”

Me:  “Jay Voo-dray un cafe, si vou play.”

Waiter: Turns and walks away smiling

At this point even strong French coffee was not quite staving off the sleep my body craved so I headed out to the shopping district just outside the hotel and braved the rain and forty degree temperatures in search of a soccer (read: football) jersey for the boys.

As I walked I was immediately struck by how great everyone looked.  From Joe le Determiner  to next year’s “Top Model” contestant, the French (or maybe it’s all Europeans) seem to take note of what they look like when they step outside the door.  No sweat pants, no ratty sneakers, no mismatched hat and gloves.  All those were reserved for me, Le American…

Okay, I wasn’t wearing sweats or ratty sneakers, but the winter coat I broke out of storage stateside did look like something they’d release a mental patient in.

Oh, and did I mention that EVERYONE still smokes there (at least outdoors).  It was enough to make me lose my appetite.

More on that in Act III.

For now, lets lower the curtain and rise it back up tomorrow to discuss the real reason for this trip.  The wine of course…

Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 5:05 pm  Comments (1)