Thursday, July 28, 2005

Everyday life with wine

I had planned to write a little meditation on the importance of everyday wine. Recently I’ve had a delicious South African Sauvignon Blanc from Jardin and a quite different Sauvignon de Saint Bris from Verget, more famous for his good value chardonnay. These were both priced in the teens, both racy and fun to drink (I’ll buy the Jardin again, probably not the Verget which is a little more expensive). My theme was to be a defense of mediocrity. I don’t especially like beer, so I have no trouble at all saying that I would rather have Chimay once a month than Bud every day. Wine fans like to advise one to drink good wine once a week rather than ordinary wine every day. Not me. I love wine. Give me honest clean wine every day. I love my friends. I’d have dinner with my friends every day rather than saving up for a banquet with John Roberts (Julia Roberts is in a different category, for obvious reasons). So I went to Lexis to find a celebrated example of the “life is too short to drink mediocre wine” quotation often attributed to Lady Pamela Harlech, second wife of the British ambassador to John Kennedy’s Court. As I recall, she served Barbaresco and Montrachet at cocktail parties. But the successive tragedies of the Harlech family took the wind out of my sails. Lord Harlech died in a traffic accident, as had his father. His older brother, who would otherwise have inherited the title, shot himself. His sister, who was once engaged to Eric Clapton, died impoverished and of an alcohol-drug interaction in a London bedsit. Lady Pamela herself was banned from driving because of alcohol-related charges. The eight-thousand acre estate had to be sold to pay the death duties, which I shall now think of as a Barbaresco tax. Perhaps the ultimate indignity, the Express wrote thus of the sixth Baron Harlech, facing drunk driving charges himself four years ago: "THE SMALL, dark figure in the dock of Dolgellau magistrates court in North Wales was a sorry sight. With his lambchop sideburns and his jetblack hair greased back behind his ears, he looked like a cross between Fred West and a reject from the Seventies band Showaddywaddy." Myself, I have a fifteen-dollar Vouvray, 2002 Chateau Gaudrelle, chilling for tomorrow night. Life is too long to drink great wine all the time, thank heaven.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Heat Wave

In this terrible heat, it’s been hard to think about serious wine. Big Red sponsored a tasting and I think one of the Tuscan reds was probably really good but I couldn’t imagine buying any. Even thinking about the wine would have meant thinking about something like a braised boar shoulder and the very thought of something that hearty, cooked that long, was oppressive. My idea, these last few days, of a hearty meal is something like a plate of melon with some Serrano ham (thanks to the butcher shop), or an omelette with sliced tomatoes and basil. So I have been drinking light white wines with gratitude. And stumbled across a fantastic cooler – “Pasil” 2004, a Rueda Vedejo imported from Spain by Kysela, priced somewhere in the low teens (it’s too hot to think about saving receipts against the eventuality of blogging). As required by the season, it is light and fresh and clean, with citrus overtones. But it goes beyond the call of duty with charming notes of apple and tarragon. A lot of wines like this live on acid but the Pasil is in fact soft in the mouth, with a fresh aftertaste free of bite. I would have thought that this weather favored low alcohol acid wines like Moselles but Spaniards clearly grasp heat better than Germans do. I also would have thought that Australian winemakers could understand relentless sun and humidity. I now think that they run for beer when it gets this hot. In fact, another few days like this, and I’m grabbing the Dogfish India Pale Ale myself. But the heat is supposed to break tomorrow and, if it does, I’m going to grill a steak and open a Chateau Neuf du Pape while I can, before running back inside to learn more about Spanish and Portuguese whites.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Playing with my wine

An Indiana thunderstorm the other night brought down several branches from our walnut trees. There were some nicely formed green walnuts on them and I wondered if those walnuts had to be the nuisance they usually become when ripe, making it dangerous to walk outside without a helmet (these are tall old trees!) and making our footing treacherous when they lie rotting all over in the fall. Italians make a liqueur from green walnuts steeped in spirits, gathered on San Giovanni’s day (June 24) and ready by Easter. The French make “vin de noix” by steeping the quartered green walnuts in red wine with sugar and brandy. The walnuts in France are supposed to be gathered after St. Jean’s day (June 24, doh) but before Bastille Day, so get cracking! In the countryside, the resulting wine is sometimes served to guests as would be the Port it resembles – remember that the French, who are otherwise gods about everything they put in their stomachs, are children about their aperitifs, seeking constant sweetness – so porto, like vin de noix, is an aperitif. It is, however, an aperitif for which enormous health claims can be made. As we Americans would say, combining the anti-oxidants and polyphenols in red wine with those in nuts is a real power drink. I found a basic recipe in Mireille Johnson’s Cuisine of the Rose: Classical French Cooking from Burgundy and Lyonnais. Her book is out of print but there is an internet adaptation of her vin de noix recipe here. Yesterday I put up a couple of quarts as an experiment. Drop by in January and have a taste, we’ll see if this is an experiment worth repeating. To steep the walnuts, I used a wine from Big Red, a new wine from La Vielle Ferme, called V.F. This is a 2002 Costieres de Nimes, a rich and rustic wine which is an utter steal for $5.99. Not sophisticated but a deep and rewarding product of the Perrin family, who do also make some of the most sophisticated wines of the Rhone valley, for forty times the price. I had a half bottle of the V.F. left over, so I tried a recent "Sangrini" cocktail recipe from the New York Times, July 3. This is my own adaptation of the NYT formula, to fit my own leftovers. Take a half bottle of V.F. or other red wine, boil down by half, add a half cup of sugar, an ounce of brandy and an ounce of orange liqueur. Chill, then mix an ounce of this reduction with an ounce of liqueur, two ounces of vodka, a squeeze of lemon juice, and shake over ice. Serve in a martini glass with a grape. Wow! Smoother and more intense than sangria but don't make the mistake of drinking two just because they taste good. Not only is this delicious but it is also amazingly appetizing and physically beautiful when made with a richly colored wine base, like the V.F. Meanwhile, I also found a different recipe for vin de noix, using walnut leaves rather than the nuts and plan to try some of that too. The leaf-based wine is supposed to be ready in October. But if you stop by in the fall, remember the helmet.