Another Gruner and a Neat Little Bottle Accessory

Usually, when we have our office tastings, we get the entire group together for at least a couple wines. We only had 5 people left in the office this past Friday, late afternoon, making finishing two bottles and then negotiating rush hour traffic a baaad idea. Thus, we decided to make this tasting a good one and go with a single recommended selection from Wine Authorities. Coincidentally, it turned out to be from the same producer of one of my favorite frizzanté Rosés, one which I plan on writing up soon.

The wine we tasted this time was a 2009 Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner, a variety that, although still relatively unknown to wine consumers in the United States, is nevertheless making headway as a contender to Sauvignon Blanc as a go-to “wine with a bite.” Though capable of producing a variety of styles, including sparkling, Gruner Veltliner generally takes a food-friendly high-acidity, medium-to-full-body character. Its redolent notes and full flavor make it suitable for exotic, spicy cuisine such as curry and sushi.

If you’re tired of the grapefruit-and-cat-pee nature of Sauvignon Blanc, maybe it’s time to give Gruner Veltliner a try.

As for ours?

Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner 2009

The nose was surprisingly floral, the scent bright and thick. There were multiple fruit overtones, with green apple, lemon, and apricot all rather stark.  With these spring-like wilderness scents, it all came together in a nose that reminded me a lot of a pond or river out in a field, the perfume-y fruits and flowers blending with a palpable minerality.

The flavors were similarly pleasant, with light floral and citrus characteristics and a prime green apple taste that persisted from attack to finish. The finish itself, decently long, had a smoky characteristic suggested by the mineral-like scent on the nose but in a different realm of flavor. We agreed that it was very active, well, balanced, almost effervescent, and very full. Unlike past wines, it was unanimously revered, which is great for a group such as ours with varied tastes in wine.

Drop Stop Pourer in PackageWe also put to test the Drop Stop pourer, a unique accessory in that its construction allows for a really inexpensive way to get a paper-thin pouring surface. Anyone who’s poured from a wine bottle knows that the thick lip necessary from the glass causes wine to dribble down the side of the bottle at the end of the pour. The basic rule is the thinner the edge, the more precise the cut-off for the pour.

Anyway, the way it works is you roll up the mylar disc, stick it about halfway into the bottle, and let it expand. The mylar opens to form a tight seal, and because the edge is so thin, the wine can’t get any force behind it to push it out or leak around it, something that has happened to me with traditional acrylic or rubberized pourers. It worked like a charm; not a drop of wine spilled after 5 pours. It’s easier to clean than solid pourers as well, as it unfolds into a flat plane that’s easily rinsed and wiped rather than a narrow tube that you can barely get a Q-tip through.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the aesthetic appeal, aerating function, and durability of my Menu Pourer Vignon, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive, reusable pourer with minimal upkeep, the Drop Stop is a viable solution.

What do you think? Would you be okay with pouring from something that looked as basic as this at a party, or would you want something with the flair and functionality of a Menu pourer?

Drop Stop in Bottle

Feeling Culinary: What to Pair with Duck Pond’s Pinot Gris?

The Back Story:

The goal for this particular day was to create a dish that would adequately pair with a gift wine. Like the Desert Wind Viognier I reviewed a couple months ago, I received the 2008 Duck Pond Cellars Pinot Gris as a gift from the Fries family as a way for me to taste the wines they were pouring at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference.

Before I reveal the recipe, however, let’s get an idea of what we’re working with here.

(Yes, I had to sneak a little football into the picture. It’s the time of the season.)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a very pale straw color with a very slight green tint. The viscosity is low, but the depth and clarity is rather impressive.

The nose of the wine is very bright, with honey, honeydew melon, and pear all standing out stark and sweet.

The texture of the wine is a bit thin, with a light body, but it has a crisp and pleasant texture to it.

The flavor of the wine is very subtle at the outset. It gradually encroaches upon the entirety of your tongue, building to a rich, full finish. The alcohol is just a bit prominent, but other than that, the balance is great. Citrus and orchard fruits contribute to the flavor, with a bit of honey for complexity. The finish is a pure, bright melon.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a wonderfully light, crisp, and flavorful wine that, unfortunately, would probably fail to impress the palates geared towards bigger reds. Light fruits, light flavors, light body, just a hint of sweetness, this is definitely a warmer-weather kind of wine that would do just fine on its own. It doesn’t need food to shine, though, as you’ll see below, the right food certainly will make it a fantastic experience.

The Conclusion:

Though I’m generally not a Pinot Gris fan, when it’s done right, it’s a very clean and agreeable experience. This Pinot Gris is done right, and it’s a true value buy at $12.00. 7/10

The Recipe:

I took several chicken tenderloins and lightly breaded them in a blend of white flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, celery seed, and thyme. I then pan-fried them in oil, resulting in a golden-brown coating that infuses the spices with the meat itself:

After that, I tossed them in a ketchup-based sauce that was seasoned to my taste… here’s the basics for enough to coat a half a pound of tenderloins (about 6 strips), with some leeway as to your personal taste:

You’re going to need finely chopped vidalia onions and peppers. Which peppers you use really depends on the heat you’re looking for, though I recommend staying away from anything hotter than a habanero pepper. For the flavors to match, ideally you’d go with a combination of Poblano, Mulato, or Anaheim peppers. It’s hard to get those outside of a gourmet produce shop, though, so work with what you know. Chilis and Jalapenos are pretty easy to get. You could even go bell if you want no heat at all. For this recipe, you’ll need about two tablespoons of chopped onion and two tablespoons of chopped peppers per half cup of sauce.

If the onions and peppers are fresh, sauté them (but don’t brown them) for a few minutes to soften them. If they’re marinated or have spent some time soaking in water, they’re good to go.

In a simmering small saucepan, blend a half a cup of ketchup with a tablespoon of either raw sugar (for a lighter sauce) or brown sugar (for a thicker sauce). Add splashes of vinegar and soy sauce. Add the onions and peppers. For seasonings, you want to keep it light so it won’t interfere with the onions and peppers (we’re not going with garlic for this sauce). I suggest just a bit of paprika for heat, a bit of ginger for depth, and cilantro to garnish the flavor, but let your taste buds and your sense of smell be your guide. Let it simmer for a good 20 minutes or so, long enough for the peppers and onions to start to melt into the sauce and release their flavors.

I served it (to myself) with some stove-cooked black-eye peas. The sauce, as I prepared it mildly, matched the Pinot Gris very well, accentuating the bold fruit flavors without overwhelming them. A spicier sauce would need a fuller white, either in body or in sweetness.

An Office Celebration: We Drank Wine. Surprised?

This week was a bit of a treat. Instead of the usual one-or-two wines, our tasting included three varied wines: a Prosecco, a Port-style Zinfandel, and an Alsatian Riesling. What was the occasion? Does one need an occasion to celebrate life?

Port Sippers Wine Glass

Luna Argenta ProseccoWe started with the non-vintage Luna Argenta Prosecco, a prime example of its style. The color was a very pale straw, and the carbonation appeared to be fine if a bit aggressive. The nose was very aromatic, detectable from a yard away directly after its pour. Apple, citrus, and a light floral scent all cobbled together in a fairly standard bubbly scent. The flavors were a bit different, with pineapple, a bitter berry, and pear all making appearances. It was dry, and the flavor was weak when compared to the aroma. Still, not a disappointing sparkling, especially for one that usually sells for just over $10. This was the clear favorite in the tasting, as the bottle was drained soon after the tasting was over. Compare that to the last wine, which, among the nine of us usually eager wine-consumers, had a half of a bottle leftover that we used to clean our drains.

Evenus Port-Style ZinfandelA bit of a surprise was the 2006 Evenus Port-style Zinfandel. Hailing from Paso Robles in California for just under $10 at Trader Joe’s, this wine was a big change from the Prosecco. We decided to give our Porto Sippers a workout for this one, as we hadn’t had the opportunity in our tastings thus far. The Port sippers will direct and splash Port wine directly onto your tongue, resulting in a unique tasting experience that, admittedly, we hadn’t tried in quite a while. This certainly disappoint, highlighting the flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and baking spices in this wine. We also tried it with dark chocolate, and it paired sublimely.

2004 Kuentz Bas RieslingWe finished with the 2004 Kuentz Bas Alsatian Riesling.  The Riesling was by far (and surprisingly) the worst of the group. The aroma was that of spiced fruit and dark floral, but it seemed slightly spoiled. The flavor wasn’t much better, with orchard fruit and citrus tempered by a floral flavor, though the whole experience was marred by some rotten-sweet characteristic. The texture was lifeless, lame, and the finish was disappointingly short. I wrote and underlined FLACCID on the sheet. The balance was just awful, with no acid activity whatsoever. As the most anticipated wine in our line up, it was a complete let-down.

It was so bad that Ashley decided to see if she could improve its characteristics by drinking it from a coffee mug. Not surprisingly, her plot was foiled.

Wine from a Coffee Mug

A Friday Afternoon Indulgence and an Odd New Accessory

Ken Forrester Pinotage and the Moltes GewurztraminerThe tasting this week was a study in contrast: the whimsical, airy notions suggested by an Alsatian Gewurztraminer and the dirty, heavy-handed character of a South African Pinotage. The Gewurz, a 2008 from Moltes, is a $15.00 gem from Alsace, the eastern-most region of France that borders north of Switzerland and west of Germany. The Pinotage, a 2009 Ken Forrester wine from the Stellenbosch valley in southwestern South Africa, offers a hybrid grape from a terroir nearly 6000 miles away from the cradle of its ancestors in Languedoc and Burgundy.

The Gewurztraminer came highly recommended by Jen, the manager of the Hillsborough Wine Company, one of my favorite local spots to get my wine. I was initially dazzled by the depth of the wine,  with golds and yellows and greens all swirling about depending on where the light caught. The nose was fairly typical for a Gewurztraminer, with floral, tropical, and very slightly grape-y scents. The flavors, though, were unexpectedly complex. Orange zest, lavender, passion fruit, pineapple, and, again, a light grape make an appearance on the palate, with the pineapple overtaking on the finish.

I’m not a Gewurztraminer fan, but when they’re done right, whoo boy, they don’t disappoint.

The Pinotage was received much more coolly. I can definitely understand the lack of enthusiasm; it was simply too young. We gave it a pass through this Menu decanting system, designed to decant and aerate the wine then pour back into the bottle. Maybe we can’t age it in a hurry, but ideally we can at least let it open up to its potential.

What we got from this wine was a consensus of wrong wine, wrong time. This was a very smoky, very sour, albeit very smooth, experience, with aggressive tannins and a heavy-handed flavor. We found it very savory, making it an ideal pairing for barbecue ribs, something that will take the edge off the smoky flavor and allow the red fruits to shine through. The nose gave us a suggestion of what the flavor could become, with a bright cherry shining through the meatiness. Because I neglected to bring in some food for the tasting, however, the world may never know.

At least the Menu decanter was a rousing success. A good, even cascade, solid seal that held a 750ml bottle firmly in place, and a gasket that didn’t spill a single drop while pouring either into the bottle or out. Though one might question the wisdom of decanting a bottle then refilling it, at least from an aesthetic point, the convenience of pouring from a bottle rather than a decanter cannot be overstated.

What do you think? Is this product’s feature a solid idea or merely a gimmick? Would you rather be serving a decanted wine from a decanter, or is the bottle the preferred vessel for when you’re entertaining?

A Man’s First Love with Belgian Ale: Delirium Tremens

The Back Story:

Delirium Tremens Pour at Wine(Explored)

Delirium Tremens, the family-brewed 500 pound gorilla in the world of Belgian Ale

If you’ve been following my beer reviews for any length of time, you’ll know that I have two great loves in my beer life: India Pale Ales and Belgian Ales. For the latter, I came into this infatuation a little over a year ago, experiencing my first great Belgian Ale at a local bar called Milltown in Carrboro. Though, right now they’re on my s#!& list for removing the Duchesse de Bourgogne (a Flemish Red staple) from their menu, they’re still the best place to get upper-end craft beer in the Triangle.

At least, they are since Hookah Bliss was closed by the new North Carolina tobacco ban. </bitter>

A reasonably-priced bar is a fantastic place to experiment with new beers and wines, and if you give this guy the opportunity, he’ll make sure to sample as many new beverages as possible while still being able to stay upright. This is dangerous in a bar with a tome-sized beer and wine list, by the way.

As for the beer? The Huyghe Brewery might be accused of insensitivity because of the name of their beer; delerium tremens is a medical term for severe alcohol withdrawal in which a patient who had previously consumed several pints of beer, or roughly a pint of hard liquor, a day for months begins experiencing a mental and physical meltdown (what alcoholics refer to as the DTs).

Symptoms include an enormous variety of mental disorders, from insomnia, stupor, mental fatigue, or mood swings to delirium, hallucinations, and phobia. Physical symptoms include fever, jumpiness, heart palpitations, seizures, and vomiting.

Sounds like a trip, right?

So of course, this family-owned brewery decided that this would be the perfect name for a high abv beer. The label is adorned with pink elephants, that mainstay of alcoholic lore that found its way into children’s cartoons back in the 50s and 60s, as well as other fantastical creatures one might see in a fear-induced hallucination. The bottle, an opaque stoneware style, makes everything come together in a package that’s just slightly off… obviously, off-kilter is the theme for this beer named after a mental disorder.

The Results:

Delirium Tremens Translucency

A better look at the translucency of Delirium Tremens (with Sunday Night Football in the background)

The appearance of the beer is a very light yellowish-amber. Carbonation is medium-fine and very active. Head retention is fantastic, offering a milky-white head just stable enough to trap flavors and aromas for several minutes without being a syrupy, frothy mess.

The nose of the beer is very light and hoppy, slightly nutty, with a bright, fruity scent of orchard fruits and tangerines. Very aromatic and full scent.

The mouth feel of the beer is very full, very smooth, with a very subtle carbonation and a slightly astringent quality.

The flavor of the beer has a jam-like sweetness and grassiness, an influence of very subtle malts. The flavor is a bit medicinal, with a green-apple-like component and a slight orange hoppiness. The medicinal flavors give way to a metallic tinge that becomes more metallic towards the finish, which is lightly grainy. The alcohol, at 8.5%, is essentially undetectable (in the flavor, not in the head… I finished this one glass and I was all sorts of buzzed).

For the Casual Drinker:

There’s nothing casual about this beer. It packs a phenomenal flavor into a beer that doesn’t look all that dissimilar from your Bud Lights and Miller Lites of the world. It’s not off-putting, however, as it offers very wine-like purity of flavor intermingled with the typical desirable beer qualities. It’s all a matter of investment at this point… do you feel that it’s worth $4.50 for an 11.2 oz bottle (and much more out at the bar)? Also, make sure you understand this beer packs a punch, at 8.5% abv. I’d also recommend pouring it into a tulip-shaped glass if available; a wine glass will do in a pinch, though a traditional Belgian ale glass would be ideal.

The Conclusion:

The price of a 4-pack, $17.99, puts this in the upper echelon of wide-spread craft beers, and it’s a good thing that the beer delivers. This is fine example of a Belgian Ale, and it’ll definitely be worth the occasional treat. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Delirium Tremens

Producer: Huyghe Brewery

Region: Melle, Flanders, Belgium

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 8.5%

Price: $4.50 for 11.2oz

Purchased at: Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough, NC

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 5: South Carolina

The Back Story:

The South Carolina’s Brewer’s Association is my kind of people. Representing a quickly rising beer region, their website exudes a folksiness and almost wide-eyed awe at the growth potential of craft brewers in the state. To give you an idea of how new they are to the area, here’s an excerpt from their “About Us” section:

The SCBA originally began as Pop the Cap SC in 2005. Our mission at that point was to raise the allowable alcohol content in beer from 5% abw. That goal was achieved in 2007 with the help of the SC Beer Wholesalers, Total Wine and the overwhelming support of craft beer advocates. We believe that South Carolina will greatly benefit from enhanced beer laws in the form of employment, increased tax revenue and pleasing a large number of citizens who have a increasingly growing interest in craft beer.

What speaks volumes about their dedication is, unlike some other brewer’s association sites which seem to exist solely to hype all their members whether merited or not, this relatively small collection of brewers immediately took the fight to the legislature; their most recent project, H. 4572, just passed a few months ago: “Monday at 3pm, it will be official. Retail tastings/tours/sales at breweries and tastings at retail stores. YeeHaw.”

Yes… we can’t forget the YeeHaw.

One of the leading breweries in South Carolina, Thomas Creek Brewery states very plainly their dedication to the principles of craft beer:

All of the beer styles at Thomas Creek are artfully crafted in small batches, ranging from 3.5 Barrels to 60 Barrels at a time. We use only the choicest harvest of barley and grains from across the country, the freshest hops money can buy, and propagate signature yeast strains common only to our beers.

ABS Pumpkin Lager

Lager bottom fermenting, demo from the Appalachian Brewing Society

Of course, whether or not those principles are actually adhered to can be detected in the glass. Today’s beer will be the Doppelbock Lager, a decidedly different sort of lager. One thing you might be interested to know is that up until the middle of the 19th century, pretty much any lager you could find would be dark. The current pale style that dominates the market didn’t come about until German brewers began experimenting with brewing pale ales in the lager style.

What is the “lager style,” exactly? Lager, from the German word for storage, involves a much slower, much colder brewing process that incorporates slow, bottom-fermenting yeast. Contrast this with ales, which are generally top-fermented with yeast that ferments more quickly and at higher temperatures. Indeed, the terms “lager” and “ale” have absolutely no designation whatsoever on the body, depth, color, or flavor of the beer itself.

Let’s go to the board:

The Results:

Thomas Creek Deep Water Doppelbock LagerThe appearance of the beer is almost completely opaque, slightly cloudy, with a reddish brown translucency. The carbonation is very fine, though the head retention is fairly weak, completely dissipating in under a minute.

The nose of the beer is very dark, with a strong Hershey’s syrup scent mixed with a bit of black coffee, sweet malt, and fairly prominent hops.

The mouthfeel is full-bodied, a bit harsh, with a creamy texture that gives way to a very pleasant tanginess. The carbonation remains active without frothing up your mouth.

The flavor of the beer mimics the nose. There’s a distinct chocolate and espresso component, buoyed by a very pleasant malt and hops backbone. A slight nuttiness accompanies the mid-palate, and the finish has just a hint of a metallic undertone.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a classic test of your beer preferences. If you don’t like dark beers, stay away, as this will be bodied similar to a black ale. If you do like dark beers, the chocolate and coffee flavors will most likely please.

The Conclusion:

This was a pleasant surprise for my first beer from South Carolina. I am, of course, a fan of my dark beers, and this one didn’t disappoint. For the price, this is a phenomenal deal. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Deep Water Doppelbock Lager

Producer: Thomas Creek Brewery

Region: Greenville, South Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 6.25%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.80 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 4: North Carolina

As I was working my way through college, I held a multitude of jobs. I worked in retail, in restaurants, in a warehouse, in construction, in an engineering firm… a variety of fun and interesting places. My favorite spot, though, was a 6 month stint at a  now defunct North Carolina sports bar called Overtime. With a variety of local beers bottled and on tap, I should have been in a North Carolina beer lover’s mecca. Unfortunately, I was barely 21 at that point, still embracing my college tastes, and it took me months to even branch out from my macrobrew lager fare.

To be honest, I swore up and down that I despised dark beer. I thought it was ludicrous that people would drink a high calorie brew that tasted like liquid bread… getting drunk shouldn’t be so suffocatingly thick! On one of my off nights, I decided to head into work and get a beer while I did some reading for next semester’s class. I decided to give one of the non-cheap beers a try, and went with a Natty Greene’s Guilford Golden Ale, a Raleigh, North Carolina brew.

I was blown away! So that’s what I was missing! A beautiful nuttiness, very pure, with a pleasant hop flavor that was neither skunky nor watery. From then on out, I was willing to try any beer in the bar. My first experience with the Highland Brewing Company, out of Asheville, North Carolina, came from that revelation. Though Overtime didn’t carry the Gaelic Ale, their most widespread brew, they did carry the Oatmeal Stout. It was the first dark beer that I could quaff with a smile, and it changed my opinion on everything. It may or may not make a difference in your mind, but I now have an Asheville Brewers Alliance bumper sticker on my car.

On a side note, there’s The Great North Carolina Beer Festival coming up on August 28th, in Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina (thanks to Jean at NCVine for the heads up!).

Enter the Kashmir IPA: Named after the hotly contested region between India and Pakistan, this beer is brewed with a large variety of hops, a couple of which I’d never even heard of before: Stryian Goldings, Mt. Hood, Fuggles, Magnum, and Willamette. What’s the connection to Kashmir? Kashmir is technically in India, and Kashmir is technically an IPA. I say this because if someone put this beer under your nose in a blind smell test, you might decide it’s something slightly different…

The Results:

Highland Brewing Company Kashmir IPAThe appearance of the beer is a very pure, very clear gold. Carbonation is aggressive with medium-sized bubbles, and head retention is fairly weak, with the head dissipating in less than a minute.

The nose of the beer is a bit weaker than a typical IPA. In fact, the initial bready and nutty aromas make it smell much more like a Pilsner. As the beer develops its aromas, it begins to resemble its style, displaying heavy notes of pineapple, buttered biscuit, and almond as well as a very light, lightly acrid hops smell.

The mouthfeel of the beer is a bit thin, with a lightly tangy activity. The carbonation foams and dissipates easily.

The flavor of the IPA is also slightly weak. The initial flavor is very lightly malty and metallic, with the metallic flavor coming forward more after the attack, joining a slightly yeasty note. The finish consists of mandarin orange with a slight bitterness.

For the Casual Drinker:

Like the last IPA I reviewed, this is a beer with a little more heft than the average beer drinker is used to. Unlike the last one, however, this IPA isn’t nearly as strong, making it qualify more as entry level fare. The flavors are fairly typical for an IPA, just more subdued, making it a good choice for getting your palate ready for heavier beers.

The Conclusion:

Though I didn’t paint an especially flattering picture of this beer above, make no mistake: it’s a very good beer, a serviceable IPA, and a worthy investment of under $2.00 per 12 oz bottle. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Kashmir IPA

Producer: Highland Brewing Company

Region: Asheville, North Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 5.6%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.75 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC, also available online at Bruisin Ales

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