Music Thursday: Art Rock and Washington Riesling

The triumphant return of the blog comes with one of the best new bands in my library paired with one of the best white wines I’ve had the pleasure of sipping.

The Music

I have been obsessed with this band the past few weeks. They’re a British art rock band with heavy progressive rock and electronic influences. Their vocals heavily depend on male-female harmonies and chant-like repetition, all laid over a saturation of rapid bass and rhythm guitar strokes. The band seems more keen on creating an atmosphere than a poppy sing-along, embracing programmed drums and waves of synthesizers to fill the void left by conventional instruments. The only real breaks in the music seem to be focused on giving full weight to a vocal harmony.

Anyway, the track is “ii) Apogee iii) Requiem for the Lovers” by Pure Reason Revolution. The video is a combination of footage from their tour and a show in London back when they were performing this music before it was released in studio, so you’ll also get to see glimpses of their recording session. Really, all it did was make me desperately want to see them live. Hopefully they’ll come stateside soon.

2009 Kung Fu Girl

Now for the wine: I celebrated a successful first day of my participation in the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference with a bottle of Riesling. I’d originally set out for a bottle of Champagne, but, alas, it was near impossible to find a wine shop open after the conference’s day session, and the hotel bar stopped serving at 7, so I decided to open the Riesling recommended to me by Collin at The Wine And Cheese Place in Ballwin, MO, the previous afternoon. Kung Fu Girl, from the Columbia Valley in Washington, it was.

The wine is surprisingly active, forming a lot of bubbles on the glass after the pour. It has a light straw color, and the swirl suggests quite a bit of heft behind the wine.

The nose is very light and crisp with lilac, citrus, peach, and pear. It just smells like spring. There’s no hint of alcohol heat, no unsavory scents to be had at all.

The flavor is a  mouth-coating blend of white peach, lemon, and pear, with a fantastic perceived sweetness and a touch of minerality. Pear lasts on the medium-long finish. The wine takes all these beautiful delicate spring notes and creates an intense, rich experience. It’s truly an exemplary Riesling. Fantastic balance, with a zesty acidity that you can feel without tasting. The alcohol backs up the body well without overpowering the light flavors.

I’m drinking this wine in the dead of winter after a major snowstorm in a cold city, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. For optimal results, break this one out in a bright, sunshiney kind of picnic setting, with a light white-meat or seafood offering. [insert aforementioned meat here]-salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, cheese-and-crackers. The sugar can handle a touch of spice, and the body of the wine is built to handle the assault of a primarily poultry meal.

In short, this is one of the best sub-$20 Rieslings I’ve ever had. 8/10.

As a bonus, I sipped from Oenophilia’s Polycarbonate Wine Glasses. Shatterproof wine glasses that look just like their glass counterparts, they were one of the most popular products that I demo’d at the conference. I would wait until a couple people walked past, not really paying attention, and then chuck the glass at a metal display or a table across the way. They’d panic until they realized the glass didn’t break. It cracked me up every time.

The Wine: Kung Fu Girl

Producer: Charles Smith Wines

Vintage: 2009

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington, US

Varieties: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: $18

Music Monday: A Diet of Blues and Pinot Noir

The Music

This weekend, I hosted a dinner party for a few close friends. The meal we’ll get to later. The music, however, was a mix of two blues-influenced bands, The Black Keys and Minus the Bear, and two jazz- and funk-influenced hip-hop artists, Ohmega Watts and Othello. I wanted something energetic that wouldn’t be annoying playing quietly in the background, and these bands fit the bill. The Black Keys features an incredibly talented blues-trained guitarist and vocalist in Dan Auerbach and an equally talented blues-trained drummer and producer in Patrick Carney. They are especially notable for their lo-fi recording style, using very basic equipment and minimal production. It gives their music a garage-rock kind of edge that really suits Dan’s guitar and voice.

2008 Hamilton-Stevens Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

2008 Hamilton Stevens Russian River Valley Pinot NoirThe wine was a bright, deep red with just a splash of purple in the mix. It threw off some pretty appetizing hues as it swirled in the decanter.

The nose was rich, juicy and very aromatic. I served it in a decanter, mostly for aesthetics, and every swirl released rich dark fruits, spice, and chocolate scents into the air. The flavor was exactly what you’d expect from a California Pinot Noir. It gave a light plum and strawberry fruit attack matched with a fairly intense acidity, a decent amount of earthiness and spice, and an aggressive cinnamon-spice finish. Great balance, with an alcohol level of 14.5% matched with a very full flavor.

It paired very well with stuffed pork chops, though there was just a bit of alcohol heat on the finish. If the pork had been prepared with similar spices (ground rosemary, thyme, dried garlic, sea salt, and just a pinch of celery seed) and without the added salt and savory seasoning of the stuffing, I think it would have been a fantastic pairing. The mushroom cream sauce that was baked over the whole thing worked with the wine very well.

We also paired it with a tray of chocolate bits for dessert. While the milk chocolate was an okay pairing, the dark chocolate really brought out the best of this wine. With the chocolate, an intense earthiness developed, giving off rich flavors of mushrooms and earth that came forward with the spices and fruits of the wine. It was so good that I opted for another glass of the Pinot for dessert rather than the port that I’d served with the chocolate.

This wine is a phenomenal value, certainly a higher quality than the $10 price tag would suggest. 8/10

For another take on this wine, check out the review from Jason’s Wine Blog.

The Wine: Pinot Noir

Producer: Hamilton-Stevens

Vintage: 2008

Region: Russian River Valley, California, US

Varieties: 100% Pinot Noir

Alcohol: 14.5%

Price: $10

Belated Music Monday: An Oddly Delicate Cabernet Sauvignon

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

Happiness by the Kilowatt by City and Colour. It’s good music, period, and arguably better than when Alexisonfire plays it as a full band. City and Colour is a side project for Dallas Green, guitarist and vocalist for Alexisonfire, but he really shines when you put a piano in front of him and strip away the hardcore trappings.

The name of the band, City and Colour, is just a sly way of describing Dallas Green’s name, and this cracks me up immensely.

2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon

As for the wine, I popped the cork on an Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon. Specifically, I opened the 2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the high-altitude vineyards in the Mendoza region. All grapes are grown at least 1000 m.a.s.l.(meters above sea level), on flat, indistinguishable plateaus, offering a different sort of terroir from the rolling hills of France and Italy. The differences include an increase in both temperature swings (higher highs and lower lows) and direct UV ray contact, the effects of which are chronicled well here at Wine Anorak.

‘This is very important since this is an indicator of quality in relation to concentration. But most important is the type of tannins that we find in these grape skins, fewer monomeric tannins and proportionally higher concentration of polymeric tannins. This means that in our high altitude Malbecs we have high concentration and structure, with an incredible amount of total tannins but yet very soft and round wines. This is what makes Malbecs from high altitude vineyards so unique.’

This difference in tannins is one that I noticed in the Cabernet Sauvignon, as you’ll see below. I found it oddly appropriate: what’s better to pair with a toned-down, nuanced hardcore rocker than a softer Cabernet Sauvignon?

Onto the wine!

The wine has a bright garnet color with a deep black cherry hue at the center. It has a pure translucency and a full texture.

The nose consists primarily of red fruits with a light oak scent. Raspberry, cherry, cinnamon, and vanilla combine for a simple, appealing, dessert-like scent, like a baking pie. There is a very cool alcohol scent, noticeable but not detrimental to the nose.

The wine, however, does not live up to expectations of a big Cabernet. The wine offers a good balance, no alcohol heat, no bitter or sour taint from acidity. While the attack promises a full, chewy tannic experience, the tannins abruptly fade before they can fully develop in the mouth. The result is a soft, briefly intense mouthfeel. Flavors of red fruit and oak are pleasant but not full, with just a hint of spice, something slightly jarring like cumin, a touch of tobacco, and a medium finish of raspberry mocha.

The wine wasn’t quite up to the task of taking on a fully-seasoned steak, but a lighter beef dish would certainly suffice. Try something not too spicy. It also seems like it would be a fantastic pairing with a chocolate mousse.

It’s not a phenomenal wine, but it’s a value at $10. With its (comparatively) light body, simple, delicious flavors, and decent balance, it’ll please a crowd without breaking the bank. Make no mistake: this wine is ready to drink now and will not last more than a couple years on the shelf. If you need a wine right now, it’s a good option.  6/10

Wine: Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon

Producer: Gouguenheim Winery

Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Varieties: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price: $10 for 750ml

Beer Brewing, as Told by Mad Rocket Scientists

Back after a holiday hiatus, the blog is ready to jump right back into the wide world of alcohol, and what better way to do it than profiling a local brewery?

from right: Full Steam Founder Sean Lilly Wilson and Brewer "32" Chris Davis

Still very much a local brewing company, Full Steam offers their wares mostly within 50 miles of their Durham brewery. Their reputation is that of the mad scientists of the brewing world, experimenting with local ingredients to craft unique beers that take on the personality of the South. From their website:

Our mission is to craft a distinctly Southern beer style using local farmed goods, heirloom grains, and Southern botanicals. Like what, you wonder? We’re making beer with sweet potatoes, corn grits, summer basil, and malted barley house-smoked over hickory. Other successful “plow to pint” experiments to-date include beer brewed with scuppernong grapes, persimmon, paw paw, rhubarb and more.

Ultimately, our vision is to craft a year-round, sustainable, scalable, and distinctly Southern beer brewed 100% with local ingredients. That’s the quest. We’re a long ways from realizing this vision, but we hope you enjoy the adventure as much as we expect to.

I’d like to do a more in-depth profile of the brewery at a future point in time. For now, I want to share my first experience with this brewery, their Rocket Science IPA. Part of their Worker’s Compensation line meant for, in their words, “conversation, not introspection,” the IPA offers an easily enjoyable IPA experience for a variety of taste buds, not just the trained palate.

I picked up a half-gallon growler of their IPA for $10 at Weaver Street Market, our local organic co-op and the go-to market for local and organic craft beers. I wanted a beer to go with watching my Hokies play football, but we didn’t get to this one before the game was over.

That’s probably a good thing, as the bad loss would have diminished my enjoyment. Now that I’ve gotten to give it a try with a level head, I can safely say I’ll be purchasing many more of their beers in the near future.

Full Steam Rocket Science IPA

The beer has a fairly complex appearance, a base of light brown with golden-orange at the edge and a deep red hue in the middle of the glass. It forms a good, thick, long-lasting head that treats the aromas right without being something you have to chew through.

The nose consists of the usual IPA aromas: floral, orange, and light blueberry, all bolstered by a strong smoky, woody scent.

The beer is delightfully full-bodied, with a hefty, active mouthfeel. It has a fairly aggressive carbonation, but nothing too rough.

A bit of a departure from the standard IPA, the attack is smoky and woody with a generous flavor of minerals, overwhelming the bitterness of the hops from the outset. Once the smokiness fades away, the bitterness takes center stage with a brisk, tart orange flavor. There is a slight metallic tinge on the finish, which otherwise tastes of lavender and orange peel.

This is a great beer to pair with a heftier meal. I’d certainly put it up against red meat or a medium level of spice in wings, ribs, or barbecue. It’s not as intense as some IPAs, so keep the spicy to a reasonable level. It’s definitely built to tackle the best your tailgate has to offer. 7/10

Beer: Rocket Science IPA

Producer: Fullsteam Brewery

Region: North Carolina, USA

Hops: Centennial, Amarillo

Alcohol: 6.5%

Price: $8.99 for a half-gallon growler

Full Steam can be found on Twitter at @fullsteam, and you can learn more about the brewery and their events or contact them at their website.

A Fruit Wine You Can Proudly Serve Your In-Laws

Twin Pomegranates Sparkling WineAt the office, we are nothing if not dedicated cooks. Holiday celebrations are an excuse for everyone to demonstrate their flair for kitchen artistry while getting the opportunity to nosh on a multitude of culinary delights. For our Thanksgiving feast, while most of us brought potluck dishes, I provided a few bottles of pomegranate wine as a “liquid cranberry sauce.” At least, that’s how I deemed it. It was more an excuse to serve alcohol in lieu of cooking.

The wines were part of a sample pack sent to me by Twin Pomegranates, a Pomegranate winemaker based in Madera, California. They provided me with a flat pomegranate wine, a sparkling pomegranate wine, and a pomegranate-Chardonnay blend, all grown and produced in California. For the feast, I opted for the sparkling and flat pomegranate wines, saving the blend for another occasion. The goal here was to see how these wines would fare as a holiday wine pairing, an unconventional addition to Christmas or New Years. Something a bit fruitier just strikes me as being festive.

The Wines

Twin Pomegranate Sparkling Wine PourBoth wines had a similar color: a dark brick-red and orange blend, turning a deep golden orange at the edge. Their translucency, like the last pomegranate wine I reviewed, is impeccable. The color, while unusual for a grape wine, is indicative of purity in a non-vinifera wine. Ever seen fresh juice pressed from a strawberry? It will have the exact same earthy gradient of color as the wines to the right.

The nose is not the best quality of these wines. Both have a slightly sour, lightly pungent pomegranate scent, not exactly off-putting but not as enticing as they could be either. It smells a bit dusty, dry, but the fruit scent you get is pure pomegranate. No alcohol heat, no imbalance is detectable in the nose.

The flavor of both wines is startlingly dry and crisp. With only 3% residual sugar, they offer a delightfully active texture, nothing too flabby or cloying. The alcohol (13.3% in the sparkling, 13.4% in the flat) provides an intense backbone  without adding even a hint of alcohol flavor. The flavor begins a little bit seedy, owing to the intense acidity and lack of sugar. Once the initial shock to the palate wears off, the flavor fades into a very cool, very pure pomegranate flavor that rides out a decent finish. The sparkling wine adds an extra powdery, bacterial dimension to the flavor, a complexity standard with sparkling wines.

As for pairing, this wine paired with a variety of dishes, with two caveats. Don’t pair it with very salty dishes, as the flavor gets overwhelmed and the alcohol becomes the primary flavor. Also, because of its lack of sugar and its delicate flavor, it handles spice very poorly. It’ll do quite nicely for your Christmas dinner, at least unless you plan on having a rib-eye. Turkey and chicken are immaculate pairings with this wine; ham handles the wine pretty well, but it’s better to go with a sweeter cure than a saltier one. Beef and pork will chainsaw right through this wine, so avoid pairing with those.

Both wines are prime examples of fruit wine. The sparkling was preferred over the flat wine, if only because of the added complexity that bubbly provides. The flat wine continued to drink well over the next 2 days, losing very little in the way of flavor even 48 hours later. The sparkling wine, properly stoppered, is good for about 24 hours. After that, it starts to lose its vibrancy.

So, for the record, both the sparkling and the flat wines are around $10, making them delightful bargains at their price point. 6/10 for the flat, 7/10 for the sparkling. Drink and be merry.

note: these wines were samples provided by the maker with the intent to review

Music Monday: Inappropriate for a Football Tailgate

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

While this album is not one that will make you run through a brick wall, it’s still recently become part of my pre-game football ritual. Perhaps because it hearkens back to my first years in college, when I really became a college football fan, maybe because deep down I’m just a huge softy, whatever the reason, The Anniversary’s “All Things Ordinary” is a great example of the gentler music I listened to when I wanted to “rock out.”

The Wine

This weekend was much more an exercise in quantity, not quality, as we had a nice gathering of friends for the Virginia Tech football game. Thus, the goal here was to furnish enough for a group of widely varying tastes with as little expense as possible.

The solution? Trader Joe’s, obviously.

While the beer-friendly crowd sipped on New Belgium’s 2° Below (and… sigh… Bud Select), a fantastic and affordable winter ale from Colorado, those who had wine on the brain opted for a Rosé. Trader Joe’s has a fair selection of Rosés, mostly in their $4 to $6 value price range, and we opted for the 2008 La Ferme Julien Rosé for $5.

La Ferme Julien bottleAccording to Wine Harlots, La Ferme Julien is “the Trader Joe’s private label of the La Vieille Ferme that gets passing marks in the major wine publications.” That’s a good sign, especially considering some of Trader Joe’s bargain wines can be traced back to faceless, mass-produced California schlock vineyards.

So what of the wine? It had a very pure light red color, with a medium viscosity. The aroma was almost candy-like in nature, with sweet citrus, strawberries, and cherries. The flavor, though very dry, tasted a bit canned, stale, citrus-forward, just a touch of yogurt and lemon, and a strawberry candy finish. The acidity might be a touch high, lending it a tangy, thin texture, but other than that it had a decent balance. It drank well over the following day, maybe tasting a bit more stale, but still holding its flavor fairly well. I wouldn’t give it more than 24 hours, though.

If you’re looking to please the pink-drinkers in the crowd without spending a lot, I’d say you’d do okay with this one. 5/10

Wine: La Ferme Julien Rosé

Vintage: 2008

Producer: La Vieille Ferme

Region: Cotes du Ventoux, Rhone, France

Varietals: Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah

Alcohol: 13%

When Environmentally Friendly Goes Wrong

Very rare is the work tasting where wine goes unfinished, let alone actively dumped out. Last week was, unfortunately, one of those times. We decided to give Think Red and Think White a try, as the recycled/recyclable aluminum bottles appealed to our more eco-friendly sensibilities. Both wines are non-vintage, making this an iffy proposition to begin with, but, hey, we’ll accept sacrifices in the name of Mother Earth, aye? The added benefits of using aluminum, namely the lighter weight and UV protection, make it a vessel worth testing.

Think Red and Think White

Non-Vintage Think White

The wine, much to our dismay, did not appeal to our oenophiliac sensibilities. The white wine was more palatable than the red, but that’s not saying much. A light greenish-gold color, rather dull, but at least clear, it looked like just about any other indiscernible white blend. The aroma was a dull, rotten combination of citrus and floral scents, frankly unpleasant. As far as the flavor was concerned, a generic mix of citrus, tropical, and floral with a way-too-high acidity, contributing wincingly bitter overtones. At 12.5% alcohol, at least there wasn’t a lot of heat.

Think White Wine PourIt was overall a lifeless, bland, and disappointing effort. 3/10

Wine: NV Think White

Producer: Adega Coop de Borba

Region: Alentejo, Portugal

Varietals: 40% Antão Vaz, 40% Roupeiro, and 20% Rabo de Ovelha

Residual Sugar: 1.50 g / l

pH: 3.2

Alcohol: 12.5%

Non-Vintage Think Red

My coworkers had rather unkind words for this wine: “pointless,” “just like water,” “it just disappears.” That’s about how I felt as well. It had an unhealthy orange-ish red color and was slightly cloudy. It was both smelly and weak, with almost no flavor except for a bitter, light red fruit characteristic that disappears as soon as it hits your tongue. No real structure to it, a weak body, no spine, and the shortest finish I think I’ve ever experienced.

It was a barely drinkable wine that might as well have been water. 1/10

Wine: NV Think Red

Producer: Adega Coop de Borba

Region: Alentejo, Portugal

Varietals: 40% Tempranillo, 30% Catelão, 30% Trincadeira

Residual Sugar: 2.0 g / l

pH: 3.5

Alcohol: 12.5%

So much for that. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

For your belated Music Monday viewing pleasure, Thursday’s “Running From The Rain.” As the threat of high winds and tornadoes bears down upon the good city of Raleigh, I feel it strangely appropriate.

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