Columbia Valley CMS: A New World Bordeaux

I’m watching the first episode of Showtime’s Borgia a cable soap-opera depicting the showdown between the Medicis and the Borgias. Due to my dislike for period dramas, I haven’t even approached this show until now. But Netflix makes it so easy. Borgia has me mulling over ideas of worlds new and old. On the show, accents circle the globe from a fictitious Roman yesteryear (at least the faked accents aren’t inexplicably British) to a South Philly stoop circa now. (John Doman, I appreciate the fact that you didn’t try to “go there.”)

In the show there is an underlying sensation of watching the Godfather– the infighting, extramarital sex and of course the violence. We tend to think of this trifecta as part of the fleshly corruption of modernity but it’s always been there, just dressed in a more polished wardrobe and a big papal hat. That’s sort of how I feel about the difference between French Bordeaux and its descendant–it’s wine of the same lineage but dressed in new cloth.

Columbia Valley CMS, New World Bordeaux

Columbia Valley C.M.S. (Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah) is an inexpensive and highly drinkable example of what has been called a “new world Bordeaux,” a term that while clearly an homage to the formative years of wine making but I say whatever–we’re making it now. The blend usually includes Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, grapes that flourish in the bio-diverse regions of the “new world” and can be made amply and inexpensively. Because of this, it can serve the purpose of its old world namesake, embodying something that is both “common” in that it is an inexpensive table wine and “fine” in that it is an intentionally crafted work of art.

Columbia Valley CMS may not be a Bordeaux Superiere. It was only 8.99 a bottle, But it is a wine that is welcome on my table any time. Its raspberry nose that dips into currant and cedar are followed throughout the whole wine by a bright and light-bodied juiciness. There’s a little nibble but nothing too bristly (especially if you let it breathe). In fact, there’s no real gravity at all. Whatever tannic structure the Cabernet brings is counterbalanced by the easygoing Merlot with the Syrah holding the whole thing together.

Food Pairing: Grilled pork tenderloin and pineapple, new potatoes and a green salad
Soundtrack: Beck, Odelay
Best Use: A late spring griller with old friends who you knew before college. Buy a case.


Omission Gluten-Free IPA

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What’s your gorgeous spring day missing? An Aperol Margarita

So bear with me on this one because it may sound a bit culturally inappropriate and downright odd. There are those of us in this world who do not like sugary margarita mix. I’m one of them. Combine the sugar water with a triple sec and woo-baby, sugar spike, calorie binge. They may be delicious but they add up.

So, in the spirit of ingredients that mysteriously add up to delicious things, I present the Aperol Margarita. Made with an Italian digestif rather than triple sec, it actually captures quite well the neighborhood in which it was invented: the Italian Market in Philadelphia, a place where Italian Americans and Mexican people co-exist although they don’t often mingle.

Mingle me this Batman.

Aperol Margarita

1 1/2 oz blanco or reposado tequila (100% agave of course, some recommendations here)
1 1/2 oz Aperol
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice sweetened with agave nectar (to your liking)
Garnish with an orange twist (just the surface zest)

This will be unlike any margarita you’ve had before…call it a “dry” margarita, but it’s great for a spring day when the sun is not radiating you with its death rays and the flowers are blooming.

Five Tequilas no Bar Should be Without

I’m not going to lie to you. This blog should be called the tequilawormgirlblog or something stupid like that but I fell in love with ginsoaked and couldn’t let it go. Tequila, the intoxicating nectar of the Cactus is unique, sexy and very difficult to pair in any simple effective way. You have gin and tonic, vodka soda, whiskey coke, seven and seven…yadda yadda. I’ve tried tequila and seven but uh-uh. Nobody’s blowing their marketing wad on that.

It is a very special liquor for cocktailing. It doesn’t subordinate itself to other liquors so drinks with tequila usually feature the tequila–except for commercially made margaritas where the sugary lime sour almost completely masks the flavor of the tequila. No way Jose. (Sorry about that.)

First of all, it’s important to find a tequila that tastes good as-is. Tossing some rail garbage into the mix is not acceptable. The following tequilas are moderately priced enough that there is no reason to scrimp. This is weighted on the side of blancos ad reposados. I will get into anejos later. Those are not to be toyed with.

Correleo BlancoCorellejo Blanco

This tequila speaks to me. It is such a great mixing tequila because of its fairly neutral yet really round flavor. This is a tequila that I am excited to see represented in a bar. It’s not super common but I will get it every time. With club and a Cointreau floater.

Crafted simply to showcase the Blue Weber Agave, I can taste the attention to detail. It doesn’t slam you in the face but like a good German or British beer, the point is not to “wow” with a shtick but to balance perfectly. It makes a hell of a shot. I’ll leave the splendor to the Anejos.

Other Tequilas of Note

Such a deal for the price. Another fairly neutral tequila that makes a great shot and a great margarita or mixer. It’s got an agave bounce that I really like.

Don Julio Blanco
A little pricier than the other blancos but Don Julio has a little more heft. I would prefer it in a margarita rather than as a shot but I wouldn’t deny it as a sipper either.

Cazadores Reposado
A very light bodied reposado that is excellent for shooting. It is the tequila of the people and should not be ignored. The deer is ubiquotous in the bars in Oregon, much to my pleasure because bars don’t usually pay much attention to their tequila selection and I’m hooked on the sauce.

El Jimador Reposado
Another thrifty reposado that has a slight sweetness and a bit of oak. The brand started as a humble mixtos but came up in the world with 100% pure agave. Now it stays in a manageable price range with a far more developed quality.

Last Chance Rack: 14 Hands Hot to Trot 2010 Red Blend

see: gold on the label. no good.Upshot: Sometimes, just sometimes, don’t judge a wine by its label.

I’m really digging on some red blends these days. It isn’t because I can’t handle the purity of any one grape. More likely it is due to budgetary restrictions that I opt for a safer bet. I admit it, I’m a low end wine drinker–unless you’re buyin, mister (or miss, I don’t discriminate). But blends are great. They go way back to dusty old French monks and can be crafted with such mastery that they cost $40,000,000. But they’re also good for evening out flaws in the grape. More varietals in the mix means more flavors to work with in order to get the best bang for the buck.  Sort of like what this does. (We call it the Jesus-erator, but it has yet to work on water.)

So it was that I bought 14 Hands: Hot to Trot Red Blend for $8.99. Now that’s a bargain.

The Wine Curmudgeon gave Hot to Trot some love, even if he found the name silly. A side note, I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without his straight-shooting advice for the, ahem, thrifty wine buyer. Because as anyone who has read my wine “reviews” may have picked up, I’m a sucker for good design and cute animals on wine labels. I never would have bought this on my own, even with the horses. The font situation is a mess l and I hate anything that’s shiny and gold on my wine bottle. But you know…books : covers :: wine : wine labels. Or whatever.

The results are in! The Trot is an easy sipper. Red fruits abound straight out of the gate but they are mellow rather than fangy. Underneath, you will find some black currant and wet soil, if you are so inclined to taste for things like soil in the flavor profile of your beverage. It’s a Columbia River Valley wine through and through. Made up of primarily Merlot, the Syrah and Cabernet add some structure and spice and that keeps things interesting. (I could have sworn there was some Pinot Noir in the mix, but alas I would have been wrong so I’m glad I didn’t.)

Best Use: Home alone after a day shopping and spending waaaay too much on that pair of shoes, luxuriating in a bubble bath that, like this wine, may be inexpensive but it doesn’t leave you feeling cheap.

Soundtrack: Erykah Badu

Food Pairing: Pizza from Vito’s in Cherry Hill, NJ. I’m sure they deliver to the West Coast.

The Magnificient Wine Co., Steak House Cabernet, Northwest Wines Under $15

Upshot: Buy as many of these bottles as fast as you can and hide them from others

Talk about under $15! We scored the 2010 Steak House Cabernet for 9 bucks. Its fat-font label already captured my imagination, but a handwritten declaration of love by a QFC* employee sealed the deal. After having drunk it on more than one occasion, I do declare that Steak House deserves that level of devotion.

Bearie on the Bottle, the Usual Story

Bearie on the Bottle, the Usual Story

A robust berry trails the wine from first taste to evaporation– blueberry, raspberry and black currant–they all show their faces in this undeniably drinkable crowd-pleaser of a wine. The slight thorniness that bristles mid-drink is assuaged by the ripeness of the berry and the full finish. Barbecue sauce? Did I get a hint of barbecue sauce? I think so.

Aerated, this might be a total hottie. As is, it’s no joke. Like a porterhouse, this is more than satisfying. You may even need a to-go box.  Or, rather, a to-go case. To take home with you. And stash it. In your temperature controlled basement. With the imp. (Just a note, despite memes that suggest otherwise, Tyrion Lannister is not a pimp. He’s a john. Although who knows what will happen in the next season.)

Best Use: DIY “fancy” steakhouse dinner with yer honey.

Soundtrack:  Sly and the Family Stone or Al Green if you’re getting frisky.

Food Pairing:  Spend the money you save on an overpriced Malbec on free-range grass-fed Western beef, garlic rapini and a goat cheese mash!

*QFC is a grocery store chain on the West Coast.

Hendricks Gin: Cucumber, meet Rose

I think most people who have spent any time at all with a bottle have a particular spiritual nemesis (mine is bourbon, which makes me weep like a baby).  But for some reason, gin has this notoriety of turning Dr. Jekylls everywhere into drunk, venom-spewing Mr. Hydes.  I heard this theory the other night while bartending, that the culprit is a sensitivity to juniper berries, which seems plausible. In its unripened form, the juniper berry is hard and green which lends the tannic bitterness to both the gin and its drinker.

Then there’s the seedy side of gin–the roaring twenties with luscious egg-white thickened cocktails. Of course these fancy cocktails came into existence because of the foul taste of nefariously produced ‘bathtub gin.’ Trust me, no one wants an extra-dry martini with soap scum floating at the top.

But we no longer have to resort to the bathtub as distillery, we can leave it to the professionals.  Hendrick’s, for instance, makes a gin so deliciously pure and clear that you are never in danger of a sudsy aftertaste.  Infused with cucumbers and rose petals, this gin has that classic herbaceous quality characteristic of a high end spirit. Unlike London Dry styled gins, the herbs employed in building its aroma aren’t boiled in the still, rather they are steamed, their vapors lending subtle flavor to the liquor. Although it is herbaceous, Hendricks doesn’t drag your palate through the herb garden as does Herbsaint or Absinthe. It may be a bit frilly for Tanqueray drinkers but it is worth straying from the flock for those with an adventurous spirit. And it led the revolution of apothecary styled liquor bottles.

Fun with Mixology: The Hendricks Rosegarden
2.5 oz Hendricks Gin
1 oz Rosehip Liquor
Splash Pink Grapefruit Juice
Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Shake vigorously, strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with rose petals or a cucumber wheel