A Glaring Oversight

Last month when we were in the process of moving, one of my many menial tasks was cleaning out the fridge.  For a normal person, this means checking dates on condiments and lunchmeat and chucking expired mayonnaise.  For me, it meant sorting through bottles of booze.  The night before the movers arrived I packed up my treasures and put them in the “One of us takes these in our car” pile.  Because who trusts movers with wine and good beer?  But, in all my wisdom, I left a few bottles of beer in the fridge for moving day and future visits for cleaning and loose ends.  Among these items were: the remainder of a 1.75 of Bailey’s my mother-in-law had given me for Christmas, half a bottle of bloody mary mix, a tired bottle of Bell’s Winter Ale, a couple bottles of Boulevard Zon, a Victory Golden Monkey, and a can of Paddy Pale Ale.  In the freezer sat about two ounces of Sobieski, a darn good vodka for folks on a budget.

Moving day came and I was stuck at the condo with the movers.  It was ninety-two degrees.  On the second floor.  Up and down the stairs with boxes.  By four o’clock I needed a beer in a bad, bad way.  So I opened the fridge and smiled at the Golden Monkey.  I reached in, grabbed the bottle and hugged it to me like a mother to her newborn baby.  I was trying to be discreet because it didn’t seem fair to the movers, who could only have gatorade.  But I didn’t care.  I put the bottle on the counter and opened the drawer where I kept the bottle opener………..

Thus began one of the worst panic attacks in the history of mankind.  I was scrambling.  Where… did I pack… oh my God….. No…. It can’t be…. Nooooooooooooooooo! They were gone.  My old bartender’s tool, my magnetic bottle opener, all my winekeys.  Everything.  They were packed and already on the truck or in my husband’s car on the way to the house.  I searched my purse.  Nothing.  How could I be so foolish?! I scolded the grinning Golden Monkey and tossed it back on the shelf in the fridge.  Boulevard surely used a twistoff.  No.  Shit!  This isn’t happening. Dammit. Even the old lonely bottle of Winter Ale wouldn’t budge.  Fuck. My mind was racing.  Maybe I could use the kitchen countertop like I’ve seen in frat movies. I looked at the bottle, then at the counter. Then again, we just spend $1500 on new counters and I’m pretty sure Jeff wouldn’t understand. The idea of a bloody mary sped through my mind but the thought of tomato juice on a disgustingly hot day made me a tad nauseous.  Besides, all the glassware was packed.  I opened the fridge one last time, hoping to spot a Goose Island or… something.  Anything.  Damn my beer snobbery! If I drank Miller Lite this wouldn’t happen and my thirst would be quenched.

Then, on the verge of tears, the clouds parted and one ray of sun shone down on the one and only option: Paddy’s Pale Ale.  An amazing, brilliant, delicious, thirst-quenching craft brew.  In a can.

Paddy Pale Ale

Suddenly my colleague Pat’s voice echoed in my memory: “You should take this home and try it.  You should know this brewery if you’re going to be living up there!” I looked at the can and there it was: Onion Pub & Brewery, Lake Barrington, Illinois.

The beer itself was a classic American Pale Ale.  It was golden amber colored, smelled of fresh cut grass, lemon zest, and a hint of fresh biscuits.  It was medium bodied, not overly complex, but extremely refreshing under the circumstances.  For me the beer was just ok, but the experience was exhilarating and will last in my memory for many years to come.

Thanks for the sample, Pat.  And thank you Onion Pub & Brewery.  You saved the day.

Tomatoes, Tomatoes and More Tomatoes

Tomatoes and Rosé

Nothing gets the cook in me tingling like tomato season.  Since I don’t grow my own yet, I always depend on the kind donations of friends and colleagues, and this year is no exception.  Thanks to a few generous folks I’ve been making salsa, pico de gallo, pasta sauce and of course, the classic tomato salad.

Absolutely nothing goes better with fresh tomatoes than a good rosé.  My clear favorite this year was the Gustav Lorentz Rosé of Pinot Noir from Alsace.  It’s delicate but full of personality, and with a great tomato salad makes for a fantastic Sunday afternoon.

I’m enjoying it all now before it’s gone in the blink of a Chicago eye…..

Allagash Grand Cru

“Now that’s an adult beverage,” said my colleague.

I just sat there, stunned.  “Holy shit.  Wow.” was all I could muster.  Several smiles and nods of the heads followed, as if what we were experiencing was some miraculous parting of the clouds, and a bright ray of sunshine from God himself had been poured into our tasting cups.

Allagash Grand Cru

The sample that brought about this exchange was an impressive effort from one of the marquis breweries in the Northeast, Allagash.  They call this seasonal their Grand Cru.  Grand indeed.  This beer is citrusy, spicy, refreshing, and just delightful.  Its complexity far outshone its siblings, although Allagash White is the reason I started exploring beer.  The Grand Cru is not excessively hoppy, but its malty presence gives it depth and a full body.  This is just a great brew; certainly awesome on its own but I imagine a spectacular pairing for nutty cheeses and spicy cuisines.

Grape of the Month: Zinfandel

I’m so sick of white wine I could puke. I’m sick of drinking them, talking about them, looking at them, and selling them. Enough! It’s time to get down and dirty, to break out the big hefty reds, to start thinking about fall. And, most importantly, it’s time to ring in a new season of football and tailgating.  And frankly, there’s no better grape to do it with than the one grown best right here on our home turf.

Zinfandel is considered by most America’s heritage grape. We made it our own, and you can’t find it like this anywhere else in the world. Sure, DNA reports have proved Italy’s primitivo is its ancestor. So what? Zinfandel is ours, and no lame scientist is going to take it away. Call it home field advantage. It is saucy, sultry, overstated and just downright American. Like Monday Night Football, apple pie, Bruce Springsteen, and childhood obesity.

Zinfandel grapes generally don’t need too much attention.  In fact, this grape is best grown in dry, hot conditions, where the roots have to work extra hard to produce healthy fruit.  The warmer, sunnier parts of California have turned out some awesome zins over the last two decades, specifically Paso Robles, Lodi and Dry Creek Valley.  These wines are in-your-face, full-bodied, full-throttle and just plain sexy.  In recent years some zin producers have shied away from hefty, overripe styles; leaning more toward soft and elegant wines.   These zinfandels may have complexity and longevity; but in my opinion, are lacking in real style.  For me, the best zins are ripe, spicy, fruit driven, and outrageously flashy.

Sight: This wine is very dark, maroonish, almost purple in hue.  It shows slow-moving, thicker legs due to its usually very high alcohol content.

Smell: On first take the wine shouts “Beware!” It reeks of ripe, sensual blackberries and raspberries.  Then, faint at first but accelerating into prominence are the discernible hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, cedar, and smoke.

Taste: Even the first sip of a great zin is extraordinary.  This wine is everything an American palate dreams of: big fruit, intense spice, deep, rich flavors, and soft but supple tannins.  Good zin really grabs you by the collar, shakes you a bit, and slaps you in the face with its substantial flavors.  It tastes of raspberry jam, strawberry rhubarb pie, licorice, pepper and cinnamon.  And the best zins balance all these flavors in one (albeit big) sip.

Pairing: Pasta with spicy tomato sauce, chili, barbeque ribs or slow-cooked pulled pork.

Recommendations:

  • $10-15: Gnarly Head, Rosenblum Vintner’s Cuvée, Cantele Primitivo
  • $15-30: Four Vines Biker, Hartford, Dashe, Quivera, Pezzi King
  • $30-50: Old Ghost, Robert Biale Black Chicken
  • Before you die: Martinelli

Patriot Day

Nine years ago today, I woke up to my phone ringing incessantly. I looked through blurred eyes at a clock that read 8:20. No one I care to talk to could be calling me this freaking early. Then I heard my brother’s voice on the answering machine. Something about “… and please don’t go into any malls or tall buildings today. I love you.” I awoke completely, startled and nervous, and turned on the television.

What I saw that morning, like all other Americans, was the devastation that was 9/11. I’ll never forget the feeling of horrified confusion, followed by sheer terror and eventually, outrage and utter heartbreak.

For two hundred and thirty four years Americans have celebrated the birth of our country on July 4th. But since 2001, unfortunately there is another day to stop and remember our great nation and all that have fought and fallen for us. To remember who we are, where came from, what we’ve been through, and the very best of what we can be.

God Bless America

This year on 9/11, I’m drinking some classic American wine and saluting our fallen friends, family, neighbors and heroes.

Dear Customer Part 5

Dear Customer,

It is not my fault the store got rearranged, we don’t sell sugar-free Red Bull, or the hours  have changed.  It’s probably not my fault we’re not carrying a certain wine anymore.  I am not a part of the upper management team that makes those decisions.  I am just the underpaid schmuck that has to do all the manual labor and deal with the annoying public.  So quit bitching at me.