Dear Customer Part 3

Dear Customer,

Please actually look for an item before you tell me you “can’t find it.” Do you walk into the grocery store and ask the first person you see where the Frosted Flakes are? “Oh I looked and I didn’t see it.”  Really?? That’s probably because you’re in the cosmetics aisle.  The same thing goes for a liquor store.  If you’re standing in the Champagne aisle and ask me where a certain merlot is, I might punch you in the teeth.  Seriously.  It’s probably in the merlot aisle, dummy.  Honestly, I don’t mind pointing something out to you; it’s part of my job to help you find things.  But don’t lie to me.  You didn’t actually look for it, did you.

By the way, it’s right in front of your face.

La Quercia 2008 Montelpuciano d’Abruzzo

As a self respecting Italian woman, I am ashamed to admit: I rarely shop the Italian aisle.  Now, don’t get me wrong- I adore a great sultry Brunello, or a nice, decade old Barbaresco.  When I am given the opportunity to taste Ornellaia I always think it’s incredible.  But the truth is, I rarely find pleasant, inexpensive wines from Italy.  The good ones always seem to cost at least twenty-five bucks, and unfortunately, sometimes I have to stick to my budget.  So generally I explore the other aisles in the store where value reigns: South America, Spain, Côtes du Rhône, zinfandels etc…

La Quercia

So.  When an inexpensive Italian wine impresses me I am flabbergasted.  Such was the case with this sexy little bottle from Abruzzo.

I was heading home after work and needed a bottle to accompany my leftover pasta Bolognese.  (I’d had a spectacular 2001 Brunello with the first batch, so this had a lot to live up to.) I wanted to try something new, and have been recently focusing on expanding my Old World repertoire.  So I looked at a couple Sicilian numbers, thought about an inexpensive Toscana, then veered off toward Southern Italy.  This one caught my eye because it was new to the store and frankly, I liked the label.  Hey, sometimes you have to just roll with your instincts.  And I am so lucky I did.

For only ten bucks this bottle is an absolute steal.  The wine was plump and juicy, with loads of blackberry, plum, and currant.  Mid-palate there were lovely hints of red and purple flowers and something very slightly mushroomy.  I was just plain delighted with this bottle, and have since bought two more for my next adventures in my Italian cookbook.

Side note: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo should not be confused with a Rosso di Montepulciano.  Those wines are made mostly with the local clone of sangiovese.  It’s confusing, I know.  Another reason to stay away from that darn aisle.

Bordeaux Futures

I admit it: I did it.  I gave into the hype.  I bought some 2009 Bordeaux futures.  But I’m not like the zillion other people that are pre-buying these wines.  Many people do it for speculation.  Yuck.  I’m going to keep mine and enjoy them.  In, say, 2025.  Sigh.

Because I am very partial to Right Bank wines, I opted for some St Emilions to hold and savor and a Côtes du Castillon for more immediate consumption.  Here’s what I ordered:

  • Cap de Faugeres
  • Chateau Fombrage
  • Fleur Cardinale
  • Chateau Pavie-Macquin
  • Pagodes de Cos

I’m excited.  This is my maiden voyage into the vast world of buying futures.  I like to think I didn’t get too carried away.  But only time, and lots of it, will tell.

El Nido 2007 “Clio”

It’s no secret to my friends and colleagues that I am partial to Spanish wines.  Generally, I shop that aisle mainly for value; I find that, for my hard earned dollar, the wines from Spain have much more to offer than most other regions.  Usually I spend about fifteen bucks on a solid bottle from Monsant, Campo de Borja, Rioja, or Ribera del Duero.  These areas all put out mostly good wines for a reasonable price.

But this particular wine is not about value.  It’s not about subtlety or terroir.  This wine is about pure, unadulterated, hardcore gratification.  It is extremely dramatic and even overstated.  It’s like wearing a short skirt and sexy, smoky eyeshadow in a dark nightclub.  It’s flashy and outwardly sensual, and isn’t shy about stating its purpose: “Take me home.  Now.”

El Nido Clio

Clio is made by Bodegas El Nido in Jumilla (hoo-me-yah.) It’s a blend of mostly monastrell (mourvedre) with 30% cab to provide tannin and structure.  It is a dark, almost inky, shade of blue-ish black.  The nose is dominated by smokey black fruits, licorice and black pepper.  On the palate, the wine coats the tongue with flavors of currant, black cherry, and velvety blueberry, with the peppery spice lifting it toward its long, almost sweet, luxurious finish.

This is the third vintage of Clio that I’ve encountered and I can easily say it’s well worth its $45 price tag.  I absolutely love this wine.  It is one of the best examples of this wonderful indigenous varietal on the market.

The verdict is still out on cellaring this amazing bottle and/or its big brother, El Nido.  Some experts claim holding it for a decade will improve its balance and substance, and may be a better indication of its true purpose.  Truth be told, I’m not interested in this wine’s integrity.  I don’t care what it will look like in ten years, or even in the light of day.  I don’t want to take it home to meet mom and dad; I don’t need it to make me breakfast.  I just want to love it tonight.

Grape of the Month: Verdejo

We’re going to think a little outside the box this month.  We’re well into summer now; it’s hot and sticky, stormy, and just plain gross.  Plus we’re in the heart of bikini season, which means salads are the dish of choice for most sunbathers.  So what grape is light and refreshing, works great with salads, but is fun, interesting, and widely available? Several grapes fit the bill but this one is at the top of my list.


Verdejo has become one of Spain’s signature white varietals.  Together with albariño it has opened people’s eyes (and tongues) to wines apart from the great reds from Rioja.  And it is absolutely perfect for this season.  Verdejo (ver-day-ho) is a light to medium white wine, with the lively acidity of June’s sauvignon blanc and, potentially, the complexity of May’s elegant viognier.  Historically producers in Rueda turned these grapes into oxidized wines reminiscent of sherry.  But over the last decade it seems winemakers have discovered a much better use for this varietal.  And we’re quite lucky they did.  Often verdejo is blended with Rioja’s white viura (macabeo) and sometimes sauvignon blanc.  I simply love these wines, not just situationally, but for almost any season and any circumstance.  And, perhaps best of all, most wines made with this grape are very affordable.

Sight: You’ll see a bright goldenish hay color with a very very slight greenish tint.  A clear rim should appear on the edges and legs will probably be thin and quickly moving.

Smell: This wine usually smells like a ripe citrus grove.  Orange, nectarine, grapefruit and a hint of peach fuzz really come through.  On the very outside of all this is a faint hint of something slightly herbal.  When blended with sauvignon blanc, more grapefruit and lemon notes come through, while viura’s influence gives it a nutty, floral flair.

Taste: Its flavors are typically driven by tangy grapefruit, peach and tangerine, with fascinating herbal and almond undertones.  It can range from incredibly racy to lithe and supple.  Most will be light and crisp, but slightly viscous and nicely balanced.  Oak treatment is rare; but one barrel fermented verdejo I encountered was stunningly elegant, with a creamy mouthfeel and a lovely hint of nutmeg and vanilla.  These wines are a marvelous match for salads and light pasta dishes, especially anything with oregano or tarragon.  But it is also a unique and vivacious summer white for sitting out on the deck.  Or for me, sitting in the recycled but comfortable air conditioned living room.

Pairing: Scallops with tarragon buerre blanc.  Spinach salad with mandarin oranges.  6-12 month aged manchego.


  • $10-15:  Paso a Paso, Alta Plata, Ipsum, Shaya
  • $15 + up:  Shaya Habis, Naia Des

Victory Indeed

A little while back I posted about my beloved Chicago Blackhawks and their quest for the Cup.  On Wednesday, June 9th, Patrick Kane shot the winning goal past big loser goalie Michael Leighton and secured the team’s place in history.  Watch the chaotic but exhilarating ending:

Way to go champs! So, as promised, I finally explored a Philly brewery to honor the Hawks’ win over the hateful Chris Pronger and the Flyers.

Victory Brewing is technically set up in Downingtown, PA, about thirty miles west of Philadelphia.  It is these fine craftsmen that are behind the wildly popular massive brews Hop Devil and Storm King.  But since I’m a lager and witbeer kind of gal, I took home the lighter Prima Pils, Golden Monkey, and Whirlwind Wit.

Prima Pils

I took home a sixer of the Prima Pils after a very long and trying day at work.  One of my colleagues recommended it for me, stating it was “probably the best pilsner in the store.” Maybe so, but this one wasn’t for me.  I wanted something I could pop the second I walked in the door and chug in thirteen seconds flat.  Sadly, I found the bitter German hops way too harsh.  Generally, I like a more fruity, citrusy, thirst quenching kind of beer.  Still, I can see what people like about this brew: It’s light but not watery, refreshing but not mindless.  I think this is a nice beer for people who want a lot of character but not a lot of body.  And it was a great introduction to a serious brewery.

Whirlwind Wit

Next up was the Whirlwind Wit, which is definitely my kind of beer, especially in the summer.  It’s light and refreshing with a fair amount of citrusy hops.  I can’t say it’s my favorite of this style; there isn’t a lot of depth and it falls just a little flat toward the end.  It’s an enjoyable bottle of beer and Blue Moon loyalists should certainly check it out.  But in the end, where the Prima was too strong, the Whirlwind was a little too dull; and I usually want something right in the middle.

Golden Monkey

The Golden Monkey might just fit the bill.  This is Victory’s delicious Belgian style golden ale.  While still considered a lighter beer, its dense, malty complexity give this ale a ton of personality. I found it frothy and fruity and deliciously spicy, with a little richness and a soft, refreshing hoppy finish.  The Monkey is probably my favorite of the brews I tried, although I’m looking forward to the imminent release of Victory’s summer seasonal Sunrise Weissbier.  This should be right up my alley.

Philadelphia, your sports fans leave a lot to be desired.  These are the jerks that pelted Santa with snowballs and worse yet, booed our precious Jonathan Toews when he won the Smythe trophy.  Shame on you.  But your beers are solid.  I look forward to enjoying another Victory brew soon, and will definitely give your fall seasonal a shout out on November 28th when the Bears meet the Eagles.

Domaine Charvin 2008 Á Côté

Charvin Á Côté

Domaine Charvin usually puts out better than average wines.  The Á Côté is their entry level, declassified type vin de pays wine that is supposed to be immediately accessible.  In an effort to acquaint myself better with old world wines, I thought I’d give it a shot.  For only $11 I expected a modest but decent wine.  Instead I found it thin, tinny, backward and undrinkable.  I don’t expect fruit bombs from this area but I do expect fruit in some capacity.

What a terrible experience! To say I was disappointed in this wine would be a gross understatement.  I used about a cup out of the bottle to deglaze my pork chops and that was essentially the best use of it.  Even Jeff thought it tasted bad.  I might try another one down the road in case it was just an off bottle; but my gut tells me this is just a big strikeout for a usually reputable Rhône producer.