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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2005

A few weeks ago we had a little accident. A stack of wine cases fell over, and 91.66 percent of the bottles in the one on top broke.

The upside was that it made the cellar smell really good. Based on that aroma, I decided that I definitely wanted to try the Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2005 (Maipo Valley, Chile).

And so I am. It's a nice, well-balanced Chard, and, like many Chardonnays, its character changes with the temperature. Cold, straight out of the fridge, it's bitter and acidic. (That's not the time any white wine shows its best, though. They should sit out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before pouring.) After it warms up a bit it is balanced, slightly oaky, and slightly acidic.

This makes it a good food wine (though I certainly won't try to pair it with the burgers currently on the grill), but not an ideal cocktail wine -- better to go with something more overtly oaky for that. However, if I were serving a fowl or certain seafoods tonight, the Marques would be a good match. Your local store should be selling it for about $15-$17 per bottle.

If nothing else, it makes a great air freshener....
M. Zane Grey, 8:16 PM | link |

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A.

Every now and then, the Wine Canine likes a good brew. And today seemed like a perfect day to have one -- sunny, mid-70s, and the end of the week! (Well, it's just a symbolic end since I work tomorrow, but it still feels as though a little pressure is off.)

What I was really after was an outstanding American ESB, but the helpful on-staff beer enthusiast at the Payless in Zionsville (the big one, not the one next to the Bentley dealer) suggested that I try a new brew they had just gotten in called Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A., an India Pale Ale made with rye malt. It was $6 for a 22 ounce bottle, and at 10 percent alcohol I figured that one would be plenty. (At least it would hold me until tonight's Chardonnay was chilled -- more on that later.)

It's almost worth six bucks just to read the bottle. This ale is made under the He’Brew label ("The Chosen Beer"), which is in turn made by the Shmaltz Brewing Company of Saratoga, New York. The brew itself, a tribute to the late comic Lenny Bruce ("late" in this case meaning "dead for 40 years"), is indeed bitter and sweet, and really quite good. It is very dark for an IPA -- dark enough that when it is poured into a clear glass it is a match for the brown bottle in which it is delivered.

My first thought on being confronted with a rye-malt ale was of rye bread, and I had a little trouble wrapping my mind around what that flavor would be like. But rye bread doesn't taste like rye -- it tastes like the caraway seeds that flavor it, and this ale is nothing like that. It's thick, dark, rich and mouthfilling, and it satisfied my craving for an ESB; the front of the tongue gets the sweetness going in, and the back of the tongue gets the bitterness on the finish.

Initially, I wryly typed "Is this a malt beverage, or is it life?" as the last line of the above paragraph, and allowed myself a congratulatory sip for how clever I was. Then I read the tiny type on the side label, which says (in part -- it's kind of like reading a Dr. Bronner's bottle): "...savor the provocative spirit of Lenny's R.I.P.A., our He’Brew monument to the richness, the bitterness and the sacred sweetness that is life...L’Chaim!"

So maybe I'm not clever -- but at least I get it. If you're a devotee of IPAs and ESBs, you should too.
M. Zane Grey, 6:35 PM | link |

Things to Do (3/30 – 3/31)

Here is the most recent installment of Evan Finch's occasional Things to Do email newsletter.

Art Adams
Radio Radio
Friday, March 30

Art Adams is a bona fide old 1950s rockabilly cat, and a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (yes, there is a Rockabilly Hall of Fame). He’ll be playing Radio Radio this Friday, and cover is a ridiculously cheap $5. Mandy Marie and the Cool Hand Lukes will open around 9 PM. You’ll find the club at 1117 East Prospect in Fountain Square.

Phone: 317.955.0995

* * *

St. Benno Fest
Saturday, March 31

I’m not sure who Saint Benno is, or why Germany thinks so much of him. But he’ll be arriving (I know, just play along) around 6 PM at the Athenaeum (401 East Michigan Street) Saturday night, accompanied by (and this is the important part) “Herr Bock,” who is a professional goat impersonator wearing a straw hat. Bock beer will flow, springtime will be officially welcomed, and a polka contest and grand march will inevitably ensue. Entertainment is to be provided by Jay Fox and his Bavarian Showtime Band. Tickets are $15 at the door, or $12 in advance if you call that number underneath this line of copy.

Phone: 317.630.4569 ext. 1

* * *

National Hamster Ball Derby
A PetCo Near You
Saturday, March 31

Beginning at 2 PM this Saturday, hamsters inside plastic balls will race down an eight-foot track in heats of four. Winning hamsters will receive trophies and some sort of fancy hamster accoutrements. There is an exciting (if somewhat misleading) flash animation at: . That page also has a space for you to enter your zip code, and find the participating PetCo nearest you. Spectators are welcome – and if you have a competitive hamster and a ball, bring it along. Registration is free, and it will give your hamster a rare opportunity for self-actualization.

Phone: Varies from store to store

* * *

Steve Earle’s Kid
Spencer’s Stadium Tavern
Saturday, March 31

Justin Townes Earle, of Nashville, has been playing music for several years with the Swinders and the Distributors. Saturday night, he’ll be at Spencer’s (nice place, Spencer’s) doing a solo set. Door is $7, and the show starts at 8 PM. You’ll find Spencer’s at 802 South West Street, where it meets McCarty.

Phone: 317.916.8888

* * *


Wes Janz is Associate Professor of Architecture at Ball State, and he’s fascinated by the potential of “leftover material” to serve as building materials for the urban homeless. On Friday, April 6, from 5 to 9 PM, the Dean Johnson gallery ( will host a group installation exhibit with the work of Janz and his students. Between now and then, you can read a good Archinect article about Janz’ “One Small Project” by going to: .

Neko Case is playing The Vogue on Tuesday, April 10. Tickets are $20 in advance, on sale now from the Vogue ( or any Ticketmaster outlet.

From 6 to 9 PM on Friday, April 13th, the Harrison Center for the Arts will present new work by textile artists Elyce Elder and Karen Woods (with music afterwards by North Carolina singer/songwriter Jason Harrod).

And a little later on Friday, April 13th, New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo will be playing The Vogue. Tickets to that show are $15 in advance, and are on sale now from the Vogue ( or any Ticketmaster outlet.

I’m done talking about Josh Roush.

* * *


The Lucky Find Gazette, which so fascinated me last week with antique envelope liners, now bedazzles me with Phrygian Bonnets and a canny observation vis-à-vis Papa Smurf:

Seriously, anybody who can wax eloquent on The Scarlet Pimpernel and then segue neatly into a discussion of 1972 NHL expansion teams has a place in my heart.

Speaking of the NHL, you can still get copies of Gump Worsley’s autobiography at:

And speaking of things with places in my heart, check out these melamine, paint-by-number dinner plates:
M. Zane Grey, 7:42 AM | link |

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Terlato tasting report

Just got back from the Terlato Wines / Monarch Beverage tasting at Fleming's Steakhouse. Here's a brief rundown of what I thought were the standouts:

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV, Champagne, France. Creamy, toasty, bubbly -- everything I want a Champagne to be. Wine Spectator 90. $55-$60 per bottle.

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2001, Tuscany, Italy. If I could have had my choice of wines to take home as a door prize, this would have been it. Delicious and complex, with enough bottle age to give it a silky smoothness. I'll be taking a bottle of this home with me very soon, probably to accompany a beef tenderloin. Thank goodness I get a discount. Wine Advocate 91. $65-$70 per bottle.

Wairau River Pinot Noir 2005, Marlborough, New Zealand. Very light in color, but very big in the nose and flavor departments. Delicious. Not yet rated. $25-$27 per bottle.

Rutherford Hill Chardonnay 2005, Napa Valley, California. Quintessential California Chard, oaky and creamy with no trace of bitterness. Either not yet rated or Wine Enthusiast 90; a little confusion on that point. I'd buy it anyway. $19-$20 per bottle.

Chimney Rock Fumé Blanc 2005, Napa Valley, California. No grapefruit or grassiness here, but some distinct smokiness and a nice mouthfeel. Very nice wine, but for $70-$75 per bottle one kind of expects that. Not yet rated.

Two Hands "Yesterday's Hero" Grenache 2005, Barossa Valley, Australia. The wonderful, huge Grenache nose is a tough act to follow, and the palate isn't quite up to the task. It's still awfully nice, though. Wine Spectator 89. $45-$49 per bottle.

Two Hands "Gnarly Dudes" Shiraz 2003, Barossa Valley, Australia. All of the Two Hands wines are excellent, but this is a fruit-forward blockbuster and a bargain to boot. Big jammy Shiraz nose, followed by big jammy Shiraz fruit. Wow. Drink it to wash down a big American cheeseburger. Wine Advocate 90. $21-$23 per bottle.

Two Hands "Brilliant Disguise" Moscato 2006 (500 ml), Barossa Valley, Australia. Apricot and honey coat the tongue, then sizzle off with the light fizzyness. Delightful. Wine Spectator 85. (What was wrong with them that day?) $19-$20 per bottle.

Peller Estate Vidal Blanc Icewine 2004 (375 ml), Niagara Peninsula, Canada. This is some good stuff -- plenty sweet, but the sweetness is moderated by the oak, which also contributes to a creamy mouthfeel. Much more to my taste than its Riesling sibling, which was just ... sweet. Not yet rated. $30-$33 per bottle.

Peller Estate Cabernet Franc Icewine 2004 (375 ml), Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Where the heck to they get Cab Franc in Canada? Well, it doesn't matter -- this is a lovely pink, fruity, sweet (but not too sweet) wine. I was trying to place the taste; I think it was cranberries. If you can find it, squirrel a bottle or two away for Thanksgiving. (Or Canadian Thanksgiving, eh?) Not yet rated. $46-$50 per bottle.
M. Zane Grey, 5:15 PM | link |

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cline's fine wines

Last week a rep from the recently revitalized Jacuzzi Family Vineyards came by. He was a pleasure to talk with — he wasn't one of those guys who just runs through the facts and figures about each wine in his portfolio, but a real wine enthusiast who obviously enjoyed having conversation about wines, the wine business, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, among other things.

I learned quite a few things from him, some interesting, some surprising.

For starters, I learned that Jacuzzi Family Vineyards makes very nice, all from Italian varietals grown in California. We tried several, including a Pinot Grigio, a Primitivo, a Nebbiolo and a Sangiovese. I look forward to ingesting all of them when they hit our market, with the possible exception of the Primitivo, which I'll have to sample again before passing judgement. It wasn't a bad wine at all — it just wasn't what I had hoped it would be; once I rid myself of that expectation and appreciate it for what it is, I may decide I like it.

The Jacuzzi Family Vineyards are a spinoff of Cline Cellars, which found itself with a huge infusion of cash to do something with after making a lot of money with the wildly successful Red Truck wine, and then selling the brand. Fred Cline's maternal grandmother was a Jacuzzi (yes, that kind of Jacuzzi), and he decided to build a new winery just like her family used to have back in Italy, before they moved to the United States. As it happened, the architectural drawings for the original winery still exist, so the new winery will be a reasonably accurate reproduction, updated for the 21st Century.

Cline makes some consistently excellent wines at reasonable prices. I'm particularly fond of their Zinfandels, and their $10 Pinot Grigio-Chardonnay blend is a refreshing, easy-to-drink, warm-weather crowd pleaser. Their Oakley-labeled wines (fourWHITES and fiveREDS) are hearty, flavorful blends, and the fact that they make four different kinds of Mourvèdre (but no Merlot) should tell you Cline is a winery that doesn't run with the pack.

I already knew that Cline's winery was solar powered (they even sell electricity back to their power company), so it didn't surprise me to learn that all of their grapes are produced using organic, sustainable farming methods. What did surprise me is that they don't mention that on their labels because it's been shown to be a "marketing negative." (!) That may be because many of the wines that trumpet their organic origins are mediocre at best, but whatever the cause it's an unfortunate association. It's been my experience that organically-produced foods are more fragrant and flavorful, and such should be the case with wine — it certainly is with Cline's.
M. Zane Grey, 8:00 PM | link |

Monday, March 26, 2007

Le Bon Vin Merlot 2004

Don Sebastiani is doing a great job with his various brands -- Smoking Loon, Pepperwood Grove, Screw Kappa Napa, Aquinas, Plungerhead, and LBV (le bon vin de la Napa Valley) among others. They all serve as examples of how good négociant wines can be.

The Le Bon Vin Merlot is very good -- it has a fragrant nose, plenty of body, soft tannins, and is easy to drink. (It has a great label, too. ) The Syrah and Petite Sirah that are blended into it give it a character similar to but different that such blends as Pillar Box Red or Sarah's Blend.

For an under-$15 red wine, it's a great choice -- I'll definitely buy it again, because I like Petite Sirah. It's a bit uncharacteristic though, so if you have a specific hankering for a Merlot you might be happier with something else. But if it's just a good, satisfying, quaffable red that you're after, this wine delivers.
M. Zane Grey, 9:22 PM | link |

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My annual rant

Every year, the Indiana General Assembly convenes. And every year, the old saying, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session"* comes to mind.

Now, I studied political science and journalism in college and worked as a lobbyist for eight years, so I may be a tad more cynical about the process than the average citizen. But here's the way I see it: With some exceptions, it's all about money, and whoever has the most effective lobbyists generally wins. (The general public doesn't employ lobbyists, so guess who loses a lot of the time? But more about that shortly.)

For wine enthusiasts, the two most significant issues that keep coming back are about direct shipments of wine and what a "grocery store" is.

Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the states' laws regarding the shipment of wine had to be reciprocal -- that is, if the wineries within a state were allowed to ship out, wineries outside the state had to be allowed to ship in. Or, similarly, if out-of-state wineries were forbidden to ship in, then in-state wineries couldn't ship out.

In state legislatures, this had the effect of pitting local wineries -- who very much want to be able to ship their products out of state -- against the wine distributing companies, who don't want to lose any money to direct shipments. Of course, the distributors and their lobbyists claim that they're only concerned about the children who would surely order wine over the Internet.

Well, that's utterly transparent bullshit -- it's all about the grickles, period. (Hell, I ordered a T-shirt from Elyse Winery, and UPS wouldn't leave that without an adult signature!) Generally speaking, when it comes to alcoholic beverages the under-21 set is interested in whatever is cheap, easily available and effective -- not exactly the profile of a consumer of fine wine. And is Junior really going to be able to go online and order wine with a charge card, arrange to be home when UPS or FedEx comes, and convince the driver that he's of legal drinking age -- AND not get caught by Mom or Dad? Not too bloody likely, I'd say.

No, the real issue is money. The distributors are afraid that they'll lose money if wineries can ship to their customers directly. But how much would they lose, really? Right now, to distribute their wines to all of the United States, wineries only have to deal with no more than 50 entities -- distributors, who buy in bulk. Could Columbia Crest distribute 90,000 cases of their best selling Merlot without distributors? Absolutely not. And shipping a bottle or two -- even a case or two -- is expensive. A distributor might pay up to a dollar a bottle for shipping, while an individual is more likely to pay $20 for UPS Ground. Believe me, direct shipping wouldn't put any distributors out of business.

In Indiana, the wineries prevailed, although the resulting law is so convoluted that most out-of-state wineries still won't ship in. Here's the way it works (or doesn't):

Wineries can obtain a $100 permit to direct ship into Indiana if they sell less than 500,000 gallons (or 210,300 cases) in Indiana and the Indiana consumer makes an initial onsite visit to the winery and provides the following:

(A) Name, telephone number, Indiana address, or consumer’s Indiana business address;

(B) Proof of age by a state-issued driver’s license or state-issued identification card showing the consumer to be at least twenty-one (21) years of age;

(C) A verified statement, made under penalties for perjury, that the consumer is at least 21 years of age, has an Indiana address and intends to use the wine for personal use and not for resale. 

Then, if the winery does not have a wholesaler in the state of Indiana, and the winery qualifies with the Secretary of State to do business in Indiana, and pays excise, sales, and use taxes monthly directly to Indiana, then they can ship you some wine.

But wait! There's more! An Indiana resident may not receive more that 24 cases a year by direct shipment -- and if a winery ships even one bottle to a Hoosier who has already hit his 24-case limit, then the winery can be charged with a felony.

Obviously, this law wasn't written to benefit the consumer -- but hey, the general public doesn't have a lobbyist, remember? The good news is that the camel's nose is under the tent, and this law is so ridiculous that it will fall to a legal challenge sooner or later. Let's hope sooner.

Next up: What is the definition of a grocery store, and who cares anyway?

It could be that you care, and don't even know it. Some of the best wine shops in Indiana, including Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville, Cork & Cracker and the Cork Marketplace in Indianapolis, Cost Plus in Carmel, Jane's Gourmet in Lafayette, the Old World Market in Valparaiso and the now-defunct C’est Cheese in Evansville, operate (or did operate) with grocery licenses. So do those businesses that are more obviously grocery stores -- Marsh, Kroger, et al -- as well as Costco, Target, Wal-mart, Sam's Club and Village Pantry.

Stores that have grocery licenses operate under a different set of laws than liquor stores do. Grocery stores can just sell beer and wine; liquor stores can sell spirits as well. (So can pharmacies, go groceries that have pharmacies can sell spirits too.) Liquor stores can hold in-house tastings; groceries and pharmacies cannot. People under the age of 21 can enter grocery stores and pharmacies legally, but not liquor stores. Groceries can't sell cold beer; liquor stores can't sell cold sodas (unless they're in vending machines outside, which they frequently are). Liquor stores can't sell food, other than snacks. And liquor store permits cost more and are harder to get that grocery permits.

Not surprisingly, the liquor store people want to make it illegal for the grocery store people to sell beer and wine -- particularly at convenience stores like Village Pantry, where people can pick up a (warm) six-pack along with their gasoline, cup of coffee, can of spaghetti sauce and lottery ticket.

For a while, the liquor stores argued that anyplace that sold gasoline wasn't a grocery store but a filling station, and filling stations aren't allowed to sell beer or wine. But Marsh owns Village Pantry, and Kroger, Costco and Sam's Club sell gas. The lines are blurry.

There's a lot more to the issue, and I'm not sure I own enough electrons to cover all the nuances on this blog. What it boils down to is this: The liquor stores are trying to make it tough for grocery stores to sell beer and wine, and that potentially has an impact on you, the wine consumer.

The liquor stores are claiming that they're only thinking of the children (does this sound familiar?) and the local neighborhoods who may not want a convenience store that peddles beer and wine in their midst. So, can't that be taken care of at the local level, through zoning hearings? Is it really necessary to create state laws to address neighborhood issues? And what is it that makes it OK for the Cork & Cracker to sell wine and groceries in their location (and the Marsh next door to them, for that matter), but not OK for the Village Pantry a block away to sell beer and groceries?

Well, guess what: The liquor stores aren't concerned about the neighborhoods, or that the chilluns might be exposed to seeing beer and wine on store shelves. They're concerned about their bottom lines. Period. They're paying their lobbyists to protect and expand their turf, while you consumers -- oh, you don't have a lobbyist, do you? Pity.

Beyond that, grocery licenses make it more affordable for budding entrepreneurs to go into business as wine merchants. And wine shops / gourmet groceries are pleasant, wholesome places for the whole family to go. The kids don't have to stay out in the car while Mom or Dad shops, and if they do go in there aren't any girlie mags to shock their sensibilities.

What may happen is that the existing wine shops / gourmet groceries will be grandfathered, and protected by new legislation that will curtail the establishment of new, similar shops. The owners of the grandfathered shops won't care, because their licenses will suddenly be worth lots more. Who will lose? Potential entrepreneurs and consumers. But you don't have a lobbyist, do you? Pity.

The Indiana General Assembly will likely be deciding the grocery store issue next week. If you care about it, call your legislators.

*Attributed to Mark Twain or Gideon J. Tucker.
M. Zane Grey, 10:11 PM | link |

Things to Do (3/22 - 3/24)

Here is the most recent installment of Evan Finch's occasional Things to Do email newsletter.

Gomer’s Pile
Melody Inn
Thursday, March 22

Once a year or so, members of various local bands (Born Again Floozies, ESW and Phyllis, among others) get together and do a set of cover songs, honoring one particular artist. In the past, they’re presented musical tributes to such artists as Devo and The Who. This year, it’s U2. Music starts at 9:30 PM, and the Melody Inn is at 3826 North Illinois Street.

Phone: 317.923.4707

* * *

Born Again Floozies/Ebenezer and the Hymnasters
The Old Centrum
Friday, March 23

Centrum Live is a new, all-ages (and non-smoking) concert series that will be taking place every so often in the auditorium of the Old Centrum—an old church building at 1201 North Central Avenue.

Opening act Katy Bowser will start at 7:30 PM (followed, I expect, by the Hymnasters and Floozies, in that order). Tickets are $8 in advance, and/or $10 at the door. NOTE: Booze will be available if you’re over 21.

Phone: 317.222.1122
Web: and, what the heck, http://

* * *

State Surplus Sealed Bid Sale
State Surplus Warehouse (601 West McCarty, Suite 100)
Friday, March 23 – Saturday, March 24

Every couple of months, the state holds one of these surplus sales, where they sell off old office equipment, copiers, computer equipment, chairs, typewriters, file cabinets, cool old vending machines, et cetera. All bids are submitted in sealed envelopes, and high bidders are notified a few days after the auction (like analog eBay, except you only get one chance to bid). Anyway, you can check out the merchandise Friday (between 8 AM and 3 PM) and Saturday (between 8 AM and Noon) at the State Surplus Warehouse, located at 601 West McCarty Street, Suite 100.

Phone: 317.234.3691
Web: I forget. Sorry.

* * *

The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes
Key Cinemas
Friday, March 23 – Thursday, March 29

The Brothers Quay are freaky American-born twin filmmakers who live and work in England, and The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes is their latest movie. It starts playing at Key Cinemas (4044 South Keystone Avenue) this Friday, and will play for a week. Prices and showtimes are listed on the Key Cinemas website, listed below. NOTE ONE: Though the Brothers Quay are known for their animated films, this movie is live-action (with some animated elements). NOTE TWO: Here are some reviews of the movie: .

Phone: 317.784.7454

* * *

Holliday Park Trail Run
Holliday Park
Saturday, March 24

The Holliday Park Trail Run takes place (as you’d expect) in Holliday Park, at 6363 Spring Mill Road. The five-mile race starts this Saturday morning at 9:30 AM (followed by a one-mile run for kids 6-12 at 10:40 AM, and a shorter “Tot Trot” for infants and embryos at 10:50 AM). Race day registration starts at 8 AM, and lasts till 9 AM. It’s $20 to enter. The field is limited to 500, but I’m guessing they might have room for a few stragglers. NOTE ONE: The course goes over park trails, into river beds, and off-road for a bit—so expect to get muddy. Oh, and watch out for roots. NOTE TWO: I ran this race one time and got a bag of Hurst beans in my race packet. Which is about the coolest thing I’ve ever gotten in a race packet.

Phone: N/A

* * *


Neko Case is playing The Vogue on Tuesday, April 10. Tickets are $20 in advance, on sale now from the Vogue ( or any Ticketmaster outlet.

Even better, Yo La Tengo is playing The Vogue on Friday, April 13. Tickets to that show are $15 in advance, and are also on sale now from The Vogue or any Ticketmaster outlet.

Josh Roush is also playing The Vogue, on Monday, April 16. The one time I saw him, I left his show early because he said snide things about the Knights of Columbus carnival across the street, and just generally seemed like a uptight jerk. (Seriously, what kind of boob badmouths a Knights of Columbus carnival?) On the other hand, this appearance is part of the Rock For Riley Concert Series, so the cause is good enough.

* * *


Earlier this week, my friend Jen Bingham directed me to the Lucky Find Gazette:

It’s an online journal, full of all kinds of cool junk-shop ephemera. I was especially knocked out by these semi-psychedelic old envelope liners, which apparently launched the modern wrapping paper industry:

It doesn’t take much to fascinate me, peoples. It really doesn’t.
M. Zane Grey, 5:27 PM | link |

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring has sprung!

Man, is it ever nice outside! (Sunny and 71°F in my neck of the woods.) If your grill isn't ready to go yet, open all the windows in your house while you make this.

Vernal Equinox Chicken
Serves 4, with leftovers

8 boneless chicken thighs (or 6 bone-in), skin removed
1 large yellow onion, chopped medium
1 yellow pepper, cleaned and chopped
5 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
12 fingerling potatoes, quartered
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbs capers
4 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 lemon
2 tsp red pepper flakes
small amount of chocolate
olive oil
Amontillado Sherry
heavy cream
white pepper
dried basil
dried marjoram

Pour enough olive oil into the bottom of a large sauté pan to cover, and sauté chopped onions over medium heat until soft. Remove onions from pan and cook chicken on both sides until browned; add a splash of sherry and a bit more oil if necessary to prevent the chicken from sticking to the pan.

After chicken has browned add the onions back into the pan, followed by the chopped garlic, mushrooms, potatoes, yellow pepper, red pepper flakes, a palmful (about 1 1/2 Tbs) of basil and another splash of sherry, perhaps 1/4 cup. Cover pan and simmer until mushrooms are soft and brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add diced tomatoes, capers, Dijon mustard, 1 Tbs marjoram and the juice of one lemon and simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Also add a bit of chocolate to moderate the acidity of the tomatoes -- one square of unsweetened baker's chocolate should do it, or a small handful of semisweet morsels. To thicken sauce, combine flour and cream in a mixing bowl to make a thick, viscous liquid and stir into the pan until sauce is thickened. Grind fresh white pepper to taste over the entire mixture and stir in. Simmer uncovered on low heat until desired consistency is reached, no more than 15 minutes. Remove from heat for 10 minutes to rest; stir one final time before serving.

This would be good served with rice, risotto or buttered pasta. Pair with a Rhône-style red, or if you prefer white, a good Muscadet or a moderately oaky Chard.
M. Zane Grey, 6:45 PM | link |

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jest Red? No, it's Just Fred

Spanish wines are jumping into my car more often than they used to. And that's fine with me -- they're exotic yet friendly, and an excellent value.

Tonight's stowaway was Celler el Masroig's 2005 Solà Fred, a 90 percent Carignan - 10 percent Grenache from the Montsant region. It's a dark plum color, medium to full bodied, with some good up-front fruit underlaid with a firm but not intrusive tannic structure. It carries a moderate 13.5 percent alcohol content -- quite a pleasant change from the over-15 percent New World wines that seem to be vying to be the new norm.

It's important to me that a wine have a good nose, and Solà Fred doesn't disappoint. I spent a good long time with my snoot in the glass, trying to identify the aromas coming at me. Blackberry and plum for sure, just a tinge of leather, and some other components that I never got around to identifying. The mouthfeel is good, and there's plenty of dark fruit flavor. Over the next few years this wine will soften some, but there's certainly no reason to not enjoy it right now.

At nine bucks a bottle, Fred is a wine buddy you'll enjoy taking out for burgers, pizza or tapas, or just hanging out on the deck with after a day of work.
M. Zane Grey, 9:38 PM | link |

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trash can smoker plans

The page describing how to build a garbage-can smoker is here.
M. Zane Grey, 10:15 PM | link |

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mitolo Jester Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Tonight's dinner is to be capellini with homemade Puttanesca sauce, and I was pondering what wine to have. An Italian wine would be appropriate, but I was in the mood for something else.

Then I remembered the Mitolo Jester Cabernet. It's made by a family with an Italian heritage in Australia, and they use the same method used with Amarones -- 20 percent of the grapes are drjied for eight weeks before pressing. The juice is then patially barrel-fermented and then undergoes a natural malolactic fermentation; after that it's aged in used (but fairly young) French oak barrels for nine months.

The resulting wine is bit, smooth, rich and concentrated, with enough tannin to make it a good match for beef. It is is quite a satisfying drink, from the deep blueberry nose to the tongue-coating texture and spicy palate, all the way through the long, long finish. It may have enough acid to get along with the Puttanesca sauce, but even if it doesn't I sure don't regret bringing this one home!

You should be able to find this wine for $18-$20 a bottle -- and at that price, it's a tremendous bargain. This is a new-world Cab with an old-world spin, and well worth the effort to find. I just may need to revisit this wine with some Bistecca alla Florentine....

As it turned out the Mitolo Cab was just fine with the Puttanesca sauce. But then, I had added my secret ingredient to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes: Chocolate.

The recipe I used may be found here. Besides the addition of a square of unsweetened chocolate, I strayed from the instructions by doubling the amount of pepper flakes (next time, quadruple!) and using a heavy hand with the basil. Dee-lish!
M. Zane Grey, 7:39 PM | link |

Friday, March 16, 2007

Cuvee Alexandre creeps upscale

Well, maybe it isn't surprising that after getting 90-point scores for five vintages in a row, the price of Casa Lapostolle's Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay is getting a bump. This wonderfully balanced and consistently excellent wine used to list for $20, but as of March 1 its front-line retail price is $25. In practice, that means that a wine that used to sell for at a discounted price of $17 will now run closer to $22. That means it will now be competing with the likes of Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Chateau St. Jean's Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay and Neyers Chardonnay, among a host of others.

In practice, it may mean that the discounts will come at the end of the vintage instead of the beginning, and that in a year from now we'll be able to buy the 2005 Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay for $17 because the distributor needs to make room for the 2006. No worries -- it will still be a good wine in a year, and in the meantime there are plenty of delicious alternatives in the $15-$20 range....
M. Zane Grey, 10:40 PM | link |