Friday, December 5, 2008

I Am Drinking F%$&ing Merlot!

Slowly recovering from the bashing it received in the movie Sideways, Merlot is showing promise in two up-and-coming wine regions in the United States. Tonight I was fortunate enough to taste two wines made from two distinct climates, more than 3,000 miles apart.

McRitchie Merlot 2006
One of my favorite vineyards in NC, McRitchie Winery epitomizes how far the NC Wine industry has come and is a stellar producer of French-style wines in the Yadkin Valley.

This wine is reminiscent of some of the more powerful right-bank Bordeaux, but with more New-World influence. The wine aged for 16 months in oak which reflected in the mouthfeel, but was well integrated into the nose. The tasting notes reveal "enticing aromas of black cherry, mocha and jammy fruit."

Yep. There were nice hints of sour cherry on the nose with a lot of blackberry jam. The palate consisted of more fruit flavors than anything else, but they were supported nicely by some baking spice and a touch of oak. This wine was surprisingly rich with tannins.

When paired with dark chocolate, more interesting flavors emerged. I caught a flash of rosemary as the chocolate neutralized some of the wines tannin and disguised the wines "sweeter" flavors. Earthy aromas and flavors emerged with more balance as the wine aerated during the evening.

Overall, this is a very good wine; the best Merlot from NC that I have tried, if not THE best, period. It is definitely ready for drinking, but if you are feel daring, put some away for a couple years. I am.

$18.00/80 cases made

14 Hands Merlot 2006

I tasted this wine a couple weeks ago at a Thanksgiving-themed wine tasting. It was one of the more impressive wines of the bunch, but showed much better tonight without the influence of having tried 15 other wines.

The grapes were sourced from Washington's prominent regions, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley and the
Wahluke Slope. The cooler climate of the Northwest provides some more complex flavors while maintaining acid structure.

This wine also reminded me of some Bordeauxs that I have tried, but I was still surprised to discover from the winemaker's notes that the wine also contained "5% Grenache, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 4% other select red varieties." I guessed that the wine was aged in new French oak, although it was in fact between 70% American and 30% French, from new to four years old. I am not familiar with the many types of yeasts available to winemakers, but the fermentation process definitely made this an interesting wine.

At first sniff, this wine has nice earthiness with a hint of buttery, toasty oak. The oak is almost too much for me, but it whiffs away after some opening. Much mellower than the McRitchie Merlot, this wine exhibits the benefits of a longer growing season that cooler climate wines possess. Its complexity is staggering, doing an about-face every time I come back to the wine. Flavors of cherry, earth, herbs, hints of veggie, coffee and meatiness have all shown nicely.

The 14 Hands Merlot begs for food. The high acidity cooperates with a variety of foods, especially mild cheeses. I even tried it with dried fruit and gingersnaps, both worked a treat. Try it with smoked salmon, grilled chicken or steak. I won't begin to deny the goodness of a steak and cheese quesadilla with this wine.

The web site does not list the 2006 for sale, and they are out of the 2005. Keep your eyes peeled for it. At less than $20, it is an amazing value and a true expression of the Great Northwest.

<$20/No production statement. I think this one is there if you really look for it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

SC Redeems Self with "Tax Free" 2nd Amendment Holiday

Every year, Thanksgiving promises the same: Turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, pies, etc. This year, upon returning to South Carolina I quickly found out that the state gave its residents a reason to be thankful--for the 2nd amendment--by offering a tax free holiday on all guns purchased yesterday and today.

In our little corner of the state, it was a welcome gift. Even I found myself tempted to add excess to my arsenal.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Ads

I have been working more seriously in Photoshop/Illustrator and my design work is becoming more rewarding. Thanks to some handy tips I've picked up from The Pure Magic Matador, I've been able to add some much needed polish to make these into something special.

Here are a couple of the same ads in slightly different formats that I put together for the Winston Salem Journal and Charlotte Observer. Click on the images for larger versions.

This one ran as 2 col x 5.25" in the Observer. It also ran in black and white, which explains the dull fonts. I will update this blog with a higher res version of the Journal ad, which was a more difficult 6 col x 2" format, but I think it worked very well in this particular scenario.

A couple of hand-made items: The gift tag and the Christmas ball.

What I would do differently:
I would probably not use the Script font as much in the subtext.
Reduce the gradient just a touch more in the Observer ad (The b&w made this a tough call).
If I could only get a hang of that darn gradient mesh, I think I could have really made the Christmas ball zing!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cabernet Franc: Love at First Sip

With so much to learn about wine, I could ramble on and on. Instead, I'll try to keep it simple. Let's talk about one of my favorite grapes.

Cabernet Franc. A minor grape in Bordeaux and a fixture in the Loire Valley of central France. According to Wikipedia, "The fact that it is known as Breton in the Loire suggests that it originally came from, which would be consistent with its preference for cooler temperatures."

Speaking of, I love cooler climate wines. I went to a tasting recently that featured Southern Australian and New Zealand wines. They were way more complex than I expected, more restrained than much of the Australian power bombs that you get on the wider market. Sadly, most cool climate producers know the value of their wines, and you have to break into the $20-$30 price point to bring home a gem, but you'll be rewarded for your investment.

Luckily for consumers, Cab Franc is a grape that is frequently looked down upon by the wine elite. Most people are turned off by the vegetal, herbaceous, spicy and peppery flavors that extol this noble variety. In reality, Franc is a good exhibitor of terroir, its relatively light body and tannins permit communion between soil and palate. Alas, for these reasons, Cab Franc is mostly condemned to blending, even as a "single varietal." It is the wild child that tells you how it really feels.

In today's 100-point-scale world, Cab Franc is a rarity among the New World liquid candy. It has taken well to the soils of these new continents; however, and new territory is being explored. I must say that Cab Franc has done surprisingly well here in the Old North State, and I hope it continues to flourish. Without naming names, there are a couple of Yadkin Valley Cab Francs that are on my list. They both offer fresh, complex, peppery aromas and flavors with nice bursts of red fruit; perfect as a summer wine, with red meat fish or spicy foods.

I went to a Loire Valley Tasting recently where I was actually disappointed with most of the Cab Francs presented. That is not to say that all Loire Valley Cab Francs are dismal. I have had very affordable, very tasty wines from this grape's home court. Truth be told, the good ones don't make it out of the Loire.

This is why I love wine. It is the journey, not the destination.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Bothers You The Most?

I like your comments. Remember, you can comment anonymously at any time. One of the beautiful things about the human spirit is that we all experience the same things, but react and think of them differently. I enjoy hearing others' views on shared experiences. I am struggling to become what I want to be and/or what I think I should be.

It is interesting that as we grow older, our perceptions of time change, people change, habits change, the world changes and we die. Do you have control over who you are? Are you who you want to be? Are you becoming that person? Do you let your life lead you? Or do you lead your life?

What bothers you the most? Are you afraid to die? I am afraid of heights, but it is not what bothers me the most. What struggles have you overcome? What have you done recently that you are incredibly ashamed of? How do you think people would react to the news? I suppose that "Post Secret" has got the market cornered on this type of personal expression, but I'll still throw it out there.

Take a moment to think about who you are, where you are and where you are going. Let's talk about it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Funny Faces of NC Politics

As I diligently work through my sample ballot and candidate credentials, I can't ignore some of the more distinctive faces of NC politics. If I had nothing else to go by but pictures alone, these candidates would get my vote.

President-Libertarian Bob Barr

This classic pose evokes a Murrow-esque significance. The muted portion of American flag in the back says "I'm serious about small government."

Why I Like Him:
Barr is from Georgia and serves on the board of Privacy International.

US Senate-Libertarian Christopher Cole

While his photo is not as flattering as his presidential counterpart, Christopher Cole's passion for politics is equal. He ran as the Libertarian candidate for Lt. Governor in 2004. When not campaigning, Christopher is honing his postal skills, e-mailing Bill Shatner and building pinball machines from scratch.

His personal statement says it all:

As the Declaration of Independence says,
'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' are fundamental rights
given us by our Creator, with no need for government permission.
Toward this end, I will seek to abolish the personal income tax, end
the war in Iraq (and pursue a non-interventionist foreign policy), and
oppose government rationing of healthcare.

NC House District 75-Democrat Dan Bennett

Bennett is a true North Carolinian. Born and raised on a tobacco farm in Franklin County, Bennett is a world citizen and one smart ass dude. His mathematics background and understanding of international economics gives North Carolina the tools it needs to compete in this tightening economy.

Don't be fooled by Bennett's trimmed beard and optimistic smile. He doesn't play games.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's Finally Here

Now that Halloween has come and gone, the "Holiday Season," as it will, is now more or less upon us. Nothing else can save me from the agony of "family time," a long day at work, a bitter cold day AND provide nourishment at the same time like the sweet release of this sacred beverage of the season.

Egg Nog.

Some of you may be cringing at the sight of these words. Please, do not be afraid. I speak not of store-bought nog.

But real homemade goodness:

Making egg nog at home is really easy. Follow my simple recipe, and I PROMISE YOU, you will either a) love egg nog or b) love egg nog and never buy it from the store again.

You will need:

some sort of large cups to mix it all in
a mixer
a smaller cup to serve it in

1 egg; separated
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt (optional)
1 cup milk (of course, organic whole would be the optimal choice here)
2-3 Tbsp of Whisky (Bourbon works well, but you can use Scotch, rum or brandy if you so desire)
1 nutmeg for grating


Add yolk of egg (don't toss the white!) and 1 Tbsp sugar to mixing bowl and mix like hell. You'll notice that the yolk will turn a lighter color yellow. That's when you know to slow down. slowly add milk and keep mixing slowly. In a separate bowl, spin the egg white with a mixer really fast until "soft peaks" form. That means that when you remove the mixers from the whipped egg whites they will look like "Peeps."
Slowly add your splash of tipple to the milk/egg yolk mix and then fold in the whipped egg white. Garnish with grated nutmeg to taste. (The nutmeg flavor is essential for egg nog.)

NOTE: If you are like me, when you tried this recipe you botched the egg-separating process. You can still make the egg nog by mixing the yolk and white together with the Tbsp. of sugar like above. Then follow the rest of the steps the same (except for the whipping of the egg whites).

So when all you hipsters are throwing your "Christmas Sweater Parties," you can impress your pals with this easy, homemade beverage.

HIPSTER NOTE: You can substitute Soy Milk for regular milk, but there is just no replacement for the egg. Sorry, vegans.

STRAIGHT-EDGE NOTE: You can make egg nog with no alcohol, but consume uncooked eggs at your own risk. The alcohol kills off any threat of salmonella. To "cook" your nog, simply follow steps as above and heat over med-low while constantly stirring and allow it to simmer just to a boil. Be careful not to let it scald. If you remove your stirring device from the hot nog and it forms a thin coat, you know it's done. Then leave to chill in your refrigerator.

This makes one serving of egg nog. To make more, simply multiply the recipe as appropriate. For more egg nog ideas or variations, I recommend Alton Brown's egg nog recipes.

Alton Brown Egg Nog Ice Cream