Wine Of The Month Club

Today we effectively “unwrapped” one of our more interesting Christmas presents–a subscription, courtesy of Richard and Julianne, to a “Wine of the Month” Club at Wine On High, a wine shop in the Short North. We walked down to WOH on a bright, cold winter’s day, presented our membership card, and made our selections for December and January. At WOH, the Wine of the Month Club members are invited to tastings and then can select from among specific wines that have been chosen for the members.

A Wine of the Month club membership is a great gift for people who like wine. And if you’re lucky enough to be gifted with a membership, you have to decide how you want to use the membership. You can play it safe with wine varieties you know, or you can try something totally different. I took the latter course, trying a 2018 pinot noir from a German winery–who ever heard of a German pinot?–and a 2019 Uruguayan red made from the Tannat grape, a variety that I’ve never tried before.

I figure getting free wines (as the Wines On High sommelier aptly put it) liberates you to really let your freak flag fly. Why not do some experimenting?

The Great Screw Top Status Shift

Recently I was out at our neighborhood wine shop, looking for some interesting bottles to try. As I surveyed the racks and boxes and shelves for likely candidates, I realized that one of the factors influencing my decision was whether the bottle was corked or capped—with the balance tipping toward capped. And there were plenty of appealing choices in the screw top category, too.

That’s a pretty significant change in perception and product packaging from the days of my youth. For years, screw top wine was the realm of MD 2020, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, and Thunderbird, consumed exclusively by winos and high school kids who were just starting out their drinking careers and didn’t know any better. Reputable wineries offered only corked bottles because wine connoisseurs expected fine wines to come with a cork and thus insisted on it.

But, as has happened in so many other areas, the availability and perceptions of screw top wines have radically changed. Whether it was cork shortages in Portugal, articles in wine magazines arguing that modern screw top caps are more protective than corks, a general awareness that capped wines were becoming more available, or trying a screw top bottle somewhere and finding it was indeed potable, public opinion shifted. And after that happened, and people like me began gingerly giving it a try, we realized that capped wine is a lot easier to open than wrestling with a corkscrew and running the risk of cork explosions and failure and the cursing that inevitably accompanied it. With the screw top, it’s a quick twist, some satisfying metal cracking, and you’re in. Once people got over the perception hump and tried it, they realized it had some advantages—and in America, convenience and speed is always going to be a selling point.

The shift always begins with people laying aside their settled views and being receptive to a different approach.

Wine Whine

We have an excellent wine shop only a few blocks from our house. Called Hausfrau Haven, it has an extensive selection of wines of all varieties, from all locations, as well as helpful signs to convey Wine Spectator ratings and thoughts from the proprietor about particular bottles. People who really know wines would love this place.

As for me . . . well, the selection is a bit overwhelming. I really like wines — specifically big bold reds. I like all of them. But how do you expand your horizons and educate your palate? Just try different offerings? Start with a particular region and get to know it well before moving on? Decide you’re going to focus on cabs?

I’m flummoxed.

Five Essential Inventions For A Tolerable Quarantine

We’ve been self-isolating for more than three weeks now, and while many people are complaining about being cooped up for so long, I think it’s important to recognize those things that have made our collective bout with quarantine more tolerable.  I’ve come up with a list of five things that I think have been essential, listed in reverse order of their first invention.  Two of them are about as old as civilization, interestingly.

  1.  Alcohol — Where would we be without wine, beer, and other adult beverages?  At the end of a hard day of working at home, a glass of wine or a cold tumbler of suds sure make the graphs showing how curves can be flattened and the news about ventilator production go down a bit easier.  Liquor sales spiked after the shutdown was announced, and it quickly became clear that Americans put alcohol on the same exalted level as toilet paper when it comes to being absolutely certain of having a more than ample supply.  As somebody said, it’s not clear that people are drinking more during the work-at-home period, but they’re sure not drinking any less, either.  As for the invention of adult beverages, humans have made both wine and beer for so long that their dates of creation have been lost in the mists of time.  Scientists recently discovered earthenware jars containing wine residue that indicated humans were guzzling fermented grape juice more than 8,000 years ago, and beer is the subject of the oldest recorded recipe in the world — instructions that were found on ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls that date back to 5,000 B.C. 
  2. Soap — You’ve got to give people something to do during a pandemic to make them feel like they are pitching in, and for Americans the instructions are clear:  wash your hands, thoroughly and repeatedly.   As soon as we get back from our allotted exercise walks we head dutifully to the sink for our required 20-second bout with lathering, scrubbing, and rinsing.  It may not sound like much, but those constant 20-second scrubbings add up and help to pass the slow-moving quarantine time, and they make us feel good about doing our part.  Soap also dates back thousands of years, with historians believing that the Babylonians invented the first soap, made from fats boiled with ashes, about 5,000 years ago.
  3. Canned food and crock pots — It’s probably safe to say that people are cooking more at home than they’ve done in the last 50 years, and because there’s an interest in trying to minimize trips to the grocery store, people are trying to stretch their food stores and leftovers farther than ever before.  That’s where canned food and crock pots really strut their stuff.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that no single device is more adept at converting aging leftovers into tasty meals than the crock pot.  Whether it’s stews made of random items hauled from the cupboard, or last night’s chili made with leftover meat loaf, leftover sausage, a can of black beans, some chopped onions, and liberal doses of Texas Pete’s hot sauce and sriracha sauce, our crock pot has been a high-producing kitchen item during the last few weeks.  The smells coming from the crock pot also help to make the quarantine household a happy place, too.  Canned foods were first invented more than 200 years ago, and the first slow cookers — the precursors to the crock pot, which was first call the “bean pot” — were invented about 80 years ago
  4. PCs — Where would we be without personal computers and laptops?  For many of us, they are the one, essential device that allows us to work from home, and without them the unemployment statistics in America would be much, much worse.  They also allow us to get the latest news with a few touches of keyboard buttons, and to catch up on our friends and check out the latest coronavirus memes and political rants on social media websites.  The laptop PC is the fulcrum that has moved the working world, and the COVID-19 quarantine is the singular event that will probably change our approach to how people work and do business, forever.  The first personal computer — the Altair 8800 — was invented in 1975, and the first laptop — which weighed more than 30 pounds, incidentally — was released in 1981.
  5. Netflix and other streaming services — One very popular topic among friends on social media these days is swapping information about nightly viewing options.  Everybody’s got an opinion, because we’re all watching a lot of TV during this shut-in period, and we’re running through viewing options faster than ever before.  (The ten episodes of season three of Ozark, for example, flew by far too quickly.)  Netflix and other streaming services allow us to pick from an enormous array or TV shows and movies, old and new, and then advise our friends on whether options like Tiger King or Messiah are worth checking out.  What would we do without constant entertainment?  Netflix first started streaming content in 2007 — just in the nick of time, relatively speaking.

So there you have it — millennia of human invention and creativity, all combining to make the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020 a bit more tolerable for American shut-ins.  Thanks to the ancient winemakers, the Egyptians and Babylonians, and the techno-geeks and food canners.  We owe you a great debt of gratitude.

And now, it’s time to check out a few websites and think about what we’ll be making for dinner tonight.

Debunking Drinking Wisdom

Shortly after I passed the legal drinking age and started drinking adult beverages, I first heard the aphorism “wine, then beer, and have no fear.”  Some years later, I heard the flip side:  “beer, then wine, and I feel fine.”  The idea behind each of the sayings — which are seemingly contradictory, in case you hadn’t noticed — was that if you sequenced what you drank, you could avoid a hangover.

wineandbeerAre either of the sayings true?

No, of course not . . . and now a study has confirmed it.  Researchers from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — two countries, incidentally, that are very serious about their wine and beer — studied whether the sequence in which alcoholic beverages are consumed might affect how people who overindulge feel the next day.  One group drank beer, then wine, and another drank wine, then beer.  A third, control group drank only one or the other.

The study found that the drinking sequence made no difference in the hangover impact.  One of the researchers explained: “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover. The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”  (No kidding!)

And get this:  another of the researchers makes the dubious argument that hangovers actually can have positive effects.  He stated: “Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”  Boy, scientists are perverse, aren’t they?

I’d never argue that hangovers are a good thing, but I do know this — any perceived folk wisdom about drinking that rhymes and is capable of being remembered after a few drinks probably isn’t that wise after all.

Jazz Dinner Club At The Refectory

Last night we joined our friends the Bahamians for a Jazz Dinner Club event at the Refectory, which is one of Columbus’ finest restaurants.  Although the concept has been around for four years, last night was the first I’ve heard of it — and it was great.  I’m grateful to the Bahamians, who are always on the cutting edge, for suggesting it.

The Jazz Dinner Club is held upstairs, in the “choir loft” at the Refectory, in a room that is normally used for small banquets or private parties.  (In fact, the last time I was there was for a big birthday celebration for Mom many years ago.)  It’s an intimate venue for a musical performance, seating about 45 people.  For $69 you get your ticket and a set four-course meal, with a different menu for every performance.  We then added a four-glass wine flight the Refectory selects from its terrific wine cellar to complement every course for $30.95, to bring the per-person tab to an even $100 for a special evening.

IMG_0696Letting somebody else pick the food and the wine sounds a bit adventurous — and it is.  However, the Refectory food is always exceptional and their wine cellar is among the best in Columbus, and the spirit of experimentation puts you in the right frame of mind for listening to the music of a newly discovered artist.  Last night the Refectory started us off with a very tasty (and complimentary) Kir Royale champagne cocktail, and the food and wines were uniformly excellent.  I was proud that I ate every bit of the green bean and Corsican feta cheese terrine that was the first course (Look, Mom!  I’ve actually consumed green beans!), and I particularly liked the Leoncini ham and mushroom vol au vent (paired with a very fine Solena Grande Cuvee Pinot Noir, 2013) and the caramelized pineapple clafoutis (paired with a delicate Andrew Quady Electra Orange) for dessert.  I’m not a dessert wine fan, but I’d definitely buy a bottle of the Electra Orange, which was light and not overly sweet, for home dinner party purposes.

As fine as the food was, the music was even better.  Last night’s artist was Diego Figueiredo, a solo Brazilian guitarist, who played a wide array of bossas and sambas and traditional Brazilians songs, selections from the American Songbook, and original pieces, with a few classical allusions thrown in.  He was incredibly gifted, and being seated only 20 feet away we were able to appreciate his lightning-like fret fingering, his impeccable timing, his fingernail-focused strumming technique — he doesn’t use a pick, so the fingernails on his right hand are grown out and carefully sculpted to approximate picks — and his exurberant personality.  Mr. Figueroa not only was a brilliant musician, he also was having a lot of fun playing the songs, and the audience had a lot of fun right there with him.  After evening ended, I bought a few of his CDs, which really is the ultimate acid test.

The event ran from 6 to 9, so it fits with the schedules of even the early bird senior citizens among us, and it was top-notch from beginning to end.  I’m sure we’ll be doing the Jazz Dinner Club again, and I’m glad we found another great option that Columbus nightlife has to offer.

Potable Presents

IMG_0090This year we’ve received some excellent wine and even a fifth of pre-made old fashioned as Christmas presents.  By my rough estimate, at least, we’ve received more bottles of holiday cheer this year than we have in the past.

I applaud this apparent trend.  I get to try wines that I normally wouldn’t even be aware of, so I feel like I am broadening my wine horizons and developing new favorites.  And bottles of wine, or gifts of other consumables, add to the festive nature of the holidays because they can be shared with your holiday guests.  It’s fun to try a new vintage with an old pal or family member.

Old Fezziwig would agree with me.

Now THAT’S A Wine List!

1d9HJ9uyifyiyQekFi81qQ7lQ0n12fEoS610pTCxrW_kDOmp32CEnq25ObypiSN5OSR5IjWT-oaOhv-9N2BxJqzuuPL0VGNAoGcAOlym3CqABB_SWZsQ0lIKQ9b5ZmrgNKaGgtFyNSnUe0177gVjD4vTDZGLZ4JepVEBVTKKn40Vz8uZlsCoE7s84NuaG6hZnV3ltiEYrijN3hxcdQCScW1Kd878w_Our good friends the Bahamians are on an extended holiday in Europe.  At one of their stops, at La Tour d’Argent, when they asked for the wine list they were given this Manhattan phone book-sized inventory of the restaurant’s wine cellar.

No wonder Mr. Bahamian, so nattily and continentally attired in basic black, looks a bit perplexed in this picture!  If I had to wade through a thousand-page wine list, I’d be ready to order, say, about next weekend.

Chefing It

On Friday night — at the kind invitation of our friends Bow Tie Guy and Band Mom — Kish and I joined a small group for a memorable “participatory dining” experience at The Kitchen here in German Village.  The Kitchen promises a participatory dining experience that “blurs the line between patron and chef.”  In our case, that promise was kept — and I might add that the blurring was aided by a number of very well-chosen bottles of wine that our group consumed with relish before and during food prep and then with our meal.

IMG_5689First, a word or two about the setting and the concept.  The Kitchen is located in an historic building that was a department store, and later a cheesy video store, on Livingston Avenue.  The building was acquired by two passionate female foodies who were able to see past the video store bric-a-brac to envision a space where people can have fun cooking, and then eating.  The result is a choice setting, with the original high, pressed design tin ceilings and brightly polished hardwood floors, long tables made from refinished barn siding, and a high-end, fully kitted out, restaurant grade kitchen.

When our little band arrived, we gathered around the charcuterie platter and were served an excellent wine — the first of many fine wines deftly chosen by the proprietors to specifically complement what we were eating at the time.  The proprietors described the courses — a salad, garlic shrimp, a chicken dish accompanied by fingerling potatoes and eggplant, and finally a raspberry white chocolate tart — and offered us our choice of food prep tasks.  The “participatory” part of our dining experience was about to begin.

Kish and I decided to do the salad, which seemed to be fraught with the least downside risk from an edibility standpoint.  We donned our aprons and promptly learned the first lesson of The Kitchen experience:  it’s fun to cook, particularly when you have the ingredients laid out in advance, have the appropriate knives and implements available, and have a friendly expert at your elbow guiding you through the food prep process.  We chopped our salad fixins without losing any fingertips, blended our salad dressing, then roamed the room to watch other people at their food prep stations.

IMG_5698And there we learned lesson number two:  many people can really cook, and take pride in producing quality consumables.  Our fellow patron-chefs, such as The Honeybee pictured here, carefully followed instructions, performed their tasks with good cheer, and juggled their wine glasses while brushing and basting and sauteeing their hearts out.  Ultimately, the proof of the pudding was in the tasting — every dish and course of the meal was absolutely delicious.  Our simple salad with olives and peppers and a garlic dressing was tasty, but was promptly blown out of the water by the shrimp, the chicken, the potatoes, the veggies, and the dessert, as well as the wine selections.  Kish and I accepted that not-unexpected result with equanimity and full stomachs.

I’d recommend The Kitchen to anyone who wants to have a fun foodie experience.  And if you would rather not participate directly, The Kitchen offers Taco Tuesday, where the experts do the prep and patrons get to just drop in and gobble down the results.

Palate Practice

Last night I decided to order a Cabernet Franc with my meal at a restaurant.  It’s a new kind of wine for me, but I have been trying to expand the types of wine I drink and develop a more educated palate.

Unfortunately, my palate education right now is about at kindergarten level.  I know what I like and I drink it, then I’m ready to go color a picture of a cat and play with blocks.  I’m pretty tongue-tied, too, when it comes to describing what I’ve imbibed.  Once you get beyond “full-bodied” or “light” or “too sweet” I’m sunk.

Last night, though, I concentrated hard on the Cab Franc and its taste.  It had what I would consider a flavor that was more at the tart end of the spectrum — although “flavor” and “tart” probably aren’t wine-appropriate words.  (Part of the problem with the wine world in my book is the snootiness of the wine sophisticates and the stylized language they expect any knowledgeable wine drinker to employ.)  Still, I view recognizing a wine as more tart is a step in the right direction.

How do you develop a more educated palate?  One website suggests six steps — slow down; look and smell, then taste; visualize and isolate flavors: identify flavors; note texture and body; and develop a wine memory.  Steps one and two I can handle, but at three I come a cropper.  Will I ever be able to detect a hint of grapefruit in a wine?  Maybe I should just go back to guzzling.

A Great Dinner Party Idea

IMG_2064Has anybody else noticed that wine titles are changing in a very curious way?  Wine bottles used to bear the name of the winery, the kind of wine inside, and not much else.  Now wine bottles often describe personality types, character traits, or even sexual preferences.  (Think Menage a Trois or Ballbuster.)

Hence my great dinner party idea:  invite your friends, and tell them they have to bring a bottle of wine that reveals some personal characteristic or aspiration.  Who knows what you’d learn?  And your friends would have a great time trying to find just the right bottle of wine under the circumstances.

Me, I’d bring a bottle of Carnivor.  I’m assuming it would go well with some rare red meat.

A Late Afternoon Snack

009After a long day of walking took us ultimately to the Pantheon, Richard and I walked around the Panthon neighborhood and found an excellent fromagerie. Some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat’s milk cheese, and some Morbier, a fresh baguette, and some wine purchased at the nearby wine shop, and we were ready to have a snack and play some cribbage.

The bread, cheese, and wine here are very inexpensive but of very good quality. I would gladly eat cheese and baguette just about every day of the week.

Revenge Of The Curds

IMG_1269It’s Friday night, and the Bahamians are coming over for cocktail hour.

So . . . what to nosh on?  Some local sourcing sounds good.  We’ve got the ridiculously addictive Turkeyfoot Creek Creamery goat cheese ranch curds, from Wauseon, Ohio.  We’ve got a delicious strawberry-rhubarb preserve with vanilla bean and a beaujolais wine reduction, made by the Black Radish Creamery right here in New Albany, Ohio.  And we’ve mixed them up with some unusual cheese options, two bottles of good wine, and cranberry and hazelnut crackers, recommended by the helpful cheese shop steward at the Hills Market in downtown Columbus.

Let the weekend begin!