DISCLAIMER: Kids have a test and teachers have to get them ready for it. My day job (ever so occasionally) pulls slightly more weight than the wine blog that doesn’t pay any money whatsoever, hence I am posting this weeks after the fact. To err is human, to forgive is divine. I’m getting back to it now, I promise. Thanks for waiting it out!
14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Columbia Valley, Washington State
After checking my bank account–as we (twenty-somethings) so often find ourselves doing while working our first job out of college that pays too much to qualify for food stamps but at the same time not enough to actually not desperately need them–I realized that this week’s wine was going to have to come from Kroger (appalling, I know). Gasp aloud, foodies–I won’t hate you for it.
Kroger is a southern-born grocery store–for all of you people who are taking a brief intermission from the fantasy world painted by your newest copy of Decanter to read this post. To make sure that we are all on the same page, I created a brief outline of what you might expect when shopping for wine at aforementioned establishment.
Again, Kroger is a store for groceries. Kroger is NOT:
- Equipped with wine-Yodas.
- A place that is even remotely similar to Whole Foods.
- Home to locally-grown organic arugula, a wide selection of in-house granola, or acute health-conscience group hatred against preservatives.
That being said, you must also appreciate the Amazonian mindset required to travel through the wine section of this store with little discerning knowledge of what a solid bottle of wine could even remotely resemble. However–always resourceful–I remembered a suggestion made by the wine serf that all Washington cabs are a good bet.
Honesty prevails here, people: the ability to find a Washington Cabernet Sauvignon in a bottomless sea of Napa Valley is quite similar to locating the back of an earring after it fell to the ground–in the dark. The stuff is just really difficult to find (at least, at a Kroger supermarket).
However, yet to be defeated by a bottle of wine, I alas discovered the newly labeled 14 Hands Columbian Valley cab. Hello, diamond in the rough. After a quick google search of Wine Spectator’s approving 86 points (yes, I broke the rules and relied on points in a brief moment of panic–don’t be judge-y), I snatched that baby up and marched my $10.99 find right up to self check-out. Done deal.
Enough so that I wanted to find out a bit more about its origins–which lead me to my second weekly wine induced epiphany (the first being that grocery stores really should have wine gods on staff for the novices hung up on Malbec like me). Did you know, by the way, that emailing people and asking questions is the hands-down Beyonce and Jay-Z power couple of acquiring any information about anything? Ever?
Sometimes, friends, knowledge is simply a matter of type, click, and send. Thank four-leafed-clovers (and Tim Bernes Lee) for the world wide web and people who respond to one another through its invisible cast lines across the universe–what a beautiful thing.
On a dream and a prayer, I shot a few questions to 14 Hands wine maker, Keith Kenison, and actually (shocker of my life) got a response! Thanks Keith–you rock even more. I was curious as to how Keith fell in love with wine and even more curious about what sort of wine he was drinking in his early twenty days. I hastily (and wrongfully) assumed that he would a) be too cool to respond to a lowly freshman-blogger and b) have some complicated overly awesome past that I couldn’t possibly understand . Luckily, Keith is as humble about his wine god status as he is kind enough to share his experience with mortals like Winebbler.
To begin, Keith wrote that he, “grew up with a keen interest in science and became fascinated with the whole fermentation process as far back as junior high school.” Didn’t we all love fermentation back in the seventh grade? Almost as much as lip smackers and NSYNC. I think we would have been friends.
Keith went on to say, “I began drinking wine in college (me too, Keith!) and a couple years after graduation [I] found myself working as a temporary harvest intern at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. The winemaker-and now long time friend–Gordy Hill gave me ever increasing responsibilities, challenging me to learn more.” Eventually, Keith began 14 Hands only after a slew of amazing teachers and big footsteps to follow.
Instead of keeping a wine blog for amateurs like some people (ahem), Keith got right down to business when it came to learning more about wine. He said, “Most of what I’ve learned has been through hands-on experience under the guidance of some great winemaking talents. My early days were spent crushing grapes, shoveling tanks, and pumping wine. After five years of cellar experience, I got to learn about wine from a technical perspective. I spent a lot of time following up on the bottling line, analyzing wines and tasting. Most of what I know came from observing and mimicking the efforts of those who led the way for me.”
Even the master artists were copies of their forefathers at some point, the same must be true for winemakers. Picasso said that, “ good artist copy, but great artists steal.” How true those words are for this 14 Hands vintner. Ultimately, Keith branched out to do his own thing with a little “trial and error.”
He went on to say, “Just in the past few years have I started teaching myself a few things…I’ve taken a few courses and…attended a few seminars on winemaking but learning by doing suits me best.”
If twisted mimicry yields the magic produced by 14 Hands, then thieve away mad grape scientists!
Keith–also known for his love of NHL (and for his “beautiful, understanding” wife Evelyn…oh hey, shout out!)–said that he used to throw back some pretty sweet wines in his college years. I wonder if this included any Arbor Mist…poor soul.
Keith recounts his drinking past: “In my early twenties, during the college years, I was drinking wines that were white or pink – the very fruity wines that had a considerable amount of sugar in it. Through my mid twenties, I was working in a winery that made nothing but red. The best part of my twenties was my stint in quality assurance. I was able to taste almost every wine in the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates portfolio and had access to the best.”
Ultimately, Keith turned out alright–reaching into the upper echelon of highly coveted memberships of the top-secret wine societies (I honestly just made that up) called “the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, the Washington Wine Technical Group and the Washington Association of Wine Grape growers.” So, there you have it–there is hope for us twenty-something shitty-wine drinkers. As for Keith’s wine, well, it turns out to be pretty spectacular, too.
Look: Initial thought (even though my roommate’s verdict is that there is no connection) is this… A lovely royal shade of purple from center to edges.
Smell: Apparently, there is black cherry in there. I was not totally sure about this, but after a pass around the table there is conclusively cherry something going on in there.
Taste: A smooth start with a bit of spice and a warm, lasting finish (how sexy).
The verdict: All in all, I picked up the bottle again to finish this post and am currently on my second glass. Never been much of a cab-head, but 14 Hands may just make a fan out of me. At far below $20 a bottle, it really couldn’t stay off my list.
Whether meeting at the bar last weekend, back in college, or on match.com–the lucky ones find themselves aimlessly wandering around looking for the other half of their hermaphroditically complete selves. The others are too busy climbing an obnoxiously ambitious social ladder to notice their own notifications on OK cupid. But hey, c’est la vie pals. We all still need to impress our boss (or future lover) in order to move out of that gray cube and up to the seventh floor office (or fresh fling’s apartment). Inevitably, a time will come when a fancy dinner date is either warranted, expected, or black-mailed out of us. The reasoning behind this logic puzzle is simple: If there is a fancy dinner, there will also be wine. And if there is wine, then you will most likely be forced to order it.
Gasp! But how? I saw you the last time you were in a public eating space. Stressed and overwhelmed by the prices and quietly mumbling beneath your breath, “What the hell is a Pinot?” You were loosening your tie and fidgeting with the table cloth as it skimmed the tops of your tucked under legs. You ironed your damn pants for this. How could you have forgotten about the wine?
Let it go and please stop sweating–it’s gross. Here are some steps to keep yourself from looking like Bill Clinton circa 1998 next time you find yourself gorging on overpriced fare.
1. Do a little homework. If you are really nervous about this moment (and slightly neurotic), do a little research before you go to the restaurant. Most restaurants put their menu online so it is easy for you to take a look before you go. Sometimes wine can be an investment, so it might help to know what you are getting into first. Usually, just google searching the name of the vineyard and the vintage (that’s the year, guys) will yield enough information about what it might be like.
2. Know how to read the menu.
3. Think about what you might be eating. A good rule of thumb is that heavy wine padnahs (that means pairs for you snotties out there) with heavy food–light wine goes with light food. If you want to get more serious, check out this info graphic that essentially everyone has been posting and re-posting and easily google searching lately. I think my dog even found it. If you haven’t seen it–you quite possibly live under a rock.
4. Ask for suggestions based off of what you prefer and what you are eating. There is someone in that place who knows what they are talking about. If you don’t possess stealth one-handed under the table google searching skills–ask for suggestions.
And, for the love of god, do not have this conversation:
You: Um, yo. What wine do I want?
Them: Well, what kind of wine are you looking for?
You: Um. Something? I don’t know. Just, well, what do you like?
EHH! WRONG ANSWER.
Obstacle 1: What someone else “likes” is not going to be what you like. Remember that asshole frat-daddy your roommate dated in college? She was in love? He looked like a easter egg hunt? Right. So don’t let other people pick your tastes. Next.
Obstacle 2: If you don’t know what you are eating or what you care for, then how in the hell is your waiter or sommelier (that’s wine speak for head wine bitch in charge at a restaurant or bar) going to know what will be good for you? They are not clairvoyant– despite the misleading size of their egos.
Do These Things Instead:
- Tell the waiter what you are having and ask him for recommendations.
- Let your waitress know if you are looking for a particular type of wine. Describe your tastes. Maybe you feel like a red? Perhaps you hate Chardonnay? Give her some boundaries or at least something to play with. It makes it more fun, anyway.
- Learn something. Chances are, if you are reading this, these guys know more than we do about wine. At least, we can pray to the wine gods that they do. This is your chance! Don’t let it pass you by. The only way to become more comfortable with wine is if you explore it.
- Keep an open mind to new varietals. Basically, try new things and be adventurous. Duh.
5. Use this sneaky price trick. There is just no way that you (or me or my parents or anyone I know) can pay $7,000,000 for a glass of wine. But, we also want to make sure that we’re getting a good pick. In these moments, muster all restraint and refrain from screaming out, “Please don’t choose the one that will force me to trade in my deceased grandmother’s wedding band!” Simply tell him that you would, “like something similar to these wines,” and circle the price range with your finger on the menu. If the guy isn’t totally dense, he should get your signal and will make a recommendation accordingly–without letting your date or boss notice that you are actually calculating how many granola bars you’re going to have to eat for lunch next week in order to pay for this.
6. By the glass or bottle? This is really up to your table, time, and available funds. Discuss accordingly. Please weigh in your wallet–but do so privately. Don’t be a dumb ass.
Taking Part in an Ostentatious Wine Ceremony
You ordered–but wait, here comes the bottle. Oh. Shit.
1. The waiter will show you the label. Check it out and make sure it is actually the one you ordered–as if they’re going to get it wrong, anyway. Essentially, this is a formality. But, it does make you look (and feel) like an in-charge badass. The key thing to look for is the vintage. That could possibly be the only thing that could easily become shuffled.
2. He will open it. And if you ordered it, you go first (inside celebration commences, now). Basically, you just chill and the waiter will pour you a little tiny bit in your glass. Don’t be alarmed, you will be getting more alcohol soon. Breathe. In case this moment stresses you out, you may need to contact AA.
3. Swirl, smell, taste. Swirl your glass around on the table for a few seconds. Then, smell it. Don’t stick your entire nose in there, people. Just sniff a bit. Finally, taste it.
4. Accept it. MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THIS POST. DO NOT SEND A BOTTLE BACK. This is not a moment for a wine tasting, darlings. You are not the Bachelorette of the wine list–you’re marrying the one you picked for keeps. Dating took place back with the menu. Party’s over. The only way you divorce your bottle is if it is something called corked. This just means that the wine has turned into shitty vinegar tasting sludge.
5. He will serve your guest (or guests) first, then top you off last. It’s coming, I promise. Wait patiently as the waiter works his way around the table clockwise, say a little cheers after everyone has their glass, and bottoms up (by the stem)!
Bravo and Breathe, darlings.
This post is on how to be an asshole about the glass you’re drinking out of even when you don’t quite yet know how to be an asshole about what is in it.
There must have been a moment where you were in that ever-so-awkward position at your rich friend’s house when they asked you to grab wine glasses down from their shelf–inadvertently forcing you to choose between a few varieties. Hence, exposing the fact that you have absolutely no idea what the hell you are doing. Yeah. I haven’t had that moment either. Most likely because my friends are still drinking wine out of game-day cups and stolen beer pints–much like myself on non-dishwashing days.
But, one day my fellow thirty-pressers–we will have it. And we need to know what to put that delectable under $20 wine in. At the very least, to prevent ourselves from being cast down as beastly commoners whilst in the presence of dignified wine deities (also secretly known by us mortals as the pompous assholes of wine finery).
So what gives about this wine glass stuff? Evidently, wine glasses weren’t always glass. The Romans drank out of clay, silver, and even (poisonous?) lead cups. Then, around 50 BC, ancient alcoholics had to be careful of splinters in their mouths, as their cups were made of wood.
Fast-forward a bit to the middle ages and they still hadn’t gotten to glass. Just these things called piggins, made out of leather. In fact, this cup is the namesake of the expression “pig-drunk.” Who would have ever thought that Thursday night sorority girl behavior actually derived from a bunch of rowdy Middle English trash talking heathens? Interesting.
Eventually–in the 14th century–Venetians started getting extra-fancy pants and decided to make some glasses. However, the shit was so expensive that basically no normal human could afford it! So regular old people stuck to their piggns, leather, and horns. Quite similar to the way we use coffee cups for wine when we run out of our six-pack of IKEA glasses today. See iPhone photo posted above.
At first, these wine glasses were really too heavy. Then, they were made to match furniture in the dining room around the 1800s. Some other shenanigans went on in wine glass evolution–up until Riedel started bullying the other glassmakers and forcefully creating an evil monopoly over the whole wine glass situation today. Not really. But they did (rightfully) take over.
By the way, Riedel is pronounced like the word “needle.” You’re welcome for saving your ass when you try to impress someone with this stuff later on. Anyway, Riedel is also an Austrian thing, even though it started in Bohemia around the mid-1700s. And the fact that they are Austrian is not to be confused with their German-originated name. They get pissy about that–at least, I assume that they would.
Apparently, Riedel is also in cahoots with Robert Parker (remember him?) who said: “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.” Ah, how his beautiful pretensions floweth over. Disclaimer Two: Opinions expressed in these post are for sheer sardonic effect and are not completely reflective of the novice-writer/wine drinker who has never actually met Robert Parker in her life, ever. He is probably a really nice guy. Maybe.
Despite his nauseating word-choice, however, Mr. Parker creates a clear pathway to my next point: wine glasses do make a difference. And, there is an actual problem in carrying over our old collegiate tradition of plastic Tervis tumblers filled to the brim with 2 buck chuck. Must we really grow up? Yes, my darlings. We must. Because, apparently, the difference cannot be emphasized enough.
For starters. Wine can’t just hang out in our hands encased in plastic. For the most pretentious of wine connoisseurs, there is a firm belief that grimy little paws will destroy and devastate the perfect tasting temperature. And for those painfully self-aware, a person correctly holding a wine glass (by the stem, kids) just looks way more glamorous. All of this is to say that wine glasses are almost as important to wine culture as the wine is itself. Almost.
Here’s the run down. Serious wine-drinkers can open up a whole tool-kit of glass types. But, for us snoobies, we will stick to the basics: Red and White–oh, shocker of the vintage.
Red wine glasses are going to be fat on the bottom and skinny up top. White wine glasses are skinny all the time. Everywhere, everyday, no matter what. Why? Well, because we want to be able to let out the smell (or aroma as the critics might say) of delicious dirty red wine and keep the good aromas in the white wine.
With the wide bowl and narrow rim of a red wine glass, the wine is allowed to do something called oxygenate. Oxygenating wine is an entirely different post for a later life. But, this essentially means let that taste-genie out of the red wine bottle–according to this LA Times article. On the other side of things, the narrower bowl and rim of the white wine glass helps keep in the taste and smell of the white wine, which can escape easily–that jail-bird.
The bottom lines, kids:
1. Air = good for red = let ’em loose.
2. Air = not really all that great for white = lock ‘em up.
3. Red wine = fat-bottomed bowl and narrow rim.
4. White wine = narrow-bottomed bowl and narrow rim.
5. Too much wine = fat-bottomed humans that make the rockin’ world go round.
6. Hold the stem (that’s the long stick thing under the wine holding part) and drink from the right glass for Robert Parker’s sake. Cheers, dears!