If you’re anything like me (poor, young, and slightly intimidated by anything with a culture of exclusivity), the grocery store is where you will usually buy your wine. Hey, I agree that it is a nice and safe place to go. Unless it is the Killer Kroger on Ponce De Leon…but, I digress.
At the very least, there is no chance in hell or even purgatory that a zealous wine extremist with over-weaning (and bearing) hubris will lurk in the shadows of aisle six. Trust me, he’s way over on the other side of town in that “just splendid” little wine shop with vintages from the upward $30s. Probably with Robert Parker.
But you, little darling, can hide amongst the aisles of California grapes in peace, perhaps even grab that third bottle of Yellow Tail with no shame. I like going to the grocery store, too. I hear you! However, as I mentioned earlier, it is pretty hard to spread your wings to wine god status with that level (or lack) of guide-less-ness. Yes, I made up that word. Deal with it.
Anyway, in theme with post No. 3, I dove into some high-profile research on wine-scavenging so that we could decode this beast like independent grown ass adults who know what they are doing! Maybe you’ll even start wearing a tie to work after this. Maybe. And we don’t even have to hail from Bletchley Park . Below is a compilation of all the best advice I have gathered:
1. Get your bearings. This is war, people. Take a walk-a-bout of sorts. Figure out where the Chardonnay is and hack that mess out of the way. Wait, hold the phone Winebbler. But, everybody loves Chardonnay! Kids, there is just waaaay too much of that crap on the shelves. If you must, do your research first. In a bind, google it on your phone. In a real bind? Ask someone who may possibly look like they remotely know what they are doing. But, don’t, I repeat do not just pick up any random bottle of Chardonnay by your lone-lonesome. You will pay too much for it. Hello! You are poor, remember??
2. Don’t be a baby bitch, either. Leave your comfort zone. I’m talking to you with that California Merlot in your hand. In case you are blind, this place is infested with California wines. Yeah, sure they rock, but if you want to go with cheap and quality try something a bit crazier. Ahem, Wash State. What. Up.
3. Look at the year. Most grocery stores aren’t going to house a vintage that needs to be kept away. (We’ll talk about this, calm down!) The newer the wine at the grocery store, the better it is going to be. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but in the name of clarity–we’ll keep it black and white for now.
4. Release all college nostalgia. Back then, bigger bottle equaled more drunk. I loved Franzia just as much as the next monogrammed broad. But just put it down, guys. You are not going back there because (sorry to be the bearer of bad news) your ass graduated. Let that piss poor excuse of a beverage stay in your hidden Facebook photo albums only.
5. Finally, if all else fails, some grocery stores have these (cringe) point systems. Maybe they are actually right in some instances. Higher number = Higher rating = Higher likelihood of good wine. I’m dying as I write this (obviously), but hey, even the man gets it sometimes.
Hope this helps! Happy winebbling!
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.
Another attempt to maximize the weekly wine. Oh, ello No. 2.
Muscadet is a special type of wine that can be paired with both hard and soft cheeses. One of my favorites, Bucheron (a French goat cheese), is amazing for padnahing with this wine. A tip that I’ve learned: if you’re trying to pair food with wines, your go-to is usually going to be foods from that region.
Bucheron cheese hails from the Loire Valley–just like our wine. Like o-m-g, we’re so French drinking our wine and eating Bucheron right now. Even Regina George would be jealous.
Bucheron is a pretty neat little goat cheese that I can only explain in this way: It is similar to the feeling of being ten-years-old and shopping the buy one get one free special on Limited Too socks with my mom. I wore the hell out of those things because I felt so cool in them. Added bonus: my mom’s relief from not having to step it up to overpriced track suits and expanding shirts. That’s Bucheron–a beautiful two-for-the-price-of-one anomalous gift from the cheese gods.
Its outside layer is a lovely bit of tangy hard cheese that hides the surprise gooey mushroomy middle. Such bang for your buck from the Loire Valley–c’est magnifique!
As we learned last week, we padnah light wines with light fare. In accordance with this mantra, mussels are a perfect compliment to Muscadet. They are delicious and, quite frankly, easier to make than we think. Try this simple recipe to make your roommate covet your epicurean adventures. Sayonora, Lean Cuisine.
Asparagus rules–even if it makes your pee smell funny. At least, my brother makes this claim every time my grandmother puts it on the table for family dinners. Whip some up using your No. 2 for a really delicious vegetarian option. The sauce in this SugarLaws recipe—Buerre Blanc–is so Loire Valley. Cool fact: It was accidentally invented by a female chef named Clémence Lefeuvre. Many legends surround this kick-ass woman. Buerre Blanc away while reading about this haphazard French staple.
Liebster is a German word meaning dearest. And in this case, a dearest blog. The Liebster Award is a nice thought–a pass of love to remind people of the reason why they started their little project in the first place. Thank you Middlemay Farm for the opportunity to push it forward. So, in a rare effort to play by the rules–here goes.
Eleven Facts About Myself:
1. Want to drop anchor in New York more than most would consider normal.
2. Obsessed with pictures/words/art/ideas/music about the sea.
3. Hate animals. They smell and make me ill. Sorry I’m not sorry, PETA.
4. Laundry is for goddesses who have their life together–I am not one of them.
5. Have traveled all over Europe–but never to the west coast of my own country.
6. Used to believe that I could change the world all by myself.
7. Spaghetti gives me the creeps.
8. Gave my television to my neighbors and still have the cable box in my closet.
9. Can never get the words out of my head the way I think they should sound out loud.
10. I don’t believe in matching clothes.
11. Currently reading Catch-22 for the first time. Oops.
1. Who’s your favorite fictional character? Amber, from The Accidental by Ali Smith.
2. Did you like high school? That’s funny.
3. Are you for or against human cloning? I watched Family Matters and liked it in the 1990s. Does that count?
4. Were you ever bitten by a dog? My little brother used to bite me. A lot.
5. Would you travel back or forward in time? Forward. Backwards is impossible–technically speaking.
6. Do you have a guilty pleasure TV show? I don’t have a TV anymore. But, I used to watch a lot of Judge Judy in college.
7. Are you lactose intolerant? Nope. Thank god.
8. If you had to eat a baby or an old person in a starvation situation which would you choose and why? Did Jonathan Swift put you up to this?
Questions for Nominees
- Where did you have your first kiss?
- If you were abducted by aliens how would you decorate your new space house?
- If you had to choose between courage and loyalty, which characteristic would you possess?
- Do you like yogurt?
- What is the weirdest thing anyone has ever said to you?
- What is your go-to bottle of wine?
- What are your thoughts on Tuesdays?
- Would you rather take a bath or a shower?
- What song can you never get out of your head?
- What would you quit your day-job to do if money were not a factor?
- Are roller coasters your idea of fun?
• Post eleven facts about yourself.
• Answer the questions posted by your nominator.
• Pass the award on to eleven new recipients.
• Pose eleven new questions to your recipients.
• Post a copy of the badge on your blog (type “Liebster Award” into Google images; you’ll find plenty to choose from). Notify nominees and include links to the originating blog, as well as the new recipients.
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.
Occasionally–I discovered in the midst of my second week of winebbling–walking into wine shops as a twenty-something snoobie can be something like this (please click hyperlink and listen to receive the full effect of this post).
At first, you stand at the doorway of a brand new wineventure. Young. Fresh. Broke. With not a care in the world and not a penny to your name. You’ve got style though–in that I don’t care how uncool I am to the point of actually becoming too cool sort of way.
And then, the perfect moment greets you at the threshold of purchase and peruse. You, winebbler, are certain–beyond any measure of a doubt–that you will leave this place happy as a clam. Directly resulting from an encounter with the gaping and mysterious vats of knowledge made available to you by the woman behind the counter. But, this moment is fleeting my friends. (Stop music here).
And, reality sinks in. Hence, the second realization intrudes upon a brief detour past Rosé and the safety nets of Argentinian Malbec. All the things that could have happened in there aren’t happening, and you really are just some poor kid trying to move up in a world that has no more room at the inn. Just ask China.
That jazzy theme music playing in your head is now abruptly revealed as the show-boat it truly was. And any ideation of impending glory is crashing down like an old familiar Thursday afternoon where you left that (would be) enchanting person who works on floor six in an elevator as the music traveled down and down with the closing cold metal doors. In such a space–there is no hope. Only the bitter truth that being in a wine shop can be really damn boring.
Sans the knowledge I sought and sans $16.20, I left H&F bottle shop in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta with a metaphorical empty-handed purchase–to no fault of the wine selling lady. Only my own pitiful attempt to appear to understand her jargon is to blame. For speaking wine speak is a tough game to play–and can oft times turn the biggest of fish into the tiniest of guppies and make the nosiest of bloggers forget all of the right questions.
Alas, home I went with the first bottle recommended to me: a 2011 Château l’Oiselinière de la Ramèe in a little red bag twisted at the top. Worried of what I was getting into at two in the afternoon, I uncorked (and nearly broke) the Muscadet wine which hails from the confluence of the rivers Sévre and Maine in the northwest of France. This wine is crafted by the Chéreau family–who apparently has privy to a house amazing enough to receive the nomenclature of Château and the ability to consume their wine on a hilltop overlooking the banks of a rather (I can only imagine) picturesque riverside. Lucky bastards.
The head guy in charge of the whole Château enterprise is named Bernard Chéreau. This seemingly benign French gentleman possess a tinge of badass as he spearheaded the creation of an export market. Merci beaucoup monsieur from all of us wanna-be winos over here in ‘Merica.
The wine hails from Appellation Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Contrôlèe and boasts the seal of French legitimacy (and stuck-up-edtry (kidding!)) that we learned of last week. Evidently, the family is highly loyal to the Melon de Bourgogne varietal from the Loire Valley region and is also highly partial to Muscadet grapes. Basically, this just means that they stick with what they love and keep it simple. Makes sense.
The cool (and kind of gross) thing about this wine is that it goes through a special process known as Sur Lie. Basically, this just means that the newly created wine ferments ( the process of turning sugar into ethanol) on top of dead yeast for an entire miserable winter. Apparently, this makes it “enriched and full-bodied” (whatever the hell that means). To me, the idea of drinking something that has laid soaking in dead anything is mildly repulsive. I try not to think about it too much as the sparkly taste is still quite dazzling.
Well, gang, let’s get down to business.
Pale straw-yellow–a bit like the sunshine I am currently missing.
Floral, fruity, and fresh. Did I mention longings for summer? While refreshing, it did accidentally invoke the overhanging fear of being a sweet wine–a thing I loathe more than Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night. Die, Arbor Mist.
The beginning: Smooth and foreshadowing of surprises to come. (So Robert Parker right now.)
The middle: Apple and citrus. Oh! It bursts like spring and has just the slightest bit of…salt? Perhaps?
The end: Made me want another sip–and I am usually not a white wine drinker. But this tingles and sparks like pop rocks.
The verdict: For all those Februaries that made me want June back, I’ll take it as a worthy fill-in. This wine is well worth the freshness it brought to rainy gray winter days this past week. Thanks H&F for recommending a bit of fun, after all.
Vernacular: adj.: using a language or native language rather than a literary, cultured, or foreign language.
1. 2 Litre De Bortoli casks (not sure what that is–but the recommendation is to “decant it first”) That just means air it out a bit, people. (Listerlegs)
2. Domain Boudau, Le Clos 2009 (Cotes du Roussillon, France)
3. Damalisco Crianza 2008 (Toro, Spain)
4. The Culprit, 2010 (Sonoma)
5. Washington State Cabs. Any of them. (the wine serf)
6. Cono Sur wine from Chile
7. Yalumba whites from Australia (kdrizzleuk)
8. Wines of the San Jaun (New Mexico) (phil795)
9. Moscato (Daniel Bryant)
10. Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino ($13)
11. Feudi di San Gregorio, Falanghina Sannio ($16)
12. Ocone, Falanghina del Taburno “Flora” ($14)
13. Zenato, Lugana San Benedetto ($14)
14. Allegrini, Palazzo della Torre ($17)
15. Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico ($20)
16. Valle Reale, Vigne Nuove Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($12)
17. Hauner, Salina Rosso ($13)
18. Di Majo Norante, Ramitello Rosso IGT ($16) (Stefano–an amazing and magical contribution of bottles 10-19)
20. Boomtown, Dusted Valley (Montainstroh)
22. French Cinsault (K.M Kowalski–says it is perfect with burgers!)
Thank you to all who contributed suggestions.