The Sip

An archive of notes from 2015—2019

Nice Melons

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I’ve been on a melon kick lately. And also I’ve been dreaming about going back to Italy. A lot. 

So I opened this golden Italian quaffer from Cinque Terre. And to my delight, it was filled with the same saltiness as the Ligurian ocean and a complex twang that reminded me of that addicting Tajin my fruit stand homie is always sprinkling on my fruit! As much as I miss the Italian Riviera, I love LA. 

I drank three glasses and gorged on more crunchy, cold melon; summer couldn’t have been riper for the picking. 

This wine gets extended contact with the skin, and you know I’m all about that. Because when you leave a white wine in touch with its skins a little longer, it imparts mucho depth and texture to the wine.

There’s a sexy richness to this white, but it’s still as clean as that sweet Italian babe boarding a yacht, wearing no more than salt from the sea.

And it tastes just like her, too.

 oh Sophia...I'll have what she's having

oh Sophia…I’ll have what she’s having

CHEAT SHEET

WINE: Bisson Marea, Liguria, Italy 2014

GRAPE: LOCALS ONLY: Bosco, Vermentino, Albarola

HOMETOWN: Cinque Terre, Italy. Liguria. Land of perfect everything, Slim Aarons style.

TASTES LIKE: This is no lightweight white. It’s refreshing as a dip in those cool blue waters, but it has richness and depth – more like Sophia Loren than Taylor Swift. Think yellow melon, waxy citrus, flowers from some seaside town. Complex and lush with a crunchiness like that melon I’ve been slammin. 

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: The best seafood I ever ate was in Liguria. I had prawns that were magical and tasted like créme brülee of the sea. Any of those briny flavors will dazzle with this one and highlight the deeper fruit flavors and complexity. 

TELL YOUR FRIENDS: Not trying to be a jerk, but there’s barely any of this left – 18 bottles total. But I couldn’t keep it from you, that’s just rude. So tell them you win – which is not rude, it’s just true. 

MAKE THIS: Watermelon Salad is a summer jam you should have on repeat. Easiest recipe ever, but I gave you a list of ingredients and instruction just in case, see below. 

Ingredients

(SERVES 8)

  • 1 package baby arugula (5 oz)
  • 8 cups 3/4-inch cubes seedless watermelon*
  • 1 package feta cheese, crumbled (7 oz)
  • 2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar – This is my favorite of all time, but you can cheat a little and buy a reduction or a glaze too…  
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Chopped basil

*watermelon is not hard to cut, but my brother was in awe when I dropped my technique on him. I’ll share it with you in case you’ve been struggling, too: Slice melon in half, width-wise. Place cut side face down on the cutting board, then cut into slices. Lay slice on its side, trim rind off, then cube. Done.

Italian Summer

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Dear Bologna

  photo by  David Marcinek

photo by David Marcinek

Whenever summer comes around I start thinking about the one when I lived in Italy. I’d ride my bike to school every morning, stop for two cappuccinos at Antica Bologna, drink them one at a time with the same barista, then I’d have about 17 more espressos before it was time to switch to Campari and wine. It swells my heart just to think back to those days (also that’s a lot of caffeine and alcohol, so that probably had its effects).

School got out at 3p and everything was shut down, because, Europe. I’d walk my bike instead of riding, in no rush to nap with the rest of those lazy bastards. Joking, I loved every single one of them. But the city in the afternoon had all these distinct smells and no one was around to take even a sip of them, so I’d inhale greedily and flood my whole being with them like the glutton Italy grants you free will to become. 
 

There was this fruit stand I’d take the long way to pass by, where the smell of ripe melons was so intoxicating it would hit me before I could even see the stand. I’d intentionally slow down walking by. The owner was probably named Claudio and was probably thinking I was interested in him and his fruits.

But really I was just getting drunk on that smell. I never bought a melon because that heavenly scent was so perfect I am certain no taste on earth would’ve matched it. I can still smell it like it was yesterday. 
Hot afternoon sun, quiet streets, melon perfume…

What’s that got to do with this wine I’m not exactly sure, except that the pull of those scent memories from my time in Italy are so vivid and encompassing I can feel the weight of them on my chest like a hug to the heart.

I wish I could drink them all up.

Instead, I wanna share this little taste of the blissful state I lived in that summer, when every bite, every smell, every sound was something beautiful. 

It’s bright and easy-going but far from simple. Made by a woman in Chianti, Giovanna, who withdrew her splendid wine from the official Chianti designation because they didn’t respect the indigenous grapes and quality to her standards. And while there are some good Chianti here and there, it’s true that it’s mostly the Budweiser of the wine world. You can’t mass produce something and expect it to live up to its full potential. I can tell you with certainty I’ve never found a melon that smelled half as good as those…

Anyway, this wine is enchanting and delicious and yes, it’s scarce. Less than 100 cases make it into the country for us americanos. It’s special like the naps are long, and the gelato is cold, and the melons are ripe. 

CHEAT SHEET

WINE: Podere Le Boncie ‘5’ Tuscany, Italy, 2014

GRAPE: Mostly Sangiovese, with dashes of locals Mammolo, Colorino, and Cieliegiolo – that last one means cherry in Italian, and that’s no coincidence because the fruit in this gem is Bing and Rainier all day.

HOMETOWN: Tuscany, where so much wine is made commercially, but this one is as pure as the sun is warm. 

TASTES LIKE: something you can’t put your finger on, but tangible and delicious. Late summer evenings with smells like purple flowers and red fruit that either come from your glass or the garden you’re sitting in, smoke from the bonfire or maybe it’s the wine. Not that it matters, this one drinks seamlessly with all of those things. 

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: I imagine something home-cooked with this one, like a whole chicken and some bitter greens and some burrata with peaches because that’s what I ate cooked most often in Italy, and in Italy you don’t order chicken at a restaurant, you cook it at home. Pasta, sandwiches and even salmon would also fare well.

TELL YOUR FRIENDS: You’re pouring them a wine that’s more authentic than any Chianti they’d probably pick – it’s not their faulty, it’s not because they’re lazy, it’s just what they know. But sometimes you have to take the long way home in order to smell the melons. It’s definitely worth it.

 

Under the Strawberry Moon

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a cosmic kind of wine

 favorite color, strawberry moon sky 

favorite color, strawberry moon sky 

For the first time in 70 years the other night, the full moon fell on the same day as the summer solstice and I spent the longest day of the year riding bikes, eating Vietnamese food in the back of a 1968 Ford F100, drinking this perfect strawberry-colored and completely magical wine, with one of the greatest humans on the planet. Or under the sun, you could say, which happened to be sitting motionless at its northernmost point, waiting patiently still at the tropic of cancer, before switching directions. 

And all of this beneath a lunar miracle.  I’d call it a win in all directions. 

To be honest, cruising through the wide open streets on a Monday night, smelling the night smells and eating dinner under the giant fruit pie in the sky, we didn’t even know that it was a special stellar happening, except that it just was. 

Then my mom texted me (she’s better than the NPR app for news updates and happenings and I’ve just been informed it’s now shark week), and her message said mysteriously: it’s a strawberry moon tonight. I asked her what that meant, and she replied with the brevity of someone in bed not interested in texting. So I googled it. I liked what I read more than I had for blue moons and super moons. I wanted to name a song or an ice cream flavor after it. Something about strawberry moon lured the tides of my heartstrings and then I couldn’t stop staring at it, feeling its pull and thinking about outer space and heavenly bodies.

Before I get too sentimental on you (too late?), I’ll cut to the chase: This gem is rare as the Strawberry Moon. And just as delicious. Also, you can’t get this wine ANYWHERE else. I know I say things are limited often (always true). But in this case, I was lucky enough to get nearly the entire allocation – me! And I’m sharing it with you. You don’t hoard good music, delicious cookies, funny jokes, or the rarest wines all to yourself, it’s not right. I wish I could see your eyes light up at first sip of this, because I do believe this is the best pét-nat that exists, under any moon that has ever risen. 

 AWESOME FUN FACT: Piége å Filles translates to

AWESOME FUN FACT: Piége å Filles translates to “girl trap” literally, and figuratively, wait for it: PANTY DROPPER! No joke. 

Get your lips on this treat, it’s as fleeting as the last light of a long summer day, and honestly, it’s just as moving. 

(I know – I’ve been on a BØRNS kick lately, but the sentiment of this song is just perfect). What did you expect, some cliche Fly Me To The Moon bit? I’m not some show pony, let’s get real.

CHEAT SHEET

WINE: Les Capriades Pétillant-Naturel, Rosé Piège à Filles, Loire Valley France 2015 (Piége å Filles translates to “girl trap” literally, and figuratively, wait for it: PANTY DROPPER! No joke). 

GRAPE: Mostly Gamay, with sprinkles each of Grolleau, Cab Franc, and Cot – all farmed organically.

HOMETOWN: Loire Valley, France, from master winemaker, Pascal Potaire. 

TASTES LIKE: past lives, simple beauty, the color of the sky after dusk and before dark, the first bite of a ripe strawberry with a hint of the earth that the vine emerged from; as gentle and temporary as linen in the breeze and lace lingerie. Sorry I’m just feeling very romantic about this one.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: there is no wrong answer to this – you can drink it with anything. Or nothing. This wine special enough to be the centerpiece, and subtle enough to welcome any type of gustatory delight; especially friendly with southeast Asian flavors, BBQ, and lunchy foods. Don’t be fooled though, this single wine can carry you through the whole night and the whole meal, the whole game of Cards Against Humanity.

IF YOU LIKE: We’ve been down this road before. The last time I offered up Les Capriades (the Chenin Blanc) you thirsty pups snapped it all up in 20 min – none left for me! And good on ya. THIS ONE IS BETTER. If you liked the Bugey-Cerdon (the panty dropper juice), imagine an even more refined and delicate bird of the same feather. And then get it, so you’re not stuck just imagining. 

TELL YOUR FRIENDS: You scored a wine made by THE master that no one else can buy. And you’re pouring it for who?! Choose carefully. This one won’t come around again till next vintage and it’s never the same twice; similarly, the Strawberry Moon won’t overlap with summer solstice again until 2062, so you could say this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing on all accounts. 

can’t stop staring:

 photo:  Martin Schgaguler

photo: Martin Schgaguler

*check out the recent words I threw down for VICE Munchies on the merits of Thai food and wine – together – Capriades is a pick, get some in your glass!

Greek Life

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 white on white 

white on white 

I gotta tell you: I’m on a summer high, embracing the heat wave …kind of, I just ordered an AC unit; but somehow all I can think about is basking in the sun against the backdrop of that stark blue and white that’s so famously Greece. Sweating in my apartment with Hudson, who’s unfortunately still wearing fur, I’m riddled with wanderlust. And while architecture’s nice and everything, you can’t drink pictures and they’re making me thirsty AF along with this heat.  

Enter: the liquid equivalent of time suspended, seashells gathered, and salty-lemony snacks under the glowing Greek sun and that impeccable shade of blue.

FYI: Greece has been a winemaking region for say, 3000 years! NBD. Greek wine went out of fashion for a while due to some mishap with retsina, a wine dosed and flavored with pine resin. Originally that was to preserve the wines from oxidizing, but then everyone thought all Greek wine tasted like pine resin and so they shunned it. All of it.

Typical Winecism. But Greece is back in a big fat way, with a small collection of producers, like Sigalas, championing indigenous varietals the old-fashioned way.

This wine tastes like thousands of years of sunlight. And one of the coolest things about this wine from Greece is the vineyard itself: instead of the traditional rows, the vines are coiled in a circular fashion, held close to the earth like beautiful, leafy crowns, to protect them from the intensity of sun, wind and sea. It is a mysterious and enchanting sight. It’s almost as if a Santorini island alien colony, fueled by the local nectar, installed a secret message millennia ago. Well, I decoded it for you – it says: YOU NEED THIS IN YOUR GLASS. They plan to return for the wine we are too stupid not to enjoy and finish, so get to sippin.’ Also, they come in peace.

 crown of the vines in Greece on Santorini aka alien messaging to drink this jucie

crown of the vines in Greece on Santorini aka alien messaging to drink this jucie

CHEAT SHEET:

WINE: Domaine Sigalas, Santorini, Greece 2015

GRAPE: Greece grows so many native grapes. Assyrtiko is arguably the best; it has the feel-good energy of a high octane summer anthem and the precision and beauty of a concert cellist. There’s also a teeny bit of Athiri dosed in for aromatics and balance

HOMETOWN: Santorini, the premier winegrowing region in Greece. These ancient grapes come to life in an ancient vineyard sitting afloat on an island in the south of the Aegean; volcanic soils, salty sea air, and a winegrowing history that dates back THREE THOUSAND YEARS – this is an unadulterated and completely pure expression of place.  

TASTES LIKE: beach-like, dry, satisfying; like dangling your feet in the Santorini breeze after a swim; ripe yellow citrus and maybe a hint of honeydew melon; salty, with minerality from the volcanic soils, and a super subtle-but-beautiful bouquet of fresh herbs.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: all the fare you’d expect with Mediterranean flavors: olives, fresh cheeses like burrata and feta, thyme, white fish, fried calamari, anything in the key of salty-lemony – OH! Squeeze a lemon on some fish and chips and drink this!!

If YOU LIKE: Um, vacation and breathing air? C’mon. Get this in your glass.

 

 

Fruit Punch Me in the Mouth

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Remember how fruit punch was the best thing on earth as a kid? I wasn’t allowed to eat junk food but friends always had the stuff on hand so when I was invited over, I’d grab it out of the fridge, run to the backyard, and guzzle it like a savage in the grass. By the time my mom picked me up, my big mouth always gave me away, stained lips-to-tongue that bright ruby red. A scolding about the poisonous nature of refined sugar always followed… and guess what?

SO WORTH IT.

When I was young, my parents monitored what I ate soo strictly. Couldn’t have candy, but I have a scar two inches long on the top of my right hand, from reaching into a busted piñata and scraping it across a dangling wire while trying to pull out the biggest grip of Smarties and Pixie Sticks I could get my paws on; No soda allowed, so I snuck Shirley Temples whenever I ate at the Old Spaghetti Factory with the soccer team; red meat was bad for you, so I ate three hot dogs at summer camp in one sitting and got sick for days. Not as worth it as the fruit punch, but still.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great childhood. I grew up singing Dire Straits in the car with my dad, running around outside all the time, eating the best pizza bagels known to human kind. The memories are warm and tasty. It’s just that carob chips never tasted like real chocolate (THEY’RE NOT), and that bullshit Honey Vanilla flavor Haagen Dazs tried to pawn off as healthy AND delicious never really worked for me, either. What a weird assault on the absolute best ice cream flavor* ever to exist. To this day I’m not a real fan of honey, it just gets in the way of the taste of other things. 

Despite my junk food depravations as a kid, I still got fixes when the parents weren’t around. Kudos bars at soccer games – the best! Now I think I live a pretty balanced life, minus a Postmates delivery of a dozen donuts every now and then (it’s only a dozen because there’s a minimum order, relax I share).

Somehow, this Carignan from the Rhone reminds me of the smacking, juicy red kind of rebel-good time I’d live for whenever I could steal the punch.  

And, I’m older now. So I can drink whatever I want. This summery, entirely pleasurable, punch-like treat is my new house red. I’ve been drinking it out of a juice glass in a bathing suit (one piece, of course) – for nostalgia. And I can’t help offering it up to anyone who’s thirsty.

This is also the FIRST VINTAGE EVER MADE of this wine! Less than 700 cases were made. Which is not a lot at all. It’ll be gone quick, especially at the rate I’m drinking it…

The point is, you need this easy-chugger in your stash. For medical reasons. And practical ones, too. IT GOES WITH SERIOUSLY EVERYTHING! So gluggable, no wine glass required.

*vanilla is absolutely the best ice cream flavor on earth; French vanilla, vanilla bean, and other various forms of vanilla are not the same, and if you don’t understand this then we have to start talking about an open relationship.

CHEAT SHEET:

WINE: Domaine la Manarine, Carignan, Southern Rhone, France 2014 – FIRST VINTATE EVER OF THIS WINE!
 

GRAPE: Carignan from 40 year old vines – that’s old; aka the FOOD GRAPE. This wine is so versatile, it’s almost like an ingredient itself in whatever you’re eating. It used to be treated as a loser grape, but conscious producers are respecting now, making it with care and love – like this one made with organic practices and low yields. 
 

HOMETOWN: Carignan comes from several places, but this is from a sustainable family-run estate in Rhone, France.
 

TASTES LIKE: cranberry, raspberry, and a hint of spice and cured meat – don’t be weirded out just because I said meat; it’s like having a good spread of preserves, cheeses and meats where you’re just blissfully snacking the day away on the grass. This wine tastes like happiness and is a liquid picnic treat.
 

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: It does cartwheels with warm spices like cinnamon, star anise, and dried herbs; it brings out berry goodness in dishes with red fruits and umami zing in roasted, smoked or cured foods. Try cured meats or a turkey sandwich – do dark meat! Sorry, I can’t stop saying meat; ALSO: its body is so Goldilocks! Handles sturdy fare like a champ but won’t overpower lighter dishes, and even works with vegetables – not always easy for a red.
 

If YOU LIKE: Zinfindel, Cotes du Rhone blends, or even Merlot, get this in your glass. It’s about as easy-going as they come, and quite the crowd pleaser of a red gem. Chill it down for a bit of extra punch on a hot day.

 

 

Liquid Musings

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  ROSE FLOW

ROSE FLOW

Oh you’re parched, you say? I know, it’s been a thirsty little while…But I was doing some major tasting for you, working hard, and writing a lot, with intermittent dips in the pool (or maybe I’ve just been drunk for the past five weeks straight, who’s to say). The truth is, I’ve been underwater – in work and in life, and, as a result, that means swimming in (lucky for you) WINE. 
 
But that’s fitting because it’s summer. Officially. And since we’re speaking of floating around on a liquid cloud, I have a treat for you! Yep, I’m back with the daily goods, and this wine is a popsicle for grown ups, bottled. To sip this it is to sail away from troubles on a white-grapefruit-and-tea-scented raft. Drifting leisurely and weightless across a shimmering pool you’ll go, no destination required. Because when you have this in your glass, you are already where you want to be. Truth be told, I didn’t even use a glass. 

I drank this quaffer straight out of the bottle while I did the back stroke in the pool of a 10-bedroom villa in Palm Springs. Look, we all need a little getaway now and then, amiright? 
 
And Palm Springs is just so nice. The perfect close-but-not LA kind of sunshine vibe I needed for a crash session of simultaneously working and lounging (and imagining myself on the French Riviera). Since I couldn’t get to the south of France (flights were booked), I started popping bottles. This rosé hails from Provence, the birthing grounds of rosé royalty. And this pale pink peach of a wine tastes like undressing and drinks flat-out delicious. I’d have filled the pool with this stuff if I’d had enough of it on hand. Needless to say you’ll need more than one bottle if you plan to stay hydrated and enjoy a good swim…so drink up: I’M BACK!
 

CHEAT SHEET:

WINE: Domaine de Sulauze, Coteaux d’Aix Rosé, ‘Pomponette’ Provence, France 2015

GRAPE: Party of FIVE: Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Rolle

HOMETOWN: Coteaux d’Aix, Provence – aka South of France, aka land of leisure, lavender, and beautiful people, aka Roxane Mesquida. Google her (or peek below).

TASTES LIKE: you’re drinking sunlight – bright, clear summer sun. Red berry flavors mingle with zingy grapefruit, and there’s a hint of salt that comes in with a breezy waft of fresh flowers.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: any type of thirst imaginable, from desert-stranded to lost at sea and therefore also all seafoods; plus cheeses, deli meats, cold salads, pool hangs, solo vibes and anything summer. Drink all day long. As if it were water. But better.

EXTRA CREDIT: This wine is unfiltered and farmed biodynamically, alongside ancient grains, olives, and other vegetables that grow on the farm.

 Told you. She's as hot and french as good Provence rosé and you need some in your glass. THE WINE. 

Told you. She’s as hot and french as good Provence rosé and you need some in your glass. THE WINE. 

 

Secret Garden, Magic Wine.

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A lot has happened in the last seven days: Lemonade dropped. G.O.T. is back on. We lost an icon. I seriously cannot accept the fact that Prince DIED. I’m still in shock. I wasn’t going to even attempt to capitalize on a legend’s passing with a bunch of song references as tasting notes and insensitive memes – that would be so tasteless.

Still, I needed a drink, ASAP.

But bottle of Champagne felt too celebratory and a heavy red felt depressing. I wanted something gentle, something ethereal, maybe magical, even.

What I wanted was a beautiful, natural, fleeting kind of wine. This moment called for a Pét-Nat.

Luckily, I had a bottle of Capriades Pet-Sec on hand. I poured myself a glass and it was infinitely more refreshing than #lemonade, sensual and magical, and as ephemeral and rare as Ghost himself (that’s Jon Snow’s direwolf, Ghost). It was just the uplifting dose I was looking for. This is a fairy of a wine that’s as delightful as it is practically non-existent – there’s so little of it even made! Pascal makes a few versions, but this is his driest one – mineral-laden and far from sweet, but with hints of white peach, golden apricot, fresh flowers mingling about wildly.

The thing about pétillant-naturel is that you have to have the right raw material. The work starts in the vineyard (like it does for all good wines), but because méthod ancestrale has no sulfur to stabilize it, all of the grapes have to be perfect. You can’t fake this kind of wine. And Les Capriades is probably the best in the game when it comes to this style of winemaking.

Here’s how it works: After the grape juice starts to ferment in a tank, the wine gets bottled and completes fermentation inside the bottle under a crown cap. Delicate bubbles form as the sugars convert to alcohol and the resulting CO2 is trapped. The bottles are turned upside down, slowly, where sediment collects in the neck of the bottle and is then disgorged by hand. The crown seal is opened and the pressure of the gas blows the dead yeast sediment puck out, and the bottle is resealed – ready for you and me to consume in the garden at lunch, surrounded by waist-high tomato plants and wild lettuces growing free of pesticides and other nonsense.

Speaking of flourishing vegetables, I recently discovered a secret garden of sorts – well, Hudson (my lovable “Dilbert” of a dog) discovered it. Led by his curious and mischievous nose, we found a hidden enclave – a secret treasure of a spot where the most incredible, abundant garden was thriving behind the trash bins.

Kale, mixed lettuces, tomatoes, nasturtium, and root vegetables were all growing prolifically and magically behind a nondescript garage. I sat in this mini paradise taking in the waft of fresh vegetables and flowers while a perfected Chenin Blanc leapt out of the glass, abundant with its own ripe orchard fruits and fresh-grown, garden-y scents. It was hard to tell what was coming from where and it was sublime. While I drank Capriades Pet-Sec, I discouraged Hudson from peeing on the successful fruits of someone else’s labor. He listened mostly, and sat with me in the sun in the middle of the day, taking it all in. Not literally – I didn’t steal so much as a bite of anything, don’t worry.

I did, however, peak inside a toolbox I found (I’m a curious person), where I discovered a different varietal of herb (you know what I’m saying), so I figured I could use this magical bottle of wine as leverage or barter if I got caught trespassing.

This is as unadulterated and natural as wine gets. Sure, there’s science-y stuff going on, but there’s also an art form at work here that you can’t really put an equation to. Even after harvesting grapes at the exact right time, bottling live-fermenting wine without disrupting the process, protecting the vines and nurturing them without any intervention, there is an intangible quality that just exists outside of human influence. It can’t be duplicated. It can’t even really be described.

When you get ahold of something that extraordinary, you have to enjoy it to the last drop, as much as possible – bathe in it, even. Why? Because things that special can vanish without any warning at all.

THE CHEAT SHEET

THE WINE: Les Capriades Pet-Sec, Méthod Traditionelle, Loire Valley, France 2014

THE GRAPE: Mostly Chenin Blanc (my fav) with a tiny bit of Cabernet Franc.  

HOMETOWN: Loire Valley, France, near Tours.

TASTES LIKE: White peach, flowers, apple, tea, herbs – everything that comes in a bouquet or from an orchard; super delicate with so much going on. Total, pure deliciousness that’s low alcohol and dangerously easy to drink.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: This is day drinking at its best. Drink it with brunch, lunch or nothing at all – I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than skipping a work day and having a whole bottle of this next to a plate of fresh garden veggies. Yes, I’d drink a whole bottle. WITH A SALAD. Life’s about balance.

Free to Ride

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We need to talk about German wine.

If you don’t immediately picture a badass Ian Morris-type floating a tailwhip across the most famous BMX skate park in all of Europe when I say German wine, then keep reading.

For this piece, I consulted my rally-racing, street bike racing homie – code name: The Deal. I dubbed him this because he is the real deal (and he’s last name is ArDEALean but then I realized I’d been spelling his name wrong for a few months, it’s actually ArdeLEAN). I’ve since revised his moniker to The Lean. Because he keeps it tight.

Anyway, when I say German wine, I’d imagine you land somewhere on the spectrum between totally uninterested or unsure, and totally sure that it’s too serious or too foreign to enjoy. WRONG. If you’re imagining a tiny man sitting in a giant leather throne, swirling a glass of wine and yelling at you IT’S WHITE you fool! you’re missing out. And that’s not actually happening here, so we’ll address the psychological issues later (I’m qualified, my mom’s a therapist; pretty sure it’s got something to do with childhood trauma).

But let’s talk about wine: German wine is some of THE most drinkable, food friendly glou-glou on the planet. Yes, I mean the whole world, and I’m not even being hyperbolic.

We can use the pretzel to ease into this. Firstly, it’s a food I feel pretty strongly about, for its versatility and simplicity. Think about it: Pretzels handle mustard, chocolate, cheese, entire sandwiches, caramel, horseradish, beer, the list goes on. It’s carbohydrate slam poetry.

German wine is as adaptable as it gets, too. Beurer’s Riesling and Trollinger are individually impressive, balanced creatures full of freshness and energy. Together, there is nothing on the table they can’t make friends with. And that’s impressive for something so …German, no?

This duo is straight from the Swabian hillside, made at the deft hand of a former BMX champion who is a sincerely badass winemaker. So far I’ve used the term badass twice, and it won’t be the last before this little discussion is over.

The Riesling walks a firm tightrope held taught by a firm acidity and full of leafy and petal-y things, subtle accents of green and yellow fruit – it’s like running through a meadow where the Alpine air is so fresh it shocks your lungs. The Trollinger conjures up loads of blue and red fruits twirling about a single, alluring Iris at the center of it all. It reminds me of that kind of brisk summer night where you think you want a sweater but then realize you don’t need one. It’s got a drinkability that rivals some of the best cool-climate Pinot Noirs and reminds me of the softer, Suditrol reds from northern Italy.

Jochen Beurer was THE European BMX champion in the 90s. I needed to understand what that meant, because I’m mostly a novice in bike-anything, even though I do have a Brooks saddle and a nice yellow road bike at home (with flat tires).

I talked to The Deal, and we agreed that it’d be totally permissible to hang your hat on a BMX championship and just kind of ride out on that (see what I did there?). But not Jochen Beurer.  

He settled down in an area where his family had some vines in southwest Germany, just east of the upper Rhine (the Rhine River is the geographical crux of German winemaking – everything draws its reference from this point).

Beurer’s dad had been selling the family grapes to a co-op, but Beurer decided to have a go at making wine himself. I don’t know much about being a BMX champ, or being German, but I imagine there is a level of invincibility that goes along with both.

And while you or I would have sat in the local pub buying rounds of Krombacher for people, reliving glory tales of closing gaps and setting jump records, this guy went for perfection – again. Only this time, he took to vineyard practices and winemaking excellence. In 2003, Beurer began experimenting with organic viticulture and spontaneous fermentations, and then transitioned to biodynamic practices entirely – a super rare and completely badass move (#3).

BMX riding sounds wild, reckless, even crazy, daredevil stuff. But it’s not. It’s precise, intentional, and full of split-second decision-making. It requires balance and being in tune with not just your bike but also the whole environment around you. You don’t just jump down 10 stair rails and nail 360-bunnyhops without some calculation. And yet, you have to stay open so you don’t stifle the freedom and spirit of the ride.

His wines are some of the cleanest, purest expressions of the area I have ever tasted. They are so elegant, precise, and unbelievably continuous. Imagine the accuracy you need to land a tabletop – flying through the air, weightless but totally in control of the gears and wheels beneath you. You gotta be light as a feather, relaxed, connected to your surroundings, but powerful, too. 

I couldn’t apply a better analogy to these two wines if I tried. As a BMX champion, Beurer carved air as his art; he sliced through space and defied gravity. He’s still defying the elements, he’s just creating with another medium. These wines are the liquid equivalent of a 360-Turndown. Google it.

THE CHEAT SHEET

THE WINE:  Beurer Trollinger ‘Trocken’ Swabia, Germany 2014 AND Beurer Riesling ‘Trocken’ Swabia, Germany 2014

THE GRAPE: Riesling (white) and Trollinger (red). Two wines!

HOMETOWN: Swabia, Southern Germany which includes Baden and Württemberg

TASTES LIKE: Riesling: More minerals than fruit; fresh and weightless, but with a bright, firm core and delicate salinity that never ends. Clean lines, pure and straightforward Riesling; far from simple. Trollinger: light-bodied, cool and effortlessly chuggable and loveable.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Let’s ease into this with the pretzel. Pretzels go with mustard, chocolate, cheese, entire sandwiches, caramel, horseradish, beer, the list goes on forever. It’s carbohydrate slam poetry! 

German wine is just as versatile and this duo is no exception. Beurer’s Riesling and Trollinger are individually impressive, balanced creatures full of freshness and energy. Together, there is nothing on the table they can’t make friends with. And that’s impressive for something so German, no?

IF YOU LIKE: Crisp, cool, mineral-driven wines. Riesling nay-sayers, this is the wine that wins you over. Cool-climate Pinot lovers, rejoice.

WINE HACK: In a twist of irony, I prefer the red chilled and the white closer to room temp. 

**BONUS BMX ACTION***

Come on Down to Flavor Town

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Have you ever taken a bite of a steak and thought, holy cow. As in, this cow must have been holy because it tastes like gawwwddamn heaven? A steak tastes this way when the cow has it’s lived right, naturally and fully, and then someone is sensible enough to cook it proper, without interfering too much: seasoning with nothing more than salt and pepper, searing it to a browned, crusted perfection in a sauté pan, letting it rest. And while the steak takes its power nap, you make the pan sauce – because that’s what makes it sing. I know you’ve had this meal (vegans / veg homies: sub a marinated grilled Portobello, I guess?).

And the underlying reason your taste buds flip out isn’t the beef, it’s the umami. The fifth flavor. The wild card taste. Well this wine is UMAMI AF. Umami just means delicious, relax. You don’t have to worry I’m going to get too scientific. I don’t have it in me.

Normally I’m prone to describing a wine in terms of flora and fauna and fruits of all shades, after all, wine grows amongst these things and is of fruit itself, no? But this wine is straight up savory: lip-smackingly, make-you-drool-for-it, umami savory. There is still plenty of fruit, in fact the fruit is central and won’t be denied – noble mouthfuls of wild strawberry and currents are as bountiful as summer itself.

But that element lives within a context of dynamic layers of this other flavor component, one full of meat and earth and yes, that umami goodness. I know it’s odd to reference meat when talking about a wine. I don’t know any meat sommeliers, but I bet they would be able to wax poetic on this one, with tasting notes and nerdy elaborations galore.

In absence of a Meat Sommelier to analyze, I drank this wine with a bunch of rowdy, untamed cooks – guys who prioritize taste and could care less about soil type or longitude and latitude – they flipped out. They couldn’t get enough – I kept refilling their plastic cups and little ramekins (because, no glass in kitchens) and we all marveled at its unique deliciousness, its savory-ness. There was just something so satisfying, so enjoyably delicious.

I think it could be argued that both chefs and winemakers classify as artists. Sure some are scientists, too, but the wines that tend to speak to me profoundly are usually guided by intuition, made by someone who feels their way through the process more so than thinking about it. That’s how you cook the best food and make the best wine. But that’s not the scientific approach. And since an artist is so firstly concerned with truth and following their instincts, they’re freer somehow – to taste, and to discover new human experiences even before the scientific world has formulated its charts and equations on the subject.

Which brings us back to umami. Did you know umami wasn’t even an accepted fact until 2002?? I was a full-blown adult by then (wasn’t acting like one much, but still), and we were still all relegating taste to the old four: salty, sweet, bitter, sour! Well, thanks to Escoffier – he’s the man who invented veal stock, I’d take his word seriously – I now have the lexicon to accurately describe this wine for you.

Like a steak, it is a rustic but complete in flavor. It’s more like a bone-in rib eye than a filet mignon and if there’s anything I know about cooking (and life), the meat should always be bone-in. 

I wish I could tell you all about how I bought a vintage BMW motorcycle (1975 R 90 S), coasted my way down the dirt road to Beaujolais to help hand-harvest ripe Gamay alongside Gilles Paris, who prepared for us a light meal of potato soup while we drank his Fleurie after a hard day’s work in the vineyard exchanging stories in broken Frenglish.

But that didn’t happen. And until it does, I’m afraid the only other factual information I can offer you on this obscure producer is the following:

  1. It is a fucking delicious wine, unlike any Gamay I have ever tasted.
  2. It is made genuinely natural without sulfur, without filtration, without machines and without chemicals.
  3. Every part of the process is done by hand.
  4. It comes from a single vineyard in Beaujolais Cru territory from old vines.
  5. The flavor runs deep, smoky and umamilicious. Look it up, it comes right after bootylicious in the urban dictionary.

Gilles Paris is making Gamay in the purest way imaginable. They are wines for a gourmand, an artist, and those with a thirst and a hunger for the world and all of its flavors. Profound and delicious at once, there is nothing mathematical about this ethereal beauty.  It is wholly natural, the ultimate expression of the word, and not in the marketing sense. There is harmony in the bottle because there is harmony in the land.  Gilles is so sincere in his desire to convey total purity from the grapes to the glass that he achieves a wine most would think is impossible to produce in the absence of technology and post-harvest manipulation. But that’s why thinking is the job of the scientist, not the wine drinker.

THE CHEAT SHEET

THE WINE: Gilles Paris Fleurie ‘Champagne’ Beaujolais, France 2014

THE GRAPE: Gamay

HOMETOWN: Beaujolais, France, Fleurie Cru

TASTES LIKE: UMAMI AF. Normally I’m prone to describing a wine in terms of flora and fauna and fruits of all shades, but this wine is straight up savory: lip-smackingly, make-you-drool-for-it, umami savory. There’s still plenty of fruit – noble mouthfuls of wild strawberry and currents are as bountiful as summer itself.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Wine’s-better-with-food is my motto, but this wine is so enjoyable on its own. If you need more than a liquid dinner, roasted chicken, mushroom-y things, salad with olives and tomatoes, simple steak, salami and cold cuts, cheeses and other picnic-like foods are all mouth-happy matches, too.

IF YOU LIKE: French Pinot Noir, Gamay; earthy, fresh reds that are light but still full of flavor, super drinkable.

NERDY EXTRA CREDIT: The word ‘Champagne’ refers to the name of the single site vineyard – nothing to do with Champagne itself – confusing as hell but what can you do…it’s France.

Not Your Average Rosé

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This wine is hard for me to categorize as rosé – it has a textural depth and harmony of expression that comes from the extreme care taken in the vineyards and the fact that it is aged for far longer than is usual for a rosé (a year in the barrel and then another 18 months in the bottle). The aging gives it a distinct quality, a present funkiness that is far from dirty, but carries the experience farther than summer water ever could. Before I get to the heart of the wine, and how it brought me back from a state of disrepair – literally – there’s something you need to know.

I am a case-less phone carrier. I admit it. I have an iPhone, and I carry it naked, in all of its design glory and sleek, ergonomic splendor. It’s what Steve would have wanted. And then the other day, it slid off of my lap and gracefully travelled in slow motion – it was practically ballet – until it landed face down on asphalt. Unprotected. I felt like a negligent parent and cracked inside along with my screen.

And what followed was a saga of epic repair proportions – I thought I’d deftly avoid the grove on a Sunday and took it to a screen repair place with 1,800 5-star reviews on yelp. That should have acted as a warning, I guess, but hindsight, you know?

Anyway, cut to U Break We Fix:

UBWF: Here you go! Your phone is ready!

Me: Umm, ok but I can’t type anything.

UBWF: That’s weird, let’s have a look. Ok, give me 5 minutes. Okay it’s ready [again].

Me: Umm, but I still can’t type anything (at this point my Dad is super pissed because I am not answering his texts about how to click on a Facebook link).

UBWF: Let’s see? Ok give me 5 minutes.

We had this exchange for four rounds.

Finally, they implored me to take a loaner phone and come back in the morning. That’s odd, we’re not treating a hangover here. I declined the scripted remedy. They put a broken screen back on – someone else’s because they couldn’t find mine in the heaping graveyard of screens, and sent me on my way. And then, my phone didn’t work AT ALL.  Not even Siri. Not that she’s super on it normally, but still.

Things had gone from cosmetic to medical. I had one option only: urgent care (aka the Apple Store). At the Grove. ON A SUNDAY. 

Where’s the wine in all this you ask? You better believe I was asking the same damn thing.

Scene two: Walking to the Apple Store on a Sunday is worse than trying to navigate the 405 at 5pm. At least on the freeway you can scroll through an Instagram feed and fantasize about Bali or whatever. The Grove is bad fashion, relentless Frank Sinatra, kids cracked out on Dylan’s Candy, and a geyser-like fountain shooting water in the air – a 40-foot wet middle finger in the face of the California drought. What a mockery of a place.

For the record, I love Frank, but it’s a grotesque soundtrack to apply to the scene outlined above. I needed a cold glass of wine STAT, and all I had was my broken phone and two hours to kill until the doctor could see us.  Little ole Wine Drinker, Me came over the loud speaker. The entire Rat Pack was mocking me. I was the fool in the corner.

I refused to participate in Grove madness and shop (but then I broke down and shopped). I closed my eyes and imagined myself glass in hand, a twinkling pink pool of Domaine Dupasquier’s Rosé that I had sitting in my fridge at home. A cool treat made from Pinot Noir, Gamay and Mondeuse – a trio that would have shut Sammy, Dean, and Frank right up because of how delicious it is. Like a faithful friend ready for the call to mend your broken heart, it was waiting for me. If only it could have healed my cracked screen.

But for what it lacks in technology repair it makes up for x 1000 in undoing ego shatter. It is a slinky wine with a gentle sexiness (similar to the unnecessary lacy top I bought during my hours stranded on Grove island).  If most pink wines skip happily along, this one glides; it dances slow and deliberate, not fast like a teenager. There is something tea-like in its delicate but assertive complexity. Its color glows intensely pink, like a bougainvillea in a garden of pale roses.

Kids trotted by me, stuffing their faces with gum and candy. I wanted my own treat. Dupasquier, with its vivid, sun-ripened fruit and nothing bubblegum-y about it: rose petals, violets, and ripe red strawberry twirled in my head, mingling with balsamic and peace and quiet.

When I finally got my fix, I was instantly uplifted, joyous even, forgetting that I had just wasted 6 hours of life on 3rd and Fairfax. Some wines just reel you in.

This wine is from Savoie, which is a place that is much more amazing than The Grove.  It’s a little hamlet in Southeastern France, close to the Rhone Valley, where the Dupasquier family has been growing and winemaking for five generations, doing everything by hand with natural processes and only native yeasts. Sixty-year-old vines add dense layers but there’s total accessibility.

I love when people say oh, that’s pretty dark for a rosé, it must be poor quality. I only drink pale pink wines. Well that’s wine-cism. Darker colored rosé can be just as amazing as those pale colored hues you love from Provence. Sometimes, these darker creatures are more apropos than that delicate shade of salmon. Sunsets are intensely colored, do you mind those?

This is a generous wine; the second you walk in the door it gives you a neck massage AND a foot massage, putting definition to the word unwind. Then it gives you a gentle, warm kiss before going all the way down.

And, it’s absolutely perfect with food. Round and broad on your palate, it spreads itself across the surface of your tongue the way silk moves in those commercials for ice cream bars. It is rich, but as buoyant and refreshing as a bouquet of flowers for no reason.

Although I did not receive flowers for no reason, I did get quite the surprise in the mail a few days later from someone who loves me as much as I love rosé: Hudson, in all his sunbathing glory, sitting blissfully head turned to the sky, taking in life’s smallest pleasure of doing nothing at all. There he was, basking on the back of a brand new phone case. His expression said it all: life’s pretty delicious.

Which brings me to the moral of this story: pink wine should not be judged by its color, but by the hand that makes it. The producer is what matters most, and Dupasquier is one of the quiet greats, making wines I couldn’t be happier to share. And actually, I’ll be even happier if you don’t even buy any, because I will delight in keeping it all for myself, there is so little of this one.

And secondly, iPhones, while beautiful, also deserve to be wrapped in their own fitting shade of pink. It’s what Steve would have wanted. 

THE CHEAT SHEET

THE WINE: Domaine Dupasquier Rosé de Savoie, France 2012

THE GRAPE: Mondeuse, Pinot Noir, Gamay

HOMETOWN: Savoie, France. 

TASTES LIKE: Strawberries at the height of ripeness, roses, and hibiscus with a tea-like complexity and a hint of something balsamic. Texture like whoa. 

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Pretty much anything in the Farmer’s Market would have worked with this. This is a true food wine – cheeses, pork, chicken, duck, and spicy foods are awesome with this. 

IF YOU LIKE: If you love rosé but want to experience something different, explore the category in a little more depth and get out of your rosé comfort zone, drink this.

WINE HACK: I am currently exploring drinking wine with Thai food. This treat scores 10/10.

FYI – This wine is super small production, and won’t be back till next vintage.