Monday, February 18, 2008

Strange Sightings: The Dog at the Movies and the Bubbles in My Red Wine

We (humans) love predictability. Psychologists explain this preference in terms of schemata and stereotypes. We create mental short cuts and categories for ourselves so that we can act and respond quickly and efficiently...for our survival. When I go to the grocery store I expect to see the lettuce and the cucumbers to be in the same area. I expect this aisle to be labeled "produce." When I go out to dinner I expect that a waiter will come and offer water before taking my order. When I go to class I assume that there will be a place for me to sit and I expect that I will take notes.
When something occurs that disrupts our pre-conceived notions, what happens? We try to make sense of what we have encountered. We try to make it fit into our "categories." But if it doesn't, we can either disregard it, or learn to accept it.
Recently I went to the movies. Everything was very familiar. The theater was dim and screen was playing the pre-preview trivia. People were trying to find the best seats that were neither directly next to nor directly behind any of other patrons. Others had blocked off their territory with coats and bags. Yep, everything was very normal... very much in line with my movie theater schema. Then, all of a sudden I noticed the silhouette of a set of pointy ears. There, two rows ahead of me, was a little dog dressed in a fur lined parka, sitting contently on its owners lap. A DOG in the THEATER? I've lived in New York long enough to know that dogs are essentially the most fashionable accessory and have been accepted in more and more locations around the city. But the movie theater? This I had not seen. The dog must have been smuggled under a coat, or carried inside a bag. At first I was appalled, but then after I calmed down, I realized that this could be a preview of what's to come. What's next? Dog treats at the concession stand?
There are very good things about creating categories, making generalizations and using a schema to navigate the world. But when things surprise us, or even shock us, it is our ability to re-frame and be adaptable to change that ultimately helps us succeed and not just survive.
So now that I've told you my opinion on the matter, you should go out and buy yourself a bottle of Lambrusco. What does Lambrusco have to do with dogs in movie theaters? Well, you will most likely have a very disarming experience, like the one I had with the dog. You may have had many glasses of Champagne, Cava or Prosecco over the years, but have you had sparkling red wine?
I recently brought home a bottle of Lambrusco. I had had it a couple of times before, and both times it was so foreign that I didn't know what to make of it. At first I thought it was too much like grape juice - it wasn't as serious as a red wine "should" be. But on my most recent exploration, I decided that Lambrusco can be a great addition to your wine "cellar." It still has crisp refreshing qualities that you find in white sparkling wines, but it has a totally different profile. It's juicy, it has the slightest bit of tannins and great acidity. I tried it with Proscuitto and it was excellent. I tried it with peanuts (alla PB&J) and again it was good. I tried it with a quesadilla and it was still quite satisfying.
The moral of the story: try something new - bring home a bottle of Lambrusco... and if you have a little dog that needs constant love and attention, perhaps you should pick up a DVD while you are out as well.

Tasting Notes:
Medici Ermete
Reggiano Assolo 2006 is from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Lambrusco is the name of a grape as well as a wine, made primarily from the grape. There are 5 DOC's that produce Lambrusco. It does not have to be sparkling and is also made as a rose or white. But the best rated ones these days are "frizzante." This Lambrusco has a beautiful purple froth, and a deep red-purple color. It is dry, but does impart a slight sweet note. I immediately thought about Welch's grape juice... but it's better, more complex isn't cloying. $11.99

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How do you know when your wine is corked?

A good question and one that I can't answer. Actually that's not entirely true. I can tell you the symptoms of a corked wine - the "telltale" wet basement, moldy, dirty sock smell that everyone writes about to describe wine gone "bad." I can even tell you that TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) is the the culprit that is corrupting your bad bottle of wine. TCA, which can be passed to the wine from the cork or the barrel, can also show up in water and tea. There are various estimates about the percentage of wine that is actually corked. Those in the cork producing industry have produced numbers as low as 1.7% of all bottles, while other wine experts say the percentage can range anywhere from 5-10%. There's obviously no clear answer here, but because I'm a "worst case scenario" type of person, let's say that potentially 1 in 10 bottles actually contains the dreaded TCA.
So how many bottles of wine have you consumed in your life? Or in the past year. Can you imagine that potentially 1 in 10 bottles of wine that you have ever consumed have actually been corked? If you are like me, you have probably not sent many (or even any) wines back at a restaurant. And if you are as frugal as I am, you probably haven't dumped much down the kitchen sink either.
There have been many times when I have suspected the presence of the TCA culprit. The wine has had an odd odor. "I smell our redwood deck after the rain." "I smell chlorine and wet concrete." I would qualify both of these odors as falling into the "damp and musty" category. But then I sniff and sniff and convince myself that these slightly off qualities actually add to the complexity of wine. Perhaps my desire for the wine to be good actually changes what I taste in the wine. Perhaps this phenomenon qualifies as a self-fulfilling prophecy - I paid for this wine, it must be good. Or, this wine was given to me as a gift, it MUST be good. And therefore mold becomes "earth," wet basement becomes "slate" and dirty socks become "brett."
I do look forward to the day that I can proudly declare, "this wine is corked!" But until I can, I guess I'll just be thankful for those other 9 bottles.

Tasting Notes:
Unbeknownst to us, Joe Bastianich was seated at the bar in front of our table at Babbo. His wine, Bastianich Vespa Bianco, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Picolit, was paired with Mario Batali's Lamb's Brain Francobolli (postage stamp shaped ravioli). The wine was rich and creamy. It had a delicious butterscotch finish. It was clearly NOT corked. The wine was complemented by the sage brown butter sauce that flavored the delicate pasta.

Monday, February 4, 2008

How many grapes does it take to make a bottle of your favorite wine?

This weekend Fletcher and I decided to make a meal that would pair well with the wine I had given him for his birthday. This wine happens to be the most expensive wine that I have ever purchased. Can you guess how much I paid? Well regardless of the actual price (you can cheat and scroll to the bottom if you're really dying to know), imagine the most expensive wine you have ever purchased or would purchase. For some of you that price may be a multiple of what I paid, for others, a fraction. What would you want to pair with that wine? We decided on something luxurious. Filet Mignon.

We had debated going to a specialty butcher shop, but we ended up at Citeralla, a gourmet grocery store where you can get a myriad of delicacies, but practically nothing that comes in a can, a box or anything usually found in the "frozen entree" section. Citeralla gave us two choices for our filets. We opted to get one piece of the very expensive grass fed Australian filet and another piece of the exorbitantly priced dry aged domestic filet. We took the little packages of meat home, gave them a good salt and pepper rub and then seared them on our special cast-iron grill pan. The room (otherwise known as our entire apartment) filled with smoke and delicious meat aromas. And we were once again reminded that we don't have a smoke alarm (don't worry Mom and Dad, I'm working on it this week).

The meat was cooked perfectly . The Australian filet was delicious, but the aged filet was the star. As we drank our magnificent wine and ate our tender morsels of meat I couldn't help but think about the fact that not only was I eating delicious filet mignon for dinner, but that I actually had two cows from two different continents on the same plate. This got me to think about how out of touch I am (we are) with where our food comes from and how it gets to us. Did you know that your Avocado could be from California, Mexico, the Dominican Republic or New Zealand?

Then I started to think about the wine in my glass. I knew it was from Italy - Valpolicella in fact. I knew that the grapes that made the wine were Corvina. I knew that the grapes were picked in 2002. I could infer the basic wine making techniques that were used to create this delicious juice, but I didn't really know what it took to make this fine wine.

It turns out that it takes between 600 and 800 grapes to make a bottle of wine. There are about 75 grapes to a cluster and a single grapevine can produce up to 40 clusters. Therefore, a single grape vine can potentially generate the equivalent of 5 bottles of wine.

So back to the very special wine... made from 9 or 10 clusters of very special grapes.
Tasting Notes:

2002 Marion Valpolicella Superiore. There was a clarity and silky lightness to the wine that made the intensity of the flavors quite surprising. At first I got a subtle hint of tar, but it faded away quickly into dark dried fruit. The sweetness of the fruit was not masked by the usual burn of alcohol. 800 grapes and 39.99 worth of deliciousness.