Posts Tagged ‘Sometimes I’m an Idiot’

This might as well be me.

I may be the most financially reckless person I know. Or the most fiscally irresponsible. Regardless of how you want to say it, I am bad with money. Chalk it up to that second X gene, enabling parents, a lack of discipline, a loose character, youthful naiveté  – whatever.

I blame the economy, the recession, the City of New York and any other factor at play that abdicates me from assuming any and all responsibility for bad financial habits.

I was so thrifty last week I only spent $50 to feed myself from Sunday dinner through Friday dinner (with the exception of a quick jaunt to Momofuku Noodle on Thursday Night). That is 5 light breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 5 dinners – 15 meals on $50. That’s roughly $3.33 a meal. And yet, come Monday morning I find myself nearly destitute yet again

How is this feat possible? First off, I’d like to thank Café Gitane in the Jane Hotel for freeing me of, really, at the end of the day, a superfluous $24 that I was keeping in my bank account out of sheer curiosity– you know just to see what would happen to it if it stuck around for a while. That $24 was instead dispensed on a cocktail of iced-tea flavored water, a mound of ice, a squirt of lemon, and a splash of Jack Daniels. The extra shot they gave me to turn the whole sorry thing into some remote semblance of a cocktail cost me $10. I could have bought a pint of Jack Daniels with $10.

Next, Employees Only, you had a part to play in this whole production, too, and I’d like to see you get the recognition you deserve.  You served a beautiful Sazerac. It was gorgeous! Delicious! And $14.

Last, Cabbie that didn’t know how to get from 13th Street and 7th Avenue to the corner of Jane and Washington Streets (It’s straight by the way. You go straight.) –  thank you. Thank you for relieving me of the $9 that was burning a searing hole in my pocket, really, and don’t ever change.

So what does any of this have to do with wine? It doesn’t really. It’s merely a reminder to all of you that no matter how much more than you I know about wine, I’m still just an idiot sometimes. That being said, if I make sense out of wine and the strange world in which it resides, it should be cake for you. Instead of drowning my financial anxiety in a glass of wine tonight, I’ll be scrounging around my fridge for something to take the edge off the gin I’ve got stashed away in the back of my freezer. Because that’s the only alcoholic beverage in my apartment. Donations are welcome.

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One of the coolest parts about writing about wine is that I get to tell people I write about wine. Regardless of how the preceding conversation has gone, no matter how clumsy or bumbling I may have been, as soon as I mention that I write a wine blog,  I get taken just a little bit more seriously.

I’m much more of a wine geek than the sophisticate they may have momentarily imagined dining on caviar and not deigning to drink anything less than Latour.

Honestly? I’ve never had a sip of Chateau Latour (hardly unbelievable given the minimum $1,000 price tag) and I’m not really one for caviar. Oh sure, I probably spend more than most on my day-to-day wine but that’s just because I’d rather imbibe those calories blissfully than guiltily and, well, I am attempting a wine blog…

But as far as food goes (another area in which I am queen of the nerds), I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: some of my favorite food, for which I have an incessant craving, is best served in a Styrofoam container.

That’s right — I’m talking take-out. So what better way to marry my two great culinary loves than to pair great wine with greasy goodness? You may think it doesn’t make sense to waste good wine on cheap food, but, oh, the pleasures that await you!

I realize that pairing wine with food often presents a daunting task for even the most devoted of oenophiles. It’s hard enough understanding wine all by itself without trying to match it, like a puzzle piece, with its perfect mate — the dish that will enhance the wine and bring out its best flavors while, in turn, being elevated by its alcoholic companion.

My favorite strategy for pairing food with wine comes from Karen MacNeil, author of the celebrated Wine Bible. Macneil suggests that you use wine as a mirror and hold it up against the more pronounced qualities of a dish. Pair spicy with spicy, sweet with sweet, earthy with earthy, and so forth.

If you run into a flavor profile that doesn’t quite have its match in a wine, look to texture — is it rich? You can match it with an equally rich wine and languish in velvety mouth-feels or you can pair it with something bright and full of flavor that will match the intensity of your meal but cut through the richness with some acidity. This is one of the reasons that lobster pairs so well with chardonnay and salmon goes so swimmingly with pinot noir.

For each of my favorite take-out dishes, I’ll go through why I pair each dish with its particular wine and hope to enlighten you through example. Once you’ve successfully paired something as low-brow as Panda Express, there’s no turning back from full-on wine geekdom.

Pad Thai with Tofu: Voignier
Great pad thai is tangy, savory, and a little sweet. The tamarind-based sauce gives it that fruity acidic taste that leaves us hungering for more. Voignier is a grape that is often described as “luscious” and has a characteristic honey aroma. The grape is inherently low in acidity which makes it a perfect match for pad thai, already so tangy, and often has flavors of ripe peaches, tropical fruits (ahem, tamarind), and fresh orange peel.
Try: 2008 K Vintners, $20

Yellow Curry with Shrimp: Grüner Veltliner
Yellow curry is sweet and delicately spiced. It’s the mildest of Thai curries and the most redolent of coconut milk. The complex and delicate broth requires a wine that accents the spice without overpowering. Grüner Veltliner is an Austrian white grape that yields a sweet wine that is noted for the characteristic rush of white pepper on the finish. The combination of sweet and spicy makes it an ideal match for Thai curries.
Try: 2008 Hiedler, $16

Pad Kee Mao with Chicken: Savignon Blanc
Aka “drunken noodles,” this dish is one of my personal favorites among Thai cuisine. You get spice from the chilies, an herby fresh flavor from the mounds of Thai basil that the noodles are tossed with at the very end, and the grassy flavor that comes from bell peppers only cooked slightly. Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand, with its bright acidity and grassy herbaceous notes is a perfect match for this bold noodle dish.
Try: 2008 Jules Taylor, $15

Chicken Tikka Masala: Côtes du Rhône
The dish is rich, creamy, sweet, and redolent of spices without being spicy. The wine has a good deal of sweetness and spice as well — with a rich, smooth mouth feel that complements the creaminess of the sauce.
Try: 2008 Domaine Alary, $16

Lamb Vindaloo: Dolcetto d’Alba
Another tamarind-based spicy dish, but this time with gamey lamb and heavy heat, this dish calls for something with a lot of fruit, good spice, and a brightness to match the tang of the tamarind. Dolcetto is one of my favorite grapes — I’m tempted to describe it as the Beaujolais of Italy. It’s a lighter wine with nice acidity, lots of fruit like raspberries and cherries, and a spicy finish.
Try: 2006 Moccagatta, $16

Sweet and Sour Chicken: Albarino
Ah, the old standby. Sweet and fruity one minute and pungent the next, this is a great opportunity to get creative. Albarino has a zing to it that makes me love it for sweet and sour chicken — it also has a tendency toward sweetness and an almost unbearable lightness that lets it shimmer on your tongue instead of weigh down your taste buds.
Try: 2006 Morgadio, $13

Beef with Broccoli: Bordeaux
This traditional favorite is salty soy-goodness at its best. The good kind will also have a nice ginger and garlic flavor that is well matched by this rich red wine. The wine has notes of ginger, very soft tannins, and a velvety mouth feel that makes it easy to drink.
Try: 2005 Chateau Guiraud-Cheval-Blanc, $14

Moo Shu Pork: Priorat
Priorat is the name of the region in Spain that makes robust and earthy red wines that go well with Moo Shu Pork. Look for a blend that features syrah as the dominant blending grape — it will lend a gamey, almost funky ,quality to the wine that will accentuate the woodsy mushrooms in this dish.
Try: 2007 Joan D’Anguera La Planella, $19

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How to Successfully Navigate a Wine List

Part One : The Basics

It shouldn’t be a big secret that restaurants jack up the prices on wine. I’ve seen bottles marked up to two to three times what it would have cost me to buy the same bottle in a shop. While a 200% mark-up may seem ludicrous, the reality is that restaurants pay the rent with their wine (and liquor) sales – its hard to make much of a profit selling food, surprising as that may seem. Why bother with the quick lesson in restaurant economics 101? Because keeping that in mind is essential to successfully navigating a wine list!

Step 1: Wines by the glass

There are some great reasons for ordering wines by the glass rather than springing for the whole bottle:

• You, a sworn red drinker, are dining with an absolutely resolute white drinker, a compromise is nowhere to be found and god help you, you’d rather drink dishwater than rosé!

• Driving is an issue; you really only have the time and tolerance to get down one glass before you become a danger to yourself and everyone else on the road.

• You are feeling adventurous and not sure exactly what you’re in the mood for anyways. Maybe you want to have a different glass with your appetizer than your entrée, or maybe you’re just intrigued by a couple different options – the wines-by-the-glass menu is a wonderful place for exploration if you’re feeling curious.

• Every once in a while, there will be a fantastic wine sold by the glass – a wine that would otherwise be too expensive. In this case, go for it – it will be on the more expensive side for a single glass but sometimes just experiencing a great wine is worth sipping slowly.

All that being said, however, there are also some good reasons to skip the wines-by-the-glass page if none of the above apply:

• Generally, but certainly not always, the wines offered by the glass are usually lower end and not as good as everything else. That’s not always the case and a good wine director will offer decent, if not remarkable, wines by the glass.

• Remember that whole mark-up situation we talked about at the beginning of this little guide? I hate to tell you, but…it gets worse for wines by the glass. I’ve seen a glass of wine being sold for the price of an entire bottle if it was being sold retail.

• Depending on how many people are drinking, you’ll almost certainly get a better bang for your buck if you order a bottle – which typically gets you five glasses when poured correctly.


Step 2: Asking your server for guidance

Asking your server for help is always a good idea. That being said, keep in mind that, though they’re there to serve you, they’re also, in a lot of respects, salespeople working on behalf of the restaurant.

If you ask the waiter what he or she recommends without any guidance, they’re going to try to steer you towards the more expensive wines. That is their job. Instead, a better approach is to let your server know what you’re thinking of ordering food-wise, give them a brief run-down of things you like in a wine or any wines you can remember having that you know you liked, and do not be embarrassed to give your server a price range.

Lastly, listen to your server’s suggestions – a good server wants you to enjoy whatever you order. Don’t ask your server to go on and on about various wines if you have no intention of ordering them or if you’ve already made up your mind – it wastes their time and its annoying.

Step 3: Ordering your bottle

We’ve all found ourselves in the position of wanting to order a wine with a name we can’t pronounce. Rather than attempt to say it, we usually just hold the wine list up, point, and say, “That one.” While this is surely one way to order wine, it’s not the best way to do it.

• If you absolutely cannot even begin to comprehend the way to pronounce something look to the left of the name of the wine you’d like to order. Chances are it may have a BIN number attached to it and you are welcome to use that to order your wine.

Just try to say it and don’t be embarrassed if you bungle it – or try to find at least part of the whole description that you do know how to say along with the year attached to the bottle. If you can’t pronounce the year, I don’t know if I can help you.

Now, for wines that you do know how to pronounce it can be awkward figuring out which parts of those long title you need to read out loud and which parts can be left behind.  Here are a few examples:

5032  Louis Jadot ‘Clos des Ursules’ Beaune 1er Cru 2008

5015   Simon Bize ‘les Bourgeots’ Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru 2006

3718   Hendry ‘Blocks 7 & 22’ Napa 2006

3716   Robert Biale ‘Black Chicken’ Napa 2008

Each of the wines above list a wine-maker (Louis Jadot, Simon Bize, Hendry, and Robert Biale respectively), the name of the particular wine (‘Les Bourgeots’ and ‘Black Chicken’) or the vineyards from which the wine was sourced  (‘Clos des Urseles’ and ‘Blocks 7 & 22’), the region in which the wine was grown, and the year that the grapes were harvested (we’ll skip the 1er Cru for now – just know that its not important when ordering).

The best way to order each of these wines is to say the winemaker and the year, except for the ‘Black Chicken’ because its just plain fun to say. You can forget about all of the stuff in the middle unless you come across something like this:

3507             Bond ‘Pluribus’ Napa 2005

3543             Bond ‘Pluribus’ Napa 2006

3508             Bond ‘St.Eden’ Napa 2005

3544            Bond ‘St.Eden’ Napa 2006

In this case, you should read out as much as the information as you can to avoid any confusion with the waiter. Lastly, speaking of confusion – that thing the waiter does where they present the bottle? Pay attention! You want to make sure that they’ve brought you the wine you ordered, so make sure you look for the winemaker’s name, the year, and the name of the specific bottle you ordered. 

Step 4: Tasting your wine

When the server pours the wine for you to taste, take the time to actually try it. You’re not tasting it to see if you like it so much as you’re tasting it to make sure that it hasn’t been corked or otherwise compromised.

If you have the slightest suspicion that something’s not right, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask someone else at your table to taste it and if they agree, most likely, the waiter will take the bottle to a manager or wine person to taste, as well. They will replace the bottle if it is, in fact, bad.

Unfortunately, if you order a bottle that you taste and just plain hate, that’s not a good enough reason to send it back. Unless the wine has been grossly misrepresented by your server (another good reason to ask for their advice), not liking the wine you ordered is not a good enough reason to send it back.

Lastly, don’t sniff the cork. The reason that servers and sommeliers may do this is to make sure that the bottle hasn’t been compromised before they pour it for you – there is no reason to pick up the cork and put it to your nose after the wine has been poured.

Step 5: Enjoy!

Just don’t get sloppy, ok?


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