Battle of the BBQ

Inspiration for writing topics sometimes comes in the most unlikely of places…in this case, it was in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina. I was there for a wedding and because I’m a dumbass and didn’t actually google to see that the hotel was 2 hours from the airport, I booked a 7:30am flight back to NYC.

I am not–as you either know, guessed, or experienced–a morning person. And while I’m usually up early, it is usually to sit on the couch and drink coffee. Not to check out of the hotel at 3:45am. So while I handed back the room key, I was only half paying attention to the chatty night desk clerk by wondering if there was any hot coffee available at this hour…or cold coffee…or anything to help make the dark and rainy 2 hour drive back to Charlotte a bit more bearable.

And then I head him (alas, I didn’t catch his name because, well, 3:45am) ask: so…do you just travel around and eat food?

Slow blink, while raising an eyebrow.

He quickly continued: sorry, it’s really slow here at night and I was reading through your website…

Awkward pause.

Me: um…yes, [chuckle] I suppose I do just travel around and eat things.

And of course I should have seen the follow up question coming, but again, now 3:47am. So which BBQ do you prefer? Carolina or Texas.

Bigger awkward pause to give me time to think up a diplomatic answer.

Me: I enjoy both, but c’mon I will always, always pick Texas especially when it comes to BBQ, beer, football, and Willie.

But it did give me a good chuckle and the perfect excuse to share with you and start posting again, so thanks for that kind sir–even if I forgot to get your name and was just thinking about coffee and/or going back to bed and missing my fight!

In case you were wondering what the difference between the two styles are, I would say that Carolina BBQ is more saucy and usually pork–and don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a nice tangy, saucy, pulled pork sandwich. But Texas BBQ is where it’s at–their BBQ is cooked usually (at least in the Hill Country) with a dry rub and low and slow. Sauce is on the side and brisket is king. If you wanted accurate descriptions and nuances of each, you’re probably better off just googling it.

To me, the best part of Texas BBQ is picking your meat off the grill and then sitting inside, eating off of butcher paper at a communal table, passing the bread, pickles, and napkins amongst everyone else sitting at the table and their BBQ stained fingers.

And if you find yourself traveling through the Texas Hill Country and happen upon either the town of Mason or Llano, go to Coopers and try just a little bit of everything–or better yet, go to both and try a bit more! Both restaurants now have different owners and are no longer affiliated, but thankfully–at least insofar as the last time I visited–both were still as delicious as they always have been. Although I fully expect every family member reading this to text me later and tell me which location they prefer–proving that the Battle of BBQ isn’t always about regions–sometimes it hits a lot closer to home.

MWWC 34: Memory

I have often said that the best part of wine is sharing it with someone.  As such, there are some wines and/or wineries that will always and forever remind me of a specific person, like Teresa & Grape Creek or Nerida & Chandon.  Or even Matthew & Silver Oak–ironically not because we’ve consumed copious amount of Silver Oak, but because we arrived at their tasting room 5 minutes after they closed and I might have had a momentary meltdown that ended 4 seconds later with Matthew flatly informing me to get back in the car or he was going back to San Jose without me.

In case you’re wondering what this has to do with Hawaii: nothing.  What it has to do with is that this month’s wine writing challenge (#34), as selected by last month’s winner Kent of Appetite for Wine, is MEMORY.

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I was trying to figure out which wine holds the most memories for me, however, I realized that was a bit like picking a favorite child.  Instead, I decided to pick a winery.

I’ve talked about the Chisholm Trail Winery before.  I mean, any winery that can get me to love their merlot is quite special indeed–and their 1994 Merlot did just that.  But their cabernets–spectacular: fruity, but dry with just a tiny bit of spice and oh-so-smooth.

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But the wines aren’t the reason that I picked this winery.

Perhaps you might think that it has to do with winemaker, Paula K. Williamson, who is charismatic, has an infectious laugh, and is almost never seen without her signature black Stetson.  But no, while Paula is fabulous and I adore her, she is not the reason either.

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You might even think that it’s because Christi & I spent one hot August day helping Paula & crew pick grapes in the vineyard and then watched the bottling process while sampling some of the winery favorites.  It was a long, fun-filled, exhausting day, but no.  That’s not it either.

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The reason Chisholm Trail Winery holds so many memories for me has nothing to do with wine at all.  It is because the land where the winery sits used to be owned by my family.  Specifically my great-great Uncle Hugo.  Hugo was my grandfather’s uncle and we spent a lot of time at Uncle Hugo’s because he had the best fishing hole in the county.  As a young girl I spent hours and hours at the creek behind the house, which now runs long the south side of the vineyards.  I spent hours running around the old, gigantic trees scattered around the now-winery picking flowers for Granny, who rarely came with us.

It’s been probably 35 years since I last went fishing with Uncle Hugo, but every time I open a bottle of Chisholm Trail wine, memories flood back.  I feel the sun on my face, the cool water tickling my feet, and can hear Uncle Hugo’s hearty laugh.  There are many reasons to love Chisholm Trail winery and their wines.  But for me, I love it because tastes like home.

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Cheers!

 

 

MWWC #30: Obscure

This month’s wine writing challenge was picked by…well, me!  As last month’s winner for my glass-shattering tales in my Winestory, I got the honor of picking this month’s theme: OBSCURE.

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For full disclosure, Jeff helped me pick OBSCURE–and he was right, it was the word I was looking for in my quest to hear about the often-forgotten grapes.  What I sent to Jeff was a long rambling email about how I was enjoying Lori and Mike of Draceana Wines posts about Cabernet Franc and their push for #CabFrancDay.  I love Cabernet Franc, from the moment that I tasted it!  But a lot of people have not heard of this delicious grape and even fewer know of other Cabernet grapes, like Ruby Cabernet.

Side note: Grape Creek makes a delicious blend of these three Cabernet grapes, Cabernet Trois, which I highly recommend if you’re in Texas and/or can get your hands on some!

This got me thinking: I wanted to hear from everyone that one varietal that they love that perhaps few outside the world of wine have experienced.  Everyone (wine drinker or not) has heard of Chardonnay, Shiraz, the main Pinots (note: any snarky comments about me lumping Noir and Grigio into one will be ignored!), Rieslings, Cabernet, Merlot, and even (shudder) White Zin, but there are thousands and thousands of varietals out there–what about them?

Btw, this was all pretty much in my nebulous (his word, not mine–ha!) email to him.  Thankfully, he recently moved to Texas and was able to decipher my ramblings and come up with a–in my humble opinion–great word.

So it is in that spirit that I wanted to tell you about my favorite OBSCURE wine, actually wines.  There are four in fact, because well, go big or go home.

Gewürztraminer, Viognier, French Colomabard, and Dry Riesling

ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: I know Rieslings are not obscure and were in my list above, but DRY Rieslings are a bit harder to find…that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

At the time I introduced to each of these wine I was working at the wineshop.  I was very leery of white wine because I lumped them all (I know, bad Shezza!) into two categories: Chardonnay (gag!) and exceptionally sweet Rieslings (not so much gag as too sweet to drink more than a ½ glass!).

But as I worked my way down the tasting bar, my tastebuds discovered there was actually a wide variety in flavors and sweetness levels of white wines–far more than I ever imagined!  Along the way I found four wines that not only stood out, but that I would actually consider drinking–a HUGE feat at the time because, honestly, if it wasn’t red or bubbles, I did not drink it!

ONE MORE SIDE NOTE: I pulled the first three pictures from each winery’s website, as 20 years ago I never dreamed I needed pictures!

Bell Mountain Dry Riesling  /  Fredericksburg, Texas

bell-mountainWait?  There is such a thing as Dry Riesling?  Growing up in a German town, I was exposed to Riesling very early in life.  Not that I was drinking it, but it was the very first wine varietal that I knew existed (not that I even knew what “wine varietal” meant at that time!).  My first tastes of Riesling were Spätlese and Auslese, so I was delightful surprised when I tried the local Dry Rieling from Bell Mountain (exceptionally local, as the vineyard butts up to the part of the ranch!).  What surprised me was the fruitiness of the wine without the sweetness.  This wine, like many grown in the area, has very peachy overtones–both in the bouquet and the finish, which is dry and crisp.  It pairs well with lighter foods and soft cheeses, but can be enjoyed all by itself.

For the trivia files:  Being the star of German wines, there are many different ways to classify Rieslings based on region and sweetness at the time of harvest.  Wine Folly does a great job of explaining it, if one was interested in jumping into the deep end of the Riesling pool!

Llano Estacado Gewürztraminer  /  Lubbock, Texas

lew-gewurztraminer-webAs you may or may not know, gewurz means spice in German and this wine is perfect for spicy foods or heavy cheeses.  It has a very floral bouquet, with a medium mouthfeel, and tastes of honeysuckle with a bit of warm spice on the finish (allspice, perhaps?).  Personally speaking, I think it is delicious but is on the sweeter side, even for a Gewürztraminer, and best paired with food.

For the trivia files:  Gewürztraminer grapes are actually pink to red in color not white!

 

 

 

Becker Vineyards Viognier  /  Stonewall, Texas

becker-viognierI think it took me three glasses of Viognier to be able to properly and without hesitation say Viognier (as opposed to my German heritage which allowed me to say Gewürztraminer without any issues the very first time!).  What I found in this Viognier was a dry wine that I could truly enjoy without all the oaky/buttery flavors that are synonymous with Chardonnay.  While you would expect to find peach, this Viognier smells of apricot and honeydew.  It is full bodied, with a honeysuckle and apricot finish.  I think this a perfect wine for red wine drinkers who hate Chardonnay but are looking for an occasional white wine to enjoy.  Honestly, I can’t say what food this pairs well with because I usually just pair it with a glass 😉

For the trivia files: Viognier is genetically related to Nebbiolo and was nearing extinction in 1965 when only 8 acres were planted in the Rhône.

Dry Comal Creek French Colombard  /  New Braunfels, Texas

IMG_0993-1Like Viognier, French Colombard was a wine I had never even heard of prior to tasting it.  I was actually introduced to Dry Comal Creek’s French Colombard several years after I started working at the wine shop, but given its obscurity in the wine world except as a blending grape, I thought it worth a mention.  Dry Comal Creek make two versions of this, although I believe the Bone-Dry isn’t always available.  What I enjoy about the French Colombard is the long lingering flavors of tropical fruit.  It is medium-to-full bodied and has a touch of sweetness while drinking.  However, the sweetness does not linger–just the fruitiness (which probably doesn’t make any sense until you try this wine).  The Bone-Dry version is just that: less sweetness while drinking and a much drier finish with less fruity lingering.  Both versions are very mild and easy to drink.  I think they both pair well with light snacks, appetizers, fish/seafood (especially the Bone Dry) and just drinking on the back porch.

For the trivia files:  It was traditionally grown in France to distill into Cognac and Armagnac and because of its natural sweetness is used to sweeten baby food (presumably before it’s distilled…)

So that’s my tale of venturing into the world of the more obscure grapes, and in so doing, I even learned how to enjoy white wine.

Cheers y’all!

 

Try The Wine…Again.

This month’s wine writing challenge is Second Chances.  It was selected by last month’s MWWC winner, Jill from L’occasion.  And I must confess that it was a bit hard to focus on second chances when all I can think of when I see second is:

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But then I remind myself that the best breakfasts always include some sort of festive libation, which loops me back around to wine…and second chances.  And when I think about wine and second chances, three things come to mind.

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The first thing I think of in regards to second chances with wine is a reminder I like to impart to new wine drinkers: keep drinking and trying wine outside of one’s preferred palate and don’t forget to revisit these wines from time to time to see if and how one’s palate has changed…a second chance, if you will. 😉  As their palate evolves, so too evolves their choices in wine.  Many will find that initially hated wines end up being a house staple.  Over the years working at the wine shop, I saw a lot of this with my regular customers who initially came in with the silly notion that “I don’t like [insert wine here]” and within a few visits, were drinking aforementioned wine–or at the very least, something similar.

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But I think it’s a valuable tip to seasoned wine drinkers as well.  Isn’t that why we purchase extra bottles?  To lay them down for months or years and try them again? At least in theory? At my house, rather than saving them, it usually ends up being “oh what the hell, let’s jussss open another riiiiiight now!”  And one turns into two, which turns into we’ll just get more at the wine shop later…stop judging me, it’s been a long week!

Anyway, I do a lot better hoarding my TEXAS! wine because you can’t purchase it here in New York City (or State for that matter), so I’m actually still sitting on a few bottles that I brought up with me 8 years ago (Becker, Grape Creek, Sister Creek, McPherson, Chisholm Trail, Messina Hof, and Flat Creek…alright, more than a few).  It is usually even more delicious the second time around (or third or fourth…depending on the number of bottles and your willpower!).  Although it doesn’t always go to plan and I’ve had to tragically dump a bottle or two.  However, that doesn’t mean that I go and dump them all–that would be a travesty indeed! For more tales about that, go here: Success.

Finally, don’t forget that the same can also be said of vintages!  So many things can have an effect on how a particular wine tastes from year to year.  Some years it is minute nuances, and some years it varies between “OMFG! This is the best they’ve ever made!” and “What the hell were they thinking?”

Take for example, Grape Creek‘s Cabernet Trois. Grape Creek has been making their Cabernet Trois for a looooong time now.  It is a blend of the three Cabernet grapes: Sauvignon, Ruby, and (my favorite) Franc.  It was THE first Texas wine I fell in love with.  It was deep and flavorful with just the right amounts of fruitiness balanced with spice.  At the time (mid-90s) it very much stood out from a lot of Texas reds, which tended to either be very sweet and heavy or thin and so dry the BFF likened it to leaving your mouth feeling like you’ve eaten sandpaper.  But not the Trois.  It was dry, yes, but with a lot of mouthfeel and delicate flavors.  It was delicious, won a lot of awards, and was my go-to Texas red wine for years.  But then slowly the taste of it changed.  I’m not sure if it was due to the grapes or the wine maker or the need to shake things up a bit.  Maybe all three!  People still loved it, it still won awards, but I was no longer a huge fan, preferring other varietals in Grape Creek’s line-up, like their merlot (shocking, but true, in fact, I still have a bottle of the merlot hanging out in the wine rack downstairs!).

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NOT my hand, btw, but you gotta love the internet where you can find pictures of anything, like a Texas wine from 20 years ago!  Click on pic to got to Vivino, where I found the pic.

Fast forward to a recent trip home where I was in my old wine shop tasting wines from all the new Texas wineries that have popped up in the last several years when my old favorite caught my eye.  Should I?  Should I not?  How could I not?  So I thought, “what the hell?!?” and gave it another chance.  And guess what?  It was back to having all those little nuances that I originally loved about the Cabernet Trois 20 years ago: the fruit, the spice, the mouthfeel.  It was like welcoming an old friend home.

Most importantly, it was a vivid reminder that in a day and age where it is always full steam ahead and looking for the next great thing, sometimes it pays to take a step back and revisit some old friends.  Thanks for the delicious reminder Grape Creek!

Cheers!

Success.

This month’s wine writing challenge, Success, was selected by my BFF (that would be blogger friend forever), Loie of CheapWineCurious, as a result of winning last month’s challenge. I would like to interject that the BFF title was self-appointed by me.  I’m sure Loie is currently reaching for her phone to send my information to all law enforcement west of the Mississippi…

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Success is a drinkable bottle of wine.

I am a wine drinker.  And by that, I mean, I am not a wine collector.  Sure, I have a few very special bottles that I have saved over the years–but most of them are deemed special because the winemaker has signed the bottle for me.

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But I do not buy wine to lay it down for years and years, delicately babying it until the moment it is perfect to open and decant and blah, blah, blah.  Not that I think collecting wine is a bad thing, I just have no self control.  It’s like an open bag of M&Ms: it’s just not going to last, despite my best efforts.

Lack of self-control aside, the other reason I don’t save wine is because I don’t have a great place to store it.  I currently live in an old drafty house that’s a bit too chilly in the winter and way too warm in the summer.  I don’t mind, but it certainly isn’t conducive to keeping bottles for years.  And I think we can all agree there’s nothing more tragic than pouring a bottle of wine down the drain because it was bad.

When I choose to open the aforementioned bottles, I mentally prepare myself that it will probably be bad–that way IF it is, I’m not too devastated.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still very sad but I’m not openly sobbing and throwing myself to the floor bemoaning my tragic loss.  If it’s still good, it’s like a celebration and I feel like I should open another bottle!

There are three notable exceptions.  Granted, I did not buy any of these wines with the intentions of holding them for so long, rather I just knew I wanted to save them for a fabulous occasion.

Remember these posts about my very special Burgundy that I have been holding on to for years?

Wine Pairing     Savoring Life

What better occasion than drinking it with the one person on the planet would I knew would enjoy it as much as I would and in honor of a BIG birthday ( I hope you appreciate how I tied in this month’s writing challenge with my current topic of my Fabulous Not Forty birthday trips!).

I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous–first in getting the bottle safely to Florida and then in hoping that it would not be corked.  I couldn’t even bring myself to try the whole “think of it being bad, so I wouldn’t be devastated” ploy.  In fact, I was in full panic mode while opening it.  I knew that if it was corked Christi & TK were going to have to pick up a blubbering idiot off the kitchen floor.  Actually, they’d probably just leave me there for the night (hopefully throwing a blanket over me before they went to bed).  I nearly cried tears of joy when I realized the bottle was in fact, not corked. SUCCESS!  I may have teared up a little bit.  I certainly needed a moment while drinking it.

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The other two were both wines I loved drinking but as the vintage came to an end, I became a bit of a hoarder.  I moved up to New York with three bottles of each left.

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So far on the Becker Vineyards 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, I am 1 for 2.  The first bottle I opened last year–and honestly 8 years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you would have told me I’d be keeping this wine around for so long.  It was amazing.  Delicious and spicy: a big, bold-in-your-face cabernet sauvignon.  It was everything I remembered, but the spicy notes were more pronounced and the wine was overall very smooth.  I was so excited that it was drinking so well that I opened another bottle a few nights later, and alas–down the drain it went along with big, fat teardrops.  I have one more left and remain hopeful…

Happily, I am 2 for 2 on the Chisholm Train Winery 2001 Barrel Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Also a big and bold cabernet sauvignon, however, with a lot less spice and much drier than the Becker.  Both bottles were really smooth and opened up very nicely (thanks Paula!).  I will say that this wine has mellowed considerably.  Rather than being biiiiig with a very dry, clean finish, it is big and dry, but now with a lingering currant and blackberry finish.  I’m probably jinxing myself, but I’m actually excited about my last bottle.

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I am envious of those who collect wine, but personally it’s too stressful for me.  I want every time I open a bottle of wine to be a success.  And while I know that any bottle can be bad–for a plethora of reasons–in my brain, the longer it stays in my wine rack, the greater the chance that will happen.  Thus far my track record has been pretty good, so some might think my reasoning flawed.  However, I prefer not to take that chance.  You know, just like letting M&Ms go stale…