Snow Day Liberté

liberte pinot noir

Thanks to snowquester, the DC area’s massive snowstorm-that-wasn’t, Wednesday was a day off from work, a free day to spend with my family.  And what better way to enjoy a snow day – sorry, a rainy day – than by opening a bottle of wine for lunch and sipping on it over the course of the day.

From my “cellar” I chose a bottle of 2011 Liberte Pinot Noir, which I picked up at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago.  TJ’s describes the wine as “smooth, dry, and fruit forward, the wine tastes of strawberries and black cherries, with hints of vanilla and tobacco on the finish.”

A nice bottle to enjoy on a mid-week day off, when your activities center around Dora the Explorer re-runs, mid-afternoon napping, and reading by the fire (after the kiddies’ bedtime, of course).  Not to mention, watching the rain wash away what little snow managed to stick to the front lawn.

Liberté is certainly an enjoyable bottle of wine, especially when considering its price ($10).  The label artwork isn’t so bad either.*

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* If you also enjoy revolutionary/propaganda-style artwork, there’s plenty more available in a recent Atlantic.com’s article by Garance Franke-Ruta, titled “When America Was Female.”

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Published in: on March 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Côtes du Rhône Wine

I am not a wine aficionado.  A quick category check on The Hip Flask homepage – below on the right, just above the badges – will show how infrequently I write on wine as compared to beer, spirits, or my catch-all miscellaneous category.  Yet when I do enjoy wine, on occasion and usually with dinner, I’ve returned several times to southern France’s Côtes du Rhône region.

As always, a little background first – which, in this case, is more for my benefit, a novice oenophile at best.  This wine-growing region, referred to as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in French, is located in south-central France, along the valley formed by the Rhône River.

Geographically, the Côtes du Rhône AOC lies between the French towns of Vienne and Avignon.  The AOC is divided into two areas – northern and southern.  “If the north is cool, discreet, noble, and expressed in different shades of just one red grape, the south is the antithesis: warm, exuberant, heartily earthy, with myriad grape varieties.”  The town of Montélimar could be used to generally separate the northern sub-region from the southern.

However, another introductory distinction is present.  Although Côtes du Rhône “is also the label given to a broad base of generic wines…accounting for over 40,000 hectares of vines and nearly two million hectoliters of wine in an average year,”  Côtes du Rhône Villages is an important and distinct category, representing “a distinct step up from generic Côtes du Rhône… The villages appellation covers 96 Southern Rhône communities, of which 16 are allowed to print their village names on the labels.”

While all this French wine bureaucracy and geography is fun to me, it’s not really that important when a glass sits before you.  The Rhône’s most common grapes, Grenache and Syrah (or a blend of the two), are really what’s important in the end.  As it turns out, I’ve enjoyed each bottle of Côtes du Rhône wine I’ve had, regardless of price.

Here are a few bottles I’ve recently enjoyed, either out at dinner, with friends, or at home with my family:

– Valréras “Cuvée Prestige” Côtes du Rhône Villages 2010

– Alain Jaume & Fils Réserve Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône 2009

– Domaine Ferraton Côtes du Rhône 2007

– Caves du Fournalet Côtes du Rhône 2010

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Read more and reference quotations at DK’s Wines of the World, 2004 Edition pages 119-135.  Wikipedia’s Côtes du Rhône AOC page also provides a particularly helpful introduction as well as a superb map.

Published in: on January 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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The End of DIY?

Historic Old Town Alexandria

Crafting your own beverages is a fantastically enjoyable activity; putting the time, effort, and love into your beer, wine, or spirit is rewarding both during and after – especially after.  Microbreweries have arrived as the newest and hottest trend in beer drinking.  But if you’re truly cutting edge, brews from even small, niche market breweries aren’t enough: you need to Do It Yourself.

Unfortunately for city residents like me, my apartment’s square footage can’t handle the requisite equipment to brew, ferment, or distill.  Yet it only takes a short trip to suburban Alexandria, Virginia to solve this problem – where a few local companies provide the equipment, instruction, and necessary space to make your own booze.

Shenandoah Brewing Company and Carafe Wine Makers, both located in the historic Washington suburb, each provide these services.  I had the pleasure of visiting both in the past few years: I made about five and a half cases of Shenandoah’s Honey Weizen; and my wife and I made just under four cases of Carafe’s Barolo-style IL Re Di Vini.

The process for making your own beer or wine is similar: first, after a tasting session, you select your variety and craft it under the staff’s guidance and direction; afterwards, the company stores your creation during the fermentation period; during fermentation, you can design your own label for a special personal touch; and finally, you return to bottle your beer or wine and take it home.

However, I received two emails in June that seemed to signal the end of creating your own beer and wine in the Washington, DC area.  The first, from Carafe, plainly stated as such: “After 4 years of wine making and enjoying this experience with all of our loyal customers, Carafe will be closing its doors this month and going virtual. You will still be able to purchase some of your favorite Carafe wines through thevinoexpo.com which will be coming soon.”

The second, from Shenandoah Brewery, indicated that although changes in management were underway, the staff sounded modestly optimistic: “Prospective new owners should be in place by the end of this month or the beginning of July… but yes, they are maintaining the brew-your-own-beer part of the business.”  The email concluded on a sad note: “the brewery will not be open on Saturday [June 25th] nor will it be open again until 13 July.”

It appears that for now, at least, do-it-yourselfers are without options.  While I too am optimistic the brewery will re-open later this month, I’m realistic enough to understand the financial strains put on such a small and unique brewery by the recessed economy.  If the recent news of Capitol City Brewing’s consolidation is any indication, prospects don’t look good.  Here’s hoping otherwise.

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 11:23 am  Comments Off on The End of DIY?  
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Searching for a New Aperitif

I finished my bottle of Lillet Red just before bed the other night.  After rinsing out the bottle and walking it down to the recycling bin, I couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in my bar’s second row, a sad empty space where the bottle formerly resided.  It was like a tooth had been removed from my bar’s smiling face.  I was determined to use this vacancy to expand my aperitif horizons.

For me, aperitifs at home are infrequent indulgences.  On rare occasions I’ll have the time to enjoy one before dinner; I’m more likely to pour one following dinner, treating the drink instead as a digestif (or as a substitute for dessert altogether).  Many fortified wines and liqueurs traditionally considered either an aperitif or digestif may be appropriately taken either before or after the meal – I have seen no hard and fast rule declaring when one is or is not apropos.  Rather, I consider the two as one category and enjoy them based on my mood and taste, not on what course of dinner is served. 

It was from this singular category I decided to expand my horizon.  Instead of choosing a safe and familiar bottle of Lillet, Dubbonet, or Madeira, I wanted to try something completely different. 

Coincidentally, guidance was provided by Robert Simonson – journalist, fellow blogger, and Notable Drinker (see sidebar) – just when I needed it.  His New York Times article, Aperitifs, a Sip of Europe Before Dinner, provided a superb synopsis of not-yet-popular aperitif brands and bottles as one part of his description of the Northern Spy Food Co., a restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village.  Simonson’s article ticked off several semi-popular varieties, including Campari and Becherovka, with which I was already familiar.  More importantly however, were the rarer varieties I was not already acquainted with: Italian aperitivos such as Rabarbaro Zucca, Cocchi Americano, and Cardamaro amaro, as well as French aperitifs Maurin Quina and Bonal Gentiane Quina.  A few quick notes from the Times article was now an excellent short list of never-before-tasted bottles spanning the full spectrum between lightly sweet and darkly herbal.

What new and exciting flavors might I find?  I didn’t yet know, but I was certain to enjoy myself while finding and tasting as many as possible; an amusing and educational diversion with which to begin the summer.

Published in: on June 15, 2011 at 8:11 am  Comments (6)  
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Quintessentially Christmas

This time last year Washington, DC was blanketed with over a foot of snow.  Activities ground to a halt, and following the usual grocery rush, residents hunkered down.  Outside the city was quiet and cold; yet inside was warm and cozy, thanks to a little stovetop experiment with wine, liqueur, and spices.  A short while later I had produced some tasty mulled wine and a new Christmas tradition.

You don’t need a snow storm or a winter holiday to make and enjoy your own mulled wine, but it helps.  With DC’s temperatures hovering at the freezing mark through this weekend, whipping up batch of the warming and spiced beverage is a perfect indoor pastime.

How does one “mull” wine?  Surely this requires expensive equipment and a sommelier’s knowledge of wine.  Fortunately not – mulled wine is possibly the easiest drink to make.  Recipes are flexible and general in nature, exemplifying my drinking philosophy of simplicity and fun.  And there’s no better way to make room in your bar for a few potential Christmas gifts.

Has company visited recently?  Mulled wine is an excellent way to use those gift bottles.  Now is not the time to find your most expensive bottle.  Remember, your creation is unique because it suits your tastes; the type of wine, liqueur additions, amount and number of spices, it’s all up to you.

Ingredients for basic mulled wine are a bottle or two of red wine, some water, orange or lemon zest, sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, apple slices, raisins, or almonds.  Adventurous drinkers can include a splash of port, sherry, brandy, Lillet, or Grand Marnier – whatever you like.  Taste while you mix and add what you think tastes good.

So go to your wine rack or liquor cabinet and see what you can find.  Combine your choices and heat, but don’t boil.  An easier solution: use a crock pot instead.  It will warm your concoction and fill with the house with a wonderful winter fragrance.  It also makes serving a snap.

A mug of mulled wine keeps your hands warm.  Look outside and cross your fingers for the next big snow storm.  Just be sure to put your cup down first.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 12:10 am  Comments (3)  
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