Fitter. Happier. (?)

I’ve been remiss about updating this blog, partly because I’ve been busy wrapping up grad work (thanks, Newhouse, for your parting blow: a 30-page, 20-live-source professional paper. Love you, but sometimes feel like re-titling “winewithramen” with the more wordy “$25,000 in debt and all I got was a prestigious resume topper… and this ill-maintained wine blog”).

As some of you know, there have been more professional reasons for my absence, as well: for about two months now, I’ve been working as a tasting room intern at Wine Enthusiast magazine.

The job (and the people) are amazing, but I do not, in fact, get to sit around tasting wine all day. Instead, my work mostly consists of entering the wines we receive as samples for tasting, cellaring them, and then selecting wines to be reviewed by our esteemed team of tasting professionals.

It’s a lot of box-lugging and backaches, but the perks are nothing to sneeze at. Wines reviewed are given away at the end of the day, sans the ounce or two tasted by our editors.

It’s great news for poor amateur connoisseurs (me!),and bad news for my (not so wine-loving) liver.

After a few weeks of trucking home three delicious bottles every night, and imbibing with the dedication of a true wine lover (or, um, alcoholic), I found the bottom of a bottle of Excedrin I’d been nursing since undergrad, went through three cases of blue Gatorade, and rediscovered the old trick of using two types of concealer to hide the undereye circles were growing faster than rings around a Douglas Fir. It needed to stop.

So I took a hiatus from the red stuff, resolutely switching from nightly glass(es) of luscious Malbec, Rioja, and even Barolo in favor of sparkling water, juices and green teas. The elixir of life, man. And boy, DID I FEEL BETTER.

And, lo and behold, this “feeling better” led to other (!) healthy-lifestyle choices. I finally found my way to the gym, enjoyed a different type of (muscular!) soreness, ate a lot of vegetables, even drank some gooey probiotic supplement stuff from the giveaway table at work. Visions of healthiness danced in my head. Yoga! Pilates! Gyrotonics! Taut muscles and the ability to run a 10K? Completely within my reach. Alcohol, gluttony, late nights? Dark remnants of a hedonistic past. I would be a veritable health nut. I would feel EVEN BETTER. And life would be great.

Lies.

Sure, I felt better. I felt better in the “I just broke up with my asshole boyfriend and I’m going to tell all my girlfriends how GREAT I feel because maybe that will somehow ameliorate the big empty hole in my heart” way. I felt better in the “I just said I’ll not have any cake, even though it’s chocolate almond and that’s my absolute favorite combination, and now everyone is mmming and aaahhing and I’m left sitting alone stewing in my self-righteousness” great.

So, last Saturday night, I fell off the wagon. Happily. The features editor at Enthusiast passed along a press invite to the opening of SD26, a schwank restaurant event co-hosted by the men of Esquire magazine. Fabulous food (pesto-walnut-snap-pea pasta, hello?), wonderfully well-dressed men, and delicious – delicious dirty martinis.

dirty

Waking up with half my face crushed against the chartreuse sequined top I wore the night before, I realized something: I’ll never live a life of perfect moderation. The best I can hope for is a semi-even flailing between extremes, as I stumble from one to another and back again like a seasick passenger on deck in a storm.  No matter how far I swing from center, there’s too much at stake for me to go overboard. That knowledge is a comfort.

And you know what? So are those martinis.

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wine worth fighting for

i never really wanted to visit alabama. but after this week’s news – that the state has banned one of my all-time favorite cheapo wines for (get this) nudity on the art deco label of cycles gladiator wines – i’m pretty sure i never want to step foot on any of that sweet southern soil.

the powers that be – in this case, the ABC (alcoholic beverage council) claim that they were responding to citizen complaints about the wine in restaurants and liquor stores. according to the ABC, the wine’s label, which features a relatively well-known art-deco photo of a woman riding a bicycle, falls under laws banning the display of “a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner.”

(read the full story here.)

i know what you’re thinking.

in an age where every one of paris hilton’s 2,000 parts is readily on display, and the kardashian derriere is as in-your-face as the reality tv show she stars in, this label must be particularly obscene, right? it must be really graphic – certainly closer to soft-porn than oh, say, the cosmo i picked up yesterday… right?

wrong.

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i’m sorry, but playboy, this is not.

if this is the sort of thing that the citizens of alabama want to get their panties in a twist about, they really need to get out more. forget the paris hiltons of the world. nudity in the form of art is some of the most ancient and beautiful.  have the members of the ABC ever seen statues of venus de milo, or michelangelo’s “david?”

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(are those male genitals? oh my god. kids, avert your eyes.)

to me, the decision to ban gladiator says a lot about what’s wrong with some of our culture’s attitude towards sexuality. when a group of people demonize anything that even vaguely resembles the natural human form; when they turn a blind eye towards art and beauty and see only smut and salaciousness – we’ve got a huge problem.

we’re not protecting children from pornography. we’re instilling them with fear and distrust towards something that should be respected, enjoyed, and appreciated.

ahem. sorry. i promised myself that i would avoid the soapbox in this entry, but now i find myself climbing off of it… and attempting to get back to the reason why this wine is worth seeking out (and, if you’re in alabama, sneaking across the border – ooh, how prohibition-esque of you).

gladiator has long been one of my favorite bargain wines.  the most commonly available one – the cabernet sauvignon ($6-8) – is smooth, without the bitey, acidic finish often found in less well-made reds at this price point. it is a fruity, well-rounded cab with enough tannins to give the wine some backbone, but not so much that it’s not palatable without a juicy steak.

the gladiator wines (the label sells several other varietals, including syrah, chardonnay, and pinot grigio) are all affordable enough to have with dinner on any night of the week, and the stylized (or sexually explicit, depending on your point of view) label makes it perfectly suitable to bring to a friend’s place, or buy for a gift. each of the wines are incredibly good values for the price. they’re pretty widely available – you should be able to find them at any major liquor store.

and lucky for the rest of us, there are about 500 cases of gladiator making their way into liquor stores and restaurants…

straight from the sin-free state of alabama.

the wine: Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon
composition: 100% Cab
hails from: Central Coast, California
flavor profile: Strong notes of berry, mocha, and a hint of mint. Sinfully delicious.
tannins: They’re there, but they won’t hurt you.
approximate cost:
$6-8.

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liquid wisdom

last week, i had the privilege of attending the second day of the wine enthusiast editorial conference – a yearly meeting of some of the world’s most refined palates and esteemed writers to discuss the world of wine and plan a year’s worth of stories in three days’ time.

at the dinner after (which i’ll be writing about sometime this week – it was a truly amazing night) i sat across from wine enthusiast’s california editor, steve heimoff, an incredibly knowledgeable resource who has spent a lifetime learning about his trade.

heimoff is the author of a wonderful wine blog. his latest post asks a question that is often taken for granted by novice wine lovers and connoisseurs alike: “is a winery’s most expensive wine always its best?”

not always, heimoff says, especially if you’re buying a wine to drink immediately. while reserve bottles are often created to age well – tasting best several years from now – most of us drink more short-sightedly. heimoff says that if you’re planning to enjoy your wine within the year, you might actually be better off buying the budget bottle.

“The reserve isn’t “better” the way a Mercedes is better than a Honda. It’s different. If you’re of the school that a big wine far from its peak is better than one made for drinking tonight, then that’s where you sit. But there are other seats at the table.”

as a child of a consumer culture that usually assumes that more expensive = better quality, i’ve always assumed that the $30 or $40 must taste better than the cheap ones (and then gone ahead and bought the cheap vino anyway). heimoff’s post serves as a gentle reminder that wine doesn’t function so straightforwardly, with many other factors – for example, personal taste and what one intends to do with the wine – coming into play.

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through a glass, darkly

i’ve never been one to wax poetic about the proper accouterments for fine wine appreciation. to me, most wines are enhanced but not transformed by drinking out of a good wine glass, as much as a matter of style as of substance. just like i’d smoke cigarettes in a heartbeat if there were a nicotine-free version that tasted like, oh, dark chocolate. (the backward swing of the wrist, the smooth puff outward. it just looks so goddamn glamorous. sigh.)

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fortunately, a sturdy, well-made wine glass will neither give you cancer nor ruin your palette – in fact, it might enhance it mightily.

i was reminded of this reality a few weekends ago, when i brought a bottle of 2005 cumulus climbing shiraz to a friend’s house for some pre-bar relaxation (does that sound more grown-up than pregaming? i hope so).

climbingshz

the climbing shiraz tasted fine to me – peppery, as a shiraz should taste, without a ton of complexity. granted, it could have benefited from a a few years of age – but at a very reasonable price of $12, i would be hard-pressed to cellar this sucker.

drinking now, the climbing shiraz is heavy on the plum flavors with some blackberry and the requisite oaky shiraz smoke. it tasted absolutely succulent with the decadent dark chocolate moonstruck truffles my friend erin generously shared with me.

yum.

yum.

thrilled with the taste combo, i offered some to my friend megan. we were clean out of good wine glasses, and the bar’s siren song was getting louder by the minute. so, i committed what i consider to be a pretty venial sin. i poured some of the climbing shiraz into megan’s solo cup.

the look on her face was classic.

“euh!” she attempted to feign a half-smile.

“that wine is SALTY!”

she took another sip. i could tell this was pure torture for her. had some evil gnome attacked her tastebuds? were we even drinking the same thing?

suddenly, it hit me. the difference was the cup. in my big red glass, the climbing shiraz had some breathing room – something incredibly important for all wines, but even more so (i would argue) for so-called ‘value buys.’

shakespeare once said that some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. i firmly believe that the same is true of wine. some are perfect right from the vineyard, some are savory after a few years in-cellar, and some… really need help. for this third category – the value vino that i know and often love so dearly – a decent wine glass can elevate a barely tolerable drink to a very quaffable one.

i offered megan my cup, suggesting that she try my climbing shiraz once more – this time, in a proper glass. she was amazed – she claimed that it hardly tasted like the same wine!

there is a very real science to the selection of a proper wine glass. in the instance of a shiraz, the wine needs to be channeled down the center and towards the back of the tongue, largely bypassing the tastebuds that detect sourness and saltiness (or tannins, in this case) and emphasizing the fuller characteristics of the wine.

tasty.

tasty.

don’t get me wrong. i’m not saying that there’s any need to go purchasing a new set of stemware for every type of wine (though the folks at glassmaker riedel would have you think it’s necessary – they have glasses for drinks from A to Z; apricot liquor to zwetchkenwasser. don’t believe me? check out the wine and glass pairing guide here.)

regardless, a proper wine glass can tangibly enhance your tasting experience. cheap wine in a good glass might still be cheap wine, but i guarantee that it’ll go down easier.

the wine: 2005 Cumulus Climbing Shiraz
composition: 100% Shiraz
hails from: Orange, Australia
flavor profile: Strong plum and jam, with a smoky, hearty underbelly
tannins: Extremely evident
approximate cost:
I paid $12 at my dad’s liquor store (thanks dad!) but you’re more likely to find it around $17.

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a shameless plug…

4 Wines to Drink at the Beach

By Brenna Cammeron •Jul 06, 2009

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Ah, lazy days at the beach. Maybe you’ve secured your spot at Dennis, or just been through tourist hell in Vineyard Haven.

Either way, the seagulls caw overhead, waves crash against the shoreline, and the brightly blazing sun warms you to the point of feeling like a rotisserie chicken slowly roasting atop a deli counter.

Parched? Of course you are. But rather than reach for a warm can of beer or a rum and Coke-filled Nalgene, we suggest that you step up your shore side drinking game with a crisp and chilly glass of wine.

At the outset, drinking wine at the beach might seem like more work than it’s worth. Bottles get broken, corkscrews get lost in the sand, and there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll be drinking your precious vino out of a flimsy plastic cup.

But consider the upside: wine is pretty sturdy stuff, screw caps are everywhere, and you’ll be able to enjoy your wine without the faintest hint of pretension. After all, it’s hard to get snobby about wine in board shorts or a bikini.

The best part? When you’ve finished imbibing, you can write a rambling message to the universe, tuck it into the bottle, and chuck the whole thing into the rolling waves. Unless you’re particularly eco-conscious, in which case we recommend recycling.

Either way, here are our four favorite wines for seaside consumption…

(Read more here)

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wine 2.0

in new york, touch screens are ubiquitous. whether they’re on our phones, in our hotels, or at our airports, they’ve single-handedly (finger-ly?) managed to streamline our lives to the point where convergence isn’t novelty – it’s necessity.

that reality is especially obvious at clo. clo is a wine bar that fuses the very traditional pleasures of wine tasting with high-tech accouterments – touch screens, automatic dispensing, cards rather than cash – that have insinuated their way into every aspect of city life.

barwide

the premise of clo is this: create an unbeatable list of over 100 wines by the glass, prevent them from spoilage by keeping them housed in climate-controlled conditions, and dispense them, at the touch of a button, into perfect 4-ounce pours.

visiters to clo select their wines with (what else) touch-screen technology. using your fingers, you peruse the selection on the basis of your interests, including the type of grape, wine origin, and price range, on a screen that scrolls atop the bar itself.

clomenu2

the technology is, if you’ll pardon the pun, rather touchy. put anything on the bar (keys, iphone, elbow) and the interactive menu gets confused; try scrolling the wrong way, and you’ll have to start your selection process all over again. it’s the sort of thing that was mildly annoying while sober; if i had tossed back a few and wanted to pick another, i know i’d be downright aggravated.

but this isn’t the type of wine bar where you get sloshy. the price of the wine alone will do a good job of preventing that. once i told the menu that i wanted a wine under $15, my selection became somewhat limited – if memory serves, there were 48 glasses at that price point or below.

of course, another downside of this wine bar 2.0 is that the automatic wine dispenser doesn’t discriminate between males or females, and won’t give you an extra-heavy pour if you give it bedroom eyes.

i selected my wine, swiped my wine-card (the on-site sommeliers give you one linked to your credit card at the beginning of your adventure) and received a perfectly metered 4-ounce glass. the stainless steel pouring made me long for the days of being served an extra-generous glass by a handsome bartender with a charismatic grin and a conspiratorial wink.

dispensing

the wine was good, and the atmosphere was almost jovial: though clo is chic and swank, the finicky nature of the menu led to some good-natured joking with my wine bar companions, who were equal parts fascinated and mystified.

i’ll definitely head back to clo, if only to fine-tune my touch-screen selection abilities. next time, though, i’ll bring a buddy. the clo wine experience is enhanced and damaged by the impersonal nature of the technology that makes it special. navigating it with friends might just add a much-needed human touch.

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A-pour-priate

Once in a while, I stumble across a wine that parallels my life. It happens rarely – so rarely that when it does, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some omnipotent Wine God up there, occasionally deigning to point a grape-stained finger towards the perfect pour.

Given the jumbled bundle of feelings that I’ve been lately, I never would have believed that a wine could adequately express my thoughts. Leaving behind family, friends, & familiarity for life in the big city has done a number on many idealistic young writers. I count myself among their ranks.

But the clouds opened last Saturday, when I tasted Loose End at Clo on Columbus Circle (a wine bar deserving of its own post, which will come – hopefully sooner rather than later).

Loose End FSR

Loose End FSR is a white blend hailing from Australia’s Barossa Valley region. The FSR stands for its composition: 50% Frontignac, 36% Semillon, and 14% Riesling.

Most of us are familiar with light, sweet, lilting flavors of Riesling, and some have heard of Semillon, a favorite among dessert wine lovers for its sometimes cloyingly sweet “noble rot.” But Frontignac is essentially unknown.

According to Foster’s Wine Dictionary, Frontignac is a cousin of the sweet Muscat grape that lends “intense floral, perfume, rose water, and spice” flavors and fragrance to the wine.

Given this syrupy trifecta, one might expect Loose End FSR to be the Aunt Jemima of wine: powerfully, sickeningly, cloyingly sweet.

Fortunately, it’s not. Like my beloved Caymus Conundrum, Loose End is a bright flowerbomb, with a nose that transports me to the rose gardens at Sonnenberg in Canandaigua (can you tell I’m homesick? I hardly ever visited the gardens while I was there, much less bothered to stop and smell them).

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It’s wine to drink on its own, or with something simple – a cranberry scone, perhaps, or a berry tart; no steaks or salmon here.

Unfortunately, my comparison to Conundrum ends there.

Loose Ends is Conundrum with an inner-ear infection: off balance, unfocused, lost and confused. The delicate floral sweetness turns strong and off-putting at the end – perhaps it’s the famous noble rot gone awry. It is a finish that fits the name perfectly.

But not all hope is lost. This wine has potential. Given the right year, with the right circumstances and blend, I think that Loose End might just have a shot at greatness.

Like I said, it was a perfectly appropriate pour.

the wine: 2008 Loose End FSR
composition: 50% Frontignac, 36% Semillion, 14% Riesling
hails from: Barossa Valley, Australia
flavor profile: extremely floral, light, with ending notes of boytris rot
tannins: none
approximate cost:
I paid $11 for my glass; expect to find it by the bottle at $16-$20

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